Sri Lanka shows belief and violence travel together
Sri Lanka’s tragedy shows intolerance seems to find its most visible and violent expression in religion
The smoke has barely cleared from the Easter Sunday bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka which left at least 321 people dead and 500 injured, and the defence minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, says they were revenge for the Christchurch mosque shootings last month.
Islamic State (IS) indeed claimed responsibility, though it has also made false claims in the past. But we humans need the illusion of immediate cause and effect to make the world less chaotic for a moment.
There is a news blackout in Sri Lanka; the story is slippery and facts are ghosts.
Speculation swirls around a purported memo that was apparently circulating among the Sri Lankan intelligence services, noting increased extremist content on social media from one of the alleged attackers following Christchurch.
Given the world we live in, Sunday was probably just another case of religious hatred slopping over the side of one of its boiling cauldrons and spattering some innocents.
In 1095 the Byzantine emperor Alexius I sent envoys to Pope Urban II begging for mercenaries to help fend off the invading Seljuk Turks. The result was the First Crusade, in which the Western (Christian) powers saw an opportunity to permanently expel Muslims from the Holy Land by putting them to the sword. Tens of thousands of Muslims would die in the crusades, creating lasting bitterness and enmity.
But it is too simplistic to blame the work of extremists on history. Instead, the key word here is intolerance, which seems to find its most visible and violent expression in religion.
What an irony, then, that most people in Sri Lanka — which was recovering nicely from a nasty civil war stoked by Tamil separatists, and a soft target to boot — are Buddhists, followers of a religion that teaches peace and tolerance.