The world was saddened Easter morning as news spread that churches and hotels in Sri Lanka were being attacked by suicide bombers which would ultimately kill nearly 300 and injure hundreds more. Deepening the sadness further was the shock that the President of the country had been warned by India about a possible attack and knew that extremists possibly tied to the group responsible, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, had been stockpiling weapons since January. Many have speculated that a history of feuding between the Sri Lankan president and prime minister contributed to the security breakdown, though it is still unsure why nothing was done to prevent these attacks.
US politicians offered their prayers and condolences for the tragedy that had befallen those citizens, but not in the correct way apparently. Fox News host Jesse Watters responded to Democratic leadership, including former President Obama and Hillary Clinton, using “Easter worshippers” instead of “Christians” to describe the victims as pandering to the Muslim community and diminishing the anti-Christian message. “[T]hey are so obsessed with how other people think about them and if they are thought of to be insensitive, that drives them crazy,” exclaimed Watters who also accused those using “Easter worshippers,” of making up the phrase.
Some may argue that this is an isolated incident of one conservative news host, however the Daily Caller also reported the inconsistency of Democrats using “Muslim” and “islamophobia” after the New Zealand shooting but not Christian in this case and Dennis Prager wrote on the National Review that:
“The reason neither [Obama or Clinton] mentioned Christians or churches is that the Left has essentially forbidden mention of all the anti-Christian murders perpetrated by Muslims […].”
Despite Prager’s and Watter’s claims, “Easter worshipper” was not a term made up for this attack; Slate notes that it was used by AP to describe those mourning the loss of Notre Dame, and despite the Fox host claiming “you don’t call Muslims Ramadan worshippers,” Ramadan worshipper was used in a BBC headline from 2017. The conservative media seems determined to stoke the fires of a supposed war between Christians and Muslims, but Sri Lanka may not be the best example of Christian persecution. The country is very diverse religiously and there’s a long history of violent conflict between all of them.
According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Sri Lanka is 70.2% Buddhist, 12.6%, Hindu, 9.7% Muslim, 6.1% Roman Catholic, and 1.3% other Christian representing nearly every major world religion. Buddhism is the kind of, sort of official religion of the country and constitutionally protected, but citizens are free to practice any religion.
Buddhist residents and politicians have been harassing and attacking the Muslim community since 2013, with groups of monks alleging “that Muslims have been dominating businesses, while at the same time claiming they are trying to take over the country by increasing their birthrate.” When Muslim politicians speak out on these allegations or arson attacks on Muslim owned businesses, they’ve been arrested for violating the Prevention of Terrorists Act.
The violence had gotten so bad that a month prior to the Easter bombings, a state of emergency was declared when Buddhist Sinhalese citizens torched 20 Muslim homes in response to Muslim youth beating up a Sinhalese man in a bout of road rage, who later died of his injuries. The arsonists also claimed that Muslims were vandalizing Buddhist archaeological sites and “forcing” Sri Lankans to convert to Islam.
This is nothing new, Sri Lanka has had tension between religions since they gained their independence from the British Empire in 1948. Remaining a dominion of Britain for 24 years after independence, members of a Buddhist coalition accused the British of favoring Christian Tamils for government positions. Sinhalese was adopted as the country’s official language in 1956 and many discriminatory policies against the Tamil followed, further escalating the divide.
In 1972 the country became fully independent and established that Buddhism shall have “the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana.” This conflict between the Buddhist Sinhalese and minority Hindu & Christian Tamil, was on fire and would lead to a 25 year long civil war in 1983.
The newly formed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam wanted to establish their own independent Tamil state within in Sri Lanka, and commenced the war by ambushing a military convoy. The LTTE would become infamous for their guerilla warfare including suicide bombings and recruitment of child soldiers. The conflict would end in 2009 with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers’ leader; over 100,000 lives would be lost.
The history of Sri Lanka demonstrates that, despite the desire of some conservative pundits, this month’s attack was just another notch in their long history of religious strife. The country has had little, if any, Chrsitian-Muslim violence prior, but both religions have suffered great persecution by militant Buddhist nationalism. Frankly put, these Easter attacks are not an example of a supposed war between Christianity and Islam, and that many jumped at this opportunity to proselytize their biases without context is despicable. Christians were attacked, but Christianity was not.