21 February, 2024


Why Do They Hate Non-Sinhalese? 

By Imtiyaz Razak –

Prof. Imtiyaz Razak

When July 1983 ethnic program occurred, I was a junior high school student from Colombo. I didn’t have any meaningful understanding of what had happened in the third week of July. But I witnessed the looting of properties belong to Tamils in Colombo and burned down bodies by Sinhala-Buddhist extremists (with the help from local cops). That one week horrific violence against the Tamils, negatively affected my own life though I am ethnically Moor (Muslim). I used to be a five-times praying and Allah loving kid than, but that violence against the Tamils during the UNP government critically challenged me and thus my worldviews and political understanding. I then asked very simple question: why did they (Sinhala-Buddhist extremists) attack Tamils?

Now I am not a junior school student, but the question I asked in 1983 inspired me to understand violence by Sinhala-Buddhist extremists. There are many factors that lead to violence and hatred in modern societies. In my published articles on Sri Lanka, I have examined some crucial sources of violence by Sinhala-Buddhist extremists and Sri Lanka state.

One of major sources of hatred and violence against non-Sinhalese is Sinhala-Buddhists’ insecurity. This insecurity among Sinhala-Buddhists has been playing significant role in political psycho of Sinhala-Buddhist extremists in particular. In Sri Lanka, though Sinhala-Buddhists are the majority, experiences suggest that they harbor a kind of inferior mentality and thus grow fears and hatred against non-Sinhalese. Though this development is not very obvious among each and every Sinhala-Buddhists, such a mentality does exist in low income Sinhala-Buddhists, who live in villages where Buddhist Temples and monks have vital role in community making.

March Violence 

Last week, Sri Lanka Muslims in the central province district of Kandy experienced violent outbreak. Evidences suggest that Sinhala-Buddhist extremists, including some politicized monks led the violence targeted at properties belong to Muslims. To understand the motivations of the violence against the Muslims, I spent my own resources to interview some Sinhala-Buddhists both in Kandy and Galle.

The followings are some responses for my questions from my respondents:

“Muslims are good, but they’re trying to convert Buddhists to Islam. Iran and Saudi Arabia are helping Muslims to do this”

“Look, our markets, shopping centers and food stores. Muslims own these places and they are rich. They’re having more kids and have good houses.”

“I want to see Muslims go back to Saudi Arabia. I am not comfortable to see Muslims in Sri Lanka. ”

Above three respondents are from Kandy city and are young male between 27-35. They claimed they don’t have university degrees and don’t have regular full time job.
It’s wrong to generalize individual opinions. But individual opinions do carry some critical general tendencies. Above views fundamentally help us to understand the psycho of Sinhala-Buddhist extremists, who would harbor fears and hatreds.

The fears and anxiety fuel people thinking and actions. In Sri Lanka, these factors contributed significantly in Sinhala-Buddhist position to deny meaningful power sharing with non-Sinhalese.  Since Sri Lanka state represents the interests of Sinhala-Buddhists, the state struggled to reach an acceptable political settlement to the ethnic conflict, overriding the aspirations of Sinhala-Buddhists. The fundamental fear from the Sinhala-Buddhist community is that any solution along the power-sharing democracy (federalism) would jeopardize Sri Lanka’s territorial unity, because such is concession for an independent state for Tamils. This fear is still exist and strong among Sinhala-Buddhist extremists, who would think that they are the owners of the island and non-Sinhalese can live in Sri Lanka as guests.

Sinhala-Buddhist extremists’ violent campaign from 1957 to 1983 against the Tamils and Sri Lanka state’s failure to negotiate a political settlement along a federal solution, and wave of violence’s against Muslims from 2009 in general and from 2012 in particular highlight the very insecure political mentality of Sinhala-Buddhist extremists.

Sri Lanka’s Sinhala-Buddhists generally believe that non-Sinhalese are guests and thus they shouldn’t have any special privileges in the island, which is, according to them, belong to the Sinhala race. The Sinhala-Buddhists also tend to believe that non-Sinhalese are economically and socio-culturally powerful. These are basically roots of the existing insecurity among Sinhala-Buddhist extremists, who are actually the majority (around 73 percent). These fundamental belief system not only help shape their fears and power over non-Sinhalese, but also contribute to radicalize some Sinhala-Buddhists.

Insecurity And Politicization

In electoral democracy, politicians would compete for votes. Sri Lanka’s electoral democracy experiences suggest that Sinhala-Buddhist politicians use Sinhala Buddhist symbols and fears to outbid their opponents. Those politicians also strategically place Sinhala-Buddhist insecure mentality to shape up their political agendas and positions.

That political outbidding produces success in elections.  Tamils were once portrayed as brutal enemies of Sinhala race. It allowed Sinhala politicians and ruling class to wage war against the Tamil Tigers and to deny meaningful political solution for grievances fueled by ethno-centric policies. Since Tamil Tigers silenced their guns, Sinhala-Buddhist extremists actively searched new enemies to consolidate their power and position. Then they found Sri Lanka Muslims, who actually worked so closely with the successive Sinhala-Buddhists dominated regimes for concessions, including religious concessions.

Sinhala-Buddhists extremists now suddenly found that Muslim symbols and identity markers such as Hijab and the rise of Islamic awareness threaten the stability of the island. But careful readers of Sri Lanka know many concessions what Sri Lanka Muslims enjoy in our time, for example, Muslim schools, Islamic dress in public schools were the concessions that Muslim elites received for their cohabitation politics with the successive Sinhala-Buddhists dominated regimes since 1949.

Now the same Muslims became harsh enemy for some aggressive Sinhala-Buddhists extremists and thus Muslims are new-Tamils for Sinhala-Buddhist extremists. Making a new enemy is important for nationalists because strategy of enemy making would help consolidate political agendas of nationalists.

Sri Lanka’s unbalance economic development affect villagers regardless of ethnic background. Economic inequality is real in the island and it’s hitting many low-income people. But Muslims are not running Sri Lanka’s economy. Very good portion of Sri Lanka Muslims also live in poverty and thus they experience economic anxiety. Just because a tiny portion of Sri Lanka Muslims are doing good in business and trade, does not mean that all Muslims are economically well off.  It’s wrong to portray Muslims as trade community. But Sinhala-Buddhists extremists are portraying that Muslims are dominating Sri Lanka business and eventually Muslims want to conquer the island.

This breeds both Islamophobia and insecurity among Sinhala-Buddhists. This trend is not going to help Sri Lanka to gain peace and justice. Though not all Sinhala-Buddhists harbor hatred against non-Sinhalese, those who would lead the campaign against Muslims are not isolated. It seems those forces have blessings from top Sinhala-Buddhist politician.  Politicized monks have crucial role in the mobilization of violence against Muslims this time around as they played role in the war against the Tamil Tigers.

Whether Sri Lanka would arrest the current tensions and violence against Muslims are remains to be seen. But there are concerns and fears among Muslims: Sinhala-Buddhist extremists would come again with a new wave of violence. Muslims, who responded to my questions, expressed this concern. This is plainly dangerous, because such a fear and anxiety as well as pains may give birth to some unpleasant mobilization, perhaps violent defense and offense. Circle of fears and tensions might help radicalize some Muslims. Sri Lanka shouldn’t forget the sources that gave birth to the rise of Tamil insurgency and terrorism.

*Prof, A.R, M. Imtiyaz is a US based scholar.  His scholarly pursuits on Sri Lanka have led to publications at various international venues, including the /Journal of Asian and African Studies/ (JAAS), / the Journal of South Asia/ (JAS), the /Journal of Third Third_World Studies/ (JTWS), the Journal of South Asia/ (JAS) and /Asian Affairs/. His most recent research examines issues pertaining to Muslims in Middle East and Xinjiang province, China. 

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Latest comments

  • 1

    All one need to do is nor read History ,but just sit for five minutes and analyse how The Tamil war got started.
    What most people never understand or may be not be aware is the world is mainly run by two most powerful forces,
    One is The Weapon Industry and thee other The Pharma Industries. .
    Its they who decide which people should be targeted and in which country. The Politicians and religious leaders are only paid servants of this huge industry.
    Can anyone here in this forum tell me what would come of countries like USA,Australia ,Switzerland, France ,Germany ,,Russia and China ,if they reduce ,(not stop -just reduce) manufacturing arms only to the quantity really required by the world for the purpose of self defense and The Pharma industry only manufacture to meet the need of the ill and not to supply to the injured soldiers and,refugees ?
    These Countries will become beggars over night , and The Petrol dollar countries will become so rich they will go insane .( Both are two sides of the same coin)
    It is indeed very sad that the people were only eager to see the war end and believed every word of just one man, they did not care how it would end and what should take place after a war.
    The war was ended with personal agendas in mind and not country or its people . Civilians were compromised heavily , the defeated opponents who surrendered were humiliated and treated with injustice upon injustice and yet going on. No room was left for wounds to heal , no proper rehabilitation program ,instead mass weapon manufactures were given a free pass into the country in return for personal financial rewards.

  • 9

    It’s normal to be paranoid about the Muslim invasion. Not just in SL, even in Europe the Europeans are petrified of this Muslim invasion.

    And rightly so. When countless nations have fallen prey to the Muslim conversions at gun point why wouldn’t they? I mean it’s like the Malaria plague of the 1960s. When your neighbors son dies of Malaria, when your Brother son dies of Malaria when many children die of Malaria, are you going to say “no my son is immune to that” and foolishly let things get out of control?

    No, you take precautions. And these are the precautions the Sinhalese have taken. I don’t hate the Burghers. They have the loveliest ladies in the island. I don’t hate the Tamils. Again the ladies aspect comes into mind. I don’t hate the Muslims either. But we just have to be careful.

    It’s not like the Muslims 30 years ago. These are radicalized Muslims. 30 years ago, you could invite a Muslim friend to your home, have a drink together with a devilled Pork, crack a vulgar joke and at the end of the day you could say “Good bye Nana, get home safe” and call it a day. Nowadays you can’t do that.

    So, if you want to remove that Black gunny bag on your head, if you want to shave that vulgar beard of yours, we can talk and perhaps be friends again.

    • 1

      Prof. Imtiyaz Razak,

      “Why Do They Hate Non-Sinhalese?”

      Geeze Prof! ………… is that a question to ask? ………….. Can the Sinhalese hate themselves? ………… there’s nothing to like, love, admire in themselves ………….. no political figures, religious leaders, professors, what-have-you ……… to admire and look up to ………. what is the outlet for their frustrations and disappointments?

      Hatred is everywhere ……. it’s thriving ……… did Donald win by preaching love? Geeze man …… they nailed the guy to a cross ……. who said “Love thy enemy like you love yourself.” …….. what more do you want to hear about hatred? ……

      Do you know how many gals wanted to kill me when I said I loved them? ………. Love is a dangerous business! ………. Hatred is safe ……….

      Time to come down from your ivory tower ……….Prof!

      All this is as old as …….. time itself …….. happened before ……..some time somewhere ……….

      “The only thing new in the world is history you don’t know yet.” — H S T

    • 1

      I agree with you that the followers of Islam in any part of the world has to follow that country’s laws and customs.
      They need to look like others in non Muslim countries.
      They have the freedom to pray but need to reduce the volume in calling for prayers from the Mosaues (Same should apply to other religions)

    • 3

      RETARDED Late shameless Perethaya,
      You’re the last person we need in the invasion by pissa’s in this country. Didn’t the medication I prescribed for your insanity work for you? Why don;t you re-check with Angoda mental hospital if your brains were shaved off in the military when they shaved your head off.

  • 5

    “This insecurity among Sinhala-Buddhists has been playing significant role in political psycho of Sinhala-Buddhist extremists in particular.”

    Prof. Imtiyaz Razak, Can you provide some details of what have influential people from minority communities so far contributed in the last 70 years to build trust out with ordinary Sinhala-Buddhists in SL?

    Obviously when we live in multi-cultural communities, we have to make sure that we interact with majority people in that community. Let us all focus on how to rebuild trust in grass root levels with ordinary people in SL.

    • 0

      Ordinary Sinhala Buddhists and ordinary Muslims don’t fight one-another and live without any clashes so what more do you need? Anything beyond this and the Muslims will be blamed for so called Islamizing the Sinhalese. It is always the Muslims fault, right? Sigh. The biggest problem is the language barrier which draws the line but thats an entirely different subject.

  • 3

    Why some comments are missing. IS it because the auhtor needs only certain kind of comments ?. Is htis getting ready to UNHCR ?

  • 4

    christians/Catholics and Muslims bash buddhists. but there are buddhists even among westerners who know the truth. Western buddhists live even in Sri lanka. Itis Cathilicsm, Islam and christianity that is political. so sinhala buddhists need to be active politically too which we are not yet.

  • 7

    Very good article. Sinhalas will never find peace with any body.

  • 6

    Alternatively, I would like to pose the question to Imtiaz, why do Muslims hate everybody else (i.e. the so called infidels) in the world??

    • 5


      Because you hated them first in 1915.
      Your Tamil brethren went all the way to London and saved a few Sinhala/Buddhist bums.

      • 2

        And do you know why we hated them in 1915? Because they acted as bounty hunters to the British colonials.

        We want revenge for this. And we won’t stop until we get it.

      • 1

        Veddo, is that Muslims hate the world?

        • 5


          Your Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim brethren hate themselves exactly like you. Those who suffer from self hatred, hate others too. I don’t think you have love for yourself hence you come out with most outrageous, hate filled, bigoted, …… typing.

          You should spend some time in jungle monastery.

  • 2

    Rauf Hakeem says it was only a mob attack. So why worry. There will only be further mob attacks while Hakeem plays the fiddle while Muslim houses and shops burn.

  • 2

    Mama Sinhalam

    “Rauf Hakeem says it was only a mob attack.”

    Perhaps Sirisena and Dr Ranil are sitting on his file.
    Hakeem does not want to rock the boat.

  • 2

    Imtiyaz Razak – “Why Do They Hate Non-Sinhalese?”

    The Sinhalese are an Envious Lot! They Hate, Not only Non Sinhalese, but Even Those Sinhalese who are doing Better than Themselves!

  • 1

    Islam and Muslim been treated very well in Middle Eastern Countries by USA and UK? This is the proper way that Muslim are needed and timely suited them!
    That is that Islam want treatment which is that only understand by Muslim in Globally.

    • 0

      Sudath: GHADAFFI and Sadath Hussein got the best treatmenta because they had lot of gold and money stashed in the west. You dummy. first read.

  • 0

    I agree with most -not all- of what Dr. Imtiyaz says. I always wonder how he manages his act as a Marxist and as a believer of Islam. In this article too, he cleverly, but rightfully coined the word, “Non-Sinhalese” as he wants to include Tamils in it where as I have seen him complained a lot on Tamils in number of other situations without blaming a word on his own community’s failure of doing right things to his own community. As this is not the time and place to comment on those issues, I leave them out.

    I have a question for the commentator, Dr. Imtiyaz Razak. This is not about the article, but about his credentials. While I understand he holds a Ph.D. from Nanjing University, I am not sure where his rank “Professor” comes from. He was an adjunct assistant professor at Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. However, I do not think “Professor” rank is a hard scrutinized achievement in US academic institutions, while Adjunct Assistant Professor position is a title that any part time faculty or a term limited researcher gets is as a job title. It should not be confused. Furthermore, on the Temple University Asian Studies website, I do not see Dr. Imtiyaz’s name at this moment at Temple University’s the asian-studies’ department faculty web site. (Of course, the old peripheral,but still not updated documents show his own brief bio with his association at Temple University). This is not in anyway to reduce his scholarship or what he says in this article, but Professorship is what one earns through his or her diligent work with established record. It should not be paraded liberally. Further, overstating the association of an institution beyond what an individual is really allowed to is in a way academic dishonesty and unless it is proven, it can hurt the growth of the individual forever if the institution comes to know. It is advisable to refrain from inviting such academic gullies.

    Said this one, I have to reemphasize that I agree with most – though not all- of his article here.

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