'The entire Muslim community is being vilified and Islamophobia is being heightened like never before on the island'
UNITED NATIONS – Days after Islamic State terrorists killed more than 200 people in suicide attacks across Sri Lanka, experts fear a possible cycle of retaliatory violence against the country’s Muslim minority.
Sensing possible retribution for the Easter attacks, Sri Lankan Muslims began fleeing religiously mixed communities earlier this week as others seek police protection.
Jude Lal Fernando, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of intercultural theology at Trinity College Dublin and hails from Negombo, Sri Lanka, the site of one of Sunday’s attacks.
“What has happened now is that the entire Muslim community is being vilified, demonized and Islamophobia is being heightened like never before on the island, and it has also been reinforced in other parts of the world.”
Fernando says Sri Lanka’s majority-Buddhist government – like those in Myanmar and Thailand – benefits from positive associations with the pacifism of figures like the Dalai Lama. But he thinks those associations – just like those between India’s Hindu nationalist government and Ghandi – distort how those governments can fan the flames of religious division.
Some Sri Lankan officials have done just that in recent days, deflecting blame for failing to stop Sunday’s attack by implying the attackers were responding to an attack on mosques in New Zealand in March. That narrative, Fernando says, accepts as fact a clash of civilizations narrative in vogue in India and among right-wing groups in Europe and the United States.
“The language has to be a language of reconciliation rather than giving into this global grand narrative called ‘Islam versus Christianity,’ or ‘Islam versus the rest’ or Muslims versus Hindus. That has to be overcome.
It really puts us into a huge spiral of violence and makes the people who live next door to see each other as enemies. That’s the worst part of the story.”