Is BBS the new face of Buddhist revivalism?

This is a response to an article written by Udaya Gammanpila which appeared in the Ceylon Today newspaper (6 July 2014). This response was emailed to Ceylon Today two days later (08 July 2014), but it has not been published to date.

Photo by Shilpa Samaratunge.


The campaign of hate, intimidation and violence directed against Muslims in post-war Sri Lanka has been built substantially on blatant lies. The 06 July 2014 ‘Guard Post’ column in Ceylon Today penned by UPFA’s Group Leader for Colombo District and Western Provincial Council Minister Udaya Gammanpila (UG) is no different in this respect.

UG, in his article, attempts to distort the facts relating to the recent anti-Muslim attacks, and most irresponsibly, seeks to portray the victims of the violence as the perpetrators. He goes on to assert that the government should take action against ‘Muslim extremists’ for the incidents instead of blaming the Buddhists.

UG has chosen to completely ignore the following specifics: at least two Muslims shot dead; one Tamil got killed; 88 Muslims were injured; two Muslims had their legs amputated following gun-shot injuries; over 190 houses were extensively damaged of which 64 houses were fully damaged mostly due to arson; another 66 houses got minor damages; 54 Muslim-owned vehicles set on fire; approximately 85 Muslim shops were attacked of which 40 shops of Muslims were fully damaged; Muslim-owned buildings were looted and then set on fire while Muslim shops in Sinhala-owned buildings were looted but not damaged showing a pre-planned attack; Masjid-un-Noor in Adikarigoda was completely destroyed; two other mosques were partially damaged; and a number of mosques were vandalized with copies of the Holy Quran burnt.

UG cannot be blind to the fact that the BBS rally was organized within three days of the clash between a Sinhala and a Muslim driver in Pathirajagoda. The aim of the rally, going by the BBS poster and the hate speeches was to launch a vicious attack on the Muslims of Aluthgama targeting their economy. The BBS succeeded in their objective. As much as 98% of the victims were Muslims whose traumatic ordeal and devastating agony at the hands of marauding mobs should have put public figures like UG and the likes to eternal shame. To trot out disgraceful excuses after shaming the country shows the pathetic levels to which flag-bearers of ‘Buddhist’ revivalism in this country had stooped to.

With such extensive damage inflicted on the Muslims, the question arises as to who then are the real extremists and who is carrying the guns? A proper post-mortem needs to examine who promoted violence in tense-ridden Aluthgama, how mobs roamed and attacked freely, whilst a curfew was imposed and what the STF was doing together with the mobs. It needs to consider how the mobs managed to terrorize the shocked Muslims – despite the presence of the police and the STF.

UG’s so-called post-mortem on Dharga Town is similar to the reports on the tragic and untimely deaths of the two Muslim youth in Welipitiya. Much is missing, much is fabricated and much is covered up. Though UG purports to bring out “the hidden and suppressed truth”, he in fact hides and suppresses the truth.

In the same manner that his government has chosen to turn a blind eye to the obnoxious activities of the radical so-called ‘Buddhist’ elements that have been enjoying impunity for years, UG has not even bothered to reflect on the plight the Muslims have been plunged into.

In addition to the loss of lives and limbs, hundreds of livelihoods were destroyed, and families were pauperized overnight by the attackers, who appear to have had a clear aim of crippling the Muslims economically. UG brashly seeks to trifle the actions of the attackers by saying that they were driven by a false rumour that a monk had been killed. He thereby tries to hide the BBS hate campaign that preceded the attack, now defended by the JHU.

The bottom line is that over the years, the Sinhala and Muslim people in the Aluthgama, Beruwala areas had co-existed peacefully. They were inter-dependent on each other economically. So is the case in most other areas, where Muslims live in far flung small villages. Muslims depended mostly on Sinhala customers for their business.

A large number of itinerant Sinhala vendors such as fishermen, vegetable and fruit sellers had mostly Muslim customers. This amity of co-existence was destroyed in this district for no worthwhile reason!

Should Buddhist revivalism in this country, which by itself is very welcome in this time of the proliferation of casinos, gambling, alcoholism, rapes (five a day, every day!), murders etc. end up with such an ugly face?

This new face that is ruining the much wanted Buddhist revival, as distinguished from Sinhala racism, is the morbid intolerance towards a similar onset of Islamic revivalism, distortedly labeled as ‘extremism’, causing no harm, in real terms to others as Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara recently pointed out.

If Islamic revivalism is ‘extremism’, do we call the Aluthgama attacks on the Muslims as ‘Buddhist terrorism’?   These are matters both communities must look at dispassionately, free of stereotypical prejudices.

Take this incident for purposes of reflection. One middle-level Muslim garment manufacturer (there were other small timers as well) had over 300 Sinhala women employed under his wife in Dharga Town. On the night of 15 June, the factory was attacked and the entire machinery destroyed. The Sinhala workers were overnight thrown out of employment thanks to Gnanasara Thera of the BBS, the Hela Urumaya struggling to defend if not aid the BBS.

A demonstration by these women opposite the Pathirajagoda temple alleging that the temple’s monk had instead of calming down tensions was responsible for fuelling the destructive events, which led to their loss of employment, was advisedly prevented by the authorities acting promptly in this instance, to stop the anti-temple demonstration.

Many independent observers, including the influential Bar Association of Sri Lanka have held that the rampage was the direct result of the dangerous hate campaign against Muslims carried out over the last several months, and in particular the fiery hate speech given by Galagodaththe Gnanasara Thera of the BBS, within three days of the 12 June Aluthgama incident and in the very same highly tensed locality.

Just as Manisha Gunasekera, Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative in Geneva tried to mislead the UN Human Rights Council by stating that the violence was triggered by an assault on a Buddhist monk, UG too makes the same grave mistake of treating an alleged assault as an established fact.

Gunasekera’s attempt to mislead the UNHRC, even while a court case is pending and failing to make a fair presentation by referring to the denial by the Muslim brothers that they did not and that there was no need for them to have attacked the monk, would perhaps justify a Muslim presence at the UNHRC at the time these matters are taken up there.

As an Attorney-at-Law, UG should know better. He should know that an allegation remains an allegation until proven before a Court of Law.

It is well-known that there was a minor argument between two drivers in which a Buddhist monk intervened to separate the two and got pushed in the process. Even the JMO’s report does not disclose any attack on the monk! There is evidence that the monk was seen hanging around the Police Station for around four hours, quite normally, until the OIC had advised him to get admitted to a hospital, if he were to produce the three brothers, one of whom was a Moulavi, to Courts.

According to reports, the first hospital refused admission to the monk. The second hospital admitted the monk allegedly under pressure and will have to answer the question why it kept the uninjured monk for three days in hospital.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his interview with the Daily Mirror (01 July 2014), the first since the conflagration, puts it this way:

“Even pushing will not do big damage. The JMO can’t tell that. If there is a visible damage to the body then the JMO’s report will indicate it. But there need not be physical damage, right?”

Agreed, even if a person is hit, then there may or may not be a physical injury. But what is the necessity to get oneself hospitalized in the absence of such a physical injury? Alright, a good check-up! But why spend three days in hospital?

UG states further that a young boy was sexually abused in a Muslim shop in Aluthgama. This is also a matter where the accused deny all allegations. UG has not mentioned that on 08 May 2014, this shop was set on fire. Who was responsible for this violence and have those accused been taken into custody and produced in Court? Why is UG silent on it?

The question then is in whose favour is the Aluthgama Police working? Are these cases of Muslims being favoured for their ‘monetary strength’ as proclaimed by UG? Ridiculous! How can a political leader such as UG, without pressing for justice, defend criminals in this most outrageous manner? UG’s allegation that the Aluthgama Police is working for Muslim money is possibly to cover up Gnanasara Thero’s claim that the country’s police is ‘Sinhala Police’!

UG goes on to state that “There is a warm public response to the BBS rallies because people witness activities of Muslim extremism in their neighbourhood.” If Buddhists are warming up to an organization that has led a destructive hate campaign against another community, then that is a serious problem that needs to be addressed urgently by Buddhists themselves. They need to reflect on why people have moved away from Buddhism in its pristine form and have adopted as leaders people who violate cardinal precepts of Buddhism. Is Gnanasara Thera the new face of Buddhism?

The chief demagogue of the BBS, Gnanasara Thera has been convicted in the past for driving under the influence of liquor. His disorderly conduct is well-known and well-documented. He is also equally well-known for encouraging and threatening violence. If Buddhists are indeed warming up to him as UG claims, then that is a sad reflection of the crisis within Buddhism.

Even more ludicrous is UG’s assertion that the purpose of the Aluthgama meeting was to ‘calm down’ the people. How could a public meeting in which racial hatred is spewed ‘calm’ people down? Is this the new spirit of BBS Buddhism? How could a procession chanting anti-Muslim slogans, in the backdrop of severe tensions, be permitted to pass through a Muslim village except by an irresponsible government?

If UG thinks this is the way to calm people down, then he is certainly not fit to be a district leader, particularly of a highly multicultural district such as Colombo.

On 26 March 2014, thousands of Muslims protested in front of the US Embassy in Colpetty against the US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. A large percentage of the participants were traditional thakkiya Muslims from Beruwala and Aluthgama. They came in their hundreds to show their opposition to foreign intervention in Sri Lanka.

Sadly, it is these very people from Beruwala and Aluthgama who were brutally attacked, and it is indeed ironic that the US has now become one of the most vocal voices in the call for justice to the victims of the June 2014 violence.

Distressingly for the government, a people who came in their large numbers from Aluthgama, Beruwala (not forgetting Malwana) to Colombo to protest against foreign intervention in Sri Lanka have been forced by the government’s own rabid agents to seek solace with the country’s ‘enemy’ in the UNHRC! Regrettably UG’s sermon in defense of the BBS will send these Muslims even faster to the UNHRC. Such are the pundits we do have in places held high!

UG, as an educated leader, would do well to realize that the solution to the current crisis does not lie in pointing fingers at the victims of crime and violence, or by misrepresenting the facts. He should stop contributing to the hate campaign and instead work to ensure justice for all those affected by the recent violence.

It would have been far more appropriate had he called for a return to the true Buddhist values of tolerance, compassion and love for all beings instead of further fanning the flames of hatred, bigotry and vengeance to an already susceptible audience.