Bodu Bala Sena and the global context of Islamophobia
Posted on April 27th, 2013

Chandre Dharmawardana

The Bodu-Bala Sena (BBS) is a political movement crystallizing mainly around Sinhala-Buddhist advocates of strong anti-Islamism. The knee-jerk reaction of opportunist political observers is to regard this as an example of a majoritarian populace behaving brutally, after having `caused Sinhala-Tamil terror’ by allegedly provoking the Tamils with “ƒ”¹…”Sinhala-only’ discrimination.

The BBS has also provided fodder for anti-government critics as well as the usual `I told you so’ liberals who believe that mass movements can be corrected by a little bit of sermonizing by `good monks’ holding vigils around the Lipton circus.`Candle-light vigils’, which are more typical of European protests and Friday-church assemblies, are not a hall mark of South-Asian or Buddhist culture. A `metta Bhavana (a meditation to disseminate compassion)’, a community chanting of `Pirith (Pali stanzas)’, cracking of coconuts seeking the blessing of Murugan etc., would have been typical of Lanka’s indigenous culture.  Can platitudes, vigils, Bhavana, and sermonizing help? The existence of the similar, or even more virulent, Islamophobic movements in far more affluent (allegedly liberal) western countries with Catholic or protestant majorities proves that we have to look far beyond Buddhist militancy to understand the phenomenon.

The BBS in Sri Lanka is a symptom of the increasing anger of a militant part of the populace to an unfamiliar face of Islam. Islam in Persia under the later Moguls had an exquisite culture encompassing cosmopolitan values. Such Islamic Nations were signposts of liberalism compared to the religious bigotry, anti-Semitism and racism of Europe well into the 20th century. But the types of Islam and Muslims arriving in the West today carry a different stamp. Europeans have reacted negatively to loud-speaker prayers five times a day, tent-like dresses, sharia and other practices going back to the middle ages.  Demands for male-female segregation in schools, gyms, special facilities for prayer several times in public institutions as part of the right to practice Islam etc., are also economically too costly and impractical. Any open discussion or allusion to Prophet Mohamed in the same open way that one discusses Jesus Christ or Moses is not tolerated by militant Muslims, even within a literary milieu, as Solomon Rushdie learned the hard way.

American journalists had begun to react against militant Islam many years BEFORE 9/11. Thus the San Francisco Chronicle in 1999 held that:

These [Wahabi] groups consist of a very tiny but well-financed and well-armed minority. They propose with these attacks the creation of terror in the hearts of the masses. “¦ By creating anarchy and lawlessness, these groups can enforce their own harsh, intolerant brand of Islam. “¦ Such groups do not represent the common view of Islam, held by the vast majority of Muslims and Islamic scholars, for whom Islam exemplifies the paragon of civilization and perfected morality. They represent what is nothing less than a movement to anarchy under an Islamic label. “¦ Their intention is not so much to create an Islamic state, but to create a state of confusion in which they are able to thrive (Mateen Siddiqui, “Differentiating Islam from Militant `Islamists’)“.

Similar sentiments have arisen in Lanka more recently, buttressed by the feeling that Buddhist places of worship and businesses have been encroached upon  by militant Muslims. Tsunami reconstruction efforts directed to the creation of exclusively Muslim settlements were fortunately brought to the law courts before they led to violence.

Deegavapi, Kurugala, Panama and a number of other places have also been the subject of litigation where the courts have condemned Muslim encroachments into historical sites. However, correcting the error and instituting the lost rights have been slow or ineffective due to local political influence. Such places breed sporadic violence as long as the verdict of the courts is not implemented.  Enclaves of Saudi-funded Muslim quarters appearing in municipalities like Beruwala or Kattankudy, as well as the increasing demand for the Sharia law ,have even created inter-Muslim feuds. Dambulla has been a disaster for everyone, while the hooliganism in Papiliyana clearly establishes the failure of law and order in politically-charged cases where economic hegemony is sought under the cover of religion.

The current levels of anti-Islamic backlash in `liberal’ democracies like Denmark, Canada, and France are hard to believe. One may begin to believe in conspiracy theories that claim that the CIA and the FBI are actually inventing `terrorists attacks’ implicating young Muslims who are rapidly gunned down before they can be given the usual civil rights in front of a judge. An Islamophobia is built up and sustained not only inside the country, but in a foreign policy which strongly supports all the legal or illegal actions of Israel.

In the US, the covert attack on Muslims is led by US agencies using the `home-land security act’. How Muslim communities have been `officially’ attacked has been documented in the`dispatches’  by investigative journalist Rick MacInnes-Rae of the CBC (see several articles listed at the site: According to some reports, the US agencies break up Muslim communities by arresting a few young people citing unnamed `secret’ security concerns, when parts of the community distance themselves from the others, or from Mosques and MadrasƒÆ’-¾s.  Individuals and communities are hounded by security agents. All this justifies the right to arrest and hold suspects indefinitely without any evidence, but merely on police suspicion. The IRS is deployed to heavily tax Mosques and other Islamic establishments to bankruptcy or raise interminable questions about their tax status, forcing them to use very expensive defence lawyers.

The reaction in France has been firm, open and legislative, with the Hijaab, Micab and similar public religious symbols banned. The public face of Islam is forced to `avoir le visage conformant a la culture francaise’. Denmark and Holland have introduced similar, but less over-whelming legislation to satisfy the demands of majorities. Canadian police has now the power to detain individuals in prison indefinitely, without evidence or revealing the indictment, merely on suspicion that someone is `suspicious’.Ppreviously, the Canadian Mounted Police and the CIA colluded to carry out `extra-ordinary renditions’ of some Muslims. The case of the completely innocent Maher Arar, who was dispatched out of the country and tortured, is well known. Any Muslim, a brown-skinned person or even a white Caucasian who visits a Middle-Eastern country several times or even once may get a visit from the police who would want to know what is `none of their business’. Civil libertarians have wondered if the western governments have been `manufacturing’ cases of terror to justify increasing curtailment of personal rights and freedoms. The so-called guardians of `human rights, i.e., the `Human-rights NGOs’ have been strangely silent about their own government’s actions. Instead, they espouse causes only if they are funded by some well-heeled lobby group “”‚ be it Serbs, Armenians or Tamil Tigers.

The type of `terror’ that occurred at  the Boston marathon had become a daily affair in Sri Lanka in the years prior to May 2009 (when the LTTE was finally vanquished). Anti-terror legislation had been used in Sri Lanka within the envelope of `emergency laws’. However, they have not become part of civil legislation, as is now the case in the USA and Canada. On the other hand, Lanka has failed to maintain and enforce order within its existing laws, with corrupt but powerful local politicians working hand in hand with the underworld. This is not surprising in the wake of a war lasting four three decades. However, the public needs to see definite signs of improvement in the state of civil law and order.

A very serious failing in the past has been the lack of swift and direct intervention by the police when communal or ethnic clashes, or religious clashes happen. In addition, the governments of the recent past have failed to introduce  legislation that would calm the fears of the majority and ensure equity and fair-play to the minorities. The latter is a consequence of (a) the misguided demand for constitutional devolution ignoring the public fear of separatism and the threats from Tamil Nadu (b) a government, the present one, depending on groups of MPs with antagonistic views (e.g., Marxists, Right-wing religious zealots, liberal-democrats, neo-cons, ex-Eelamists, parochial fascist-thugs and drug barons) to maintain its strong showing in parliament. The post of the so-called chief minister of a provincial government, introduced via the 13th amendment, has increased the arbitrary power of politicians and diminished the capacity of equitable law enforcement in the country.

What should Sri Lanka do? It too should debate the issue of how best to ensure minority rights (not merely in the context of militant Islam) versus majority fears,  and  legislate to satisfy the wishes of the people. This does NOT require the participation of the TNA or the Muslim groups etc., in some `parliamentary select committee’. The justness of the laws created will depend on the  standard of education of the legislators, their level of exposure to the wide world, and on their capacity to ensure that foreign vested interests (be they religious or political) do not pump money into the country and buy up support for foreign agendas, religious or political. Once the laws are passed, the laws have to be strictly enforced fairly, firmly, and without corruption or political favoritism.

However, given the total violation of civil liberties via the `security laws’, surveillance powers etc.,  that are being enacted in the West, consolidating power into the hands of powerful military-police-corporate entities, it is unlikely that countries like Sri Lanka could evolve into societies that respect individual civil liberties.

7 Responses to “Bodu Bala Sena and the global context of Islamophobia”

  1. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    ‘ self imposed barriers’ such as ‘we will never enter politics’ by bbs will be a disaster at this crucial juncture in our history. it should gather momentum naturally and instigate people and re-educate people on the values of hela and Buddhist culture, which are the values opposed by wahaabis, tiger saks, and English speaking colombon mostly catholics and Christians. we certainly do not ‘attack’ decent muslims, who have no inspiration for unwarranted ‘expansionism’ in sri lanka or decent people belonging to other creeds.
    bbs is the only answer to wahaabism, which is truly a repulsive movement, which seems to encroach on all spehers in sri lanka. with vote mongers like the corrupt slpiers, unpiers and jvpiers nad other ‘piers’ wahaabi aspirations will be alive and will foster. bbs should attack them at every front, not violently but to force them to stop their encroachment into sinha+hela culture. the hypocricy is the muslims in sri lanka do criticize us but don’t criticize the regimes in Saudi etc. which has draconian laws to protect the interest of islam. when Buddhist protest they are branded as ‘extremists’ like the anglo saxon ungulates brand tiger terrorists as freedom fighters as tigers don’t kill ungulates as wahaabis do. so wahaabis are terrorists and not freedom fighters. Hilary dickory dock has still evaded the law for utilizing funds of ltte for her campaign. any other non powerful person would be in jail by now.
    bbs must have a branch of militant young people, even to take on the thugs of this present hypocritical administration, who still have no challenge. the armed forces need to be behind a movement like bbs ‘unofficially’ rather than behind a corrupt government.

  2. Ben Silva Says:

    It would be useful to analyse why the Sinhalese lost their traditional homeland and treated like second class citizens in their own country. In nature it is the survival of the fittest. Why are we not fit enough ? Is it our too passive belief system ? The evidence is that every one who followed the belief system similar to ours in the silk route got wiped out. Are we following their foot steps ? Our survival will depend on our mind and attitude. Fundamentally, the attitude of any one that wish to survive is self preservation. Our belief system encourage seeking extinction. Even Indians have dumped this idea.

  3. Senevirath Says:

    Any body who knows the world history will never ever trust islamists. they kill NON BELEIVERS AND THEIR OWN PEOPLE.


  4. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    with an enlightening article on kidney issue in sl again your wisdom has reached your rear end, again. if Indians are wise so are you, in par with them. you don’t dump Buddhism as you hint you fight the enemy. have you not read our history?. we have fought our enemies for 2300 years and survived. what the f…. you talk about appreciating unclean indian junk? keep your wisdom alive, you are a very intelligent person who cares about our mother country but don’t come up with this f……. argument and hinting that we should dump Buddhism. your thahanam words from now on will be silk route. are you so stupid to repeat this crap with the assumption that we don’t understand you. whom are you attempting to educate? also refrain from going down to low levels of attacking people of any RAW connections, like the old fool the niganataya if you have no ammo just show that or give in, without being so repugnant.

  5. sridaran Says:

    I saw the Holywood Film “The Day After Tomorrow ” yesterday on a local movie channel. I was shocked to see a pet dog of a black character named as ‘Buddha ‘ . This movie was supposed to have released during 2008 . That means 5 years ago. Were the saviours of buddhism unaware of this insult ?? Did the director of this movie run so short of dog’s names that he had to name the dog ‘Buddha ‘ ?? When Kamal Hassan’s Vishwaroopam had some controversial scenes against Islam, it became a very big issue !!! This is worse !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Marco Says:

    BBS suspects Wimal – Shiv Sena links
    {The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) today claimed that Minister Wimal Weerawansa may have links with Shiva Sena in India.

    BBS general secretary the venerable Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara thero said that the Minister’s wife is working with a Buddhist monk in Padukka who is funded by the Shiva Sena.

    Shiv Sena, is a Hindu nationalist political organisation in India. Gnanasara said that the Shiva Sena is working on the policy that Buddhism did not originate in India and the monk in Padukka is doing the same.

    “Shiva Sena is working to protect Hinduism in India. A lot of Hindus are converting to Buddhism and that is a big problem for the Shiv Sena. The monk in Padukka is being funded by them. He has written books saying Lord Buddha was born in Sri Lanka. So we suspect Minister Weerawansa’s and his wife are linked with Shiva Sena,” he said.

    Gnanasara thero also challenged Minister Weerawansa to prove claims he had made that the BBS is funded by Norway.

    He said that if the claims are proven then the BBS will disband after making a public apology to the nation.

    If not then he says Minister Weerawansa should wear a loincloth and go home for telling lies.

    “He is saying we are trying to remove Muslim Ministers from the government. He is telling lies and we cannot allow such Cabinet Ministers to continue like this,” Gnanasara thero said.

    Gnanasara thero said that the Minister has not raised his voice against Muslim extremists operating in Sri Lanka but yet goes on protest when anything is said against Cuba.

    “We know politicians always tell lies. We will reveal more about that Minister (Weerawansa) if the need arises. There are three groups working against us and we will reveal things about them as well soon,” the BBS monk said.}

    One of the clever political attributes that i admire (although dont agree with) of MR is pit one loose cannon against another and watch from the side lines to plead all ignorance.

  7. Lorenzo Says:

    NO BBS-WW clashes!

    This is NOT needed. They BOTH have a COMMON enemy – TEs and Jihadis.

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