April 25, 2019


THE SRI LANKA CHURCH BOMBINGS: THE SAUDI PESTILENCE SPREADS (Joseph Mussomeli, April 24th, 2019, Imaginative Conservative)

Perhaps one of the saddest things that has changed since the 1990s is the role of the local Muslim minority. At that time in the Embassy we used to joke that the small portion (less than 10%) of the population that was Muslim were the only sane Sri Lankans we knew. While Muslim groups from other countries were being radicalized and causing great violence, the Sri Lankan Muslims were peaceful and productive citizens, refusing for the most part to choose sides in the bitter rivalry between the Buddhist Sinhalese and the Hindu Tamils. Our driver, named Raja, was a Muslim and his devotion to our children and his apolitical attitude seemed indicative of his entire faith. Our housemaid was Catholic Tamil, and she too avoided politics and ethnic and religious rivalries. The Muslims and the Catholics were bystanders, not participants, in the ongoing struggle between Hindus and Buddhists. An embassy colleague of mine who had converted to Buddhism was so appalled by the attitudes and actions of his fellow Buddhists that he invariably would refer to them as "the killer vegetarians."

Perhaps part of the genius of the Muslim population was that they were primarily inspired by the Sufi school of Islam, a generally peaceful and more mystical sect, usually abhorring violence and far less attracted to politics. In the seventh century, when the first Muslims came to Sri Lanka, they did so not as conquerors, but as traders. They came in peace and they stayed in peace, marrying among the local population and settling down as a merchant class. When the late-arriving Portuguese showed up centuries later and waged war on the Muslims, the Sinhalese rulers gave the Muslims refuge and protection. Their tradition of Sufiism and living peacefully among their neighbors continued into the 1990s when I was there.

But things then changed dramatically. Beginning in the Nineties and continuing even today, Saudi money came pouring in and with it a more intolerant form of Islam took root. Muslim women in Sri Lanka are now adopting the niqab (full face covering) and Muslim men, having gone as laborers to Saudi Arabia, come back indoctrinated with Wahhabi views of the world and Islam. Of course, some Sinhalese Buddhists have accelerated the process of Islamic radicalization by discriminating against Muslims and committing violence against them. For example, the Sinhalese-orchestrated anti-Muslim riots in March of this year went largely unreported in the Western media even though over twenty mosques were vandalized. Reminiscent of the Sinhalese-orchestrated anti-Tamil (Hindu) riots of the Fifties, these attacks on peaceful Muslim communities serve only to convince younger Muslims that the Saudi brand of intolerant Islam is the true path.

Yet, the nexus between the anti-Muslim riots in March and the Church bombings in April is tenuous. The Christian communities had nothing to do with the violence perpetrated against the Muslim population. The clearer and more obvious linkage is between the Church bombings and the growing influence of Wahhabism among Sri Lankan Muslims. As I have seen elsewhere in the world, most notably Cambodia which once also boasted a peaceful, tolerant Muslim community, there is a dangerous turn toward radicalization and a proliferation of Wahhabi-sponsored mosques built with money from Saudi Arabia. It is remarkable that as a country, despite all the evidence, we continue to believe Saudi Arabia a close ally and refuse to accept that Saudi Arabia is the greatest state-sponsor of terrorism. Unfortunately, President Trump and his administration's singularly obsessive focus on the far lesser threat posed by Iran has obscured our vision. He refuses to see what Candidate Trump saw very clearly: that Saudi Arabia poses a worldwide threat to peace and stability. Until he does, more churches will burn and more peaceful Islamic communities will turn toward violence and intolerance.

Sri Lanka's Muslims Face an Angry Backlash After Easter Sunday Attacks (Jeffrey Gettleman and Dharisha Bastians, April 24, 2019, NY Times)

Until this week, Sri Lanka didn't have much history of Christian-Muslim violence. The two faiths are small minorities: The country is about 7 percent Christian, 10 percent Muslim, 13 percent Hindu and 70 percent Buddhist.

Religion was not a driving factor in Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war, in which ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils nearly tore the country apart.

Easter Sunday Attacks Add a New Dimension to Sri Lanka's Sectarian Tensions
The deadly attacks on Easter Sunday marked a departure from the country's sectarian tensions, with a radical Islamist group targeting Christian minorities.

During the war years, many Muslim men rose up the ranks of the government's intelligence services because they were known for their fluency in Sri Lanka's three major languages -- Sinhala, Tamil and English.

But after the civil war ended in 2009, militant Buddhism began to surge. Some observers have said it was as if powerful forces in Sri Lankan politics were looking for a new enemy to fight. Hard-line Buddhist monks targeted churches and mosques, priests and imams, often with the tacit support of the security services.

While Muslims bore the brunt of these attacks, Christians suffered, too, and the two communities were essentially on the same side. But that informal alliance was seriously challenged by Sunday's attacks, which the authorities say were carried out by Muslim extremists, primarily against Christians.

In an instant, everything changed again, said Malik Farhan, another Pakistani refugee.

Many Muslims have tried to help grieving Christians, offering food and friendship, but the outreach has been complicated. Feelings are so raw that one priest told members of a mosque to stay away from the funerals.

Sri Lanka bombings: Who are the National Thowheed Jamath? (Al Jazeera, 4/25/19)

The NTJ is believed to have been formed sometime around 2014 after breaking away from the larger Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ), according to a report in The Hindu newspaper.

Based in Kattankudy, a Muslim-dominated town in eastern Sri Lanka, the NTJ, much like the SLTJ, is believed to have been strongly influenced by Wahhabism - the official religious doctrine in Saudi Arabia that calls for a strict and literal reading of the Quran and the Sunnah, the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

According to its Twitter account, which has a limited social media presence and hasn't been updated since March 2018, the NTJ would regularly organise talks and seminars, distribute videos and even arrange funeral prayers at mosques.

Glenn Carle, a former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for transnational threats at the CIA, said while little was known about NTJ's membership, its size was likely modest compared to the SLTJ.

Muslims make up only 9.7 percent of Sri Lanka's population, and Carle said the NTJ appeared to be "very small" in size.

"The group is reportedly led by an imam who has been trained or influenced by Wahhabism. However, its foreign ties are surmised and not known," Carle told Al Jazeera.

Posted by at April 25, 2019 12:01 AM