This history matters, because it makes Christians unlikely targets. Instead, the attackers may have bombed churches, along with public sites like hotels, because these sites are associated with the West. “In general, I would say that Christianity in Sri Lanka suffers under the stigma of a historical connection with colonialism,” Bauman said. “It’s always easy for opponents of Christianity to tar them in that way, and also, recently, with their association with the power and wealth of Western Christians.”
The attackers may have also associated Christians with the ruling forces in Sri Lanka. Despite violence that is sometimes directed against Christians, especially in new churches planted by missionaries, leaders of the Sri Lankan Catholic Church have attempted to avoid conflicts with the Buddhist majority, often by trying to support their political agenda, Timothy Shah, the director of the South and Southeast Asia action team at the Religious Freedom Institute, told me. “The Catholic Church is a very powerful element of the cultural, religious, and political establishment of Sri Lanka, going back to the time of Portuguese colonial rule,” he said. And yet, Christians, along with the country’s Muslim minority, have long been marginalized by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. “They’re both portrayed … as foreign religions that don’t have deep indigenous roots in Sri Lanka,” Bauman said. “They’re both considered a threat because of their alleged growth,” ostensibly driven by birthrates and proselytism. In the eyes of Buddhist leaders, this could upset the country’s demographics and displace the Sinhalese majority.