Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian Ocean that recently grabbed the international headlines with fresh Buddhist attacks on Muslims.
With a population of 20 million, 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhist, with Muslims constituting the second largest group with 10% and followed by Hindus and Christians.
A couple of weeks ago, an ultra-nationalist Buddhist group, which calls itself ‘Bodu Bala Sena’, staged a rally in Aluthgama, leading to clashes in that city and Dharga. These conflicts later cost the lives of four Muslims, injured hundreds more and led to attacks on hundreds of houses and stores owned by Muslims.
Everything started in southeastern Sri Lanka when some Buddhist monks attacked the mosque in Navanthurai village of Jaffna and then the mosque at Jaffna University. After that, a No Limit store, part of an upmarket retail outlet owned by Muslims in Panadura - which is 25 km south of the capital Colombo - was torched with Molotov cocktails.
Interestingly enough, the two fire-fighting vehicles sent to the area had no water to put the fire out and couldn't even find any around. These strange occurrences, combined with the allegations that police negligence contributed to the recently increasing ethnic attacks, force one to think that Muslims are being subjected to an organized and systematic attack. After all, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the brother of the President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and who is also the Defense Minister, didn't have any reservations in showing his clear support for Bodu Bala Sena in public.
The tension between Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka goes back to a couple of years ago, when the Buddhists finally managed to defeat the ethnic minority Tamils in 2009 after a 30 years campaign. At this point, the far-right Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force), although having sided with the state during the civil war, started targeting Muslims; this is an unexpected situation because in Sri Lanka, Muslims are a minority which doesn't possess any significant political or economic power, and have always been known with their peaceful attitude. In other words, there is no reason for the Buddhists to see them as threat.
This group, with their origins in the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, are known for their hate speech targeting not only Muslims but also Tamils and Christians. One particularly provocative monk, Asin Wirathu, calls himself the ‘Buddhist Bin Laden’.
As is well-known by virtually everybody, Buddhism is one of those religions that shuns violence the most and one of the most important principles that Buddhists are taught is that they should never kill. Then why do some Buddhist monks provoke people against Muslims, and are even in personal attendance during incidents where scores of people are killed? The same question can perhaps be asked to some of the Buddhist monks that oppress the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
Galagoda Atte, 37, is known as one of the most extremist monks in the country and in one of his videos on Youtube, he explains the reasons behind the attacks on Muslims. He says: ‘This is a Buddhist country. Why are they trying to show it as a multi-cultural country? Not everyone can live under the Buddhist umbrella’. He goes on to mock the sensitivities of Muslims regarding ‘halal food’ and tells everyone to attack the workplaces of Muslims. He claims that if Buddhists continue with their offensive, it will be the end of Muslims.
In both Myanmar and Sri Lanka, some Buddhists are doing what once the imperialist powers did to them; cruel oppression and discrimination. The attacks on Muslims in those countries stem more from ideological provocations rather than religious extremism. The attackers are usually driven by an overtly hostile ultra-nationalism fueled by racism or ethnic hatred.
This ethno-nationalism is different than moderate nationalism that means an individual loving and wanting the best for his country; the ethno-nationalism wants his nation to not only dominate others, but to enslave and oppress them. Such people, who can quite easily be called fascists, do not refrain from using the concept of ‘nationalism’ as a means to achieve their dreams of war, occupation, massacres and ‘bloodshed’.
Identifying the fascist movements coming in different disguises and uncovering their true reasons and goals will be an important step to stop the spread of fascism; in this way, fascism, which might appear in a religious disguise at times, can be shown for what it really is and then the whole world will see quite clearly that this system is completely against divine religions.
Every reasonable, and conscientious person has a duty of being engaged in an intellectual struggle against all movements and ideologies that seek to disturb the peace and calm of the world. Peace and calm is a command of God for people. God says in a verse:
You who believe! Enter into Islam completely [and perfectly] and do not follow the footsteps of satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy. (Surat al-Baqara, 208)