By Rishad Bathiudeen –
We are living in today’s world, in an era of dilemma, an era of unspeakable horrors, an era where extremism has rendered us all hostage.
This is an era of extreme confusion. We have looked to our allies in peace, and some amongst them have looked to hold us, as villains, instead of as, also victims of a global conspiracy! Our allies in peace, have forgotten that we stood with them, even in the face of adversity. Hon. Speaker, I wish to table this book by Dr. Lorna Devaraja, first published in 1994 ‘The Muslims of Sri Lanka – One Thousand Years of Ethnic Harmony’. This book outlines over one thousand years of peaceful co-existence. Our ancestors came in here as traders.
The Commission of Inquiry states that, the first traders came here in about the 7th Century AD, and this book establishes the mutually beneficial relationship, the Muslims shared with the Sinhalese community of Sri Lanka, which laid the foundation for racial and religious amity. The Muslim traders brought enormous assets, and the Sinhala monarchs of the time, offered protection and permitted them to settle. We have remained in amity, and sort to make our investments here, in Sri Lanka. This is our motherland. Our assets and finances remain in Sri Lanka. We did not plunder this country like the Dutch, Portuguese and British.
The Sinhalese, Tamils and Christians are our brothers, in our quest to serve our mother Lanka, and nobody can or should take that right from us. When the Muslims were demanded to support the LTTE, or be evicted from the North, we, the Muslims of Sri Lanka, chose to lose our homes and our belongings to be loyal to our motherland. We gave up our assets and our livelihoods to live as refugees. I was also one of those evicted by the LTTE. We earned the wrath of the LTTE, because we chose to love our motherland, over our own lives.
We, have lived with you, among you, as one of you. We have loved each other, protected each other, shared in the spoils of war, and celebrated our victory over separatism. We Muslims never asked to be regarded separately. We only asked to be given the right to live as Sri Lankans and as Muslims.
I must admit, there were extremist elements, who exploited the name of Islam and caused turmoil. The terrorists behind the Easter Sunday attacks are not Muslims. They are terrorists that hijacked the name of Islam, for their own sinister agendas. I am not here to defend them. I cannot and will not defend or support any terrorist, even if my life was on the line. I am here to tell you that we, the Muslim Community, will stand with you, today and forever, against any and all forms of terrorism and violent extremism.
Today is the fifth day of the debate on the Commission of Inquiry Report on the Easter Attacks.
The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) appointed by the then Speaker and the Commission of Inquiry (COI) appointed by the President, have both exonerated me from all of the crass allegations, falsely linking me with those terrorists.
Ever since the Easter Attacks, Hon. Wimal Weerawansa has been making controversial statements at my expense. He says that I was in contact with Zahran, even when there is no evidence, because I or my brother had never known or met Zahran in our lives. He made this statement in a programme named ‘Islam Anthavaadhaya – Paasku Komisamen Obbata’. His entire speech during the programme provoked both the Muslim and Sinhala youths. He incited racism and religious bigotry. I asked the CID to inquire on this programme. I have formally submitted a complaint, but nothing has happened. The Commission does not mention anything as such. This is what has to be stopped.
On page 331 of the report, the Commission report is quoted:
‘Reciprocal radicalization is the cycle of radicalization which promotes each other’s radicalized ideologies’
I would say that if the Government can keep their own representatives like Wimal Weerawansa in check, and prevent them from inciting racism, the de-radicalization programme will be half complete.
He even made allegations against a renowned Government entity, claiming that Sathosa vehicles have been used to transport Zaharan, which is now proven to be just words, to mislead the public for his political motives. I am challenging you, as a minister in the current Government, to prove those allegations with facts and figures.
The report only refers to me in respect of two allegations. One is regarding the sale of scrap metal to Colossus (Pvt) Ltd from IDB. Here too the Commission has not made any findings but states that, this is a matter to be taken up by the Bribery Commission. I plan to visit the Bribery Commission tomorrow and ask them to inquire this immediately, because I want to prove without a doubt that I have no involvement with these terrorists.
Secondly, the Commission of Inquiry, had referred to a call, I made to the Army Commander, General Mahesh Senanayake. This was a call only to inquire, if Ihsan Moinudeen was in the custody, of the Law Enforcement Authorities. His father, who is a Class I Special Grade SLAS Officer and an Additional Secretary to a Ministry, is known to me and he called me as a concerned parent. He not only called me, but also wrote to the then President, and the media on the abduction of his son. First, I called the OIC of Dehiwala Police and the relevant Division SSP, Mr. Wickremesinghe who responded saying that he has not been arrested by the Police, and he suggested me to check with the Army. Then I called the General to make an inquiry, and he said he wasn’t aware and that he would try to find out. I called him a second time, to find out if progress was made, and again he said he could not check yet. The third time I called, he told me that Ihsan was in their custody and that was the end of it. For the information of this house, I table the affidavit with all relevant documents and evidences I have submitted to the Commission.
People seem to perceive this phone call to the Army Commander very negatively. I ask them, what is wrong in what I did? It is the right of every citizen in this country, to make inquiries from the lawful authorities, in this country. I am an elected representative. I am a representative of the people, and it is my obligation to make inquiries in these times on behalf of them.
The Commission report on Page 395 also makes reference to a call made by Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara. Dayasiri Jayasekara intervened on behalf of six people, who were arrested by the Bingiriya Police and brought to the Hettipola Police Station. He even got permission from the DIG Kurunegala, to have them released on Police bail and transported them in his vehicle. Those were people arrested for torching and destroying Muslim owned shops and Muslim places of worship. They attacked innocent Muslims. This is in the Commission report. But no action had been recommended by the Commission against him. Why? I wish to clearly mention that such people are also extremists.
But what did I do? I made legitimate inquiries of the whereabouts of a missing person, whose father was serving the State in a high position. Over 2000 Muslims were arrested over the Easter Sunday Attacks. This was the only person in regard to whom I made inquiries. Why? It was because he was kidnapped. That is a legitimate right that any citizen is entitled to exercise.
The fake news media say I was trying to influence the Army Commander. I am tabling here, the video clip and other evidences of the testimony of the General where he admits that I never influenced. That is a preposterous allegation. Have some humanity. I ask the parents who are listening, how would you feel if your child was kidnapped? Imagine the plight of the father of this child. Would you not have acted in the same manner?
I just made an inquiry, and the media went into a frenzy. But here we have in the case of Hon. Dayasiri Jayasekera, an elected representative against whom, I have nothing personal, not just making an inquiry, but intervening on behalf of criminals in non-bailable offences, securing sureties and securing their release. From this, we can learn that justice was not meted out evenly. I wish to ask all concerned parties; why was greater weight placed on my call, to the Army Commander, over and above the actions of Dayasiri Jayasekara? Is it because I’m a Muslim? If so, is it not discrimination?
The Report also identifies that, several local Government members were instigating violence. The report points out, that the Police did nothing to stop these mobs. Apparently they did not have strength. These attacks were anticipated. Curfew was in motion. It is the duty of the Law Enforcement Authorities, to enforce the law. They were aware of the situation and did not reinforce security in the areas. They allowed the mobs to create unrest at will. This was wilfully executed, against, a religious minority in this country. However, not enough action has been taken till now. If my call to the Army Commander had received such prominence, why are such strong matters just limited to a few paragraphs in the report, I must ask?
The Report reveals several incidents of violence post-Easter. There were 78 incidents in Minuwangoda, 37 incidents in Kuliyapitiya, 200 incidents in Hettipola, 9 incidents in Chilaw, 47 incidents in Koswatta, 67 incidents in Nikaweratiya, 55 incidents in Negambo and many more incidents against the Muslims.
If you look at the involvement of some of these Local Government Members, and the non-involvement of Law Enforcement Authorities, it definitely seemed like State sponsored oppression against minorities. Fouzul Ameer Mohamed Sally of Kottramulla lost his life in front of these criminals to these extremists. In any other country, this would be reported as genocide, and all the inflammatory speeches would be branded as ‘incitement to genocide’ under the Genocide convention.
I wish to table the Genocide Convention before this house. The State has allowed the killing of Muslims. The State has allowed bodily harm to Muslims. The State has now begun imposing conditions that threaten the physical destructions of Muslims. This is genocide under Article 2. Do not forget that we are now part of the Rome Statute, and we are accountable for our actions and omissions.
In view of these incidents, I must once again extend my sincerest of gratitude to His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. In the wake of an outbreak of Post-Easter violence, he effectively managed to limit the damage. His actions were exemplary of the virtues of the faith of the Catholics.
I would like to make reference to certain points from the report. On page 145, the report states that 17 video recordings were made by Zahran and his group. In those videos, he gives 10 reasons, why Sri Lanka was chosen for the attack. I call upon all Members of the House, to pay full attention to some of these points:
1. Defaming and insulting Allah
2. Incident in Kuliyapitiya where an image of a pig with Allah was written on it.
3. Ven. Galagoda Atte Gnanasara Thera insinuating that Allah will be reborn.
4. Scolding & defaming Prophet Muhammed (Sal)
5. Tearing and burning of the Quran
6. Destruction of Mosques
7. Destroying Muslim houses and forcible land grabs.
8. Rape of a Muslim woman by intelligence officials and its cover up.
I would like to ask, who is to take responsibility for these? Is it the Muslims, or the State? Incidents that never happened in a thousand years, have happened in 10 years soon after the end of the LTTE war. It is not the Muslims, but certain extremist elements that provoked the sentiments of the Muslims and more importantly, the Governments allowed these elements to operate freely.
His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith addressed the people in Kottampitiya and publically stated that it wasn’t the Muslim Community who was at fault. He identifies that an external hand was involved. I also feel the same. I urge the authorities to identify and bring to book this external hand, regardless of religion, stature or political position.
Hon Speaker! We must understand that such extremists, gain power at the expense of our failures, to protect our people. When people are dejected by the fact that, their Government is not interested in protecting them, they are likely to develop animosity, and anger towards the Government. They are likely to join hands with people, who are ready to oppose the Government at any cost, because they are losing hope, that the Government will protect them. This is the normal reaction of any human being. We do not however justify any form of violence.
If you antagonize repeatedly an entire community for the crimes of a few, you will note, their lack of willingness, to stand by you. Eventually they will get more and more, radicalized and stand against you. It is not like we haven’t seen this before. It is that we haven’t learned from these mistakes.
Look at the history of the ethnic conflict with the LTTE. The 1956 ‘Sinhala Only Act’ was instrumental in creating, anger among the Tamils. Further actions including burning of the Jaffna Library, triggered their emotions, and then the war had become inevitable. The controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act, was used more often ruthlessly. It was brought as a temporary Act. The then government, thought that armed with the PTA, they could finish off opposition in two years. But what happened?
The abuse of the PTA and oppressive tactics, dragged the war for 30 years. But the problems that led to the war, still remain unresolved. The UNHRC has demanded the repeal of the PTA. The government should not repeat the same mistakes now against the Muslims. There after you will anger the Muslim countries that stood with us in our adversities. If we had learned from these mistakes, we would not have permitted the extremist actions, against innocent Muslims.
We can still be hopeful. The Muslims are peace loving people. Long before the attacks, Muslims warned the government. In the aftermath of the Easter attacks, the Muslims helped the armed forces track down the terrorists, and neutralize them. The Muslims are on the side of the nation. Do not push us away. Do not compel us to give up our religion.
The vast majority of Sri Lankans, chose to side with the State, because it is our faith that has taught us, to side with the nation. It is our faith that taught us that Zahran and his group were wrong. It is our faith that taught us, to expose his group of extremists. A very good example was the incident which took place in Saindhamarudhu on 26th April following the Easter Attacks, where a Muslim family, gave information to the Security Forces on the whereabouts of Zaharan’s family. We Muslims consider Zahran not as a Muslim. They are terrorists.
They have tried to force your hand. They want you to make mistakes. The Commission report, in Page 94, confirms that Zahran wanted to build tensions between the Muslims and Sinhalese of this country. Therefore, it is imperative that you act wisely. Do not play to his tunes. Do not compromise national harmony. In the name of national security, do not take actions that would jeopardize that very national security.
The process of state sponsored discrimination, has already commenced. For example, a notice signed under the hand of Deputy Director of Customs, dated 5th of March 2021, states that any Islamic religious books brought into the country, should only be released upon the approval of the Ministry of Defence. There is also word from the Minister of Law and Order that Madrasas are to be banned. As a Member of the Muslim community, I am offended and so are my people. These are acts of discrimination, and particularly a violation of the right of Muslims to manifest their religion.
Minister of Law and Order also informs that there will be a Burqa ban. People are mandated to wear masks all over the country.
You cannot make a description, under any act, to ban the Burqa and Niqab, unless you also ban the Medical mask, the motorcycle helmet, sunglasses, spectacles, bandages, and so many other pieces of garments. I wish to ask the Minister, how do you constitutionally make such a law? How do you make a law with such effect, without making it racist and Islamophobic?
We as minorities of this country, are all entitled to our Constitutional right, to practice and manifest our religion, freely in this country. Any legislation or administrative action targeting one particular community, is a violation of our Constitution. It is also in violation, of every, known core convention and treaty, ratified by Sri Lanka. No monitoring body of any of these treaties, let alone the UNHRC, is going to spare our country, for acting so arbitrarily against the Muslim community. This is extremism in another form. This is oppression. We, the peace loving people of this country, will not stand for extremism and will most definitely not stand for discrimination, even if it is endorsed by the State.
The Commission report will hold good testimony that other groups have engaged in extremist activity. The activities of Ven. Galagoda Atte Gnanasara has been highlighted for the term he coined. ‘Aba Saranai’. And the report calls for the proscription, of the Bodhu Bala Sena.
Further in Page 332, the COI recommends that the AG considers instituting criminal proceedings against him, under the ICCPR Act No. 56 of 2007, for his speeches made during the Maharagama and Aluthgama incident. They have also highlighted organizations such as Sinhala Rawaya, Mahason Balakaya, Sinhala Jathika Balamuluwa, Sinhala Jathika Sanvidanaya and the Shiv Sena Movement.
It is not me, who is presuming their extremist nature, but the Commission Report serves as my evidence. The actions of these extremists began in 2011 and owing to impunity, the extremism grew. If not for the impunity of these extremist thugs, the Easter Attacks would have been unlikely to have happened. Where do you believe their extremist nature comes from?
Over and above the Commission report, there is plenty of video graphic evidence of their extremism. What measures do you propose, to quell the extremism, in these factions?
At least will you de-radicalize them first?
Dear Chair, I draw your attention to the arrest of Muslims who have been very vocal against the acts of Zahran. It has been about 22 days since Azath Salley was arrested. I must remind you that it was he who publically stated in 2017 that Zahran was a dangerous criminal who needs to be arrested. Yet, the Government has arrested him under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for alleged connections to the Easter Attacks. How is this fair? You are holding him without a charge only because he spoke on behalf of the Muslims. This is political victimization.
Another distinguished personality, who has actively contributed efforts towards the upkeep of human rights, Hejaaz Hizbullah, has also been arrested under PTA.
Ahnaf Jazeem was arrested for a poem he wrote against the ISIS. He was also one of those evicted by the LTTE. He studied from a refugee camp to enter his university. His poetry contained works against terrorism and nothing more. He was arrested on April 15th last year and continues to be detained with no charges against him, simply because he wrote a poem against the ISIS.
Under the pretext of national security, you have oppressed the Muslims. I am afraid their frustrations from your actions may lead to radicalization. You must arrest the extremists who have harmed or will harm our people. But whether or not you are arresting the extremists, you are definitely arresting innocent people who are speaking against extremism. There is another word for this. Oppression!
The country’s policies must not be biased against the whole Muslim community. This is not what is intended through the ‘One Country One Law’ policy.
In no country are there different sets of laws applicable to different segments of the society other than in confederate states. Even in federal countries such as America, all laws whether federal or state, including State Constitutions are in conformity with the Federal Constitution. In Sri Lanka too, there is only one Constitution which provides for enactments of provincial statutes containing differing clauses. Yet, so long as they are in consistency with the provisions of the Constitution, they fall within the concept of “One Country-One Law”
What is understandably alluded to as One Country-One Law in Sri Lanka is the targeted elimination of the personal laws. Particularly the Muslim personal law. The Constitution has guaranteed the freedom of religion and culture, etc. in Articles 10, 14 and 9. Personal laws mean personal to specific communities. The Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Islamic Communities have laws personal to them. They are relating to either their religions or their cultures which in no way infringe on the right of others.
In the first place, if you are to do away with personal laws, then all these laws have to be removed from the statute book.
Be that as it may, if you take marriages for instance, marriages need not be registered under any law. If the girl reaches the age of 16, she can live with any one she wishes even without formalizing the union in any manner whether legal or cultural under the Sri Lankan Law.
In Sri Lanka, there are hundreds of elderly couples who have not got their marriages registered, particularly in the Hill Country and Jaffna. What the laws relating to marriages do is that they give extra protection to the union of the couple. That’s all.
Since the Constitution guaranteed their freedom of religion and culture, the personal laws give a legal cover to the enjoyment of such freedom. In what way can it be construed as different laws.
What is surreptitiously clothed in the slogan, “One Country-One Law is to call for assimilation which is an antithesis of integration. Assimilation is to deny diversity and expect everyone to follow one culture and one way of life which is not possible in any part of the World.
Integration is to call for unity whilst recognizing diversity. The Preamble of our Constitution has recognized this diversity by employing the word “Peoples” in itself. I call upon everyone to understand the difference between assimilation and integration on the one hand, and the fact that the existence of personal laws is not inconsistent with the concept of One Country-One Law on the other.
So please do not hurt the sentiments of all Muslims, because it can only marginalize the Muslim community, even more. We have lived in peace practicing these customs and traditions in marriage for over 800 years. It has never become a problem to any person. Do not try to abolish our customs and traditions. It will not be a positive step towards de-radicalization.
Talking of de-radicalization, a gazette was passed on March 12 2021 with reference to a proposed rehabilitation and de-radicalization programme.
Yes, the rehabilitation programme is an important and effective strategy, to defeat the current trend of extremism, in many parts of the World. We had a similar programme to rehabilitate the Ex-Combatants of the LTTE, and the programme was an enormous success. We need such a programme to rehabilitate the Members of Zahran’s group of extremists and the extremists of Sinhala Rawaya, Mahason Balakaya, Sinhala Jathika Balamuluwa, Sinhala Jathika Sanvidanaya, Ravana Balaya and the Shiv Sena Movement together with many others.
But we are opposed to the proposed de-radicalization project. Let me repeat, we agree there must be a de-radicalization programme, but the ‘proposed’ de-radicalization programme is not ideal. You cannot brainwash people on their sacred religious beliefs. That will violate fundamental rights. That will be dangerous and counter-productive. We firmly oppose that project.
I am sure the majority of the monks in Sri Lanka are peace loving people, who truly believe in the four immeasurables ‘Meththa, Karuna, Muditha and Upekha’. Many of these monks tend to disagree with the violent ways, of some of these extremists, and I am certain they will be willing to assist in the process of rehabilitation and de-radicalization, of the extremists, amongst them.
Yes, the extremists who are trying to exploit Islam must also be rehabilitated, but not brain washed against their religious beliefs. The Muslim community is willing to support this. The Muslim community has spoken against the extremist ways of Zahran’s group, for a long period of time, and even before the Easter attacks. Government must bring the entire Muslim community, behind the good measures and against terrorism, without treating all the Muslims as terrorists. I urge you to consult the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama (ACJU) when proposing measures of de-radicalization that affect the Muslim Community.
Muslims of Sri Lanka have accepted ACJU as their apex Religious body. For over 100 years they engaged in various efforts to eliminate any misleading ideologies and strived to build social harmony. I wish to table before this house, evidences of how the ACJU addressed matters of the ISIS and Extremism. Please consult them, because the proper religious teachings and interpretations of religious matters should be obtained from the Religious Scholars.
However, if you choose to carry on antagonizing the Muslim community, you only risk pushing our beloved country, towards further turmoil. In the name of de-radicalization, you will radicalize a segment of the Sri Lankan population. We must not tread the path that we once did. The last time our politicians sought to discriminate, against an ethnic and religious community in the name of nationalism, it led to violence and bloodshed for 30 long years. We must learn from our mistakes, and be sensitive to the cries of our people.
We, the Muslims, Christians, Tamils and Sinhalese of these country want to live in peace like we always did. We have never had a problem with the Christians, and there was no reason to attack churches. The Muslims and Christians were equally victims of extremism in the last 10 years. Our places of worship were destroyed.
No right minded Muslim would have thought of attacking a Christian. There is an unseen hand trying to divide us. Have you forgotten the ‘Divide and conquer’ policy of the British? They kept us separate, and the effect of it can be seen even today. Ever since we earned independence from the clutches of the British, we have made mistake after mistake, which then led to a three decade long war.
We are an economically backward nation, still fighting, to maintain our place as a developing nation, and there is no other reason for this but our ethnic divisions. We cannot progress as a nation, unless we resolve our internal disputes, and march forward as one nation. Therefore, let us say enough. Let us admit that we are different and still be one people. Let us recognize that we hold different values, and yet still stand united, as one nation.
*Speech of Rishad Bathiudeen MP on 7th of April, 2021 in Parliament