The Road to Recovery – Ethnoreligious tension in Sri Lanka

The Road to Recovery – Ethnoreligious tension in Sri Lanka

‘It is the responsibility of every community to understand that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society” stated Sinduja Jayaratne, who has specailised in security related issues. She made this comment delivering a special guest lecture on “Cumulative Extremism and Reciprocal Radicalization in diverse post-war societies: The Sri Lankan perspective”, on 5th September at the BIDTI. 

The lecture was intended to address extremism in the Sri Lankan context, particularly the rise of the post-civil war ethnoreligious tension, and the fear inculcated amongst various ethnic groups within the country.

What is “Cumulative Extremism”?

Rodger Eatwell defines Cumulative Extremism as “the way in which one form of extremism can feed off another form of extremism”. This occurs only in diverse societies with multiple religious and ethnic groups. Hence, in Sri Lanka, it is when one form of extremism such as Buddhist nationalism fosters the emergence of another extremist group or ideology; such as Islamist extremism resulting in violent acts thereby the emergence of the Easter Sunday Attacks in April 2019.

In her analysis, Jayaratne explains that different forms of extremism are competing against one another due to the vacuum of violence since the end of the civil war in 2009. This has resulted in these groups sometimes resorting to violent means to address their concerns. This has been exhibited by the anti-Muslim riots in 2014 and 2018 lead by Sinhala- Buddhist hardliner groups. Therefore, causing insecurity amongst minority groups particularly Muslim youths who are thereby succumbed to radicalization.  

The Easter Sunday Attack is a result of cumulative extremism, as the perpetrators were relatively young and of a privileged background and were inspired by the Islamic State Militant Group. As similar attacks on churches have occurred in Indonesia and the Philippines since ISIS were defeated in Syria and Iraq. Under this context, withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan encouraged the spread of extremism in the Indian sub-continent resulting in an adverse effect in Sri Lanka.   

Preventing perpetual violence.

Due to the absence of violence, extremist groups will attempt to legitimize their narrative and resort to any means necessary to alter the status quo. Islamophobia has created a cycle of resistance amongst communities, creating a situation of “them against us”.  As a result, communities are vulnerable to the process of radicalisation causing potential violence continued by a cycle of fear and resistance. 

To maintain peace and security it is crucial for communities and the government to take a stand against hate speech targeted towards an ethnicity, culture or religion. In addition, for ethnic and religious harmony to prevail, the authorities must instill de-radicalisation programs and promote organisations that foster communal peace and harmony in the grass-root level.


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