Research & Analysis

Preventing hatred and suspicion would be a bigger struggle

Different ethnic and religious Sri Lankan groups responded and behaved in different ways to the April 2019 attack. The Sinhala Buddhist community, which is the major ethnic group in Sri Lanka, holds a pessimistic and extremist view.

Going back to the initial stages after this attack, it was the Sinhala Buddhist community who were initially accused harming the mutual link between two religious groups, Buddhist and Catholic. And later with proper investigations, it was found out that extremist Muslim groups were responsible for planning and executing the attacks. As Sri Lankan Defense Intelligence found out the nine suicide bombers who belonged to the extremist terrorist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath Jammiyathul Millathu did this attack.

In the island nation, there was never a conflict between Christians and Buddhists, but with the accusation which was first directed to Buddhists, the Christian community were disappointed and built suspicion. Soon after the investigations, with the compassionate and inspiring speech by the head of Sri Lanka’s Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Malcom leading to appreciation by the whole nation as it had been a greater influence to calm down the hatred among the ethnic groups.

At this stage, the Buddhist society was bonding with the Christian community as Buddhists thought it happened to their own and was against the extremist Muslims. Sinhala Buddhists shared support and love through social media to the families of victims of the Easter attack and to the entire Christian community. Unfortunately, a small section within the Sinhala Buddhists carried out hate speech through social media sources against the entire Muslim community leading to a social media ban by the Sri Lankan government. Rumours were passed by the Sinhala Buddhists, offending Muslim communities in the process.

The extremists Muslims also carried out the hate speech making situations worse.

All these tensions resulted in a change of lifestyle as well. Sinhala Buddhists refused to go to Muslim shops to purchase goods creating a mistrust towards Muslims.

Because of security reasons, the Sri Lankan Government had to take measures. One was to ban the head covering of Muslim ladies which was not appreciated by the Muslims as it went against their laws and customs. The Muslim community perceived this new rule as a threat to their freedom to follow customs, the Sinhala majority felt supported by this. At that period of time, Sri Lankan government wanted to restore the normal life but they knew that there could be possible attacks, as for that they had taken security level measures with the help of Police and Forces for each school, university and religious places all over the nation.

And this situation resulted in tensions during the Presidential election which were held last year. Muslim community feared to vote for Gotabaya Rajapaksa who is the current Sri Lankan President because Muslims fear he would favour the Majority; Sinhala Buddhists.

Some critics say that the Easter attack had become political with parties wanting to benefit from the same. It has already been a year since the  Easter attack; even though the government has arrested the suspects linked to the attack, Sri Lanka is yet to witness harmony. Inherent suspicion and hatred have become a bigger virus than the COVID-19; a section within the majority even suspect a conspiracy in the recent CoronaVirus spread.

Given the current divide, there seems to be no end to negativity. Preventing this hatred would be the biggest struggle between the Muslims and Sinhalese in the years to come.

 


On 21 April 2019, terrorists owing allegiance to the Islamic State targeted churches and hotels in Colombo, as people were celebrating the Easter Sunday. More than 250 were killed, and 500 injured.

One year later, the International Peace Research Initiative (IPRI) within the Conflict Resolution and Peace Research Programme (CRPR) at the NIAS looks at the lessons learned, the road ahead, and issues that need to be addressed. The IPRI debate on “One year after the attacks in Sri Lanka” is multi-disciplinary, looking at inter and intra-ethnic relations, policy inputs, security and justice.

 

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