Of Sinhalese Buddhism and Racism

I write this post with some level of pain and sadness. I write this also as a Sri Lankan and as a Muslim. My credentials in the Sri Lankan blogosphere are established, if not anything at least as someone with genuine love to Sri Lanka where I was born, where I lived except for five years of my life and where I hope I will be buried when I die.

Those of you who know me, know me for various reasons, one being my fluency in Sinhalese and the fact that it wouldn’t be discernible that I am a Muslim when I speak in Sinhalese to someone who doesn’t know me. Never in Sri Lanka (or elsewhere for that matter) have I been affected by racism, never have any of my Sinhalese friends (who consist of the vast majority of my Lankan friends) addressed me in racially derogatory tones with intended venom or malice, unless in instances when I myself have referred to me and other Muslims facetiously as ‘Thambiya’s.

However, racism has been present in Sri Lanka right throughout my life; I am in my mid twenties now. Never have I known a Sri Lanka devoid of racism. Sadly it seems, racism may be an intrinsic part of Sri Lankan society for years if not for decades to come, in fact one wonders if there will ever be a time in Sri Lanka devoid of racism. Racism is usually propagated by a majority community towards a minority, that is true for almost any instance in the world where racism takes place. By this almost golden rule of how racism takes place, Muslims and Tamils have been mostly at the receiving end in Sri Lanka. I am not suggesting that Muslims have in Muslim majority areas not preferred a Muslim over a Sinhalese or a Tamil.

But forget not the contribution Muslims have made to the Sri Lankan social fabric and forget not how loyal Muslims have been to Sri Lanka as a nation and as a state at its most crucial moments. From spilling their own blood for Sri Lanka in fighting colonial invaders to the crucial political struggles Muslims have made to gain independence from Britain. Remember ‘Parangiya Kotte giya wagey’ ? How Muslims took the colonial invaders on an almost wild goose chase?

Unlike in Britain, where Muslims are mostly immigrants not more than a few generations old, the question of Muslims in Sri Lanka isn’t even a question!

There have been several instances where Muslims have been attacked recently in various instances. There was this whole debacle surrounding the Grease Yaka, and now the following incident I am about to relate.

I don’t know much about this; Groundviews told me they are looking into it. But it is not a pretty sight.

Images suggest that Sinhalese youth under the guidance of Buddhist Monks and the connivance of the Police (who clearly are meant to be acting on the contrary) destroying a sacred place of Muslims in Anuradhapura.

These are Buddhist Monks we are speaking of, whatever happened to the very Buddhist principles of causing no harm? Of course it does not help the Buddhist philosophy when monks stand by watching and those desecrating the premises do so with Buddhist flags being waved about.

This news piece suggests the place was built illegally. Perhaps it was, or perhaps it wasn’t, I for one do not know. If it was should there not be a court order for it to be demolished in such a way? If there was indeed a court order should it not be the state that carries out such a demolition and not hooligans and thugs waving Buddhist flags with Monks monitoring their every step with hawkish scrutiny ?

It sets an extremely dangerous precedent when vigilantism spreads its thorny fingers around with the state doing nothing about it, more so when such vigilantism has been encouraged when there wasn’t even any harm done to anyone.

Traditionally, Muslims and Sinhalese have been on the best of terms. I have always maintained how Muslims (then Arabs who later married local women) have been in Sri Lanka before Islam itself and Muslims in Sri Lanka have a history as old as Islam itself. Halik writes about this here.

This is not the first time I am blogging about a mosque attack, I blogged here a few years ago.

I refuse to believe that the primary seed that is creating such hatred towards Muslims by Sinhalese Buddhists comes from Sri Lankan Buddhist themselves. The vast majority of Sinhalese Buddhists are innocent human beings who want to get on with their lives; the slim minority who physically sweat to do such laborious tasks are just the labourers. They have no ideology, they have no world view, they do not even live by the sacred texts of Buddhism (some monks included), they are just that – labourers who can wield an axe. Their capacity to wield an axe is being used, exploited by someone who would like to see the dangerous effects of what they do.

Call me a conspiracy theorist if you will, but I see a third hand involved, a third hand that would benefit in seeing Sinhalese – Muslim clashes. The Sinhalese – Muslim riots in 1915 were unnecessary and were based on an incitement. I have read material suggesting that with 2015 being the one hundredth anniversary of those riots, they should be commemorated. I fear for the Muslims of Sri Lanka when those commemorations take place.

This is beneath the vast majority of Sinhalese to do. This country does not need another conflict to screw us deep into an abyss. It is in the best interests of all to identify these elements and have them dealt with.

The problem with Sri Lanka is that you see negativity on such a regular basis where that which was abnormal once, becomes such a normal thing where people are desensitised to consider it serious.

I will not appeal to the Sri Lankan Muslims to remain calm, I know they would. Being the ever patient and resilient community they have been in the wake of so many difficult and tumultuous events, they would dismiss this as just another incident and try and get on with life. But the fact remains, these incidents keep happening, and the danger lies in the fact that the frequency doesn’t seem to diminish.

I am currently living in the UK. I will eventually return to Sri Lanka, I have never been part of the ‘Diaspora’ and intend never to be so. But when my friend asks me, Machang when are you coming back, and I see images like these, least I can do is tell a date and just shrug or sigh to myself.

Enjoy your weekend.

Click image to see larger.

UPDATE – For some reason I am having problems uploading images. Please save the above image to desktop and view it large. My post would seem less substantial without the images.


Filed under Sri Lanka

11 responses to “Of Sinhalese Buddhism and Racism

  1. That's just inexcusable behaviour. I couldn't make the points any better than you have Auf, so I'm not even going to try, but really… King Dutugemunu would've had their heads for something like this =/

  2. Dee

    I thought the demolishing of the mosque was quite rash as well. I'm also not sure of it being legal/illegal. Their only excuse was that it was part of the Mahamevna gardens which was 'gifted to the Buddhist priests years and years ago'. I dunno Auf. When M went to areas in Ampara and beyond, where he said he saw many many lands and temples where lots of Muslim villages had colonized where changed were the names and landscapes. Also other instances where there are many churches springing up in Dambulla and other areas where manipulated conversions are taking place within the poverty stricken societies in our country. Which is also OK, because people need to EAT first. So it's up to them, and if its so wrong, then the Buddhists themselves should manage to help these people help themselves. On your pics, it's ironic that Anuradhapura is still considered sacred when its known to be rampant for prostitution and the starting point of all nefarious activities directed to the North and NE. My point in all of this is that yes, with time, landscapes change, societies shift (IE – The Bamiyan statues in Afghanistan) and change is inevitable, in the Buddha's words. I don't know if the priests can hold on to acres of land and demolish other religious buildings when all of them teach good. Perhaps, the killing of goats ect, is what irked them but how many Buddhist do we all know are veggies in the first place? Lol. This is the problem. We are trying to squash and tackle the so called 'problems' in the surface when the underlying hypocrisies are varied and many. Starting from the very VERY scary fact that there does not seem to be law in this land and force rules!As Sir Walter Scott said "Oh! what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive!"

  3. I wouldn't call you a conspiracy theorist. I too believe that there are unseen hands at work, trying to incite trouble. Sadly the country is full of hypocrites who take up causes and stir up trouble only because there is some personal benefit for them. None of them really gives a shit about the benefit for the society. They rile up the poor and the uneducated into doing their dirty work, who ultimately end up paying the price, i.e jail or death. We have a beautiful country, but because of few bastards, everyone has to suffer.Peace

  4. Dev

    "Being the ever patient and resilient community "You have a pretty interesting opinion of your own community. Perhaps because this is because you are unaware of all the unsavoury things members of your community get up to. The Sri Lankan Muslim community is as full of racism and bigotry as every other community in Sri Lanka. The drug and pornography trade in Sri Lanka is dominated by Muslims, despite the pious mouthings of what Islam teaches. Most of the thugs and underworld gangsters in Colombo are also Muslim.Where were you when a mob of Sri Lankan Muslims hacked to death a Sinhalese policeman in Puttalam recently? No blog posts about that? No outrage? No thoughts on "Sri Lankan Islam and Racism"? Extremism and hatred is flourishing among the Sri Lankan Muslim community not only against non-Muslims but against other Muslim sects as well. Usage of terms as "kaffirs" to refer to non-muslims is derogatory and unwarranted but this is what many Sri Lankan Muslims do behind the backs of others. When the tsunami struck Sri Lanka many Muslims were given refuge in Buddhist temples… and what did they do? Desecrate the Buddha statues. No respect whatsoever to what others hold sacred. Now Mudlimd insist on building their mosques and shrines in ancient Buddhist archaeological sites. Is there a reason for this? Can Buddhists (or Christians or Hindus) build a shrine in Mecca perhaps? We all know the answer to that question.Demolition of the ancient Dighavapi temple under Ashraff, the use of ancient Buddhist pillars and stone slabs to build Muslim houses (Pottuvil), setting up mosques and madrassas in ancient Buddhist sites. These are the condemnable things members of your community get up to. Sort out the racism and bigotry in your own Sri Lankan Muslim community before pointing fingers at others mate.

  5. Dev

    A key lesson learnt by Muslim fundamentalists in Sri Lanka from Tamil racism: Claim a fabricated history of 2000 years for Muslims in Sri Lanka and go a step ahead in turning temples and Sinhalese Buddhist archeological sites into mosques.Building a mosque on the tomb of the Sinhalese king Dutu Gamunu raised a many an eye brows of fair thinking people here and abroad irrespective of the ethnicity they belong to. The laughable and bizarre claim that a Mullah has been buried on the site 1000 years ago not only make one surprised but stunned. MORE AT: http://rebelofkandy.blogspot.com/2011/09/key-lesson-learnt-by-muslim.html

  6. Dili – Cheers mate, I never judged the Sinhalese Buddhists by this incident. I understand and appreciate the good nature at the core of all Sinhalese Buddhists, I blame and condemn the action but will refuse temptation to taint the faith, as the faith and race have nothing to do with such behaviour.Dee – Thanks for your comment. Let's dissect colonisation for a moment. What I think you are saying is that Muslims have immigrated in vast numbers to traditionally sinhalese areas. This can be done in two ways, legally or illegally. If legally done, there is nothing wrong whatsoever with that colonisation, an citizen has to buy a land and live there, if they want to change the street name, they can legally seek approval to do so, I personally am not a fan of changing street names but there is nothing wrong if done legally.If done illegally, and Muslims are encroaching into these lands and are basically squatters who have occupied the lands they should be chased out and should feel the full force of the law, NOT of thugs and hooligans. If what M saw was evidence of illegal colonisation I think those of the Sinhalese concerned should gather evidence, go to courts and prosecute the culprits, Muslims or not. I don't know why you call these manipulated conversations, lets call these what they are – forced conversions. That is extremely morally unethical and I am sure the law can find a way to do it.Bamiyan was wrong and I was amongst the first to condemn the barbarity of the Taliban. But don't forget I am a Sri Lankan and I have never been to Afghanistan and I have nothing to do with that. Chinese Buddhists massacred large amounts of Muslims in Xingian province in CHina, never have I even come close to thinking of Sri Lankan Buddhists being answerable to what the Chinese Buddhists did. However sadly, Sri Lankan Muslims bear the brunt of a lot of mistakes non Sri Lankan Muslims do.Not having law and order is very very dangerous and we will never rise up as a country until that matter is sorted.Azrael – Thanks for dropping by. Comforting to know that I am not the only one to feel this third hand. People parasite on conflict, and survive and live on it. Sadly, we fight to keep others going. If only the average Sri Lankan will wake up to recognise this.Dev – You're claims are absolutely spurious, I don't want to dignify by attempting to respond to your claims. If a researcher were to go through your facts he will find them laughable.I wish not to descend to your level mate. I hope you will recognise how much a prisoner you are of your own propaganda.You may find this interesting http://sundaytimes.lk/110911/Timestwo/int04.html

  7. I don't think you can deny that there are many segregationist Sri Lankan Muslims overtly practicing cultural apartheid by way of their garments, their disdain for non-Muslims, and by a continuous show of their total disinterest in becoming integrated into the greater Sri Lankan society. They may live in Sri Lanka, but their hearts and minds reside in the Middle East.You ask why Sri Lankan Muslims are critiqued for things that other Muslims do. Well Sri Lankan Muslims – out of their own free will – have chosen "MUSLIM" as their over-arching identity. They have rejected the use of the term "Moors." so when you choose a religious identity as your absolute main identity what other MUSLIMS living in other countries do matters.Anecdotally, I had a few Sri Lankan Muslim acquaintances and when the Bamiyan Buddhas were blown up, they justified it saying that it was "just rock" and that the Taliban did it to bring the attention of the world to starving Afghani children. If that is the case, would it be OK for me to, say, burn the Quran, because it is "just paper"? It's this hypocrisy that annoys a lot of people not only in Sri Lanka, but around the world as well. Basically, Muslims want all the rights when they are a minority (and act all outraged about perceived oppression), but are not willing to give those rights to minorities in places where they are in the majority. You don't have to go far from Sri Lanka to see this happening – just look at the Maldives. Sri Lankan Muslims do need to stop pretending to be an angelic community and they need to stop playing the victimhood card. They need to look within and see how members from within their own community are antagonizing others. It's amazing how when Sri Lankan Muslims actually killed each other over sectarian differences at the Beruwala mosque you and the the Sri Lankan Muslim community at large had nothing to say, but an illegal shrine is demolished and this outraged blog post comes up? I mean seriously? Do you know how many other shrines have been demolished/attacked by Wahabi extremists in Eastern Sri Lanka around the Kalmunai/Kattankudy area? Why no outraged voices over that? Afraid to bring out the dirty linen in public?The problem in Sri Lanka is that the country has granted its Muslims too many rights, such that Sri Lankan Muslims take it for granted that they can do whatever they want and get away with it. I can only imagine what would happen if Buddhists built/tried to build a Buddhist temple in a town sacred to Muslims, and then on land held sacred by Muslims in a Muslim-majority country. You can insert the word "Hindu/Christian/Jewish" instead of Buddhist with no difference.

  8. "The [Sri Lankan Muslim] community is now experiencing a process of psychological Islamisation as more and more a strict adherence to Islam and the Muslim dress code prevail, isolating those who do not agree with Islamisation. This also comes with attacks against Sufis. This trend is very noticeable not only among the Muslims of the North and East, but also among the Muslims of the South and West, including Colombo, where Muslims have always been relatively liberal in their religious outlook.Islamic radicalization is in an early stage and has its origin in political and social factors. Those who are in power or associated with the Sinhala political class, particularly Muslim political elites and politicians need to understand the reality on the ground, and adopt political moves to find solutions. Such measures can help weaken Islamic fundamentalists and rescue Muslims from joining global jihadists who have become aware of marginalized Muslims in the subcontinent. In reality, Muslim elites, politicians and scholars are in denial when it comes to Islamisation and the recent growth of Islamists. Some of those who deny the reality are actually aware of the reality, but prefer to discuss it within the community and avoid outside attention. Communities often want to hide their problems and choose instead to paint a nice picture of themselves. This is not only common to Sri Lanka Muslims; it can be seen among the non-Muslims in Sri Lanka and beyond. The point is that denial is dangerous, because when you deny the problem, finding a real solution will be difficult, from elites to the masses."http://www.asianews.it/news-en/The-Muslim-party%E2%80%99s-demands-and-Islamisation-in-Sri-Lanka-22720.html

  9. I agree with Auf that this problem has nothing to do with the Buddhist-Muslim relationship. Buddhist-Muslim relationship are strong as ever and there is no rupture in it.The problem is that some external forces or their lakeys in Sri Lanka wanted to stir trouble between the Buddhist and the Muslim. They don't want to see our country free and independent. We are just emerging after the three decades old bloody war imposed upon us by our own follies and external machination. Now the very same mercenaries that worked with the separatists are working with (some)NGOs to forment trouble in this land. Particularly to tarnish the image of the majority Buddhist as a people who cannot live with other communities. The more these get media attentions, the tamil seperatists and their western handlers gain credits to prove that Sinhala Buddhists are a violent nation and that the Tamil claim is justifiable. This issue, I believe that the majority of the Buddhists and the majority of the Muslims view this as a plot against the nation than a plot against the Muslims.I believe that this is a simple problem. A problem of Mercernary NGO taking the law to their hands. Whether the shrine built is legal, illegal, historical or not. It is for the law enforcement bodies to respond if there is a breach of law by any party. True Buddhists are law abiding (I mean the NGO was not law abiding)and Sri Lankan legal system is sufficient enough to deal with these.This is a very clear indication of foreign funded NGO/mercenaries trying to prove to the world that Sri Lanka is a FAILED STATE when its people and the government are purifying and establishing the state after 30 years war. What is needed here is not rhetorics and polemics but active state response and establishment of state writ on every inch of our soil by establishing law and order so that there will be no illegal activities by anyone and NGO/Mercernaries need not take law to their hand.Comments by Dev and Janesh takes us nowhere. This post is talking about a specific problem of 'One supposed to have violated the civil law' and the 'Other taking the law to their hands'. The fist case is a violation of civil law and the second case is an affront to state writ when non state actors take law to their hand like the LTTE establishing their own writ. Dev and Janesh are going at a tangent speaking 'KOHE THO YANNE, MALLE POL' sounds typical mercerneries hell bent on confusing the reader and hiding behind confusion.

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