A week ago, a violent a mob of about 2,000 Sinhalese, including a group of Buddhist monks led by the Mahanayaka of the Rangiri Dambulu chapter Inamaluwe Sumangala thero, stormed and vandalised a mosque in Dambulla. The mosque was declared an illegal structure, but it is unclear how this far this is accurate.
Several videos, broadcast on national TV in Sri Lanka and now circulating globally on YouTube capturing the violence beggars belief. There are members of the sangha engaged in physical violence and verbal abuse. There is a member of the sangha who disrobes and exposes himself, in public, in front of the mosque. In one video, Ven. Inamaluwe Sumangala thero suggests that the maniacal mob is actually a shramadaanaya, and that destroying the mosque is something that they should in fact be helped by the government.
Aside from the physical violence, which includes scuffles with Army and Police personnel, the derogatory and racist language employed by Ven. Inamaluwe Sumangala thero and other Buddhist monks during the attack against the mosque, and a nearby Hindu kovil, is appalling. Though the violence of the Sinhala idiom employed loses much in translation, Groundviews put into English the most disquieting comments for a wider appreciation. More startling are anti-Muslim, Sinhala-Buddhist supremacist Facebook groups that have thousands of active members and with content too inflammatory to even translate.
A week after this violence,it has not received the condemnation it deserves from the President, government or mainstream media. Ven. Inamaluwe Sumangala thero, perhaps reacting to the indelible record of violence captured in film, attempted to suggest to the BBC that the footage of the mob broadcast on TV was doctored. Ironically, his own media websites showcase the same violence, in greater detail. A Press Release issued on 25th April from the Government Information Department, only in Sinhala, strangely referred to the violence as a ‘minor misunderstanding’, yet reiterated that Sri Lanka is “a multi-religious, multi-ethnic society” and that “in addition to respecting their constitutional obligations, as well as the policies and principles of the government, all Sri Lankans have a long standing tradition of being respectful of each other”.
What is the fall-out?
The photographs, audio and video recordings of the violence in Dambulla have gone global. They cannot be erased. Incensed by this incident and those who led it, there are now growing threats of violence by sections of the Muslim community, though there are many voices, including the Muslim Council, who are calling for calm, and a more reasoned approach to the transformation of this conflict, noting that the actions of a few are not indicative of the nature of the majority.
There is a real danger that unaddressed or if simply glossed over, this militant religious extremism can very quickly and very seriously undermine Sri Lanka’s post-war reconciliation, and contribute to new, more geographically dispersed violent conflict. Extremists from both the Sinhala-Buddhist community and the Muslim community can also use this incendiary incident in Dambulla to stoke up communal tensions, leading to heightened fear and anxiety.
What can we do?
The shameful behaviour and expression employed by the Mahanayaka of the Rangiri Dambulu chapter, along with the monks he led and the crowd of thugs is not remotely associated with or reflective of the philosophy of the Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha, or the way in which a Buddhist monk is supposed to behave and speak. Many online have already expressed their dismay and deep concern over the actions of a few, placing Sri Lanka in the media spotlight again for all the wrong reasons.
We have a choice, but time is running out. Speak up. Put your name in a comment below, in English, Sinhala or Tamil. Say that last week’s violence was not in your name. Renounce a fringe lunacy and resist extremism. By putting your name below, oppose mob violence and bigotry as ways to resolve disputes.
If we have to fight, let’s fight to keep Sri Lanka free of extremists who threaten not only what they seek to destroy, but also who and what they claim to represent. Add your name below, and please pass the message on.
What will be done?
After a month, the names and comments of those who signed up will be printed out and sent to the Presidential Secretariat, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Religious Affairs & Moral Upliftment, along with the Department of Buddhist Affairs, Department of Christian Religious Affairs, Department of Hindu Religious and Cultural Affairs and the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs.
How to sign up?
Join hundreds of others by adding your name as a comment to this blog post. This is the preferred mode of input, and scrolling through the other comments can help to frame your own thoughts. For those who find this difficult, send us your comment and name using the form below, which we will as quickly as possible, add to the site. As a final resort, you can always email the comment to email@example.com. Bear in mind however that human resources curating this site are limited, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. Please bear with us.
This campaign ran from 27 April to 31 May 2012. More details here.