You know in this world we all cling on to certainties that make our world liveable. Like Gremlins will always be on at Christmas, it will always rain during the school run and that Buddhists wouldn’t hurt a fly – literally, they don’t hurt anything. Well thank you very much The Venerable W for showing me that, just like every other stupid pointless religion in the world, Buddhists can also go bad.
The Venerable W is an intimate documentary by Barbet Schroeder about Ashin Wirathu, the fanatical monk in Myanmar whose extreme views ended up bringing down Aung Sun Suu Kyi. Time magazine put W on their July 1, 2013 cover with the headline, “The Face of Buddhist Terror.” This documentary is Schroeder’s third in what has now become know as his trilogy of evil (the others about Idi Amin and Jacques Verges). This is a bleak documentary and if, like me, you honestly believed that mostly Buddhists were the very best of people then of course it is doubly depressing.
The boiling point for Wirathu’s hatred seems to be when a young local girl was raped and killed by three Muslim men although he had been spouting anti Muslim hatred since the 90’s, hatred that will penetrate the thickest of skins. Ashin Wirathu is a tragi-comedic figure, when being interviewed he laughs in inappropriate places, recreates videos of rape that are so bad they are almost funny but then you remember he’s disturbing these to incite violence against a minority and it doesn’t seem so funny anymore. He calls Merkel a whore. He pastes photo-shopped images of babies with their heads chopped off by Muslims. My skin actually got itchy when watching Wirathu’s heinous speeches.
The monitory Wirathu is so against are the Rohyingar Muslims a small percentage of the countries population. Sadly it isn’t anything new in Myanmar as a similar thing happened in 1970. In Myanmar the militia rules and the Buddhist monks are happy to be called to arms. An interesting part of the documentary charts the actual percentage of Muslims in a country compared with perceived percentage. As you can imagine, it is wildly exaggerated in the minds of Non Muslims.
There are scenes of extreme violence in The Venerable W; it is upsetting to watch and not all of Schroeder’s filming techniques sat so well with me. We only hear from one member of the Rohyingar community too, which is strange. Overall this is an important film; just prepare yourself mentally before you sit down.