This is the legacy of the eruptions of the past year: of June and October in Arakan, in the far west, then in March inMeiktila, in the centre of the country, repeated during the following weeks in towns and villages further south. Noone knows whether this fire has burnt out or whether there is more to come. As I write, Burma's president, TheinSein, a Buddhist like more than 90 per cent of his countrymen, is reported telling the nation that the Muslimminority must be protected. Yet there is no confidence that this will happen. While I was in Rangoon in the farsouth of the country last month, a fire broke out in a madrassa in the city centre, killing 13 boys. The authoritiesinsisted it was caused by an exploding transformer, and arrested Muslims at the scene. Spokesmen for Muslims inthe city who I spoke to insisted it was arson. No one can be sure that these events have run their course.Nor is this some eruption of racial fury from which the Buddhist monks can stand piously apart. On the contrary,they are widely seen as bearing responsibility for the carnage. Some are even accused of taking part in the mayhem.One of the most revered Buddhist teachers in the country, Sitagu Sayadaw, wrote in Burma's most widely readnewspapers that he "deeply denounced these racial… conflicts without exceptions… Lord Buddha teaches non- violence." The nation's 500,000 monks, he went on, "should deploy the weapon of loving-kindness… to dismantlethe ugly unrest". But while this is a tone we might expect to hear from a Buddhist master – even if the comparisonof loving-kindness to a weapon was unfortunate – his message was drowned out by the rants of younger, stridentteachers with very different ideas in mind.The monk who has recently become internationally famous thanks to his grotesque moniker of "the Buddhist BinLaden" is tiny, no more than 5ft tall, delicately made, with prim cupid's bow lips in his pale and unmarked face. Hissingle name is Wirathu. I meet him in his leafy monastery in the south of Mandalay, a monastery, the New Ma Soe Yein, previously of inspirational importance during the Saffron Revolution – the 2007 anti-government protests. A turbulent, frame-shaking, game-changing place, despite its peace and tranquillity. We sit in the sunshine and I ask him the obvious questions. Wirathu tells me he does not condone violence againstMuslims, let alone advocate it. What he does advocate is shunning them: encouraging Buddhist shops and taxis andother businesses to identify themselves as Buddhist, and encouraging the Buddhist public to patronise those businesses and not those belonging to the other community.That is a long way from dousing individuals in petrol and watching them die. But it is not totally unconnected. Bothactions – the passive shunning, the active slaughter – can be placed on a spectrum of responses to the message: thatcommunity is alien, and it menaces your safety and prosperity and the very future of your race and your religion."Our goal is a strategic one," Wirathu tells me. "We represent Burma's 135 ethnic groups. We are urging members of those ethnic groups not to follow the Muslim religion and not to sell anything to Muslims, and that includes paddy fields and houses. The reason is that we have to protect our religion. If we trade with the Muslims, they becomerich: many Muslims have grown rich and have built big houses for themselves, and mosques, and slaughterhouses, which are a problem for Buddhism. Muslims are now dominating the Burmese economy." By urging Buddhists toput stickers in their windows to identify themselves, Wirathu and his fellow zealots hope to reverse the tide.The paranoia seems laughable: no census has been carried out in Burma for decades, but it is believed that Muslimsaccount for no more than 5 or 6 per cent of the population. While Muslims have been coming to Burma forcenturies as traders, it was with the arrival of the British in 1824 that they first settled in the southern part of thecountry in large numbers. In Rangoon, the former capital which is still the commercial hub, they are just onecommunity alongside Hindus, Chinese and Indian Christians in a rich and usually stable ethnic mix. What on earthdo the Buddhists have to fear? Yet if you travel to Arakan state, in the far west of the country, the source of these apprehensions becomes apparent.The majority of the community here is Buddhist, but they regard themselves not as Burmans, the nation's dominantethnic group, but as Arakanese, a different race, conquered by the Burmans in the 19th century and forced to bow down to the Burman king.