That Sri Lanka had to declare a nationwide state of emergency to quell anti-Muslim riots reveals the depth of the communal divide in the country. It was the first such extreme measure since the end of a decades-long Tamil separatist war in 2009. The conflict flared in the central district of Kandy and there were isolated incidents elsewhere as well. Given the mayhem on the streets, which led to three deaths and the destruction of hundreds of shops, the government had to act decisively to stop the spread of the riots.
What is worrying is the persistence of ethnic violence, although the separatist movement, which polarised Sri Lankans as nothing else had done, has long ended. The lifting of the emergency on Sunday signals a return to normal, but it should not be the normal of the status quo ante. Like other multi-religious societies, Sri Lanka needs to cast a long and rigorously introspective look at the state of its ethnic relations.
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