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Rise of Extremist Buddhism in Sri Lanka

Rise of Extremist Buddhism in Sri Lanka

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Published by: Thavam on Feb 26, 2014
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02/26/2014

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Rise of extremist Buddhism in Sri Lanka

By Christine Nayagam-Posted 26 Feb 2014 Suddenly, a group of monks, with heads clean shaven and wearing saffron & red robes, emerge out of nowhere on a dark street in Colombo !rmed with machettes, stones and other weapons, and their faces deformed by the messages of hatred that they hurl, they head towards the "randpass #os$ue and start stoning it Buddhist extremism is being seen in many countries %n photo, Buddhist monks from &hailand offer prayer under the bodhi tree at Bodhgaya in "aya, Bihar '(hoto) %ndian (hoto !gency* !s windows shatter, the devotees inside the mos$ue are caught by surprise and try to escape But some of them are captured by the Buddhist monks, who then beat them savagely &hese images, shown on the local television, may date from !ugust +,-., but the attacks on the #uslim minority in Sri Lanka have only increased !ccording to Colombo (olice, nearly +, mos$ues were attacked last year Buddhist extremism/ &he Buddhist religion seems to have ac$uired $uite another facet in Sri Lanka and some other countries of South and Southeast !sia %n #yanmar, the Rohingya #uslims have been victims of a fairly widespread and long0lasting ethnic cleansing by the Buddhists, criticised by 1uman Rights 2atch and others %n southern &hailand also, the #uslim insurgency since +,,3 has led some Buddhists to take to the arms %n Sri Lanka, six years after the end of the civil war in which the government forces inflicted a heavy defeat on the separatist &amil &iger movement, it is now #uslims and Christians, who

are the new victims of violence and harassment %n the #uslim $uarters of Colombo, fear reigns #ohamad, an old man who runs a textile bouti$ue along with his daughter on the outskirts of Colombo, was one of the victims of the attacks 4#y bouti$ue was ravaged at the beginning of the year by monks and other persons &hey came in large numbers and % did not see them come in a group &hey pushed me behind the bouti$ue and vandalised it entirely,4 he says, wringing his hands 1e looks around warily and whispers) 4% begged them to spare me but they hit me with sticks 4 &he #uslims, mainly from %ndia or traders from the !rab nations, have been living in Sri Lanka for nearly a millennium &hey have mixed with the local population and mainly speak &amil and live on the eastern board of the country &oday, they make up about eight percent of the +- million inhabitants of Sri Lanka 5et, soon after the end of the civil war in the north and as economic redevelopment began, the ills of the society 0 inflation, corruption and rising cost of living 0 need a scapegoat to carry the blame (reservation of the Sinhalese Buddhist culture is the stated principal ob6ective of the Bodu Bala Sena 'BBS*, an extremist Buddhist organisation created in 7uly +,-+ by monks &he method of BBS is radical 0 to demonise #uslims by propagating rumours and falsehoods about them 8&he #uslims are stealing our 6obs and monopolising the economy in order to enrich themselves and thence dominate us and the country,9 says a young member of the BBS during a meeting organised by the group last !ugust in a Colombo suburb &he young monk, dressed in a saffron robe, appears to be a victim of a true brainwashing by the organisation 1e multiplies the insults against #uslims before adding, 8Christianity and %slam are indulging in mass conversions amongst the poorest persons by enticing them with money and food 9 &hanks to the support of influential personalities, the BBS has some victories to its account %t obtained a prohibition of commercialisation of certified hallal meat Recently, the secretary general of the organisation, "alaboda !ththe "nanasara, declared that 8:nly the monks can save the Sinhala race 9 1e added that the monks were ready for the battle, if needed 8:ur country is a Sinhalese country and we are the unofficial police here to ensure that our culture and traditions are preserved properly 9 ;or !mit, a Buddhist Sinhalese taxi driver, however, 8these extremists are neither Buddhists nor monks &hey only wear robes in order to scare people and very rare are the Buddhists with the courage to criticise a monk 9

Buddhist extremism in Sri Lanka appears to be more a conservative political movement based on the preservation of the Sinhalese race &he development of such extremism is also a boon for the government and many of its influential members directly support the BBS 4&his is a political strategy aimed at dividing the population by spreading the image of an %slam and a Christianity which threaten the Sinhalese culture,4 explains 7oseph, a Christian Sri Lankan of &amil origin who fled the civil war ! number of 6ournalists and politicians fear a resurgence of aggression, which could indeed lead to more serious conflicts between the communities or the worst0case scenario, another civil war <evertheless, (resident Ra6apaksa and his party, the Sri Lanka ;reedom (arty, easily managed to consolidate their political influence during the conflict with the L&&=, allowing the president to gain a comfortable ma6ority in the elections that followed soon after the end of the civil war :ther political analysts estimate that extremist members of the ruling party would like to see Sri Lankan society fractured once again along racial and religious lines with the ob6ective of capturing a consolidated ma6ority vote by frightening them with the >dark ambitions of the minority communities? !fter ., years of an extremely bloody and vicious civil war, the country still does not seem to have resolved the problem of integrating its minorities &he priority of the government is to attract investors ;rom time to time, small groups of the Buddhist ma6ority Sri Lankan opposition get together to denounce these invocations to racial hatred &hey carry out peaceful protest marches and candle0lit vigils, reciting the teachings of the Buddha) 81atred can never be stopped by hate %t is @indness that leads to reconciliation 9 'Christine <ayagam is an %ndo0;rench 6ournalist covering South !sia for leading ;rench daily Le ;igaro &he views expressed are personal * 0 %!<S

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