ONE: Al-Jazeera Item, “Sri Lanka; Buddhist leader stokes anti-Muslim tension,” May 2017,
A manhunt is on in Sri Lanka for a hard-line Buddhist leader after a series of attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses that authorities accuse him of encouraging. President Maithripala Siresena had vowed to investigate anti-Muslim hate crimes after assuming power in 2015, however, attacks have escalated over the past two weeks. Another Muslim shop in the town of Kahawatte was reportedly burned to the ground this week by unidentified attackers.
Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General-Secretary Galagoda Atte Gnanasara has encouraged his Buddhist supporters to lead another campaign against Muslims following the deadly Aluthgama riots in June 2014, which attempted to create disunity between Buddhists and Muslims. Less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million are Muslim. The majority are Sinhalese Buddhist, while most Tamils are Hindu.
A broken window at the vandalised Kurenegala Mosque [Ashar Careem/Al Jazeera]
Political analyst Amjad Mohamed Saleem told Al Jazeera it was worrisome that violent Buddhist nationalism had re-emerged. “If the government doesn’t address this issue, it will spill over. We all know the ramifications of these types of tensions that are unchecked. The government has to respond with rule of law and justice if it wants to assure communities it’s not behind it [violence],” said Saleem.
A number of Sri Lankan Muslim ministers urged Siresena to take action this week in critical comments, and a meeting was arranged on Thursday to discuss a move to arrest Gnanasara, who is currently in hiding. A Sri Lankan court has now issued a warrant for his arrest. “The BBS secretary-general has re-started this anti-Muslim campaign as he himself was having problems with the police … for going against the authorities in a number of incidents,” Hilmy Ahamed, vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, told Al Jazeera.
“Gnanasara … wants to re-start his campaign to fuel tensions in the country. What he is trying to do now is to give the impression to the majority Buddhists that he will be imprisoned indefinitely due to Muslim complaints against him and his group. He is driving the attention away from his crimes.”
Ahamed also accused BBS activists of intimidating the Muslim community. “They have attacked holy places of worship such as our mosques and destroyed Muslim property and livelihoods… The problem was that the government had been lenient all this time towards the BBS crimes these last two weeks,” he said.
The charred walls of the Kurenegala Mosque after being hit by petrol bombs [Ashar Careem/Al Jazeera]
Azath Salley, an advisor to the government, told Al Jazeera the Buddhist hardliners were allowed to flourish under the previous administration. “The BBS had been very active in the last regime of Mahinda Rajapakse and have done damage to unity and created many problems for Muslims in the country. With the new President Siresena we hoped that improvements would be made to facilitate peace within the country. “We had to bring in pressure to the government in order to take this case up against the BBS, and I am glad that finally action is being taken with special teams being deployed to find Gnanasera,” he said.
Salley noted the country’s devastating 26-year civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and said he didn’t want to see any return of violence. “As a politician, I am concerned about the tensions escalating. We are peace-loving people and we do not want another calamity after Sri Lanka already went through a war with the LTTE. We want coexistence and peace in the community. I am glad the government has realised that he [Gnanasera] is a threat to national security.”
Amanthi Ratanakaye, 48, is a Sinhalese mother who said the BBS group does not represent the majority of Buddhists in the country. “We want to live peacefully and we do not support the acts that are done on our fellow Muslim neighbours,” she told Al Jazeera. “They do not represent us, but they are worryingly influencing our young, which is why action must be taken against them.”
TWO > Laksiri Fernando: “A New Form Of Anti-Muslim Terrorism In Sri Lanka: What Is To Be Done?” 29 May 2017, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/a-new-form-of-anti-muslim-terrorism-in-sri-lanka-what-is-to-be-done/
The incidents at present appear geographically scattered. But things can get concentrated and escalated into larger proportions, if stern action is not taken soon to apprehend the instigators. This is important as addressing the flood emergency and the devastation caused by this natural disaster and the administrative neglect, with all heartfelt sympathy to all flood victims.
The pattern of recent attacks against Mosques and Muslim-owned businesses shows those are not a reflection of any resentment from the ordinary people, but organized action by extremist religious and nationalist groups. The danger however is that the things can get quite viral and the instigators can recruit larger groups and influence others to behave in the same manner. The conditions inside the country and overseas might work in favour of them, if rapid action is not taken to control the situation.
There are clear indications and evidence for the direct involvement of the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Force Army – BBS) and its leader, Galagoda Atte Gnanasara. It is difficult for me to call him Venerable, Thero or consider him as a proper Buddhist monk. It appears to be a small group of his followers who go around the country, attacking the Muslims and their places of worship and businesses. His direct involvement in several of these incidents, including the attack on the Kurunegala mosque, is very clear. The most recent attack on a Muslim shop was in the town of Kahawatte in the Ratnapura district last week (22 May), before the floods came in, and it was burnt to the ground according to the reports.
This short article aims to answer one significant comment by Dr/Prof Lasantha Pethiyagoda to my previous article titled “Manchester Carnage and the Need to Combat Terrorism and All Forms of Violence”. I thank for the comment.
The comment in full was as follows.
“While the writer seems to sincerely believe that violence can be eradicated from human behaviour, he has not researched the fact that violence in human history has always been present and is an inherent feature of the human mind, together as groups or as individuals. Our thoughts are often violent, although we restrain ourselves due to social requirements or in fear of punitive repercussions. What needs to be addressed are the triggers for “terror” type violence and change government foreign policy (for example) that are unjust to hordes of civilians in far-away lands. However, it is impractical to imagine that these policies will be dismantled, given the enormous economic advantages that major (especially free market) countries have enjoyed for many years, at devastating cost to millions of “lesser” people.”
I wish to answer his propositions in Q & A form.
Question: Has violence been always present in human history?
Answer: No. There have been peaceful periods in human history including in Sri Lanka. The period of Parakramabahu VI (1410-1467) was one. These periods can be relative, nevertheless significant. The human history has produced the term Pax Romana. Similarly, one can talk about Pax Sinica. The period of Ming dynasty opened up peace in China. Of course, violence has so far been more prevalent than peace. This is the challenge of civilization. It is unfortunate if we (LP included) emphasize the negative than the positive. Steven Pinker (The Angles of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence and Its Causes, 2011) shows the decline of violence today including in Sri Lanka. I am not saying he is completely correct. But the attempt should be to sustain the situation without being critical.
Question: Is violence an inherent feature of the human mind?
Answer: Again no. In 1986, UNESCO convened 20 experts/scientists to deliberate on the matter. They came up with what is called the Seville Statement on Violence. UNESCO General Assembly later adopted it as a resolution. There were five core conclusions as follows.
- It is scientifically incorrect to say that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors.
- It is scientifically incorrect to say that war or any other violent behaviour is genetically programmed into our human nature.
- It is scientifically incorrect to say that in the course of human evolution there has been a selection for aggressive behaviour more than for other kinds of behaviour.
- It is scientifically incorrect to say that humans have a ‘violent brain’.
- “It is scientifically incorrect to say that war is caused by ‘instinct’ or any single motivation.”
The Statement concluded as follows. “Just as ‘wars begin in the minds of men’, peace also begins in our minds. The same species who invented war is capable of inventing peace. The responsibility lies with each of us.” This resonated what the Buddha said.
Question: Do our thoughts always violent?
Answer: The UNESCO statement comprehensively answered this question. If I go beyond, yes, our thoughts are sometimes (not always) violent. This is more so in the contemporary, competitive and antagonistic, society. We should look for personal and social solutions.
Question: Do we restrain ourselves due to social requirements or in fear of punitive repercussions?
Answer: Yes, certain social requirements prompt us to restraint ourselves. Simply said, that is good. Even if we get angry with our spouse or children at a public place, we usually don’t vent our spleen. There are also ‘punitive repercussions,’ for example, if you hit your wife even at home! In old days, those were not there. Perhaps still in Sri Lanka, you might be able to escape from punishment for ‘wife beating.’
But is that the better method? I hardly think so. Temper control might be even better for your own health, mental peace and happiness. Therefore, proper meditation might be the better way. I am not an expert on the subject, but I have heard, perhaps there is a part of the brain which prompts us to keep grudges, continue hatred and creates violent thoughts. This mostly comes from the subconscious mind. Therefore, the mindfulness meditation or such mental exercises can bring calm to your thoughts.
Question: Could addressing triggers be sufficient to prevent ‘terror’ type violence?
Answer: Addressing triggers are of course necessary. What are these triggers? The views on the matter can be different. Could the ‘grievances’ be the triggers? LP’s questioning/comments direct in that direction. How do these grievances are created? Particularly in the Manchester case, we are still at the early stages of uncovering the facts. If we take Salman Abedi completely as a ‘lone wolf’ (I doubt it), we should know whether he had faced personal discrimination. Was he unemployed? Was he prevented from doing any business? If the triggers are related to government policies and wrongs, of course those should change. I have identified some.
However, as I have stated very clearly, none of these ‘triggers’ justify violent reactions let alone terrorism. This is a broad debate even in human rights. This is about rights and responsibilities of human beings. Lack of rights, should not allow a right to violence, specially under the modern circumstances. In the Manchester case, what we know very clearly is the existence of the IS group and its ideology. To distract a bit, I did my master’s thesis on political violence and the 1971 insurrection. My thesis was against the ‘frustration-aggression theory.’ In treasure this thesis than even my PhD! In my findings, it is not primarily the grievances that trigger political violence but violent ideologies. Therefore, combating violence also should take an ideological, philosophical and educational form. I don’t wish to use the term ‘struggle’ instead of ‘form.’
Question: How far the economic and international policies (free market) of the West responsible for the ongoing confrontations and violence?
Answer: Of course, the economic and international policies have created breeding grounds for violence and terrorism. I have very clearly identified the key elements of them (not all, given the restricted space) as invasions (Iraq, Afghanistan) and effected and attempted regime changes (Libya, Syria etc.) Money, oil and power have been the motives. However, to pin them all to ‘free market’ is not the correct diagnosis in my opinion. It could be easy and fashionable, but not totally correct. That kind of an analysis lacks precision and depth. It is like Kokatath Thailaya. There are countries who have benefitted from ‘free market’ when applied cautiously and preserving the national interests. China and India are two. Even Sri Lanka has benefitted in the past.
If one points out capitalism, as the structural condition of contemporary violence of the states and non-state actors, instead of mere ‘free-market, there is much truth in it. How can we talk about free market without capitalism? But that is a general theory. Moreover, many of our radicals or ‘Marxists’ are so shy to use that word (capitalism) these days, perhaps preferring state capitalism for their own benefit. One reason could be they are talking about and involved in not ‘class struggles,’ but ‘power-struggles.’
In conclusion, let me ignore Lasantha Pethiyagoda’s slight slight that the ‘writer’ (that is me!) has not researched violence in human history. He also seems to think that my advocacy of non-violence is perhaps naïve! Both are clear from his first sentence. My reservation about his comment, in turn, is that while beginning from the premise that ‘violence is inherent to human mind’ in general terms, he then further attributes further justification for specific violence that I was talking about to economic and foreign policies of governments. This is done without a single word condemning violence. I am sure he would, but he has not.
- AL-JAZEERA: “Who is behind Sri Lanka’s religious violence?’ 17 June 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2014/06/who-behind-sri-lanka-religious-violence-2014617174319873584.html
- AL-JAZEERA: “Sri Lanka shaken by religious violence,” 16 June 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2014/06/sri-lanka-shaken-religious-violence-201461518571482939.html
- ACL Ameer Ali 1981 “The 1915 racial riots in Ceylon (Sri Lanka): A reappraisal of its causes,” South Asia n.s. vol. 4, p.1-20.
- PTM (Tissa) Fernando 1969 “The British Raj and the 1915 communal riots in Ceylon,” Modern Ceylon Studies, vol. 3, pp. 245-55.
- AP Kannangara 1984 “The riots of 1915 in Sri Lanka: a study of the rots of communal violence,” Past & Present, no. 102, p. 130-65.
- Kumari Jayawardena 1970 “Economic and Political l Factors in he 1915 riots,” Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 39, pp 223-33.
- Michael Roberts 1981 “Hobgoblins, Low-country Sinhalese plotters or local elite chauvinists? Directions and patterns in the 915 communal riots” Sri Lankan Journal of the Social Sciences, vol. 4, pp. 83-126.
- Michael Roberts 1994 “The imperialism of silence under the British Raj: arresting the drum,” being chap. 7 in Roberts, Exploring confrontation, Reading: Harwood Academic Pubiishers, pp. 149-82.
- Michael Roberts 1994 “Mentalities, ideologues, assailants, historians and the pogrom against the Moors,” being chap. 8 in Roberts, Exploring confrontation, Reading: Harwood Academic Pubiishers, pp. 149-82 ……… reprinted as “Marakkala Kolahalaya” in Roberts, Confrontations, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2011, pp.