19 November, 2018

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Inter Communal Tensions A Setback For National Reconciliation

By Javid Yusuf

Javid Yusuf

Sri Lanka’s attempts at National Reconciliation have received a major setback with the latest inter-communal tensions in several parts of the country. Picking up the pieces after a protracted and debilitating civil war that drained national resources for over three decades would be a daunting task for any country. If it is a country which is on the bottom half of the economic ladder the task of rebuilding becomes that much more difficult. Moreover, creating new problems for ourselves would mean facilitating a situation which impedes any process of reconciliation. A repetition of the tragic events of the past is a luxury that Sri Lanka and its people can ill afford.

When every effort should be made to identify the mistakes of the past and correct them, we are allowing irresponsible small groups to do just the opposite and adding to our list of problems. With the process of reconciliation between the Tamil community and the State as well as between the Tamil and Sinhalese communities still finding its feet, making the Muslims insecure renders the Nation building project an even more formidable task.

The current anti-Muslim campaign has come as a rude shock and a bolt from the blue to a community which had been peacefully going about its day to day lives without treading on anyone’s toes. The virulent nature of the discourse and the manner in which it has been carried out clearly reflects a desire to target the Muslims rather than a genuine attempt to address Sinhalese or Buddhist concerns. Any concerns of a community can and should be discussed and addressed through dialogue and discussion in a sensitive manner without recourse to public platforms and street demonstrations that inflame passions and spread insecurity among people.

During the civil war while sharing the difficulties and common problems faced by the civilian population of all communities, the Muslims underwent considerable difficulties themselves during the LTTE-State conflict when they were specifically targeted as in the case of the forcible eviction of Muslims from the North, the massacres at the Kattankudy and Eravur mosques, dispossession of Muslims from their lands etc despite not being direct parties to the armed conflict.
Notwithstanding all this Muslims have been proud to call Sri Lanka their home. In interactions with the outside world Muslims have with pride pointed out that they enjoyed freedom to practice their religion and culture with active support from the State. The positive picture painted by Muslims about Sri Lanka abroad has greatly contributed to Sri Lanka enjoying considerable clout in the international community and being viewed as a model of tolerance to be emulated by other countries in the world. A large part of the credit for such an image undoubtedly belongs to the Sinhalese and Buddhist people and their religious leaders who so no bogeys among the minorities thus ensuring that Sri Lanka was a haven of multi religious and multi ethnic harmony in respect of which all Sri Lankans could justifiably be proud.

Yet today the model of co-existence that Sri Lanka has been proud to hold out to the world is being threatened and is adding to the growing list of challenges we face many of which are of our own seeking. Those driving the process of damaging inter religious harmony seem to be doing so with reckless disregard for the National Interest and the good name of the country. Unless this trend is arrested quickly irreparable harm and damage will be caused to Sri Lanka’s hitherto proud image of co-existence and harmony.

It is well known that despite the ethnic flavor of the civil war, there was and is tremendous goodwill among the people of all communities at the grassroots level which has proved to be a source of hope for nation building and reconciliation. Even today when there are reports of misguided individuals attacking Muslims who wear the Abaya and Nikab, it is the ordinary Sinhalese and Buddhists who have spontaneously rushed to the rescue of the victims and chased off the attackers reflecting the humanity that has long been a hallmark of the Sri Lankan culture.

Contrast the picture with other arenas of conflict in other parts of the world. In Northern Ireland the Protestants and Catholics have lived physically apart and it is only after the Good Friday Agreement inspired peace process that these two communities are trying to interact and have more inter communal engagement. In Sri Lanka we have had centuries of peaceful co-existence and should be careful not to allow a change in the healthy relationships enjoyed between the communities

When Sri Lanka is facing challenges internationally (some of which like the current anti Muslim campaign are of our own making ) we need to harness all our energies to rebuild internally as well as improve our image externally and once again take our place as a respected member of the International community.

The civil war has had many negative fall outs. One of the most unfortunate results of the end of the armed phase of the conflict is the sense of insecurity felt among the Tamil community. As a result of wrong strategies and brutal use of violence, the LTTE did a great disservice to the Tamils who today feel wounded and insecure. Whatever mistakes the LTTE made and whatever wrongs the Sri Lankan State may have committed in dealing with the LTTE and the grievances of the Tamil people, it is incumbent upon the Sri Lankan State to actively reach out to the Tamil people and heal their wounds and make them feel secure and confident.

In such a context when we are grappling with post war issues, it makes no sense to create a situation where another minority (the Muslims) are being made to feel insecure. It is axiomatic that matters of religion are emotive and have to be handled sensitively. The conduct of the Bodhu Bala Sena and other organisations with regular Press Conferences, Street demonstrations and Mass meetings as well as the tone and content of the speeches at such meetings have had exactly the opposite effect and have been laced with untruths, half truths and misperceptions which has contributed to planting the seeds of hate among ordinary people who may not have the ability to sift fact from fiction.

One of the allegations expressed is that the Muslim population is growing at such a rate that it will soon make the Muslims the majority community in Sri Lanka. Fortunately the Department of Census and Statistics has rebutted the allegation with facts and figures that prove there is no truth in the story. Another concern expressed was the story that a particular Textile Stores was distributing sweets to customers which when consumed would adversely affect Sinhala and Buddhists womens’ fertility. This too was disproved when it was discovered that the sweets referred to were manufactured by a well known Company owned by Sinhala Buddhists.

The most recent statement made is that food prepared by Muslims is spat on three times before consumption. Clearly such a story is not even worth dignifying with a response except to show the ridiculous lengths to which they would go to, to discourage Sinhalese and Buddhists from patronizing Muslim owned restaurants and eating houses.

Two issues of National concern which are troubling concerned citizens have emerged as a result of recent events.
There are many law and order issues that are being ignored by the law enforcement agencies. Many web sites which are spewing hate speech against Muslims have been operating without any action against them. There are groups which have openly declared themselves as unofficial police forces and conducting raids including against Christian institutions. Public meetings and public demonstrations that spread hatred against communities are allowed without any legal action when laws are transgressed.

How has the Bodhu Bala Sena which was founded only in the middle of last year been able to reach various parts of the country and make such an impact within such a short time? Even the two main political parties the SLFP and the UNP will not have such success in such a short time for their political camapaigns despite their wide network and existence for so many years.

The situation is fast careering out of control and can prove detrimental to the National Interest unless decisive action is taken to bring it under control. A country of contented people whether they be Buddhists, Hindus, Christians or Muslims is a sine qua non for Nation building. It would be attractive to say that the National Interest must take precedence over the interests of the Buddhists, Hindus, Christians or the Muslims. What is even more closer to the truth is the realisation that the National Interest is in fact the collective interest of the people whether they be Buddhists, Hindus, Christians or Muslims.

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Latest comments

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    BBS should be banned and taken to court with all hard evidence. I do not what our politicians and solicitors do on this matter.No one should be above the law.It is dangerous that BBS has taken law into its hands. police, army, and MPs all are afraid of them. That is why people suspect this is handy work of some political figures in Srilanka. without political influences no one would do this. we should blame our politicians for not revealing the truth.

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    Allah has decided that this has to befall on the srilankan muslims;we muslims must note that this is the time we could look into ourselves and correct our mistakes;and that patience and tolerance is important;;;;Allah has given the opportunities for our muslims to amend ourselves;be humble;accomodating;kind;helpful;tolerant;forgiving;;and spread goodness ;we love srilanka

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    I think this is nothing compared to what the Tamils have gone through in last 30 years. Maybe muslims are next in line? These types of ridiculous allegations are a joke but taken seriously by ignorant people. We have to fear the ignorant man not the educated people who know what Buddhism is really about. Be prepared as Lord Baden Powell taught us.

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    The Muslims of Sri Lanka should pool their resources and unite as one community to combat the attack on their honour and property. Complacency and placing their trust in their elected officials have not brought any results. Prosperity of the Muslims in the world has become so visible; jealousy has crept in. Jealousy is cancerous and can eat up human values and blinds rational thinking.

    When we come to the end of all the light we know and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: Either we will be given something solid to stand on or we will be taught to fly.

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    Dear Javid,
    As a SLFP member, you clearly know that this BBS is strengthen by the President and the Defense Secretary. since you have a close relation with the President MARA why do not you want to talk to him directly and tell the truth to the community? If not what is the point that you people representing the Muslim Leadership at the center.

    even in your article, you are afraid to mention GOTA’s support to the BBS.

    Beyond all these factors, we have to agree that recently emerged Wahhabism is a real threat to the entire Muslim community and to the other religion. Also it is true that Wahhabism is funded by the Saudi Arabia and some other Muslim countries. We also have to think that how they could build mosques and madrasa’s in all over the island within few years.

    If you take Paragahadeniya, there is a big mosque more than a century but these wahhabies built a mosque just behind this mosque. Further in another village in Kurunagala, Thalgaspity Mawathagama, Wahhabies built a mosque just close to their traditional mosque.
    It is the same case many of the villages in the island.

    Are these things are acceptable, justifiable?

    As we Muslims should react to this before Buddhist monks act against to this.

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      You are worried about Wahabis building Masjids. This reflects the Unity of Muslims. Its like when your house is on fire, you run after the arsonist and let your house burn to the ground. May Allah guide the Muslims.

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      BBS attacked Muslims, and the Muslims attack themselves. Shameful.

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      Rochan,

      Your note reveals how ignorant you are. The Islam you and many of your ilk talk as traditional Islam is far removed from True Islam as espoused by the Holy Prophet and the Quran. The mosques you accuse of having come up in few places had to be built because the people of your ilk prevented them from practising Islam according to the pure teachings of the religion.For your own sake come out of your cocoon and learn Islam from authentic sources. Read Haneef James Oliver’s “The Wahhabi Myth”

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      Rochan,

      You write “Beyond all these factors, we have to agree that recently emerged Wahhabism is a real threat to the entire Muslim community and to the other religion. Also it is true that Wahhabism is funded by the Saudi Arabia and some other Muslim countries.”

      Where is proof for this statement. BBS and other elements has been saying similar things for last few months, but have they showed any proof of fund transfer or a person whom they can pin-point with proof as being controled and manipulated by ‘Wahabis’.

      There is no systematic foreign intervention by any person, movement or organization on Muslims, and therefore I can’t see the ‘threat’ you are talking about. Changes may have occured in the Muslim community over the last couple of decades, but this is by no means a result of Saudi manipulation. We have our right to practise our religion any way we want. If I want to grow a beard out of religious belief or go to the mosque five times a day it is my constitutional and fundamental human right.

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    Wahab is a beautiful name of Allah ;the bestower؛؛؛and our own muslims are insulting ;whatever sect we meet Allah alone;se cannot insult any sects or religions;why dont we delve into ourselves ;;;;and correct ourselves;;;; maybe there are graves in the old mosque so we cant worship when there is a grave

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    You speak of set back to reconciliation.Was there any attempt at reconciliation by this Government.The roads and houses built in the North are for the new settlers and not for the displaced.It is for the new developers from the South to travel to their new projects “grants” by the patriotic government. The displaced are still suffering while the lands belonging to them are given to the people from the south for “developmet’. Vast areas belonging to the Government agriculture department is leased to these developers while the owners of agricultural lands in the north are rendered destitute.

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    Dear Magribi, riza nad Truthful,

    Always don’t try to forget the wrong what the Muslims are doing. Even Rizvi Mufti too came into the leadership due to the influence of Hakeem. There are many young people in the ACJU, they all are Wahhabees.

    Only these Wahhabees are Following Quran nd Hadees who emerged in late 1990s, others followed Buddha bana?

    what a fool Magribi you are?, Dont be a person who is injustice,

    Weather we Belive or not, all issues came because of wahhabies.

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    In a country, religion should be a unifying factor for communities. However religion becomes destruction if misused by bigots and intolerant individuals and groups like the BBS, political Islam preached by Al-Jihad & Al-Qaeda, Hindutva, etc. It can easily arouse emotions of love & hate, construction & destruction and peace & war. This is what is happening in Sri Lanka. Why can’t everyone just think for a moment as to who will benefit out of this unrest. When there was a JVP uprising during Premadasa’s period, there were about 40,000 to 60,000 Sinhalese youths were killed. A considerable number of dead bodies came floating through Kelani Ganga and in most of the dead bodies the private parts and just above it together with the eyes, were burnt to prevent identification. It was very painful to watch how old people used to roll over those bodies to in order to identify whether they were their children. However after some months when I went to Singapore, I read an article with one full page giving an account of how eyes and kidneys were removed from these dead bodies, for which a lady Registrar, a doctor and a businessman were engaged in this exercise, and eventually sold to a foreign country. I was stunned that this has happened in a Buddhist country and showed that paper cutting to my friends. That day itself we decided that it is always best to elect cultured gentleman to Parliament. But it is sad that politicians used the war victory and misled the people to gain power. In this respect, the British are wiser to elect Lord Atlee as Prime Minister – a lesson that Sri Lankans has to learn from the British. At present, when the Cultured Sinhalese and the Tamils have raised their voice against the BBS for their illegal activities against the Muslims to place them in tension as well as that of the execution of Rizana. However, the recent behavior of Minister Rishard Badurdeen against the Tamils has become a question mark. Moreover, whether the allegations that Muslims spat thrice on food that are prepared before consumption is true or not, there were reports that a Muslim Police Inspector at Boosa, spat on the ground and ordered the Tamils to lick it. He failed to practice tolerance as a true Islamist the acts of which now turns out to impede any process of reconciliation among the races. Now the Muslim community is paying for it. This is Karma. The introduction/invasion of Wahhabism also contributed to the present conflict and tension. The issue is how to reconcile inter-communal faith. It is time to realize that God is One, but is called by their desired names in different ways and get rid of fanaticism. It is prudent to forget the past misdeeds and forgive in order to strengthen the process of reconciliation among the communities. Are the Muslims ready to face the consequences that were similar to that of the Sinhalese youths. Had there been Federalism in Sri Lanka, this situation wouldn’t have cropped up. Now the only solution left is for the foreign forces, preferably the IPKF to march again in Sri Lanka to restore normalcy and protect the citizens.

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    I feel sorry for the Muslims. But if you hear the stories of the atrocities committed by the Muslims stooges, armed personnel and thugs during the war and riots the whole human race will be ashamed of that. They were serving the masters with the full endorsement of their Muslim politician leaders and even the journalist. Now they are coming for you. So it is going to affect reconciliation. Is it. Reconciliation is between Tamils and Sinhalese isn’t it. Muslims and Sinhalese never fought a war but want to poke your finger into the reconciliation – do you see some good business or profit in that. When the war was on Muslim politicians went to Islamic countries to garner support for the Sri Lankan government. Now the Muslims are attacked why are they not going anywhere? Address the issue. Isolate it and find a solution. Dont be a parasite on all communities to make capital out of it. The country is more intelligent that you think to sort you out.

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    Rochan – Your membership to BBS ideology is very regrettable. Muslims are very proud of their Masaajid around the world and we take exceptions to voice the prevention of building the House of Allah. If calling Muslims to follow the message of Islam is injustice in your view then whatever faith you belong to, may your Creator have mercy on your soul when your return.

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