By Mass L. Usuf –
The motivation to write this column arises from the recent attacks damaging several statues of Buddha in the Mawanella area. Is this country ready for another streak of communal violence, death, destruction of properties and international opprobrium?
Just last week it was reported that the Prime Minister met foreign diplomats in Colombo seeking to revoke travel advisories. “Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has held discussions with heads of missions from EU countries to inform them that the country’s political situation was returning to normalcy. The meeting comes in the wake of travel advisories issued by several countries cautioning their citizens about visiting Sri Lanka following the outbreak of the recent political crisis.” (Colombo Telegraph, 23.12.2018). In the backdrop of this meeting visualise another ‘Aluthgama’ or ‘Digana’ triggered from what is considered a hotspot ‘Mawanella’.
It is a strange coincidence to note that yesterday (26/12/2018), Ash Sheikh A.C.M. Sadakathullah passed away. He was a victim of the Digana riots that took place in March 2018. The attack by the Sinhalese youth, on this innocent elderly person, who looks a grandfather to anyone was simply unimaginable. The bus in which he was travelling was stopped to identify any Muslims travelling in it. Since Mr. Sadakathullah was easily identified from his dress, he was reportedly dragged out of the bus and had been clubbed with iron bars by a gang of marauding youth. This had happened in Ambatenna while this elderly gentleman was returning from Akurana during the Digana riots.
He was critically injured as a result of being repeatedly hit on the head and was in hospital for almost eight months in a state of coma. He was in an immobile state due to the head injuries. After enduring several months of trauma, he succumbed to his injuries. His family has been facing untold hardship since they were financially underprivileged. He was the former Vice President of City Jammiyathul Ulama and Senior Aalim (Cleric). Sadakathullah Moulavi was former Teacher at St. Sylvester College and popularly known among all communities for his religious sermons in the Sinhala Language.
What is and what is not
The government’s investigative and intelligence arms are served by well experienced personnel. In the absence of political interference and peer pressure from within, these officers are capable of digging out the truth. What is a common refrain in the aftermath of these occurrences is the haste to condemn with hackneyed rhetoric. What is not done effectively is to get to the bottom of these plots. It is important to investigate into the driving force behind these dastardly acts, the tacticians if any, behind these attacks and the reason for such an exploit.
It is not rocket science to understand the objectives of this criminal act. Some of the familiar pointers are to instigate a riot between the Sinhalese and Muslims communities, to destabilise the country politically and economically or at least to create hatred between the Sinhalese and the Muslim societies. Considering all these three scenarios, what benefit can the Muslim community achieve from any of these? Logical and rational thinking dictates that there is absolutely nothing for the Muslims to gain by damaging buddha statues in some urban area of this country. Therefore, there is no sensible reason that Muslims would have planned and executed this attack. Yet, one may not rule out the remote possibility that it could have been planned by a Muslim or a group of Muslims. In this case, if the perpetrator is only an individual, he has to be subjected to mandatory psychiatric treatment.
Do Not Revile
If incontrovertible evidence points to a group of Muslims, this opens up another front for the investigators. They should expect to look at more complex scenarios namely, the possible involvement of foreign elements who may have used these persons offering them financial or other incentives or, the existence of some form of radicalisation. The latter is highly improbable because the Muslim community will never encourage such radicalism within. In fact, at the height of ISIS activities in the middle east, it was the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulema (ACJU) which was among the first to condemn the un-Islamic actions of the ISIS. The Muslim community was also put on alert at that time to ensure that our youth are not indoctrinated by the false ideologies of the ISIS. Community leaders and religious institutions were careful in protecting the Muslim youth from falling prey to those ISIS criminals who were masquerading under the banner of Islam.
Assuming that there is some form of radicalism, such people on no occasion will get the sympathy of the Muslim community. They will be subjected to severe censuring and, will undoubtedly, be condemned wholesale. The community’s wrath will befall on them not as a result of emotional or sentimental outpouring but, as a matter of religious principle. If they claim to have vandalised the statues for the sake of Islam, their claim will be considered only as heinous crime committed in the name of Islam. The Quran in no uncertain terms has stated as follows:
“And abuse (tasubbū) not those whom they worship apart from Allah, or they will abuse Allah in enmity without knowledge.” [Chapter 6 Verse 108]
The Arabic word, ‘tasubbū’ can mean to revile, to abuse, to insult, to condemn, to vilify or to defame. Any Muslim who abuses what others worship have violated this admonition given in the Quran by Allah Himself. No Muslim would want to associate himself with such violators of the Quranic injunctions. On the other hand, would expose them to the public and to the law.
Attack Buddhist Temples
What should not be ruled out is the possibility of false flag operation. Those who would seek greater benefit out of a riot situation or by destabilising the country are anyone other than the Muslims. I am reminded of an instance in June 2017, when several civil society organisations met with the Inspector General of Police. They wanted to express their deep concern on the increasing number of attacks on Muslims during that time.
It was around the same period that the arsonist who attacked a Muslim owned leather Store in Wijerama Junction, Maharagama on 22nd May 2017 had been arrested. The IGP, Mr. Pujith Jayasundara had said in this meeting that he was horrified at a confession made by this arsonist. The suspect had said that he planned to attack two Buddhist temples in order to trigger a backlash on the Muslim community. This gives an idea as to the extent of radicalisation of the Sinhalese youth through misinformation and misperception about another community. The Police investigations had established that he is a member of the Bodu Bala Sena organisation.
Media And Sick Mentality
Colm Campbell has proposed, after studying the empirical data and sequence of events during communal violence in (many countries) ….. , that communal violence typically follows when there is degradation of Rule of Law, the state fails to or is widely seen as unable to provide order, security and equal justice ……. Targeted mass violence by a few from one community against innocent members of other community, suppression of complaints, refusal to prosecute, …… , imprisonment of people of a single community while refusal to arrest members of other community in conflict, …. , are often the greatest mobilizers of communal violence. (Beyond Radicalization: Towards an Integrated Anti-Violence Rule of Law Strategy, Colm Campbell, 2011).
As per the Rule of Law, the Police must arrest the suspect for the crime they have committed and not on the basis of racial or religious identity. The media should take the responsibility to cast their news on the same basis and not to refer to race or religion of the suspect. The media which does so is only displaying its utter narrow-mindedness, racism and bigotry. There is then the sick mentality of attacking innocent people for the wrong of one or a few people belonging to a particular ethnic or religious community. This, attitude too, has to change. It is obvious that these are acts that cannot be condoned under any circumstances. There is simply no excuse for such barbarities. It is this state of mind that can be exploited by the unscrupulous, the conspirers, the schemers, who wish to destabilise this country, the communities and peaceful co-existence. The miscreants at the root can be local politicians, extremist groups, Sinhala Buddhist racists, foreign agents who make use of their local pawns, pay them and initiate such actions through which they want to destabilise Sri Lanka.