Buddhicizing or Ethnicizing the State: Do the Sinhala Sangha Fear Muslims in Sri Lanka?

Suren Rāghavan


Sri Lanka, a predominantly Theravāda state, is recovering from 30 years of civil war between the minority Tamil (largely Hindu) rebels and the State.  Yet the recovery is slowed or even reversed by an extreme recentralization of power and an attempt to further ‘Buddhicize’ socio-politics. Part of this process is the campaign led by the Bodu Bala Sēnā (BBS) - a Sangha-led organization calling for severe restriction on the Muslim population and their way of life, including halāl food , wearing the hijab, and calling to prayers (especially in the early morning and late at night). The Lanka Sangha seems to be learning from their counterparts in Burma and Thailand, where there is strong anti-Muslim sentiment. There is evidence that certain political powers are indirectly (and perhaps even directly) supporting this group.  This essay attempts to understand the ideology of the BBS and argue that the modern Sangha in a majority Buddhist state such as Lanka are faced with a challenge in the shape of modern democracy and the multinational nature of their society. However, they seem to draw strength from a hegemonic past rather than acknowledge the reality of a multi-faith, multicultural world order. It will need a combination of Sangha and lay scholars and activists to find answers to allay this political anxiety and avert the carnage it promises to deliver.

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