According to a January report by the Associated Press, Buddhists in Sri Lanka have "attacked dozens of mosques and called for boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses and bans on headscarves and halal foods. At boisterous rallies, monks claim Muslims are out to recruit children, marry Buddhist women and divide the country." In August 2013, a group of Buddhist monks attacked a mosque in the capital of Colombo. The mob struck the mosque while congregants were engaged in prayer, breaking windows and damaging the building. Both Muslims and Sinhalese Buddhists were injured in the clashes that followed the incident.
The vilification of Muslims is not simply base intolerance; it also serves a convenient purpose for Sri Lanka's largely Sinhalese powerbrokers. Five years after the end of the civil war with the Tamil Tigers, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's political machine needs a new scapegoat for the everyday frustrations of their constituents, many of whom have grown unhappy with the government's heavy-handed security policies and its failure to deliver robust growth. The government seems to be "tacitly encouraging, and in some cases directly supporting, the anti-Muslim campaigns led by militant and often violent Buddhist organizations," according to a November 2013 Crisis Group report.
If Gnanasara is indeed in Burma -- the photos have emerged only on minor Sri Lankan news outlets -- his visit comes at a sadly appropriate time. The Burmese government is considering a law governing inter-faith marriage law that would "protect" Buddhist women by requiring their non-Buddhist suitors to convert and gain permission from the women's parents if they wish to wed. Wirathu has campaigned aggressively in support of the law. Despite push back from local activists, public officials in both Sri Lanka and Burma have been loath to challenge Wirathu and Gnanasara. It seems these two men, and the radical brand of Buddhism they represent, are here to stay.