‘A New Enemy but the Same Hate’: Can Sri Lanka Heal Its Divisions? – The New York Times

Traveling through Sri Lanka is like venturing into a kaleidoscope, each piece shifting and separate.

A Buddhist heartland, with verdant hills and saffron-robed monks, gives way to neighborhoods of mosques and men in prayer caps. Later, along the same road, comes a Hindu village, with its diversity of gods decorating homes.

Occasionally, a cross juts out from a Roman Catholic or Protestant church or the windshield of a trishaw driver.

The Easter bombings may have been particularly bloody, but the targeting of places of worship in this multiethnic, multifaith nation is not new. In 1998, Tamil separatists attacked one of world’s holiest sites, the temple in central Sri Lanka where a relic believed to be the Buddha’s tooth is kept. That temple was also targeted in 1989 by communist extremists.

Over the course of the civil war between insurgents from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sinhalese-majority state, the military descended upon Christian churches and Hindu temples where Tamils had sought refuge. The Tamil Tigers responded by massacring dozens of Buddhist monks. In 1990, they infiltrated evening prayers at two mosques, killing more than 100 Muslims who were considered government collaborators.

Sri Lanka cannot be divided neatly by race, faith or language. The population is more than 70 percent Sinhalese; most are Buddhists, a minority is Christian. Around 10 percent of the country is Tamil, largely Hindu and Christian. Muslims occupy another 10 percent and are considered a distinct ethnicity even though many speak Tamil.

The Constitution affords special status to Buddhism, which for many Sinhalese is synonymous with their ethnicity. After the Tamils were defeated, a Buddhist nationalist movement gained favor with the government, and extremist monks turned their attention to new enemies: Muslims and Christians.


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