Rajapaksa to tour the troubled coastal areas where scores of shops and houses have been torched. “Even if my wife or children tell me off, I am prepared to marry a Muslim for the sake of national harmony,” he said, disguising ethnic chauvinism with mock gallantry.His statement is little comfort for the deeply traumatized families of once comfortable Muslim shopkeepers and traders, now waiting for handouts in mosques and schools. Some have homes literally reduced to ash; others are too fearful to return in case the violence reignites. Just as in the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom which triggered full-scale civil war, Muslim shops and homes were attacked while nearby Sinhalese owned properties were largely left alone by the mob. Muslims says their Sinhalese neighbors must have passed on the information about the owners, though local Sinhalese blame outsiders for all the violence. In several instances the victims allege the security forces stood by and watched the destruction—again a disturbing echo of what happened to the Tamils in 1983 on a larger scale.
So much misinformation has systematically been dished out against Muslims with the result that the average or innocent Sinhalese has built up hatred toward us,” says a Muslim lawyer practising in Colombo, “even an ordinary policeman might believe it; they think all Muslims are wealthy, resort to unfair business practices and don’t pay taxes, but it’s not true—many Muslims are living below the poverty line.” The lawyer credits the Sri Lankan army with restoring sanity but is angry that at times even the Special Task Force of the police failed to stop the violence. “It’s shocking that even the Special Task Force stood by and allowed the mob to attack. They were complicit,” he says.Simmering TensionsIt had been a long time in the making, but the simmering tensions in the southwestern coastal town of Aluthgama erupted after rumors circulated about the alleged sexual abuse of a Sinhalese boy in a Muslim-owned shop in May—though another version alleges this story was invented to cover up an act of shoplifting recorded on a CCTV camera. In June, a motorcycle ridden by Muslim men collided with a car carrying a Buddhist monk and there was a routine traffic altercation. The rumor mill suggested that Muslims had assaulted the monk, for which there is still absolutely no proof. This triggered protests and security forces fired tear gas and deployed armored vehicles, as well as the police and paramilitaries. The extreme Sinhala nationalist Buddhist group, Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Brigade), in a bid to exploit an already tense situation, then announced a rally in the town for Sunday, June 15.The question of why the authorities in Sri Lanka allowed this rally to go ahead has no real answer. After the tragedy, authorities said they couldn’t have banned the Buddhist function because it coincided with the Poson Festival, which celebrates the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The police also said permission for the gathering wasn’t given to the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) as such, but to local temple trustees. But while Sri Lanka