By Ameer Ali –
For some time since the September 11 infamy and US’s declaration of the so called War on Terror, alarming statistics about Muslim population explosion and their imminent takeover of the world have been circulating in the social media globally. This demographic paranoia about Muslims is part of a growing international Islamophobia industry. That industry appears to have opened its branch in Sri Lanka also under the auspices of BBS. Statistics and graphics have been plucked from thin air to spread the canard that Muslims are growing at a phenomenal rate and that they will soon become the majority in this Buddhist country. In spite of denials from the census department, a group of ultra-nationalist Buddhist activists and their supporting institutions are in the forefront of spreading the scary fiction that Muslims are multiplying like flies in Sri Lanka. To them, an Islamic state in this country is just around the corner. Let us look at the facts.
The Muslims are supposed to have increased by 10% in number between 1981 and 2017 and at this rate, according to these alarmists, they would soon become the majority and take over the state. Leaving aside the political and ideological bankruptcy of these fear mongers for a moment, let us look at the veracity of the statistics itself. The last population census was carried out in 2011 and demographic figures quoted for periods thereafter are at best guestimates and therefore not accurate. They are the outcome of studies, which use sampling technics and other hypotheticals with a wide margin of error. One has to wait till the 2021 census to know the actual changes taken place over the last decade. However, in 1981, out of a total population of 14,846,750 the number of Sinhalese counted for 10,979,561 which increased to 15, 250,081 out of 20,359,439 in 2011, an increase of about 39%. The corresponding figures for Sri Lankan Tamils were 1,886,872 and 2,269,266, which gives an increase of 20%. The total number of Sri Lankan Moors and Malays together were 1,093,889 in 1981 and 1,936,768 in 2011 giving an increase of only 7.7%. So, where did the 10% of these Cassandras come from?
Among the Muslims, the Malay component has actually decreased from a total of 46,963 to 44,130 between 1981 and 2011.
There is another missing link in the census figures, and that is the number of outward migrants who left the country for good. The civil war that killed tens of thousands of Tamils and Sinhalese between the two censuses and the economic disaster that ensued forced hundreds of thousands to leave the country permanently. Of these emigrants, the majority were understandably Tamils, followed by Sinhalese. Muslims, because they were latecomers to education and therefore did not have the necessary skill and educational credentials the world labour market demanded, could not match the outflow from other communities. The best they could do was to migrate temporarily to the oil producing countries to occupy low skilled jobs. Thus, permanent outward migration disproportionately affected the total population of the three communities, of which the Muslim community was the least affected. This is why their percentage increased to 9.3% in the 2011 from 7.05% in 1981. It is this 9.3%, which rounded to 10% that became a weapon in the arsenal of anti-Muslim propaganda of alarmists. From that figure, more startling extrapolations being made to manufacture the fear that the country is under Muslim threat. Lies, damn lies and fantasies.
Of the three major communities in Sri Lanka, the Muslim community is the least developed. A few glittering shopping centres owned by Muslims in the cities, ostentatious wedding celebrations proudly staged by the Muslim nouveau riche and the historical appendage, ‘business community’, bestowed by the colonialists and popularly used by journalists and essayists, give a false impression that Muslims must be rich and wealthy. In fact, the worst slums in Colombo and the most isolated and poverty-stricken villages, particularly in the interior of the country belong to this community. One only has to go to any mosque in any town on a Friday and witness the crowd of Muslim beggars standing outside the gates for handouts. It is a pathetic site. Poverty breeds children. The Muslim crude birth rate, which is slightly higher than the national rate of 17.5 per thousand in 2012, corresponds to that of the Third World countries in the fifties and sixties. Imbalanced development among different communities would naturally lead to heterogeneous demographic features amongst them.
It is a proven economic hypothesis that when affluence percolates to the bottom layers of society, when literacy rate increases, and when women enter workforce, birth rate tends to respond negatively owing to the corresponding rise in opportunity cost of having more children. Muslim women are the least educated and the most reluctant to enter the workforce. Religious and cultural prejudices still place obstacles for them to compete in the development race in which other women have forged ahead. This is a developmental challenge that Muslim community faces, but Muslim leadership is clueless as to how to tackle this issue. Rather than trying to ameliorate the consequent adversities of poverty, economic and social projects need planning and execution to eradicate poverty. Without understanding this sad plight of the community, it is preposterous to claim that Muslims are deliberately increasing their fecundity to take over Sri Lanka. Even statistically, this is not possible given the increasing rate of the Sinhalese population.
On top of these misrepresentations of facts comes the ridiculous claim that Muslim merchants are deliberately mixing some mysterious contraceptive in food, drinks, clothes and other consumer items that they sell to the Sinhalese. How low can one descend to create panic and fear among ordinary people by concocting outrageous fantasies? Just as Hitler put all ills of Germany on Jews so are our super racists in Sri Lanka blaming Muslims for all problems in the country. What is there to stop these malevolent heroes from advocating Hitler’s final solution to a so-called Muslim problem, if given a chance? Why are saner minds remaining silent amidst this vicious propaganda?
In a country where even the Central Bank, the supreme guardian of the country’s economy, shamelessly distorts statistics to safeguard the ailing reputation of its paymasters how can one prevent mischievous fantasy vendors from doing the same to please their hirers? The real tragedy is that, in the midst of all this manufactured falsehood about Muslim population, their representatives in the parliament do not seem to have the guts and knowledge to counter this sophism and present the facts to convince their colleagues, some of whom are falling prey to thus malicious propaganda.
*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia