Religious tension, A shot in the arm of communal politics

  • Supported by indifference of the law enforcement entities towards the violence against religious minorities
  • The Muslims, the media and the Government seem to be in a quandary in handling the current situation

M S M Ayub (Daily Mirror)

What could have been the reason behind recent spate of attacks against mosques and business establishments owned by Muslims and the resurgence of anti-Muslim verbal attacks by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)? It is a very difficult question to answer this time.

When a similar situation prevailed during the last three years of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime, where not only Muslim religious places but also Christian churches and Hindu temples had also been attacked, a few theories-though contradictory to each other- had been floated by various groups.


A Muslim man inspects the charred remnants of a business following an attack in Aluthgama in 2014. File Photo 

As it was apparent that the BBS and its ferocious anti-Muslim propaganda campaign had the blessings of the Rajapaksa Government, some people, especially the minorities, argued that Rajapksas, after crushing the Tamil separatist rebellion, were attempting to totally annihilate the voice of other ethnic and religious minority groups as well.

Their contention was supported by indifference of the law enforcement entities towards the violence against religious minorities prevailed then.

However, the Government is also fast losing a major section of its vote base, while giving ammunition to the international human rights campaigners by its lethargy towards the untoward incidents. It is a Catch 22 situation for the Government.

Another school of thought was that the BBS and its anti-Muslim campaign was a conspiracy sponsored by Norway to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa from power as he had been rude to the West towards the end of the war against the LTTE, when the victory of the armed forces was imminent.

Main among those who held this view was the then Housing and Construction Minister Wimal Werawansa. The newspaper columnist and Rajapaksa loyalist C.A.Chandraprema also held a similar view.

It was a group of eight people who had been sponsored by Norwegian authorities for a tour in that country who, soon after that tour, launched the BBS in 2012. During their stay in Norway they had met Eric Solheim, the Norway’s controversial Special Envoy to Sri Lanka during the peace talks between the armed forces and the LTTE and even several LTTEers, according to Dr. DilanthaVithange, a leader of the BBS.

Some of those who mooted the Norwegian conspiracy theory were of the view that the Norwegian authorities, having well known about the ultra-nationalistic attitudes of Rajapaksas had used the BBS to stir up communal tension for which the blessings of the Rajapaksa Government was also expected. The ultimate outcome expected, according to the theory, was the total alienation of the Rajapaksa administration from the minorities, the Tamils, Muslims and Christians of various denominations. Weerawansa forecasted the impact of the BBS agitations against the Muslims on the next Presidential election.

In spite of the veracity of the Norwegian connection being still contested by the concerned parties, the outcome of the communal tension proved Weerawansa’s prediction to be true. Had Mahinda Rajapaksa had the support of the Muslims as he had at the 2010 President election he wouldn’t have been defeated in 2015.

With the Yahapalanaya Government led by the United National Party (UNP) coming to power in January 2015, the extremist groups almost vanished from the scene despite their repeated warning earlier of a threat of extinction of Sinhala race and Buddhism at the hands of the minorities, especially the Muslims.

Minister Mano Ganesan, whose office was recently barged into by Ven. Gnanasara Thera, had told the Tamil media that 15 incidents had taken place in the last two months without the arrest of a single person.

However, after having shown the signs of its mere survival through several press conferences for the past two years, the BBS has sprung into action all of a sudden since last month, with inflammatory speeches being revived by its leader Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera and a wave of communal invectives in the social media and physical attacks against Muslims in various parts of the country spreading.

Against the backdrop of the Sri Lanka sponsored UN Human Rights Council resolution having insisted on the prevention of recurrence of communal tension, the US and UK governments had last week expressed their concern over the heightening threats against the minorities by certain groups. Hence, the Cabinet is said to have decided on Tuesday to take action against the rabble-rousers.

President Maithripala Sirisena during that Cabinet meeting had stated that the politically defeated elements were behind the recent communal stir in order to discredit his Government.

Interestingly on the other hand, Namal Rajapaksa, former President’s son was of the view that it was these extremist groups that conspired against his father’s Government. He interpreted the current situation as one staged by the Government itself in order to justify what he said its intension to impose a State of Emergency, with a view to postpone the elections.

Since the beginning of the attacks on the religious places in 2012 the United National Party (UNP) has been careful not to be identified itself with the extremist groups and those groups, especially the BBS in turn has been vehemently critical of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe throughout. Hence, both the main political parties, the SLFP and the UNP have now clearly disowned and dissociated from the BBS, though both parties shy of taking strong action against those groups.

The Muslims, the media and the Government seem to be in a quandary in handling the current situation. One section of the media is of the opinion that publicity to those incidents might contribute to the spreading of similar attacks, while the attackers seem to be taking advantage of the blackout.

However, the social media is greatly used for spreading hatred as well as blowing up of incidents, leaving the ethically concerned journalists in mainstream media helpless.

The Muslim community in the country is in utter confusion without knowing how to tackle the situation. They know even the slightest reaction on their part to the verbal and physical attacks on them except for the public statements in the media would be given a dangerous twist by certain media, especially the social media, leading to riots.

Also they are perturbed with the official reaction to the incidents as the investigations seem to be not moving ahead. National Co-existence, dialogue and Official Languages Minister Mano Ganesan, whose office was recently barged into by Ven. Gnanasara Thera had told the Tamil media that 15 incidents had taken place in the last two months without the arrest of a single person.

The pressure on the Muslim leaders from their community to take action to neutralise the situation forgetting their dog fights over matters of power politics is fast heightening.

The community is also divided over the actions to be taken, with one group suggesting drastic action while the majority includes the politicians and the religious leaders advising to be restraint. Some Muslim leaders from safe areas such as the Eastern Province seem to be very bold and blunt in responding to the attacks on the community, while the others rely totally on the Government’s mercy.

However, it is evident through the Tamil media that the Muslim community is fast losing confidence in the Yahapalanaya Government for which they voted en-masse at the last Presidential and the Parliamentary elections. The pressure for their leaders to dissociate from the main political groups, the Maithri and Mahinda factions of the SLFP and the UNP and to act as an independent group forgetting petty political differences is also mounting. This is a shot in the arm of communal politics, thanks to the very actions of those against separate minority communalist politics and the indifference of the Government.

The Government is dragging its feet in taking action against the hate mongering incidents lest the Opposition, especially the Mahinda Rajapaksa group might capitalise on the situation by giving a different interpretation to it.

However, on the other hand the Government is also fast losing a major section of its vote base, while giving ammunition to the international human rights campaigners by its lethargy towards the untoward incidents. It is a Catch 22 situation for the Government.

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