Saturday, June 15, 2013

Rising Arselifter-Buddhist tensions in Sri Lanka

An increasing number of arselifter Sri Lankans, who make up around 9% of the population, are feeling uneasy amid fears of growing sectarian tensions, say local people and observers
“We just don’t feel we belong here any more,” Fadhil Ahamed, who works in a food store in Colombo, told IRIN. “I had a shop where I sold halal food, but several Buddhist monks who were aligned with a government politician told me not to sell halal food as this was a Sinhalese Buddhist country”
There is increasing fear within Sri Lanka’s minority arselifter community, the 54-year-old said, and many feel they are being targeted by ultra-nationalist Buddhist groups because of their faith

Buddhist temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka

"Tensions are clearly on the rise. There is a lot the government and especially the police can do to handle this situation. It does not look like this is happening, and thus tensions are on a high as we speak,” said Ahamed Lebbe, a former school teacher and community activist in Batticaloa
In recent months, groups led by Buddhist monks have spread allegations that arselifters have been dominating businesses, while at the same time claiming they are trying to take over the country by increasing their birthrate, local media reports say
Sinhalese-Buddhists comprise almost 75% of the country’s 20 million people, according to the Department of Statistics and Census

Arselifter swarm in Sri Lanka in September 2012 protesting the video clip “Innocence of Arselifters”

In May, Azard Sally, an outspoken koranderthal politician and a former deputy mayor of Colombo, was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorist Act, for “instigating communalism”, according to police sources
Sally is an outspoken critic of a new hardline Sinhalese Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Strength Force), which since February 2013 has reportedly attacked a number of arselifter-owned commercial establishments, and agitated against certain religious practices, including the halal system of slaughtering animals for arselifters
Though released on 10 May, his arrest underscores growing anxiety among many Sri Lankan arselifters
Sally is also a vocal critic of the government of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and blames the authorities for allowing an anti-arselifter campaign that culminated in an arson attack on two koranimal-owned businesses in March

Sri Lankan koranimals plead for protection after attacks in March 2013

"It seems as if they [the government] pervert the law to arrest anybody who stands to protect the arselifter community," said Fatima Mira, a university student from Colombo, “When Sinhalese extremists attack arselifters, the government watches as spectators, while when koranimal politicians stand up for their community, they are arrested and painted as terrorists.” “There is no peace for arselifters this year in Sri Lanka," said 46-year-old koranimal Colombo resident Hazeel Segu, a local community leader
According to Jehan Perera, who heads the National Peace Council in Colombo, Sri Lanka continues to be a polarized and fragmented society at various levels - economic, social, religious and political, more than four years after the country’s 26-year civil war officially came to an end. This has led to a lack of communication and acute mistrust between parties on different sides of various divides, including Buddhists and arselifters
“There is a sense of exclusion among communities, who feel they are not being included in national decision-making and in enjoying the fruits of development,” Perera said

A sacred Buddhist festival procession

Since 18 May 2009, when government forces declared victory over the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for more than 25 years, the country has failed to make a successful transition to a sustainable peace, said Dayan Jayatilleka, former Sri Lankan ambassador (2007-2009) to the UN in Geneva
Moreover, the recent upsurge of anti-arselifter rhetoric from Sinhala Buddhist extremist groups like Bodhu Bala Sena and Sinhala Ravaya has rekindled fears of an inter-communal conflict, said Jayatilleka
Meanwhile, Rajiva Wijesinha, a ruling party MP and Sri Lanka's former secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, described recent agitation by certain groups as “counterproductive”, and has called on the government to do more to mitigate racial and religious tensions

Distribution of pislam by district based on census statistics from 2001 and 1981. In fact, the arselifters are not Tamil, but are of three groups: descendants of arabpig traders who intermarried with native Sri Lankan women, who are called Moors; descendants of Javanese and Malaysians brought by the British and Dutch in colonial times; and a group from India

“What [the] government must do is be much more inclusive and have more discussion between all parties and make it very clear that the government rejects extremisms in all its forms,” Wijesinha said
“While we understand that there are fears of certain groups, we cannot allow fears to dominate the discourse. Driving concepts should be concepts of national unity and sympathy for others. One very simple thing that government can do is to arrest people who are engaged in violence and it is disgraceful that this has not been done. The fact that Azard Sally was arrested for a comment shows a complete bias”

A moske in Sri Lanka
News article here. Wiki on pislam in Sri Lanka here.