“Violence in the voice is often only the death rattle of reason in the throat” – H.G. Bohn
On 9th September 2011, a Muslim shrine which had stood for 300 years in Anuradhapura was destroyed by a mob reportedly led by monks. The Police, though present, did not intervene.
On 20th April 2012, a mob of about 2000 people led by the Mahanayake of the Rangiri Dambulla Chapter forcefully entered a 50 year old mosque, claiming it was illegal. The mosque also came under a petrol bomb attack. In Dehiwela, around 250 protesters led by Buddhist monks staged a protest, threw stones and rotten meat over the gate of a madrasa in May 2012.
More recently, the attacks on the Muslim community have intensified, particularly under the leadership of the ‘ethno-religious fascist’ movement the Bodhu Bala Sena. On 24th January 2013, about 150 people staged a protest in Kuliyapitiya against halal foods sold at commercial outlets. They shouted hate slogans and burnt effigies with ‘Allah’ printed in Arabic letters and carried drawings of pigs, all deeply and hurtfully profane to Muslim sentiments. Interestingly, this protest was carried out not by the residents of Kuliyapitiya, but by Hela Sihila Hiru, suspected of being affiliated to the Bodhu Bala Sena.
The BBS, which espouses the cause of Sinhala Buddhist supremacy to the exclusion of the interests of all other religions, has called for the boycott of halal products on the flimsy pretext that halal certification impugns the constitutional supremacy guaranteed to Buddhism and causes divisions in society.
The BBS claims that the cost of obtaining halal certification is high and that it runs against the principles of democracy to have non-Muslims pay for the religious practices of Muslims. Though it appears that the issue has been ‘resolved’ by the victims being forced to back down, the Bodhu Bala Sena is now more dangerously, taking offence at the Abaya, the traditional cloak of Muslim women. A boycott of Muslim-owned businesses such as Fashion Bug and No Limit has also been called for.
It is obvious that at the heart of the issue are the socio-economic interests of extremists. In December 2012 Government coalition party the Jathika Hela Urumaya, staged a protest against the perceived injustice suffered by Sinhala Buddhist businessmen. Ironically, there was not a single businessman participating.
Such allegations are baseless and demonstrate that the extremists have conveniently overlooked the fact that not one person or organization was ever compelled to opt for halal certification or to even deal with Muslim organizations. Everyone was at liberty to either cater to Muslim clientele or to forfeit such an opportunity.
Anti-Muslim hate speech has been widely disseminated through leaflets, websites and social media which call for the reawakening of a Sinhala Buddhist nation; for mosques and churches established on ‘Buddhist heritage sites’ to be destroyed and warning Muslims to be ready to wage a religious war. Prayer services have been disrupted and Buddhist religious ceremonies have been conducted inside mosques, with a blatant disregard and contempt for a community which forms an intrinsic part of our country. Animal sacrifice during the Hajj festival has also been opposed by certain sections of Buddhists, who forget that the practice is common among them too when it comes to Thovil ceremonies.
The Government while calling for a peaceful resolution of the crisis has not taken any steps to bring the perpetrators to task or to condemn the attacks. In fact, on 9th March 2013, the Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, was the Chief Guest at the opening of an academy linked to the Bodhu Bala Sena in Galle where he publicly stated that although many had asked him not to participate, he had done so after realizing its timely importance. These Buddhist clergy he says are engaged in a ‘nationally important task’ and should not be feared or doubted by anyone. The Friday Forum, a group of concerned citizens have written to HE President Mahinda Rajapakse urging him to denounce and take concrete measures against the anti-Muslim campaign. This has not been done.
There is mounting evidence of a concentrated mission to rid the country of all minority races, religions and parties, with the goal of establishing a monolithic Sinhala Buddhist nation by any means.
As a nation, we seem to have forgotten the important things in life; that strength is seen by considering the needs of others, that justice is established when intolerance is turned into love, that by destroying others we destroy ourselves, that peace is brought home only when we pursue truth.