Hardline monks rally Sri Lanka as Buddhist front

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — With a bloody civil war over and a cautious peace at hand, a group of hardline Buddhist monks is rallying Sri Lankans against what they say is a pernicious threat: Muslims.

In just over a year, the saffron-swathed monks of Bodu Bala Sena — or Buddhist Power Force — have amassed a huge following, drawing thousands of fist-pumping followers who rail against the country’s Muslim minority.

Buddhists have attacked dozens of mosques and called for boycotts on Muslim-owned businesses and bans on headscarves and halal foods. At boisterous rallies, monks claim Muslims are out to recruit children, marry Buddhist women and divide the country.

Galagoda Atte Gnanasara, the 37-year-old Buddhist monk who founded the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) group, or Buddhist Power Force in 2012. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

“This is a Buddhist nation, so why are they trying to call it a multicultural society?” said Galagoda Atte Gnanasara, the 37-year-old pulpit-pounding monk who co-founded the group in 2012. “Not everyone can live under the umbrella of a Buddhist culture.”

There have been few if any physical attacks on people, unlike in Myanmar, where Buddhist monks helped incite communal violence in 2012 and 2013 and even stood watch as Buddhist mobs slaughtered Rohingya Muslims. But many Sri Lankans and human rights workers are alarmed, saying the monks are creating communal divisions and giving Buddhism a bad name.[Full story]