20 August, 2019

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Anti-Muslim Riots & The Second Security Failure

By Laksiri Fernando –

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Sri Lanka has encountered a second security failure by allowing the unruly violent mobs to attack Muslim mosques and ordinary Muslim citizens particularly in the North Western Province. This should have been an ‘anticipated backlash’ to the Easter Carnage inflicted by the IS terrorists three weeks before. However neither the law enforcement agencies nor the political authorities have taken necessary precautions in preventing such an eventuality. 

As a result, at least one person has been killed, over 20 others severely injured and many families have been displaced. The number of attacked and damaged mosques and houses/shops reported to be nearly 100. The most damaged undoubtedly is the country’s image; and the inter-religious and inter-ethnic relations/harmony of the society.     

It appears that still there is no proper coordination between the political authorities and the law enforcement agencies. This is apart from the apparent lack of coordination between various security and law enforcement agencies themselves – the CID, police, armed forces etc. 

From First to the Second 

It is just within three weeks that the second security failure has taken place. 

The first security failure was most horrendous when nine suicide bombers of extremist Islamic organizations in the country (National Thowheeth Jamath or NTJ etc.), supported and instigated by the Islamic State (IS) and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, were easily allowed to attack three Christian Churches and three Tourist Hotels on the Easter Sunday (4/21), irrespective of relevant authorities having all necessary information. 

That was an unprovoked terrorist attack without recent connected incidents. 

Neglect of security of the ordinary citizens’ does appear to be the main cause for that security failure. Otherwise, the police had made all necessary arrangements to safeguard the security of all political VIPs from the government to the opposition. 

Three weeks ago the main targets were the Christian Churches and their congregations. As a result, 258 persons were killed and nearly 500 of innocent people were injured. Out of the dead, there were 41 foreign tourists. It appears that the Christian Churches were particularly targeted on the instructions from the leaders of the Islamic State (IS), as part of their counter offensive to the real or imagined ‘Crusaders.’ 

The general failure of security and defence’ of course was another underlying reason as revealed by the failure of the police or the defence authorities to take appropriate action to protect or warn the Tourist Hotels about the terrorist threat. This is irrespective of the primary importance of tourism to the economy of the country. Even without the help of the police the hotels could have thwarted the terrorist attacks or protected their guests, if they were informed. 

There are questions whether particularly the general failure of security had emerged as a result of too much of liberalization in the country. The general atmosphere of this neoliberalism undoubtedly allowed the security personnel and the police to relax and consider everything hunky-dory. Then there were other concerns that if they had acted against people of a particular community, whether that could go against them politically under the present government. 

However, what links the first failure to the second fiasco probably is the general degeneration of security arrangements in the country, the prevalent prejudices among particularly the police against minority communities, and still lack of coordination between the police and the military even under the present emergency regulations. 

Delay in Taking Action  

The initial incident this time in Chilaw on 12 May (Sunday morning) was good enough for the police and the security agencies to take firm action, if they wanted, in preventing what happened thereafter in the whole area and beyond in the North Western (Wayamba) Province, by Monday (13 May). 

That Sunday was undoubtedly a reminder of what happened especially in Negombo three weeks before on the Easter Sunday. Communities in Negombo and Chilaw are largely connected through religion and family affiliations. The trigger was a Facebook post by a Muslim businessman in Chilaw saying “1 day u will cry,” against a posting by a Sinhala businessman, apparently criticising the Muslim community. 

This was taken as a threat by the Sinhala businessman and along with others, the Muslim business premises was surrounded violently. The police did intervene. But the intervention undoubtedly was not even. The Muslim businessman was arrested although the posting was a minor threat. Both of the culprits to the Facebook confrontation should have been arrested. But that was not the case for obvious police biases or fear of political victimization. 

A police curfew was declared in the Chilaw municipal area immediately in the afternoon which was lifted the following morning. It is alleged that it was during the curfew hours that a mosque and some shops were attacked in the Chilaw town. 

 

Considering the possible eruption of violence in potential other areas like Kurunegala, the curfew should have been imposed in those areas as well. Immediately after the Chilaw incidents, there had been clear movements and rallying of gangs in the Kurunegala town in motor bikes and vans. The army should have been deployed immediately without the incompetent and largely biased police trying to handle the situation themselves.

The Failures  

When curfew was imposed in Kurunegala and five other police areas, it was almost Monday morning. It is alleged that it was during the curfew hours again that most of the mosques and Muslim houses in Kuliyapitiya, Bingiriya, Hettipola and Dummalasuriya were attacked and damaged. Apparently the security was tight in the Kurunegala town, but not in the localities.  

When three suspects who were involved or planning attacks were arrested in Kurunegala on Sunday afternoon, the police had come under immense pressure. It is not clear how far those were political. However the culprits were released giving some ease for those who were further intending trouble making and hate attacks. That is what actually happened on Monday. 

A single day security lapses are good enough for the organized extremists to overturn a situation in a country. This is also what exactly happened on the Easter Sunday.    

It was only by Monday evening that island wide curfew was declared and the army was effectively brought into curtail the situation. The island wide curfew was imposed again on Tuesday night and hopefully the situation is now under control. There is evidence however that the army, like the police, also were lenient on the mobs, if not supporting them. 

It is reported that 74 culprits have now been arrested including the leader of the Maha Sohon Balakaya (Great Vampire Brigade), Amith Weerasinghe, and the leader of the Sinhale Api (We of the Sinhala Land), Dan Priyasad. These organizations should have been banned a long time ago. Those Sinhala extremist organizations were involved in previous attacks against the Muslim community although the present attacks can primarily be by the local extremists. 

It is also unfortunate that the government took over three weeks to ban those terror related extremist Islamic organizations who were responsible for the Easter Carnage. The relevant gazette was issued only day before (13 May). Of course there are certain procedures to follow, but the steps should have been quicker. These are some reasons why the people were restless and angry, allowing the extremists to capitalize.  

Conclusion   

Even if the initial Chilaw incidents were unavoidable, there was no room for the escalation of such events in other areas, if proper security measures were taken promptly. The army should have been called into service immediately. There can be risks if the army is involved continuously, but in my opinion these risks are minimal compared to what can happen without their intervention and the country going into continuous violence and chaos.  

The reported incident/s (Colombo Telegraph) of at least one or two army personnel (or a contingent) assisting the mobs in Thummodera should be fully investigated and otherwise the projected credibility of the present Army Commander would be diminished/destroyed.     

Ensuring ‘security of civilians’ and the ‘enforcement of law and order’ should be blindfolded irrespective of religion, ethnicity, class, political affiliation or any other distinction. This should be our future goal in recruiting and training of the police and army personnel.  

Apart from what I have said about (1) the degeneration of security arrangements under neo-liberalization, (2) the apparent prejudices among the police/army officers against the minority (Tamil, Muslim and Christian) communities, and (3) the general failure of security coordination between the political authorities and the security authorities, there are various other political interpretations given to the events and lapses. Those are not discussed here. 

Most alarming however are the accusations and counter-accusations traded against each other by the government and the opposition politicians. Apart from the said accusations, what appears alarming are the unbridled emotions, sensationalism, prejudices, reliance on rumours and expressed hatred. It is apparent that there is something fundamentally wrong with the political culture and psyche of the people and the politicians alike in the country. 

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Latest comments

  • 5
    0

    Once again this second failure is down to the politicians. In 1958 when the Governor General, Sir Oliver Goonatilake was told that people were rioting he had a simple solution, he said “Sh sh sh shoot them”. So they did.
    (OEG had a stammer)

    • 6
      5

      Prof Laksiri, this is not a security failure by ignorance, but by intention. Top Sinhala politicians in government and opposition and top security officials knew about it, but all wanted it to happen for various selfish reasons. It is now being revealed that in 2007 LTTE warned the government of Pakistani intelligence infiltration in eastern province fomenting hatred between Muslims and Tamils. Successive governments armed Muslims to kill and drive off Tamils, but did not take the arms back after war ended. This is because they wanted the Muslims to continue to harass Tamils in eastern province. After the war Mahinda government through defence ministry gave funds to Muslim extremist organisations to create trouble to Tamils, and the present government turned a blind eye to it. In addition they allowed Muslims to appropriate lands of Tamils in east and border areas of north. As long as Muslim terror is confined to north and east they were happy. Even this bombing was supposed to be in tourist hotels and churches in east where Foreigners and Tamils will be killed. This is the reason why none of them took any action to stop it. It is only when the terrorists targeted south killing Sinhalese civilians and three policemen, that the government and the opposition woke up. (Contd)

    • 6
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      (Contd) Similarly, Sinhala extremist groups were funded from defence ministry during Mahinda’s time to create trouble to Muslims. Even this government did not take any measures to curb them. Unfortunately Sinhala politicians on both sides and probably some officials and security personnel have been given big sums of money by the Muslim extremists. There was information that arms were being smuggled through Mannar – Puttalam jungles, and recent discovery of training ground in Vannathivillu proves it correct. Both Government and opposition are trying to cover up Muslim terrorism by arresting a few saying that only a few are involved. There is information that several Muslim politicians, businessmen and professionals are involved. Buddhist priest in Batticaloa has said that he has the names of Judges and officials who are with Islamic terror groups. When there is incriminating evidence against Hisbullah and Badurdeen whey are they not taken for questioning. People are not going to swallow the propaganda that all terrorists have been apprehended. So do not come out with this crap about security failure.

    • 0
      0

      Laksiri does not see the wood for the trees
      If someone can’t see the wood for the trees, they are so involved in the details of something that they do not understand or pay attention to the most important parts of it. He often helped those who could not see the wood for thetrees reach the correct decision. A picture is emerging of an agency that can’t see the forest for the trees.

      Island GAMINI GUNAWARDANE May 13, 2019, 8:22 pm
      Who co-ordinates operations today?
      Recall the ’71 JVP uprising

  • 10
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    Everyone knows that the SLFP is behind this while the boss is in China . This is systematically
    planned in the name of Buddhism . I hope someone like Sarath Fonseka take over with the army if the politicians are incapable of running the country ,before it becomes a Syria. Ranil has no power ,his hands are tied. who is in charge of Defense and law and order is answerable.

  • 5
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    Discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, language or religion bust be made a criminal offence as in western democracies. People in power use ethnic differences to win elections and the custodians of law and order are groomed in practicing discrimination.

    All Sri Lankans must be treated equal in the country. If you treat a person superior just because he practices a particular religion or belongs to an ethnic origin others feel alienated or discriminated. Ill treatment breeds hate and animosity.

    Divide and rule has failed under British, no reason it will succeed under the natives. Political leaders must stop rewarding politicians or religious leaders who make inflammatory speeches against other ethnicity or religion.

  • 3
    0

    Laksiri Fernando: where are you writing from, Australia. If you can not decide, Sri Lankan HUMAN RIGHTS director DEEPIKA UDUGAMA says she visited one of those areas and another commissioner visited another affected areas and they both Talked people. It looks it is pre planned. I am pretty sure, some one was protested and used the opportunity that the president is away. They think the attack is political and to gain the political mileage. I heard goons saying they were supposed to be paid by some one. There may be some political set up.

  • 2
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    Neither the law enforcement agencies nor the political authorities have taken necessary precautions in preventing such an eventuality. – What a surprise!
    .
    … … the inter-religious and inter-ethnic relations/harmony of the society. ? ? ?. Which Government of SL last worried about such niceties!
    .

  • 2
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    Laksiri, as some of the people commented hear this is not ignorance , not even negligence , it is intentional. But THANK YOU for trying addressing the real issues. Please send a copy of this to one Rajeewa, who is only one, came up with an article blaming the Muslim community for the Easter tragedy. His intentions were to see this happening .

  • 2
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    The latest attack on ordinary Muslims happened in the Kurunagala which is represented by former President and current opposition leader. He should take responsibilty for this violence and he should tell is what action should be taken against those who attacked Muslims.Will he do that?

  • 1
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    Sorry for reproducing a big paragraph from Prof Laksiri Fernando’s article.
    Laksiri shows his bias in saying {“…..The first security failure was most horrendous when nine suicide bombers of extremist Islamic organizations in the country (National Thowheeth Jamath or NTJ etc.), supported and instigated by the Islamic State (IS) and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, were easily allowed to attack three Christian Churches and three Tourist Hotels on the Easter Sunday (4/21), irrespective of relevant authorities having all necessary information…….”}
    Note the words ‘…having all necessary information…’. Indications are MR & GR did.
    The words imply that MS & RW deliberately allowed the ‘tragedy’ that was the 2019 Lankan Easter Sunday.
    This blame game circulated but none as direct as this by Laksiri.
    .
    Laksiri continues {“….That was an unprovoked terrorist attack without recent connected incidents…”}
    Laksiri shows his extreme bias here.
    Surely Laksiri could not have missed on the activities of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS). Formed in 2012, BBS made its mark by setting fire to marked Muslim owned businesses.
    MR saw the potential and provided protection. GR patronised BBS.
    The leader of BBS, Gnanasara Thero on the run, was shielded by Ministers of the time.
    Would the hero status, the impunity accorded to Gnanasara and the deliberate cavalier attitude of leaders caused Muslim unease?
    The hand of BBS was visible in the anti-Muslim 2014 Aluthgama Pogrom. The Police looked on as busloads of goons arrived.
    .
    To cut a long story short Laksiri: The BBS is a terrorist organisation. They will harm the good name of the country and Lankan Buddhism.
    Extremism breeds extremism.

  • 0
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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 1
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    The IS has besides its own agenda, the agenda of interested parties for which it is well rewarded. This is true of every global extremist group.
    The IS has not attacked Roman Catholics elsewhere before. What is special about Sri Lankan RCs?
    *
    The first was a security failure, whether by conspiracy is yet to be known.
    The public should be told exactly what Indian intelligence reported and to whom.
    *
    The second seems far less a failure, after what the CT videos have revealed.

  • 0
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    Uvindu-EDITOR CT
    This is the 3rd time I am posting this link, for the CT readers and Laksiri to learn what a bit of “Political Science” shall be. Could you please explain why you didn’t publish the link
    Island GAMINI GUNAWARDANE May 13, 2019, 8:22 pm
    Who co-ordinates operations today?
    Recall the ’71 JVP uprising
    http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=204176

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