A study of Contemporary Buddhist-Muslim Relations in Sri Lanka Part 4
Posted on September 27th, 2017

by  Prof. G. H. Peiris

August 27, 2017

 Continued from Part 3

Several sources of information[i] (especially the video clips produced by three popular TV channels) indicate that late-evening on 10 August a mob stoned the mosque, broke into its inner sanctums, and damaged the fixtures in the ground-floor in a frenzied attack. The list of causalities of the attack indicate that the devotees had been prepared to meet violence with violence, although the Imam of the mosque emphasised in  a later media statement that the devotees did not use weapons to defend themselves. He also charged that a contingent of about 40 police personnel remained as mere spectators of the melee outside the mosque. Several other stories including a Reuter report dated 12 August and a news broadcast by the BBC on the same day stated that “…hundreds of Muslims took to the streets during the attack on the mosque two days earlier, and that the police and the ‘Special Task Force’ dispersed the crowd, imposing a curfew in the area”. There were, however, several other reports that highlighted the inadequacy of the security provided to uninvolved residents of the area, and that law enforcement efforts were administered mainly on Muslim miscreants.

Aljazeera (an institution that has a record of hostility towards Sri Lanka) reported on 13 August that about ten injured persons from both communities were admitted to hospital (among them, two police officers). Despite the police curfew imposed and the formidable presence of law enforcers in the area over the next two days, it did not eliminate either the sporadic incidence of rioting or the spill over of violence to surrounding localities, especially to neighbourhoods where there has been a trend towards ethnic ghetto formation. These failures and shortfalls were not unmitigated as evidenced by the effective police protection provided to the Muslim community residing in proximity to the Baptist church (Figure 19) a few hundred meters to the west of Swarna Chaitya Road. In any event, after dust had settled down, there was little evidence of looting and property damage, and of the use of excessive force in law enforcement.

In the turbulent aftermath of the riot there were interventions by a conglomerate of political bigwigs  ̶ among them, Rauf Hakeem, SLMC leader and Minister of Justice; A. H. M. Fowzie, Minister of Urban Development; Rishard Bathiyutheen, Minister of Industry and Commerce, Faizer Musthapha, Minister of Investment Promotion; Basheer Segu Dawood, Minister of Productivity Promotion; M.L.A.M. Hisbullah, Deputy Minister of Economic Development (all of the central government during the much maligned Rajapaksa regime); Alavi Maulana (Governor of the Western Province); and A.J.M. Muzammil, the Mayor of Colombo. This last set of information is especially meant for the edification of those who would follow our friend John Holt in the search for the truth about the ‘plight’ of Muslims in Sri Lanka and Myanmar from comparative perspectives.

Once again the follow-up publicity including wildly sensationalised accounts of the clash as an effort by Buddhist to subjugate Muslims were spread all over the world. It is possible to discern in it both the continuing effort at intensifying the estrangement of relations between the Rajapaksa regime and the Muslim community in Sri Lanka as well as disrupting the goodwill which President Rajapaksa had nurtured in Sri Lanka’s external relations with Islamic countries. There was also the usual smug condemnation of Sri Lanka, its majority community and the Rajapaksa regime. Laksiri Fernando,[ii] the don referred to earlier, targeted his brickbats at Champika Ranawaka for the authentic and factually rich account of the riot titled ‘True Story of Grandpass’ published by the Minister which Fernando branded as an unashamed defence of “…the acts of violence and religious-racial hatred against the Muslims,” a riot which others have described as “a despicable act of thuggery and intimidation in the name of religion in Grandpass.” Likewise, according to the usual Jeyaraj venom it was:[iii]

“A well–planned dastardly attack was launched by armed Buddhist extremists against an Islamic Mosque in the Sri Lankan Capital of Colombo on Saturday August 10th 2013 while Maghrib”(After Sunset) prayers were in progress. The attack conducted with Police connivance against the Mosque and some Muslim residences in the vicinity came just one day after adherents of the Islamic faith celebrated Eid Ul Fitr” (feast of the breaking the fast) … The provocative attack caused a large number of Muslim youths (note the distinction between Buddhist extremists’ and ‘Muslim youth’) to rally in a defiant mood to defend the house of God”(Allaavin Illam) resulting in the Ethno religious Fascist” mob dispersing from the scene with the help of the Police”.

Writers of this type, I have observed, need only snippets of information picked up from here and there for their displays of sanctimony. I spent quite a lot of effort to find the “others” referred to by Fernando, but couldn’t find them in the available records. These guys do not seem to care for facts. Why should they? They already have their conclusions.

Dharga Town Detonation

The explosion in the urbanised Aluthgama-Dharga Town-Beruwala area (hereafter, ‘ADB‘) detonated at Dharga Town to last over several days in mid-June 2014, penetrating sporadically into some of the adjacent townships (Wælipenna about 10 km to the interior where there is a sizeable Muslim presence being among the worst affected), should be examined in detail not only because it was referred to as the worst Buddhist-Moslem clash since 1915, but also for the reason that it illustrates several features typical of ethnic conflict at the grassroots such as the demographic and social impulses that generate inter-ethnic animosities, seemingly minor interpersonal skirmishes and imprudent exhibitions of machismo igniting major ‘civil commotions’, and the vulnerability of small, economically weak, multi-ethnic nation-states to destabilising external manipulation.

The ADB is a densely populated urbanised area located midway between the old coastal cities of Colombo and Galle. It has experienced an extraordinarily rapid pace of tertiary development during the recent decades   ̶ a process that appears to have accelerated since 2009 by the economic ‘peace dividends’ in the form of proliferation of beach and river-front tourist resorts. Accordingly, in population growth of 32% between 1981 and 2001 (more recent data on local government units are not available in published form) it has outpaced all other towns along the west coast from Colombo to Galle. It is also of relevance that the ADB is the only urban area in this stretch of the island’s maritime fringe where the percentage of Muslims in the total population is higher than that of the Sinhalese. From a larger geographical perspective it thus appears as an urbanised ethnic enclave with a densely populated, predominantly Buddhist, rural hinterland  ̶ more significantly, a ‘paddy-rubber-commuter’ setting that has not shared in the recent economic boom of the urban ADB.

With a residential locality within the Beruwala Urban Council area that has, over centuries, been the abode of Moslem merchants associated with maritime trade, especially in spices and gems ̶ its mosque (Kechimalai Masjid) is regarded as the oldest in the island ̶  and with trade and commerce in the ADB also being largely in the hands of its Muslim community, there is here the semblance of a Buddhist-Moslem socioeconomic dichotomy as well. There is, in addition, a widespread belief among the Sinhalese that the Moslems in the ADB (and probably elsewhere in several parts of the country) have been receiving an abundance of spiritual and material benefits from the affluent Islamic countries

of West Asia. There are said to be indications of an increasingly pronounced attitudinal contrast between educated young Muslims among whom are those who have been influenced by Wahhabist thought, and the older, more conventional Sunni Muslims in Sri Lanka, and that it has behavioural and political repercussions, especially on ethnic relations.[iv]

The widely disseminated story of the “Aluthgama Riot” of June 2014 is that, although the town has hardly ever been a hot-spot of ethnic conflict, it has also never been entirely free of localized interpersonal altercations featured y ethnic undercurrents. The brief Sinhalese-Muslim clash there in 2002 that necessitated police intervention is one such example, somewhat more violent than usual, that also had pronounced elements of political party rivalry. The complaint lodged with the police on 8 June 2014 (?) regarding a paedophilic rape committed on a Sinhalese child by a Muslim trader (referred to on p. 12, above) could have appeared as yet another similar occurrence rather than the commencement of a series of event leading to inter-communal tension that was to explode on the 15th of that month. Implicit in this generally accepted story is that it was not the seriousness of the “altercation” that ensued when Ven. Ayagama Samitha was confronted by some Moslem youth in Dharga Town attempting a macho display of ‘Hell’s Angels’ on 12th June, but the spread of exaggerated versions of that incident, the advent of the BBS and other extremist groups into the scene, the organising of an inflammable protest rally in Aluthgama on 15th June, and the incitement to violence by those who addressed the rally  ̶ Ven. Gnanasara performing the lead role among the villains ̶  that caused the outburst of the riot. According to this version of the story, the massive gathering went berserk at the end of the rally, engaging in violence targeted at the Muslims in the form of homicide, arson, looting, and destruction of property well into the night of 15-16 June despite the imposition of a curfew on Aluthgama at dusk. Ineffective as the curfew was in the suburban and rural localities, mob violence continued to occur at various places on the 16th and the 17th. Downtown Aluthgama itself appears to have been largely spared of violence after the initial outburst.

There were other embellishments to this widely disseminated story, regardless of whether such renditions were meant to contribute to the ‘Regime Change’ project or the outcome of intense personal fury at the fact that Buddhist mobs had dared to attack the Muslims in an area that had for long been a bastion of Muslim economic and political power. For instance, there was the report authored by Latheef Farook on 16 June under the banner headline Aluthgama Riots: Meticulously Planned And Executed to Military Precision, that opened with the statement: “Mayhem of an unprecedented scale in and around Aluthgama which later spread to Dharga Town and Beruwala following the highly inflammatory speech by Sinhala racist outfit BBS’s General Secretary Gnanasara Thero, the Buddhist Zionist who is hell bent on shedding Muslim blood”.

Quite clearly, Mr. Farook had paid scant attention to whether his describing this riot as “meticulously planned and executed with military precision” was based on a reasonable analysis of facts. A scribe of his experience would undoubtedly know, on the one hand, about pre-planned, and carefully organised riots, openly patronised by those at the highest levels of government, preceded by ritualistic displays such as ‘Rath Yāthra‘ or ‘Kāli Pooja‘, and executed under the direction of stooges of politicians and hired underworld musclemen, that have occurred in India such as those of, say, the Calcutta Riot of 1964, the Ayodhya and Mumbai Riots of 1992, or the Gujarat Riots of 2002; and on the other hand, of innumerable ethnic clashes that have occurred, especially in smaller urban localities of the sub-continent, that were sparked off quite unexpectedly by some relatively minor altercation such as a property dispute, an “unacceptable” romantic link, an act of “eve-baiting”, killing of a calf, or, as it happened in Kanpur in 2001, hurling brickbats at a ‘procession’ raising funds for the Ramjanmabhoomi Temple project. The baffling question is why scribes of the calibre of Latheef (and Ameer Ali to whom I have referred earlier) resort to this type of fanciful hyperbole. Further, in the case of Latheef’s phrase “military precision”, one could easily surmise a subtle but totally unfounded attempt to link Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Defence Secretary, to the riot. The simple fact is that there was no damned “meticulous planning” or “military precision” in anything that happened in that riot. Mr. Latheef knows it as well as anyone capable of exercising even an iota of detachment and neutrality. So, despite the image of suavity and graciousness some of these writers try to project about themselves (going to the extent of adorning the rubbish they produce with their own photographs), I am reluctantly compelled to say that what they attempt is not different in respect of impulse and impact from what Ven. Gnānasāra does with his rustic aggression.

In order to understand what really happened in the ADB area in mid-June 2014 it would be useful to re-examine a series of facts on which there could hardly be any dispute. The BBS meeting held in ‘downtown’ Aluthgama began at about 2 p.m. at a venue close to the railway station. While more and more people gathered at the venue to make it one of the largest of its kind ever held in that township, the roadside Muslim gatherings in Dharga Town witnessing the influx showed signs of anxiety at what might have appeared to them as a massive Sinhalese “invasion” of their domain. Enhancing that apprehension, those who addressed the rally almost incessantly promoted the notion of Buddhism being deprived of its due rights in Sri Lanka, stressing an imagined emerging Muslim aggression, referring specifically not only to recent events in that locality, but more generally, in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

The star attraction was, of course, Ven. Gnānasāra whose aggressive demagoguery included a fierce harangue on alleged government inaction in the face of an ominous Islamic threat to Buddhism. While appealing to the gathering to refrain from violence, he also (in disregard of irony as he so often does) angrily threatened the Muslims about the disaster that would ensue “if you touch a single member of the Sangha, as you have done a few days ago”.

The meeting ended at about 5 p.m., and a large part of the dispersing crowd began their trek back home as if returning  from a  bout of  entertainment, (and, if the available video clips of this stage of the proceedings are to be used as evidence) with  absolutely  no sign of excitement, agitation or aggression, along the main road traversing Dharga Town, while a much smaller group formed themselves into an escort (described in certain records as a “procession”) of the injured monk, Ven. Ayagama Samitha to Sri Vijayārāma, the temple of which he is Chief Incumbent, located in the northeast periphery of Dharga Town. Then, as depicted quite distinctly in several video clips, the outflow of the rally participants was greeted in the vicinity of the ‘Grand Mosque’ of Dharga Town with a hail of stones and rubble that originated mainly from the construction site of a multi-storeyed structure (This, surely, is reminiscent of the momentous clash in the vicinity of the Meera Makkam Mosque in Kandy almost exactly a century earlier). It was at this point that the entire setting went berserk.

A corroboration of this fact is found in a well-informed statement issued by a consortium of 23 Buddhist organisations including the prestigious ‘All Ceylon Buddhist Congress’ and the ‘Colombo Young Men’s Buddhist Association’. It refers to stoning as an outrage committed by a gang, (a careful comparison of Figures 27 and 28 does indicate the attack having been organised). Ven. Māgalkandē Sudhamma Thero was among those seriously wounded. The statement recounts the targeted crowd fleeing in all directions (Fig. 28C). Some among those who fled launched an enraged counterattack with improvised weaponry, with the Aluthgama town riffraff joining in to have their ‘field day’. The riot increased in ferocity towards nightfall and mushroomed into a protracted calamity. Among the other undeniable facts are that the Buddhists of Pathirajagoda (a Sinhalese residential neighbourhood in the periphery of Dharga Town where Sri Vijayārāma and another small Buddhist temple are located), and in Wælipænna (a township about mixed ethnicity 10 km to the interior from Aluthgama) there was extensive physical injury and property damage suffered by both communities, but more seriously by Muslims who, on the night of the 16th were attacked by a rampaging mob from outside this area. This finds a measure of confirmation in a short documentary on the ‘Aluthgama Riot’ broadcast by the BBC ‘Sinhala Service’ which contained a series of random road-side interviews with Buddhists and Muslims in Dharga Town, Pathirajagoda and Wælipænna all of whom stressed that those who raided, looted and attacked shops and houses were gangs of unknown persons from outside this area. Likewise there are indications of the attacks in Beruwala being conducted by organised gangs of criminals, motivated by what they could loot and plunder Such raids appear to have encountered  a measure of resistance by private security service firms. Some of these facts find a measure of confirmation by the ‘Law & Society Trust’ investigation referred to above.

In late June President Rajapaksa engaged in an inspection tour of the ADB to initiate a government project of repair and reconstruction, channelling Rs. 200 million for the first phase of the project, and harnessing a large contingent of otherwise idle army manpower. This had a mixed response. There were, first, the cynics who argued that it was a blatant electoral gimmick aimed at retaining his dwindling Muslim vote-bank. The Rajapaksa detractors of the BBS and other similar outfits argued that the government response is yet another example of favouritism towards Muslims. They asked: “Why this karunāva (compassion) towards the very people who started the riot   ̶  a karunāva never shown by this government earlier to Sinhalese victims of terrorist attacks” There were, then, the more ardent anti-Rajapaksa propagandists (among whom were some prominent Tamil and Muslim politicians) who claimed that the reconstruction would (or was intended to) remove whatever evidence there could be for identifying these responsible for the violence! From what I could gather from a few informants in the field – Buddhists and Muslims – is that, in general, the victims were thankful about the government’s prompt reconstruction and compensatory measures. That these measures, however, fell short of eliminating either the occasional bouts of raids by gangs of petty criminals and drug addicts ubiquitous in the tourist resorts of the coastal southwest, or the localised brawls of the type referred to earlier in this section of my paper, is evidenced by relatively minor incidents of violence reported in the press from time to time.

BBS’s anti-Halal campaign

The information furnished by Professor John Holt on protest-campaigns conducted by Buddhist extremist groups contains elements of misconception. One such campaign initiated by the BBS and like-minded outfits from about early 2013was the so-called ‘Anti-Halal Protest’ which many writers have misrepresented as a Buddhist outcry against the Islamic insistence on animal-based foods being subject to the ‘Halal’ ritual of purification prior to consumption.

The misinterpretation I refer to is that the campaign was not against the consumption of ritually purified food, but the insistence by Islamic authorities on Halal certification being made a mandatory requirement for Muslims to consume any animal-based food, and thus prompting the large-scale producers and sellers of such foods to conform to that requirement, presumably in order to ensure that they and their retail outlets retain the Muslim segment of the consumer market (10% of the total?) and possibly with the vision of finding a niche in  the Middle-East market for processed food. This certification decree did sound ominous when one of the leading Muslim clerics in Sri Lanka announced on prime-time TV (publicised further by the print media) that, since stream-water could contain microbes of animal derivation, distilled bottled-water (a rapidly popularising item of consumption) requires the Halal ritual before release to the market. This, I think, really gave the anti-Halal brigade much joy and amusement.

The ‘certification’ entailed the payment of money (large amounts, according to those who protested, a claim the validity of which I do not know) to the Muslim authorities by the producers of processed and semi-processed solid and liquid foods, and their round-the-clock employment of Muslim supervisory personnel to ensure that the stipulated Halal procedures were being followed. This, according to the information I gathered, was also readily accepted by the larger suppliers of a range of foods who are said to have passed the additional costs to the consumers (again, I don’t know whether this is true). In any case, it is unlikely that Halal certification would have resulted in a significant addition to prices in the retail market. But I do know that many Sinhalese (not only supporters of the BBS) found in this entire affair an obnoxious act of ‘economic aggression’, especially when seen against the backdrop of the cartelised control which Muslim trading clans had over an overwhelmingly large share of the market in poultry products, beef, and the ‘Mid-Country’[v] transactions in a range of Sri Lanka’s ‘minor exports’ produced on peasant smallholdings, a near-monopoly over the wholesale market in rice in certain areas of surplus production (until it was breached in the recent past by kinsmen of the present president), and a sizeable share of the market in gemstone.[vi]

From research perspectives the timing of the advent of Halal certification is quite enigmatic. On the one hand, the aged among us were aware that from the ancient period of our own lives during which we, along with our ethnically heterogeneous buddies (there were among them, believe it or not, those who rigidly adhered to the prescribed practice of refraining from even a drink of water during long hours of the Ramadan fast), consumed all kinds of stuff in diverse states of cleanliness, with no certification whatever. We survived. But what really caused concern when the Halal confrontations were gathering momentum was the reason to wonder whether the Mullah edict was a challenge to what was perceived as an upsurge of ritual religiosity (or “triumphalism” as some of our experts tell us) in the majority community; or, more generally, was it a component of a worldwide priestly response representing the emerging “Clash of Civilisations” hypothesised by Samuel Huntington?

Regardless of the ‘why’, there has never been an objection by Buddhists to Muslims following the Islamic ritual of Halal in their food consumption. Cattle slaughter of any form is, of course, thoroughly resented by most Buddhists and Hindus. Not me.

Hijab/Burqa ban proposal

There could be no denial that public speeches, posters and pamphlets of the Buddhist fringe groups, especially the BBS, have occasionally targeted the hijab and the burqa in their anti-Islamic diatribes and proposed that these should be banned. The perfunctorily prepared list of 235 “Anti-Muslim Attacks” in an SLMC report (ibid., 2015) refers to 7 “attacks” on women – almost all, employees of schools and hospitals, in the form of requests/orders by their school-heads or hospital administrators to refrain from wearing these ‘identity-markers’ (with no information on ‘why’ and ‘how’ and the ‘outcome’); 7 items of anti-hijab/burqa statements in posters and leaflets; 5 acts of verbal harassments by males in public places (with no information on their form); and 1 item referring to a request made by a medical officer from a patient to remove her hijab in the course of a clinical examination. These must have caused embarrassment or mental pain sufficiently intense for being conveyed to the SLMC. In addition, quite a number of listed items are publicised speeches, posters and pamphlets by unidentified outfits where reference is said to have been made to these items of dress.

Could this type of information be considered as reinforcing a real fear of a rising tide of Buddhist animosity towards the Muslims? Having spent more than 70 years of my life in social settings of mixed ethnicity ̶ school hostel, Peradeniya university (the largest ethnically heterogeneous institution in the country), and my present residential neighbourhood ̶  there are two observations of salience to an understanding of grassroots realities that I ought to make; one, that thirty or forty years ago a hijab- or burqa-clad female was a rare sight here in the Kandyan areas where some of the largest concentrations of Muslim communities outside the coastal lowlands of the east are found (was it at least partly because they preferred to remain cloistered in their homes at that time?); and the other, there has never been a serious concern among ordinary non-Muslims about this or any other sartorial change that has occurred in this part of the country, not even about the increasing adoption of the ridiculous but supposedly ‘aristocratic’ Thuppotti by the Pāthaya (low-country) bridegrooms.

Soma-JHU-BBS: a continuum of Buddhist militancy?

Professor John Holt, at the outset of his keynote presentation, prefaced his thematic contention with the observation that the Sri Lankan norm has all along been peaceful coexistence among the nation’s ethnic/religious groups, referring specifically to the inclusivism” that has been a hallmark of Buddhism as practiced in our country from ancient times. It was because this was the sugar-coating on his bitter thematic pill that prompted from me to draw his attention (in a personal communication) to the brevity of his reference to the excruciating grief passively endured by Sinhalese-Buddhists at, say, the massacre of 165 aged worshipers at the Sri Maha Bōdhi, the devastating attack on the Daladā Māligāwa, and the slaughter of 17 baby-monks at Arantalawa, compared to the detailed sets of largely unverified information presented by him as atrocities allegedly committed by Sinhalese-Buddhist in the more recent past. This, I insist was not a kneejerk response on my part. Though having no claim to a Buddhist identity, I find revolting irony in the fact that perpetrators of these heinous crimes are never referred to with a ‘Christian’ or ‘Hindu’ appellation despite the unconcealed association some of them had with the clergy (and vice versa), even those at the most exalted levels, of their religions, while the criminals at Alutgama, Mahiyangana or Grandpass are readily branded as ‘Buddhists’ though no Buddhist prelate ever had comparable links with extremist groups like the BBS or the Rāvanā Balaya.

According to Professor Holt the upsurge of Buddhist violence in the recent years which he has portrayed represents the culmination of an ideological process set in motion by the late Gangodawila Sōma in the early years of the present century and carried forward by groups like the Jātika Hela Urumaya and Bodu Bala Sēnā. I confine myself here to mentioning a few facts of relevance to a scrutiny of this component of John’s submissions.

Venerable Gangodawila Sōma

Looking back into the past few decades I find several Buddhist monks who, though not belonging to the Sangha elite in the mainstream, not associated with displays of ceremonial piety by political leaders, and not recipients of political patronage, nevertheless gained extraordinary popularity. This, in my view, was due to their depth of understanding of the relevance of what the Buddha taught to contemporary Sri Lanka and the unusual ways in which they often disseminated Buddha’s teachings. The prelates Madihē Pagnāseeha and Piyadassi of Vajirārama are the ones that immediately come to mind. On the more recent past I recall Ven. Kotagama Vācheeswara (the erudite author of several works among which Saranankara Sangharāja Samaya is considered a classic), who left an indelible imprint on educated lay Buddhists. Even more profound in impact was the youthful Ven. Pānadurē Ariyadhamma, adored by an amazingly large following. One of his special attractions, I have been told, was that pansil, pirith and other stanzas he chanted at rituals were his own translations of the Pāli originals to Sinhala. The outpouring of grief at his sudden death was probably as large and as spontaneous as that witnessed at the death of Ven. Sōma, except that the Ariyadhamma funeral did not get much TV coverage probably because his deviation from orthodoxy did not find favour with President Premadasa, and, of course, there were no private sector TV channels at that time. So, in this sense, Sōma, in life and in death, was not a unique phenomenon.

Ven. Sōma’s mission extended over about five years in the course of which he did make frequent references to an impending threat to the survival of Sri Lanka as, indeed, many of us believed at that time (and I believe even now). The devastating Tiger attacks in and outside the battle-field represented only one component of that threat. The others included the willingness of both President Chandrika Kumaratunga as well as her rival Ranil Wickremasingha to succumb to the pressures exerted by the LTTE and its foreign patrons purely in order to strengthen themselves in their mutual power struggle  ̶  remember Chandrika’s ISGA proposals, the P-TOMS deal, the draft ‘quasi-federal’ constitution tabled in parliament in 2000; and Ranil’s potentially disastrous ‘Oslo Accord’ of 2002? And, don’t forget that it was Prabhakaran’s intransigence that saved Sri Lanka from certain peril. In addition, there were the cultural and economic offensives (hazily referred to as ‘consumerism’) against Sri Lanka about which highly respected lay intellectuals like Ediriweera Sarachchandra and Gunadasa Amarasekera also spoke and wrote with passion.

The vehemence of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism witnessed in the late 1990s was more than all else a product of that ethos of desperation and despair. It took various parallel and not sequential forms, of which Sōma’s mission was one. Others included the rise of organisations such as the Sihala Urumaya (the original avatar of Jāthika Hela Urumaya/JHU), Dharmavijaya Foundation, Dēshaprēmi Jāthika Peramuna (National Patriotic Front), and quite a few others, paralleled by the more conspicuous resurrection of the JVP that had not lost the ardently nationalist stance it had displayed in its disastrous insurrection of the 1980s. These were, for the most part, discrete entities, operating independently of one another and, invariably, in mutual rivalry.

None could deny that certain Sōma assertions were detrimental to the interests of the Muslims, Hindus and Christians. Those that readily come to mind are: (a) Soma’s conviction that divine worship of any sort by Buddhists does not conform to Buddhism. This, in my understanding, is quite correct; but must have been resented by god-worshippers, and must have been seen as an attack on the presence of Hindu shrines in Buddhist temple premises and the popularity of Kataragama which receives a great deal of across-the-board devotion; (b) Sōma’s condemnation of cattle slaughter (a largely Muslim industry) and his urging a ban on the sale and consumption of beef; (c) his fervent opposition to animal sacrifices at certain Kōvil rituals like the one conducted annually at Munneswaram, and his request that it should be prohibited; (d) his attack on what he referred to as ‘unethical conversion’ to Christianity practiced mainly by the so-called ‘evangelicals’ with funds from the United States which, for reasons obscure, acquired vigour in the 1990s even in Kandy, but mainly in rural areas where Buddhist temples and their devotees exist in abject poverty. Ven. Sōma had a lengthy TV debate (very cordially) with the late Mohammed Asraff, the founder-leader of the SLMC (who scored many debating points because unlike Ven. Soma, he had arrived with a lot of preparation, and matched Soma effortlessly with his pleasant persona). The focus of that debate was on the issue of encroachment of temple lands in the eastern lowlands. Considered collectively, however, these were peripheral to Sōma’s discourses on the decaying Buddhist culture and moral values in Sri Lanka. I have listened to him on three occasions  ̶ twice on TV, and once in the village my parents (ardent Christians) lived where the proceedings after the usual Pansil were a dialogue led by Sōma with a fairly large gathering that focused on destabilising changes in daily life at home and work-place, illustrated at times by what the Buddha had said to his disciples or an abridged version of a Jāthaka tale. I cannot believe that these had the effect of instigating mob violence against non-Buddhist groups.

Origin of the Jāthika Hela Urumaya (JHU) 

To say, as Professor Holt has done, that the JHU originated in the wake of Soma’s demise is an error of fact. The JHU, even in its recently published documents, refers to Sihala Urumaya (SU – ‘Sinhalese Heritage’) being founded in 1999 (when Ven. Soma was just entering the limelight, following his return from a prolonged stay in Australia). There was a pithy stanza with which the SU rationalised the need for their new political party, a rough translation of which could be read as follows:

They are rogues, these are also rouges,

Only Sihala Urumaya can save the nation from its fate”.

(Note: they” referred to the UNP, and these” to the SLFP)

The following non-negotiable principles” (cited below verbatim) were formally adopted at its inauguration.

  • The provisions in the present constitution relating to the National Flag, the National Anthem and the Buddha Sāsana should remain inviolate.
  • There should be no division of the country for political or administrative reasons on the basis of ethnicity.
  • Sri Lanka being the homeland of all is citizens, the claim that the North and the East as the homeland of the Tamils is rejected and it has no validity.
  • The 13th amendment to the constitution should be repealed and all legislative action taken under it should be treated as null and void. The provincial councils will be abolished.
  • Devolution of power should not be used as a means to the resolution of a non-existent ethnic problem.
  • Executive presidency should be abolished.

Interestingly, the SU had two laymen as its Chairman and Secretary – S. L. Gunasekera and Tilak Karunaratne. The other well-known lay persons in its Ex-Co included Patali Champika Ranawaka (defector from the JVP), A D V de S Indraratne (former Professor of Economics at Colombo), C. M. Madduma Bandara (former Peradeniya Vice-Chancellor) and Neville Karunatilleke (former Governor of the Central Bank). Arjuna Ranatunga, “The World Cup Winning Hero”, also had a brief tango with the SU. The Bhikku leadership included Ellawela Mēdhananda, Omalpe Sōbitha, Uduwē Dhammalōka, Athuraliyē Ratana and Kolonnawē Sumangala (& several other respected monks whose names I cannot remember) all of whom were elected MPs in 2004 when they contested under the JHU banner.

Bhikkus in Parliament: Crossing a Line”?

What happened in the period leading up to the elections of 2004 was that a plenary meeting of the SU decided to reconstitute the party with a new name (JHS) and a new leadership, and to field Bhikku candidates (who were deemed to have popular appeal and name recognition” among voters – vitally important under the preferential voting” system) at the election, in alliance with the SLFP. Note also that, by 2004, the monks who contested in the elections held that year and several others of the JHU had become well known to the public because they had figured at the vanguard of the massive public protests against some of the potentially disastrous reforms mooted by Chandrika and Ranil (referred to above). It was these circumstances, and not what John has portrayed as a posthumous impact of Sōma, that prompted the JHU to become a force to be reckoned with in parliamentary politics in 2004. In any event, there was no “crossing the line” from the temple to politics of our country because throughout the ages there was no such line to cross.

Bodu Bala Sēnā (BBS): Misinterpretations

Having had the opportunity of observing the BBS in action since its ‘post-war’ advent to the political limelight of Sri Lanka and of reading some of its Sinhala publications, and having followed as closely as I could the related media coverage, my impressions and speculations on the BBS are as follows:

The BBS’s flock is not numerically significant though it has a spatial scatter of cells consisting of loyal youth – mostly, “rebels” in search of a cause. Some of its meetings, however, are well attended largely by curious onlookers. Preparatory work for its political rallies entails a great deal of effort and expenditure. There appears to be no shortage in the supply of the required funds. In this respect the BBS is far ahead of some of the other Buddhist extremists groups such as Rāvanā Balaya, Sinha Lē and Sinhala Rāvaya that have been resorting to public meetings and street-side demonstrations. The BBS scale of spending suggests that there is no way the resources at its disposal could be generated mainly in the form of contributions by its local followers.

Ven. Gnānasāra was in the executive committee of the JHU in 2004. He left the JHU, claiming that it had become subservient to the interests of President Rajapaksa and his party, and hence had lost its purpose. It was probably this loudly proclaimed stance that enabled him to get external sponsorship for his foreign travels. C. A. Chandraprema with his impeccable record in investigative journalism has in fact unearthed evidence indicating that he is likely to have received sponsorship and support from the United States while having clandestine links with the UNP leadership (see, The Island of 22 June 2017). And, the Norwegian government providing funds for his trip to Europe has been an open secret. Ven. Gnānasāra denies with vehemence and anger this support from external sources, and claims that the overwhelming majority of his flock (including the Sangha) is from the rural poor who make immense material sacrifices to support the BBS cause  ̶  the latter is quite plausible.

At his public performances Ven. Gnānasāra frequently hurls insults at the Rajapaksas. Going by the dictum that “in politics nothing is what it appears to be” this could be interpreted in various ways. Whatever the interpretation, there could be no denial that in the period leading up to the national elections of 2015, he was a boon to Ranil Wickremasinghe and a bane to the Rajapaksa camp.

This brings me to the elusive question of whether at least some of the outbursts of violence attributed to the BBS were stage-managed. It is known that this type of destabilization, sponsored by the CIA, did occur in Pakistan, and that it led successively to the eviction of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto from office, his conviction for murder by a kangaroo court, and his being hanged. Bhutto’s real ‘offense’ was that, although he received massive US military assistance in his war against the Balochi tribes in 1974, he thereafter began to lean increasingly towards China in his foreign relations. No less a person than Ramsay Clarke (one time Attorney General of the US) has borne testimony to this fact; and taking into account several writings by Pakistani scholars on this episode as well, and the more recent global experiences with various ‘Springs’, along with the hostility of the self-proclaimed international community” towards Sri Lanka, I cannot rule out the possibility of Sri Lanka being the victim of yet another US-led attempt at making the world safe for democracy”. Disastrous US interventions also occurred in the period leading to the six-year ‘People’s War’ in Nepal. Certain scholars there believe that the 2001 assassination of King Birendra and nine members of the royal family in a palace carnage was a CIA plot and was not, as widely publicised in its aftermath, the product of the broken heart and demented mind of Prince Dipendra, the heir to the throne.

Public activities of the BBS are controlled very largely by Ven. Gnānasāra, a domineering personality who could act quite frenzied when provoked. Even those who believe that his proclaimed grievances are not entirely devoid of substance are thoroughly embarrassed by his show of excessive aggression. He is so obviously a megalomaniac. He craves publicity which continues to be provided in abundance by certain private sector TV channels and newspapers that were arrayed against the Rajapaksa government. To these firms, moreover, kalā rasa of any form – even pilikul rasa – is essential for enhancing advertising revenue, which also means that the more publicity he gets the more wildly entertaining he becomes, while continuing to perform his ascribed role in current political affairs.

From about early 2013 it is the BBS rather than any other such outfit that has been blamed by critics of diverse competence and status, here in Sri Lanka and abroad, in particular scholars, journalists, and Muslim and Tamil political leaders (including those who barely survived under the jackboot of the LTTE during the ‘Eelam War’), for the havoc caused in the major trouble-spots referred to in this study. Many of these critics have also suggested, or even explicitly stated, that the BBS is sponsored by Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya. It is also of relevance to my theme that Maitripala Sirisena, elected president on 8 January 2015, has contributed to the myth that the BBS operated with the connivance of the Rajapaksa brothers.

The fact that the rioting began in Dharga Town soon after the BBS meeting, taken together with Ven. Gnanasara’s aggressive personality and excessively agitated oratorical style, prompted most media reporters to believe that the speech was what triggered off the riot. This type of bias has not been a cause for surprise, especially to those of us who are familiar with the type of distortion purveyed as ‘news’ by transnational media outfits on conflict situation in the poorer countries where their versions find ready endorsement by the lackey NGOs that thrive on financial support from external sources. What does cause surprise and, indeed, disgust in the present context is that even those often considered as authoritative in their analysis of political events in Sri Lanka, the authenticity of whose interpretations is enhanced by the fact that during Rajapaksa’s presidential tenure they had been elevated to prestigious posts in government presumably in recognition of their skills and expertise have provided subtle hints of a link between the Rajapaksa regime and the BBS. In order to illustrate this, without an iota of an intention to trivialise what they had achieved in those posts, I cite the following extracts from an article by Dayan Jayatilleka published during the turbulences in ADB (emphasis added).

“So far it has been misidentified as the scarier mask of the ruling clan, the dark avatar of Sinhala Buddhism or the instrument of neoliberal capitalism. It may be all of these or some of these, but these are not the most important or dangerous aspects of its present-day manifestation, the BBS, and the Aluthgama outbreak. What is most significant about Aluthgama was the speech by the BBS’ Galagodaaththe Gnanasara, the main demagogue but not the main strategist of that formation. A careful listening tells me that the BBS project aims at nothing less than State power itself“.

Galagodaaththe Gnanasara’s speech signals the new objective of laying claim to control of the State and indeed the new self-image of being such a controlling force or a contender for State power (as distinct from electoral office). Gnanasara directly addresses and appeals to the armed forces and police over the heads of the constitutional political power. He warns the political power by reminding it that the armed forces and police are Sinhala (!). This strategy is simple: the sociological (ethno-linguistic, ethno-religious) composition of the state apparatus is sought to be used to leverage the state to act not merely in the interests of a leading role for the Sinhala Buddhists, but a more explicit role which ranges from outright domination up to (or down to) exclusive monopoly of power, economic presence and existential space.

First of all, having read Ven. Gnanasara’s (1 hour and 8 minutes) performance at Aluthgama, not once but twice, and noting down the topics he focused on (which, incidentally, had considerable overlap with the substance of several of his earlier speeches) I should say quite categorically that nothing he said (or taking everything he said) could be reasonably construed as representing a programmed pursuit of state power.

Ven. Gnasasara’s speech, as usual, was a jumble of facts, assertions, criticisms, condemnations and threats, articulated randomly, replete with repetitions, and lacking in any orderly sequence. Right at the beginning of his speech he ventured into the subject of ‘extremism’ (anthavādaya) expressing intense fury with wild gesticulations at those who refer to the BBS as anthavādī. He raised the rhetoric “who are the anthavādī, is it us or is it the Muslims? He returned to this issue several times, and at least on two occasions he appealed to the leaders of the Muslim community to control their anthavādi kalli (extremist cliques), making a brief reference on one occasion to ‘Wahhabists’ who, he said, want to make this a Muslim country (In the course of my investigations several Muslim elders also referred to this Islamic sect as a threat to Islam, one of them saying that a senior ministers (then and now) is in the pay of the Wahhabists).

Some of the Thero’s harshest condemnations were targeted at the police. He accused the police of favouritism (being swayed by bribery) and, following some prompting by one of the monks occupying a seat on the stage, asked why there is “one law for us and another for them (Muslims)”. He suggested that the people should demand the removal of the “Superintendent of Police at Aluthgama”. The specific grievances he referred to in this anti-police harangue was on the failure of the police to pursue the assault of Ven. Samitha Thero; the police ignoring a complaint made about an alleged molesting of a child inside a shop owed by a Muslim, and attributed the shop being set on fire (days before the BBS meeting) to police inaction on the complaint; and the release without inquiry of 57 Muslim youth taken into custody (according to him, a gang working for a named minister) caught in possession of “petrol bombs”. The theme of his entire presentation, if it is possible at all to sieve a theme from that prolonged diatribe, was that the BBS is interested solely in saving Buddhism from imminent peril.

What was of interest to me when I listened to the recording of this speech for the second time (that was after I came across Dr. Jayatilleke’s speech) was that there were no “addresses and appeals to the armed forces and police over the heads of the constitutional political power” in any form, direct or indirect, except a single brief reference to “our veerodara soldiers” (a phrase repeated thousands of time by thousands of others) rescuing Sri Lanka from the Tiger menace. What was curious (but not at all surprising when placed in the framework of my contextualisation of this entire series of riots) was that there were no reference at all to the attempts made by both Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickramasinghe either to offer the ‘northeast’ to the LTTE on a platter or to downgrade the status accorded to Buddhism in our constitution, no reference whatever to the sinister pressures being exerted on post-war Sri Lanka by the NATO stalwarts and the UNHCR, the Indian off-shore offensives in the north and the humiliations suffered by Buddhist pilgrims including Bhikkus in South India; and only a very brief reference to Halal or the Burqa on which the BBS made hay in the first two years of its formal existence.

In yet another “scholarly” analysis of the BBS, Dr Jayatilleka has informed us that the real leader of this organisation is the venerable prelate Kirama Vimalajothi. If one were to be generous about this misrepresentation it is possible to suggest that this is merely an innocuous example of carelessness with facts, especially evident in writings on Sri Lanka by certain ‘Western’ (and ‘westernised’) scholars.

Ven. Vimalajothi does occupy an exalted status in the Bhikku hierarchy in Sri Lanka. He (as a formidable source of political support for the Rajapaksa regime, it has been claimed) influenced the government to rename Havelock Road (one of Colombo’s main thoroughfares) as Sambuddhathva Jayanthi Mawatha and sponsored the construction of a multi-storeyed building on land donated by the government as an international centre of Buddhist activity. Ven. Vimalajothi who, in 2012 (i.e. at a time the main BBS concerns were the alleged encroachment of land belonging to ancient temples in the Eastern Province, and the neglect of Buddhist archaeological sites in the same area) agreed to accept the post of  ‘Chief’ (Pradhānee) of the BBS. The brief ‘Message’ written by this prelate for a lavishly produced souvenir publication at the second anniversary of the BBS,[vii] was addressed exclusively to the Prelates (Mahā Nāyaka of the Malvatta and Asgiriya ‘Chapters’ and of the Siyam Nikāya, and the Rāmangna and Amarapura Nikāya It was confined to an appeal for the replacement of the prevailing ‘sectarian’ order with a single non-sectarian Sangha hierarchy functioning under a ‘Council of Superiors’ headed by a  Mahā Nāyake (Great Prelate)  ̶ a post, he suggested, should be held rotationally by them. Functions which this ‘Council of Superiors’, he said, should be that of advising the government on Bhikku Education, organisation of Pirivena (i.e. “temple schools”) education, and what should be done to cater to the metaphysical needs of the Sinhalese people. One searchers in vain, but fails to find, a glimpse of a grandiose pursuit of state power (a ‘Sangha Raj‘, as Jayatilleka probably wants his readership to believe).

There are other considerations of relevance to an analysis of Dr. Jayatilleka identifying Ven. Vimalajothi as the real (but behind the scene?) force of the BBS. One is that, at least from about mid-2013, Ven. Wimalajothi had distanced himself from the BBS propaganda campaigns (submitting a letter of resignation from his BBS post), mainly (I have been very reliably informed) because of his disapproval of Ven. Gnanasara’s over-aggressive ‘style’ of campaigning; and his realisation that what is being done by the latter is likely to spell disaster for Sri Lanka. This is probably why Ven. Gnanasara’s brief ‘Message’ to this same publication makes an appeal to his readership to disregards his ‘methodology’ (kramavēdaya) but to look at the message he tries to convey. And, this is where we cannot overlook the well-know, close and cordial relations Ven. Vimalajothi has had all along with Mahinda Rajapaksa, and consider it against the backdrop of Dr. Jayatilleka’s assertion on the venerable prelate’s alleged position in the BBS as being intended to reinforce his vague hint in the passage I have cited on page 49, above.

To generalize, this is certainly not the stuff that indicates a pursuit of state power. I think these scholars should get their fact straight before they venture into half-baked conceptualisations, and fit a selection of facts and speculations into preconceived theory and try to appear profound with a quotation from a Trotsky or a Gramsci.

Extremism, Bigotry and Incitement to Violence

I offered a preliminary draft of an article based on this study (but before completing it) to the Editor of The Island – a popular Sri Lankan daily – mainly in the hope of getting a feedback from its readers; and, thankfully, he published it in instalments in a series of issues of the newspaper from the 3rd to 8th July 2017. I have hitherto received eleven responses including several from Sri Lankans in Australia, Canada and the US. The most complimentary response has come from a Muslim reader. He has, in fact, been generous enough to ignore two factual errors in my draft which I deeply regret. The response is reproduced below.

“This is a wonderful Political Communication Research piece published for the benefit of both the Muslim and Sinhala community to help understand ‘HARMONY’. This article should be more read with a free mind by Sri Lankan Muslims, especially the educated and knowledgeable. It should, if possible be translated into Sinhala and Tamil languages to enable the ordinary Muslim pamaramakkal” in the rural areas and the villages to be informed about the realities that so-called Muslim Civil Society groups/leaders, Muslim Ulema, Muslim politicians and Muslim party leaders and, especially the Muslim Youth will understand the ‘REALITY’ of the situation”.

Noor Nizam – The Muslim Voice”, Posted in ‘Lankaweb‘, on 12 July 2017

While approaching the end of writing the version of my article referred to above, I came across a piece by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka titled ‘The issue is incitement: The BBS, Champika & the Gōta factor’ in the 22 June 2017 issue of The Island which begins as follows:

“The entire discussion or debate about the BBS, Gnanasara Thero and extremism is missing something. The discussion confuses ultra-nationalism, chauvinism, Islamophobia and extremism with the real issue: incitement to violence. Whether an ideology is extremist or not is one issue, but it is an issue that is difficult to resolve. What is far easier to resolve, legally and morally, is the issue of whether or not an action or statement constitutes an ‘incitement to violence’ against an individual or a collective.

It is on the basis of the contention regarding the relative ease with which acts of incitement to violence could be “resolved” (presumably, placed under judicial scrutiny, and those found guilty appropriately punished) that Dr. Jayatilleke proceeded to draw a distinction between Tamil and Muslim chauvinists (those named by him were Hakeem, Wigneswaran, Rishard Badiuddin and Azad Ali) on the one hand, and Ven. Gnānasāra on the other. In order to reinforce this distinction, Jayatillela had stated: “After the war, some politicians representing the minorities (specific reference was made to the ‘genocide resolution’, and to Sivajilingam, Sritharan, Gajan and Suresh) have resorted to sectarian ultra-nationalism, chauvinism, covert and latent separatism, borderline threats and even provocation” (but) “unlike Ven. Gnānasāra, refrained from incitement to violence”, an offence that could be easily proved with “stacks of video footage”! Incredibly, he has not seen the irony here that the distinction he has drawn between Ven. Gnānasāra and the others names above has, in fact, already been made by the Yahapālana duumvirate in the guise of Sanhidiyāva (peaceful coexistence) ̶ in short, what Dr. Jayatilleka advocates is the suppression of Buddhist chauvinism while disregarding the ongoing resurgence of secessionism. This, of course, is exactly what the NATO powers desire, and why they initiated the ‘regime change’ project. While the ‘Eelam War’ was heading towards its end, attempts were made to drive a wedge between the Buddhists and the Christians. I vividly recollect Dayan Jayatilleke telling me at that time about a list containing records of more than 300 (or was it 400?) Buddhist attacks on Christian churches. After the war, the focus turned on an electorally more productive Buddhist-Muslim breach.

Having listened to reams of video footage pertaining to the subject of Buddhist-Muslim Relations, I have been struck by the fact that Ven. Gnānasāra, in his public pronouncements, has always stopped short of incitement to violence. I have also seen the same precaution in the Sinhala publications of the BBS. Indeed, on several of his platform performances the BBS leader has said that, contrary to various pāpishta (sinful) accusations, the BBS does not indulge in or advocate violence. This, as some would say, could well be bluff. But, he has persistently re-iterated that his struggle is to restore Buddhism to its rightful place in Sri Lanka, and is not against the Muslims or the other minority communities. And, to put the record straight, almost all video clips available are brief extracts of speeches (the exceptions being those documented by the BBS itself), which, according to a forensic expert here, are unlikely to be accepted as admissible evidence.

Not surprisingly, the only obnoxious response to the preliminary version of my article was from Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke who took issue with me evidently because of my disagreement with the proposition cited above. I find the response being of sufficient relevance to the subject of the present study for it to be contextualised in the form of a media possible media dialogue, commercial ads and the glut of other rubbish permitting.

In order to substantiate my view that ‘incitement to violence’ is conceptually complex and elusive of definition I referred to a few randomly selected and mutually contrasting scenarios such as Jesus Christ evicting traders from the Temple, Mark Antony’s lamentations to the Romans, John Kennedy’s pretence at liberalism in the early 1960s, and Colvin R. de Silva’s revolutionary platform rhetoric, all of which had, in diverse ways, incited diverse forms of violence. Dr. Jayatilleke’s response was as follows:

“In an attempt to dismiss my view, Prof Peiris argues that the same charge may be levelled against Jesus Christ’s denunciation in the Temple, Mark Antony’s oration, John F Kennedy, et al. In effect, Prof. Peiris does not see a qualitative difference between the discourse of Jesus Christ and that of Ven. Gnanasara. Prof Pieris probably sees a congruency between Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto, not to mention Hitler’s torchlight Nuremburg speeches and Fidel’s address to the courts, ‘History Will Absolve Me!”

“Prof Peiris’ problem”, according to Jayatilleke, “seems to be that of a classic “category error” (how amazingly profound!): the inability to distinguish between an exhortation to resistance and rebellion against injustice, and a fascist or neo-fascist exhortation to violence against a community.

Since this, in several ways, is similar in substance and ‘methodology’ to some of Ven. Gnanasara’s efforts at preserving the sanctity of Buddhism, I found it necessary to clarify that while I made no “charge” against Jesus, I also made no comparison of his teachings to those of anyone else in history including Hitler, Castro or whoever, and submitted the following note to The Island which, for reasons I could only guess, has been censored.

“Dr. Jayatileke’s idea, though thought-provoking, seemed tenuous either as a generalisation on human experiences or in relation to a specific statement (or action) such as those by Venerable Gnānasāra Thero.

To illustrate, Jesus Christ, according to St. Matthew (21: 12-13), after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, “went into the temple of God and cast out all of them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them who sold doves, and said unto them, it is written, my house shall be called the House of Prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves”. Rome might have looked at this episode as a minor affront to its imperial might; but it no doubt infuriated the “Sadducees and Pharisees” to a pitch that found expression in the harrowing mob violence and the crucifixion inflicted on Jesus a few days later. Now, would you say that the ‘incitement’ part of this story is different from the Prelate Ināmaluwē Sumangala’s repeated assertion: “We cannot allow mosques to be built within this pooja bhoomiya (‘sacred area’ adjacent to his temple).

To cite a few other random examples, was Marc Anthony, as dramatized by Shakespeare, bemoaning the death of his mentor or inciting violence against powerful senators of the Roman Empire? John Kennedy’s grandiloquent declaration, “Violence in pursuit of liberty is not crime”  ̶  did it inspire at least some of the ideologues and actors of the ‘Civil rights’ mobs of the 1960s? What about the Bushes, Snr. and Jnr., and their rhetoric aimed at generating mass support for their ruthless bombardment of Iraqi civilians, and that of Barak Obama prior to launching ‘Operation Neptune Spear’ causing an escalation of ISIS retaliatory violence? Closer home, what of the Marxist stalwarts of our own ‘Old Left’ who advocated extra-parliamentary strategies of capturing State power, and thus contribute to the homicidal and suicidal mindset of the youth who pursued that strategy two decades later. Illustrations are plentiful. You, the readers, can think carefully and arrive at your own conclusions on whether “incitement” is easily definable, legally and morally, especially in relation to these ‘holy wars’ – Buddhist or Islamic or of any other persuasion.

Dr. Jayatilleke appears to have been outraged by my mention of Jesus Christ in the same breath, as it were, with several others (including Ven. Gnānasāra); and thought it necessary to display his erudition in ‘Theology’ and ‘Political Science’, if not his commitment to fundamental Christian dogma. I should return compliments by mentioning that even in the records we have on the life of Jesus there are a few enigmatic bits and pieces, one of which relate to what he is reported to have done in the Jerusalem Temple – discussed down the ages by theologians – which I had mentioned as an illustration of the ambiguity of ‘incitement to violence’. The anger supposedly displayed by Christ, as visualised by those who have actually read the bible contradicts the dictum, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”, and several other pronouncements made in the course of that glorious ‘Sermon on the Mount’ which Jayatilleka appears to have heard about.

The problem about getting into the semantics of ‘incitement’ is that it diverts attention from the essence of the ‘post-war’ crisis in our country   ̶ the product of an externally sponsored, multifaceted ‘regime change’ project, a prominent facet of which was the alienation of the Muslim community from the Rajapaksa regime. The recent insidious revival of this effort is no doubt intended to protect the puppet regime installed in 2015. There are signs of the Muslim community awakening to this fact.


[i]. The sources of information for my sketch here could be easily downloaded by any other researcher with the required patience via an internet search under the title ‘Attack on the Grand Pass Mosque, Sri Lanka’, especially the following for a cross-sections of observations:



www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/calculated …




Special mention must be made of a fairly detailed, but not entirely unbiased, piece by Latheef Farook published in the August 14, 2013 issue of the Colombo Telegraph which, despite its hyperbolic title (‘Latest step in the build up to commemorate anniversary of 1915 Sinhala Muslim Riots with July 83 type attacks on Muslims?’) contains a sedate ‘Muslim perspective’. Minister Champika Ranawaka has also made a very useful contribution to our understanding of the circumstances that culminated in the Riot in an article titled ‘Grandpass: The True Story’, Colombo Telegraph, August 14, 2013.

[ii] . Fernando, Laksiri (2013) ‘True Story of Grandpass of True face of Champika Ranawawa’, Sri Lanka Guardian, August 15, 2013.

[iii].  Jeyaraj, D. B. S. (2013) ‘Against Molawatte Mosque in Grandpass During Maghrib Prayers’, Posted in his blog on 11 August 2013.

[iv] . My informant, a Peradeniya graduate, well informed in Islamic affairs, wishes to remain unnamed here. To me, his orally conveyed information is far more authentic than some of the documented sources of information.

[v]. The term ‘Mid-Country’ refers to a foot-hill area in the western and northwestern periphery of the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka. It corresponds roughly to the Thun Koralē (i.e. the northern parts of the province of Sabaragamuwa), Harispattuwa, Yatinuwara, Udunuwara, Dumbara, Pātha Hēvahæta and the southern part of Mātalē of the pre-British Kandyan Kingdom.

[vi]. The term ‘Mid-Country’ refers to a foot-hill area in the western and northwestern periphery of the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka. It corresponds roughly to the Thun Koralē (i.e. the northern parts of the province of Sabaragamuwa), Harispattuwa, Yatinuwara, Udunuwara, Dumbara, Pātha Hēvahæta and the southern part of Mātalē of the pre-British Kandyan Kingdom.

[vii].  This BBS publication in Sinhala (author and publisher not mentioned), is a 39-page booklet, printed on heavy, gloss paper. It is, in fact, an album of colour photographs (interspersed with brief notes), 41 of which contain images in various sizes of Ven. Gnanasara (alone, at discussions with several participants, on BBS ceremonial occasions, or in a variety of other campaign activities) including an image of his confronting Ven. Watareka Vijitha (intended to illustrate Ven. Gnanasara’s “cleansing the Sangha fraternity of about heretics, drug-addicts, drunkards, and other evil doers in saffron robes”. The publication is titled Jathika Adhyāthmika Kāhala Nādayē Devasaraka Abhimānaya, 2012-2014 (could be translated as ‘The proud two-years of the Nation’s spiritual trumpet’). BBS insiders know that at the time this document was published Ven. Vimalajothi had already distanced himself from BBS activities, having formally resigned from his post.


My thanks are due to many persons who, in the course of discussions I had with them, enriched my understanding of the nature of ethnic relations in the areas where there were outbreaks of violence dealt with in this study. I regret my failure to obtain their permission to name them in acknowledgement of my gratitude for the sincere and forthright manner in which they answered my questions, and, on occasions, directed me towards productive lines of inquiry. Some of my informants who had no objection to being named in this report have been referred to earlier in the text. To all of them, I offer my boundless thanks.

Foremost among those close to me at a personal plane without whose help and guidance this study could not have been completed is my former faculty colleague M. D. Nelson who collaborated with me in ‘field investigations’. The others include Consultant Anesthesiologist Saman Nanayakkara, an exemplary social worker who shared with me his profound knowledge of Buddhist political movements in contemporary Sri Lanka and enabled me to contextualize their aims and aspirations; Sudath Gunasekera for facilitating a discussion I had with a Buddhist prelate, and Tudor Silva, eminent sociologist and former faculty colleague for introducing to me to several sources of information, and from whose research writings I have reproduced extracts in this report. Likewise the others who encouraged me to persist with my efforts after reading a preliminary version of the study are Ranjit Soyza, Mahes Ladduwahetty and the well-known freelance journalists, Don Mahindapala and Shenali Waduge, whose indefatigable commitment to the interests of Sri Lanka deserve our utmost admiration and gratitude.

The initial impetus for my venturing into this study was provided by my ‘old’ friend, Michael Roberts with whom I have shared academic interests now for well over half a century.

“It is indeed symbolic that the US Ambassador chose to announce Washington’s decision to ‘assist’ Sri Lanka draft its Constitution and implement the Human Rights Council resolution from the amphibious warship USS New Orleans, which is used to land and support ground forces on enemy territory and patrols provocatively close to China. It is also ironic that it is from Temple Trees that the Acting US Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells declared, last week, that ‘the United States is – and will continue to be – an Indo-Pacific power’. She was the first to announce America’s ‘first ever naval exercise’ in Sri Lanka in October, in Trincomalee”.

2 Responses to “A study of Contemporary Buddhist-Muslim Relations in Sri Lanka Part 4”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Bravo, Dilrook!

    Yesterday, the following report on the “rescue” by the SL Navy, and accommodation of a group of Rohingya Muslims in Mount Lavinia was published.

    This move was PROTESTED AGAINST by a group of PATRIOTS led by Buddhist Monks, who are quite predictably, being cast as “heartless” and “communal”.

    This is a PLANNED OPERATION by LOCAL MUSLIMS hell-bent on transforming Sri Lankan into yet another outpost of the Islamic Caliphate!

    About two weeks ago I published at Lankaweb, a comment COOMMENDING our otherwise PARA-GATHI AGA-MATHI Ranil Wikunanasinghe for his stand against accepting and admitting Rohingya Mulsim refugees into Sri Lanka on any PRETEXT!

    Like ALL of Wikunanasinghe’s other ACTIONS, EVEN THIS STAND AGAINST admitting tRohingya Muslims into our country has now BEEN PROVED by this event as a COMPLETE FALSEHOOD!

    ALL of this is ORCHESTRATED and IMPLEMENTED by UNPATRIOTIC elements while this BLIND, DEAF and DUMB Yamapalanaya LOOKS ON APPROVINGLY!

    Sri Lanka CANNOT EVEN PROTECT its own Borders under this DESHADROHI Yamapalanaya!

    Sinhalayeni ….. OUST this Yamapalanaya NOW …. they CANNOT BE TRUSTED to PROTECT OUR INTERESTS!

    Buddhist monks led mob attacks Rohingya refugees in Sri Lanka
    Tue, Sep 26, 2017, 08:40 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    Sept 26, Colombo: A mob led by a group of extremist Buddhist monks today stormed a United Nations safe house for Rohingya refugees in a suburb of Sri Lanka capital on Tuesday (Sept 26) forcing the authorities to take the refugees under police custody.

    The police have taken the group of 30 Rohingya refugees, who were staying at a safe house of UNHRC in Mount Lavinia until their resettlement, under their custody.

    Police Spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekara said the group of refugees including 16 children and 7 women arrived from Myanmar were taken into custody for their protection after the group of monks protested against their stay in the country.

    The Buddhist monks led mob broke down gates and entered the walled multi-storied compound. The monks claiming the refugees are Muslim terrorists who killed Buddhist monks in Myanmar urged the mob to smash the premises as the women huddled with their children, AFP reported

    Sri Lanka Navy rescued the 30 Rohingya refugees on 30 April this year after they were found drifting in a boat in Sri Lankan waters off the coast of Kankasanthurai.

    The refugees were initially detained at the Mirihana Detention Centre until a court ordered to hand them over to UNHCR last month. The UNHRC in Sri Lanka had detained them at the safe house in Mount Lavinia.

  2. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Mussies have BABY MACHINE WIVES. Wherever they go they breed, breed and breed. This is what happened in
    Myanmar. Crept there from bangladesh quitely over a long period, multiplied, multiplied and expect Myanmar to
    hand over the country. They used this dirty old trick in old Buddhist iran, afganisthan, pakesthan, maldives,
    bangladesh, malaysia and indonesia. Within a few hundred years of their arrival, their Breeding Machines worked
    overtime and outnumbered the natives. All mussie countries now. This is what they have in store for Myanmar,
    Thailand and Sri Lanka. In fact all over the world, this is the dirty trick mussies use. They multiply and multiply
    and say god will provide. These brain-washed morons don’t understand there is no god. Charles Darwin’s Theory
    of Evolution destroyed the creator god theory. Still these religions of conveniences followers believe never seen
    only heard of god. Killing, stealing, lying, etc. etc. are not regarded as sins by these religions of conveniences
    when any human being (honest only) accepts them to be sins. By following these god-based religions of
    conveniences these guys are only cheating themselves and accrue a lot of sins during their life time. They don’t
    have a clue about the only true religion in the world, Buddhism, and do everything to destroy it. More sins!
    Hell bound in next lives of course!

    In the end god never bothers. Wonder why? His internet not working? Sri Lankan government provides FREE education, FREE hospitals. So who cares?
    That’s what the crafty mussies think. Muliply and multiply and same time those traitor mussies deshapaluwa
    xxxx bring in more mussies from maldives, pakesthan, afganisthan etc. and settle in bulldozed wildlife sanctuaries, ancient
    Buddhist temples etc. etc. Musssies want to create another hell hole like afganisthan, pakesthan, libiya, syria,
    saudi etc. etc. in Sri Lanka. No mussie countries bothers to take the mussies. Also the mussies don’t want to
    go to another mussie country. Can you believe these dirty rascals? They just want to creep into non-belivers’
    countries and make them another mussie country. Make sense? To any human with brain cells >1 it doesn’t make
    sense. But not the mussies. They will say ‘yapila maathiya yemeda koronawa’ and do exactly the opposite. But
    Sinhala modayas still trust these crafty mussies! Sri Lankan government should stop providing FREE education and
    FREE hospitals after 2 children to stop this menace taking over Sri Lanka.

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