In April last year, Buddhist priests stormed a mosque in central Sri Lanka, and, claiming that it had been built on territory sacred to Buddhists, demanded its immediate closure. When news of this assault reached the government in Colombo, the prime minister reacted by ordering the Muslims to move their mosque.
Emboldened by the example of this effortless early triumph, some Buddhist monks started selecting other targets for “civil policing.” Earlier this year, a group calling itself the “Buddhist Strength Force” staged rallies in Colombo against the halal system of meat certification. As the BBC reported, thousands of men and women gathered in the capital to hear the nationalist rhetoric of the BSF monks. “Our country is a Sinhalese one and we are its unofficial police,” one monk announced.
A few weeks later the monks laid siege to a Muslim-owned abattoir in Colombo to halt the slaughter of cattle. The police who arrived at the scene helped the monks inspect the facility.It was the sermons of the monk Zhiwen that prompted many Chinese citizens to free their animals and burn their fishing nets. When Sri Lankan Buddhists proclaim that Muslims are uniquely cruel towards animals, they expose their ignorance: the most eloquent champion of animals in India since Ashoka was the Mughal emperor Mohammed Akbar.
In any event, many of the Muslim-owned businesses that export meat employ thousands of Buddhists. In the last month, Buddhist monks have attacked Muslim teachers at a law college, accusing them of favouring their own kind, and called for the abolition of the abaya, the niqab and the hijab. “We will fight until this attire is banned from this country, so that there is no chance to unofficially enforce the Islamic Sharia Law in Sri Lanka,” one monk, as if ventriloquising the principal obsession of overzealous European liberals, declared.
For nearly a century now, Buddhist demagogues have tried to suffuse the minds of ordinary Sinhalese with sinister myths about a virtuous Sinhala majority defiled and victimised by alien minorities. “Christianity and [Hindu] polytheism are responsible for the vulgar practices of killing animals, stealing, prostitution, lying and drunkenness.”
In reality: Christians never truly presented much of a threat to Sinhalese Buddhist dominance in post-independence Sri Lanka, and the (largely Hindu) Tamils who attempted to disrupt Sinhalese rule were routed in 2009.