Reflecting the sharp communal divide in the country, Sri Lankan Muslims and Buddhists have been holding counter demonstrations in the island nation, opposing each other’s stand point on the Rohingya Muslim issue in Myanmar. Both communities see the tragic events in Myanmar as a Muslim-Buddhist issue and not as a humanitarian or a human rights issue of humongous proportions.
It was in the Muslim-majority areas in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province that Muslims began demonstrating against the merciless killing of Rohingyas in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
The Muslim movement then spread to Jaffna in the Northern Province, where the Muslims had themselves suffered ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Tamil militants in 1990, when 90,000 of them were asked to leave in 24 hours. They trickled back to their homes only after the Tamil militants were defeated in 2009. Muslim leaders in the capital city of Colombo, including those in the ruling United National Party (UNP), took up the issue subsequently, demanding international action against the Myanmar government.
This prompted Buddhist organizations to go on the offensive. They felt that local Muslims leaders are using the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar to tarnish the image of that Buddhist country and Buddhism itself.
On Friday, several Buddhist organizations marched from Torrington Circus up to the Myanmar High Commission in Colombo. Protesters said that Sri Lanka should not accommodate Rohingya Muslim refugees, who, they alleged, had a bad reputation in the past for destroying Buddhist places of worship, massacring Buddhist monks as well as lay Buddhists.
Protesters also pointed out that it is ironical that Muslim organizations in Sri Lanka, which claim that Muslims in the island are not secure due to the violent activities of some Buddhist movements, should now ask Sri Lanka to accommodate Rohingya Muslims. “If Sri Lanka is not secure for Muslims, why are they clamoring for acceptance Rohingya Muslim refugees in Sri Lanka? It is sheer opportunism,” they said.
They pointed out that the Muslim groups which protested outside the Myanmar Embassy had never protested against the atrocities of ISIS terrorists across the world.
Udaya Gammanpila MP and leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya, a Buddhist party, said that it would be dangerous to allow Rohingyas to settle in Sri Lanka because they would come with hatred in their hearts for the Buddhists. “They would create communal tension here and disturb social harmony,” Gammanpila warned. There are a few Rohingyas in Sri Lanka who had come by boat and by air following communal disturbances in Myanmar in 2012. There has been no recent influx.
Gammanpila maintained that much of the news about atrocities against the Rohingyas is “fabricated” by the US and other international players wanting to destabilize developing countries; get an excuse to intervene; and re-impose their hegemony.
“As a country which had waged a 30-year war against Tamil terrorists, Sri Lanka has the bitter experience of facing manipulations by the Western Powers. Fabricated news in the international media about atrocities against the Tamils led to international intervention and stopped our attempts to nip Tamil terrorism in the bud,” Gammanpila recalled.
Dilantha Vithanage, CEO of the radical Buddhist Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), endorsed the stand of China and India that the Rohingya issue is basically a terrorist one and that the Myanmar government government’s tough actions are justifiable. “We should not forget that the Rohingya issue has its genesis in a Muslim separatist movement in the 1940s. We also feel that the Western media is spreading exaggerated accounts as sensationalism sells,” Vithanage said.
As a fellow Buddhist country, Sri Lanka should help Myanmar settle the Rohingya issue and provide the refugees humanitarian assistance.
Giving the Muslim view, Hyder Ali, a functionary of the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama (ACJU), called upon all Sri Lankans, irrespective of their faith, to see the Rohingya issue as a humanitarian one and not as a “Muslim” issue.
“Buddhists should view it from the stand point of the Buddha, and ask if Buddha would have allowed the atrocities? Did’nt the Buddhist leader, Dalai Lama, say that if the Buddha were alive now, he would have supported the Rohingyas?” Ali said.
Hilmy Ahamed of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL) said that the crisis in Rakhine State where the Rohingyas live, cannot be seen only as a Muslim-Buddhist problem but as a plan by the governments of Myanmar, China and the US, to drive out people there and populate the area by a people who they can manipulate to meet their ends.
“The Rakhine coastline has great strategic value. And the area is rich in minerals. China and the US would like this place to be secure one for them so that they can pursue their economic and strategic objectives safely,” Ahamed said.
“As for the Myanmar government, it would like Rakhine State to be populated fully by the majority Burmese Buddhist community. What is going on is systematic ethnic cleansing,” he said.