Intolerance And Islamaphobia In Post-War Sri Lanka
‘Being Sri Lankan’ to me is a confusing idea sometimes. Do we really have an all-encompassing identity that cuts across our cultural and religious differences, or are we just unfortunate inhabitants of the same piece of land? Having grown up all my life in a country torn by war, the hope I felt after it finally ended was very brief. The war now only appears to have been a symptom of a disease we have failed to address the root causes of. Today ‘being Sri Lankan’ has been reduced to a crude ‘with us or against us’ rhetoric biased to a ruling regime that has arguably appropriated and been appropriated by hard core right wing ultranationalists. When Darga Town in Aluthgama was attacked by extremists, I was in Colombo gathering with friends and family. Not knowing the extent of the violence happening there, we didn’t know if the riots would spread; if our own homes and lives would be next. ‘Was this what July 1983 felt like?’ I found myself asking. 3 people died, almost a hundred were injured and untold damages, estimated by some to number into the billions, were incurred. As I write this six months later, none of the perpetrators of the Aluthgama attacks, not of any other religiously motivated act of violence Sri Lanka has seen over the past 2-3 years, have been brought to justice. Adequate compensation by the state has failed to materialize. Muslims were not the only minority to be targeted with violence, several Christian churches were also targeted and many of the post war grievances of the Tamil people remain largely unaddressed.
Is Buddhism violent? And does Buddhism have a ‘just war’ thesis? A mati pahana is usually lit by Buddhists as an offering of light, the flame a symbol of the impermanence of life, yet in Aluthgama the light lit by individuals claiming to protect the dhamma, raining down in the form of petrol bombs thrown into houses, only caused destruction to the lives and property of innocents. In Tibet, monks were authorized to disrobe in order to fight the invading Chinese, to them the biggest sacrifice was not laying down their lives but laying down their accumulated good karma by the very act of even touching a weapon. I believe war becomes just after a certain threshold is breached, but what happened in Aluthgama was pure terrorism. Being a Muslim, I know what it feels like to see your beliefs used as a scapegoat by some for unimaginable hate and violence. Faith leaders have a moral responsibility to speak out and promote socially and politically relevant understandings of religion in a way that directly addresses events in reality. Unfortunately though, a lot of them appear to be happy in a comfortable world of religious abstractions almost exclusively restricted to the personal realm, leaving the social realm open to the predatory forays of extremists and self-interested politicians alike.