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Sri Lanka, where politics and religion seem more interlinked than ever

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As religion and politics seem more tightly bound than ever, what aspects of religion will Sri Lanka call into view? Will it be the politically expedient stories of ‘us versus them’? Or will it be the island’s longer history of resilience, multiplicity of identities and deep resources of compassion and creativity?

[Benjamin Schonthal | East Asia Forum]

18 May 2019 was a doubly significant day in Sri Lanka. Not only did it mark the ten-year anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, it was also Vesak, the most significant holiday in the Buddhist liturgical calendar. The coincidence seems appropriate: in Sri Lanka today, politics and religion seem more interlinked than ever.

In the aftermath of the tragic attacks on Easter Sunday, religion has become the concern of the day. The country faces a host of pressing issues including massive economic inequality, failing environmental management, a crushing sovereign debt and China’s looming power. It also faces a dire political situation characterised by chronic in-fighting, corruption and the occasional constitutional crisis. Even so, it is the issue of religion which generates passion and concern at levels similar to those sparked by topics of language, ethnicity and federalism during Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Also similar to the civil war days are the polarising and unproductive ways with which this dominating issue of religion........

© Oped Column