“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.”
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.
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has made a renewed call for Buddhists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka to cease violence towards the countries’ Muslim minorities, in an address delivered on his 79th birthday.
Since the end of the war there have been high-profile incidents such as the attack on the Mosque in Dambulla in April 2012, however other incidents, have received little or no public and media attention. This has resulted in a limited understanding of the scale and nature of these incidents.
This report published on 09 March 2013 documents incidents of attacks on places of worship in Sri Lanka since the end of the war in May 2009 and discusses the broader context of such attacks.
In the short term, BBS will perish only if it decides to clash head-on with the most powerful in the country, President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The chances of that happening are slim. But for a phenomenon like the BBS to be rooted out, what is needed is a radical rethinking and re-articulation of what it means to be a ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’. It is only such a re-thinking and re-branding of the Sinhala-Buddhist identity which would make groups like the BBS redundant, unnecessary, deplorable.
This is the provenance of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s anger: minority-guests do not have inalienable rights and, if they stay in Sri Lanka, must uncomplainingly accept whatever the Sinhala-hosts choose to do. If they complain, they are traitors.
That mindset spawned the ethnic problem and the long Eelam War. Are the Rajapaksas deliberately reusing it to ignite a religious conflict? Are they planning to regain their role as Sinhala-Saviours by imposing a new war on us?
The Sinhalese society is constructed on the basis of several key hierarchies. These include the party-political, religious (including Buddhist and deity worship), caste, bureaucratic-administrative, professional (e.g. educational, medical) and the military. Understanding how these hierarchies are formed and they way they operate is one way to approach this subject. In doing so, one has to understand the nature of those who hold positions within them. There are also layer upon layer of ‘interconnecting relationships’ based on the hierarchies mentioned here.
“Today, that certain segments of the media and some Buddhist clerics are spawning the thought that Islam and Muslims in Sri Lanka are a threat to Sinhalese Buddhism is a unique invention that no previous Buddhist scholars, leaders or laity have ever found. This is a foolish aspersion mocking the intelligence of the people of this country.”
Some Sinhalese ministers have expressed unease and a prominent newly retired diplomat, Dayan Jayatilleka, calls the BBS an “ethno-religious fascist movement from the dark underside of Sinhala society”.
Many Sri Lankans feel there are uncomfortable echoes of the 1983 pogroms, when Sinhala violence against Tamils precipitated the war.
But hardline Buddhist rallies and “direct action” stunts are happening all the time now. And their social and political influence is expanding.