Aug 22 2013

Vice: Furious Buddhists Are Making Life Hell for Sri Lanka’s Muslims

Muslims are under attack in Sri Lanka. Recent reports indicate that gangs of Buddhists have been roaming the streets, administering bloody mob beatings, and attacking places where Muslims work and worship. Raw pork has been thrown into mosques, the Halal logo has been banned, and the prominent Muslim government critic Azad Sally has been arrested. One dramatic incident ended with government commandos being deployed to maintain law and order after a gang of Buddhists injured four people at a mosque in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city, forcing it to close and a curfew to be put in place.

Moulavi Fazil Farooq, from the Islamic political group All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, told me that Muslims’ “freedom of religion and freedom of speech” are under threat in Sri Lanka. He also sent me in the direction of one of the Buddhist groups that have been accused of carrying out the attacks: Bodu Bala Sena, which roughly translates as “Buddhist Power Force.” Their stated aim is to “protect” Buddhist culture in Sri Lanka, as it’s apparently under threat from Muslim and Christian groups. (For context, 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s population is Buddhist—less than 10 percent is Muslim, fewer still are Christian.)

Unsurprisingly, Dilanthe Withinage, the CEO of Bodu Bala Sena, denies that his organization had any involvement with the violence. But then he does seem to think the whole thing has been blown wildly out of proportion: “Last night I was at a place outside of Colombo and almost 80 percent of the people there were Muslims,” he told me over the phone. “They were actually playing and eating—I don’t think there is a big issue.”

So there you go. As long as Muslims can relax and feed themselves in Sri Lanka without impunity, they shouldn’t kick up a fuss about taking the occasional piece of pork or clenched fist to the face.

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