Though the Rohingya people claim to have lived in the region for centuries, many Burmese regard them as aliens, and the most recent government census refused to let them identify themselves on the rolls as Rohingya rather than Bengalis.

Wirathu has been outspoken in his insistence that the Rohingya are not legitimately native to the country, but are interlopers.

When I talked with Wirathu recently in his comfortable office in the Ma Soe Yein monastery in the central Burmese city of Mandalay he was prepared to defend himself against the terrorism label. “If we support Buddhism we are creating peace in the world,” he said repeatedly. Only the framed pictures on his wall—mostly newspaper clippings and pictures of himself—were indications of his charismatic, rabble-rousing reputation.

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He cited the atrocities of groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS as examples.

He also thought that their numbers were greatly expanding in Myanmar through immigration and having relatively larger families, and that this was a purposeful design to dilute the purity of Buddhist culture in the country and eventually take control.

But Buddhist ethics, he said, would not allow the faithful to intend to be violent, since, he again reminded me, Buddhism is all about peace.

Representatives of the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights, however, have identified Wirathu as one of the main figures in Myanmar’s pattern of human rights abuse against Muslims, particularly the Rohingya who live in the northern portion of Rakhine province adjacent to Bangladesh.

He told me that Buddhists had the right “to defend themselves” and if at that time they “inflict injury,” then that can be excused.

Thus violence could be justified in a context of defense.

Not all Muslims were extremists, he said, though most were under their influence, so virtually all Muslims in Myanmar were suspect.