3 March, 2024


Government Unity Needed To Deal With Exploitation Of Communal Tensions

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The quelling of anti-Muslim violence in Kandy took longer than anticipated. The curfew in the Kandy district continued for close on a week. A state of emergency, which gives the government special powers, and which enables the military to take on police functions, has been in effect since Tuesday. The protracted anti Muslim violence is a wake-up call about the tensions that line beneath the surface in society, which make them susceptible to abuse by powerful forces with larger political motivations. In a manner reminiscent of the prelude to the three decade-long war against the Tamil rebel movement, the sentiment is being promoted amongst sections of the Sinhalese ethnic majority is that the Muslim minority is a source of threat to their own security.

That war, which ended in 2009, devastated the north and east of the country and set back the national economy by decades even as countries that had once been far behind Sri Lanka forged ahead in the race for economic development. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has spoken about the economic and social setback to the country. A few days before he was in Singapore promoting Sri Lanka as a paradise and canvassing for foreign investments. Those hopes will have gone up along with the smoke of burning Muslim shops and other properties.  Hopefully the eyes of the general public will be opened as to what national priorities are and the interconnection between communal harmony and economic development.

The targeting of Muslims for hate speech has become especially marked after the end of the war in 2009. There was a serious anti Muslim riot in the town of Aluthgama in 2014 that claimed four lives and the destruction of many Muslims businesses and houses. This was accompanied by a vicious campaign on social media that portrayed the Muslims as plotting to take control over the country with the help of global Islam.  A tragic feature of Sri Lankan history has been the exploitation of Sinhalese fears by politicians eager to win the votes of the ethnic majority as the easier way to political power. The newly formed Sri Lanka People’s Front (SLPP) that trounced the government parties led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last month made fear of  division of the country and the danger of foreign forces a main plank of their election campaign.

Bigger Cost 

But even more than the economic cost would be the human and psychological cost of a further fraying of the bonds that ought to unite the Sri Lankan family, who in the words of the national anthem are children of one mother. Without trust in one another no family, or country, can succeed.  Wherever they live as a minority, which is most of the country, the Muslims will feel a greater sense of insecurity and vulnerability. It would be not unreasonable for them to feel that if they are attacked in Kandy, which is the second most important urban centre in Sri Lanka, they could be attacked anywhere in the country. Both the government and civil society need to priorities restoring the confidence of the Muslim community that Sri Lanka is their home as much as it is the home of the other communities.

Muslim children tell their friends they do not feel safe. My daughter came home and said this after returning from school in Colombo. A Muslim colleague for many decades in the field of inter-ethnic relationship building phoned me to say he was in a hut in his garden as he did not feel safe to stay in his house in Kandy as the mob came nearer. He also appealed that something be done to keep the mob away. It is tragic that an entire community of people should feel insecure and have nowhere to go where they might be secure. With the exception of pockets in the north and east of the country, the Muslims live as a minority community everywhere.

The eruption of anti-Muslim violence at this time, first in Ampara and then in Kandy, has dealt a big blow to the post-war reconciliation hopes of the country which is essential if the economy is to take off and there is to be foreign investment. The instigated violence threatens to pit community against community. This can only mean a downward spiral in which mob attacks by one community will see mob attacks by the other. Having only just got out of a thirty year civil war, it looks like Sri Lankans are now being pushed into a new one unless the Sri Lankan polity as a whole and civil society makes the promotion of inter-community interaction and understanding a central pillar of all that they do.

Limited Emergency 

In this context the declaration of a state of emergency for a limited time period is best seen as a signal that the government was serious about putting an end to the mob action that threatens the lives and property of a substantial section of the people. If it had been a spontaneous eruption of anger by Sinhalese against Muslims, it would have spread elsewhere also like a wildfire. It is to be noted that the violence did not spread out of Kandy. The fact that it was instigated and organized is also to be seen in the scant respect that the mobs showed to the police even in the face of the declaration of curfew.  They were not afraid because they felt they had political protection.

One of the most ugly and fearsome features of the last government was its practice of impunity. The fear of the “White Vans” that would abduct those that the government did not favour and make them disappear was pervasive. While it was primarily directed against those who were deemed to the LTTE supporters, its excesses included political opponents of the government including journalists.  Its radius of intimidation included businessmen at Rotary Club events who privately admitted that they did not wish to speak up as they feared to be noted by the government. Those who were the perpetrators of impunity did so in the confidence that they were engaging in actions that upheld national interests as dictated by the government leaders.

During the period of the war, and even after the war, the White Vans death squads abducted people and made them disappear because they had been told by their superiors that this was necessary to ensure national security. This is where a Truth Commission will be needed to look at the human rights violations that took place in the past and the justifications given for them. The violence in Kandy persisted even during the curfew hours because the actors on the streets felt they would be protected by those who were giving them leadership. In their minds they were attacking others with justification because they were doing it for the sake of the nation.

Longer Term 

Over the past few years, there has been a deliberate and purposeful build up of tension that is being done for political reasons. This has to be undone by enlightened leaders of government. In the longer term there is a need for trust building and community awareness programmes to be undertaken. The government has a duty to reassure the Muslim people that they are equally deserving of the protection of the state and will receive it. The leaders of government must come out and talk to the people and reassure them. The government leaders must act and speak publicly and take the people with them.

Civil society has its own role to play by educating people. Sri Lanka is still in a post-war phase in which the wounds and traumas of the past three decades of violence and war have still not been healed. Until the national political leadership takes firm and determined action at this time there is an increasing likelihood of Sri Lanka a new cycle of communal violence that will become uncontrollable. This is the message from Ampara and Kandy which the government needs to take more powerfully to the people.

It is to be hoped that this crisis will also convince the leaders of the government that they need to work together rather than against each other. The past several months have seen the two main parties that form the government alliance at loggerheads with each other. This was partly the reason why they fared so poorly at the local government elections. But now they can see that everything they fought together to come to power in 2015 being threatened, and the peace of the country being threatened too. They need to remind both themselves and those who voted for them about why the vote went the way it did. It is still not too late to obtain a second chance.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    This anti Muslim campaign, started on a global scale, and has reached our shores.
    It also hit Myanmar, ending in genocide, and ethnic cleansing of innocent Muslims, and people have to start wondering why, the hatred, and attacks on Muslim have reached unprecedented proportions.

    Research shows it is far more widespread than people think:

    “Anti-Muslim online surges driven by fake accounts
    Social media bots and image manipulation are spreading Islamophobia, analysis reveals

    A global network of anti-Muslim activists is using Twitter bots, fake news and the manipulation of images to influence political discourse, new analysis reveals.

    Many have recorded significant growth in their social media followings over the past year, co-ordinating to push the message that Islam is an “imminent threat” to western society. Researchers from the anti-racist organisation Hope Not Hate found that the impact of tweets from one controversial US activist, Pamela Geller, who is banned from the UK, is magnified by 102 bots, automated or semi-automated accounts that automatically tweet or retweet their content.

    Researchers also monitored a sample of popular anti-Muslim Twitter accounts in Britain and the US between March and November this year, and found that, on average, there was a 117% growth in followers.”

    Read further:

    • 1

      Navin anti-Muslims sentiment is a global issue led by Trump land and Zionists, but in Sri Lanka the leaders of the Hate campaign are saffron clad Buddhist thugs and politicians who fund them.
      Yet the cowardly Lankan police are arresting school children when their racist adult role modes like Pathala Champika and Balu Sena’s Galaboda Gniyanasara are free!

      This is criminal, not just a joke – to arrest children and youth for hate speech rather than theie teachers of Hate who use hate speech to cover up their corruption and political crimes!

  • 3

    Jehan, why are people so foolish? Ethnic and religious disharmony is not caused by people. It is caused by politicians who want to come to power or who want to hide their weak administrative errors. Recent disturbance was caused by few MP’s. During UNP time it was started by the MP’s and so on. Always it is politicians who are behind it. The so called extremists are connected to politicians. They carryout what these politicians want. The worst are those who elect such politicians again and again. Expose these politicians first.

    • 0

      This is superficial analysis. Jehan Perera. You need to focus on the Culture of Impunity for politicians and their Buddhist monks that the Ranil -Sria_ Mahinda Jarapassa combine has established and entrenched in the country in order for them to stay in power and Divide, Distract the people with Hate Speech and Rule and loot the people of Lanka.

      there is a huge Moral crisis in this county and FAKE UNITY among corrupt leaders that you suggest is NOT the solution. the culture of Impunity and immunity Hate crimes and financial criminals is 2 sides of the same coin and must end. People are fed up. .
      Sri lanka needs clean and young generation of leaders and may be it is time to give JVP a chance in Miralce of Modyas. Not the same corrupt and crooked MR-RW and Sira show

  • 0

    The so called “ethnic riots”, was not a random event, but originated from a random event which was unfortunate.

    The elements what were, were quick to pound on the random evener, and create chaos thereupon.

    The question is: who were the forces behind these random event, so organized to to transform it into a communal unrest.

    Of the two parties to gain of this event, I see that that the UNP and the government stood to gain the most sine:

    1. Their aim was to gt the focus way from the internal clashes within the UNP, which they have
    succeeded in.
    2. Bringing the ethnical issue into the foreground of politics, thus creating a physiological barrier
    between different ethnical frontiers to fight for their individual causes.

    All this is doing is not doing any benefit to our multi-cultural, and pluralistic society than what we were in fie decades back.
    we need to believe in a multi-culture community , and be able to live with peace within each other.

    There is no way for Sinhala Buddhist Extremism or any other religious dominance within our society.

  • 0

    you have and always will be an anarchic given your previous and statements of the present.

    What you do not seem to comprehend is the “big picture” of our nation, which is the same fate that Ranil W is facing.

    Living a westernized life in Colombo (or in another country as your case may be) does not provide you with any rights what so ever to comment about “Sri Lankans”, thus you need to limit your societal references to what you see and feel only, and not generalize to the whole of the country as you assume it to-to-be.

    All your references to the macro-economic impacts needs to be re-validated ,since what you are stating is mere speculation as you see it. There is no research or even econometric predictions to support what you state.

    I am not sure of the origin of your sources, or even if yo are the right author of the above published article, but what I am sure of is that you are your statements are baseless and unfounded.

    I urge CT to publish articles that have founded proof ONLY, or else attempt ways to verify the facts on your own before publishing them.

    As you see, CT is also getting entangled the web of mis-information, and if this trend continues, you will be left with very few followers. As is, most of your articles hardly get a hit rate of over 2,000 readers.

  • 0

    None of the politial articles talked about the truth related to Anti-muslim violence. Jehan OPErera, Can you say if at least one muslims was killed. Two sinhala people were kileld, I heard they are recent muslims converts but with sinhala names and they did not go to the mosque. Beczuse of that ISIS thugs killed both of them. Muslims businesses and make shift mosques which are businesses were destroyed.

  • 0

    Mr. Jehan Perera: One former UN Ambassador says that the recent violence was what the INGOs needed. So, asked ISIS muslims to kill sinhala people. Why govt is not letting it spread over the island ?.

  • 0

    Some where I heard NGOS were fighting for money. One may need his children to be sent good colombo school. Why do not write that helps everybody. Your analysis is to help you. Otherwise, what happened was different. Understand where is FCID, unheard of it now. they say they are stuck in darm rooms and no one knows what is haopening to them or what they did. .IT is the same with those GAl siymabala shoes wearing group who went behind thieves and conemen/women. they also say we do lot of work. but, no one knows whether we worked or what happened to the work we did. Remember for CIABOC, they brought even hige security safes that can not be opned ezasily. PCOLI report was copied and distributed among many politicians. but, nothing comes out. That needs to be kept in the dark. So, all is drama. So, after that Local elelction was big drama. Remember how they analysed it. Now muslim vioence. See how many politicians try to make best out of that. So, NGOs are also profitting out of that and it helps you to get finances, go to Geneva. I know, everyone including NGOs and politicians need employment.

  • 0

    Justice, peace, reconciliation and the like topics are for the powerless. The powerful exploit these stuff. “Talk about these at your own peril” is the bottom line.
    Look at the recent Muslim crisis. The ‘Wanda Pethi’ is a canard but none of the leaders have said so. Trivial? Not at all. In the home vs home game this is exploitable!
    Sad sad sad.
    Thanks Jehan for not losing hope.

  • 0

    Mahinda lost power because of Aluthgama violence set up by opposition using Venom: Galagodaya.

    The Digana violence against Muslims will surely make MARA happy as this may result in collecting more votes against Silisena…

    The Ampara riots by Budha Rowdies will surely diminish UNP votes in next presidential elections. Ampara Muslims never even dreamt they would have been targeted by these Sin Kele rowdies with canard of Wanda Pethi, in a district where Sin Kele yas are minority community.

    Today , World Health Organaization revealed to the world by Dr Razia Pendse – WHO Representative to Sri Lanka , that THERE ARE NO ANY STERILIZING TABLETS MIXED WITH FOOD in the world.

    Now what would Silisena do ? Invite all Jungle Wedda to declare !! NO . There are .. We invented ..!!!!

  • 0

    It is Sad to see this .
    How could people do this over night.
    It was well planned .
    It is not good for the country at all.
    Economy and tourists arrival will go down soon who will pay the price

  • 0

    JEHAN……..Are U OFF ur Head……………..Why The Hell You Do Not Say To PUT A FULL STOP To VIOLENT MUSLIM EXTREMISM……Which Is the Cause For everything………If You Say So You Cannot Get $ Dollars……….That Is The Fact………….Cannot You People Mind Your F——g Business………Without Setting Fire……You A.. Holes Will Not Have Any Place To Go From This World……….Until Then Enjoy The Dollars

  • 0

    Jehan, You as well as I know very well that 2014 anti-Muslim riots were initiated by whoever to divert Muslim vote away from the Rajapaksha, and that was successful. Then here again it is back just days after Rajapaksha showed a come back through the LG elections. The sinister elements who jump sides faster than fleas and as filthy as fleas are responsible for spreading rumors and inciting violence. The current government did nothing to prosecute the 2014 antiMuslim culprits, why? The anti-Muslim rhetoric was spreading through social media for the past three years, the anti-fertility pill/gel stupidity was spreading for months, why didn’t the government, opposition, civic society, the GMOA, even Muslim leaders did nothing about that? Were they so out of touch or is this is apart of a sinister plan?

  • 0

    The UNP has a long history of anti-minority politics. (That is not to say that the SLFP or the left degenerates were less communal.) Some of its founders were linked to the 1915 violence.
    The UNP was instrumental in the 1958 violence although not the sole source.
    Remarkably, despite all the discrimination under SLFP led regimes and the UNP led regime in the period that followed, there was no communal violence until 1976.
    The weakening of the government was a factor in the communal outbursts of 1976 and 1977 which, however, did not spread.
    The UNP’s record has been notorious since 1977.
    Communal violence apart, the murderous regime of 1988-89 is something that we cannot brush aside. Even the ‘White Van’ was a creature of that period I guess.
    The author is trying pretty hard to create the illusion that the present regime led by MS and RW is out to do good to the minority nationalities. But reality is not cooperating.

    • 0

      Shyamon Jayasinghe: Are you talking zbout the same UNP tht wanted to give Orumiththa Nadu and Nasirishthan. Now, Muslims are fighting for Nasiristhan and TNA is silent because they got money from Ranil. I heard LG election guys are negotiatng their package.

  • 0

    Dr Gehan’s daughter must be in a top end Christian School or the British School in Colombo.
    Dr Gehans’s mate who is hiding in the shed in the front garden must be a well to do, to have a Shed which can be be converted to a Sleeping quarters.
    It is also good to hear that Dr Ranil’s is in Singapore to promote the Paradise in Colombo.

    It is already one for Dr Ranil’s Family as well as non Family friends and his Yahapalana boys whom Dr Ranil has bestowed juicy Minister Gigs.
    And big ass Business deals .
    I watched yesterday , even a UNP Council Member in outer Colombo whinging about how he is treated, and how much Dr Ranil’s Blue eyed boy and the Yahapalana Bond expert young Sujeeva has made after taking over Yahapalana duties in Kaduwela.

    But how about the Muslim kids in Ampare .
    Are they also frightened like Dr Gehan’s kid’ s mates in Colombo.
    How about the Muslim men there ? Are they occupying cottages in the Garden for protection?.
    Obviously not, because those kids there and the parents both Sinhala and Muslim are in the same boat.
    They are battlers as much as most others in most part of the country..
    Even Dr Ranil’s Mahanayaka of Malwatta has finally realized that there are poor people in the Country, while trying to explain why the Sinhalese attacked Muslims on his own Turf Kandy.
    May be Dr Gehan can convert all to his Christian Sect.
    So they won’t fear each other and forget about their Economic hardships.

  • 0

    ” The newly formed Sri Lanka People’s Front (SLPP) that trounced the government parties led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last month made fear of division of the country and the danger of foreign forces a main plank of their election campaign.”
    Is here Jehan PhD is saying the leader of the Slap Party ( Though Jehan PhD tactfully avoided mentioning the name of Old King here, I do not think he means GLP as the lead Slap party to victory) won the election by fear mongering? Then, will Jehan PhD issue a statement on his name to media that the last election was won by fear mongering so there is no truth in the talk of country would go split if federal status granted to Tamils and so the public has no reason to believe any Old King?
    1. Ranil always protected Old King (Too many incidents of protection to list them here).
    2. The Yahapalanaya’s election (2015) promise is “No leader ……will be prosecuted”.
    3. New King publicly announced on many stages, after loss of “Hilary Clinton” that the call for War Crime Investigation has been beaten back and Old King already is rescued from UN Electric Chair.
    4. New King, after the election, wanted to fire Ranil and wanted to bring in Old King or Brother Prince as the PM.
    We saw Yahapalanaya didn’t contest the Old King’s team spreading words that the country going to be split by the Secret Solution. The reason is, by not contesting, leaving an opinion that Yahapalanaya also not supporting the Secret Solution, Yahapalanaya wanted to naively steal some of the votes that Old King might be getting. That is why it is better Jehan PhD openly contesting the statement of country would be split. As Jehan PhD is not votes depended, but donation depended, if he is honest in bringing ethnic harmony, he needs not to be concerned opposing political statements. Will he?

  • 0

    Instead of Jehan PhD’ double talk, there is an article circulating on the name of Manimaran in Tamils News side if someone can, it is worth to be translated into English and Sinhala. (I do not know the author; I don’t know if anybody has any interest in translating it in other languages). The double talker Jehan PhD invited the Yahapalanaya to use Lord Nesby’s revelation to save Old King, who now is the leader in instigating this riot. He threatened the Jaffna University Tamil Students to compulsorily attend his and Other Bald heads preaching session for having played Nathasuram in the their Vavuniya Campus reception.
    Manimaran starting his essay with the talk his 8 years old daughter brought home from her school “Daddy the Muslims are beaten up all over the places because they are poisoning the food”. Then he is walking through the past pogroms, in an unbiased but intelligent way, including the 1983. He is pointing out Tamils’ missing strong leadership and the worse the Muslims are stuck with selfish opportunistic leadership. He is citing some of his personal experience he faced (2013) with some Buddhist fundamentalist (our terminology is “Sinhala Buddhist”) trying to campaign between him and other Buddhist about boycotting Muslims business and his teams open rejection arguments on the face of those fundamentalists. He is offering some advices to the few Tamils’ defeated mentality-empty talk of “This is needed to Muslims”. He is posing a formidable question to those who blame their loss on Muslims as who had been the traitors, “If Karuna Amman, who were the one totally betrayed the freedom fight, is a son of Musal Man”.

    I hope Jehan PhD, Lasksiri Fernando, Geethaponkalan et al name seeking duplicity essays writers will make an effort to read it become sincere in their life.

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