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Torchbearers of religious radicalization

2013 Jul 10

Mahabodhi Temple, one of the foremost Buddhist places of worship, is surely not a military target, nor is it an economic nerve centre. But that would not make it a lesser target for terrorists. It is one of those places that you would see on a picture postcard, just like the Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, the Temple of the Tooth and other historic sites. Terrorists crave for publicity and a terror attack on one of those picture postcard targets generate more publicity, in terms of more newspaper columns and airtime during prime time news than most other potential targets. And the lax security in the Mahabodhi made it a soft target. It was an easy go for the terrorists.



Terrorists are also rational actors, and in their cost benefit analysis, a target like the Mahabodhi has more benefits than costs. And finally, terrorists strive to elicit reaction from their target audience, and given the religious significance associated with it, the Mahabodhi could and would generate a multitude of both peaceful and violent human reactions to the attack.



Bihar, the Indian State where the Mahabodhi is located, is itself prone to civil unrest. However, this is the first time that a Buddhist place of worship and one of historical importance in the State came under a terror attack. But, India, the birthplace for two great religions, Buddhism and Hindusim, has unfortunately witnessed a disproportionate share of religious and ethnic violence. A centuries old mosque in Ayodya was razed to the ground by Hindu zealots in 1992, and since then, religious relations have been hanging in the balance. Therefore, in a social milieu of religious radicalization, an attack on Bodh Gaya does not come as a surprise.



As leaked intelligence warnings have suggested, the authorities had been warned about a possible terrorist threat to the Mahabodhi, especially in the backdrop of anti-Muslim violence in Rakhine State in Burma. In that sense, the blast in the Mahabodhi is proof of the globalization of religious violence and how a violent conflagration in one remote corner of the world could spill over to its neighbours.



The Mahabodhi is a placed revered by many million Buddhists and of other faiths as well. It is the place where Gauthama the Buddha, attained enlightenment. It is from there that the message of peace, tolerance and harmony, first emanated. And spiritual leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who continue to preach the message of the Buddha, have expressed their pain and sadness, but mind you, they have not called to avenge the attack. That is the essence of the tolerant message that Buddhism promotes.



However, in Colombo, the extremist Sinhala Buddhist association, Sinhala Ravaya, has apparently mistaken the message of the Buddha. The Sinhala Ravaya has called for a protest march to the Indian High Commission on Thursday, against the attack on the sacred Buddhist place of worship. The purported aim of the march is to protest the lack of security in the site. However, in the first place, there is hardly any logic in the argument. The protest, in fact, is a surreptitious attempt at rabblerousing and fear mongering by an association which is masquerading as a protector of Buddhism, while it is shamelessly distorting the true meaning of Buddhism.



However, this dilemma is not unique to Buddhism. Hindu fanatics, Islamist terrorists, Christian rights and Jewish fundamentalists, have already hijacked the cause of their respective religions. They, along with their local counterparts such as the Bodu Bala Sena and Sinhala Ravaya, are the torchbearers of a worldwide religious radicalization.



Therefore, it is incumbent upon the Sri Lankans of all faiths and especially, the Buddhists, to prevent the religious zealots at home from fishing in troubled waters in order to achieve their murky objectives.



It is equally important that the Sri Lankans, be watchful that the attack in the distant Bihar State is not used by the government's security apparatus to tighten its grip, and to use it as an excuse for the draconian, counter terrorism legislation such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act and counter terrorist tactic such as white vans.



As of now, according to intelligence sources, pro-LTTE groups in Tamil Nadu are not among the likely culprits. Therefore, there is hardly any reason for the interlocutors of the government, who have a penchant for a national security state, to curtail civil liberties, or whatever the remnants left of it.

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