Why anti-Muslims attacks in Sri Lanka have shades of Myanmar

Shantanu Mukharji
Shantanu MukharjiMar 07, 2018 | 16:04

Why anti-Muslims attacks in Sri Lanka have shades of Myanmar

The Sri Lankan government  has imposed a state of emergency for the first time since the civil war following days of fierce communal violence between the island's Sinhalese and Muslim communities.

The second such happening in less than four years, the Sinhalese majority community (70 per cent ) members have allegedly unleashed a spate of arson and violent attacks on the 9 per cent minority Muslims.

The violence, which broke out on March 4, has claimed at least two lives so far and unleashed wanton destruction of Muslim property, including mosques, in the otherwise peaceful tourist spot of Kandy, a centre of Buddhist faith and lush green tea estates.

According to various news reports, the unrest began after the funeral of a truck driver from the Sinhalese Buddhist community, who died days after he was involved in an altercation with four Muslims, the government has said.

Although the Sri Lankan government's intent to rein in the violence seems genuine with the special task force ( STF) personnel taking over the streets to quell disturbances. This, however, has so far failed to instil any confidence among  the minority Muslims who perceive state’s complicity in such acts of violence.

lanka-body_030718035022.jpgLankan security personnel stand guard a road after a clash in Digana, central district of Kandy. (Credit: Reuters photo)

As per intelligence sources, it all began over the arrival of Muslim Rohingya asylum-seekers from Myanmar. Judging by history, violence is not new to Sri Lanka. However, experts analysing the situation find it hard to comprehend as to how Buddhists, considered to be pacifists, could resort to such violence (perhaps said in the context of Myanmar).

While these fears could be exaggerated, they are not wide off the mark. As it is Sri Lanka had witnessed decades of civil war leading to thousands of killings, endless destruction of property and damage to the country’s peace and tranquil until the last regime brutally crushed the LTTE in 2009 and brought peace. Yet, barely five years later in 2014, Singhalese- Muslim riots spread almost all over the country. The worst-affected area was Aluthgama.

It’s important to point out that Buddhist monks are highly agitated, as noticed in the recent past, and have been strongly protesting against the Muslims for alleged expansionism and forceful conversions. This is a charge many Singhalese leaders endorse with conviction. Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka, while accusing the Muslims, cite the example of Myanmar, especially Rohingyas, who have been accused of fomenting communal violence on multiple occasions.

The forceful expulsion of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, mainly to Bangladesh, too seems to have emboldened the otherwise peaceful Buddhists to check the rise of Islam in Sri Lanka which is manifested in what is described as Buddhist nationalism. Under these circumstances, we see a pattern in the Buddhists asserting to take on the Muslims.

Organisations such as Maha Sohon Balakaya and Bodu Bala Sena or BBS are allegedly on the forefront "saving" the Buddhists from any Muslim onslaught . They have the reputation of being the radical Buddhist groups who have emerged as the defenders of Buddhism .

Meanwhile, the atmosphere remains charged and any further rumour could engulf Sri Lanka in worst communal riots assuming monstrous proportions. President Maithripala Sirisena despite imposing a state of emergency has been facing widespread criticism. Also, questions have been raised over the government's capability to contain the situation, especially in the wake of a resurgence of Buddhist nationalism, as seen in neighbouring Myanmar, backed by outfits that are equally powerful. Meanwhile, Najah Mohamed, political activist secretary of the National Front of Good Governance Party, has blamed government inaction for the spread of attacks on the Muslims.

The Muslim leadership in the country has described the latest incidents as unprecedented and are not ruling out further spurt in violence in the near future. As of now, places such as Udispattuwa and Teldeniya remain as potential flashpoints in a country of 21 million population. It is worth mentioning that repeated calls by Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, urging Buddhists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka to cease violence towards the countries' Muslim minorities in the past have not stopped the anti-Muslims attacks. Reactions in India, both among the Buddhists and Muslims, too need to be carefully watched as a matter of precaution.

With violence continuing for the fourth consecutive day, Sri Lanka is likely to come under attack by Muslim countries particularly from the Gulf for not being able to protect Muslim lives and property. Saudi Arabia and other countries, who have been funding Muslim interests in Sri Lanka, are expected to come down heavily on the government for its perceived failure in maintaining law and order.

Besides, international human rights groups, in all likelihood, will also not refrain from castigating the Lankan government.

After the end of civil war in 2009, human rights groups have been on a tirade against Sri Lanka for its dismal and unimpressive human rights record. The latest spate of violence will only compound the island nation's problems.

Last updated: March 08, 2018 | 15:24
Please log in
I agree with DailyO's privacy policy