Is religion a lullaby for violence?

By Albert Thyrniang

The Sri Lanka terrorist attacks consisting of eight serial blasts leaving more than 300 people dead and 500 injured on Easter Sunday has left the world shocked. Three churches which were probably filled with devotees during Easter celebration came under attack. Three posh hotels were also the targets of the deadly blasts.

The coordinated attacks were perpetrated on St Anthony’s Shrine (a tourist landmark) in Colombo, on St Sebastian’s Church (of gothic-architecture)in Negombo, 30 km from the national capital and the Zion Church in Batticaloa, 250 km east of Colombo. Two bombings were at a guest house. Three luxury hotels in the heart of Colombo, namely Cinnamon Grand, a stone’s throw away from the official residence of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, The Shangri La and Kingsbury Hotels were victims of the mindless and senseless acts that killed, among others, 35 foreigners including nationals from USA, Denmark, China, Japan, Pakistan, Morocco, India and Bangladesh.

The severity of the situation meant that an indefinite nation-wide curfew was declared immediately and a temporary ban on social media was imposed.

Sri Lanka, a rowboat away from the southeast tip of India in the Indian Ocean with only The Gulf of Mannar and Palk Straits separating it from India, was ravaged by decades of civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE). During the separatists’ hey days bomb blasts were common in the capital. After the tigers were neutralised in 2009 the nation of 21 million people was relatively peaceful.  However, there were communal tensions between Buddhists, who comprise  70 percent of the population, Muslims 9.8 % and Christians 7.3%

On Monday news came in that the Sri Lankan government has blamed the National Thowheed Jama’ath, a little-known radical Islamic terror organization, for the mayhem. Aiming to promote Islamic radical ideology, the group was involved in vandalizing Buddhist statues with its secretary, Abdul Razik arrested in 2016. So far 24 people are said to have been arrested in connection with the blasts. Authorities say the group’s aim is to spread the global jihadist movement in Sri Lanka and to create hatred, fear and divisions in society’. Officials also informed that intelligence warning was issued on possible attacks on churches by the group though the Prime Minister. Ranil Wickremesinghe denied receiving such information. If warning was indeed given, we await answers as to why no preventive action was taken. In the meanwhile the ghastly and barbaric explosions have been carried out.

The modern world today is a religion dominated world. Regions and countries are inevitably classified by religions. Europe and the Armericas are associated with Christianity. In Africa Islam and Christianity share honours. Asia, from where all major religions originated, is naturally a home of all religions. Middle East is dominated by Islam, South East Asia is, by and large, a stronghold of Buddhism. For obvious reasons, we mention the Indian subcontinent here. India and Nepal are Hindu majority countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are Muslim nations while Myanmar and Sri Lanka are Buddhist majority countries.

In principle, adherents of all religions claim that their respective religion is peaceful. Their sacred Scriptures contain tenets of love, peace, brotherhood, unity, forgiveness, compassion, acceptance, besides offering guidelines for a meaningful life. None of these ‘rule books’ preach hatred, division, killing, violence and war. Christianity says love is the greatest virtue, Islam says it’s very essence is peace, Buddhism’s chief teaching is non-violence and Hinduism’s strength is inclusiveness.

If these are the lofty doctrines of religions then where have we gone wrong? Why is the world still full of hatred, violence and killings? Why the bomb blasts, the terrorist attacks, the mass shooting, riots, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity? Ironically most of these cruel acts are religiously and scripturally inspired. They are committed in the name of religions, holy books and God himself. It is a fact that the main culprits of violence anywhere in the world are followers of the mainstream religions. We don’t hear of large scale violence perpetrated by adherents of traditional or indigenous religions. It is time to reflect hard otherwise the major religions might be judged unkindly.

The seeds of war, extremism, fanaticism, fundamentalism and radicalism are embedded in every religion. Without exception there are extremists, fanatics, fundamentalists and radicals in every religion. Intolerance and bigotry, chauvinism and jingoism exist in all religions. This is the ugly side of religion. If this is not seriously addressed atheism might be a better option. We have not come across an atheist committing crimes against believers. But there are many cases where atheists are killed by religious fanatics. Atheists are humane says one opinion. Are humane atheists or religious terrorists better?

While Islam is a ‘religion of peace’ it has bred jihadists galore like the ISIS, Boko Haram, the Al-Qaeda, the Taliban to name a few. These group pledge allegiance to Islam, commit crimes in the name of Allah and publicly justify their heinous acts by the Koran. It is not only terrorists groups but there are Mullahs who consider non-Muslims as infidels.

Fundamentalist attitude is present among Christians too. There is a strong view in the Church that unless you accept Christ as personal Lord and Saviour you are doomed for hell. It is not uncommon in the USA for mainstream and street preachers who articulate this ‘conviction’. We have had examples of individuals who burned the Koran and insulted Prophet Mohammed and Islam as a religion. It is alleged that in the West ‘Islamophobia’ results in crimes and violence against the community. The recent mass shooting in two mosques in New Zealand is connected to Islamophobia, some opine.

In India fundamentalist organisations and right wing individuals are prevalent. The Bajrang Dal, RSS, the VHP and other outfits of the Sangh Parivar are intolerant to the likes of MF Hussain, Graham Staines and others. The Gujarat riots, Kamdhamal mayhem, demolition of Babri Masjid are part of our history. There are living groups who are proud of these shameful anarchies. There are individuals and groups that commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination and honour Nathuram Godse. In the last five years we have seen lynching of Muslims, Ghar Wapsi, Love Jihad, phrases like ‘go to Pakistan’ and ‘anti-national’ being loudly stated. Recently the nomination of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, accused in the 2008 Malegaon blasts, is seen as a gift to right wing constituents.

Buddhism’s strongest weapon is Ahimsa or non-violence. But not all practice this powerful teaching of its founder, Buddha. In Myanmar the political and security leadership are mainly Buddhists. However, the Rohingya Muslims in that country face discrimination and atrocities on a large scale at the hands of the government and the army. Last year thousands of them had to flee to Bangladesh and India. In Sri Lanka groups of Buddhist monks are accused of being intolerant towards Muslims and Christians.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bloodbath in Sri Lanka. Mayhem of such magnitude invites intense speculations. Revival of LTTE is ruled out because the former ‘liberation army’ had no history of attacking Churches. A possible Middle East connection is possible. Local groups with aid and support from international terror groups may well be the most likely suspects.

To be politically correct most will say these are terror attacks. However, religion does come in here because the attacks happened in churches. It is against a particular religion. If a group does come out to claim responsibility it will rant to justify this devilish act. It might even brag that it has executed the heinous act in the name of a religion, the Scripture and God himself. Any ‘religious’ group might be involved but others need not be judgemental, because extremism has shown its ugly face in all religions at some time and place in history. The present global analysis shows that extremism stares you in the face and it can explode anytime and anywhere. It is Sri Lanka today. It will be somewhere else tomorrow. Sad, but the reality is that religion is linked to violence.

 

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