Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Buddhist Nationialism and Religious Violence in Sri Lanka

While this Sangha. . . has democracy, it has neither [a] special country nor nation nor caste.  To such a society which has no country, nation, or caste, every human being is the same. . . . Those who fight against the Tamils are not Buddhists.

—Naravila Dhammaratana[1]


            Recently the Śri Lankān people have witnessed more religious violence than ever before.  It has spread from the conflict with the Tamil Tigers to Buddhist attacks on Muslims and Christians, and now counter attacks by aggrieved Muslims.  During the 1990s the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) forced thousands of Muslims out of their northern “homeland,” but at an April, 2002 press conference they announced that they were reconsidering this rash and destructive decision as well as committing themselves to a Norwegian brokered cease fire.[2] There were also been positive signs from the Buddhist leadership, who successfully opposed three previous attempts at settlement.  Starting in April, 2005, however, political murders, committed mostly by the LTTE, increased to one per day, and one year later full scale war has resumed between the LTTE and the Colombo government. Orientalism, assumed.  Buddhist nationalists sometimes use the testimony of Chinese pilgrims as proof that a distinct Sinhalese identity is not just projection of current beliefs on a distant past.  The fact that Fa Xian (5th Century CE) and Hiuen Ziang (7th Century CE) refer to Śri Lankā as “the country of the lion” does not prove ethnic or religious purity at all.

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