22 May, 2019

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Bombings Place Our Democracy Under Duress & Strain Our Commitment To Rights

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Violence is designed to challenge our democratic values, which were formed and endorsed in saner times. When bombs are set off they bring out some of our natural instincts for safety and, in the process, weaken our conneions to our values and erode our freedoms. When we allow that to happen, we become like the bombers who then win.

The picture here states that customers in burqa have no entry to the grocery shop. It challenges the freedoms our citizens enjoy to choose their dress, as we interpret their religion for them, telling them (as some of us are doing) that Islam does not demand full-body covering. In the end, the erosion of Muslims’ fundamental rights will be an erosion of our own as we get used to this erosion.

To get terminology right, the burqa is a full-body covering that includes a mesh over the face. The niqab is a full-face veil that leaves an opening only for the eyes. The hijab covers the hair and neck but not the face. The chador covers the body but not the face. 

Arguments are advanced that we may impose these restrictions in a time of national crisis. No! The Right to Religion, in a decent society, is always non-derogable. 

Religious Symbols in Public 

Wearing the burqa is, in a way, announcing your religion. Prohibiting it can make those in minority in that setting feel alone. There has been much legal opinion on this. Taking from my book Ethics for Professionals (Cognella Press, San Diego, CA, 2018):

1. Christian women wearing the crucifix at work:  Nadia Eweida in the UK was asked in 2006 to remove or cover a Christian symbol, a crucifix, from her neck and when she refused she was put on leave without pay. She lost in the British courts but prevailed in the European Court of Human Rights in 2013. The ruling said everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and in public or private, to manifest ones religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. That distinguished court ruled that she suffered discrimination at work over her Christian beliefs.

 2. The Sikhs’ Kesh (uncut hair) and the Kirpan (knife). Sikhism requires among other things the Kesh and the Kirpan to be considered a Sikh.  Although the turban is not explicitly specified it goes as an accoutrement of the uncut hair. Exemption from uniforms with the Buckingham Palace Guard allows the turban. To date, the Sikhs have no dispensation from carrying their knives, such as when boarding aircraft and must check them in for the hold with their luggage. A 2014 Ontario, Canada law refused exemptions from a crash-helmet law to Canadians, ruling  that Ontario’s law does not infringe on the “Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Ontario Human Rights Code.” However, Alberta, Canada exempts Sikhs from wearing a crash helmet. 

3. Muslim clothing: The US on this front is advancing in strides with a June 2015 Supreme Court ruling that Abercombie & Fitch could be “sued for discrimination for not hiring a woman because she wore a hijab that went against its ‘look policy’.” The court declared, “Religious practice is one of the protected characteristics that cannot be accorded disparate treatment and must be accommodated.” This ‘look policy’ banned caps and black clothing. The litigant Samantha Elauf’s dress for the interview in 2008 – a T-shirt and jeans was all right but her headscarf as a Muslim woman was deemed not to fit the policy, which does not allow caps, terming them ‘too informal for the image we project.’ 

Thus, bans are allowed only on grounds of safety and must be necessary for public safety. And they need laws to back the bans. Have we reached that point to ban Muslim clothing and hurt their sensibilities? I think not.

GA Colombo and the Election Commission

 These religious restrictions on women are no longer by odd fellows playing the hero to save their race and country. A law on the ban is in the works in Parliament. Even before that GA and District Secretary for Colombo, Mr. Sunil Kannangara, has jumped the gun and entered the debate, issuing a notice that women wearing a face covering are prohibited entry to the Colombo District Secretariat. What Mr. Kannangara has banned is the burqa and the niqab. Sensible provisions have not been made, as in civilised airports, to have a woman official take a look at the face of women donning religious face-coverings.

GA Colombo, by virtue of his office, is usually the Chief Returning Officer put in charge by the Election Commission (EC). His actions reflect on us. Worse, the EC has some 24 district offices and the Colombo District Office building was recently shifted in part from Rajagiriya to the District Secretariat. In effect, the ban applies to the EC Offices when the EC’s object is to spread and uphold the values of democracy. Now a Colombo Muslim woman in burqa cannot come to us to sort out issues with her voting rights. 

The spillover to Sri Lankan democracy is clear. The EC has been pro-democracy. A young executive who comes to work in a hijab was absolutely fearful of coming to work, given what is going on in Colombo. The EC gave her special leave. That is what we were.

And now? Many officials under us want the ban at every Election Office. They say they are fearful that a woman coming in burqa or niqab might be having a bomb. Metal detecting machines are sold out and not quickly available, I argued for closing the offices till sanity returns but was warned that we may be surcharged for the salaries. I am not convinced, because then we should also be surcharged for giving special leave to that young woman discouraged from expressing her religion. And how does looking at a woman’s face prevent a bomb under her clothes? Are we to ban ministers from EC offices because a bomb might be hidden under their sarong?

I have argued that it is a violation of such a woman’s religious right and we cannot comply with the GA’s ban. We are an independent Commission and cannot be subject to the vagaries of GA/Colombo. 

The French Example

It was argued at the EC that France is a democratic country and, if it is OK for France to ban the burqa, it should be OK for us. But it is well to recall that a survey published by France’s Le Figaro last October, found 33 percent of French citizens wanting a greater role in French politics for far-right leader Marine Le Pen, matching former Prime Minister Francois Fillon and IMF Director Christine Lagarde, while President Francois Hollande, got a mere 23 percent. 

Europe is being inundated with racism as people of colour, especially from Turkey soon, move in through previous liberal policies, leading in part to Brexit. As right-wingers gain in popularity, moderates in a gross error of judgment adopt misbegotten racist policies. This is what we see in Sri Lanka. Other countries’ racism is never our example to emulate.

France is a particularly bad example to follow at this point. A 2004 law in France bans the wearing or displaying of overt religious symbols in schools, including the wearing of headscarves by schoolgirls, while the French Council of State that advises the government warned that the ban could be incompatible with international human rights laws and the country’s own constitution. The crucifix case from Britain proves the point. We surely do not want to traverse that path, but are inexorably being pushed in that direction by the bombings. Will we ban scarves too as France has?

The EC’s Jaffna Office is in the Jaffna Kachcheri but I think GA/Jaffna has a rational head on his shoulders forged by his war-time experience as a Tamil. Tamils will not forget – must not forget – how during the war we were ordered out of Colombo by a madman for similarly flimsy reasons as the burqa ban on security grounds and only the courts saved us. Then there are other EC District Offices in separate buildings. For now, we have decided to go on as we are till 3 May when the third member of the EC returns after his study tour of Indian elections when we will have a proper quorum for an EC meeting. In the meantime, the Colombo Kachcheri will compromise our image and even our status as an independent Commission having to follow a Government Agent.

In the meantime, we must be strong – strong not to beat up people under suspicion but to fight our own devils in our heads, to not allow the bombers to win by transforming us into monsters like them, trampling on other people’s rights.

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Latest comments

  • 21
    3

    I’ve agreed with a lot of what you’ve said in the past, but at this point I have to ask, are you being wilfully dense, or are you just unable, like our politicians, to see the deeper meaning here?

    The burqa isn’t worn by moderate Muslims. It’s an instant sign of a hardcore conservative Muslim, the type that usually come from the East and are brought up under a far less tolerant model of Islam than the rest of the country is home to. You’ve been right on a lot of occasions before, but you’re dead wrong on this one. There is no excuse to enable extremism and radicalisation in this country. There’s 360 grieving families out there- I’d like to see you go tell them how their loved ones are worth less than a bunch of extremists being allowed their democratic ‘freedoms’. I have a feeling they’re going to be a lot more vocal in declaring you a lunatic than some guy on the internet.

  • 12
    4

    Burqa or anything that covers a human face has to be banned – there is no argument in that. Having said that, the notice that says “Burkawa galawa ethulwanna” board is going to be there until another shop hangs a board says “Burqas Allowed Here”. That is the sort of responsibility towards national security, we, the poor Lankans have.
    .
    Whatever it is, a govt should see and weigh the negative and positive sides of allowing it and not allowing it.
    .
    Did a Burqa wearing woman massacred about 800 Police officers in the Eastern province on behalf of LTTE?
    .
    Did a Burqa wearing woman massacred more than 200 in Mulathivu Camp in 1996 on behalf of LTTE?
    .
    Did a Burqa wearing woman massacred more than 150 worshipers Kattankudy mosque?
    .
    Did a Burqa wearing woman carry out Anuradhapura massacre that killed nearly 150 on behalf of LTTE?
    .
    Did a Burqa wearing woman carry out Habarana bus massacre, Central Bus Station Bombing, Palliyagodella massacre, Central Bank bombing, Dehiwala train bombing, Air Lanka Flight 512 attack, Havelock Road bombing etc, etc and etc?
    .
    What Muslim extremist baaastards did was inhuman, cowardice act on Sunday, no one can or should not deny that. But we should get rid of these elements without compromising our civic and democratic values that make us stand tall among most of other democracies.

    • 7
      0

      Well said. It has to be banned. Christian’s and Hindus never demonstrate their respective religious symbols of attract the society. This stupid Muslims is everywhere and nowhere to showings their Arabic identity. Should eradicate Islam extremism from our beloved mother LANKA.

  • 7
    0

    Come down to earth mate, from being a “high flying” luminary of sorts.

  • 7
    0

    Mr Hoole, is the right to wear attire that covers the ability to identify a person more important than a person’s right to live? With the threats that are faced globally, most nations are looking for means of securing their citizen lives- placing CCTV cameras and other electronic surveillance systems in place. So we can either have the freedom to wear what we like / our customs dictate or have complex surveillance systems placed at tax payers expense. In Sri Lanka’s case they cannot afford any complex surveillance system as the treasury was robbed / Bond scam!!!

  • 2
    2

    What makes you think that there is democracy in Sri Lanka? Bensen

  • 1
    2

    How NIEVE & Irresponsible are all of you –Yes it is a Tragedy of Epic Proportions…but now looks what is happening Islamophobia-Headscarf phobia hardly CT Should be talking writing about…..

    what about human rights—People are & will be arrested will be held without trial OR Evidence….these are not rules for CIVILIZED Society these are for BARBARIANS in the Stone age…yeah you will probably would say ” If you have done nothing wrong You got nothing to worry…..REALLY Thanks to bombing Die hard SL military morons who only have done schooling to 8th grade….now been given EXECUTIVE powers [ SHOOT-KILL] there is no need for Evidence Credible suspicion more than enough and SL military will not be held ACCOUNTABLE by Courts and Judiciary….

    CT what don’t you concentrate your Effort on this Issue..

  • 8
    0

    The Authour says, ‘ She lost in the British courts but prevailed in the European Court of Human Rights in 2013. The ruling said everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and in public or private, to manifest ones religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance’. Is he aware that if a Muslim tries to leave the fold of Islam what is in store for him? This is the only Religion, Islam that has a tyrannical hold on it’s followers tat does not permit for one to believe or not believe. They are virtually held by force, whereas all other Religions have the freedom to select. It is said in Rome do as the Romans do. Call it Burqa, Niqab or sack, this form of dresses to differentiate should not be permitted outside their country of origin where it is worn by the majority. When there are designed uniforms for school children, the Muslims take exemptions to wear their own styles. This madness should stop forthwith. Be one of us, if not go back to where you are free to wear as you like. Are the Virgins on offer 70 in number for one male, also in Burqa? A set of bloody idiots and Lunatics living in the past.

  • 5
    0

    It is unfortunate that Muslim women are admired for wearing a burqa. I once had a burqa_clad student in my chemistry lab fascinated by the subject. We have legal requirements on appropriate _almost full body_ covering and lab grade goggles. She needed special permission and assurances seeing how she loved chem.The burqa is of a flammable material luckily unlike Local labs us labs are very cold to protect the instruments. Then should the burqa catch fire only a woman instructor could touch them. The women teaching assistantS assigned had to deal with 24 students that I had to virtually hover around this student. I also had to assign extra time for her often that she at times seemed fatigued. She passed but I did not see her in the department after that semester.

    Even with chemistry demonstrators wearing nylon sarees and no lab coats in sri Lanka it is a potential fire and safety risk.
    I hope Muslim men,s idea of female modesty and sexiness will be reasonable.

    It boils down to the power of men over women of faith sanctioned by religion.

    May the men be merciful.

    • 0
      0

      Dushy, the burqa is a relatively new phenomenon in Sri Lanka and many attribute its emergence to an indoctrination, perhaps fuelled by monetary incentivisation of economically challenged, job hungry domestic helpers and the like who have spent time in Saudi Arabia (predominantly). This is seen as an aberration in Sri Lanka, where adherents to Islam for hundreds of years happily co-existed with all other communities, getting about their business and treating all their non-Muslim friends to biriyani and wattalappam during celebratory occasions.

      Prior to the burqa phenomenon, the more conservative female adherents to Islam very effectively covered their bodies with other appropriate dress, and if you recall in schools during your time, there were many who wore the white ‘punjabi suit’ and this did not jar on anyone’s sensitivities.

      The problem is that the burqa is associated with the ideology of Wahhabism and its active propagation by misguided leadership in KSA. It is a very visible symbol, a flaunting of one’s faith even; and has become the bane of sensible civil society.

      The burqa is therefore not uniquely tied to the aspect of female modesty, and is only a modern perversion of the guidelines of Islam, which only state that women must dress to cover the ‘awrah’, principally meaning the genitals and breasts, but commonly expanded to other parts of the body below the neck and above the ankles (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intimate_parts_in_Islam)

      I of course stand to be corrected. Do scholars of Islam agree with the above?

  • 9
    0

    Dr. Hoole,

    Mowlavi Zharan Hashim, the alleged mastermind of the Easter Sunday terror in SL, is reported to have spoken about killing off all kafirs according to Sharia law in videos viewed by CNN.

    I would argue that this kind of belief points to the real problems with religions: they teach falsehoods and hypocrisy from childhood, and when so-called “moderates” try to thread the needle using selective words by saying it is a ‘misinterpretation’ of ‘peaceful’ religion, it doesn’t work.

    If any religion claims to have truth on its side, then the other religions can’t be true; therefore, conflict is inherent to religions. Only by honestly, forthrightly and courageously saying that religions have no truth–but that character and cultural and universal moral codes need to be upheld regardless– can this menace be handled in the long-term. Until then, people are simply punting the issue in the name of inter-religious co-existence, and disguise it under ‘secularism.’ But at some point the issue has to be faced head-on.

  • 0
    0

    First when an informations about the terrorist is given catch him and linking perssons,
    Burkha is not a bomb. even if the faces are uncovered mess can happen

  • 4
    0

    Mr. Hoole: The Burqua, Nikkab, Abaya and Hijab and the long dress, are all Arab/Western Asian garments, that are not compatible with the local Buddhist/Hindu culture of the native Sinhalese and Tamils. All this smacks of extremism and intolerance. The same goes to the extremist intolerant Wahhabi Islam that originated from the deserts of Saudi Arabia. It is not Islam at all but some sort of abomination masquerading as Islam. The native Muslim faith is the very tolerant Indian/Tamil form of Sufism that the Sri Lankan Muslims brought into the island from their original homeland in South India. The native dress of the Muslim female is the Sari or half saree at times the Shalwar Kameez with the end modestly covering the head. The male the sarong or veti. This form of Islam and the Tamil Islamic culture and dress mode was practiced in the island for centuries and was very compatible with the local Sinhalese and Tamil cultures and no one will object to this, as this dress, form of Islam and culture is native to the island just like Sinhalese Buddhism and Tamil Saivaism .

  • 6
    0

    However definitely not the Burkha, Abaya, Nikab or Hijab or Wahhabism or Salafism , all these are alien to the land and only smacks of extremism and trouble., No Muslim has right to state this is my culture and dress as this is not . It belongs to Arabia and if they want dress in this manner or follow these forms of Islam , they can go Saudi Arabia and live there happily. The reason is that Sri Lankan Muslims have been brain washed to think that they are Arabs and not Tamils. They are taking the incorrect term used for them Moor literally and think that they indeed originated from Western Asia and not from South India. This is where all the problems rise.

  • 2
    1

    Ban the Burkha, Ban the Abaya, Ban the Nikab, ban the Hijab ban Salafism /Wahhabism ban everything connected with the barbaric desert Arab culture. You Dravidian South Indian origin Thamizh Sri Lankan Muslims. Not Arab or Moor. Your culture is the Indian Sufi Islam, the dress the saree, thavani ( Half saree) , pavadai, and the Shalwar Kameez Not Burkha, Abaya, Nikab or Hijab. Men wore sarong or the verti with the cap on their heads. Not male Arab robes with long beards. None of these were worn thirty years ago. You mean to say your mothers and grand mothers who wore the saree and just covered their head and practised Sufism were less Muslim and modest than these Arab dress wearing Burkha, Nikab, Abaya wearing intolerant abominations. Up with indigenous Thamizh Muslim culture/ Sufism , the saree , Thavani and Shalwar and down with barbaric Arab Burkha, Abaya, Nikab and Wahhanism. If you want to be Thamizh Muslim remain here but if you want to be Arab Wahhabi/Salafist leave. Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq and all other hell holes welcome you.

    • 5
      0

      Well said. No more argument. If you get away from our land. We don’t want Arabic identity and it’s cultural values.

  • 2
    0

    Is this man dumb now, or always?
    How can you compare wearing a cross or a turban to the burqua and niqab that covers the whole face and body and the identity?
    Go tell this to the parents of the 45 children who died.
    Scr*w you!

  • 4
    0

    The author seems to indulge in his own trumpeting of how suitable he is to pass judgment on equality and fairness towards all traditions, lifestyles and attire. Yet, does he agree that if a woman chose to wear only a G-string and nipple covers in public, whether that too constitutes freedom of expression and universal human rights etc? Moderate attire will help unify and assimilate the fractured relations between the Muslim community and the mainstream. The further away one is, in terms of dissimilarity with the mainstream, the harder it will be to reach common ground. It also signals to a level of ‘radicalisation’ that was absent in SL before the advent of Islamic fundamentalism in the Mid East in response to Western hegemony in the region. I believe the solution partly lies in encouraging fringe groups to enter the mainstream and mix socially and relationship-wise and be treated equally as everyone else. The tragedy of Sunday 21 April was regardless of or in spite of the freedoms you espouse from a pedestal.

  • 3
    0

    Jeevan,

    Remember the days when Sri Lanka thought it necessary to ban helmet on motorcycle riders while the rest of the world were mandating the use of it?!

    The logic was simple – need of the hour to reduce potential risk! Anything wrong with that?

    Thinking out of the box may be good to show-off, but not always correct.

  • 3
    0

    Prof S Ratnajeevan H. Hoole: The whole world is agonising as to why the Easter Sunday tragedy occurred and who was the designer.
    The burqa issue is separate. By raising it here, you are diverting attention. Why?
    .
    Did you not expect the bigoted comments? You savour the Fathima comments. We know why.

  • 2
    0

    Burqa, Abaya, Nikab etc all these pigsh1t clothing got popular among dumb and thick Muslim women after 9/11.

  • 4
    0

    The Burqua is not a traditional attire of Sri Lankan Muslim women
    This should be banned in Sri Lanka as it conceals the identity of the wearer.

    In the same note any other attire or personal safety equipment such as full face helmets should be banned in public places.

  • 3
    0

    RATHNAJEEAN HOOLE,

    Can you kindly stoip teaching us about democray, human rights etc. Stupid, who has gone to courts that to stop giving elections hen the masses yearn for it.

    1. Burqa or Niqab or full body cover is worn by Muslims of some sect by accepting Wahabism after experiencing the emergence of Gulf countries.

    2. Basically, they wear it to show solidarity with Muslims in Arabian peninsula.

    3. Full body cover by black is not in Islam and not in Quran too.

    4. The practise of sub continent muslims as covering the head by the Saree they are wearing and never ever by Black cloth.

    5. Bear in mind, majority of Sri Lankans consider black is the colour of the ghost and everytime you wear it definitely antagonizing the majority and remember this is a crucial factor to consider for harmony.

    So, Rajan hoole, do not try to poke fingers without knowing real facts with your usual unaccetable bickering.

    In view of the above factors, Sri Lanka must stop wearing full black body cover by law before it will lead to another social unrest.

  • 0
    1

    The Same Racism that the west had in Srilanka, Every Bhikku in Srilanka would have been taken to ICC.

  • 0
    0

    The author has a compared a crucifix with a hijab. They are fundamentally different. While in the past, Christianity or Christian practices were to some extent forced on people, these days there is no such pressure. This is not the case with the hijab. One can find a very strong religious context for the hijab, which even secular Muslims adhere to, e.g. lust. The author is correct that wearing such a garment is a means of “announcing your religion.” What is being announced here is that Islamic ethics/law are superior to Western custom and law. The important question is not which one is morally superior. The real questions to be asked here are whether the woman, is in fact, wearing a hijab voluntarily and whether such attire prevents meaningful assimilation.

  • 0
    0

    SL is not a first world country. We are in the third world category. So we can not have too much democracy. This is a result of too much freedom. That is the truth. We need to learn lessons from the past. Even though it is bit late, you will see how government reacts now on.

  • 0
    0

    Laws exist because as a social contract we have agreed to give up some of our individual freedoms for the greater good of the society. If you want to be a part of a society you have to go by its laws and ethics, whether it is removing the face cover or covering up the reproductive apparatus one needs to abide by the expectation of the law of the land.

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