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The 969 Movement is a nationalist movement opposed to what they see as Islam’s expansion in predominantly-Buddhist Burma. The three digits of 969 "symbolize the virtues of the Buddha, Buddhist practices and the Buddhist community." The first 9 stands for the nine special attributes of the Lord Buddha and the 6 for the six special attributes of his Dharma, or Buddhist Teachings, and the last 9 represents the nine special attributes of Buddhist Sangha [monks]. Those special attributes are the Three Jewels of the Buddha. In the past, the Buddha, Sangha, Dhamma and the wheel of Dhamma were Buddhists’ sign. And the same goes for 969; it is another Buddhist sign.
The movement has inspired strong reactions within and beyond Myanmar. In the international media it has received criticism. The Straits Times writes that the 969 movement, which it says "is described as Myanmar's 'neo-Nazi group'", is facing scrutiny for "its role in spreading anti-Muslim sentiment". The Straits Times also reports that Wirathu responded to recent anti-Muslim violence with pledges to work for peace but critics remain skeptical.
The movement is described as being anti-Muslim or Islamophobic. The movement's Myanmar Buddhist supporters deny it is anti-Muslim with Bhikkhu Wirathu stating it is a protective movement about targeting "Bengalis who are terrorizing ethnic Rakhine (Buddhists)." Alex Bookbinder, in The Atlantic, links the movement's origins in a book written in the late 1990s by U Kyaw Lwin, a functionary in the ministry of religious affairs, and its precepts are rooted in a traditional belief in numerology. Across South Asia, Muslims represent the phrase "In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful" with the number 786, and businesses display the number to indicate that they are Muslim-owned. 969's proponents see this as a Muslim plot to conquer Burma in the 21st century, based on the premise that 7 plus 8 plus 6 is equal to 21. The number 969 is intended be 786's cosmological opposite.
Wirathu is regarded as the movement's highest protector. It has been reported that he advocates the boycott of shops owned by Muslims. Wirathu has himself stated that the movement has been treated as a scapegoat unfairly blamed for events like the 2012 Rakhine State riots and that "969 is not violent." The Asia Times Online has described him as a "complex figure" who demonizes Muslims, but also protests police violence. An article in The Straits Times says a source indicated that Wirathu had changed his tone and has "pledged to promote peace among religious communities".
Wirathu is mentioned on the cover story of Time magazine as "The Face of Buddhist Terror" on 20 June 2013. “You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog,” Wirathu said, referring to Muslims. “If we are weak,” he said, “our land will become Muslim.” "Some people misunderstood the title [of the Time article] ... seeing it as an insult to religion,” said Dr. Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst. “They believe it’s equating Buddhism with terrorism.” After the publication of the Time article, Wirathu denied responsibility for anti-Muslim violence. Shortly after, the 2013 July issue of Time featuring Wirathu was banned in Myanmar.
Burmese President Thein Sein has defended Wirathu, saying the report undermined efforts to rebuild trust between faiths and that the monk's order was striving for peace and prosperity. "The government is currently striving with religious leaders, political parties, media and the people to rid Myanmar [Burma] of unwanted conflicts," it added. Burma's government is objecting to a Time magazine article critical of an extremist monk who has been attacking Islam. Authorities deny they are defending the monk, Wirathu, but said they are concerned the article could create problems after recent unrest between Buddhists and Muslims. Wirathu said the Time article is not against Buddhism, just against him. In an interview with the The Irrawaddy magazine he also alleges Muslim extremists are behind the article and planning to wage jihad against Burma.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Yangon early on June 30, 2013 afternoon in a peaceful demonstration against Time magazine's article on senior monk U Wirathu and the 969 movement he leads. Marching monks held a banner proclaiming that U Wirathu is "Not The Terrorist, But The Protector of Race, Language and The Religion". Speaking to Mizzima News, one demonstrator, a 51-year-old office manager, said, "TIME Magazine is wrong. He [Wirathu] is peaceful. Every monk is a peacemaker. The Buddhist religion wants brotherhood with everyone."
The movement is seeking to draft a law that would forbid Buddhist women from marrying non-Buddhist men without the permission of local officials. Dhammapiya, a senior monk who helped write the original proposal for the laws, said they were meant to encourage peace between different faiths and to "protect" Buddhist women from being forced to covert to Islam when they married Muslim men. Government religious regulatory authorities, while supporting the protection of the Buddhist faith from perceived Islamic threats, reject the legal initiatives of the 969 movement and "prohibited the creation of formal organizations" based on 969 principles.