Tariq A. Al-Maeena
A mistake once committed is rarely repeated by a rational entity. However such is not the case with the government of Sri Lanka. It is becoming increasingly obvious that following the 30-year war with the Tamil minority, the Sri Lankan rulers have not learned their lesson.
Today, they are busily spreading the seeds of discord against another minority; the island’s Muslim Sri Lankans. They are clever enough not to openly support a reign of terror directly. Instead, they quietly look the other way while terrorist Buddhist groups like the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) do their dirty work.
Comparable to the purges that prevailed during the height of Nazi fascism of yesteryear, Buddhist militancy in Sri Lanka has lately begun to rear its ugly head of intolerance and violence toward the island’s minorities. A distinction must be made here in that although 70 percent of the population is Sinhalese Buddhist and by and large peaceful, it is a growing minority of militants who are currently guiding its no-tolerance aggression toward the Muslim minority, undoubtedly fueled by the silent encouragement of the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has reportedly tried to get the country’s media to downplay or not report incidents of violence toward minorities.
In an ominous statement of bravado, The BBS had publicly announced that, ‘This is a government created by Sinhala Buddhists and it must remain Sinhala Buddhist. This is a Sinhala country, Sinhala government. Democratic and pluralistic values are killing the Sinhala race.”
Buddhist monks have denounced Muslim practices, such as their use of conservative clothing referring to it as ‘gorilla’ outfits, and have called for a total ban on halal products for the community. Clad in white or t-shirts bearing a ‘No-Halal’ slogan, the supporters carried Buddhist flags and cheered enthusiastically when extremist Bodu Bala Sena monks denounced particular Muslim practices. They have also vented their anger against evangelical Christians who, they claimed, were attempting to perpetuate Christian extremism in the country.
Such fermenting and unchecked statements by the leaders of these terrorists have whipped up a frenzied crowd to go on a rampage against minority communities and individuals. Homes, business, and now mosques are rapidly becoming the targets of destruction for these militant crowds, while the government looks on pretending that nothing untoward is actually taking place.
The attack on the Molawatte mosque in Grandpass during maghreb prayers on August 10 in the capital city is an indication of how serious the problem has become. While Muslims were offering prayers in the sanctity of the house of worship, a mob of Buddhist militants numbering over 70 by eyewitness estimates began and destroying the mosques with metal poles and rods and stones and bottles. Chants could be heard saying that “this was a Sinhala Buddhist country and that the Muslims and Mosques should be thrown out.” This is yet another page in a rapidly filling dossier of criminal activity against Sri Lankan minorities by Buddhist terrorists.
If left unchecked, the actions of such fringe group of fanatics trying to inflame the existing peaceful relations between the island’s Sinhalese and Muslim population could only lead to violence. Although the Muslims watched muted and restrained, it is only a matter of time before these fanatic radicals go berserk with their pent up resentment and hatred toward Muslims, and lead the island into a full-scale ethnic war.
While the majority of Sinhalese Buddhists is indeed peace-loving and has been living in harmony with other minorities over the centuries, the plague of militant Buddhists in recent days is gaining a strong foothold throughout the country. These are dangerous times. History is full of pages of how the good conscience of a silent majority has been overcome by the vicious rhetoric and actions of a militant minority.
In sharing a common religion with the island’s minority Muslims, GCC countries have a vested interest in ensuring their safety and security. The persecutions that have begun to form against them cannot in no certain terms be tolerated. The benign tolerance exhibited by the Sri Lankan government toward these militant groups must be addressed firmly and the OIC must also spring into action before militancy turns into large-scale massacres.
Sri Lanka is a recipient of a sizable mass of its national budget from the remittances of its workers in GCC countries. The GCC also provides most of the island’s energy needs. Many in the Gulf have been frequent visitors for tourism and business. So far relations have been harmonious. But neo-fascism is unacceptable.
Gulf leaders must get a clear message across to the Sri Lankan president: Quit playing games! Act decisively against the militants. The island must not embark on the perilous road of violent racial and ethnic divisions that could lead to unrestrained violence against not only the Muslims, but the other minorities on the island as well. We will not tolerate such actions!