A Christian shop in Negombo.
Shamefully, places of worship were attacked over the holidays – both Christian and Muslim. In this case the attacks seem to have been Muslims attacking Sufis (a sect) and claimed Buddhists attacking evangelical Christians. Both of these acts go under the radar because they’re on what my friend Dinidu calls ‘minorities within minorities’. The attacks are no less awful, however, and it’s sad the mainstream Muslims and Christians are not speaking out, let alone Buddhists.
Christians were once the power elite in colonial Sri Lanka but, aside from a mostly Christian military coup attempt in 1962 – they’ve mostly ceded power gracefully. The coastal strip north of Colombo is quite Christian as are a lot of people in the north. Colombo itself has a lot of churches, the old ones like Scots Kirk and new evangelical ones like Peoples Church (Assemblies Of God) in Narahenpita.
It was an AOG church in Hambantota that was attacked by an ostensibly Buddhist mob over the holidays, and these attacks on churches in more rural areas have actually been somewhat frequent, just under-reported. This is partly because Christians don’t want to make a noise and attract more trouble, but also because neighbors and friends aren’t speaking out. The old Christian power elite is broadly Anglican or Catholic and they don’t seem to identify with the newer (and I think faster growing) evangelical movements like AOG and Pentecostals.
If someone attacked a mainstream church in Colombo on Christmas it would not go over well, especially with Mahinda’s wife being a Catholic. These attacks on smaller sects in rural areas, however, happens in a sort of blind spot. This is a blind spot, however, that I think it is quite dangerous to ignore. This violence is part of the same cancer of ignorance and hate that threatens all Sri Lankans and I think we all have an equal stake in not seeing it spread.
That same ignorance and hate has been directed against Muslims and people have spoken out against that, but as Dinidu noted on Facebook, the reaction hasn’t been the same to the attacks on evangelical churches and Sunni Muslim mosques.
This would not be the same if it was a mainstream religion. Violence against Christians or Muslims – if mainstream – would be condemned in a snap. The same love has now been shown for the minorities within the minorities.
And I agree. I’ve been to the Peoples Church and it’s not the subversive cult a lot of ignorant commentators make it out to be. I haven’t much experience of Sufi Islam in Sri Lanka, but I’m pretty sure it’s not worth burning down.
These may not be churches or mosques that we understand, even if we’re Christian or Muslim. They are, however, places of worship that matter to fellow Sri Lankans, however small their numbers. We should defend each other as Sri Lankans, and we all deserve equal protection under the law.