There is a strong undercurrent of anti-Muslim sentiment that has come to the surface of late. It is primarily anti-Muslim, but secondarily anti-minority. Can this lead to another round of violence?
To reduce the factors to an equation; the critical ones are:
a) The spread of rumours, falsities and horror stories that play on the fears of the majority. The Muslim population has become a lot more visible than in the past. The difference in dress and manner which, left alone, might have remained a matter of the passing snide remark or relatively harmless ridicule have been transformed into a bridgehead for venomous propaganda.
Stories that the Muslim population is growing too fast, that they will take over. That this is a calculated strategy, aided by the distribution of sweets, sanitary napkins that cause infertility. In collusion with NGO's, that favourite bogeyman, the propagation of permanent family planning measures that is reducing the Sinhalese population. That Muslims are turning their workplaces in harems, luring innocent Sinhala maidens and turning them into concubines, that the boys in employment are being converted to Islam and other falsehoods.
b) The fact these rumours are not being effectively countered in the media. Much of the media seems largely in favour of the campaign with the exception of a few isolated voices. Lenin said that a lie, if repeated often enough, becomes the truth and I see this taking place today. (In logic this is referred to as proof by assertion)
People who never had a second thought about these manifestly absurd allegation are taking these seriously. The few voices speaking out against the campaign are demonised as "foreign funded", "NGO types", "biased foreign media" or sneered at as being a part of the "English speaking elite", whose views do not matter.
The demonisation of the NGO's and the elite is itself the result a of a very effective campaign of repeated assertion that took place post 2005 and is still on-going. The only critical voices are thus not taken seriously or are viewed as proof of the vast conspiracy that is underway.
c) The complicity of the law-enforcement agencies in attacks on minorities. No action is ever taken, no punishment ever meted out to the culprits of violence. The message eventually sinks in that it is possible to get away with random acts of violence; that such acts may indeed be appropriate behaviour, in the face of threats.
These factors are the dry tinder for a conflagration. All actions seemed designed to add further fuel, except for some efforts by the already discredited actors. Thus the stage is set for another eruption.
As the message being preached gathers momentum a seemingly minor incident, especially one where a Muslim reacts will provide the necessary spark. An argument in a shop degenerates to name calling and fisticuffs. Passers by of both communities enter the fray. Rumours spread that Muslims are attacking Singhalese and gang sets out to protect the Singhalese. While the law enforcement agencies stand by the gang turns into a mob and the violence spirals out of control.
Is this too far fetched? Well exactly this happened a month a ago in Burma. The foundation for this was laid by an extensive campaign by a movement called 969, which mirrors the actions of the BBS.
The 969 movement is thought to have been set up by the Junta in Burma, possibly to help it win an election. Given the extensive cooperation between Burma and Sri Lanka of late ( see links here, here and here) there must have been much cross-fertilisation of ideas.
Unless there is a concerted effort to pull back from the brink events will follow the same course as in Burma, as indeed they did in Sri Lanka; in 1958, 1983 and a few other times, plus ça change.