Colombo Telegraph

Geopolitical Framings: On The Appearance Of Apparently Religious Violence In Sri Lanka

By S. Lakshmi –

The bomb attack on St Anthony’s Church, in the heart of Colombo’s old city, which is a famous multi-religious site and a church with a long history of attracting believers of all faiths – Buddhist, Hindus and occasional Muslims– is an attack on multi-religosity, religious amity, and tolerance in Sri Lanka. 

This Easter Sunday attacks are NOT merely and should not been seen merely an attack on a single, minority religious community of Christians in Sri Lanka at this time. Rather these bomb blasts in churches are attacks on the very heart of the county’s plural, multi-religious social fabric and ipso facto an attack on all religious congregations in the country.

Simultaneously, that attacks on three five star hotels where tourists gather is an attack on the country’s already debt trapped and currency manipulated economy.

How we frame the narrative to explain this apparently religious violence as well as will be most important to how soon these latest wounds inflicted on this already beleaguered nation may be healed and the country as a whole may or may not recover from this latest attack on its diverse and plural public culture and economy. 

Today’s attacks targeting the multi-relgious cultural fabric and social mosaic of the entire country as well as the economy appear to be meant to sow discord, confusion and more violence, as well as, to distract people from other on-going geo-political developments and external engagements in the country. 

Ten years after a the war between the state and LTTE ended, we are clearly witnessing what may be termed the ‘Weaponization of Religious identity politics’ and the fanning of religious conflict in this clearly vulnerable island nation which is caught in the cross-hairs of wider geopolitical tensions between big powers and their increasing competition in the Indian Ocean where Sri Lanka occupies a very strategic location. 

The Island of Sri Lanka that has historically been home to 4 great world religions – Buddhism, Christianity Hinduism,  Islam has a long history of multi-religosity, but religion like ethnicity has been periodically weaponized by local political actors who use and politicize religion, whom may term  ethno-religious entrepreneurs, but there are  clearly external interests working in collusion with local political actors in order to divide, distract, rule and advance external  geo-strategic interests in this strategically located country at this time. External parties have geopolitical interests in Sri Lanka to divide, distract, loot and set up military bases in the island as there is a Cold War and increasing militarization of the Indian Ocean at this time, with Sri Lanka being visited by many war ships of big powers and their allies countries. 

Ravana Senai and Ravana Balaya emerged in the post-war period, the former a Hindu organization and the latter a Buddhist Outfit in the predominantly Tamil northeast and Sinhala Buddhist south, seemingly, also targeting Muslims and Christians. 

1983 REDUX

Sri Lankans must be united and act with circumspection as these are dangerous times, also as political transitions and elections loom, even as we are seeing 1983 redux as geopolitical tensions increase. Then too there were external interests at play as ethnic tensions and civilian riots were militarized and weaponized.

Critical researchers on religious co-existence and violence who look at deep structures of conflict and amity between multi-religious communities are increasingly convinced that the bomb blasts at 2 churches blasts are part of a wider systematic post war weaponization of religious identity politics by external parties to Divide, Distract and destabilize this strategically located Indian Ocean island which is in the cross-hairs of a Cold War between the United States, India and its allies on the one hand and China on the other. 

Small countries are often instrumentalized and identity politics weaponized in Cold War proxy wars. These are dangerous times in Sri Lanka as in 1983, when external parties promoted internal conflict and weaponized ethnic tensions during the Cold War.

Ravana Senai and Ravana Balaya were set up to attack Muslims and Christians by external parties with geopolitical interests in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan must be united and act with circumspection.

Crucial information on the Bond Scam was to be revealed as we life of t President next week, after the end of the Sinhala-Tamil New year. There is a pattern of religious riots happening when pro-western leaders are in peril. We recall that the anti-Muslim riots in Digana ad Kandy happened when the Presidential inquiry into the Bondscam report was released to distract from calls for impeachment of those responsible. While those that are being protected with violence my not have known of the attack they are complicit in so far as a proper investigation into the Digana Attacks were not carried out.

The Bomb at 2 churches blasts appear to be part of the weaponization of religious identity politics by external parties working with local political-religious small groups to Divide, Distract and further external interests in this strategically located island nation, even as the current regimes days are numbered and elections due next years. Ironically, but perhaps not co-incidentally, the worst cases of ethnic and religious violence in the island have happened during neo-liberal governments – as with the anti-Tamil pogrom of July 1983, the anti-Muslim riots of May 2019, and now the current attack on multi-religion, religious tolerance and co-existence. There is clearly and economic dimension to these attacks

It is important that all communities to keep calm and understand some of the deeper patterns and issues that underlie these terrorist attacks on religious diversity and tolerance in Sri Lanka at this time.

The book by Yale University academic Eugene Ford, titled “Cold War Monks: Buddhism and America’s Secret Strategy in Southeast Asia”, during the height of the Cold War helps us recognize deep structures and histories that configure religious violence in South and Southeast Asia’s diverse and multi-religious polities. Sri Lanka and Burma were both part of the US strategy to use Buddhism in Southeast Asia to fight Communism at the time. At that time Islam too was weaponized in Afghanistan and the Middle east against communism and its own communities including Sunni-Shia conflict.

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