By Soraya M. Deen –
The recent spate of hate crimes and hate speech against Muslims in Sri Lanka is alarming. These acts of hate have targeted the entire community, devastated individuals, and above all ripped our countries process of reconciliation and co-existence, whilst threatening to undermine the most basic tenets of our democracy.
Mutating Muslim hate
One of the greatest and gravest tasks facing the Sri Lankan Muslim community today is to educate the public on the differences between hating a Muslim for an awful crime committed is not the same as hating people just because they are Muslims. Issue based hatred is not the same as blanket hatred towards a community irrespective of what they do or not do.
All Muslims have a crucial role to play in addressing this problem of mutating Muslim hate head on, whilst promoting a real and honest dialogue free of political correctness on the true nature of radical Islamists Jihadism.
The Bodhu Bala Sena Bodu Bala Sena, the Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist organization headed by Venerable Galagoda Atte Gnanasara has openly called for the discrimination and annihilation of Muslims and establishing a Buddhist only government and nation. The hate speech spewed by this group has escalated. As reprisal for the Eater Sunday bombings that killed more than 250 people Anti-Muslim violence with mobs vandalizing mosques, homes and businesses is on the rise, bringing the Sri Lankan Muslim communities to its knees.
The recent rally of the BBS in the city of Kandy, for the second time prompted worried Muslim traders to shut their establishments and a majority of Muslims chose to stay confined to their homes that day. Does the mere mention of the Bodu Bala Sena and the fiery monk Gnanasara send ripples of fear and uncertainty in you? Do you chose to close shop and stay home because law enforcement has failed you?
Hate is acceptable in Sri Lanka
Many politicians cry foul and condemn hate. They say hate is bad. But they fail to genuinely address hate and the root causes of it. This is not an oversight or an accident. It is because the most powerful forces, are those that are violating the rules. They have incredible power and influence. Not the ruling party, nor the opposition nor the other leaders will stand up to condemn that hate. There is no debate, there will never be. Let’s face that reality. Let’s know that it will only get worse.
It’s time for you to identify by name who these people are who are spreading and promoting the hate. Those who are staying idle. Your ability to build a coalition of people comprising other Sri Lankans from the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Christian communities will be critical to how successful you will be in agitating for action.
Build power, don’t learn to be helpless
I asked my relatives in Kandy, what they did when Gnanasara Thero was speaking just a mile away from them in Kandy on July 7th? They said, “Nothing, we can’t do anything now.”
I inquired, “Do you now 100 people in Kandy?” to which my cousin she replied, “Yes, of course.”
I asked her, “Why couldn’t a 100 of you have gathered, hired some private security, maybe informed the local police chief and shown up at the rally?” I continued in true Sinhala fashion, “You guys will wait quiet, in your beautiful homes, reading the Quran until Gnanasara and his monk brigade washed his hands on your heads.” (Oluwata atha hodanakang)
We seek to remain powerless, helpless and innocent. It is expedient because it puts us in no danger. Yes, you can get killed for speaking up. Yes you will be attacked and ridiculed if you say the wrong thing. Yes there are a myriad of reasons why we chose to remain silent.
But your silence today is a weakness. We cannot look at hatred and bigotry in a vacuum anymore. The escalation and the impact these crimes have on our daily lives are reminders that any type of hate and bias ultimately hurt us all. We don’t have to go too far, just read our recent history.
Power is the ability to act. The ability to assert oneself to exercise influence. Innocence on the other hand is the failure to understand and acknowledge the reality of this power.
The people missing to make this happen are the Muslims. Work on your ability to get more people on board. People who will be passionate about the issues that impact you. People who are passionate about social justice. People who are committed to the process of peace and reconciliation. Mobilize, hundreds and thousands of them.. Muslims. Tamils, Sinhalese, Christians, those aboard, those visiting, those foreigners – everyone. Begin the process of organizing people for action.
Live in community – You can’t do this alone. Listen, more than you chose to talk. Who are the people of influence in your community? What talents, gifts and abilities do they have? Focus on how you can leverage these gifts? Find out more about your community. What issues promote anger, frustration and concern? What values are being violated? What do you all have in common? Build consensus and solidarity around the issues that you hope to address.
Build power. Seek power and influence in the public arena. Understand how decisions are made and get engaged in the process. Position yourself as a force to be considered.
People need a plan, a purpose, a movement. Give them the tools to act. Too many people today are married to their smart phones and computers. Activism for some is confined to posting or forwarding a video or email via social media. We must commit to serious action.
As Gandhi would say, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.”
Hold our leaders accountable
Have you ever heard our political leaders say, “Lets join together to solve these national issues?” They will not. That is because their focus and goal is to get power for themselves.
Political leaders have failed and continue to fail in protecting the safety and rights of the Muslim population. Dr. King once said, “It is not the violence it is the silence that is deafening.”
It is this silence that is today an existential threat for Muslims. Some of our political leaders have become facilitators of this hatred. Some active and vocal, whilst some others passive and prodding.
Because of their failure to address this issue there is today an escalation, a provocation and a sense of normalcy in the hatred towards Muslims. Be very specific about who said what and who did not respond to the hate. Individually name the hater and the one who promotes it. Be specific and general. Hold them accountable, ask them what they hope to do about it. Write letters to the newspaper, hold a rally or march, organize a community awareness campaign, be active on social media, call your ministers and other community leaders, build solid partnerships with individuals and organizations who work on social justice issues. If you can’t run walk, if you can’t walk crawl, if you can’t crawl sit, for goodness sake do something.
Now is the time for you and the community and all of Sri Lanka to come together to prevent these incidents of hatred being legitimized by the silence of our elected leaders and from taking place in the first instance. Holding our leaders accountable is critical for us to prevent and prohibit such acts in the future.
The more you retreat, the more the haters will advance.
Look for the leaders who stand with you and support your aspirations. In a recent post the Minister of National Integration, Official Languages, Social Progress & Hindu Religious Affairs, Mr. Mano Ganesan stated, “The changes should come from within. Nobody outside Muslim community shall try pushing it. We will provide support through discussions. I am confident that soon Muslim moderates will take up the responsibility and provide leadership. Let us stand up as Sri Lankans.”
Stand up to the Islamists and the bigots
Jordon Peterson reminds us that, “In order to be able to think you must risk being offensive.”
Express your outrage on Islamists terror. It is not an attack on Islam or Muslims. We must continue to remind people that it’s inevitable that our words will offend some. Silence will better serve our personal interests and communities image, but what is required in these times is to honor our deepest values of truth and love for our country and faith.
Sri Lanka has been a country where Muslims had no restrictions in the expression and practice of our faith. That right and the freedom to practice that right was always protected. It is the political Islam preached under the guise of Dawah that began to pose problems even within the community. Led by zealous Moulavi’s and self-appointed Ulaimas, we began a movement preaching on how society must be governed. From halal bids to segregated Islamic schools, women’s attire and role in community, began the movement not compatible with Sri Lankan culture and the Sri Lankan Muslim history. It is quite evident that these theocratic moves were well funded and led by a certain group of people who envisaged a Caliphate and Islamic rule in Sri Lanka.
Until recently the Muslim communities have failed and been mostly silent in denouncing some of the roots of violent extremism. It is only our fearless voices that will enable our youth and the generations to come, to speak up against this distorted view of Islam presented by the Islamists that does not serve us anymore.
For far too long we have been wearing bubble wraps lest we offend. Let’s not forget that no matter who you talk to we will not find agreement on all ideas, particularly in religion. We will live with tension. We must talk about those thoughts that lead to tension. Unless we talk with each other, we will embolden the other to descend into tyranny.
According to Wikipedia, “Islamism is a concept whose meaning has been referred to as diverse forms of social and political activism advocating that public and political life should be guided by Islamic principles, or more specifically to movements which call for full implementation of sharia.”
The Islamists calls for a global caliphate is well known. Global Jihad is an old concept finding new roots in the modern world. Support for such calls from within Sri Lanka were not new. What is new is that the scale of violence we witnessed in the Ester Sunday Attacks of April 21st 2019 to meet those ends.
During a recent visit to London to present at the House of Commons, my views on Sharia courts and the need for One Law for All, I visited several mosques. After several conversations with leaders of mosques, I note with grave concern their chilling responses, that Islam is the best religion and must be the final solution to all of mankind.
It is this hypocrisy that infuriates me. Look out for this in your communities. Address it head on. Here were religious leaders who left their Muslim sharia law ruled countries, now living in the West, enjoying incredible freedoms and benefits, their children receiving well rounded education but dreaming of a Sharia state in the UK.
Islam desperately needs a revaluation and Sri Lankan Muslims must lead the way in openly calling for reform that is social and religious. We must candidly and honestly admit and acknowledge that some challenging verses in our scripture have given doctrinal legitimacy to violent extremism and our failure to recognize this fact and educate the community on the contextual realities has legitimized the violence. Our continued failure to do this will push us to the brink of – reform or face rejection.
For the vast majority of Muslims world over, the very idea of the dangers of Political Islam is well understood. The records of the fifteen (15) countries that implement a form of Sharia law, namely Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, certain regions in Indonesia, the Maldives, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen are self-evident.
Sharia might appeal to you because you are Muslim. But look at these countries that enforce sharia! Don’t be complacent about small scale Islamist activity – The “Halal” controversy must be well etched in our minds. The truth is that “Shariasm” has indeed hijacked Islam and we must be awoke. This is not entertainment. This is a crisis.
Today your identity centers on being a Muslim and not being Sri Lankan. Our nation is puzzled more by your withdrawal rather than the lack of your engagement. If we delay, deny or don’t take on our responsibilities to discuss these debilitating issues within our community, others will do it for us. The challenge is to find moderate voices and rally around secular liberal values and freedoms. Let’s stop defending Islamism. We must call for human rights, democratic secular values to be protected and promoted. If extreme nationalists get what they, want they will come faster at you.
The Janaposha Foundation – Unknown to many they have been feeding serving the poor and underprivileged meals to visitors to the country’s main general hospital since 2012. They are supposed to have fed over half a million people. Due to political pressure the organization stopped feeding the poor.
No matter what the hardship, I think that was a very short sighted course of action. Are we acquiescing our rights to citizenship to become mere subjects? No matter what you do, you will be tolerated by those who attack you and at the same time defended by those who protect you. Don’t give reason to be tolerated, give reason to be celebrated. The poor people you feed, need you. Always remember we the people are greater than our governments.
Step into your citizenship. Fly the Lankan national flag on your lawns, and mosques. The green color on the National flag a profoundly radical act of inclusion for that time, is a representation of Muslims in Sri Lanka, and that includes you.
Give your best to Lanka. Our good is sometimes not our best. Always remember, “Freedom is lost not because the oppressor has taken it away, it is lost because its defender is too weak.”
*Soraya M. Deen, is a lawyer, community organizer and an award winning international activist. She focuses on countering violent extremism by educating and empowering women to action. She is the founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement. Author of “101 Community Service Projects for Muslim Youth.” She is also the President and co-founder of the Interfaith Solidarity Network, one of the largest interfaith organizations in Los Angeles.