In Septmber 2011 a mob destroyed the Muslim shrine in the city of Anuradhapura. In April 2012, thugs stormed the mosque of Dambulla. We have already talked about the strange ‘spontaneous mob’ in the history of Sri Lanka and as in previous cases, police officers were present but they didn’t intervene. The peculiarity about these incidents is that they were led by Buddhist monks.
At present they are focusing on the Muslim community ,so Rauff Hakeem, a Muslim politician, asked president Rajapaksa to suppress the ‘yellow robe terrorism’. It seems as the Sinhala Buddhist extremists are tolerating less and less the simple presence of the Muslim community(and now they come for the Muslims!).
The message is that the Muslim are the new undesired guest, even if they always maintained a very low profile. This is particularly striking, given that the country just ended a bloody civil war with another minority. Sri Lanka has been characterized by various forms of “terrorism”. The government made a point of its identity in the so called “counter-terrorism”( instead it was a civil war). But the state itself committed act of terrorism, torture and abuse against citizens, like the case of the “white van” abductions are very well recorded. And of course all the atrocities that targeted the Tamil people. So what is the position of the state about the “yellow robe” one?
The answer is that Buddhism is at the core of the Sinhala supremacy. Sri Lanka in its constitution of the 1972 clearly defined itself as Sinhalese and Buddhist. The first victims of this intransigence were the Tamils. In fact the state made any possible gesture to undermine the identity and the position of the Tamil. The Sinhala Act of the 1956, the pogroms of the 1958 and 1983 are all example of majoritarian violence against the Tamils. This absolute intolerance lies in the specific religious tradition of the island. You could find a bit odd that a religion that is professing the impermanence of everything, would be so concerned in affirming it’s mundane presence. But there is a reason behind this. The Sri Lankan school of Buddhism is founded on the ‘Mahavamsa’, a poem of the 5th century CE narrating the early history of the religion on the island. The essential context of these chronicles is the falling of Buddhism in India. Devotees were clearly scared by the eclipse of their religion in the very place of origin, so their reaction was to ground their tradition as a firm stronghold for the doctrine.
Therefore the Mahavamsa itself must be contextualized in a period of profound concern for the survival of Buddhism. But the Buddhist clergy took this mandate in a totalitarian acceptation: any diversity must be considered as a direct opposition. No matter how marginal, any sign of not-alignment with the mainstream, must be viewed as the seed for future destruction. Hence it must be eliminated.
The problem is that after the Mahavamsa (or even before actually), other communities came to Sri Lanka. The Tamils can indeed trace their presence on the island back for millennia. And yet, this presence after independence was never completely tolerated. The necessity to assimilate the North by the Sinhalese ideology has always been present and fed by the pretext of Mahavamsa (see the very insightful article of Dr. Dewasiri). So the Buddhist clergy actually is the backbone of the movement to subjugate the Tamils before and now the Muslims.
We can see now a very clear trajectory of a supremacist ideology, that wants to eliminate any diversity.
The reaction of the LTTE masked this very simple fact: that the Sinhalese extremists don’t accept any other presence on the island, no matter how small or marginal this difference can be. The Sinhalese supremacy will always consider any difference as a direct opposition (here the hypothesis of a “Buddhist fascism”). The idea of reconciliation cannot exist until the “yellow robe” terrorism is dominant. Sri Lanka will never be pacified with this totalitarian violence of majority: the civil war was not caused by the LTTE; the roots of that virulent reaction are all still present and quite active now. It must be faced the simple fact that the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka is an element of disturbance and violence. I still don’t get how people who profess impermanence and mindfulness can so storm the lives of the others. Really I don’t get it.