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‘Anti-Muslim Violence, Propaganda in Sri Lanka is a Combination of Ethnicity, Religion and Economics’

The ongoing anti-Muslim violence and online propaganda is a combination of ethnicity, religion and economics, says Amarnath Amarasingam, who is a Senior Research Fellow at ISD (Institute for Strategic Dialogue).

He, in a series of tweets, was discussing the misinformation and propaganda being spread by the Sinhala nationalists on Facebook and WhatsApp groups and the resultant violence against the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

Amarnath said since at least 2013, the anti-Muslim violence and online agitation had not only been ethnic and religious in nature, but also contained a weird economic component. In addition to homes and mosques, the businesses owned by Muslims were also targeted, he added.

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He cited two of the several conspiracy theories spread in the past, which are aimed at creating hatred against the Muslims who were accused of conspiring for birth control among the Sinhala population:

“Don’t stop at Muslim clothing stories, they are spraying sterilization cream on women’s underwear” in 2013 and “Don’t eat at Muslim restaurants, they’re putting sterilization pills in your food” in 2018.

These started on Facebook and WhatsApp and led to real violence, he added.

Amarnath – whose work is focused on terrorism, social movements, sociology of religion, MENA (Middle East and North Africa) and South Asia – says it was not only economic but also tapped into the deep-seated Sinhala nationalist anxiety that they weren’t going to be the majority forever.

“Tamils tried to split your country and failed. Muslims are playing the long game, and will slowly displace you by halting your birth rates.”

But what was the reaction to all these lies and craziness? “To outsiders, and even [the] educated elites in Colombo, this seemed insane. Just ignore the crazies, they said,” according to Amarnath.

However, this silence led to persistent violence. “And then mosques started to get burned. Businesses were attacked. Random restaurant owners in Ampara were being yelled at about sterilization pills found in their food,” he says.

However, things were quiet as people got distracted by other crises. But then came the Easter bombings, he says. “And now we are back to what makes this country so annoying and endlessly exhausting.”

About the lies spread through social media, Amarnath mentions a Facebook post by a Buddhist monk, which reads: “No Limit, which is a Muslim-owned clothing retailer, has changed their name to ‘Y (why) pay more’. But ‘we’ (Sinhalese) won’t be fooled by masks.”

And another Facebook post says: “Rotten eggs will be thrown at people (read, Sinhalese) who shop at No Limit or Fashion Bug. If you have their shopping bags, you will be attacked. Even if you have police protection, oday’s rotten eggs will find those who betray the race tomorrow.”

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