Sri Lanka : Into the Inferno of Blood-and-Faith Politics?
In Sri Lanka, hardly a month goes by without a church, a mosque or a kovil, being attacked by organised mobs, often led by hardline Buddhist monks [i] . The total impunity enjoyed by the attackers indicates that those who incite/perpetrate violence against religious minorities enjoy the protection and patronage of the country's real power-wielders - President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers.
When one of the most virulent Sinhala-Buddhist extremist organisations, the Bodu Bala Sena [ii] (BBS), inaugurated its "BuddhistLeadershipAcademy' in March 2013, the Chief Guest was Sri Lanka's extremely powerful Defence Secretary and Presidential Sibling, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Mr. Rajapaksa used the occasion to deliver a ringing endorsement of the BBS, which was engaged in an extremely toxic anti-Islamic campaign even at that moment. "These Buddhist clergy who are engaged in a nationally important task should not be feared or doubted by anyone" [iii] , he enthused.
During his September 2013 with Al Jazeera, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, instead of condemning the attacks on religious minorities, sought to justify them. He admitted that attacks did happen but claimed that these were just retributions, provoked by crimes such as child rape: "There were attacks".. What was in the background? Why were they attacked? Now see a girl was raped. Seven years old girl was raped. Then naturally they will go and attack them whether they belong to any community or any religion. The people when they heard about it they were so upset, relations everybody. There were incidents like that. All incidents have some background to that" [iv] .
In Sri Lanka, child rape/abuse is a mounting problem. But up to now there has been no reported incident of a child belonging to the majority community being raped by a member of a minority community. The Presidential statement, made to an international news channel, is thus an outright lie. Even more worryingly, President Rajapaksa's stance indicates that in his worldview an entire community can be held responsible for the crime of one of its members. According to this logic, the alleged crime of a Tamil is a Tamil- crime, the alleged crime of a Muslim a Muslim-crime and the alleged crime of a Christian a Christian-crime. When a Tamil/Muslim/Christian allegedly violates the law, his/her community becomes guilty by extension. And the Sinhala-Buddhist extremist mobs, in the self-appointed role of Nemesis, have the right to administer instant punishment to these alien "transgressors'.
In 1983, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attacked an army patrol and killed several soldiers. In response, Sinhala mobs unleashed an anti-Tamil pogrom. The Black July happened because all Tamils, including children, were held responsible for the LTTE's attack on the Lankan military. The President's endorsement of a similar worldview indicates that a religious conflict may be Sri Lanka's future.
Religious Politics in the Service of Familial Rule