By Ameer Ali –
The incendiary attack on ‘Nolimit’, a Muslim owned and the foremost textile retail business outlet at Panadura in the Western Province of Sri Lanka is yet the latest in a series of premeditated and meticulously planned anti-Muslim vicious campaign led by the most extremist Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) which, according to all available information and evidence, carries the unflinching support of some powerful members in the ruling Rajapakse regime.
This anti-Muslim campaign is part of a more elaborate project conspiratorially planned and collaboratively executed by the supremacist BBS and its coterie like the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) with support from the Buddhist petty bourgeoisie to transform Sri Lanka into a nation of Sinhalese Buddhists and Buddhists only with some limited tolerance to other communities provided they are prepared to live on unequal terms. There is a close parallel here with the State of Israel which also claims that Israel belongs to Jews and Jews only but the Arabs are allowed to exist, if they wish, but on apartheid terms. Just as the Jews claim that their language Hebrew is spoken nowhere else except in Israel and that therefore it should be the only state language so also is the claim of the supremacists that Sinhalese is spoken only in Sri Lanka and that it should be the only state language. Just as the Jewish hardliners have indoctrinated their views and ideology to the security forces of the country so also are the Buddhist hardliners have indoctrinated theirs to the police force and soldiers in the island, the vast majority of them are Buddhists. Finally, like the Israeli Jews, the Buddhist supremacists also, by hiring their comprador intellectuals and historians are venturing to establish their dubious claims on the basis of a politically abused history, concocted legends, and twisted logics. If BBS, JHU and their sympathisers are allowed to succeed in their project of Buddhisization of Sri Lanka the country would become a semi-apartheid regime in the not too distant future.
The current Muslim hate campaign by BBS & Co. is the latest chapter of two previously unleashed anti-other undertakings by their predecessors, first against the Catholics and then against the Tamils both of which are still continuing. The Catholics were targeted because of their religious evangelism, extra-territorial allegiance to the Vatican and an alleged disproportionate hold on domestic economy and professions. The Tamils were targeted partly because of an imagined existential threat to the Sinhalese nation arising from events buried in ancient history but mostly because of Tamil dominance over higher education and professional services in the country. The standardisation of the University Entrance Examination marks by the SLFP Government in the 1970s and the burning of the iconic Jaffna Library in 1981 by a rampaging Sinhala Buddhist army were deliberate attempts to deprive the Tamils of any opportunity to continue their dominance over higher education and professionalism. The Tamils of course resorted to a foolhardy military solution which ended not only in losing the war but also most of what they had achieved politically over several decades. From a powerful political force to be reckoned with by any Sri Lankan government the Tamil community after 2009 has been reduced to a marginal element in a triumphalist Buddhist-Military-Presidential political complex.
In its chauvinist dream of religious homogenization of Sri Lanka the BBS & Co. has turned its wrath and rage on the Muslims who have been the most submissive and law abiding minority throughout their existence in the island for over a millennium. They never aspired for an independent state nor did they carry any extra-territorial political allegiance to any country or nation. Even after incurring heavy losses in the 1915 Sinhalese-Muslim riots the community never tried to migrate anywhere but became even more attached to the local soil. When the Sinhalese-Tamil ethnic divide became more virulent and bloody after 1983 the Muslims always aligned with the Sinhalese and paid a heavy price for that allegiance at the hands of the LTTE. If so why is this community being targeted now?
In the calculations of BBS & Co. the Muslim community is alleged to be posing a demographic, religious, security and economic threat to Buddhist supremacy in the island. The demographic threat is manufactured from a simplistic comparison of statistics provided in the census reports of 1981 and 2011. They show that while the Sinhalese population has increased from 73.9% to 74.9% and that of Tamils have declined from 12.7% to 11.2% Muslim population has increased from 7% to 9% and hence the danger of Sri Lanka becoming a Muslim country. The most important element in this demographic change namely migration has been completely ignored. Between the two censuses hundreds of thousands of Sinhalese and Tamils have left the country permanently in search of greener pastures while the Muslims, for various reasons, have found themselves unable to do so. The total number of Sri Lankan Muslims living in the English speaking countries of UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand does not exceed 30,000 whereas each of the other two communities have settlements of hundreds of thousands. There is also anther allegation that Muslim population in certain localities like Dehiwela has overtaken the Sinhalese population. During the civil war years because of the anti-Muslim policy of the LTTE Muslims from the north and east were forced to evacuate and they came and settled in Colombo and its suburbs. This means there were two simultaneous trends, a rise in their number in some localities and fall in others.
The religious threat is supposed to arise from the activities of Muslim missionary groups such as the Tabligh and Tawhid Jamaats. There are two issues here, one of conversion and the other of overt religiosity. BBS & Co. is worried about a few Buddhists converting to Islam but do they also know that there are Muslims running away from Islam and living with Buddhists, Christians and Hindus? Who is doing the counting? In an open religious market there must be freedom of and from religion. Overt religiosity is a worldwide phenomenon and not confined to Muslims alone. What about the Christians in America, Hindus in India and Buddhists in Burma. Haven’t they become overtly religious over the last few decades? It is a revolt against a secular but unjust World Order ruled by corporate capitalism. It is natural that ordinary people seek solace in the supernatural when they find themselves incapable of seeking rational solution to their adversities. Muslims do eat halal meat, but how does that affect non-meat eating Buddhists? True, there are certain religious practices that irritate other communities but that calls for inter-faith dialogue, self-introspection and reforms and not for incendiarism, destruction and slaughter.
Security threat is said to be coming from the presence of Muslim terrorist groups linked to Al-Qaeda. No one so far has produced a single shred of evidence to prove this. Finally, the economic threat is assumed to emanate through Muslim businessmen’s fraudulent tactics of buying and selling. Here again, apart from the fabricated accusations and malicious propaganda by the warriors of BBS & Co. no credible evidence has been produced either by the government or by serious researchers to prove their veracity. On the contrary evidence show that Muslim establishments like Nolimit and Fashionbug are prompt in fulfilling their tax obligations, providing employment to thousands of non-Muslims and are winning customer attachment in spite of all bureaucratic repression and racist propaganda.
What is certain though is the freedom these supremacists enjoy to attack, burn and destroy places of worship, businesses and properties belonging to Muslims often in the presence of law enforcers. The intention of this unruly mob is clear. It wants to destroy the plural makeup of the Sri Lankan society and polity and reduce and marginalize the influence of ethnic minorities. Indeed this was the very reason behind the Jayewardena constitution which introduced the executive presidential system in 1977.
The destruction of Nolimit and before that the attack on Fashionbug, destruction of a Muslim owned pharmacy store in Dehiwela, setting fire to a Muslim chicken and goat farm and a shirt factory in the South and many more in other areas, all indicate a systematic effort to destroy the Muslim economy. The Sinhalese petty bourgeoisie is unfortunately in cahoot with this malicious mob. The silent majority is either too afraid to confront this crowd or is hoping that the turbulence will go away eventually. The government is in a state of denial and Muslim politicians, for various reasons, are powerless to act decisively to make any difference. It was reported in the media that when a politician visited Alutgama after the mayhem an old Muslim woman asked him “Where is Prabakaran?”, an emotional outburst by a victim but has deep implications. Like the Tamils, Muslims are also now forced to look to the international community for redress.
*Ameer Ali, School of Management and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia