Meet the Violent Buddhists Starting Riots in Sri Lanka...

Sri Lankan Special Task Force (STF) soldiers patrol along a road following clashes between muslims 
and extremist Buddhist in the town of Alutgama. Photo via Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images. June 18, 2014

On June 15 a violent mob ripped through three neighboring towns in southwestern Sri Lanka. The horde explicitly targeted Muslims, slinging Molotov cocktails, burning bikes, and looting homes and businesses. 

Riots, violence, and personal threats aren’t unheard of in Sri Lanka, but this riot caught the world’s attention. It was one of the largest and most deadly in recent years, wounding over 50 and killing four Muslims. It follows a spate of anti-Muslim sentiment welling up somewhat unexpectedly in Sri Lanka and, perhaps most shockingly for Westerns who view them as the eternally chubby, cuddly, and peaceful, it was stirred up by and composed of Buddhists, acting on allegedly Buddhist sentiments.

The unrest stemmed from an unspecified “altercation” between some young Muslims and a monk (or the monk’s driver) on June 14. The next day a vitriolic, anti-Muslim rally led by the monks of Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force) preceded the riots in Aluthgama, Beruwela, and Dharga Town. Founded in 2012 by two monks, Kirama Wimalajothi and Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, Bodu Bala Sena, or BBS, is based out of the Sambuddha Jayanthi Mandira, a Buddhist cultural center they operate in the capital of Colombo. The organization claims to fight for the preservation of Buddhism and the Sinhala ethnicity in Sri Lanka. They feel that their identity is being eroded by multiculturalism, liberalism, and foreign elements, and (although they deny involvement in any of the violent acts attributed to them and have yet to pick up arms themselves) claim they’re willing to do whatever it takes to resist those forces. That includes slandering and, allegedly, committing acts of violence against less militant Buddhists, like Watareka Vijitha Thero, the head of the Jathika Bala Sena Buddhist group, who spoke out against the anti-Muslim riots and BBS’s involvement before being abducted, stripped, and beaten, supposedly by BBS devotees.

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