News You Really Need To See: “Buddhist-Muslim Unrest Boils over in Sri Lanka”

“Buddhist-Muslim Unrest Boils over in Sri Lanka”

The New York Times, June 17, 2014, p.A5

In some of the worst religious violence in Sri Lanka in decades, three people have been killed and 78 injured in riots between Buddhists and Muslims in this southwestern coastal town after months of rising tensions, officials said Monday.  The riots on Sunday followed a protest march by a hard-line Buddhist group, Bodu Bala Sena, which is led in part by monks.  Its name roughly translates as Buddhist Power Force.  Shops and homes in the area, many of them owned by Muslims, were set ablaze and vandalized in violence that continued throughout the night.  Mobs shouting anti-Muslim slogans and hurling gas bombs and stones advanced on a Muslim part of the village of Welipitiya, where men were protecting a mosque. … Buddhist radicalism has been increasing in Sri Lanka just as it has in Myanmar, which has experienced a surge in attacks by the Buddhist majority on the minority Muslim community.  Many in Sri Lanka believe that the Bodu Bala Sena has the quiet backing of [Sri Lankan President] Mr. Rajapaksa as well as his brother, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, although the Rajapaksas have denied any link.  Previous attacks by the Bodu Bala Sena have gone unpunished, and hard-line monks have been able to operate largely with legal impunity.  The Rajapaksas are hoping to consolidate the Sinhalese majority vote, which is about 75 percent of the country, by demonizing minority Muslims and Tamils, said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, the executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives, a nonpartisan policy institute in the capital, Colombo.  The presidential election is not scheduled until 2016, but there is speculation that President Rajapaksa will call elections far earlier.”

Quickie Analysis:  Like in Myanmar, the Muslim minority community in Sri Lanka is falling victim to ethnic animosities and politicking.  Given that Sri Lanka just ended a decades-long conflict, one would think Sri Lankans would be averse to starting another one.

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