Developments unfolding in Sri Lanka over the last few weeks look ominously similar to those in 2013-14, when a surge in targeted attacks against minority Muslims and Christians went unchecked by the Rajapaksa administration. The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, an umbrella organisation for civil society groups, has recorded 25 attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned establishments since April, and the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka has reported over 40 incidents in 2017.
However, the key question remains: Does Sirisena have the political will and capability to actually resolve the fundamental problems that drove the country to almost three decades of civil war?
According to Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives and co-convener of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence, the existence of BBS is intrinsically linked to the Rajapaksa government and in particular to ex-Defense Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former president’s brother.
« They were sponsored by the former defense minister. They were generating an internal conflict to provoke clashes between religious groups, which would mobilize Buddhists around the government, » Saravanamuttu explained to Efe.
Sonali Samarasinghe to Mahinda Rajapaksa:
« The irony of the presidential election being fixed for the sixth anniversary of the day on which my husband and your ‘friend’, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was assassinated, may have escaped you. It has not escaped me. »
New Yorker take on the election: « If a Presidential candidate refers to himself as a devil, chances are he’s in trouble. Last week, campaigning ahead of this Thursday’s election, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent Sri Lankan President, tried hard to endear himself to an audience in the northern city of Jaffna. The crowd consisted almost entirely of Tamils, the island’s largest minority, a community that regards him with suspicion and anger. ‘There is a saying that the devil you know is better than the unknown angel,’ Rajapaksa said. ‘I am the known devil, so please vote for me.’ These two sentences encapsulated the swift and intriguing fall of the once-mighty President. »
« No matter who wins in January, the message is unmistakable: To be truly considered Sri Lankan these days, one must accept the primacy and glory of the country’s Sinhalese Buddhist past. Unless it is challenged, this mindset will pose a far greater danger to Sri Lanka than the blows of hard-line thugs. »
The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), revealing details of its policy framework, said today the name Sri Lanka should be changed to ‘Sinhale’ and the state flag should be the one used prior to 1815.
A Myanmar monk accused of inciting violence against Muslims and a hardline Buddhist group in Sri Lanka said on Tuesday they would work together to rally other Buddhist groups and defend their faith against militant Islamists.
Just like in Burma, the recent years have seen the unrest between the Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority on the upswing in Sri Lanka. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, general secretary of the Sri Lankan ultra-nationalist Buddhist organisation Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)—Sinhalese for Buddhist Power Force—actually claims to perceive an international Islamic conspiracy that aims at marginalising the Buddhists in Sri Lanka. He believes his organisation can unite all the Buddhists of the island and turn them into a nationalist force, thus countering this ‘foreseen’ Islamic threat. He has been widely accused of being the mastermind of many anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka and gained notoriety for publicly avowing his racist inclinations.
Former Sri Lankan Ambassador to the UN Dayan Jayatilake insists that the government is not taking concrete measures to curb the activities of extremist Sinhalese Buddhists in the country. « Everybody talks about the role of the Buddhist clergy in mobilising the mobs. And yet I don’t see sufficient robust efforts being made by the government or even voicing critique of such organisations as the BBS. Rioters and looters have been rounded up but nobody really knows how the investigations are proceeding. »
More than twelve centuries of peaceful cohabitation between Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka has made both communities interdependent. Therefore safety and security of the one lies in the safety and the security of the other mutually.
On the 4th of August a private sharing of experiences session organized by civil society inside the Centre for Society and Religion [CSR] is disrupted by an organized gang led by what appeared to be a group of Buddhist monks. »
The Sinhala Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, « Forces of Buddhist Power ») continued to promote views religious and ethnic minorities considered hostile. Local media and NGOs noted strong linkages between the BBS and the government, particularly Secretary of Defense (and brother of the president) Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who appeared prominently at public BBS events during the year. In response to pressure from this group, municipal councils began passing regulations prohibiting the slaughter of cows, a BBS demand, in their areas.
At times, local police and government officials appeared to be acting in concert with Buddhist nationalist organizations. Evangelical Christian churches, especially in the south, reported increased pressure and harassment by local government bodies to suspend worship activities or close down if they were not registered with the government, despite no legal requirement to do so. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) stated that « dozens » of churches from all parts of the country had been questioned about their legality by local government officials and police.
Greens Leader Senator Christine Milne has called on the Abbott government to deny an extremist alleged to have masterminded anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka entry to Australia.
Gnanasara Thero, who has been instrumental in inciting hatred against religious minorities in Sri Lanka and who is the General Secretary of the extremist Bodu Bala Sena sect, has applied for a visa and intends to tour Australia. Gnanasara Thero has reportedly been denied entry to the UK, France and the US.
The horrible killings and destruction in Aluthgama on Sunday was blacked out by almost all mainstream media in Sri Lanka at the height of the violence and the morning after. However, the violence was in detail and close to real time covered extensively over social media, leading to a documentation many times greater and more detailed than what the Government of Sri Lanka would have liked.
But where, one may ask, was Sri Lanka’s President in the middle of all this violence and what was he doing?
One may also ask, in light of very real fears over the escalation and expansion of violence, what the official response of the President of Sri Lanka was to the worst communal riots to hit the country in years?
Click here to find out.