By Latheef Farook –
The senseless violence unleashed on peaceful Muslims by a group of Sinhalese racist mercenaries, perhaps backed by powerful local and international forces, has opened up a second hostile front ,after Tamil diaspora, to the island in the international scene.
Ever since the carnage began in Digana on 4 March 2018 and spread to other Muslim villages around Kandy there has been numerous processions, protest marches, meetings and demonstrations all over the world demanding Sri Lankan government to ensure the safety and security of the island’s Muslims.
It is the sole responsibility of any elected government to protect its citizens, their properties and their legitimate rights. In this respect Maithri-Ranil government has miserably failed to protect the island’s Muslims whose votes played crucial role in Sirisena becoming the President and Wickremesinghe the Prime Minister.
However the two have dismissed and discarded the Muslims and joined hands with global anti-Muslims forces not realizing the serious local and international consequences.
Sri Lanka is loved by Muslims worldwide, Muslim countries and their governments. Around a million Sri Lankans were employed in the Gulf countries and beyond. Their remittances, around eight billion dollars a year, remains extremely inevitable to sustain the country’s collapsing economy.
However neither the President Sirisena nor the Prime Minister Wickremesinghe both of whom travel worldwide signing bilateral agreements never thought it fit to visit these Gulf countries. This was their mindsets towards Muslims and the Muslim world.
With the change of government Muslims thought they would enjoy peace and justice.
However their hopes were dashed within months as both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesingjhe virtually abandoned the Muslim community as proved later.
When sporadic attacks on Muslims began to intensify and the government turning blind eye delegation after delegation brought the rising racist attacks to the knowledge of President Sirisena. Instead of bringing the culprits to book President Sirisena dismissed saying” this was Mahinda Rajapaksa’s conspiracy to topple the government”.
Muslims did not know what to do. These attacks intensified until the attacks on Gintota Muslims when the police and the STF were accused of involvement followed by the burning of Digana and other Muslim villages around Kandy.
The prompt response was demonstration and protest meetings worldwide by Sri Lankan Muslims living abroad. The irony is that this happens at a time when the country has not fully recovered from the July 1983 attacks on Tamils, 30 year ethnic war and the alleged atrocities and human rights violence.
Sinhalese and Tamils joined hands with Muslims to express their anger at the government in numerous cities in the United Kingdom, New York, near United Nations office, Canada, Geneva and Paris where Sri Lankan Muslims from all over France gathered in freezing cold to Australia.
They were given widespread publicity in both print and electronic media tarnishing the image of the island. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe should take full responsibility for this calamity on the country.
Sri Lankan Academics Abroad Condemn Violence against Muslim Community. In a letter to president they stated that;
We write to condemn ongoing violence against Sri Lanka’s Muslim community, especially the brutal attacks perpetrated over the past week. We are outraged that the government has failed to act speedily and decisively to stop the violence and bring those responsible to justice.
The government must act firmly to prevent more destruction and bloodshed. The scale and nature of recent attacks on the Muslim community are the result of years of successive regimes in Sri Lanka pandering to chauvinist nationalists. Targeted and organized attacks against Muslim communities in Ampara, Teldeniya, and Kandy are not isolated incidents, but must be seen within a longer history of attacks on Muslims in Sri Lanka, including wartime violence by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) against northern and eastern Muslims.
After the end of the war, majoritarian attacks against Muslims living in the East and South have escalated. In May 2014, Sinhala Buddhist nationalists attacked and burned the Muslim-owned store, Fashion Bug, and its head offices in Colombo. In June 2014, Sinhala Buddhist nationalists again carried out anti-Muslim riots in Aluthgama, Beruwala and other areas in the Kalutara District. In 2017 alone, there were 20 documented incidents of violence against Muslims, including the September 2017 attack on a UNHRC shelter housing 31 Muslim Rohingya refugees in Colombo.
Sinhala Buddhist monks led this last attack in direct violation of international human rights treaties on the protection of refugees, which Sri Lanka has ratified. In some of these instances, members of the police and security forces were present, but did nothing to halt the perpetrators or protect the victims. While some civil society organizations in Sri Lanka have condemned these orchestrated acts of violence, the government has failed to hold the responsible political and religious figures to account.
Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), for example, openly propagates hate speech against Muslims, and promotes xenophobia, racism, and bigotry. Such actors do not operate in a vacuum; the ‘inaction’ of political authorities and the police against them is in fact an active intervention, encouraging groups like the BBS and Maha Sohon Balakaya to act with impunity. We, members of the Sri Lankan diaspora, and Sri Lankans living abroad, from all of the country’s diverse communities, stand in solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers.
We believe that declaring a state of emergency and curbing free media and social networks are not sustainable solutions to issues of equal rights and the protection of minorities. In the long run, such measures will only expand the repressive powers of the state. The government must take swift action to bring those responsible for anti-Muslim violence to justice.
We call on the government to hold accountable law enforcement and political authorities who have reneged on their responsibility to protect all members of the Sri Lankan community. We also call on the government to move on long-term questions of constitutional reform that can lay the foundation for a future of peace with justice and security for all its citizens, including minorities.
Vasuki Nesiah, New York University Nimanthi Perera-Rajasingham, Colgate University Mythri Jegathesan, Santa Clara University Kanishka Goonewardena, University of Toronto V.V. Ganeshananthan, University of Minnesota Qadri Ismail, University of Minnesota Sharika Thiranagama, Stanford University Sonali Perera, City University of New York Kitana Ananda, City University of New York Sanjeevi Nuhumal, Haverford College Kathleen Fernando, Kenyon College Kanchana Ruwanpura, University of Edinburgh Pradeep Sangapala, University of Alberta Arjun Guneratne, Macalester College Amarnath Amarasingam, University of Waterloo Arjini Nawal, Harvard University Neil DeVotta, Wake Forest University Nihal Perera, Ball State University Sandya Hewamanne, University of Essex Nira Wickramasinghe, Leiden University Nalin Jayasena, Miami University Prashanth Kuganathan, Columbia University Shiyana Gunasekara, Johns Hopkins University Sukanya Emmanuel, Cornell University E Valentine Daniel, Columbia University Varuni Wimalasiri, Bournemouth University Dinidu Karunanayake, Miami University Vidyamali Samarasinghe, American University Mahesan Niranjan, University of Southampton Nethra Samarawickrema, Stanford University Dilshanie Perera, Stanford University Myra Sivaloganathan, McMaster University Namika Raby, California State University Geethika Dharmasinghe, Cornell University Sudesh Mantillake, University of Maryland & University of Peradeniya Eshantha Peiris, University of British Columbia Devaka Gunawardena, University of California, Los Angeles Themal Ellawala, Clark University Shobhana Xavier, Ithaca College Nalika Gajaweera, University of Southern California Ashwini Vasanthakumar, King’s College London Yalini Dream, University of San Francisco Mihirini Sirisena, University of Edinburgh A.R.M. Imtiyaz, Temple University Deborah Philip, City University of New York Tony Anghie, University of Utah Tanuja Thurairajah, University of Zurich Sammani Perera, Miami University Achinthya Bandara, Texas Tech University Kasun Gajasinghe, Montclair State University Upul Wickramasinghe, University of Durham Thushara Hewage, University of Ottawa.Thus ended the appeal to president.
Unfortunately racist politicians and their mercenaries failed to realize the great Muslim contributions to this country. For example it was their crucial support facilitated the process of Sri Lanka gaining independence from British in 1948 and help end almost four and half centuries of European colonial rule in the island.
Muslims played a decisive role in preserving the territorial integrity of the island. For example, during the early days of Tamil militants’ call for a separate state they had the full backing of India and the island’s armed forces were not equipped to deal with them.
From the very inception, Muslims vehemently opposed calls for the division of the country and firmly stood for territorial integrity and unity. Nevertheless, they were entangled into ethnic conflict only to face death, devastation, loss of properties and livelihood and displacement with no appreciation.
Had the Muslims joined the Tamil militancy during its early stage the island’s fate would have been sealed and the history would have projected a new political landscape.
Short sighted Sinhalese politicians who thrive on the misery of minorities should realize that Muslims, like Sinhalese, Tamils and others, have settled down here centuries ago. They are not on transit but full-fledged citizens. Unless Sinhala racists, racist politicians and others wake up to this reality this country will never enjoy peace and will never move ahead to the detriment of all.
The mindset that “this is purely a Sinhala Buddhist country” is bound to bring nothing but disaster for all.