Picture from the BBC, via Republic Square (RSQ).
I haven’t written here in a while because, well, I guess I haven’t had much to say. I’m been writing about food and leisure at YAMU but, well, somethings gotten in the way of that now. In a way we could sense it because of the constant halal debate on YAMU, which is mainly a food site. That food issue in many ways has become a touchstone for the Muslim/Buddhist tensions rising in this country. Yesterday those tensions seemed to explode in Aluthgama and Beruwela on the Western coast. The racist BBS staged a rally there and then paraded thru the streets. This exploded into violence, attacks on businesses and homes.
What’s perhaps most disturbing is not the violent echoes of 1983 – the race riots against Tamils that was really the start of a 30 year war. It’s the fact that the media blacked out actual reporting of what was going on, the President issued a lukewarm condemnation, and a whole lot of people saw this coming. What’s most disturbing is that we seem to have learned nothing from 1983 and that we still underestimate how dangerous and unpredictable this sort of violence and tension can be.
The BBS is a racist Sinhala nationalist organization ostensibly led by monks, but they are – for the most part – little more than thugs in robes. They practice none of the compassion, slowness to anger and right action or speech that is true entry to the Sangha. Not to mention the incompatibility of identity politics with a religion based on the entire renunciation of self.
In response to an alleged attack on a monk’s driver in Aluthgama, they staged a huge rally there, saying “This country still has a Sinhalese Police, this country still has a Sinhalese Army. It will be the end of all [Muslims] if a Muslim at least lays a finger on a Sinhalese,” (via RSQ). Now, Sri Lanka’s constitution has free speech with limitations, one limit being not stirring up racial or communal tensions. In this case the BBS seems to be literally calling for genocide if one Muslim hits a Sinhalese. Which I think would rile up some tension.
What happened since is a blur.
"I don't know who attacked first but once clash started it was like a war " BBC reporter in Aluthgama who escaped unhurt #lka
— Azzam Ameen (@AzzamAmeen) June 15, 2014
As above, most of the news I got was from Twitter because sites like the Daily Mirror would only cryptically say that a curfew was imposed in these areas, with no description of why. A lot of news reports have (reportedly) left out that there was a BBS rally at all.
What did happen is that Muslim homes and businesses were burnt and scores injured in the ensuing violence. But that’s not the scary part.
The BBS, perhaps learning from their friend the Buddhist Bin Laden in Burma, believe in a highly restricted role for Muslims in Sri Lankan society. They came to prominence over issues like halal certification and the hijab which, quite honestly, bother a lot of mainstream Sinhalese (with some reason), but their real agenda is more centered around conspiracy theories of Muslims taking Sinhalese women, making men infertile and generally taking over the country. While even I have an opinion on the halal and hijab issues, they are not discussing that stuff with an eye towards co-existence. Their agenda is a racist Sinhala state.
What’s scary is that the government tolerates and even supports groups like this. It was this misconception that radicals can be controlled which led to so much bloodshed and toppled governments in the past. It is this appeasement of racism which sows the seeds of discord and war.
It’s like we’ve learned nothing from the past 30 years. There was ample warning that the BBS rally would inflame tensions in Aluthgama. They have ample history of racism and stirring up communal drama, not to mention violence. Yet when violence happened, the media blacked it out and the government said they’d ‘investigate’. But there’s really little to investigate.
Groups inciting racial or religious tensions need to be brought to book and at the least, not have the tacit backing of the Sri Lankan state and police/military. Groups like the BBS are a threat to national security and they are in no one’s control. If the government is blind to this cliff then I hope at least that the people of Sri Lanka aren’t. The last war was really shit and there’s far less room for food writing or home building or start-ups if we go back to war again. Even if the result isn’t war, we don’t know that, and we as a nation are far too burnt to play with fire.