Buddhism has always been considered as a peaceful religion and philosophical way of life. In recent times there has been a disturbing trend, particularly in Asia. Unfortunately every religion has it fair share of extremist ideologies and this includes Buddhism.

The recent events in Burma have certainly hit the headlines.

The monk leading this extremism, U Wirathu has been described as a “Buddhist [Osama] Bin Laden”. He has been held responsible for violence against the Rohingya, Burma’s Muslim community.

Last month the leader was featured in TIME magazine as the “Face of Buddhist Terror”. In his sermons, he’s quoted as saying; “I believe that Islam is a threat not just for Buddhism, but for the people and the country and the religion.”

Despite his reputation, the 46-year-old monk doesn’t advocate violence against Muslims. However to understand the significance of his sermons you have to understand Burmese society. It’s a country where monks have a political as well as a religious role. With their holy status, their ideas and motives are generally considered being beyond question. While the idea that a monk could be directly attributed to such ethnic violence seems out of character, the Burmese people are more than happy to accept his ideology of intolerance. Capturing the hearts and minds of the people, he has become one of the most powerful figures in Burma.

A big part of Wirathu’s ideology is patriotism, in the sense of protecting the Burmese nationality, race and religion. However that brand of patriotism is a hard interpretation for Muslims in Burma to live with. This may be more than a simple religious conflict, perhaps one of national identity for the Burmese nation itself. Although the Rohingya consider themselves as Burmese too, the majority of the population is seeming to have a different view on Burmese identity.