Thursday, February 5, 2015

WORLD'S LATEST NUTCASES: Radical Buddhists, the Violent Face of a Peaceful Religion


COLOMBO – Buddhism is a religion of peace and harmony, or at least that has been the case until a group of religious radicals in Sri Lanka decided to heat up the rhetoric and inflame the street to the point where the success of the new government may depend on its disappearance.

Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), an ultra-nationalist monastic group whose members wear saffron habits, was seen by many Sri Lankans as spinning out of control before last month’s presidential elections.

That was one of the factors that weighed against the previous government led by Mahindra Rajapaksa when it lost the support of religious minorities who sided with the new president, Maihripala Sirisena, in the elections.

BBS became well known a few months ago when street violence erupted in two cities in southern Sri Lanka.

In one of them, Aluthgama, four people died and another 16 were injured in clashes between Buddhists and Muslims.

BBS General Secretary Galagoda Atthe Gnanasara argues that “everything is the fault of the local and international media and the Muslim extremist groups who have spread false propaganda around the world.”

Dressed in a saffron robe that leaves his shoulder exposed, Gnanasara told Efe his followers do not have a problem with moderate Muslims, but stressed that Muslim fundamentalist extremism was secretly on the increase in the country.

Figures, however, do not corroborate the monk’s claim, as 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s total population is Buddhist, while Hindus account for 15 percent, Muslims 11 percent and Christians – also considered radicals by the BBS – account for 7 percent.

“They are conducting forced conversions, unethical conversions, marrying our women through trickery; these are not one or two cases, it is a move to suppress the Sinhalese majority,” said the hefty monk.

He insisted that Sri Lanka has been weakened as a result of almost 30 years of warfare between the Tamil LTTE guerrillas and a series of Sinhalese-dominated governments, which ended when the guerrillas admitted defeat in 2009.

Gnanasara claimed that Muslim extremists are a threat not only for his country but also for the whole world, citing the recent terror attack in Paris on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly.

“How many problems do we face today? Did the Buddhists create these problems? No, it is a small group that creates problems to trouble the majority,” Gnanasara said.

He added that BBS limits its actions to public protests to attract the attention of the authorities.

“We have no other way. We cannot take up arms or act indecently like other groups,” he said.

However a few months ago, he had publicly proclaimed that if any Muslim touched a monk, it would be “the end for him.”

According to Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, director of the Center for Policy Alternatives and co-convener of the Center for Monitoring Election Violence, the existence of BBS is intrinsically linked to the Rajapaksa government and in particular to ex-Defense Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former president’s brother.

“They were sponsored by the former defense minister. They were generating an internal conflict to provoke clashes between religious groups, which would mobilize Buddhists around the government,” Saravanamuttu explained to Efe.

“I don’t believe they have a future because their trajectory is linked to the earlier government and the impunity that comes from being linked to power,” he said, dismissing the possibility of the BBS gaining a mass following.

“I don’t think they have any form of real support,” he said, indicating that the continuity of the group “depends on the success” of the current government led by Sirisena that was formed on Jan. 9.

Nor does it appear that the Buddhist community at large regards them very highly.

Suranimala Senaratne of “The Buddhist” television channel is of the opinion that the radical group’s version of Buddhism is “incorrect.”

“They are a small group with extreme ideas but majority of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka do not agree with their ideas,” Senaratne told Efe.

In this regard, he stressed that it was one thing to be concerned about the problems faced by the Buddhist community in certain areas and quite another to represent them “wrongly, with extremist ideas.”

“That is not Buddhism. Buddhist philosophy is about training the mind and understanding oneself,” he indicated.


No comments: