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Editorial: Lanka govt must rein in Buddhist bigotry

ONE popular view of Buddhism is of a peaceable religion, some of whose devotees sweep brushes in front of them, so that they do not step on and destroy any living creature. Unfortunately there is another, far from placid side to some Buddhists which the Muslim world has had cause to see in recent years.
The genocidal attacks in Myanmar on the luckless Muslim Rohingya community by Buddhist fanatics was, until this week, the most high profile example of this bigotry. Now however Buddhist thugs have been at work in Sri Lanka. A mosque in the capital Colombo has been damaged and forced to close after violent attacks by Buddhist rioters.
This ugly outbreak of Islamophobia has been inspired by a shadowy group known as the Bodu Bala Sena, led by extremist Buddhist monks. It is suspected that there are connections between them and the monks who have led the massacres in Myanmar.
Unfortunately, the violence against Sri Lanka’s hapless Muslim minority has to be viewed against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s recent history. More than 20 years of savage conflict ended in 2009 with the utter defeat of the Tamil Tigers and the overrunning of their strongholds in the north of the island. The harshness with which the victorious government treated the Tamils, was initially excused on the basis that it was important that none of the rebel leaders was able to slip away, by hiding among civilians. Nevertheless, there were summary executions and refugees were herded into camps and kept there many months for “processing.”
Such was the bitter nature of the civil war that most Sri Lankans were to some extent or other brutalized. Moreover, an entire generation grew up steeped in conflict and confrontation. With the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, it seems that unfortunately some of the Sinhalese majority feel they need a new enemy, thus the country’s Muslims and indeed Christians are being targeted. The attacks on Muslim property or physical assaults on Muslims are not confined to the capital, but have been occurring with increasing frequency throughout the island. Until recently, the violence and intimidation have been low level and might have been dismissed as the work of mischief-makers. Yet there now seems to be a pattern to these outrages. Even if the sinister Bodu Bala Sena is not behind every criminal act against Muslims, it can be sure that its own thuggish hatred is inspiring others.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the government in Colombo must act with the greatest determination and firmness to stamp out this bigotry. The problem is that the police appear markedly reluctant to pursue and prosecute those responsible for these hate crimes. But it is not simply their lack of action and rigor that is the problem. Sri Lanka’s Muslims are seemingly being blamed for inciting the prejudice. How else can one interpret the fact that officials at the Colombo mosque, which has been at the center of this week’s violence, have been persuaded to close the building, at least temporarily?
This is simply unacceptable. There can be nothing provocative about a mosque. It is the job of the police to protect all property and all Sri Lankan citizens. It should also be the job of the government to ensure that aggression and intimidation of the sort that has been seen in Colombo cannot be allowed to succeed. Unfortunately by failing in its duty, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration is sending out entirely the wrong signal.
Diplomatic sources suggest that there is enough evidence to prosecute some members of Bodu Bala Sena for hate crimes. These individuals ought therefore be brought to trial and if convicted given the severest of sentences. The government needs to demonstrate that it will not tolerate these outrages.
Indeed, it could be argued that it is high time that the president looked to his poor reputation for civil liberties and human rights, and cracking down on sectarian bigots would be a fine start.
Unfortunately, Rajapaksa seems to have a thick political skin. He has been accused by the UN Human Rights Council over the conduct of the civil war. And the UN organization was also critical of his administration’s treatment to all the country’s minorities.
This November Rajapaksa is due to host a meeting of what used to be known as the British Commonwealth. Some countries have said they might stay away because of Sri Lanka’s human rights record. They should reconsider. If there has been no improvement, all countries should attend the conference and should use the platform to shame and condemn Rajapaksa in the most detailed terms.
ONE popular view of Buddhism is of a peaceable religion, some of whose devotees sweep brushes in front of them, so that they do not step on and destroy any living creature. Unfortunately there is another, far from placid side to some Buddhists which the Muslim world has had cause to see in recent years.
The genocidal attacks in Myanmar on the luckless Muslim Rohingya community by Buddhist fanatics was, until this week, the most high profile example of this bigotry. Now however Buddhist thugs have been at work in Sri Lanka. A mosque in the capital Colombo has been damaged and forced to close after violent attacks by Buddhist rioters.
This ugly outbreak of Islamophobia has been inspired by a shadowy group known as the Bodu Bala Sena, led by extremist Buddhist monks. It is suspected that there are connections between them and the monks who have led the massacres in Myanmar.
Unfortunately, the violence against Sri Lanka’s hapless Muslim minority has to be viewed against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s recent history. More than 20 years of savage conflict ended in 2009 with the utter defeat of the Tamil Tigers and the overrunning of their strongholds in the north of the island. The harshness with which the victorious government treated the Tamils, was initially excused on the basis that it was important that none of the rebel leaders was able to slip away, by hiding among civilians. Nevertheless, there were summary executions and refugees were herded into camps and kept there many months for “processing.”
Such was the bitter nature of the civil war that most Sri Lankans were to some extent or other brutalized. Moreover, an entire generation grew up steeped in conflict and confrontation. With the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, it seems that unfortunately some of the Sinhalese majority feel they need a new enemy, thus the country’s Muslims and indeed Christians are being targeted. The attacks on Muslim property or physical assaults on Muslims are not confined to the capital, but have been occurring with increasing frequency throughout the island. Until recently, the violence and intimidation have been low level and might have been dismissed as the work of mischief-makers. Yet there now seems to be a pattern to these outrages. Even if the sinister Bodu Bala Sena is not behind every criminal act against Muslims, it can be sure that its own thuggish hatred is inspiring others.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the government in Colombo must act with the greatest determination and firmness to stamp out this bigotry. The problem is that the police appear markedly reluctant to pursue and prosecute those responsible for these hate crimes. But it is not simply their lack of action and rigor that is the problem. Sri Lanka’s Muslims are seemingly being blamed for inciting the prejudice. How else can one interpret the fact that officials at the Colombo mosque, which has been at the center of this week’s violence, have been persuaded to close the building, at least temporarily?
This is simply unacceptable. There can be nothing provocative about a mosque. It is the job of the police to protect all property and all Sri Lankan citizens. It should also be the job of the government to ensure that aggression and intimidation of the sort that has been seen in Colombo cannot be allowed to succeed. Unfortunately by failing in its duty, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration is sending out entirely the wrong signal.
Diplomatic sources suggest that there is enough evidence to prosecute some members of Bodu Bala Sena for hate crimes. These individuals ought therefore be brought to trial and if convicted given the severest of sentences. The government needs to demonstrate that it will not tolerate these outrages.
Indeed, it could be argued that it is high time that the president looked to his poor reputation for civil liberties and human rights, and cracking down on sectarian bigots would be a fine start.
Unfortunately, Rajapaksa seems to have a thick political skin. He has been accused by the UN Human Rights Council over the conduct of the civil war. And the UN organization was also critical of his administration’s treatment to all the country’s minorities.
This November Rajapaksa is due to host a meeting of what used to be known as the British Commonwealth. Some countries have said they might stay away because of Sri Lanka’s human rights record. They should reconsider. If there has been no improvement, all countries should attend the conference and should use the platform to shame and condemn Rajapaksa in the most detailed terms.

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