Zhang Yuan: “Easter attacks reflect dilemma of religious governance”,Global Times
Publish time: 2019-04-19 Browsing times: 10

MESI researcher Zhang Yuan published an op-ed article on Global Times on April 25, 2019, the full text is as follows:

Easter attacks reflect dilemma of religious governance

Easter is supposed to be one of the most important and joyous religious festivals of the Christian community but the peace of Easter in 2019 stands shattered. On April 21, eight coordinated bombings in Sri Lanka killed 321 people and injured more than 500, besides causing widespread loss to property.

The terrorist group ISIS has claimed responsibility for the serial bombings. Media reports have also linked the attacks to an Islamist organization National Thowheeth Jama'ath(NTJ).

More than 70 percent of Sri Lanka's population is Buddhist and Buddhism is a salient feature of the Constitution. Christians and Muslims together count forless than a tenth of the population. Christians are the smallest of the three communities. In 2015, Pope Francis visited local Buddhist temples and Buddha relics during his trip to Colombo, indicating the importance the Roman Catholic Church attaches to Sri Lankan Buddhist traditions.

Previously, Sri Lankan religious conflicts that triggered international attention occurred mostly between Buddhist extremist groups and Islamist organizations. For example, hardline Buddhist extremist organization Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) used social media to spread information against the Sri Lankan Muslim community and encouraged people to attack the others around them, implying Muslims. The earlier recorded local attack on religious sites took place during the heyday of militant organization Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which fought a protracted war against the Sri Lankan government for a separate Tamil homeland. During the civil war, many Buddhist temples, mosques, churches, and Hindu temples were destroyed.

It is natural for people to gather at places of worship during religious festivals, making people of a denomination easy target for terrorists.

The causes of frequent religious conflicts are nothing more than the pursuit of primordialism, constructivism and instrumentalism. According to the basic interpretation of primordialism, religion itself is dualistic, and most religions are exclusive to different degrees, thus making religious coexistence difficult. According to constructivist interpretation, religious identity and identification are achieved in the process of communication which involves a series of dynamic factors such as locality and globality. If communication channels are not smooth or the trust between the groups is eroded, conflicts occur. According to the instrumentalist interpretation, religion is only a tool of political struggle.

Religious governance aimed at alleviating religious conflicts often starts by addressing the three causes. Ideally, abandoning religious dualism requires communities to accept pluralism. Preventing distortion of religious communication requires religious groups in a country lay down stereotypes, communicate honestly and seek common ground while reserving differences.

Also, to prevent political interference, religion should be confined to private belief. However, in reality, religious governance is extremely complicated. Pluralism will encounter nationalism and protectionism, such as defending religion and protecting religion. The premise of benign religious communication is that all parties involved are rational and open but religious grievances are easily aroused by other social movements which would ruin the fruits of religious dialogue. Religion is not merely an abstract philosophical construct but a practice inseparable from human behavior.

With the development of religion across the world, a number of transnational religious movements and cross-border religious activists emerge, which reduces the effectiveness of religious governance in a country. The Easter attack this time is considered to be linked to the global jihad movement. The attackers are likely jihadists who returned after the Islamic State terrorist organization was destroyed.

Colombo is an important node of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and thus Sri Lanka is an integral part of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The stability and prosperity of Sri Lanka is related to mutual development of BRI with China.


Source: Global Times