Combating religious extremism!
Watareka Vijitha Thera, a monk who has been at loggerheads with the extremist Buddhist association, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) was on Thursday found with grievous injuries, abandoned under a bridge in Hirana, Panadura. The monk was abducted in the previous night from his temple by unidentified men, who reportedly tortured him, before he was dumped in Hirana with his arms and legs bound. Vijitha Thera, who is receiving treatment at the National Hospital has accused the BBS for the attack.
The Thera is an arch-enemy of the BBS, of which supporters previously stormed a multi-religious media conference organized by the monk and the Muslim clergy. BBS General Secretary, Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera ingloriously called the rival monk, “Mohammed Vijitha”, slandering the monk’s efforts to build religious amity damaged by the BBS’ virulent anti-Muslim activism.
The BBS and its Chief Gnansara Thera, has denied involvement in the latest incident. In the Court of Law, anyone is deemed innocent, until proven guilty. However, the fact of the matter is that the virulent extremism of the BBS and its acts of violence unleashed against the Muslims, Christians and fellow monks have gone unpunished in the past. The BBS thrives in a culture of impunity, bolstered, sometimes, by the tacit government approval of its violent antics. The climate of impunity is fostering further violence against other religious groups.
Unless, the law enforcement agencies decide to rescind the carte blanche given to the BBS, this vicious trend would continue.
The plight of Watareka Vijitha Thera could well be a proof of increasingly authoritarian and violent means employed by ultra nationalist religious organizations. That highlights the danger faced by moderate monks who dared to stand up against religious extremism. That is an extremely scary scenario.
It is important that all religious leaders stand up against the extremism of all religions. The high priests of traditional denominations of all established religions preach peace and religious co-existence. However, they have failed to come together against religious fundamentalism at this crucial moment. The Chief Prelates of Malwatte and Asgiriya should serve as a bulwark against Buddhist extremism, spearheaded by the BBS. In the same way, Muslim mullahs and community leaders should stand against the radicalizing agents of imported Islam, which is making inroads into the Muslims in the East .
After 30 years of brutal war, the last thing the Sri Lankans need is a religious conflagration, triggered by a microscopic minority of religious fanatics. Sri Lanka should reinforce its multi-cultural, multi-religious credentials. Religious leaders should come to the forefront to mobilize the public to live in religious harmony. They should also have the courage to denounce ‘bad apples’ among them, who in the name of religion, are trying to divide the communities.