MINUWANGODA, Sri Lanka – The New Fawz Hotel was a bustling institution in this small Sri Lankan town, beckoning diners with its huge red neon sign and hot plates of chicken and rice available day and night. But after the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, customers stopped showing up.
Things got worse. In May, men on motorbikes arrived wielding sticks, their faces covered with helmets. They smashed the restaurant's glass windows as a huge crowd gathered, then surged into the premises and destroyed everything inside. M. M. Mohomed Indhas, the proprietor, fled out the back, afraid for his life.
"We were born here, this is my hometown," said Indhas, 52, standing outside the wrecked shell of the restaurant. "Now we wonder whether there is a future in Sri Lanka."
Indhas is a Sri Lankan Muslim, a religious minority in this predominantly Buddhist country. In the wake of the devastating April attacks – carried out by local Islamist extremists – the entire community braced itself for retaliation.
Now those reprisals have arrived. Muslim-owned businesses are facing informal boycotts. Anti-Muslim riots broke out in two provinces in May, damaging hundreds of businesses, homes and mosques and leaving one person dead. Nine Muslim ministers resigned in June, partly because they feared that if they did not, more violence was imminent.
Experts worry that Sri Lanka, a multiethnic and multireligious democracy whose bloody civil war ended in 2009, is poised for a new outbreak of tensions. This time the divisions are emerging along religious lines, rather than the long-standing ethnic cleavage between Sinhalese and Tamils.
Even before the Easter attacks, Muslims, who make up about 10 percent of the population, had faced discriminatory rhetoric and sporadic violence, particularly with the rise of hard-line Buddhist nationalist groups after the end of the civil war.
But the current climate marks a perilous turn. Last month, one of Sri Lanka's most prominent Buddhist monks called for a boycott of Muslim-owned businesses and appeared to condone violence.
"Don't go to their shops or eat their food," said Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Thero, endorsing a bigoted slur that Muslims are trying to sterilize people. "Buddhists must protect themselves."