By Farweez Imamudeen –
Living With a Time Bomb
Nearly thirty kilometers away two youths who are not even remotely connected to my life launch a spree of attacks on several Buddha statues damaging and defiling them, and my WhatsApp is suddenly barraged with messages calling all Muslims to take caution and remain safe. The fact that those two youths share my faith is the only reason why I have to be vigilant. As illogical and insane it may sound this is the capricious reality that I have been living through since I can remember. Religious and racial labels aside, when a certain individual commits a heinous act, then a people who share a common denomination with that individual – Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Malay, Burger, Sinhala or Tamil – are chastised for the mere reason of the common denomination; “Mung okkoma mehema thamai!” (All of them are alike!).
But this time I don’t want to be responsible. I don’t want my daughter who has just lost her milk teeth to be responsible. I shall not become a victim for no reason.
The vile and cowardly act of damaging the statue of Buddha who is venerated by millions across the world should be denounced and condemned. Whoever committed this abhorrent act should be subjected to the full extent of the law.
However, the fact that the two suspects share the faith of Islam should not become a reason for the rest of us who share the same faith to assume responsibility for a crime that we never committed.
Our slogan should be loud and clear;
“WE ARE WITH THE BUDDHISTS!”
How the Muslims Should Act
We Muslims have largely isolated ourselves from the mainstream society. A majority of the Muslims live within their own communities. Secluded and alone we have created a limited circle of our own religious and political concerns, and our struggles therefore are largely for the sake of our own religious and political rights. We creep out of our private spaces as though from deep hibernation only when we perceive a threat to our religious and communal existence. Our activism is strictly defined within the limits of religion and community. We are selective in fighting for justice and this attitude is gradually alienating the Muslims from other communities.
It is crucial that we step out of our secluded and isolated conclaves, and participate and contribute to solve the bigger problems; the problems that are crushing the entire nation.
Where were we during the recent political crisis?
Where were we when the people of Rathupaswala were shot dead for asking for water?
Where were we when the doctors called a strike demanding better schools for their children?
Where are we when the entire nation needs us?
Therefore, we need to leave those placards bearing religious and communal slogans aside; instead of shouting for our religious right we need to fight for justice and freedom for the people; we need to fight for a democratic education system for our children; we need to fight for the liberation of the oppressed; we need to become a part of mankind.
Thus, it is our responsibility now to condemn this base act. True! We are not responsible, but we are against all forms of acts of hatred. We should proclaim that freedom of religion is a universal value and that it should be preserved at all costs.
How All of Us Should Act
What is important is not only ensuring that the full extent of the law is exercised on the perpetrators, but also to find out the true intention behind their action. This could reveal a vital truth about the social psyche. What caused their action is a vital question that needs to be asked to objectively analyze this fatal incident.
Human emotions when untamed can run amok in society. From Dostoevsky to Freud this truth has been elaborated. We who consider ourselves normal people have experienced this in small doses. When we lose our temper we lose ourselves. But when the storm abates and we sit down and contemplate the truth begins to slowly surface, and then we tell ourselves, ‘Maybe I was at fault’. That passion overwhelms reason is a documented fact.
What was the driving force behind the actions of these individuals?
Since 2014 we have witnessed two religious riots in Sri Lanka perpetrated by Buddhist extremist factions against the minority Muslims. They unleashed their ruthless violence on a minority; on women, children and the elderly, who were vulnerable and defenseless, torching their homes, shops and livelihoods. This unrestrained act of hatred and violence left a deep scar on those who were affected; questions that kept pricking them like an untreated wound; am I being targeted because of my faith? If not the state then who will protect us?
Terrorism nurtures terrorism. The incidents that happened in 2014 in Aluthgama, Beruwala, Darga Town and in 2018 in Digana would have certainly had an impact on the social psychology of the victims. This psychology is a God-given to the extremists who are laying under-cover impatiently for an opportunity to stir the oppressed against the oppressor. It would hand the extremists a victory they could scarcely have achieved for themselves. Therefore we need to ask the question;
Are these riots behind this incident? Is this an act of vengeance or is this an isolated incident?
We cannot just walk past dead bodies, charred homes and shattered dreams with a dejected face giving away a few dry rations, used clothes and a few thousand rupees, and saying all the while to those who have lost everything, ‘Bygones are bygones!’. Empathizing is not enough. We need to speak up, raise our voices, and fight for justice and equality side by side with the oppressed and marginalized. We need to give them hope. In fact we need to become a part of their hope. Therefore our slogan should be loud and clear;
“WE ARE WITH THE OPPRESSED!”
This country has bled profusely due to racial and religious violence, since its so called independence from the British Colonialists. We have attempted to stop the bleeding by sticking plasters, yet the bleeding continues through the deep gash. It’s crucial therefore, that we sought the root cause of the issue and fix it.
Thus the question is vital – Why did they do it?
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