SRI LANKA

Buddhist extremists attack Sri Lankan mosque during Eid

 Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, was a bitter experience this year for Muslims living in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital. On Saturday, August 10th, while they were praying in a mosque in the eastern Grandpass neighbourhood, Buddhist extremists attacked and desecrated the holy site, injuring five people in the process. The attack was part of wider campaign mounted against Muslims and Christians by Buddhist hardliners who claim their culture and religion are under threat.

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Screenshot from the mosque’s surveillance video. Buddhist extremists threw rocks at the mosque.

 

Eïd al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, was a bitter experience this year for Muslims living in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital. On Saturday, August 10th, while they were praying in a mosque in the eastern Grandpass neighbourhood, Buddhist extremists attacked the holy site, smashing windows with rocks and injuring five people in the process. The attack was part of a wider campaign against Muslims by Buddhist hardliners who claim their culture and religion are under threat.

 

The mosque, which had only just opened, is a source of angst for local monks who believe it was built too close to their temple. Representatives from Muslim and Buddhist groups had managed to reach an agreement under which the mosque would be used until the end of Ramadan, while the Minister of Religious Affairs made a decision over where the mosque should be relocated. But this was clearly not good enough for the extremists.

 

Footage filmed by the mosque’s surveillance camera.

 

Earlier this year, Buddhist monks helped ransack two Muslim-owned shops. Three monks and fourteen others were arrested but then released, because no complaints were filed. Sri Lanka is home to 20 million people, and more than 70 percent of the population is Buddhist, while 13 percent is Hindu, 10 percent is Muslim, and the rest is Christian.

 

Photo showing the mosque's broken windows following the attack. Photo shared on Twitter by @AzzamAmeen.

 

“The attackers entered the mosque and urinated on the carpets”

Hassan Abdul (not his real name) is a Muslim student who lives in Colombo. He was in the mosque during the attack. He compiled the surveillance videos taken during the attack and uploaded them on YouTube.

 

We were praying on the second day of Eid al-Fitr on Saturday afternoon when we heard yells, threats and insults coming from outside the mosque. They were yelling ‘you dirty Muslims, we’re going to kill you!’ They started throwing rocks at the building and broke many windows. There were dozens of them and they were honestly very threatening: aside from rocks, some of them were also carrying wooden and metal sticks, and some were even holding knives. Several attackers entered into the mosque and urinated on the carpets.

 

I think it’s obvious that this attack was planned and organised by Buddhist extremists: it started right after the bells of the nearby temple rang, which could have been a type of signal. The attackers arrived suddenly, as the footage shows, right as we were praying, which means there were as many people as possible inside the mosque. Also, several attackers are not from this neighbourhood, it’s like they came here with the intention of ransacking our mosque. I think they even could have been paid to do so: it’s happened before.

 

On Monday, the army made a ring around the temple to protect it against potential Muslim reprisals. But there were no tensions, I think the Muslims are well aware that they are a minority and that if they tried anything, it would hurt them in the end. So we are forced to go back to our old mosque, which is not suitable for us, but there’s no one else we can go.

“These people are using the Buddhist faith as a means to affirm their Sri Lankan identity”

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is the director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a Sri Lankan NGO.

 

This attack was obviously planned. It was perpetrated by right-wing extremist groups infiltrated by Buddhist monks who resent Muslims. They accuse Muslims of trying to convert everyone. They see Muslims’ high birth rate as a threat to the country. But above all, they are jealous of the fact that a Muslim upper middle class has been flourishing in certain industries, namely in fashion and textiles.

 

It might seem surprising or even shocking to see Buddhists acting this way, because it goes against Buddhism’s image and principles. But you should understand that these people are using the Buddhist faith to affirm their Sri Lankan identity relative to Muslims and that they only represent a fringe faction of this religion.

 

This type of violence has happened before. Much like last April during the attacks against Muslim-owned shops, the perpetrators are not being held accountable. The reason for this is fairly simple: the Minister of Defence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who is also the president’s brother, has been seen publicly in the company of members of BBS [Bodu Bala Sena, “the Power of the Buddhist Force”]. BBS is the main Buddhist extremist group. So it is not surprising that the police never arrest anyone.

This article was written with France 24 journalist Corentin Bainier (@cbainier)