Anti-Buddhist propaganda with an academic veneer – I
Posted on June 5th, 2018

By Rohana R. Wasala

A recent  article titled ‘Why Violent Buddhist Extremists Are Targeting Muslims in Sri Lanka’ by Andreas Johansson of Lund University in Sweden available at https://theconversation.com/why-violent-buddhist-extremists-are-targeting-muslims-in-sri-lanka-92951 is a classic example of the relentless anti-Buddhist propaganda carried on by the Western and allied media outlets for a long time now. Johansson’s inexplicable antipathy towards the Sinhalese Buddhist majority of Sri Lanka is clearly reflected in both the title and the opening paragraph, which runs as follows:

New clashes between Buddhist extremists and Muslims occurred in two different towns in Sri Lanka, Kandy and Ampara, in early 2018. Triggered in part by hate-filled posts spread by nationalistic Sinhala Buddhist Facebook groups, these riots resulted in the death of one Muslim and the destruction of many buildings”.

This sort of ‘scholarly’ writing, whose quantity over the past many decades has been as extensive as its quality is low, is most probably meant to give an aura of academic authenticity to politically motivated potshots at the long enduring Sinhalese Buddhist cultural foundation of Sri Lanka.

It at once becomes clear that Johansson is laboring under careless misconceptions about intercommunity relations between Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka that characterize the whole essay. To the average reader unfamiliar with the truth about Sri Lanka’s past and present it could appear to be a learned paper by an authoritative Swedish academic. It is none of the sort. Its author seems to lack any appreciable knowledge of the most basic facts about the enduring Buddhist cultural ethos of Sri Lanka, nor about its history.

Violent religious fundamentalism is unknown among Buddhists.  There are absolutely no ‘violent Buddhist extremists’ in Sri Lanka. There is nothing in the Buddhist teaching or in its practice that encourages violence for any reason. But Buddhists cannot be expecxted to be suicidal pacifists. (Wherever violent incidents involving Buddhists or Buddhist monks are reported, it is always found that they are not the initiators of the trouble; they are found to be reacting to violence committed on them by others.) They just cannot afford to take refuge in otherworldly pacifism before unrelenting, unprovoked aggression from intrinsically violent sectarian religious ideologies; they are obliged to react to them in peaceful legitimate ways. Anti-Buddhist religious extremists, however, sometimes succeed in deliberately  inducing violent reactions among peaceful Buddhists (both laity and clergy) by casual provocative acts such as throwing stones at Buddhist processions or by deploying agents provocateurs in protest rallies organized by Buddhists. Islamists  resort to their customary strategy of playing the victim card, and overnight the ‘violent extremist’ label gets transferred to innocent Buddhists, be it in Sri Lanka, or Myanmar or Thailand, for that matter.

The truth about the present situation in Sri Lanka is that a handful of individuals belonging to a violent extremist Islamic sect (commonly known as Wahhabists) are intermingled with mainstream Muslims in Sri Lanka as happens elsewhere in the world. Ordinary Sri Lankan Muslims, like their Buddhist, Hindu and Christian neighbours, do not subscribe to any dangerous extremism. The Muslim minority (slightly less than 10% of the population) have coexisted peacefully for centuries with the majority  Sinhalese (75%) who are overwhelmingly Buddhist and minority Tamils (15%) who are predominantly Hindu. Muslims constitute a dominant business oriented community in the country, and to date they have been flourishing in commerce by catering to a predominantly Buddhist customer base. Sri Lankan Muslims are mainly Tamil speakers, but most of them are bilingual in Tamil and Sinhala. They have never been subjected to any form of discrimination in other spheres either, such as education, health and employment on grounds of religion or other form of ethnic identity. It must also be remembered that no post-independence government has ever targeted any community for adverse treatment in its general  welfare policies or development programs. Minorities including Muslims flourish in Sri Lanka mainly due to the unique tolerance and the characteristic humanitarianism of the age old Buddhist culture of the majority Sinhalese. There is not the slightest suggestion of the minorities having to live on sufferance of the Sinhalese Buddhists.

Incidentally, the few Tamil political extremists (separatists/federalists/eelamists) that are there are peripheral to the peaceful, nonviolent ordinary Tamil community in the same way as the small number of fundamentalist Islamists are inessential to the mainstream Muslim community: their ideologies find few converts among the mainstream. But lavishly funded and promoted from foreign sources, both these groups demonstrate much more power than their numbers can account for. Some opportunistic minority politicians exploit this in elections to win votes, because an appeal to communalism invariably rallies support for a candidate within any minority community against the majority. (In any country, the minorities are specially concerned about their acceptance within the totality of the population whereas the majority community takes its unthreatened status for granted, and tends to be less communally conscious than the minorities.)

The same strategy (of resorting to communalism for garnering votes) does not work for the Sinhalese politicians. The average Sinhalese only think in terms of the country, not race. The Sinhalese have always been the defenders of the territorial integrity of the country and of Buddhism as its defining culture. However, in the prevailing circumstances in which they are being falsely accused of racism and xenophobia for political reasons, the Sinhalese Buddhists feel increasingly besieged in their own homeland with nowhere else to go. Sinhalese Buddhists, about 15 million in total, are a global minority compared to Tamils and Muslims. The Sinhalese are now actually feeling like a persecuted minority. There is a gnawing sense of betrayal among them in general, for they are being subjected to a form of cultural genocide in various ways at present (encroachment, vandalizing, or destruction of ancient Buddhist sites, attacks on the Sangha, distortion of the Buddhist history of the island, etc.).

The feeling of insecurity and betrayal is less due to the unconcealed communalism of certain minority politicians than to the hypocrisy of some leading politicians from the majority community who, in a misguided belief that they would not get minority votes if they showed the slightest concern about the problems of the majority Sinhalese Buddhists, they show a readiness to accommodate even  utterly unreasonable demands made on behalf of the minorities by respective extremist groups that claim to represent those communities. These opportunistic majority politicians’ sole aim is to get the minorities to vote for them at the elections, which is a vain hope, when their own politicians try to attract them through appeals to the ‘herd instinct’ in them as a separate community.  Something that the Sinhalese politicians seem to never learn is that the majority of ordinary Tamils and Muslims are generally as reasonable and as national minded as the majority of the ordinary Sinhalese, and that therefore they need not act as if the Sinhalese never existed in order to befriend the Tamils and Muslims.  When certain leaders go to the north and launch verbal attacks on the so-called ‘racists in the south’, and participate in a government that discriminates against the majority they lose their credibility not only among the Sinhalese, but among the Tamils and Muslims as well.

Andreas Johansson describes himself as Director of Swedish South Asian Studies Network (SASNET) at Lund University. He claims to have a PhD (presumably for South Asian Studies) and says that he has done fieldwork in Sri Lanka. In spite of his apparently impressive academic background, Johansson seems to be a slipshod researcher like many nondescript Eurocentric scholars in respect of non-Western cultures that we have come across. Obviously, it hasn’t occurred to him that Buddhists are also human and that they also have a right to have their side of the story listened to by those who want to pass judgement on them. For his comments on the recent disturbances in the Kandy district and in Ampara he has entirely relied on biased media reports; his take on the actual historical and sociological background to the problem is similarly based on the wrong sources.

The truth of what happened in the Kandy district recently is something that is self-evident to the locals on both sides (Buddhists and Muslims), though it remains to be officially investigated and confirmed by the authorities. There is an allegation about government complicity in instigating the violence in order to transfer the blame to its opponents (This refers to recent statements in this regard made by Colombo district Member of Parliament Udaya Gammanpila, attorney at law, leader of Pivithuru Hela Urumaya which is a constituent of the Joint Opposition. He says that he is equipped with evidence to support his charges, and he proposes that a credible presidential commission be appointed to look into the matter). What is now public knowledge is that, according to eyewitnesses, a forty-one year old truck driver belonging to the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community was allegedly beaten up by three young Muslims at the provincial town of Teldeniya near Kandy, under the influence of liquor over some personal dispute (which, in fact,  had nothing to do with race or religion). The victim was grievously hurt as a result of the assault. He succumbed to his injuries after nine days in the ICU (intensive care unit) of the local hospital.

There was a popular feeling that the police were remiss in taking timely action to apprehend the suspects and secure justice for the aggrieved party. This was aggravated by a pre-existent undercurrent of communal tension between Buddhists and Muslims that was entirely due to certain questionable activities of the aforementioned extremist Muslim sect.  Successive governments have failed to address serious concerns raised by representative Buddhist monks and laypersons and their Muslim counterparts about the issue over many years now.  Routine governmental inaction in this regard  seems to be wrongly rationalized as being in the interest of ‘reconciliation’.  Reasonable ordinary Buddhists and Muslims are not impressed by the generally evasive policies of the present and past governments in respect of this problem.

Not only Buddhists and Muslims, but Christians and Hindu Tamils as well (i.e., all peaceful Sri Lankans) expect the government of the day (formed by whatever party or alliance at any time)to lawfully eliminate all forms of violent political and religious extremism and maintain law and order in the whole country, thereby enabling them to live peacefully in total independence and security wherever in the island they choose to live. Representatives of the different communities must get together and find ways and means to address the current unsettled situation brought about by extremists. It is not the exclusive responsibility of the majority community to do so; it is the common responsibility of all the communities. But each community must provide the leadership that is necessary to contain violent elements and movements within itself, and prevent them from posing a threat to national unity and security.

2 Responses to “Anti-Buddhist propaganda with an academic veneer – I”

  1. L Perera Says:

    The biggest threat to the Sri Lankan majority ethnic community is any movement that seeks to divide the country and on top of this list is an attempt to create a Separate state for the Jaffna Tamils. Elam is a no no. As long as this threat remains one can expect the majority community to react as they currently do. Take away THIS threat and the majority ethnic group will feel more secure and peace will return.

  2. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Mussies in Sri Lanka have multiplied, multiplied and multiplied and want to grab control now. This is the start of
    that campaign. Crafty, ungrateful mussies know the mussie numbers have swelled enough thanks to their uncontrolled
    breeding with their baby machine wives. It is the right time to start Sinhalese murdering campaign. Mussies also know
    traitor anti Buddhist, anti Sinhalese, anti Sri Lanka catholic run UNPatriotic_rats low life deshapaluwan can’t lick the
    backsides of them enough for the mussie votes. So the anti Buddhist, anti Sinhalese agenda is gathering momentum.

    There is enough mussie low life deshapaluwan like xxxxhim, bada udin, a sad ali (not enough children to be sad?),
    kabir hashih, fi sar, etc. etc giving enough support to destroy our ancient Buddhist temples, wildlife sanctuaries etc.
    to make room for new breeds. While one foreigner lot killed Sinhalese for 30 years to establish exclusively tamils only
    drealam mussies multiplied and multiplied and quadrupled their numbers. Traitor tamils drealam campaign was a
    blessing in disguise for the fastest breeding religion mussies since it didn’t affect much of the mussie population. Now
    the mussie numbers have swelled and swelled and the traitors know the time is right.

    This so called human rights monkeys complain when there are so many mussies in sweden, norway, germany, uk, etc.
    etc and start multiplying. Of course when it isn’t these low lives’ country, they suddenly become human rights
    monkeys. Shame on you hypocrites! Most probably singing for their supper for a few dollars? These human rights low lives don’t know how these crafty, untrustworthy mussies
    turned old Buddhist iran, afganisthan, pakesthan, bangladesh, maldives, malaysia, indonesia to mussies countries
    within a few hundred years of their arrivals in those countries with their baby machine wives. The dirty, disgusting trick
    worked in the olden days since people didn’t realise until the mussies came to their doors. Today’s internet, tv, mobile
    phone era people get to know the disgusting, dirty trick and fight back to save their livelihoods.

    Uncontrolled breeding
    by the fastest breeding religion going to end up in a bloodbath. This is what happened in Buddhist Myanmar. Mussies
    crept over from hell hole bangladesh (of course after making it mussie from old Buddhist country) to Myanmar and
    multiplied and multiplied quietly. When the numbers are high enough, start killing Buddhists to wrestle control. Luckily
    they had a patriotic leader, woman at that, and saved Myanmar from the fastest breeding religion just before it was too
    late. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, we have a puppet on string controlled by the biggest traitor in the history of the
    country traitor chief die hard catholic token Buddhist bay gal karaya mega thief mega thakkadiya walking crime bomb
    with the timer set for 10-20 years Sinhalese murdering alugosuwa Batalande Wandakaya Pol Pot [email protected]_leech wickrama
    Sinhala killer. Is there any wonder then Buddhism, Sinhalese and Sri Lanka are in grave danger from these Mother
    Lanka dismembering traitor foreigners?

    It is unbelievable people still believe in mythical gods in this scientific era. Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution destroyed the creator god
    myth for good. Still these human rights monkeys don’t realise Buddhism is the only true religion in the world. These mythical god followers should look up at the night sky and then google what you see. Those stars are billions of miles away from the earth. A god creating such a thing? In this scientific age? Ignorant human rights monkeys, defend what
    is true, not a fastest breeding religion who worship moon. Call spade a spade, bloody hypocrites!

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