1 December, 2022


Paranoia & Paralysis: The Buddhist-Muslim Tragicomedy

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

The military victory led by an overwhelmingly Sinhala-Buddhist army over the tyrannous LTTE in 2009 has, among other things, injected in the minds of certain sections of the Buddhist community that Sri Lanka belongs only to the Sinhala Buddhists and others are permitted to live here only at the behest of the Buddhists. This twisted ideology which is now developing into an anti-Muslim, anti-Christian and anti-Tamil paranoia is totally contradictory not only to the noble teachings of the Enlightened Buddha but also and more significantly to the millennial historical tradition of ethnic and religious tolerance indelibly engraved in the long legacy of the island’s Buddhist monarchs. To deny this historical truth is to court intellectual dishonesty.

The current series of attacks, spearheaded by the so-called protectors of Buddhism dressed in monkish garbs and backed by elements of Buddhist petti-bourgeoisie, on Muslim shrines and mosques, Muslim property and even Muslim lives is a sad reflection of this post-war paranoia. It is time to expose the intellectual bankruptcy, and political hypocrisy of this paranoid group before explaining the state of paralysis in the Muslim community that has allowed this tragic episode to gain momentum in the first place. The grievances of the paranoid fall into three categories: religio-political, economic and demographic.Wirathu Gnanasara

Photo courtesy – Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Sri Lanka Facebook page

To take the first issue, it is true that Muslims in Sri Lanka, like in many other parts of the world, have become at least outwardly more Islamic since the 1980s as demonstrated by their increased punctiliousness in observing religious rituals and in organizing and promoting religiously inspired gatherings, conferences and other such activities. These large gatherings naturally called for a parallel increase in the number of religious centres such as mosques and madrasas. Quantitatively and qualitatively the number of mosques in Sri Lanka has increased, but whether that increase is disproportionate when compared to the increase in Hindu temples, Christian churches and Buddhist vihares require statistical evidence. Neither the paranoid mob nor the Muslim community has so far provided such comparative data. It is however beyond dispute that the outward appearance of at least a section of male and female Muslims as reflected in their mode of dressing has changed rather dramatically over the last three decades. The black abayah or robe and niqab or facial cover with cleavage for eyes for Muslim women to see, and for Muslim men, similar robes with turban although not necessarily black in colour, and thicker and longer beards are all of Middle Eastern cultural influence but misconceived by many as religiously prescribed. Were Muslim ladies of yesteryears who wore white and coloured saris and Muslim men dressed in sarong, shirt, coat, shawl and cap were less Islamic than these pseudo-Arab purists? That this confronting attire has become a symbol of Muslim alienation in plural societies is common knowledge. Yet, this is something that the Muslim community itself has to tackle through intra-religious dialogues and intellectual debates, which do not seem to be happening in the country at the moment. Even the current debate on Muslim personal laws should not have waited until provoked by the EU.

However, to tie these outward appearances and elements of religious fundamentalism with a hidden Muslim political agenda, as alleged by the paranoid Buddhist rabble, is mischievous, malevolent and at times sounds comical. At no time in the history of Sri Lanka did the Muslims even contemplate to bring the country under Muslim rule. Even after independence while the Tamils were aspiring and fighting for a separate state the Muslim community uninterruptedly worked as political partners with the majority community. It is true that a few misguided Sri Lankan Muslim youth has joined the ISIS bloody caliphate, but that doesn’t in any way indicate that the Muslim community here is conspiring to create an ISIS vilayet. Even when the IPKF armed the Muslim Home Guard the community accepted those weapons to protect the Eastern Muslims from the LTTE killers and not to establish a Muslimstan. This allegation by the paranoid against the Muslim community, unless driven by a foreign hand, is groundless and should be rejected.

The economic grievance that Muslims are taking over the economy is a repetition of the 1915 scenario with one difference. In 1915 the target of the Buddhist nationalists was a foreign minority but the target of the current crowd of ultra-nationalists is a domestic minority. The fact that Fashion Bug and No Limit – the two leading Muslim retail establishments that have become the marked objects for the paranoid arsonists – which are able to out-beat their commercial rivals should be seen in the context of Sri Lanka’s post-1977 neo-liberal open economic environment rather than as an index of an all-conquering Muslim economic hegemon. The open economy unleashed once again the freedom for Muslim business acumen to explode which remained repressed under the previous socialist regime. With the re-born freedom for economic enterprise and with capital accumulated previously from working as expatriates in the Middle East or by liquidating inherited property a few Muslim individuals like the owners of the two establishments noted above entered the retail sector and through hard work, skill and intelligence were able to capture a niche in the competitive world of business.

Economists and social scientists who have studied the operational dynamics of plural societies have discovered the fact that in such societies when ethnic and religious minorities outshine their rivals in economic pursuits their success provokes envy within the majority. Chinese in Malaysia and Indonesia, Indians in Burma and Kenya, Jews in pre-twentieth century Europe are examples of this phenomenon. In times of economic crisis these minorities invariably become victims of communal jealousy and anger. When that anger breaks out into violence elements the petty-bourgeoisie from the majority community exploit the atmosphere to make political and economic capital out of it. This is what is happening in present day Sri Lanka. However, in a democratic polity if political governance is based on principles of freedom, equality and justice successful businesses and industries, as long as they meet their state sanctioned legal and fiscal obligations, must be protected and promoted. While Singapore for example is proud to advertise an ethnic-minority-owned retail firm Mustapha Samsudin & Co., in Sri Lanka, which wanted to become a Singapore at one stage, successive governments and their security agents by not taking decisive action against minority-slayers have let themselves to become silent partners to this ethnic and economic crime. How does one expect this country to prosper?

Allied to these economic crimes is the propaganda about an imminent Arab threat to Sri Lanka. This is similar to the so called Indian threat though the local Tamil community which lost all its credibility when India supported Rajapakse Government’s military moves to eliminate LTTE. Does anyone even with an iota of knowledge about the Arabs, who have virtually sold out the Palestinian cause and killing each other instead, think that they will come to the aid of Sri Lankan Muslims in times of crisis?

The third grievance of the paranoid is demographic. Muslims are accused of inordinate fecundity. Their evidence for this is the census figures of 1980 and 2012. Without entering into any statistical exercise it should be pointed out that the net increase in population is the result of the interplay of three forces: birth rate, death rate and migration. The forces of outward migration and internal transmigration have significantly affected the inter-ethnic population balance between the 1980s and 2012. While the emigration of hundreds of thousands of Sinhalese and Tamils to settle permanently abroad reduced their total number remaining at home, the relatively small emigration from the Muslims naturally enhanced their ethnic ratio. At the same time internal dislocation caused by the civil war caused large number of Muslims from the Tamil districts to transmigrate to the Sinhalese areas especially to Colombo and its surroundings. This upset the ethnic balance in these districts in favour of Muslims. These facts are totally and deliberately ignored in the vicious propaganda carried out by the paranoid about an impending Muslim population threat.

In spite of a government that is more interested in preserving its vote bank than in the long term welfare of the nation, all these issues are easily solvable if the Muslim community has a visionary leadership. With a bunch of opportunistic politicians who are more focused in amassing their own fortunes than in attending to the community and national issues, and with a gutless intelligentia which is too afraid to lead a social reform movement within the community the Muslims are left at the tender mercies of an unenlightened religious leadership. The Muslim community is in a state of paralysis and what is happening now is a tragicomedy.

*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia

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Latest comments

  • 6

    Political Islam is a disaster. And that is what many sensible Muslim intellectuals of the calibre of Ameer Ali are fighting against.

    We have Political Buddhism here and more tragically in Myanmar. If we cannot see that, there is more disaster to follow.

    • 0

      “Political Islam is a disaster”.
      It is when a non Islamic majority people living in a poor developing country like Sri Lanka struggling to meet ends meet, after become aware of their deprivation when compared to the high pliving standard of elite Muslims who happen to be a market oriented minority group that indigenous hate movement with an atavistic mindset becomes visibly active.
      I think the expelling of Muslims by the LTTE form the North could be an example.
      Global Islamic fundamentalism may then rear it’s ugly head here to play a protective counter role against the tyranny of the non Islamic majority, because Muslim elite will not be happy to function in a democracy where economic policies and democratic rights are suddenly dictated to by what it considers as a poor and impoverished majority.
      That is the jinx here which have to be faced by those ‘sensible s’ to fight against.

      • 2


        “I think the expelling of Muslims by the LTTE form the North could be an example.”

        The LTTE resource starved at the time went after Muslim wealth hoping that the Tamils would applaud its action hence exponentially increasing its support base among the Tamils whilst accumulating windfall wealth.

        The Tamils did not applaud nor condemned LTTE.

        It is not hard for LTTE to increase its share when there was a captive market. LTTE managed to bump off its competitors many years before this incident.

        Therefore we do not know for sure whether LTTE had succeeded in their second goal.

        I am not sure whether sekera would agree with me. It seems more often he is silent on LTTE atrocities.

        • 0

          It is not entirely correct to say that the Tamils did not condemn the LTTE. The Tamils and it’s leadership was fearful of the LTTE following the killing of it’s leaders. In fact the LTTE were also terrorising the Tamils at that time more than the Sinhalese army did.
          Many are aware that leaders like Mr. Sivasithamparam who lived in Colombo then had disassociated TULF being in anyway involved in that vile act of the LTTE..
          Actually the LTTE was a mafia which used the Southern majority oppression of the Tamils to enrich itself. That characteristic of the LTTE is exemplified in the accord reached between MaRa and Prabakaran who helped the former to get elected as the country’s President by preventing the Tamil people from exercising their franchise and assert their sovereignty.
          Just because the LTTE’s action hit prominent headlines in the media it does not mean that the Tamils in the North approved the Muslim expulsion because there was no alternative for the Tamils but to be subdued in their condemnation.

  • 3

    MUslims deny it. but, RAW has warned Sri lanka.

    India’s intelligence agency, RAW, has informed intelligence officials in Sri Lanka of ISIS recruits moving between Sri Lanka and other countries.

    Intelligence officials in Sri Lanka said that they are monitoring movements of people, especially from India, to nab anyone who may be an ISIS recruit or potential recruit.

    Last week Indian media reported that Televangelist Zakir Naik has been accused of funding a visit to Sri Lanka by Islamic State (IS) members.

    The Maharashtra Police is set to register a first information report (FIR) against Naik, after the state law and judiciary department sent in its opinion that a case may be made out against him for inciting enmity.

    The probe being carried out by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), alleged that Islamic State (IS) recruit Ashfaque Majeed’s father had revealed that Arshi Qureshi, guest manager with the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), had allegedly funded Ashfaque and his fellow recruits’ Sri Lanka trip.

  • 2

    An excellent analysis as usual.Bensen

  • 1

    The rise of the Muslims,in Srilanka is directly proportional to the decline of the Tamils of Srilanka.
    This is amply demonstrated in all sectors; Economy,Government jobs etc etc.

    • 1


      “This is amply demonstrated in all sectors; Economy,Government jobs etc etc.”

      A lot of Tamils left Lanka, the land of Native Veddah Aethho.

      Still mote than 92% of the Govt. jobs are held by the Sinhala, especially Sinhala Buddhists.

      You need Sinhala to get Govt. Jobs. Relatively more Muslims know Sinhala than Tamils.

      Based on Religion, Muslims teat Sinhala Muslims and Tamil Muslims with respect, because for them God, and therefore Religion is above ethnicity, even though the desert Arabs may not necessarily think so.

      • 5

        There are no Sinhala Muslims, these are southern Tamil Muslims who are bilingual.
        It is easy for the Sri Lankan Muslims in the island to treat religion above ethnicity, as other than small microscopic communities of Malays and Borah 99,99% of the Muslims in the island are all Tamil by ethnicity speak Tamil at home and all belong to the same Indian Tami Sufi sect of Islam, although Wahhabism is now fast becoming their form of Islam. Therefore it is very easy for them to say god is above ethnicity however in all other major Islamic countries Muslims belong to many different races or ethnicities, speak different languages and even follow different form of Islam, many considered heretic by followers of other forms of Islam, therefore all this chaos hatred and killings. In the middle east Arab hates Turk Kurd and Iranian and vice versa. Afghanistan Sunni Pashtun hates Shia Hazara and Dari Tadjik.In Porkistan Punjabi hates Sinhdhi, Baloch and Pashtun and vice versa. They all hated and despised the dark skinned Dravidian Mongol and Bengali Muslims of former east Pakistan resulting in the formation of Bangladesh. In Malaysia Malay Muslims hates Tamil Muslims in Malaysia. In Indonesia Javanese hates Sumatran Achinese and vice versa. There was a separatist movement in Ache. In India Muslims belonging to differed linguistic and ethnic groups do not like each other and do not marry into each other. Into that the hatred between followers of Sunni and Shia Islam even between the same ethic group, like in Iraq, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Sunni Arabs hate the Shia Arabs. Look at the ISIS crisis it is a fight for Sunni Wahhabi Arab supremacy over the entire Islamic world. In Australia white European Slavic Bosinian Muslim and Albanian Kosovar Muslim asylum seekers did not want to be held in the same camp as Arab Muslims and derogatively called them darkies.

        Even when the Muslims in Sri Lanka were persecuted and their homes were looted and burnt only Muslims in the world who cared for their plight and protested were the Tamil Muslims from Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Marriakars,Rawthers,Lebbais,Thambi.Kayalars, no one else. Not even the Malayali Mappila Muslims from the neighbouring state, why because they were ethnically Tamil like them. The others did not care. The local Muslims ran and complained to the Arabs, Pakistanis and to Malaysia, they took no heed and for them it was business as usual, as they cared tow hoots for these Tamil Muslims of Sri Lanka who pathetically are faking as Arabs.

        The Muslims here hold a very simplistic view of their religion and their community and the world Muslims, as all they see here is one ethnic group speaking the same language at home and following the same form of Islam that was imported from the Tamil country in South India. It is only when they leave the shores of Sri Lanka and see the diversity in the Muslims world race language ethnicity culture and even the types of Islam that is followed and the mutual hatred and distrust that all these groups have for each other ,they get a shock.

        Even in Christianity is states all who follow Christ are one but it has never been, like in the case of the Sinhalese Burgher and Tamil Christians in the island. When the language culture ethnicity is even slightly different all these pious words are very difficult to follow.

  • 2

    Ameer Ali,

    Good writing.

    Unfortunately, since the resounding success achieved by SWRD plying racial politics every other Sri Lankan politician has followed suit. Those that back racism in Sri Lanka and who secretly finance organisations such as BBS and Ravana Balaya are our politicians – from all sides of the polity.

  • 2

    A good article reflecting the real state, unfortunately when facts are presented our ‘biased society’ would just pass it off, they see no part in it or show no interest as it does not subscribe to their agenda. When will we learn or will we ever learn ?

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