The 1915 Buddhist-Muslim riots in Ceylon are often attributed to religious animosity, but economic and political factors significantly influenced the environment in which the riots occurred and help to explain the drastic government reaction to the disorders. The Muslims involved, recent arrivals from India called Coast Moors, were primarily traders and moneylenders. Resentment against price increases and alleged profiteering developed among the Sinhalese Buddhists. Before 1915, communal tensions had grown, with many Sinhalese-language newspapers denouncing the Coast Moors for exploitation of the Ceylonese. A Buddhist temperence movement had become a channel for articulating nationalist sentiments and was viewed with suspicion by the colonial regime. Labor unrest and trade unionism had appeared in Colombo prior to the riots. There, the 1915 disorders were led by the most militant urban workers, particularly railway workers, and reflected working-class grievances over rising living costs and unemployment. Fear of German intrigue during the war, the spread of nationalism and terrorism from India, and urban working-class unrest led colonial officials to interpret the riots as a threat to British rule. The officials were divided on the severity of action required, but those favoring the most drastic measures prevailed.

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