By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
In a fit of anti-Sinhala-Buddhist rage Mr. Izeth Hussain, the Sri Lankan caricature of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS or Daesh, has warned the ethnic majority (the Sinhala-Buddhists) that what happened to the French colonialists in Algeria will happen to them. ” ……………(T)he times they are a-changing,” he cries out loud like a muezzin in striped Western pants from his political minaret. He says: “The relationship between the majority and the submerged minority could sometimes, not always, and to some extent, be similar to the relationship between colonial master and native. The natives revolted against their masters, and so could the submerged minority.(i.e., the Muslims.) He threatens and hectors partly to denigrate the Sinhala-Buddhists and partly to pit the Muslims against the Sinhala-Buddhist. He is playing a dangerous game in rousing anti-Sinhala-Buddhist racism.
He adds: “The Muslims are becoming visible and – unbelievable though it may seem – some Muslim politicians have been actually speaking up for the Muslim people.” In other words, he is warning the ethnic majority that the Muslims can react violently like the gun-toting, trigger-happy ISIS – if necessary – to get whatever they want. Mr. Hussain is not only hinting, in a subtle way, at a Daesh / Caliphate (a la ISIS), but also goes to the extreme of welcoming the Indian intervention of training and arming the Tamil terrorists. It is inconceivable that a diplomat of any country would commend the next door Big Bully for destabilizing the neighbourhood. But that is what Mr. Hussain does. In the same breath he states that the government has failed in its efforts of nation-building. But will it ever be possible even for a hundred Einsteins to a build a nation out of traitors?
In case I’m accused of misrepresenting or distorting let me quote Mr. Hussain’s text which refers to the Indian export of terrorism to Sri Lanka, just to put the record straight. Taking cover behind the alleged thinking of the international community Mr. Hussain says: “……. India was justified in providing training and weapons to the insurgent Tamils, even though India disastrously mishandled the problem at a later stage.” Then riding his routine anti-Sinhala-Buddhist hobby-horse he concludes by saying : “I must acknowledge that the Muslims have supported the Sinhalese in every act of racist idiocy against the Tamils.”
These quotes (all from his articles published in The Colombo Telegraph) sum up the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist ideology that Mr. Hussain has been promoting in his articles. In going down this path he has virtually abandoned – nay, condemned! – the earlier enlightened policies of deriving mutual benefit through peaceful co-existence – policies pursued by pioneering leaders like T. B. Jayah, Badi-ud Din Mahamud, Dr. M.C. M. Kaleel, a loveable and mild-mannered healer who won the good will of all communities in the heart of Colombo, and his bete noir, A. C. S. Hameed who won repeatedly in Akurana, largely a Sinhala-Buddhist electorate. As opposed to these leaders Mr. Hussain has opted to direct his fatwahs and harams relentlessly against “our indecent Islamophobes – with whom our last Government was in joyful cahoots.” Who are these “Islamaphobes” mentioned by him? In his text he refers only to “our indecent Islamophobes – with whom our last Government was in joyful cahoots.” This could only mean the Bodu Bala Sena in particular and the Sinhala-Buddhists in general. Nowhere in his text does he mention any other community or force, other than the Sinhala-Buddhists allied to the Rajapakse Government. In his own circumlocutory way he makes it clear that he is targeting the Sinhala-Buddhists as “our indecent Islamaphobes”.
Before going any further it is necessary to examine this statement in the historical context, particularly to assess how the so-called public intellectuals of our time distort the reality to demonise the Sinhala-Buddhists. At first, it must be conceded that in the longest running war in Asia it is the Tamils of the North and the East that got the worst beating from all sides – from the Sri Lankan forces, the Indian IPKF and, most of all, from their own “liberators”, the LTTE. The Sinhalese suffered mostly under the terror unleashed by the LTTE. But for no reason at all, it is the non-combatant and neutral Muslims who were subject to some of the worst cruelties of the Tamil Tigers simply because were Muslims. Islamaphobia reached its obscene nadir when the Muslims at prayer were massacred mercilessly in Kathaankudy. Islamaphobia reached its racist zenith when 75,000 Muslims were given 48 hours to quit Jaffna so that the ethnic purity of Jaffna could be retained for the Tamils. Besides, the Tamil attacks on the Sinhalese could be considered as acts of retaliation. But what had the Muslims done to the Tamils? The attacks on the Muslims led by the Tamil leadership is tantamount to pure Islamaphobia and nothing else.
Now these are not isolated incidents in the history of Jaffna. Islamaphobia is endemic to Jaffna. The Yalapana-Vaipava-Malai or the History of the Kingdom of Jaffna, translated and edited by C. Brito, 1879, (See footnote) records the gruesome details of Islamaphobia that gripped Jaffna under Tamil rulers. Historical record 1: “The remnants (the Malays) inhabited the villages of Sava-kach-cheri and Savaang-kodu. But Sangkili drove them also out of his kingdom.” (p. 34 – Ibid)). He had also expelled the Buddhists and destroyed their temples.
Historical record 2 : “During the supremacy of the Ulanthesar, a colony of Sonakar (Moors) came from Kayilpaddanam and other places and settled in South-mirisivil, the name of which they changed into Usan. They were originally Tamils by race but had embraced the Mukammathu-matkam by the compulsion or persuasion of one Santhach-chaivu. Their chief means of subsistence was trade, which they carried on from fair to fair in Savakach-cheri, Kodi-kamam, Eluthu-madduwal, and Mukavil. After a time they abandoned Usan and founded a new settlement in Nallur, on and around the site of Kantha-Swamy-Koyil. The Tamils viewed their presence with displeasure, as they thought that it might be detrimental to the cause of their religion when the time should come for the restoration of the temple. They tempted the Sonakar to leave the place, with money and entreaties, which when they found unavailing they had recourse to a plan that proved effectual. They put a quantity of pig’s flesh into the wells of their enemy by night. When the defilement was discovered, the Sonakar were in great distress of mind. They could neither drink the water nor cook their meals with it, and they saw themselves driven to the necessity of choosing between starvations on one hand and emigration on the other. They chose the latter and sold the place for whatever money could get from the Tamils and retired to the east of Navanthurai. (p.55 – Ibid).
Compare this with two similar historical events in the south. The Dutch pursued a deliberate policy of targeting the Muslims. They were rivals in trade and getting rid them was an official policy. When the Dutch drove out the Muslims from the east coast they were given refuge by the Sinhala kings. And when Jaffna was ethnically cleansed of 75,000 Muslims by the Tamil leaders of the LTTE the Muslims once again found a safe haven only in the Sinhala south. So whose politics is driven by Islamaphobia? In the vaunted democracies of the West they are now closing the gates for the Muslims seeking refuge. Did the Sinhalese ever refuse to give a home to the Muslims whenever they were persecuted by their Islamaphobic enemies?
Furthermore, the Sinhala-Buddhist south has constantly sent Muslims to Parliament as their representatives. Muslim mayors of various cities, including the capital, local councillors have been elected by the majority Sinhala-Buddhists. If they were the “indecent Islamaphobes” (namely, Sinhala-Buddhists), as stated by Mr. Hussain, would they have ever elected the Muslim politicians to be their representatives? And compare that with the number of Muslims elected in Jaffna. So who is afraid of the Muslims? Who is driven by Islamaphobia? Mr. Hussain refers the Bodu Bala Sena as the “indecent Islamaphobes”. He also claims that the Rajapakse government was in cahoots with them. Let us concede that for the moment. But if he is judging the Sinhala-Buddhist as “indecent Islamaphobes” by the passing judgment on the Ambalangoda incident how should he judge the Tamil Hindus who liquidated the Muslims in the Eastern province? Using his own measurements in judging the Muslims, can Ambalangoda be compared to Kathaankudy? How many Muslims were expelled from Ambalangoda at the point of a gun? Or were the Sri Lankan forces deployed to restore peace and order?
Any fair judgment should be based on the manner in which the Sinhala-Buddhist leadership handled the Ambalangoda incident. How the initial events went from bad to worse at the lower-ethnic leadership level is debatable. But ultimately the ethnic rivalry in Ambalangoda should be judged by how it was resolved without allowing it to spill over into a national conflagration. Mr.Hussain accuses the Rajapakse regime of being responsible for the Ambalangoda conflict. But he ignores the critical factor in which President Rajapakse intervened to nip it in the bud. If Rajapakse was driven by Islamaphobia he would have done – or should have done — what Prabhakaran did to the Muslims in Jaffna and the East?
In defending the Muslims against Islamphobia he urges the Sri Lankans to judge the Muslims from their positive achievements and not from their Bamyan barbarism. If he is the intellectual he claims to be, shouldn’t he apply the same principle in judging the Sinhala-Buddhists? Shouldn’t he too judge the Sinhala-Buddhists by their tolerant culture that gave shelter to persecuted Muslims and Catholics and not by the aberrant lunatic fringe? He knows what happened in Gujerat when Narendra Modi was governor. Even the American government refused a visa to him at one time for gross violations of human rights. He should ask my friend Alavi Moulana, the Governor of Western Province, how many local or central governments in the south sponsored genocidal attacks on the Muslims. At least, shouldn’t he apply common sense and evaluate the rise of the Muslims from their humble origins as traders in the Sinhala kingdoms, their subsequent growth and advances without going through the persecutions and massacres inflicted by the Christians in Europe, or the Tamils in the North?
Mr. Hussain labours indefatigably and incessantly to portray the Muslims among the Sinhala-Buddhists as if they are the Palestinians persecuted by the Israelis. He mentions, with bitterness, “the idiocy” of the Muslims supporting the Sinhalese. But he has conveniently forgotten how Rauf Hakeem signed an agreement with Velupillai Prabhakaran who, despite the promises in the agreement, relentlessly slaughtered the Muslim babies, pregnant women and those at prayers. So is “the idiocy” in supporting the Sinhalese or the Tamils? Who is it who has a well established record of persecuting and slaughtering Muslims in Sri Lanka?
Take the case of the Tamil leadership going on the offensive against the Muslims saying that they are actually Tamils who had converted to Islam. From the beginning of the 20th century the Tamil leadership has been denying that the Muslims have a separate identity from the Tamils. The Muslims rightfully claims that they are descendants of the Arab traders. But as seen even in the statement of Yalapana-Vaipava-Malai the Tamil leadership had always denied the separate identity of Muslims and claimed that they are Tamils who had embraced Islam. This theory was revived and propagated by Ponnambalam Ramanathan at the turn of the 20th century to deny the Muslims their place in the political firmament. By classifying them as Tamils the Jaffna Tamils were hoping to grab whatever share of power that would accrue to the Muslims. Historical records establish that both physically and ideologically the Tamil leadership had acted against the best interests of the Muslims. They were out to absorb the Muslims into their political fold so that it would increase their demographic power in the electorate. The political forces that lifted the Muslims from their submerged / invisible status came from the alliances with the Sinhala leadership. Mr. Hussain, however, refuses, to view the Sinhala-Buddhist as their partners in peaceful co-existence. Looking through his myopic glasses, he campaigns unceasingly to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs for the Muslims.
Historical evidence points to the fact that Islamaphobia has been a recurring factor in Tamil politics. But it is the Sinhala-Buddhists who, despite “1915”caused by Muslim arrogance and intransigence, never failed to extend a generous hand to shelter the Muslim minority. The Muslims grew, prospered and advanced from their “submerged / invisible” status to one of the most visible communities because they co-existed as good and reasonable neighbours, friends, school-mates, business partners, professional mates, cricketers, footballers etc., with the Sinhala-Buddhists, by and large. If, as he says, the Sinhala-Buddhists are afflicted with Islamaphobia they would not be in Sri Lanka. They could have been driven out like the Muslims in Christian Europe, or in the Tamil North. As a trading community they thrived mainly because their customers were the Sinhala-Buddhists. The Muslim community has advanced from the ranks of butchers and shop-keepers to professionals because Badi-ud din Mahamud, as Minister of Education in “the Sinhala government” government, succeeded in giving advantages to the less advantaged Muslim community through his standardized system. As opposed to this the only big deal signed with the Tamil leadership, Prabhakaran, left the Muslim leader, Rauf Hakeem, with hundreds of Muslim corpses.
Mr. Hussain hails Hakeem, who is standing on a pile of Muslim corpses, as the great leader of the Muslims and condemns the Rajapakse regime who, despite its many infirmities, snuffed out the ethnic violence in Ambalangoda that was developing into a national disaster. And brushing aside all the positive gains of the Muslims, he is threatening the Sinhala-Buddhist to be aware of the rise of “the submerged” force of the Muslim minority who like the Algerians can rise to overthrow the French colonialists.
Moral : Sinhala-Buddhists be aware : the camel who was given refuge in the Sri Lankan tent is stirring now to throw out those who gave shelter and protection to the helpless creature when it had nowhere to go.
Footnote: The author, Mayilvakanam, in his preface states that he wrote his text at the request of Dutch Governor, Jan Maccara, (1736). Mayilvakanam adds that he wrote his book “out of materials collected from Kayilasa-malai and other ancient works.” Brito in his translator’s preface states : “The work is looked upon as one of the great authority among the Tamils of Jaffna, and there are several manuscript copies of it extant in the peninsula. “
An interesting episode in the book is the prophecy made about the kingdom of Jaffna. King Pararajasegaram asks Supathidda-muni, a respected seer who visits the court, “what shall happen to this kingdom.” In a lengthy reply he prophesies that after the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English the country will come under one umbrella. “The sovereignty will never again come back to your descendants.” (p. 29 – Ibid.)