By Hilmy Ahamed –
Islamophobia is the fear of, hatred of, or prejudice against the religion of Islam or Muslims in general, especially when seen as a geopolitical force.
On the International Day to Combat Racism of 15th March 2019, a terrorist, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, murdered 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern showed the world what a leader should be, in fighting Islamophobia. The DJ turned Prime Minister Jacinda Arden was feted around an increasingly populist world for being young, female and progressive. Her response to the Christchurch carnage elevated her to lead the world against Islamophobia.
The Muslims around the world are grateful to the United Nations for declaring 15 March as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. Islamophobia is rampant across the world and Sri Lanka is no exception. Our neighbour India, which claims to be the world’s largest democracy, is the worst example of Islamophobia.
The Muslims of Sri Lanka, for decades, have been the victims of politically motivated Islamophobia, with serious damage caused to the Muslim economy in the aftermath of the riots of Aluthgama, Gintota, Ampara and Digana. There is no doubt that business rivalry was one of the main reasons for many of these riots in the past. Successive governments have failed to address the hate crimes against Muslims orchestrated by a small minority of extremist Buddhists and monks. Large public rallies and strident social media campaigns normalised hate speech and everyday low-intensity harassment of Muslims across the country. From the Burqa ban to closing of several Muslim religious schools, to the confiscation of Islamic reading material, to blaming Muslim entrepreneurs of sterilising women with sweets, food, brassieres and more, the hatred for the Muslim community became more and more manifest.
And then in April 2022, our country witnessed the historic phenomenon that brought all ethnicities, religions and other divides, together, under a common flag, with one Sri Lankan identity. The Muslim community in Sri Lanka is grateful to the “ARAGALAYA” for rubbishing hate against Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities. They were able to unite all Sri Lankans, irrespective of differences, to stand together with one common purpose. We sincerely hope that the kind of Islamophobia in Sri Lanka experienced during the last two decades will only be a nightmare of the past. With elections on the horizon, it would be the responsibility of every Sri Lankan to stop any form of hate against any minority.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution sponsored by 60 Member-States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which designated 15 March as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. The document stresses that terrorism and violent extremism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation, or ethnic group.
Islamophobia is a fear, prejudice and hatred of Muslims that leads to provocation, hostility, and intolerance. The online and offline world today has made it so easy to create hate and misinformation about communities at the click of a button. While not encouraging the state to control media, legislation needs to be enacted against hate campaigns and targeting of minority communities against using the new media to promote hate. While ICCPR and other legislation exist, it has been used selectively to target the so-called communities that it meant to protect.
In today’s world, Islamophobia is motivated by institutional, ideological, political and religious hostility that transcends into structural and cultural racism. Studies show that the number of Islamophobic hate crimes continued to increase following events beyond the control of Muslims.
The 21/4 Easter bombing attack by a few so-called Muslims labelled the two million Muslims living in Sri Lanka as terrorists and a threat to the nation. The Muslims were the first to condemn the acts of these terrorists by not even giving the terrorists an Islamic burial. Our stand was that the actions of Zaharan and his terrorist group had no Islamic cause for the mayhem they created. Subsequent investigations and inquires have proven that it was a politically motivated plot to create Islamophobia against the Muslims among the innocent Sinhala community. There is no doubt that Gotabaya Rajapaksa was presented as the strong military man who can save Sri Lanka from Islamic terrorists and 6.9 million voted to prevent the possible Islamic take over of Sri Lanka.
The recent supreme court judgment imposing a fine of 100 million for ignoring evidence of a terrorist attack and the subsequent presidential commission reports that were not released to the public point towards a political cover up. The victims were the 2 million Muslims, and the Sinhala youth exposed the hypocrisy of the governments through the Aragalaya of 2022.
International human rights law protects individuals, not religions and Islamophobia may also affect non-Muslims, based on perceptions of nationality, racial or ethnic background.
The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and other horrific acts of terrorism purportedly carried out in the name of Islam escalated threats to Muslims all across the world. Widespread negative representations of Islam have created a threat and has perpetuated hostility and violence towards Muslim individuals and communities across the world.
With the end of 30-year war in Sri Lanka, extremist Buddhists with the euphoria of the war victory, assumed that they had dealt and finished off the Tamil minority, turned their guns on the other minority, the Muslims. Halal food became the first target and many other issues became hot topics of Islamophobia that culminated in branding the entire Muslim community as terrorists with the 21/4 coming.
Finally, let us not forget the calculated, vindictive, and now proven unsubstantiated attack on Dr. Shafi of Kurunegala and many other ridiculous allegations against the Muslim community. And how can we condone the cruel insistence of the Sri Lankan government, through the advice of so-called scientific experts, that all Covid19 victims needed to be cremated? This was a direct act of Islamophobia, when it was proven that the support for cremation was baseless, and the Muslim community was denied their fundamental burial rights.