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Buddhists Fan Flames Of Islamophobia In Southeast Asia

Buddhist-driven anti-Muslim sentiment is widespread in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. What is behind the hateful rhetoric, and what can authorities do to try to alleviate the tension?

Sri Lanka was in a state of emergency for almost two weeks in response to days of clashes that erupted around the country after a Buddhist was attacked and seriously injured by four Muslims near the popular tourist town of Kandy.

Radical Buddhists, including the nationalist organization of monks known as Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Force), took to social media to mobilize supporters.Their messaging included conspiracies that Muslims were lacing food and clothing with contraceptives to eradicate Buddhists.

A number of mosques, homes and Muslim businesses were destroyed during the clashes, in which two people were killed. As a result, the government imposed a curfew and blocked social media for 12 days.

Myanmar, too, has been the scene of repeated violence against Muslims since 2012. Although a number of Muslim groups have been targeted, the Muslim-minority Rohingya community has been most severely affected.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been forced to flee Myanmar since 2017. Radical Buddhist monks have played a key role here, too.

Thailand's violence-plagued south

Since 2001, Thailand has also been the scene of repeated violence, especially in its southern provinces. The Thai newspaper Bangkok Post reports that at least 6,500 people were killed in the those Muslim-majority provinces between 2004 and 2015.

Galogadaatte Gnanasara was arrested last year after Sri Lankan police linked his Buddhist Force group to dozens of hate crimes against Muslims

In contrast to Sri Lanka and Myanmar, a number of well-organized Islamic militant groups are actively fighting for the establishment of an independent Islamic caliphate in southern Thailand. The Thai government has responded with a heavy hand.