969 has its ideological roots 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 bismillah-ir-rahman-ir-rahim, or "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 evidence of a Muslim plot to conquer Burma in the 21st century, based on the implausible premise that 7 plus 8 plus 6 is equal to 21.
The number 969 is intended be 786's cosmological opposite, and represents the "three jewels:" the nine attributes of the Buddha, the six attributes of his
teachings, and the nine attributes of the Sangha, or monastic order.
U Kyaw Lwin's ideas came to prominence in November of last year, when a religious order in Mon State - the Gana Wasaka Sangha - began to invoke them in
local anti-Muslim campaigns. Since January, taxis, buses, and businesses across Rangoon have begun to proudly display its brightly colored emblem.
Despite a lack of 969 regalia on U Tun Khin's car (not his real name), a few minutes of conversation showed his stripes as a believer to the core. "The
Muslims are very smart. They use their smarts to [threaten] our Buddhist society. Some Muslims are good, but there are too many who are Ali Babas
(thieves)," he said. "They get money from Muslim countries, and they want to conquer us and destroy Buddhism. They are foreigners, they should feel lucky
we treat them well as guests."
The figure often identified as the de-facto leader of 969 is a monk named Ashin Wirathu, who was jailed in 2003 for inciting religious conflict and
released as part of a general amnesty in January 2012. The content of his sermons, distributed via DVDs he produces at his monastery in Mandalay, would not
be out of place at the Nuremberg rallies.
As is often the case when minorities are scapegoated, Wirathu claims that Muslims control Burma's economy. While it is true that some Muslims have achieved
substantial wealth in certain sectors - such as construction - the notion that they are economically dominant is laughable. None of the cronies closest to
the military - the oligarchs who truly dominate Burma's economy - are Muslim.
Wirathu has called for a boycott of all Muslim-owned businesses. "If you buy a good from a Muslim shop, your money just doesn't stop there," he said in a
sermon in late February. He claims that "money will eventually be used against you to destroy your race and religion. That money will be used to get a
Buddhist-Burmese woman and she will very soon be coerced or even forced to convert to Islam." According to Wirathu, "once [Muslims] become overly populous,
they will overwhelm us and take over our country and make it an evil Islamic nation."