The undercurrent of racial tensions sweeping through Sri Lanka is gaining momentum. Unchecked and unrestrained by a government appearing to give in to their divisive demands, the terrorist Buddhist group, the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force), is threatening to turn the island into a bloody battlefield.
The Muslims targeted by this fanatical element are not the only minority being subjected to acts of violence. Christians on the island are also under attack. The authorities are turning a blind eye and the mainstream media chooses to ignore this rising peril. Recently, two churches were attacked by the radical elements of the BBS, and two others forced to shut down due to pressure from these fanatics.
On March 9 in Batticaloa, BBS rogues burned down a church in the middle of the night. On March 17, a mob led by Buddhist monks barged into the Brethren Church in Agalawatte and threatened them into stopping the services.
On the same day, in another part of the country, four monks along with a cameraman went to the Margaya Fellowship Church at Sevanapitiya in Polonnaruwa. They accused the pastor of converting Buddhists and ordered him to shut down the ministry. The police arrived not long after and ‘advised’ the pastor to pay heed to their demands.
At Suriyaweva in Ambilipitiya, monks entered a house church and demanded that the meetings be stopped as they were not registered with the local authorities. On the same day in Weeraketiya, a house church was ransacked.
On March 10, the Assembly of God Church at Kottawa was visited by monks and the police who ordered the pastor to stop the meetings as they had not obtained permission from the local authority. A few days later, the Pentecostal Assemblies Church at Kottawa was visited by a mob led by monks who told them to stop the meetings as they had not obtained permission from the local authority. Another Pentecostal church in Galle was subjected to similar demands and threats.
Last week, a BBS mob led by monks went to the Gethsemane Church in Hikkaduwa and threatened them to stop the meetings. A pastor working in Agnukolapallssa was also threatened with physical assault. The police simply asked him to stop the services. These are all facts gleaned from those who have been subjected to this racial tension in Sri Lanka. Buoyed by their success in the halal food certification issue, the radical Buddhist group seems intent on subjugating the island’s minorities into oblivion.
The Muslims, Tamils and Christians along with sensible Sinhalese Buddhists all have reasons to be alarmed. The government is playing politics by not reacting while the situation threatens to get out of hand. It will certainly not be a good thing for the country. So far, the minorities have been very restrained in reacting to these acts of personal transgression against their beliefs. The Muslims, in particular, are very disturbed by the attacks of these unruly Buddhists, who have been targeting their practices and beliefs.
Factual events of Buddhists chasing Muslim women and tearing off their clothes have been recorded and reported to the police. Their religion has been slurred and subjected to ridicule through crude drawings and posters. Their mosques have been attacked and burned. Their shops and business have been raided, and the BBS is warning off all customers from patronising their establishments.
As one Sri Lankan charged: “Disgraceful and distasteful anti-Muslim rhetoric is being ‘dished out’ by more than 25 anti-Muslim websites. The Sri Lanka government is fully aware of all these sites and the provocative and insulting posts ranging from insulting our Creator, our Prophet (PBUH), our Holy Book, etc but [it] just ‘looks the other way.”
Another Sri Lankan from whom I borrowed the title for my column had this to say: “I am an 83-year-old Muslim, and my physical condition is such as to make me unable to move or travel to Makkah. While all this is happening against the Muslims of my country, the Arabs are supplying oil, and also giving aid. If we do not get the support of the Arabs and Muslims, what are we going to say when we stand before Allah. My tears have not ceased since these attacks started in our country. I am old now, but what are we going to leave for the next generation of our fellow Sri Lankans? Your brother Ismaeel.”
The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is playing a dangerous game by not forcefully putting an end to this tide of racial tensions. Sri Lanka is becoming an unsafe place to visit for business or pleasure as any moment now, the island could become engulfed in another chapter of bloody racial violence.
Arab and Muslim countries must take decisive measures for the protection of all of the island’s minorities from these radical elements. It is increasingly apparent that the Sri Lankan government is unwilling to do so.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena