17 August, 2017

Sri Lanka: On Buddhist Fundamentalism

By Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali

Four years after the brutal assault on the Tamil population and the killing of between 8—10,000 Tamils by the Sri Lankan army, there is trouble again. The saffron-robed fanatics, led by the BBS—Bodu Bala Sena: the most active and pernicious of Buddhist fundamentalist groups that have sprouted in Sinhala strongholds throughout the island— are on the rampage again. This time the target is the relatively small Muslim minority. Muslim abattoirs have been raided, butchers shops attacked, homes targeted. Terrified kids and adults in Muslim areas are living in fear. The police stand by watching passively while the Sri Lankan TV crews film the scenes as if it were a school picnic.

A few weeks ago, Buddhist monks led some hoodlums and attacked the car sales room of a Muslim-owned company (Emerald Trading) in Pepliyana. Reason? An employee was stepping out with a young Sinhala woman and her father had complained to a local monk. A journalist on The Sunday Leader (a courageous broadsheet whose editor Lasantha Wickramatunga had, four months ago, denounced President Rajapaksa for corruption, predicted in print that he would be killed as a result and was) reported on 2 April that, ‘Following the complaint, an eye-witness saw a monk leaving one of the temples in Pepiliyana followed by a group of youths, mostly under 25 years of age. The group carried stones and, people were later to discover, kerosene…’

As if the anti-Tamil pogroms were not enough to satisfy the blood-lust, a BBS blogger explained the ‘reasoning’ behind the targeting of Muslims in the Colombo Telegraph (6 March 2013):

“Muslims have been living in this country since 7th century and now only they want to have Halal food in Sri Lanka. Population wise they are only 5%. If we allow Halal, next time they will try to introduce circumcision on us. We have to nip these in the bud before it becomes a custom. We should never allow the Muslims and Christians to control anything in Sri Lanka. What is Halal to Muslims is Harem to Sinhala Buddhists. Slaughtering cow and eating beef should also be banned in Sri Lanka. Instead, we should promote pork. We are glad that the parliament has re-introduced pork in their menu. Hijab, burqa, niqab and purdah should be banned in Sri Lanka. The law and the legislature should always be under the control of the Sinhala-Buddhists and our Nationalist Patriotic president. After all, Sri Lanka is a gift from Buddha to the Sinhalese.”

Difficult to imagine how circumcision could be ‘nipped in the bud’ even by a buddhist, or how the  percentage of the Muslim population could have decreased from 9.7 percent in 2011 to 5 percent today. It has undoubtedly gone down but demographers doubt it could have done so by more than one or two percent at the most. The decline is obviously a direct result of unchecked harassment and persecution. It has gone down over the last few decades. The Tamils did their bit. Muslims in Tamil-majority areas were harassed and effectively driven out by ethnic purists from both the  communities. They regret what they did now because it has been done to them on a much larger scale.

If it were only the BBS mouthing this nonsense, it would be one thing. But many within Sinhala political-military mainstream pander to rhetoric of this sort. In Pottuvil in the Ampara district, for instance, where the Muslims are a majority, the uniformed soldiers have been collaborating with the local monks and monasteries to erect Buddhist statues and inflaming the region in noise pollution via loudspeakers which start early with Buddhist hymns and a nightly replay. Local women who own land are being driven off it: the monasteries steal as the army provides protection.

The 1911 consensus revealed, as has always been the case, that the Buddhists compose a huge majority (70.2 percent), followed by the Tamil Hindus (12.6), Muslims (9.7) and Christians (7.4). Nobody threatens the Buddha or his followers except fanatics from within.

What of Buddha’s gift?  It was stolen by European imperialists for 450 years;  first by the  Portuguese (who intermarried eagerly regardless of caste or social location but insisted on conversion to Catholicism with the locals, leaving behind a socially integrated layer that still bears the old names: Perera, Da Silva, Fernado, Mirano, etc), next came the Dutch who  only married  the local upper castes leaving behind a burgher cast with names like Kretzer, Van der Porten, Ondaatje; and lastly by the British who didn’t  marry the locals at all. Had gay marriages been legal, Lord Mountbatten might well have defied the pattern.

What really freaks the Buddhist hardliners is the suggestion that the gift could not have been given to Buddhists alone. The earliest architectural finds reveal Buddhist and Tamil (Hindu) objects. Hardly surprising given the proximity of South India to Northern Sri Lanka, not unlike Sicily and the mainland. And at one point the island must have been land-linked to its parent. Who came first was a burning issue throughout the colonial period. Now it cannot even be discussed since the ‘solution’ of the Tamil question.

Ever since independence in 1948, Buddhist fundamentalism has been the driving force behind Sinhala intransigence on the ‘Tamil question’. A Buddhist monk assassinated S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the country’s fourth Prime Minister, in 1959. His crime? Making too many (in fact they were too few) concessions to the country’s large Tamil minority had cost him his life and spawned a dynasty. But the deterrent effect worked. Sinhala politicians of all stripes began to pander to the monks. Anti-Tamil discrimination was institutionalised. It was a tragedy for the island. The notion that these warped methods could produce long-term stability is risible.

Mainstream Tamil politicians had nothing to show for their labours in the Sri Lankan parliament. As the situation deteriorated, young people became more and more alienated both from Colombo and the elders of Jaffna. They began to speak of Vietnam, Che Guevara and armed struggle as the only way to free themselves from their rulers. There was an example closer to home. If Bengali Muslims could split from their Muslim brethren in West Pakistan and create Bangladesh, why not the Tamils?

Denied reforms, a  new generation of post-colonial Tamils turned their back on reformism and opted for something more dangerous. Colombo would soon be confronted with the spectre of urban guerrilla warfare. Having denied the Tamils effective autonomy, they were now faced with a civil war.  In 1976, the militants formed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and raised the demand for Eelam…an independent Tamil homeland. They succeeded, for a time, in galvanising an entire generation. Their audacity in those early days drew gasps of admiration even from their opponents. Sixteen and seventeen year olds raided banks to fund their struggle, making their getaways on bikes through the old narrow lanes camouflaged by the permanent guard of honour in the shape of the ancient Palmyra trees and their giant leaves. Their targets were police stations and government officials. When state repression multiplied, local Tamil community leaders shielded their children. They were proud of them. Years of collaboration with the last colonial power had given the older Tamils an image of docility, people in a pose of permanent surrender.  No longer.

The tragedy of the Tamils echoed that of similar movements elsewhere. The Tigers were, as armies are, led by their commanders who brooked no dissent. They turned on their own and their mass base became passive and embittered. Sensational acts of terror became a substitute for a political strategy, thus alienating all possible allies in the South. Warring factions fought each other and the Sinhala politicians in Colombo chuckled with delight, bided their time and embarked on large-scale repression that spared nobody. The grand finale in which Tamil men, women and children, without any links to the Tigers were killed in huge numbers, in comparison making civil war in the former Yugoslavia look like a boisterous dinner party. Much of the blame lies with Sinhala chauvinism and its grip on the island’s politics. Even the predominantly Sinhala JVP radicals of the Seventies, the first victims of the government and killed in the thousands for challenging its monopoly of violence had extremely ambiguous positions on the Tamil issue. But the Tigers cannot be exempted for their crimes against their own people. There was no justification whatsoever for their brand of authoritarian terrorism. Suicide bombings which they pioneered in Asia were a cynical tactic revealing the Supreme Leader’s hold on his membership. Cyanide pills—that every guerrilla carried— are an inducement to self-destruction.

The island is now in a terrible mess. The International Crisis Group report of February 2013 makes for grim reading. Expressed in polite language the message is clear. Rajpaksa’s outfit is an authoritarian government, possibly guilty of war crimes for which there is plentiful evidence. The government’s use of the ‘Prevention of Terrorism Act’ to repress Tamil civil rights, the constant presence of the army in Tamil regions, the curbs on the press and the sacking of an awkward Chief Justice are all highlighted. Hewr replacement is a timeserver who has already declared that the civil rights of the population  are not being violated.

The remit of the report does not extend to the scale of corruption in the country. President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also in charge of Defense, Urban Development, Finance and Ports and Highways. One can only imagine the scale of the kickbacks. As if this were not enough, a brother, Basil, is the Minister for Economic Development, another brother Chamal, is the Speaker of the Parliament, a nephew Shashindra is Chief Minister of Uva, a key province, a cousin, Jaliya Wickramasriya is Ambassador in Washington, his brother-in-law Udayanga Weeratunga is Ambassador to Russia and his 25 year-old boy, Narmat, is the MP for Hambantota, a strategically crucial port, funded by Beijing and, together with Gwadar in Pakistan, part of China’s strategic ‘string of pearls.’  Chinese policy towards Sri Lanka  (and, for that matter, Pakistan) today is consistent. Mao Zedong and Chou en Lai supported the Sri Lankan government when it crushed the JVP uprising and destroyed the best of Sinhala’s youth (a mass grave of some of the victims was discovered only a few weeks ago); their successors have given open backing to the current regime  and Chinese state security bigwigs have been photographed with the Sinhala army in Jaffna, enjoying the sights and inspecting regions where Chinese projects of various sorts will soon dot the coastline.

The London-based octogenarian Tamil novelist and writer, A. Sivanandan is despondent. He told me that he fears not just for the Tamils but also the Sinhalese people:

‘Defeated, the Tamils are now rethinking everything, at least in the diaspora which so heavily and uncritically supported the Tigers.  They are no longer talking of independence, but of political rights and democracy. Is it too late? I honestly don’t know. The Buddhist monks will soon turn on their own, denouncing Sinhalese who are not orthodox Buddhists and if Rajapaksa, family and friends back them, they might be in for a surprise. Mass uprisings are in the air. All that is left is hope.’

He might have added Hebert’s ditty to the mixture. The late colonial Bishop of Madras and Calcutta wrote after a visit in 1819:

What tho’ the spicy breezes

Blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;

Though every prospect pleases,

And only man is vile?

The Commonwealth leaders and their Queen who will soon assemble on the island could do worse than sing these lines for a start. And will talk of Burma joining the Commonwealth be nipped in the bud?   Buddhists have clashed with a tiny Muslim minority and driven them out of their villages, though the cause in this case appears to be material rather than ethno-religious Puritanism. The Buddhists wanted the land for themselves. A macabre confrontation resulted in, of all places, an Indonesian refugee camp where the Burmese Muslims had been provided with shelter. Eight Burmese Buddhist fisherman whose vessel had foundered in nearby waters were also rescued by the Indonesians and taken to the same camp. That night the two sides battled and all the fishermen apart from one were killed. Muslim casualties were two dead, and seven wounded.

*Tariq Ali was born in Lahore in 1943. He was educated in Pakistan and later at Oxford. His opposition to the military dictatorship in Pakistan prevented his return to his own country and he became an unwilling exile in Britain. He has been a leading figure of the international left since the 60s. He has been writing for the Guardian since the 70s. He is a long-standing editor of the New Left Review and a political commentator published on every continent. Since 1984 he has had six novels published in over a dozen languages, produced TV documentaries and written for the theatre and the screen.

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    The fallout from the activities of the BBS still continues. The damage they have done to the reputation of the country is enormous. Yet the govt is loath to take any action against these imposters. Instead minorities are being targetted under the PTA.

    • 0
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      What damage and what reputation? Outside of Sri Lanka, no one knows the name of the “BBS.” Perhaps BBS should take marketing lessons from your Al Qaeda brothers.

      • 0
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        A typical Sri Lankan you are..”Linday inna gembek”..I have been working in the Middle East for over a decade. I have always told people in this country to visit Sri Lanka. However, several locals lately have inquired why Muslims are being haressed in Sri Lanka and one even asked me who Bodu Bala Sena is!! They say they rather go somewhere else than go to Sri Lanka…Keep telling yourself just like the rajapakses that the world doesn’t know what the real situation – you are sadly mistaken

  • 0
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    BBS is the Sinhala Buddhist TALIBAN. Ironically, the groups operates with impunity and backing of the Rajapassa military dictatorship.

  • 0
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    ” Denied reforms, a new generation of post-colonial Tamils turned their back on reformism and opted for something more dangerous “

    This statement is totally misleading. The Tamils had privileges unavailabe to the 88% non-Tamils. Some 35% of the sought after government positions and professional jobs were held by them and their aim as voiced before and after independence was for those to be retained, and not unexpectadly, found unacceptable to the majority.
    Prior to this they had sought for themselves exclusive use of 2 provinces including 2/3rds of the coastline districts. Fortunately the British government of the day found no basis to give in. The demand for 50:50 parliamentary representation for this minority of 12% would not be agreed to even by Tariq Ali. To them, these were all ‘discriminatory’ or so they pretended when migrating for economic reasons to the West, to give them an ‘edge’ over the other migrants, (especially from Sri Lanka). Ali should be more circumspect when listening to the LTTE fellow travellers.

  • 0
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    Tariq Ali,

    It is disappointing that someone of your reputation should see fit to make some ill considered comments. Consider the very first sentence of your article

    “Four years after the BRUTAL ASSAULT ON THE TAMIL POPULATION and the killing of between 8—10,000 Tamils by the Sri Lankan army, there is trouble again. “(my capitals)

    For heaven’s sake, where and when was there a brutal assault on the Tamil population? The Army fought the LTTE, NOT the Tamil population!

    Check you facts, mate, before you commit yourself to paper or make a fool of yourself as you are now doing.

  • 0
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    My god, what an ignorant piece of writing!

    • 0
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      David Blacker

      “My god, what an ignorant piece of writing!”

      Oh you didn’t inform us you believe in God.

      Could tell us in which god you trust?

      There are many to chose from, Allah, Shiva, Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva, Almighty, El Shaddai, Pattini Goddess, Dadimunda, ………..Duminda Silva.

      Which of the above is your favourite?

      • 0
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        It is not necessary to speak, Ooruwarige Booruwa, simply because you have a mouth.

        • 0
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          David Blacker

          Could you tell us in which god you trust?

          There are many to chose from, Allah, Shiva, Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva, Almighty, El Shaddai, Pattini Goddess, Dadimunda, ………..Duminda Silva.

          Which of the above is your favourite?

          “It is not necessary to speak, Ooruwarige Booruwa, simply because you have a mouth”

          It does not stop you from typing just because you have access to a keyboard.

          Double standard?

          • 0
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            Ooruwarige Booruwa, your interest in my religious beliefs would be gratifying if not for the hilarity of your attempts to find something to talk about that you understand. There there, go and find some honey to follow your toddy and have a nice nap. Don’t worry your poor head about such complicated issues as divinity :D

        • 0
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          that applies to you too, Blacker? :P
          @Native Vedda, most of those you quoted are just synonyms for the same entity people want to conceive. btw, Almighty is not yet a brand-name.

          • 0
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            Bandaranayake

            Nayaker

            Thanks for reminding me that those names were synonyms. I was carried away with my “thoughts(?)”.

            would you mind if I called you Nayaker?

          • 0
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            And of course to you too, Banda. So why not say something worthwhile.

  • 0
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    Mr. Tariq Ali:

    How many articles have you written about muslims destroying Bamiyan Buddhas, Muslims destroying buddhist Statues in Mldive Island Museum, Islamic crusades (remember modern crusades are of a different kind). These are only some of the incidences ?

    Why Muslims are eager to introduce their system of commerce, food and clothing ?

    What is that fundamentalism or democracy ? OR muslims are just using democracy to convert the world islam ?

  • 0
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    Jimsofty – You ignorant stupid fool, no muslims ever forced the non muslims follow their style food or clothing. You all make people sick. We have no issues with any hambayas or demalas. Its this tyranni MR and family with the support of drankard homosexual monks fabricating stories & making haterd. Do we need another 83 balack July? We majority Sinhalese will never allow MR/Gota family to destroy this country anymore.

    • 0
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      You ignorant stupid fool, no muslims ever forced the non muslims follow their style food or clothing.

      You ignorent backbone less who ever. What do you know ?

      MR is a politician. He is only helping Tamils, christians and muslims to destroy Sri Lanka. HE is not ignorant a you are.

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        Then what the fuck Foolsi Muslims want others eat their rubbish branded food?

        • 0
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          Keri

          You have a choice, you are free to stop buying and eating their rubbish branded food.

          If the Muslim women wore Hijab you are still free to refrain from admiring their beauty.

          Are the Muslims force feeding you with their rubbish branded food? If they are then there is something wrong with you.

      • 0
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        JimSofty

        “MR is a politician. He is only helping Tamils, christians and muslims to destroy Sri Lanka. HE is not ignorant a you are.”

        How so?

        Sri Lanka does not need others to destroy itself, Sinhala/Buddhists are doing it splendidly, as they are the majority.

        • 0
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          They just brought from Bangladesh some left over Lord Buddha’s “Kesha Dathu” HAIR RELICS to Sri Lanka to be displayed, worshipped and venerated.

          These are some of the Body parts that Lord Buddha left after cremating with Sandalwood at 980 Degrees F for 12 hours and now been left over in Half a dozen countries including Sri Lanka.

          I was under impression that Lord Buddha shaved his hair, and how come he left and somebody found his Kesha Dathu after cremating.

          If anybody could answer the following will be helpful.

          1)Did Lord Buddha Shaved his hair the time he became a sadhu.

          2)Did he grew his hair the time he died.

          3)How come his hair did not burned when he was cremated with a load of sandalwood log pryer which burns at 800 degrees F for 12 hours.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relic_of_the_tooth_of_the_Buddha
          http://factsanddetails.com/world.php?itemid=1343=55=354
          http://buddhismdigest.wordpress.com/2009/01/09/place-of-buddhas-death-mahaparinirvana

          4)How come half a dozen countries got access to Lord Buddha’s relics specially his hair, even after burning in sandalwood logs for 12 hours.

          5)How come Bangladesh got access to Lord Buddha’s hair, which I presumed was shaved to time he died.

          6)Lord Buddha also has his relics in Burma, Thailand and I presume in China, Japan and Nepol.

          If anybody could answer these would be helpful.

          • 0
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            How many Lingams does Lord Shiva have exactly?

      • 0
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        Mahinda is not a politician..he is a dumb idiot who doesn’t understand that running a country is not running a family business and he will do anything to keep control of the country

  • 0
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    This is a real fundamentalist’s dogmatic writing. This globe says that Buddhist are polluting the air by using loudspeakers with Buddhist hymns. How can this guy forget their daily five times rubbish mosque sound that play everyday if he was so objective and unbiased? Thus, these articles must be considered as full of filthy rubbish written against the existance of Buddhists in Sri Lanka. This is one minor contribution for globalised Musalman project. Who and how can deny it.

  • 0
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    Tariq A1i, Please stop this joke. A sri lankan islamic fundamantalist hiding behind you writing this shit. This is the same article publish about month ago under your name and just added few more paragraphs and omit few. Willingly or unwittingly you let this guy to use your name .

    I want to tell you again in Pothuvil wasn’t a muslim area about 30 years ago. During LATE Minister Ashroff time he simply robbed Pothuvil lands and distribute these lands to his henchmen. He did not care whether it is government or archaelogical lands. He distribute lands by giving “special permits” and it is not a valid deed. Not only that he gave Ports authority money generously to built houses under the patronage of CBK. And also he received generous grants from some arabic countries. The lands belongs to Muhudu Maha Viharaya [about 247 acres when British rule this country] he robbed more than 200 acres.

    Recently under “Dayata Kirula” 2013 programme after President’s mediation take action to preserve it. The srilankan islamic guys hiding behind you and their agents here tried hard to prevent it. But don’t worry the construction work going on unabatedly. If islamic mosques praying three times a day through out Srilanka and buddhists never complain. So islamics in Pothuvil must bear the sound of Pirith chanting.

    • 0
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      I know in my area which is an ancient Buddhist area, Muslims established a worship place in a former business place and began reading the quran into loud speakers with loud voice and early in the morning.

      Think about how we feel when our culture is being destroyed little by little.

  • 0
    0

    It is REajapakses that created, funded and nourished BBS as their special Republican Guard Unit.

    BBS are the Sinhala version of Extremist Buddhist Talibans in Sri Lanka.

    Please Google or youtube and type anonymous or infowars to learn more about them Sinhala Talibans activities.

  • 0
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    Tariq:
    But dont afraid much of BBS. It never do any thing like the Pakis did to Bengali Muslims in 1971!

    But Muslims are getting dollars to destroy Sri lanka of their social fabric.

  • 0
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    Tariq Ali

    The people who respect you seemed to have ignored your previous article on this website assuming you have been misled to resort to fiction concerning the affairs of Sri Lanka, perhaps with the hope that you would not be wasting your time further, delving into a subject you know very little about. It is indeed puzzling now about what prompts you to persist with a second article. The world is full of controversial issues and one would expect you delve into these issues with knowledge and competence. Why waste time writing fiction? Even with reluctance one would ask the questions whether you are intellectually bankrupt, going senile or enticed by irresistible financial attractions.

  • 0
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    I think I’ve first heard of the name Tariq Ali in latter part of the sixties when I was still student in the UK. This man was an anathema to many English people at the time. He associated arch leftist like red Ken, Scargill and et al. I think Tariq Ali was one of the schemers who plotted with arch leftists of the Labour Party to force right of the centre hierarchy like Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and many others out and made them form a new party SDP. When Tariq was asked why he doesn’t go back to Pakistan if he finished his studies by an irritated member of the audience at a TV show, he said he wanted to help English in the UK. If I remember right he was booed. Reds somehow ruined the labour party and the country and pave the way for extreme right wing Thatcher to be elected to power.

    It is obvious that this man does not have a clue what’s going on in Sri Lanka. He talks of ‘relatively small Muslim minority’; ‘Terrified kids and adults in Muslim areas are living in fear’; ‘attacked the car sales room of a Muslim-owned company (Emerald Trading) in Pepliyana’; ‘An employee was stepping out with a young Sinhala woman and her father had complained to a local monk’ etc and etc. To say it all in short, this man write rubbish and spread utter lies. Based on some hearsay stories, he just wants to attack Rajapakse, BBS and Sinhala Buddhists as if he has first hand experience. More Sinhalas read this sort of rubbish the better for they can understand better about the gangs that work against them.

    Has Tariq Ali ditched his red spots and become a dogmatic Allah fearing Wahaabi at his old age? Whatever it is, I do not want to waste my time to explore it or counter his one sided imaginations about Sri Lanka and Buddhists for he is never known to have taken others’ point of view into consideration. But with even post, I shall immediately write to immigration department and worn them of would be dangers of this Paki liar who has no place in his native Pakistan visiting here.
    Leela

    • 0
      0

      he is never known to have taken others’ point of view into consideration. But with even post, I shall immediately write to immigration department and worn them of would be dangers of this Paki liar who has no place in his native Pakistan visiting here. that’s the pot calling the kettle black! ALL LIARS! What about the governing types? are they LILY WHITE? As I mentioned earlier Leelananda has government protection with government CONTACTS and that’s the reason Lee & Potter never comes up!

  • 0
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    IS BBS back in Sri Lanka, I saw pictures eating and eyes poped up like never seen food before using folks my god they are westernized, most of the Sri lankans buy chicken and meat from Hala shop based in USA because its fresh and clean so BBS were eating HALAl Chicken

    • 0
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      They are working out now at the “bada palena kan kapu tatayo” gym….will be back in action after a week

  • 0
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    In the UK Tariq Ali is well known as the Buffoon of the Left. He writes in a lively journalistic style and produces both political works and fiction. Unfortunately he confuses the two, as his article above clearly shows. His book “The Coming British Revolution” was published in 1971. He, naturally, was going to lead the revolution, but unfortunately for him it turned into a counter-revolution led by the then Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher!

  • 0
    0

    Tariq Ali, you are Bullshitting:d, dont u have anything to write about the conversion by rape of buddist, christian, and hindu girls in porkistan?

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