Muslims in Sri Lanka Face Backlash, Fear For Safety

Muslim shops in Sri Lanka attacked as tensions remain after Easter Sunday bombings; They fear for safety after Easter Sunday attacks; Sporadic attacks on Muslim houses and shops have increased those fears

DESPARDES News Monitor – Violence erupted in a Sri Lankan town bombed on Easter Sunday after a largely Catholic mob attacked Muslim-owned shops and a vehicle — prompting church authorities to call for calm and no further hostilities against Muslims in the area. A minor riot broke out Sunday in a village in the island nation after a dispute between a Muslim tuk tuk driver and a group of Catholics, who wanted to inspect the vehicle.

The argument over the tuk tuk descended into violence and dozens of rioters rampaged through the streets that evening, the source said. The vehicle was set alight and two Muslim-owned shops also attacked.

The ensuing violence led to extra police forces being deployed to the coastal village and a curfew being enforced on Sunday “to control the situation.”

Videos of the incident seen by CNN showed a street of the coastal town littered with debris and a number of men brandishing sticks.

“Some parties are trying to instigate communal hatred to create religious clashes,” said Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, according to CNN.

Both Muslim and Christian community leaders have expressed concerns of potential further violence in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks, which left more than 250 people dead and 500 injured.

The National Tawheed Jamath (NTJ) Islamist extremist group, which aligned itself with ISIS, has been blamed for the attacks.

Muslims and Christians make up tiny minorities in Sri Lanka, which is predominantly Buddhist. Both groups have faced pressure in the past from hardline Buddhist groups.

Some of its Muslim communities say they feel under siege as their businesses and homes come under sporadic attack.

But an independent organization, the Human Rights Commission, is working on stemming communal violence while religious heads have met to appeal for calm.

“I earnestly request the Catholics not to raise a hand against the Muslims,” Ranjith said. “The Muslims are not behind this incident. Those behind this attack are misguided persons who are being manipulated by international forces to realize their political aims. According to the teachings of our religion, we should not harm anyone.”Police and army soldiers have been deployed to many churches and mosques around Sri Lanka since Easter Sunday, both over fears of further terrorist violence, and revenge attacks.

Muslim leaders across Sri Lanka told CNN of how they repeatedly attempted to warn the authorities about the potential for extremist violence growing within the community.

A Sri Lankan movement is seeking to reduce communal violence through dialogue. The movement brings together young people from the different communities- the country has four different ethnic and religious groups.

The moevement’s starting point was a survey showing that 70% of Sri Lankans don’t have any friends in another community.

“If you don’t have a friend outside of your ethnic group, you’re making your decision to hurt somebody based on what? Things you heard, based on prejudice, based on assumptions,” says Neluni Tillekeratne of Sri Lanka Unites.

Her NGO was mobilized following the Easter Sunday attack on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.