Several people have been injured in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, when Buddhist monks led
hundreds in an assault on a Muslim-owned clothing warehouse.
Buddhist monks were filmed throwing stones at the storage centre of popular
garment chain Fashion Bug in a suburb of the capital on Thursday night.
Police told AFP news agency that forces had been deployed to guard the area.
The attack comes as hard-line Buddhist groups step up a campaign against the lifestyles of Muslims.
The development comes four years after the army in the mainly Sinhalese Buddhist country defeated Tamil separatists.
During Sri Lanka's bitter civil war the Muslims - a small Tamil-speaking
minority, about 9% of the population - kept a low profile, but many now
fear that ethnic majority hard-liners are trying to target them.
The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo said the monks led a crowd which
quickly swelled to about 500, yelling insults against the shop's Muslim
owners and rounding on journalists seeking to cover the events.
Eyewitnesses said the police stood and watched although after the trouble spread they brought it under control.
"We have deployed extra units of STR (Special Task Force commandos) and
police to guard the area," police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena told
the Agence France-Presse news agency.
"The situation was brought under control within a few hours," he said, adding that no arrests had been made.
Television footage showed broken glass and clothing from the warehouse strewn in the street.
Hard-line Buddhist groups led by monks also sent around a text this week urging
people to boycott Muslim shops when stocking up for the forthcoming Sri
Lankan New Year festival.
After some Muslim groupscalled a strike in protest against a growing Buddhist campaign against
their lifestyle, including halal food classification, a hard-line Buddhist party in the governing coalition issued a statement saying:
"Sinhalese Buddhists should be determined to teach such Muslim
extremists a lesson that they will never forget".
The assault comes a day after police set up a hot-line to tackle complaints
about anyone "inciting religious or racial hatred".
25 March 2013
Last updated at 02:52 GMT
The hardline Buddhists targeting Sri Lanka's Muslims
Hardline monks and Buddhist groups are trying to outlaw halal certification
After a series of attacks on Masjids, wild rumours about animal slaughter and
an attempt to outlaw the halal system of classification, the BBC's
Charles Haviland investigates how Sri Lanka's Muslim minority is being
targeted by hardline Buddhists.
On a January morning a crowd of Buddhist monks storm a law college, yelling, chanting and even
hitting one or two seemingly random people and pushing back the police.
Furiously they shout that the exam results have been distorted to
A few weeks later, apparently abetted by the police, monks attack a slaughterhouse in Dematagoda, Colombo, alleging that calves are being slaughtered inside (illegal in the
capital) or the meat is improperly stored.
Both are incorrect, but the monks spread rumours that the facility is Muslim-owned as most of the truck drivers are Muslim.
Sri Lankan monks are now taking this so-called "direct action" every few
days. It is part of a growing wave of anti-Muslim activities in Sri Lanka carried out by new hardline Buddhist groups - a trend that is making many people anxious, even fearful.
It comes four years after the army in this mainly Sinhalese Buddhist country defeated Tamil separatists.
During Sri Lanka's bitter civil war war the Muslims - a small Tamil-speaking
minority, about 9% of the population - kept a low profile, although
many suffered violence.
Muslim leaders have shied away from any kind of confrontation with the state
Muslims are seen as having remained largely loyal to the state during the
26-year conflict. Indeed in 1990 they were expelled en masse from the
north of Sri Lanka by Tamil rebels with just a few hours' notice.
But they now fear that ethnic majority hardliners are trying to target them.
At their recent rallies, the most prominent new hardline group, the
Buddhist Strength Force (Bodu Bala Sena, BBS) have used coarse,
derogatory language to describe Muslim imams and have told the
Sinhalese majority not to rent property to Muslims.
At one meeting attracting thousands, the organisation's secretary,
Gnanasara Thero, told each Buddhist present to become "an unofficial
policeman against Muslim extremism" and said "so-called democrats" were
destroying the Sinhala race.
Away from the rallies, I visited a temple in the suburb of Dehiwala as the early morning sun hit the majestic bo tree.
The presiding monk, Akmeemana Dayarathana, has founded another
ultra-nationalist Buddhist group, Sinhala Echo. He says the Sinhalese
have real grievances, that Muslims are trying to convert people,
building too many Masjids - even having too many children. In fact
statistics show that both the Sinhalese and Muslim population
percentages have grown slightly over three decades.
He says, without giving any evidence, that Muslims propagated a message that Sinhalese families should be small.
"Then they started to increase their own population," he says. "This is the only country for the Sinhalese."
He proceeds to give a unique take on geography and religion.
"Look around the world - Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and
others, they were all Buddhist countries - but the Muslims destroyed
the culture and then took over the country. We worry they're planning
it here too."
A few days later his organisation stormed a house where they alleged Christian conversions were taking place and verbally abused the family inside, some of them - according to a local
website - physically assaulting a woman.
Since last April, when monks led an attack on a Masjid during Friday prayers
in the town of Dambulla, there have been regular accounts of Masjids
being attacked or vandalised, for instance with graffiti or pictures of
pigs. There have also been assaults on churches and Christian pastors
but it is the Muslims who are the most concerned.
In the south of the country on 18 March, a mob of hundreds including monks
surrounded a pastor's house, set fire to tyres outside and shouted
abusively to those inside.
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has said monks are there to protect country, religion and race
"Muslims are worried all over the country," Mufti MIM Rizwe tells me. "Everybody is [in] fear."
He is president of the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), the main
organisation of Muslim clerics, and meets me at a hotel where imams
have come together for emergency discussions on the situation.
He defends the halal system of food classification, which the hardline
monks are now trying to outlaw, and strongly denies that the community
is fostering extremism as they claim. He rejects their accusation that
Muslims have been destroying Buddhist holy sites.
"You can't show one incident that Muslims have reacted in this way," he
says. "No single statue or any religious worship places have been
targeted by Muslims, totally not. Muslims have never done this. We hope
we are guiding our Muslims to be calm and respect every religion."
Days later his organisation appears on a platform with moderate Buddhist
monks who have decided to distance themselves from the hardliners. The
hardliners are withering in their description of the moderates, calling
them "unethical and immoral".
It has become clear that the BBS has top-level support. At its ceremony to open a new
training school, the guest of honour was the powerful Defence Secretary
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, brother of the president.
"It is the monks who protect our country, religion and race," he said in a speech.
"No one should doubt these clergy. We're here to give you encouragement."
President Mahinda Rajapaksa was reported to have told a BBS delegation in January
not to promote "communal hatred", but the official communique was
issued only in English, not in Sinhala.
It is also apparent that Muslim leaders have shied away from any kind of
confrontation with the powerful monks or any supporters they may have
in government on this issue, remaining largely conciliatory in their
language and actions.
Mood of triumphalism
Civic society activists are concerned. Sanjana Hattotuwa, editor of a citizen
media initiative, groundviews.org, showed me some of the anti-Muslim
web pages that are fast growing in number.
Some civil society activists believe the dominant mood in the country is one of triumphalism
The main picture on a Sinhala Facebook page called "My Conscience", with
more than 8,000 followers, shows a lion - symbol of the Sinhalese -
devouring a wild boar depicted with a crescent and star on its
Mr Hattotuwa believes the dominant mood in
the country is one of triumphalism, four years after the Tamil Tigers
were beaten, and that this is encouraging victimisation of a new
"The country is seen today as Sinhala
Buddhist," he says. "Everybody else has a rightful place. If they
articulate concerns that question the dominant narrative then they
should be put into their place. So the end of the war ironically has
given the space for new social fault lines to occur."
He rejects the concern voiced by some people that the socially conservative Muslim community is doing too little to integrate.
"Integration means a recognition that this country is comprised of many communities
and each one of them has the right to live where they want, how they
Clearly not everyone in the government - which
in any case contains Muslim ministers - is happy with the rise of the
Some Sinhalese ministers have expressed unease and a prominent newly retired diplomat, Dayan Jayatilleka, calls the BBS an "ethno-religious fascist movement from the dark underside of
Many Sri Lankans feel there are uncomfortable echoes of the 1983 pogroms, when Sinhala violence against Tamils precipitated the war.
But hardline Buddhist rallies and "direct action" stunts are happening all the time now. And
their social and political influence is expanding.
Joplin Masjid razed in fire; 2nd blaze this summer
A Carl Junction, Mo., firefighter works to extinguish the smoldering remains of the Islamic Society of Joplin Masjid, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, in Joplin, Mo. The fire was the second fire to hit the Islamic center in little more than a month. (AP Photo/The Joplin Globe, T. Rob Brown) MANDATORY CREDIT
JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — A Masjid in southwest Missouri burned to the ground early Monday in the second fire to hit the Islamic center in little more than a month, officials said.
The fire at the Islamic Society of Joplin was reported about 3:30 a.m. Monday, the Jasper County Sheriff's Office said. The sheriff's department said the building was a total loss. No injuries were reported and no charges have been filed.
Imam Lahmuddin, who leads the Masjid and was in the building until late Sunday, said he was "sad and shocked" about the fire.
"I'm still in front of the building looking at the damage and nothing can be saved," Lahmuddin said in a telephone interview Monday. "But since we are people of faith we just can remember that this is a thing that happened because God let it happen, and we have to be patient, particularly in the month of Ramadan, control our emotions, our anger."
A blaze at the same building July 4 caused minor damage and was determined arson. No arrests were made and the FBI has offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to charges in that fire.
The agency released video footage of what appeared to be a man starting the July blaze that did not cause extensive damage. Sharon Rhine, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, said the center's security cameras were burned in the Monday fire.
The FBI is investigating the cause of the latest fire and whether or not it was also the result of arson, said agency spokeswoman Bridgett Patton.
A Washington-based Muslim civil rights organization meanwhile called for more police protection at Masjids and other houses of worship following the Joplin fire and a deadly attack at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. The Council on American-Islamic Relations also offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever started the Masjid fire.
About 50 families belong to the Islamic Society of Joplin, which opened in 2007 as a Masjid and community center. The FBI led an investigation in 2008 when the Masjid's sign was torched. That crime also remained unsolved.
Lahmuddin, who has lived in Joplin for about four years, said several people were at the center late Sunday. He said despite the attacks, the center's members have good relationships with residents and other churches. He said many are doctors at area hospitals.
On Sunday, a gunman killed six people at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee. The imam said it was a cause of great concern that both faiths had seemingly come under attack.
"I heard that yesterday, and this morning we see this happen in our place," he said. "We are more fortunate that no one here got hurt in this incident."