By Lukman Harees (Colombo Telegraph)
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” ― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
Yes! The much maligned ‘unofficial police’ hate goons are back in action, which was then a common sight during MR’s time. Many groups sprung during Post-war period sporting Sinhala Buddhist warrior-like names, all of which were either directly or indirectly patronized or sponsored by those in power or related to them. Of them, the three musketeers (3Ms)– BBS , Sihala Ravaya and Ravana Balakaya stole the show , with rogue monks leading the way operating without fear or sanction, walking into any government office embassy or even hotels at will, demonstrating on the streets holding hate filled placards or burning effigies, destroying or setting fire to Muslim businesses or butcheries and holding meetings and press conferences insulting other religions and communities particularly Islam and the Muslims. Sadly, these scenes are being re-created on our streets now with added features of going further in even insulting not just the Quran but also the God the Muslims worship. Where will this adventurism end? is anyone’s guess, with the government still thinking the time is still not ripe to bring in the proposed Hate Speech bill with whatever amendments suggested by the civic groups and legal lobbies. This grave acts of provocation has its’ limits when the religious practices and beliefs held sacred by the Muslims, are being openly desecrated and insulted while the Muslim ministers (well! Most of them) are in deep slumber and become non-entities.
We have been witnessing many prominent hate groups like 3Ms led by heavy weights such as Ven. Gnanassara ( Sri Lankan equivalent of Wirathu of Myanmar ) whose BBS enjoyed Gota’s continued (state) patronage, Ven Akmeemana Dayaratna, and Ven. Ithekande Saddhatissa ( who abused government vehicles ,courtesy Wimal Weerawansa), competing with recently found groups such as Sinhaley , Sinhale national organization and few other outfits formed by some die-hard hate activists or peddlers like Saliya , Dan Prasad and Amitha in this dirty game. These groups were seen sometimes undercutting each other and sometimes acting in collusion, with the sole purpose of spreading anti-Muslim hate, lies and exaggerations on a continued basis to ensure that Sinhala Buddhist population harbour hate and animosity about Muslims who have been living in harmony with them for centuries. Their well- orchestrated hate campaign against Islam and the Muslims in Sri Lanka, has all the hallmarks of uniformity in projection and connivance with the well-organized global Islamophobic campaign to demonise and stigmatise Islam and the Muslims. Halal, Hijab,Niqab,Muslim birth rates, Islamic laws and finance, and Muslims in Muslim-minority countries trying to invade through Muslim expansionism are nothing new or unique to Sri Lanka but only messages borrowed from those hate lobbies operating overseas. These Islamophobic lobbies are cottage industries in US and Europe leading to Brexit and election of the demagogue Trump. It is imperative that the government look into the fund sourcing of these groups – both 3Ms and the miscellaneous groups. The spills from breakaway factions seem to suggest that these groups are being backed by those in former government, some sections of this government and also financed from outside sources.
We see those miscellaneous groups walking around the country visiting areas where Muslims live to create conspiracy theories and fairy tales about engaging in unpatriotic acts. They will not hesitate in turning a mole hill into a hill when they project personal acts committed by individuals in their personal capacity as community offences. As Hitler’s propaganda minister said,’ lies continuously repeated will be perceived as truth’. To them, social media and FB are sure media of hate propaganda and thus give walking commentaries. Distortion, misquotes from the Quran and outright lies are their forte. For instance, a university built in the East will be shown as the biggest mosque being in South East Asia, gel encased brassieres apparently distributed in Meethotamulla or Muslim clothing businesses selling ‘special’ underwear to womenfolk will be interpreted as Muslim conspiracy to sterilize Sinhala women. When the government decides to cut a Bo tree in the centre of the Road, hate mongers will also post pictures of mosques being built and decry that there are double standards against the majority population. When NP Muslims made their just claims to their lands after the war near Wilpattu, hate groups walk in and make it into an issue of Muslims attempting to deforest encroaching illegally. Many similar Sinhala encroachments are conveniently ignored. (Government then gazettes to deny the NP Muslims of their just rights to their lands thus appeasing the hate groups).
These hate peddlers virtually attempt to paint images of ISIS ghosts on the face of every Muslim man wearing a beard and Muslim attire. The stories and fairy tales are endless and there is a strong possibility that these powerful hate messages relayed through the social media are believed by the ordinary Sinhala masses, in the backdrop of the usual anti-Muslim stories being carried by the mainstream papers and some TV stations both in SL and beyond. Any Muslim activists opposing their hate campaigns like Azath Salley or Anver manatunge are branded as extremists. Again there is resemblance to what is happening in Western countries too, when Muslim activists in the West opposing these Islamophobic groups are branded as extremists. Many complaints have been made to the CID to investigate into these characters and groups and their funding sources, which has vested interests to work against the government’s resolution to promote national reconciliation . To date there is no visible action being taken against them. Still the government seem not realizing that these hate groups are extensions and arms of political lobbies following MR/ JO agenda to acquire power.
Ven Gnanasara in particular, who had his halcyon days during MR regime period continues to maintain his preeminent status as the lead actor in the anti-Muslim movie even after Yahapalana government came into power, spitting out hate and venom in every breath he takes. There have been fluctuations seen in recent times in his dramatic behavioural styles. At times he goes silent ( recently when Wijeyadasa Rakapakshe spoke to him) while other times he assumes his usual role in demonizing and stigmatizing the Muslims of Sri Lanka and their religion in the worst type of verbal diarrhoea any civilized person will not stoop to, let alone a man in robes preaching the peaceful message of Buddha. He has now once again regained his walk-in tours acting as the unofficial policeman accompanied by his henchmen, He went to Batticaloa some time back to lend his hand to another racist abusive monk Ven. Sumana. Recently, he attempted to provoke and anger the Muslims by insulting the God they worship when speaking about Kuragala. Most recent outburst was when he went to Polonnaruwa and made a much worse insult using filthy language insulting the God worshipped by the Muslims.
This is a clear offence according to the prevailing penal code which will warrant an arrest in order to be tried and punished under the law, apart from this type of loose talk being acts of grave provocation which are likely to attract various types of reaction from the Muslim community. Hate Speech in NOT freedom of expression. Incidentally he is already on bail for insulting the Quran and his recent outbursts should be viewed as violation of his bail conditions and should be dealt with according to law as well. Furthermore, this rouble rousing monk once again at a recent Press Conference repeated his oft quoted Thaqiyyqa concept ( Muslims using deceit to dubiously earn the goodwill of the majority) as having mention in the Holy Quran and used by Muslims in SL to take the Sinhala people on a ‘jolly ride’. This misquote put him under arrest then and his repeat performance will no doubt be insulting to the court which found him guilty.
Why is therefore the government’s AG having double standards when the same law enforcement came hard on Razeek, SLTJ Secretary when he allegedly made some insulting remarks on The Buddha, which action was clearly condemned by the mainstream Muslim community. What will happen if some ‘hard nut’ among the Muslims react aggressively without any forethought of repercussions. In fact, Muslim religious leadership continue to caution the community to keep their cool and avoid being emotional. The country will recall that the Muslim community maintained their cool and controlled the temper among their youth in the face of grave provocations then by the BBS and their ilk during the MR regime. However, there are limits to these types of controls. Muslim community too has its’ fair share of non-violent extremists and there are concerted efforts being made within the community, to deal with the issue effectively. There should be even handed approach in law enforcement .
Yahapalana government should realize that the country went through a period of hell , throwing the whole process of law of order and law enforcement to the winds, particularly MR’s during the second term of office. His man Mohan Pieris was appointed as AG first and then was made the CJ of the country and the course of justice became a course of injustice. Gota made the police and the armed forces virtually to be his private army. DIG Anura Senanayake did ‘illegal’ errands for his big boss and now under investigation presumably for one of his contract jobs – Thajudeen murder. Senanayake allowed many culprits who instigated the Aluthgama mini violence against the Muslims to go scot-free including our infamous man in robes Ven Gnanassara who stirred the whole hornet’s nest by his extremely provocative speech.
All the ministers and MPS and even other councillors at that time, maintained extreme silence and even at times connived with these goons avoid being in the bad books of the higher ups in corridors of power. Aluthgama riots was but one of the repercussions of this corrupt violent political culture. People particularly the minorities –Tamils and Muslims as well as even Sinhala Catholics lived in fear and anxiety and their sense of insecurity made them pass many a sleepless nights. Such was the situation in the so-called Paradise Isle during the reign of Maharajanoo. MR was at the helm, averse to what UN and the international community said about maintaining law and order and protecting minority rights.
Come January 2015, thankfully the whole nation was blessed with a God given opportunity to go to the polls and reject both the racist prone MR regime as well the hate groups which sought power like the BJP (BBS Political wing) and voted decisively to put in a new government which promised the electorate that they will end this violent, corrupt, hate promoting political culture and to take all measures to usher in a national reconciliation culture. Two and a half years down the line, the lofty promises of the Yahapalana government to usher in a political culture devoid of violence and hate as well as promote national reconciliation leaves much to be desired. It is comical that the government is waiting for a disaster to happen along the lines of Aluthgama to take action, and thus has been turning a blind eye to these grave instances of provocations. Even Myanmar body of Buddhist clergy has imposed some sort of ban on Ven Wirathu , a bold step which Sri Lankan Mahanayakes may not venture to take.
In this context, the government should wake up and take effective action by hastening the placing of the Hate Speech Bill in the Parliament, by bringing necessary measures to monitor social media for hate attacks by hate groups against any ethnic community and to apprehend the culprits who have made their full time profession to spread hate and animosity against the minorities specially anti-Muslim hate and to send a strong message to the nation that racism, Islamophobia or hate against the ‘other’ will not be tolerated. Further, the national reconciliation initiative which the government has initiated to promote among the youth and school children should be hastened too as well.
It is being said that ‘Strong government doesn’t mean simply military power or an efficient intelligence apparatus. Instead, it should mean effective, fair administration – in other words, ‘good governance.’ Let the Yahapalana government prove it in deed rather than more by verbiage. Let the government ensure that all communities can live without fear and sense of insecurity, which they are expected to ensure as per its’ international and constitutional obligations ,without missing another historic opportunity to usher in an era of peace and harmony.
More importantly, time is already overdue for Muslim civil leadership like MCSL, Minerat , bodies like ACJU, Shoora Council, SLTJ and YMMA +other regional bodies etc ( along with what is left of the Muslim political leadership) to come together to pressurize the government as one voice, to address this common threat against the community and to safeguard the constitutional rights to live as equal and dignified citizens without expecting mere sympathy from the powers that be. More importantly, it is also important at this juncture for all progressive intellectuals and civil leadership and HR activists of all communities ,along with the bystanders ,to join hands to fight this orgy of hate & violence against the ‘other’ and safeguard constitutional rights of all communities to practice their religion and cultural practices without fear in a peaceful Post-war Sri Lanka . This is the NEED of the HOUR which task is too important to be left in the hands of the petty politicians who will only wake up and act if their interests are served and not if it will serve the country at large. Otherwise, we will be a laughing stock of the international community and also incur the curse of the future progeny for leaving their homeland ( and ours) to them in an utter mess and making it another Somalia.