Buddhist extremists causing unrest in Sri Lanka

Galagoda Atte Gnanasara, a cofounder of Sri Lanka's Bodu Bala Sena, or "Buddhist Power Force"

ABC News, over the weekend, published an AP story about the upsurge in popular support over the past year for “hardline Buddhist monks” in Sri Lanka. The spearhead group is called Bodu Bala Sena (“Buddhist Power Force”). Their stated aim is to establish Sri Lanka as a Sinhalese Buddhist country and, as in certain states in Myanmar, the country’s Muslim minority has been identified as the primary threat to this nationalistic goal.

While the article documents monk-led anti-Muslim protests that have often devolved into attacks on Muslim mosques and businesses, and alleges the government’s “tacit approval” of such actions, a separate story on Sunday accused a different Buddhist extremist group of ransacking two Christian prayer centers in the Sri Lankan city of Hikkaduwa. The monks called for a protest, claiming the centers were “operating illegally.” Another story, published in the Colombo Gazette yesterday, quoted monks who had been at the protest as saying “the media had distorted what actually took place”:

“‘The monks ran to stop the people from turning violent but the media gave the impression we were attacking the place,’ one monk said.”

A follow-up by the BBC, however, says video footage “showed monks hurling stones and bricks” as well as lighting church contents on fire, including “Bibles and church literature.” Twenty-four people have been arrested in connection with the incident, including eight Buddhist monks.

The violent and divisive actions in Sri Lanka of these extremist Buddhist organizations have drawn the censure of not only many Sri Lankan civil societies but also the US Embassy in Colombo and Amnesty International.