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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
38 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 1 5 it had been only two weeks since cofounder Gnana- sara Thero had delivered an emotional speech that triggered Buddhist riots and attacks on Muslims in the coastal town of Aluthgama. Gnanasara Thero’s colleague, Dilanthe Withanage, explained the BBS’s view of the Buddhist–Muslim tensions: We [Sinhala Buddhists] have two major political parties and [thus the] Sinhalese are divided. As a result, Muslims always join with one party and then [get to] join in governing the country. Muslims always do that—they get the advantage of being a minority.... We want the Sinhalese united and a Sinhalese government. We want protection; we [have protected] Theravada Buddhism for the last 2,300 years. Today, Theravada Buddhism is in the West and in Sri Lanka. But this will not last. For Withanage and other members of the BBS, although the Sinhala Buddhists may enjoy a 69 percent majority compared to the 8 percent Muslim minority, Sri Lankan Buddhism is a global minority. They see Islamic countries as helping out Muslims worldwide, and Western countries as coming to the aid of Christians. Who, they ask, is helping Sri Lankan Buddhists? For this reason, the BBS consid- ers its efforts to defend the buddhadharma neces- sary to its very survival. Thailand: The Legacy of Warring Kingdoms While Sri Lanka’s Buddhist–Muslim tensions emerged out of an extended nationalist agenda and a civil war, Buddhist–Muslim relations in Thailand have a much longer and more focused history. The region of the three southernmost provinces was once part of a Buddhist kingdom called Langka- suka, during an historical period many southern Buddhists reflect on with pride. However, it later became the Islamic kingdom of Patani. Southern Thailand’s current demographic reflects this diverse hypothetical was designed to persuade people to side with his Buddhist nationalist vision. During the civil war, another Buddhist national- ist group developed that was even more conserva- tive than the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. In 2004, Buddhist monks formed the Jathika Hela Urumaya (National Heritage Party) and called on the govern- ment to eliminate the LTTE. Whether the govern- ment listened to the Jathika Hela Urumaya or not is unclear, but their brutal military actions indicate that they were not adverse to this suggestion. Shortly after the civil war, two Buddhist monks broke off from the Jathika Hela Urumaya and formed a new organization called the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force). Within a year, the Bodu Bala Sena had focused on a new nationalist threat: Muslims. When I interviewed the founders of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) in the summer of 2014, The Thai government has militarized Buddhist temples, authorized clandestine military monks, and enforced brutal counterinsurgency directives and interrogation techniques, oftentimes on temple grounds. Sri Lankan demonstrators protest the marginalization and intimidation of minority Muslims by nationalist Buddhist groups ©apphoto/erangajayaWarDena©apphoto/apichartWeeraWong