“Ironically, the end of the war in Sri Lanka has created a space for new conflicts to come out”
During the 27 years of war in Sri Lanka, lots of other conflicts that existed in terms of social, ethnic and religious differences didn’t quite come to the fore. But ironically, the end of the war in 2009 created a space for these conflicts to come out.In the past couple of years, groups made up of Buddhist monks and lay supporters have become increasingly powerful, engaging in hate speech and brazen acts of violence against mosques and Muslim-owned businesses. They have all sorts of conspiracy theories about Muslims trying to take control of the country. It’s interesting to see that the same thing is happening concurrently in Burma: as relations between the Burmese population and its leaders pacify, Buddhist extremists are increasingly attacking the country’s Muslim minority there, too.“What’s disturbing is that our defence secretary is openly associating with Buddhist extremists”Here in Sri Lanka, what’s quite disturbing is that our defence secretary – a very powerful figure who also happens to be our president’s brother – is now openly associating with BBS, the most well-known of the increasingly powerful Buddhist extremist groups. He recently attended the opening ceremony of BBS’s new training centre. [During this ceremony, defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told the gathered crowd that “It is the monks that protect our country, religion, and race. […] We’re here to give you encouragement. ” Not only that, but the BBS now has a deal with a telephone operator – whose majority shareholder is the government – to sell a ring tone they’ve created, which people can buy and download to their mobile phones, thus helping fund their organisation. This raises a lot of questions about our government’s agenda.It is clear from videos of the attack on Fashion Bug’s that the police are scared to get involved – why would they stick out their necks and do actual policing, when our government is not doing anything to stop anti-Muslim violence?
“People in the crowd tried to grab my mobile phone to stop me from filming”
There was a crowd of about 500 people, led by about a dozen monks. They were throwing stones at the glass building, sending glass shattering. Clothes from inside the building had already been strewn all over the street. About 25 to 30 policemen were on the scene, but were clearly overwhelmed.Most of the crowd was made up of young men, in their early twenties or even younger. Many of them were shouting epithets against Muslims. I asked one guy why he was there – he said that a Buddhist girl had been raped by a Muslim man, that she was inside the building and that the police wouldn’t rescue her. [This did not turn out to be true.]“I don’t know where the attackers got all these large stones from”I took out my phone to film the scene, but people yelled at me and tried to grab my phone. Camera crews soon arrived; monks tried to stop them, but they managed to get into the building to film the damage. However, when they came back out, people threw stones at them. I don’t know where they got all these stones – they were rather large. I took one of the injured cameramen to the hospital; he had to get three stitches. A man I met there, who had also been injured, told me that the crowd had first attacked a Muslim-owned shop not far from the warehouse, right next to his house; mistaking him as being Muslim, they threw stones at him, too.One of the warehouse's managers being treated for injuries at a local hospital. Photo by Azzam Ameen.The whole incident lasted about one and a half hours, and only ended when the fire brigade arrived and dispersed the crowd, part of which took refuge in the Buddhist temple right across the street from the warehouse and continued throwing some stones from there.