By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
Though not all the Muslims are perpetrators of violence it is the violence of the few that stain the image of the many. Besides, the experience of Iliyas is only a temporary phase. It takes time to heal. The Sinhalese and the Muslim have come a long way from the riots of 1915 which was an early attempt of the Muslims to impose their will on the majority. When the Muslims tried to deny the Sinhala-Buddhists their historic right to sound their traditional drums as they passed a latter day mosque the reaction was instantaneous. It was a case of the new comers, fostered and protected by the Sinhala majority, trying to rewrite history according to their aggressive and arrogant political agenda. The Sinhalese who saved the Muslims from the persecution of the Portuguese and the Dutch were now faced with the Muslims denying the very rights and freedoms given to them by the Sinhalese.
The 1915 riots was the first inter-ethnic violence that provided ample lessons for the preservation of peaceful co-existence among inter-religious communities. It proved that minorities attempting to rewrite history with the sole intention of imposing their will as the new political order of the day is fraught with inevitable conflicts.
Empirical evidence point clearly to the disastrous consequences of militant minorities rushing to change through violence the established norms necessary for peaceful co-existence. Armed with their latest political agendas minorities rush to confront the majorities with guns. They fancy that they can unleash the necessary power from their light-weight kalashnikovs to impose their will on the majority. But modern Sri Lankan history has debunked this Maosian dictum. The available evidence reveals that minorities had miscalculated and over rated their power to impose their will over the majority.
The minorities who resort to violence do so at their own risk. The instinctive reaction of all majority communities will be to make the minorities pay the price for resorting to violence and threaten their way of life. The main ideological defence of minorities is based on their claim that they have been victims of the majority. Assuming that this is valid, does this give them the right to produce victims far greater than the violence of the majority? Do victims in minority communities have special rights to outdo the victims of the majority? Victimology has its limits. It is not the exclusive privilege of the minority. Besides, minorities lose their validity of being victims when they begin to victimise others on a scale greater than that of the majority.. For instance, the violence of the Tamil and Muslim terrorists has been quite to the wall? In the classic moral tale dramatised in the Baghavad Gita the answer to deal with evil facing mankind is to “DO YOUR DUTY”. Can retreating from the battlefield on moral grounds put an end to evil? Was the moral answer to Hitler to let him win?
Besides, in a democratic society which is amenable to change, however tardy it may be, there is no legitimacy for any group to take up arms. Violence for change has degree of legitimacy in a dictatorship that is not open to change. But not in a democracy which has a credible record of flexibility. Above all, the increasing power of weapons of mass destruction and the possibility of those weapons falling into the hands of maniacs makes political violence absolutely prohibitive.
The Muslim leadership, very much like the Tamil leadership, was hoping to ride on the backs of their violent youth to consolidate their political base and dictate terms to the majority. This was clearly demonstrated by Asath Sally, the former governor of the Western Province. He came on TV and quite arrogantly, threatened the majority with the 30% electoral power of the minorities. In other words, the Muslim leadership is openly threatening the majority with consequences if the latter does not give into the minority demands. He is expressing his threat on a psephological plane. It doesn’t take long for the youth to translate it into brutal violence. Both are two sides of the same coin.
The Tamil leadership, for instance, argued that parliamentary politics failed to grant them their right to self-determination which meant many things to many Tamils, including separatism, So they urged the Tamil youth to take up arms in the Vadukoddai Resolution of 1976. Ideologies that threaten peace co-existence provide the necessary oxygen to activate impatient and militant youth. Minority leaders in the mainstream cannot claim to be moderates when their ideologies drive their followers to extremes. Their roles of playing Dr. Jekyll overtly in the mainstream and simultaneously the role of provocateurs of violence (the Hydes) to promote their political agendas boomeranged on the Tamil leadership. The consequences were two-fold: 1. In the first place, this covertly turned them into hypocritical fathers digging in advance the graves of their sons and daughters. 2. The youth who were asked to take up arms did not hesitate to turn the guns first on the fathers who launched Vadukoddai violence. Besides, the provocative agendas of minority leaders, moving aggressively to break through established boundaries into the territory of the majority, cannot expect their counterparts to sit back and lay down welcome carpets. Aggressive agendas of minority leaders have invariably become invitations for the majority leaders to respond with the similar agendas of extremism.
A common tactic of minority leaders to beef up their identity politics is to manufacture new histories to justify their antiquity and, therefore, legitimacy to territories that belonged to the pioneering settlers who made this island a land fit for all dwellers. The extremism of the majority has been a reaction to the extremism of the minority.
It is the provocative minoritarianism targeting the majority aggressively that produces Bodu Bala Senas to rise and react with equal vehemence. Prabhakaran came out of the political satyagras launched by “Gandhians” like SJV Chelvanayakam. If the NGOs and other rights activists think that the majority must lie low and cow down to the arrogance of aggressive minorities then they must think again. It is against human nature and the ground realities of any established polity. In other words, they are doctoring their theses to legitimise minority extremism while denying the same right to the majority. The acceptable norm is to give equal rights for tribalism on both sides or deny tribalism to both sides.
The assumptions of the Muslim leaders of their power to dictate terms and conditions to the nation as a whole confirm that the Muslims have not yet learned the lessons of the recent events. A good example is the story of Iliyas. While the Muslim leaders are boasting about their power the Iliyas’s in the Muslim community have to face the consequences of their aggressive politics. The consensual opinion agrees that the need of the hour is reconciliation. How far can Azath Salley’s arrogance and threats go to reconcile the divided communities? How far can it go to ease the confrontational tensions facing the Muslim community? Isn’t he fuelling the fires of communal bigotry? Isn’t he putting the lives of Ilyas’s at risk?
To dismiss the Sinhala reaction to this Muslim arrogance as some sort of evil majoritarianism is to bury the heads in the sand. The minority cannot hold a gun to the head of the majority and expect them to surrender. The minorities that take up the gun must be prepared to accept the consequences of the other side taking up their guns. They must play by the rules and cannot hide behind human rights as if they were established for their protection.
Majoritarianism and minoritarianism both have limits. The Tamil minority fought a 33-year-old war (from the declaration of war in the Vadukoddai Resolution May 1976 to May 2009 in Nandikadal) on a hastily manufactured and distorted narrative of their own. When things went wrong they took refuge under human rights as if those rules were made only for them. They refused to take responsibility for the violence launched officially by the Tamil leadership which declared war in the Vadukoddai Resolution. They threw all their best resources – both international and national – into their wars and, in the end they sank in the waters of Nandikadal. Not all the rights in the UN charter could save them.
This questions the validity of Muslim arrogance challenging the majority. What chances have the Muslims to go from Kathankuddy to their elusive Islamic caliphate in Sri Lanka? This also leads another serious issue: If they follow the line of Vadukoddai violence what kind of human rights can justify their Jihadist massacres?
The Arabification of the East may give rise to some vague hopes of an Islamic caliphate. But the stories of Ilyas and Sally point directly to the inevitable consequences of misled minorities rising up against the majority. It is the Iliyases on the ground who will have to face reactions to follies of their leaders. Iliyas had done nothing to deserve the reaction of the Sinhala-Buddhists. The leaders who misled their people into futile violence should take full responsibility. They offer false hopes to their people which end in disastrous consequences to their own people surrounded by the Sinhala majority.
Hisbullah is another example. He boasted that in the event of a threat to the Muslims the Arab nations will rush to their aid. The record, however, tells a different story. The Palestinians have been waiting for a saviour from the Arab world ever since Israel became a state in 1948. In Kashmir even the constitutional safeguards granted to the Muslims have been removed and Kashmir is now a part of India. In Myanmar and Thailand Muslims are running for cover. How many Arab nations would come to save Hisbullah and his political mates like Zaharans?
He has also forgotten that the Tamils had the Western world behind them. In fact, David Milliband, the British Foreign Minister, and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, rushed in to save Prabhakaran. The Tamils had the Western media, the NGOs and the bulk of the Tamil diaspora were behind them. But Tamil violence failed. The over-determining forces of the state prevailed. Besides, in the current political climate Muslim violence has the least of chance of gaining international acceptance. It is clear that the Tamil and Muslim political violence has not brought them their desired goals. It has only brought misery to their people and the rest of the nation.
The story of Iliyas and Asath Sally is a global phenomenon. Their stories go to the heart of the global crisis caused by majority-minority conflicts. Right across the globe the majority is reacting at various levels to the minorities aggressively attempting to redefine the new parameters of traditional borders and established ways of life. Militant minorities rushing with guns and bombs into places where angels fear to tread devalue their right to claim protection of human rights when they decide to push the majority to bow down to their will through violence.
Besides, the minorities are now banking on external forces to train, arm and finance their terror. At the drop of a fez they rush to foreign embassies to mobilise international pressure against the majority. The Sri Lankan experience confirms that the international community is complicit in the violence unleashed by the minorities. Nevertheless, the international moralists invariably rush to justify the violence of the minorities knowing that their guns do not throw roses at the feet of the majority. International forces are behind them providing the necessary wherewithal to kill the majority. This makes them complicit partners in the war crimes committed by the minorities. They have no moral right to go to Geneva and pass resolutions against the majority when their policies and programmes had trained, financed, directed and encouraged violence against the majority.
Current thinking is focused seriously on seeking solutions to prevent violent explosions that come out of the majority-minority tensions. The Right-Left ideological battles of the Cold War have been replaced by the dominant issue of majority-minority conflicts. From Donald Trump to Narendra Modi, from Norwegian or Australian White supremacists to Prabhakaran and Zahran the critical issue comes down to peaceful coexistence of minorities within a majority community.
There is an urgent need for human rights activists to redefine and restructure majority-minority relations to stabilize future peaceful co-existence on national, regional and global scales. The mass populist movement sweeping the landscape from east to west is a natural response to aggressive minorities threatening the majorities. Ven. Athureliya Rathana Thero and Bodu Bala Sena are the local manifestations of this global phenomena. Blaming the Sinhala Buddhists is not going to solve the problem. Ethirajan and the hired moralists have taken the easy way out by regurgitating the usual stereotypes. The international moralists must stop pinching the minority babies and rocking the cradle of human rights. The new morality must restrain minority violence aiming to impose their will at any cost. Justifying violence of a minority in a democracy, whatever the cause, loses its moral power to condemn the violence of the other side.