Racism and Politics in Sri Lanka and the remedy

Douse inflammable material in politics

Daily News

THE POINT: ……………………..And this is happening in a country where a person who hacked the President’s website was not only released from custody but even rewarded by the President! Even the President’s alleged assailant was released with a public embrace!

Disturbing news began to flow in from the suburbs and from the periphery. It was about attacks on properties and places of religious worship of the Muslim community and several Christian denominations.

It came at first sporadically, here and there. Later, a pattern, an involvement of a hidden hand became visible. How could incidents of similar nature occur throughout such a wide geographic spread without someone orchestrating them? These incidents are of such a nature that it is still a small group that is involved in these criminal activities. Yet it cannot be ignored without peril. It must not be ignored.

For nearly seven decades since independence we have failed to forge unity and harmony among all communities inhabiting our common homeland. As a result we have gone through the trauma of communal clashes which culminated in a three-decade fratricidal war. Even seven years after the end of the war we are sliding into communal disharmony.

On January 8, 2015 people of all communities began a new journey towards national unity and reconciliation with much anticipation. Yet the above incidents pose a danger of accumulated attacks and the accompanying rumour mongering and hate speech leading to a fascist type programme against Muslims such as what we experienced in Black July 83 against the Tamils.

Independence struggle

Sri Lanka belongs to all its citizens irrespective of their racial, religious, class or other divisions. All of them have no other land to call their own. They are not welcome as citizens elsewhere, except for a few who would for economic or other reasons wish to and have access to settle down in countries that welcome immigrants.

Muslim community has lived in this land for centuries, mostly interspersed with the Sinhala and Tamil communities. They have participated with honour in the independence struggle against foreign domination and have contributed substantially to the economy of the country. None could also forget their commitment to the security and unity of the country. Moreover, they have sought relief to whatever grievances they have through peaceful negotiations, displaying extreme patience.

Fortunately majority of the Sinhala Buddhists are not yet infested with the virus of anti-Muslim sentiments and hatred. It is only the racist and religious fundamentalist groups that are trying to spread such sentiments and provoke a clash.

There is also no doubt that politicians with an eye to the future elections are trying to encourage and use such organisations as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) as a lever to grab power even at the cost of much bloodshed. The patronage of a section of the Maha Sangha and minor political parties also has to be counted.

It is also evident that the so-called patriotic hysterical campaign of emphasizing the Sinhala-Buddhist hegemony promoted during the war years, especially by the former Government with falsification of history has left much more than a trace of communalism in the minds of the majority community.

Sinhala youth

One could also recall the fantastic and unfounded claims by a popular monk, especially among the Sinhala youth inculcating in them a fear that the faster growth rate among the Muslims would reduce the Sinhala population to a minority in the future. The Sinhala people constitute almost 75 percent of the total population and the Muslims even at most liberal estimates are still less than 10 percent. The fearful scenario that is being predicted by the above propagandists will not be statistically (scientifically) and practically feasible even after several hundred years. Those having patience could work out the mathematics of relative growth of the populations of the two communities. It is most unfortunate that monks who represent the followers of a great teacher of great compassion or maha karuna would resort to such baseless slander.

One could also discern the hand of trading interests in the sporadic attacks against commercial establishments run by Muslims. Actually it is the right to life of these victims that is denied by the goons conducting such attacks. Forgotten also is the fact such attacks also leave far more bigger segments of the Sinhala Buddhist population also victims, through loss of their means of livelihood.

The media too, knowingly or unknowingly have become a vehicle transmitting communal propaganda. More dangerous is its practice of not reporting acts of criminal sabotage conducted by BBS goons so that the public remains ignorant of what happens.

In this situation it is necessary to do everything possible to stop these incidents that provoke communal unrest and may even lead to a pogrom targeting the Muslims and minor religious denominations of Christians. The onus is on both the Government and civil society to do so. The public of all communities, including the Sinhala Buddhists are not communal minded. It is groups with vested economic or political interests that are trying to ignite communal clashes.

Firstly, it is necessary to make people aware of the danger of communal unrest and the magnitude of such danger. Communal unrest would dissipate the hard-won relative peace and reconciliation that already exists after the fall of the former regime. It is already waning. It would destabilize the country and investors would not come. Economic development would be adversely affected and the standard of living of the masses would deteriorate quickly. Human rights situation in the country would be seriously damaged leading to the loss of the good name the country enjoys at present. Sri Lanka would again become a pariah state with archaic tribal clashes which are anachronistic in this 21st Century.

Secondly, the Government must resolutely act against provocateurs applying the law of the land without vacillation. At this moment it is the inaction on the part of the Government and its leaders including those at the very top that has encouraged the saboteurs including the BBS leader Gnanasara Thera who so brazenly breaks the law. Those who are shielding him physically or morally are also offenders.

The public is also perturbed by the discriminatory manner in which the law is interpreted by judicial officials too. Ambiguities in such interpretation should be abolished according to suitable legislative or legal means.

If one recalls history it would be easy to understand how the suppression of agitation demanding redress to their grievances led to the overthrow of the moderate and mature leadership in the struggle for winning democratic rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils.

Continued impunity enjoyed by BBS goons and others of their ilk in various pocket organisations would lead to frustration among Muslim youth who would rise up ousting their own mature leadership just like the rise of various militant groups among the Tamil youth in the 1980s. Unlike those days the external climate today is more volatile with the presence of numerous terrorist and fundamentalists outfits such as the ISIS, the Taleban etc. who are seeking to enter Sri Lanka given an opportunity. They have vast funds and state agencies far more widespread and powerful than those that supported the LTTE and similar outfits despite reservations. Also one should remember various intelligence agencies interested in spoiling the good relations Sri Lanka has with Palestine and Arab nations, could also intervene to make matters worse for us in their own national interests.

Muslim community

Solidarity actions by non-Muslim national communities, including the Sinhala community is an urgent and an imperative task at this moment. Political parties also should unitedly call for a stop to the criminal acts against the Muslim community and other minority religious groups. Unfortunately politicians on both sides of the divide seem reluctant to take up a united stand. Some JO politicians seem to act as God Fathers to the vandals involved in arson and other crimes. For example JO’s Mahindananda Aluthgamage has given his decision regarding an act of arson in Talawakele even before any official inquiry could conclude. Even his political boss acts in a similar manner.

Even half-hearted and belated actions against some criminals by the Government show a desire to be equidistant from both the victimized community and the perpetrators who victimize them. It need not do so. It must not equate an orchestrated, widespread and developing series of attacks against the Muslim community with any action by individuals resorting to reflex counter actions spontaneously without any external assistance. Thus to arrest and detain a single Muslim youth for a purportedly offensive message in cyberspace amidst inaction against the authors of hundreds of similar and far more offensive messages against Muslims and their religion betrays the true loyalties of the State or the law enforcing authorities.

(And this is happening in a country where a person who hacked the President’s website was not only released from custody but even rewarded by the President! Even the President’s alleged assailant was released with a public embrace!)

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