By Ameer Ali –
An epistle from the Holy Father to the Archbishop of Colombo seems to have opened a new chapter in the struggle for justice to the Sri Lankan Catholic community, which lost hundreds of innocent worshipers, three churches and continues to endure unbearable pain and trauma. Although that horror act was executed by a bunch of Muslim lunatics, authorities have scapegoated the entire Muslim community in a cynical attempt to hide the truth and protect the mastermind that engineered the massacre. Consequently, security forces had indiscriminately arrested hundreds of Muslims including the human rights lawyer Hejaz Hezbollah, a young poet Ahnaf Jazeem, two Islamic preachers Hajjul Akbar and Naufar Moulavi, a former Provincial governor Azath Salley and parliamentarian Rishad Bathiudeen under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act. The case of Hejaaz Hizbullah has received attention from the UN Human Rights Commission. And bizarrely, the Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekera, a man who is spearheading a crusade against Muslims in the parliament had already declared Naufar Moulavi as the mastermind.
Yet, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith who had access at least to parts of the 22 volumes Presidential Commission of Investigation (PCoI) report has been persistent in maintaining that the government and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in particular are involved in a massive cover up of the truth. The archbishop has also gone a step further and revealed that the report recommended prosecution of a few top police and intelligence officers and GR has backed away from implementing it. According to the prelate, the regime is not willing to implement PCoI’s recommendations in full, because its political damage to the regime would be disastrous. However, the cardinal’s call for justice to his flock has now reached the corridors of Vatican and one may have to wait to see how Vatican diplomacy would unfold in the future. The archbishop has also threatened to take his case to the world court as last resort. It is becoming increasingly clear that the regime is not going to allow the Church to continue its agitation.
The reaction has come from the State Intelligence Service. The head of that service Major General Suresh Sallay, whose name, according to another Catholic priest Fr. Cyril Gamini Fernando, appears to have been tossed around in the communication messages among the members of Zahran Hashim’s National Tawhid Jamaat, has made an official complaint to the CID demanding criminal proceedings against Fr. Fernando and few other members of the clergy. It looks that these intelligence service officers are becoming desperate to stop their names getting implicated with the massacre, and have decided to go on the attack against the church as the best form of defence.
Compared to the Catholics the plight of Muslims is far more harrowing. The entire community is virtually under siege and is being collectively punished for the crime committed by a few. But while the Catholic religious leadership is fearlessly leading the fight for justice, Muslims have been orphaned without any leadership. Neither their so-called apex religious body, All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulema, which is a men-only organization whose only remedy for all human problems is prayer and supplication to Allah, nor their political leadership that is prepared to do a bargain even with the devil if that could bring the leaders personal gains and privileges, are prepared to rally behind the Christians in a united struggle for justice. Muslim leadership fails to understand that justice to Christians would also bring justice to Muslims. The two are inseparable.
Muslim politicians are a pathetic lot. It was among them that Rajapaksa regime was able to buy the crucial votes to get the 20th Amendment passed in the parliament, which has now made President GR a virtual dictator and is taking his revenge on the community for not voting him at the 2019 election. GR’s latest act to appoint the irascible BBS Secretary Ven. Gnanasara as the head of a task force to explore and advice the president how to translate the One Country One Law (OCOL) mantra into reality, is nothing more than deliberate provocation to draw the battle lines for a future encounter with Muslims. It was this monk and his BBS that directed every major anti-Muslim riot since 2014, and even the PCoI report recommended that BBS should be proscribed. Instead, GR has elevated its secretary to a position that requires at least a modicum of legal knowledge. This was done without even consulting the Minister of Justice, who happens to be a leading Muslim and a leading attorney in the country. This racist monk would still be in prison had it not been for the politically motivated pardon and release by the former president Maithripala Sirisena who, in spite of all credible intelligence made available to his office took no action to prevent that massacre. It was his dereliction of duty that led to that infamy. Prisoner Gnanasara is now the head of a task force to deal with legal matters. It was this monk while addressing a public rally in Kandy on 7 June 2019 extended OCOL to bring one race into it and made OCOLOR. He did it by claiming that Sri Lanka belongs only to the Sinhalese and that other communities are long term tenants in the Sinhalese home. What is even more shocking and insulting to the Muslim community is the inclusion in that task force four Muslims who apparently belong to some obscure Sufi groups that do not represent even one percent of believers in Islam in the country. There is no doubt that these four are planted there to say, yes sir yes sir to the Venerable chief who thinks only Sufism represents true Islam. Anyhow, the sole motive of this cynical exercise is to get rid of the controversial MMDA and along with it the Qazi courts. If a monk is needed to do this why have an expert in law as the Minister of Justice?
Sri Lankan Muslims have to find solutions to their problems and seek justice to their grievances from within the country. There is no Pope in Islam to plead for them, and the only world organization Muslims have is OIC whose influence internationally is very limited. True OIC passed a resolution against the Sri Lankan government, which gave additional weight to UNHCR resolution and EU’s threat regarding GSP+ trade concessions. Whether OIC would continue to act further is doubtful. Yet, there is no harm in trying to appeal to that body to do more. But the long-term solution has to be worked out domestically and with cooperation from other communities and organizations. It is time Muslims give up their identity politics and look for a leadership outside their community. That leadership need not be Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, agnostic or a coalition of some or all of them. As long as that leadership is prepared to treat the Muslims as equal partners in the national struggle for democracy, freedom, and progress that leadership should be supported. The entire country is looking for such a leadership at the moment. Will Muslims join the search? Meanwhile, the Christian struggle for justice deserves support of all Muslims.
*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business & Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia