19 September, 2018

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Government Needs To Close The Space For Hate Speech 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The government took decisive action to put the lid on escalating inter ethnic violence between Sinhalese and Muslims in Gintota over the weekend which led to damage to a large number of homes, businesses and buildings estimated to be close to a hundred. The government actions included sending in police battalions, the police paramilitary Special Task Force and anti-riot squad and the military and a visit to the area by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. As a result a conflagration on the scale of the Aluthgama riots of 2014 in the neighboring Kalutara district did not materialize. It might have, if the government had not acted sooner and showed publicly that it had no sympathy with those who attacked others. The arrest of 19 trouble makers, many of whom had come from outside, and the declaration of a curfew, ensured that the violence was suppressed. However, the Muslim community which had to bear the brunt of the violence continues to live in a state of unease.

Religious differences had little or nothing to do with the clash which was between two identity groups making it more akin to an ethnic conflict, rather than a clash of religions. The immediate cause of the conflict was reportedly a relatively minor incident. There was a road accident involving motor cyclist from one community and a three-wheel passenger from another community. The parties had dealt with their trauma in a reasonable manner, going to the hospital and arriving at a private settlement, with some financial compensation being part of the package. However, external forces had intervened thereafter to escalate the conflict. The fact that an event of this nature which is not uncommon on Sri Lanka’s crowded roads could have escalated so fast is a cause for concern and reveals underlying tensions within the country.

Despite the end of the war nearly a decade ago, there is a continuing negative relationship between the ethnic communities and one which is not spoken about publicly, that needs to be carefully dealt with.  According to reports from within the community living in the Gintota area the motor accident was given a communal interpretation when it could have been taken differently, as another regular occurrence that could have happened anywhere.   Motor traffic incidents are a common occurrence in all parts of the country. It is not infrequent that in the aftermath of a motor accident, especially where closely knit communities live, and where the victim is from the community, the motor vehicle driver and the vehicle are subjected to violence even if the victim and perpetrator are of the same ethnicity. This has led many persons who are involved in such accidents fleeing the site of the accident even to the nearest police station to protect themselves.

Constructive Actions 

In this particular incident, however, the parties involved in the accident had settled the problem between themselves. But the larger communal tensions within the communities got into play. The initial follow up was between youth of the two communities in the aftermath of a sports event. One group of youth had chided and spoken defiantly to another group from the other community. The initial violence was between the youth of the two communities who took offense at the attitudes of the other. A house was attacked by a group of youths. The matter should have been settled at that level by the community leaders, and if that failed by the local police. But this did not happen because external forces got involved. There are different accounts of who these might be, with organized extremist groups being the suspects, but with also questions being asked about the law enforcement authorities themselves. As rumours have a way of getting multiplied, it would be constructive if the government were to conduct an independent inquiry into this incident. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has called for an official report, from the Inspector General of Police, on the violence that erupted in Gintota and its surrounding areas over the weekend.

There are extremists on all sides of Sri Lanka’s continuing ethnic divides who are waiting to act as guardians of their community’s interests. This is true of members of all communities and they act with most energy in the areas in which they are a majority. It is therefore important that there should be constant awareness and interaction programmes organized by the government, civil society and by religious institutions, to promote inter-ethnic and inter-religious understanding and togetherness. The government in particular needs to activate its network of district religious committees, recently established under the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation. The challenge would be to link them to civil society groups that could energise them and take them to the community level to engage in local level conflict mitigation work.

There also needs to be education programmes on the values of pluralism so that those who are a majority in any part of the country do not think that they are entitled to have special rights as individuals over those who are not in a majority. The government also needs to give attention to educating those in the security forces that they are not expected to take sides in any inter-community conflict, but they are there to ensure that the law is followed and implemented, and to deal firmly with any and all who break the law. The manner in which the government took swift action in the case of  the Gintota violence at th highest levels and  the security forces acted on those orders show that the lesson of the 2014 Aluthgama riots have been learnt and will not be repeated.

Government Action 

As this government is one that is not based on ethnic nationalism and is also a combination of the two major political parties, it is more representative of the mainstream polity. It is also more acceptable to the ethnic and religious minorities. There is a general acceptance that this government is genuinely liberal where people’s freedoms are concerned. However, the downside to freedom and opening of space to voice opinions and to criticize is that this space is being exploited by those who do not accept a liberal and pluralist view of society. This can be seen on the social media which is filled with hate speech. There is a strong anti Muslim discourse that claims that they have links with international terror groups, are increasing their population too fast and surreptitiously introducing birth control drugs to unsuspecting Sinhalese men, women and children.

A new feature on the social media, which is running without any control, is the naming and shaming of Buddhist monks who join inter-religious groups that seek to promote reconciliation and amity at the community level. Civil society groups have reported finding it harder to get Buddhist monks to join because they fear being targeted by nationalist purveyors of hate speech. So far the government has not acted against those who engage in hate speech on political platforms and on the social media. The government has so far not taken legal action against groups and individuals who are purveyors of hate speech, nor do most government leaders engage in systematic debate and counter-messaging campaigns to promote an ethos of pluralism in the country.

A major criticism of the government that comes from all sides of the political spectrum, though for different reasons, is that the government is indecisive and not strong. Unfavorable comparisons are made in this regard with the former government. On this occasion, the government is reported to be collecting material relating to social media that spreads hate. During his visit to Gintota, the Prime Minister had called for action to be taken against anyone causing violence and unrest. As a two-party government it is difficult for the government to come to quick decisions especially on controversial issues. This creates a dangerous space that those who wish to destabilize the polity can utilize and which needs to be closed. It is necessary for the government to start acting more decisively against those who engage in violence and voice extreme nationalist opinions in an inflammatory manner which provokes others to inter-ethnic or inter-religious violence.

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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/

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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/

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      [Edited out]
      But your is Fake Analysis, in a world of Fake news, because the real problem in Sri Lanka is massive economic and social INEQUALITY that affected minority communities most, caused by Royal College Colombo 7 networks of corruption who are also protecting Mahinda and Gota Jarapassa and the emperors of Hate Speech in Safron Robes.
      Bondscam Ranils’ foul mouth piece, the Highways robber who is an Insult to Higher Education system and intelligent people of Lanka, Lakshman Kirella is now attacking AG’s department for investigating Bond Scam and harassing CID officers. This is what your Fake Human Rights organization should be exposing.FOul Mouth Lashman Kirella must be forced to resign for harassment and intimidation of Law enforcement officials who are for one actually doing a good job at AG’s dept and CID/

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    You mean bring in press censorship? [Edited out]

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      Percy

      Does it mean you want to give Gota another chance being the legitimate national hangman, Chief Censor, … Commander of the armed forces, ….. Chief Public Racist, …. Chief Enforcer, ……………

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    Jehan Perera, why do you think riots happened in Galle the weekend before Bond Scam Ranil Wickramasinghe went before the Bond Commission of Inquiry? To distract you, me, moda masses and Media from Ranil’s and the UNP’s Bond Scam and looting of Central Bank and people of Lanka!

    Ranil has provided impunity and immunity for Financial crime and Hate Crimes in Lanka past 3 years, while pretending to be good guy. No one has been held accountable for Hate Crimes of Saffron Thugs. Divide, Distract with Hate Crime and Rlle the moda masses is Ranil’s policy too – following Mahinda and Gota Jarapassa who enjoy impunity for all their crimes under Ranil-Sira Jarapalanaya Govt – 3 years later! The policy and plan is clear – when the going gets though the tough get going!
    Jehan, get a grip and see the connection between Financial crime, Political corruption and attacks on relgious and ethnic minorities
    Long live Miracle of Modayas!

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    Speech can be full of hatred but it is not violence. Censorship will never solve anything, on the contrary it will escalate problems. Stifling speech is the cornerstone of totalitarianism. This is unacceptable.

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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/

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    Jehan and the so called Human Rights western donor dependent NGOs of Colombo are intellectually bankrupt.
    They are incapable of talking about Economic and Social Justice and Rights, which are denied the minorities in particular due to corruption and crony capitalism. Crony capitalism and corruption is the single biggest reason for the failure of INCLUSIVE DEVELOPMENT for minorities and women.

    Financial crime and hate crime are committed by the same hateful and corrupt politicians and are part and parcal of the same corrupt political culture in Lanka. Thus we see bi-partisan UNP-SLFP culture of immunity and impunity, while NGOs pretend that Hate Crime has nor relationship to Financial crimes and corruption.

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    Ginthota violence has initiated after a muslims politician involved in it. govt also has withdrawan STF for reason just before it. I think both Sagala Rathnayake and BANK LOOTER RANIL had to cover up something.

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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/

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    Hate speech is protected by US First Amendment. Ask the President. He practices hate speech everyday. Said Neo Nazis were very nice people. .Threatens the free media. Encouraged violence against media and protestors. A journalist is being harassed for covering protests on inauguration day. People who are LGBT cannot serve in the military anymore. AG Sessions says they are not covered by civil rights laws either. Welcome to Trumpistan. [Edited out]

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    I am not defending or criticizing those whose comments got cut off. My ones take the knife too. That is a reality when one to write in public, over and above, what kind of reaction ones writing receives from public. Yet no explanation can release one from writing responsibly when on a public forum. This not something I am not just telling about me, or for commentators. It is for Jehan PhD like writers too. Sitting in front of a keyboard and testing the limits of the human patience is not provocative writing. How many comments in response get cut off can be indicator of how much of the turmoil’s the message is creating with in the reader community. Assuming or discounting the reader community as extremists is not an addressing style to public. Jehan PhD, who writes in behalf of NGOs, should recognize the trend as madness shown against his nagging annoyance. Provocatively writing is one thing. Digging the same old cesspool to annoy readers is different.

    Other than Jehan PhD, every child in CT knows how Aluthgama started. Long overhauls of activities directed against Muslim Minority after war had created the hate to build up. Monks started by claiming that they were attacked by Muslims youth when they were travelling. Old Royals took action against the police, who tried to stop the riots. This is completely different. Though political and religious extremist has been trying to spray fuel, it was not specifically against Muslims, but against Secret Solution and with specific object of coming election.

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    It was not just Old Royals, Gnanam and other Buddhist extremist, but even SLMC, ALL Ceylon Muslim Congress and other Muslim Ministers & parties were jetting out highly inflammable fuels. Sinhala extremist wanted to bomb parliament. Muslim Ministers threatened with making Blood River to flow against Secret Solution. With all the rhetoric and interpretations, whatever ignited this brawl was a 100% pure, innocent accident. In all what the news I read form reasonable channels, unlike Aluthgama, this was not started by any monks. There were no monks in that at the start. One can suspect the call from Muslim leaders to blood for Secret Solution might have burst out prematurely, at improper place. The brawl was started by rowdies who attached a young boy. Until that here was violence was present. In US many insurance companies charge higher premium for young drivers because they categorize youngsters as reckless, while inexperienced to manage emergencies. It is a commonly understood phenomena and certainly not a blasphemy of hitting a woman. Further this never took the real shape of a communal riot, though the youngsters’ side that lost in initial brawl got ready to for big scale and brought bus load of people. The Tamils who has experiences of many pogroms knows what slogans are curled in standard communal riots. A good exchange of it took place even in Aluthgama. I have not read about it in any news in this. Further, Jeyam the IGP had accused police of allowing it to go this far. After all, always, all the bowls are between two groups. Here, one was jealously guarding a woman; the other one was trying to protecting a boy.

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    When there are many indications of that this was only like a fight for a woman in night club, Jehan PhD is out there to decorate it as a big pogrom and Yahapalanaya controlled it. Jeyam had said the brawl could have been stopped by the police even before the bus came to Gintota. Before Jahan start to decorate he could have read what Jeyam had said about the incident. It is really silly Jehan conferring a certificate even the Yahapalanaya is not asking for. Not surprisingly, but almost all points Jehan PhD wrote here are some pantham or Thalaiyanai Manthiram to Yahapalanaya, not in line for an analytical article

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