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By Indika Sri Aravinda
The Kandy Asgiriya Chapter has put the Bodu Bala Sena monks on notice saying they will take action if there are complaints lodged against them.
The registrar of the Asgiriya Chapter, the Ven. Anamaduwe Dhammadassa Thero said that they do not accept some of the actions of the Bodu Bala Sena.
He said if the Bodu Bala Sena monks are acting in place of the law enforcement authorities then they must have the consent of the government.
The Ven. Anamaduwe Dhammadassa Thero says if the public have concerns over some of the actions of the monks then they should raise the issue with the ‘Sanga Sabhawa’ which has the authority to take action against any monk.
Courtesy: Sunday Leader
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Young Sri Lankans Particularly Sinhala Buddhists are Uniting to Prevent Their Voices Being Hijacked by Racist Elements
2 March 2013
By Thulasi Muttulingam
It is an internationally accepted charter that citizens of any country ‘belong’ to that country, even if they happen to be first-generation citizens of that country. In Sri Lanka however, citizens who are several generations old in the country are facing simmering tensions that are nothing new yet troubling in its increasing intensity.
“Thambiya, go back home to where you came from.” More than a few bewildered Muslims have heard this in recent times. But where did they come from? Most have been settled here for so many generations that they do not even know which part of the world their ancestors came from. Having intrinsically blended into the Sri Lankan culture and landscape for generations, they identify themselves with pride as Sri Lankans. They were born in Sri Lanka and are Sri Lankan citizens. So where do they belong if not here?
“When they tell me to go back to where I belong, I don’t know what they mean. Do they think I belong in a Muslim country like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Those countries would never accept me. I am not a Pakistani or Arab. I am a Sri Lankan just like my father and grandfather before me,” says Sameer (24), a management trainee.
Hate and paranoia
For many young Muslims who were born during the war, the country was less than paradise because of the rift between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, but at least, they were mostly spared. No community was happy about the war but the Muslim community apparently had their apprehensions even then.
“I always wondered if and when the hostility against the Tamils ceased, would it then turn to us,” says Nazla (19), a psychology student. “I went to a Sinhalese school and had many Sinhalese friends. I still do and still remain committed to a Sri Lankan identity. It’s just that we are often told, ‘You are a minority, keep to your place.’ What is that place? Do we not have equal rights? When they keep saying Sinhala-Buddhist country, it automatically makes us outsiders. This is a multicultural, multi-ethnic country, but when that is not accepted, we automatically get sidelined and so do our perceived rights.”
Her Sinhala friend, Malini (21), concurs with her. On her thoughts on the current tension against Muslims, she says, “It’s a war waiting to happen. Actually it’s a war that started a long time ago but got sidetracked due to the Tamils.”According to her, the tension could be traced to the ingrained fear-psychosis of her people, due to the fact that Sri Lanka has a long history of being invaded. They are afraid of colonization or subversion in any form. “Even my father was saying recently, the Muslims seem to be everywhere and in everything. The repeated negative images of Muslims as intolerant extremists prone to violence do not help. Many people have learnt to distrust and dislike Muslims based on these portrayals.”
Yet the Muslims of Sri Lanka do not have a reputation of being violent extremists. How then did they become the bogeyman to nationalist masses? Kasun (23), software engineer, says, “Post-war, there is no economic boom for the common man as promised. People are finally waking up to smell the roses. Those not having the promised smell need to be distracted fast. Through traditional and new media, we see messages such as, ‘Muslim businesses are prospering at the cost of Sinhala industries’, ‘The reason for high prices is all due to the Halal food certificate’, ‘Some Muslims support Pakistan during cricket matches. They are against us’, ‘They are working together and buying up all the land belonging to the Sinhalese’ and ‘The government has hidden the census data because there’s been a Muslim population boom’ being broadcasted repeatedly.
With this kind of paranoia being broadcast mainstream, the angry masses now have a scapegoat. Dinner table conversations invariably touch on topics of Halal certification and ‘Muslims these days’. This to me is just the powers-that-be cunningly using the Jews (traditionally mistrusted) to take the blame for everything.”
Amali (33), lawyer, has a different view: “Minorities anywhere generally tend to be driven to prove themselves in a way that the majority is not.
This, while making them successful, also draws the attention of jealous elements in the majority, which is what the turmoil in this country has always been about. Tamils tend to excel academically.
After the prolonged war, that has largely been taken away from them. In the meantime, the Muslims, always good businessmen have suddenly become big players industry-wide in Sri Lanka. So it looks like they are going to be shaken up too.”
The question however is whether the current trend is something that is being blown out of proportion or something to be worried about. Many young people, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims say that they do not want another war and that they hope this current tension can be contained.
Says Nuwan (27), marketing executive, “In any multi-ethnic democracy, you get racist elements voicing their radical, extremist opinions, usually shared by an insignificant minority. It’s when this minority becomes a majority that things start to get out of hand.” He adds that he doesn’t think the current tension is anywhere near that level yet but urges the authorities to act soon. “Those in power and in a position to educate the masses have to step forward to do their part. I don’t think anybody wants another war, but this kind of racial abuse needs to be checked before it gets out of hand.”
Preventing another conflict
Adilah (23), an undergraduate studying abroad, says she has never encountered racism personally. Thus the current scenario back in her country is something both new and troubling to her. “There are two possibilities concerning the events that have taken place. The first is that this could be vitriol and noise spewed by an isolated group of extremists and is now a mountain-molehill situation. The second is that this could snowball into something bigger and take on larger proportions of hate, racism and violence. I fervently hope it’s the former. I do hope that the concerned parties reach a reasonable solution rationally and that the dissemination of information to the public is done in a coherent, responsible manner. I’ve grown up reading accounts of the Indian Partition, the Holocaust and our own riots and know that fear and hate can prove to be a lethal combination. As a Muslim, I’d be afraid for the safety of my family back at home if tensions were to escalate.”
Shifani (23), a fellow Sri Lankan colleague of hers, adds, “I couldn’t believe it at first, because I’d always prided myself over the fact that Muslims who were ostracized in other countries post-9/11 enjoyed a lot of religious and cultural freedom in Sri Lanka. I know the animosity between different communities in Sri Lanka is nothing new but this is the first time it has affected me personally. Friends of mine tell me their friends are updating ‘racist’ statuses on Facebook and are going to secret ‘meetings’ that discuss how ‘Muslims are taking over Sri Lanka and must be stopped’.
“I know that if this movement is allowed to grow, it could very well turn into a sequel to the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora, who have had to flee their homes. I think firm government intervention is needed to nip this in the bud right now. I’d also like to believe that most Sri Lankans are not racists and will not stand for this – every Sinhalese friend of mine has expressed their revulsion towards this movement.”
Neither her worry nor her optimism is without foundation. Those on social networking sites would be used to this by now; posts both for and against the Muslim issue. The question is, who is the majority? For a while it looked like the negativity (at least online), was overwhelming, but now several sites have been formed to confront that negativity heads-on. Many young people from different communities, especially the Sinhala-Buddhist community, are uniting to make it clear that their voices can’t be hijacked.
There is hope yet in the new generation. They were born into and lived through one ethnic strife. They absolutely do not want another.
Let’s Unite Against Fascism in our paradise!
In shades reminiscent of Nazi fascism of yesteryear, Buddhist militancy in Sri Lanka has lately begun to rear its ugly head of intolerance towards the island’s minorities. A massive rally was held in the capital city of Colombo last week by the belligerent Sinhalese Buddhist group, the Bodu Bala Sena, and the message was very explicit.
‘This is a Government created by Sinhala Buddhists and it must remain Sinhala Buddhist.This is a Sinhala country, Sinhala Government. Democratic and pluralistic values are killing the Sinhala race.”
In speeches charged with provocative rhetoric, the group’s party leaders demanded that President Mahinda Rajapaksa ensures the protection of the ‘sacred Sinhala franchise’ that swept him into power. Extremist monks denounced Muslim practices, such as their use of conservative clothing referring to it as ‘gorilla’ outfits, and have called for a total ban on halal products for the community. Clad in white or t-shirts bearing a ‘No-Halal’ slogan, the supporters carried Buddhist flags and cheered enthusiastically when extremist Bodu Bala Sena monks denounced particular Muslim practices.
The word ‘halal’ means permitted or lawful. Halal foods are foods that are allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines. According to these guidelines extracted from the Quran, Muslim followers cannot consume certain foods that include pork, animals that were dead prior to slaughtering, carnivorous animals and birds of prey. The rulings also include animals not slaughtered properly or humanely.
Whipping the mob into frenzy during the demonstration in the capital, the mob leaders exhorted the crowds to become a vigilante Sinhalese self-appointed civilian police force against Muslim practices and businesses.“From today onwards, each of you must become an unofficial civilian police force against Muslim mannerism. These so-called democrats are destroying the Sinhala race,” Gnanasara Thero, one of the mob leaders exhorted at the frenzied crowds. He also vented anger against evangelical Christians who, he claimed, were attempting to perpetuate Christian extremism in the country.
Another leading Bodu Bala Sena monk said that pluralistic values had robbed the Sinhala people of money, jobs and enterprise. “This is a Sinhala country; there is a global principle that minorities must reside in a country in a manner that does not threaten the majority race and its identity.”
Issuing a direct challenge to the government, the Bodu Bala Sena general secretary said the organisation would give the administration until March 31 to ban the halal certification.
“Don’t make us take the law into our own hands,” the monk announced in his ultimatum, pledging to commence a relentless anti-halal campaign until the government announced the ban halal products by March 31.
The Buddhist extremist group has been leading the charge on virulent anti-Muslim sentiment spreading in Sri Lanka that has led to several incidents against members of the Muslim community in recent weeks. Last week, Muslim shop owners in Narammala in the Kurunegala district received letters threatening them with death if they fail to vacate their places of business by March 31.
In January at another rally, orchestrated demonstrations against ‘halal’ labelled foods, Muslim owned businesses and Muslim places of worship were targeted by organised groups of Buddhist militants in the northwestern province of Wayamba.
Those protesters were more ominous in their intentions. Taunting and cheering, they carried highly provocative effigies. The demonstrators who went in procession with these offensive placards and effigy attempted to taunt and provoke the Muslims of the town. The police would not take action against such highly provocative taunts, assuming that it was sanctioned by high levels of the government.
If left unchecked, the actions of such fringe group of fanatics trying to inflame the existing peaceful relations between the island’s Sinhalese and Muslim population could only lead to violence. Although the Muslims in the north watched, muted and restrained, it is only a matter of time before these fanatic radicals go berserk with their pent up resentment and hatred towards Muslims, and lead the island into an ethnic war.
While the majority of Sinhalese Buddhists is indeed peace-loving and has been living in harmony with other minorities over the centuries, the plague of militant Buddhists in recent days is gaining a strong foothold throughout the country. These are dangerous times. History so often tells us of how the good conscience of a silent majority has been swept away by the vicious rhetoric and actions of a militant minority.
In sharing a common religion with the island’s minority Muslims, Gulf Cooperation Council countries have a vested interest in ensuring their safety and security. The persecutions that have begun to form against them can in no certain terms be tolerated. The benign tolerance exhibited by the Sri Lankan government towards these militant groups must be viewed with alarm.
Sri Lanka is a recipient of a sizable mass of its national budget from the remittances of its workers in GCC countries. The GCC also provides most of the island’s energy needs. Many in the Gulf have been frequent visitors for tourism and business. So far relations have been harmonious.
But Gulf leaders must get the message across to the Sri Lankan government: The island must not embark on the perilous road of violent racial and ethnic divisions that could lead to unrestrained violence against not only the Muslims, but the other minorities on the island as well. Failure to heed that message must be compensated by strong action.
This is not an issue of sovereignty, but one of humanity.
Gulf News : Tariq A. Al Maeena
A vote to censure the Bodu Bala Sena for its anti-Muslim stance was unanimously passed at the monthly sitting of the Eastern Provincial Council yesterday.
The council, sitting under the chairmanship of Ariyawathi Galapathi, strongly criticized the Bodu Bala Sena for instigating communal disharmony in the country specially targeting the peace loving minority Muslim community.
The motion was tabled by A. M. Jameel, SLMC Provincial Councillor. Among the speakers on the motion was Chief Minister Najeeb Abdul Majeed.
This was the second time the Bodu Bala Sena was censured in the East. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the 65th Independence Day celebrations held in Trincomalee, said creating communal, religious disharmony was similar to promoting terrorism and held that all citizens had the right to live in peace and harmony.
Courtesy: The Island
Let’s Unite Against Fascists!
A BBC team covering the Bodu Bala Sena convention in Maharagama this evening were threatened by a gang following the event.
The BBC team, which included Colombo Correspondent Charles Haviland, were doing a video recording opposite the ‘No Limit’ store in Maharagama when the gang approached them.
Following the Bodu Bala Sena convention in Maharagama the BBC team had decided to make an ‘on location’ recording regarding the convention.
However the gang which approached them hurled abuse at them using foul language in Sinhalese and refused to let them leave.
A police team had later arrived at the scene but the abuse continued even in front of the police.
The policemen refused to allow the BBC team to leave and some of the gang members took photographs of the journalists.
However subsequently a senior police officer arrived at the scene and ordered the police to allow the BBC team to leave.
Meanwhile a reporter of the Nawamani newspaper was also abused by a gang and handed over to the Maharagama police.
He was released after being detained for several hours.
Courtesy: Colombo Gazette
By Pradeep Seneviratne for Khabar South Asia in Colombo
February 15, 2013
Now, he fears activities by an organisation dubbing itself Bodu Bala Sena, or “Buddhist Force,” will drive a wedge between the primarily Buddhist Sinhalese, who make up 74% of Sri Lanka’s population, and Muslims, who account for only 10%.
“This group is trying to pit Sinhalese people against Muslims. That is not helpful. We want to live with each other as brothers and sisters of the same family,” Ifthikar, a food company marketing manager, told Khabar South Asia.
“In fact, when my family went out of Colombo on picnics, it was my Sinhalese friends who looked after my house. They always share sweetmeats with my family during their annual festival in April,” he said.
During recent months, people identifying themselves as members of Bodu Bala Sena have campaigned against halal food items, and asked Sinhalese not to patronise Muslim-owned shops.
Leaders of the group, however, have moved to distance it from such activities. They insist their organisation does not endorse hateful behaviour towards other religions.
Vitharandeniye Nanda, a Buddhist monk working as the national organiser of Bodu Bala Sena, denied any involvement. “We never resort to violence. We think some other groups with vested interests use our name to harass Muslims,” Nanda told Khabar.
All citizens are equal
With tensions mounting, the government has decided to appoint a parliamentary select committee (PSC) to study whether locally- or internationally-funded religious extremism had infiltrated Sri Lankan society.
Nimal Siripala de Silva, leader of the House of Parliament, said that the government would not approve any act that ignites violence between different ethnic communities, especially at a time when the country is emerging from the devastation of its three-decades-long war.
“Our country bled at the hands of terrorism. It was the climax of communal violence. Fortunately, it ended on May 19, 2009. Now, we want peace and harmony. We should not let our hard-earned freedom be lost,” de Silva told Khabar.
“Once this select committee is appointed with the representatives of all the parties, we will deeply study what led to the present situation. Then, there will be recommendations on steps to be taken to correct it,” he said.
In addition, President Mahinda Rajapaksa on January 27th asked members of Bodu Bala Sena not to incite religious tension, saying he would not tolerate any acts of extremism.
According to a report of the meeting in The Island newspaper, Rajapaksa stressed that members of all communities have a right to live as equal citizens in the country. The meeting was attended by Muslim parliamentarians representing the government.
Muslims, Buddhists reject extremism
The president’s intervention has been hailed by moderate leaders of the two communities, who see it as timely.
“There are elements trying to disturb communal harmony. They are groups with different agendas. They should not be encouraged,” said Ven. Kapugama Gnanasiha, a Buddhist monk, who works as a teacher at a Colombo school.
“We, the Buddhist monks, have an important role to play in reconciling the communities. I always preach to my people that co-existence is all-important. It is better if the government can intervene at this moment to stop religious hatred being spread,” Gnanasiha told Khabar.
Endorsing those views, Fazrul Rahman, president of the Kandy City Jamyyathul Ulama, said certain groups are apparently trying to sabotage the country’s hard-earned peace.
“As a Muslim priest, I keep close contacts with Buddhist monks. They have always been helpful to me. I respect them,” he told Khabar.
Rahman told how a Buddhist monk once gave him a Rs. 1,000 note ($7.91) to cover travel expenses to a function in Colombo. He never spent the note, but kept it as a token of friendship.
“That is the kind of relationship we have,” he said.
“I am sad to see some persons trying to stoke religious tension. Buddhists are a peaceful community. Only a handful are involved in extremist activities,” Rahman told Khabar.
Sachith Maduranga, 38, a Sinhalese vendor in Colombo, said extremism would never resolve problems.
“Nowhere in the world has extremism solved any problem. The moderate path is the way out. We do business with people of different ethnic groups. Normalcy should prevail,” Maduranga told Khabar.
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Outstandingly Moronic Anti-Muslim Hate Campaign Going on for Several Months with 19 Websites Devoted to that Ignoble Task
by Izeth Hussain
I believe that the Muslim factor in our politics is entering a new era because in the last few days developments of an epochal nature have been taking place. Suddenly, and totally unexpectedly, the following banner headline appeared in The Island of January 25; ‘Special PSC to look into racial, religious extremism”.
The item stated that Minister Nimal Siripala de Siva had told Parliament on the previous day that a special Parliamentary Select Committee would be set up to address growing concern about the rise in racial intolerance and religious fundamentalism in the country.
He was quoted as stating: “This is a very important question. We cannot take party lines when we address these issues. We have to get together to tackle problems that can arise and cost our country its hard-won peace.”
There followed on January 28 another front page news item in The Island under the heading “President Rajapakse stresses need for respecting rights of all communities”. It was about his meeting on the previous day with members of the Bodu Bala Sena, which reportedly lasted for two hours. The President had raised the issue of the ongoing campaign against Muslims by certain Buddhist organizations.
The BBS had denied its involvement in any such campaign. The President had stressed that members of all communities had a right to live as equal citizens in this country, since it is theirs too, and that he would not tolerate any acts of terrorism. All peace-loving Sri Lankans should be mindful of the efforts being made in certain quarters to tarnish the image of this country. I have seen another report also, which goes into some detail about disclaimers made at the meeting to the effect that the BBS was not behind the extremist acts in Sri Lanka.
Now what on earth is there in all this to justify my speaking so grandiloquently about a new era and developments of an epochal nature? Surely talk about equal rights of the minorities and so on and so forth is no more than windy rhetoric, no more than part of majoritarian racist discourse, which in the view of many minority members signify little or nothing, not much more meaningful really than the inane quacking of ducks. As for the Parliamentary Select Committee, how many mature adults are there in Sri Lanka who believe that anything useful will come of it? Surely practically everyone is aware of the stupendous record of this Government and previous Governments in ignoring Commission reports. Surely everyone knows that the LLRC Report would have been totally ignored if not for pressure from abroad. I believe that such views are mistaken and that indeed we are witnessing developments of an epochal nature.
To establish my argument I will have to go back to developments since 1975, that is thirty eight years ago. That year inaugurated a new phase in Sinhalese-Muslim relations, in which Muslims were subjected to physical harm, sometimes killings, and Muslim property was destroyed. The start was given by Muslims being killed within Puttalam mosque – possibly the first anti-Muslim riot since 1915 – the consequence of Sinhalese misperceptions that our Muslims were economically privileged, which remains a major motivation for anti- Muslim hatred.
The economic motivation behind the Puttalam riot was clearly indicated by the initial act which caused the unrest culminating in the riot: the shifting of a bus stand from an area where Muslim business establishments predominated to one where the Sinhalese business establishments predominated. Since then, practically every year witnessed anti-Muslim violence ranging from minor ructions of no great significance to major rioting as in Hulftsdorp in December 1993. The anti-Muslim violence mysteriously stopped around 2002.
I am probably well-situated – possibly even uniquely situated – to write on anti-Muslim violence from 1975 to 2002. After leaving the Foreign Ministry In 1988 I took to writing articles, mostly in the Lanka Guardian of Mervyn de Silva, in the course of which I covered the more important episodes in the anti-Muslim violence. As far as I am aware no one else did so, not at least in the mainstream media.
The Muslim fear psychosis forbade other Muslims from doing so – a fear psychosis that led to the mistaken belief that writing on the Muslim plight would only make it worse. As for the Sinhalese the (idiotic) conventional wisdom of the time held that all the episodes of anti-Muslim violence were no more than fracas between thugs, with no ethnic dimension to them at all. Probably no mainstream newspaper of that time would have published any of my articles, all of which Mervyn gladly published. I am mentioning these and other details of how things were in the past as they are useful for bringing out the epochal nature of developments in the last few days.
The most important of the anti-Muslim riots between 1975 and 2002 were the Hulftsdorp riots of 1993, about which I wrote in some detail in a lengthy article published in the Lanka Guardian. I could go into some detail because I had as my neighbour a reliable informant, a Muslim doctor who practised in Hulftsdorp and played an important role in restoring normalcy through dialogue in the aftermath of the riots. The riots followed an established pattern. A Muslim had lent money to a Sinhalese, which led to a misunderstanding and an altercation in which the Sinhalese poured petrol over the Muslim and threatened to burn him alive.
That was the initial “fracas between thugs” that ignited the rioting that followed, with much destruction of Muslim property and some deaths. The police played the usual role as spectators. Some Muslim politicians made their appearance after the riots, but of course did nothing thereafter that might embarrass the Government. The Government promised to pay compensation.
The usual perfunctory action was taken against those responsible for the riots. Some degree of normalcy was restored by the Sinhalese and the Muslims of the area getting together. And thereafter Sinhalese-Muslim relations were allowed to continue to deteriorate. I must add that the civil society, as distinct from the NGOs, was in a comatose condition those days. I must acknowledge, however, that the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE) wrote, sometime around the beginning of this century, an excellent well-researched paper on the violent anti-Muslim activity that had been going on. Otherwise all that was ignored by the Government, the Opposition, Muslim politicians and organizations, and the civil society.
I recall making an important point in my article. I asked what Lee Kuan Yew would have done if something comparable to the Hulftsdorp riots had occurred in Singapore. A clue to the appropriate answer was given in his memoirs. He wrote that Singapore had a violent crime-ridden society until the Japanese Occupation, but it became practically crime-free soon afterwards, the reason for which was that the Japanese took extremely brutal action against crime. Lee would have followed the same strategy, and all anti-minority activity would have stopped forthwith. In Sri-Lanka on the other hand action against communal rioters has always been perfunctory. The reason for the contrary responses was not apparent to me at that time. It is this: in Singapore Lee was very much in earnest about building a multi-ethnic nation with equal rights and opportunities for all citizens irrespective of ethnicity, while in Sri Lanka the Sinhalese power elite has always had a tribal conception of the nation, since in their view this land has belonged to the Sinhalese, and only the Sinhalese, from ancient times. Therefore there has been no authentic drive to build a multi-ethnic nation. Instead there has been much inane duck like quacking.
As I have remarked above, the anti-Muslims ructions and riots stopped mysteriously around 2002. It might seem therefore that I had been uniquely fussy in writing about all that, while those who viewed that violence as really no more than fracases between thugs were quite right. But what really happened was that the pattern of anti-Muslim action changed. There was a monk who some years ago expressed what was widely regarded as anti-Muslim hatred on a Government-owned TV channel. That was stopped after protests by Lucien Rajakarunanayake.
There was the Grease Devil phenomenon, the targets of which were mainly Muslim females. There was an epidemic of kidnappings, the main targets of which were Muslim businessmen. Some, probably many, would argue that all that was sporadic ant-Muslim activity to which no great importance should be attached, and which in no way changed the underlying reality of solid first-class pukkah Sinhalese-Muslim amity. That view has been confounded, and confounded utterly, by recent developments.
Over several months an outstandingly moronic anti-Muslim hate campaign has been going on, with nineteen websites devoted to that ignoble task. Latheef Farook, veteran Muslim journalist, Hamid Kareem and others have done their splendid best to bring the relevant facts to public notice. I myself wrote an article on the Dambulla mosque outrage. Subsequently mosques and Muslim business establishments have come under attack on a wide scale. Udaya Gammanpila of the JHU recently wrote an article in which he declared that a repetition of the anti-Muslim riots of 1915 was imminent. Many Muslims feared that their long-standing expectation that the Muslims would be the next target of another 1983 pogrom was about to come true. The anti-Muslim campaign mounted to a horrible crescendo at Kuliyapitiya in the North Western province of Wayamba where demonstrators carried posters with the drawing of a pig together with Arabic letters reading “Allah”. It was probably meant to provoke the Muslims into violence, providing a pretext for unleashing a pogrom on a grand scale, another 1983.
But the Government has this time unexpectedly reacted with the President’s meeting with the BBS, the declaration of intent to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee, and more than one statement against racism by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva which to my mind had about them a clear note of authenticity. I have provided above an outline historical narrative showing the Sri Lankan State’s total indifference and near-total inactivity in the face of anti-Muslim action over a period of thirty eight years. In that perspective it does not seem grandiloquent at all to speak now about changes of an epochal order taking place and our ethnopolitics entering a new era.
But what really does that signify? Before answering that question it is important to ask why the Government has reacted at long last in what seems to be a positive way.
The meeting of the UN Human Rights Council is under way in Geneva, and a grand-scale anti-Muslim pogrom just now would provide excellent material for the anti-Lankan lobby. The Muslim vote there could be prejudiced. A high-level US delegation is here right now and the thought echoing in their minds over the anti-Muslim hate campaign would probably be this: Are these fellows completely mad? That will certainly be reflected in their talks with the Government. But I believe most important is the economic factor. For many years Sri Lanka has been what might be justly called “a housemaid republic” because crucial for our economy is the foreign exchange sent home by our housemaid in the Middle East. After the Rizana Nafeek horror the Government has the idea of concentrating on providing skilled labour for the M-East market. Will all that be jeopardized if there is a 1983-type pogrom against the Muslims?
suaded that the best way for minorities to get fair and equal treatment from recalcitrant majorities is to establish that that will be in the interest of the majorities themselves. In Sri Lanka certainly the appeal to the self-interest of the majority will be far more potent than the appeal to principles. It seems probable therefore that recent statements by Chambers of Commerce that ultra nationalism will deter foreign investment and be harmful to the economy has played an important role in bringing about what looks like an attitudinal change in the Government towards anti-Muslim activity. Does it mean that we are entering a new era in our ethnopolitics? It all depends, in my view, on whether the Government can be persuaded that ethnic discord will be harmful to the interests of the Sinhalese themselves.
When Sri Lanka overcame the rebellious movement of the Tamil Tigers back in 2009, there was hope that the island nation would finally emerge stronger and more united. The scars of the three-decade struggle by the Tamils had hurt the image of the country both politically and economically, as charges of unrestrained brutality and ethnic cleansing were levelled at the ruling party at the time. The Tamil movement had led more than 150,000 Tamil Lankans to flee their country and seek refuge in other countries. Thousands of others — estimated between 80,000 to a 100,000 — lost their lives in the prolonged struggle, with some 40,000 casualties alone in the last days before the civil war was finally declared over. With such deep wounds scarring the country, there were initial efforts by the government to forge reconciliation between the majority Buddhist Sinhalese and the minority Tamil Hindus and the Muslim population of the island.
Events lately suggest that all is not well in that country. There are signs that chasms are appearing, often in the form of violence against minorities. The island’s Muslim community is being targeted by race-inciting Sinhalese Buddhists, while the government appears to be condoning such attacks with their inaction.
Some opposition political figures charge that President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government “is again giving tacit support to communal provocations against Sri Lanka’s minorities in a bid to divide working people amid the country’s deepening economic and social crisis”.
In that the victims happen to be the minority sects in Sri Lanka, the political price of winning favour among the Sinhalese Buddhist majority far outweighs the peace and tranquillity that has once again deserted the island’s minority communities.
The Buddhist Power Force, better known as Bodu Bala Sena, is accused of being the leading terror group, inciting and organising violence against Muslims in all corners of the country.
Allied with the JHU party in the ruling coalition, this terror group is now claiming that the island’s Muslims are a threat to Buddhism and their way of life. They also assert that they will “strengthen and defend the Buddhist religion and its heritage,” using all options.
Their obvious aim is, in fear of an uprising, to ensure the continued suppression of the Muslim minority. However, they should not be in fear as in truth the two million Muslim minorities in Sri Lanka, who make up 10 per cent of the population, have been sidelined for decades.
Muslim Sri Lankans are rarely recruited in the armed forces, police or offered equal opportunities and perks in government departments and other state institutions. In the commercial and trade sectors, Muslims have also been marginalised by their exclusion from government contracts, tenders and all such lucrative economic activities.
There is also the obvious indifference displayed by the government towards the 130,000 Muslim refugees from the north who were caught in the crossfire of the civil war and today continue to languish in refugee camps in appalling conditions three and-a-half-years after the end of the conflict. No substantial government effort is being taken to address their plight.
Meanwhile, the Bodu Bala Sena began a series of provocations recently against Muslims in the central province at Buwelikada, a small town about 15km from Kandy. The town’s predominantly Muslim population is mostly small shop owners and vendors.
According to eyewitness accounts, “a group of Sinhalese youth travelling in a bus began a quarrel with Muslims, claiming that a van had obstructed the road. Several Muslims injured in the clash were hospitalised. The government immediately deployed units of the notorious police special task force (STF), whose members did not arrest the culprits, but instead were sympathetic towards the thugs”.
Muslims charge that such acts of vandalism and terror are orchestrated to poison the minds of mainstream Sinhalese against Muslims “by a small but well organised group demonising Islam and Muslims through 19 Sinhalese and English language websites”.
They point to the recent destruction of a 400-year-old Muslim shrine in Anuradhapura, followed by the disgraceful attack on Dambulla Mosque by a mob of Buddhist vandals led by the chief Buddhist priest of the area.
Ironically, the inaction on the part of the government led to this incident being recorded as the first time in the history of the country that a frenzied mob prevented Muslims from performing their obligatory Friday prayers and since then there have been attacks on a number of small mosques all over the country. However, a blind eye has been turned towards these atrocities by the authorities and the perpetrators have not been brought to justice.
The island country is at a crossroads today. If it continues to yield to the few terror-crazed Sinhalese Buddhists, who want to rid their country of all minorities and turn the countryside into killing fields, then it may well open up fresh wounds and begin another long journey into internal conflict and unrest.
The world cannot continue to tolerate the oppression and terror activities directed at minorities and Sri Lanka is no exception. It cannot distort facts to disguise ethnic hatred and violence. The island state will not escape reprisal for its failure to preserve the rights of its minority citizens.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.