By M.N. Getaberiya –
One way or another the Muslims of Sri Lanka encompass a colorful history at the back them marked by a long spell of hardship suffered during the Portuguese and Dutch occupation of the Island. It is much to their credit that they withstood the onslaught of economic constraints, political intrigues and religious persecution to stay behind and survive. Most other peoples may have packed their bags and left for good. They not only saved their religion from the Christian enemies but also rebuilt the economy, slowly and steadily, by the 18th century when the British took over control of the island from the Dutch. Having adapted to the local conditions in various ways and also contributing largely to the Islands economic prosperity, the Muslim community of Sri Lanka, unlike the Hindu Tamils of the Northern Province, has saved itself from any major clash with the Sinhalese population. There are many blames and misconducts done by the majority Sinhalese government and people as the Tamil community claim and to wage a civil war against the Sinhalese government by the Tamils by the leadership of the (LTTE). Perhaps Muslims were not much interested in political affairs then but later with the certain pressure and injustice that they may have felt made them form a unique Muslim political party (SLMC) Sri Lanka Muslim Congress to claim the right although prior to this and most of the Muslims are still allied with the two major political parties (UNP & UPFA or PA) Eastern Muslims were encouraged to form SLMC which really benefited them then somehow which is impotent contemporary political affairs.
Ever since the Tamil separatist group branded under Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam struggled for a creation of a separate land or claimed autonomy from the North and North East Sri Lanka, Muslims began facing numerous issues by both the parties. Muslims were suspected being pro LTTE by the government vice versa by the LTTE which created helpless and many hassles among Northern and Eastern Muslims were ended up in horrible. During and prior to the war Northern and Eastern Muslims were forcefully evicted from these areas with bare hands; leaving their all belongings including land owned documents where they shall not be able to reclaim which has become a major issue in resettling Muslims in their own lands contemporarily. Had they failed to do so they were in the status of being killed? The atrocities carried out by LTTE was unbearable and much painful which resulted nearly 30 years of war and responsible for hundreds of thousands of lives somehow came to an end in 2009.
The post war Sri Lanka means many Sri Lankans a new birth, new life, freedom and fear free life and mostly majority Sinhalese enjoying the victory like never before. It is widely understood based on facts figures and evidence there were human rights violation as well as mass execution during the war. Without being prejudice one must state that LTTE was a cancer for the community as a whole. For them had no value for lives whether Tamil, Sinhalese or Muslims; their ambition was to conquer a considerable part of Sri Lanka and establish a separate Tamil Elam (a land for Tamils). The government cooperated at many times negotiated to conclude the war though always LTTE dogged the government or took advantages during any peace process in reorganizing themselves by buying time from the Sri Lankan government in the presence or peace broker Norwegian government who acted as a the third party for the negotiation process. There were wrong doings and injustice and discriminations from the government part during and prior to the war which one shall not reject. Many innocent Tamils remained under custody of the government secret services and a considerable number disappeared under custody. Innocent, poor, old youth, children were abused physically, mentally as well as sexually which many Tamils those who were not had any relationship with the LTTE were also humiliated with the cruel act done by the government and its military forces. One must understand the real situation to realize the pre war Sri Lanka and post war Sri Lanka and the contemporary situation.
Post war Sri Lanka with nor doubt brought many advantages to the island and find many developments rapidly. The foremost revenue generating sector for Sri Lanka is the tourism industry and it is booming at the highest level. With that the travels and tours, road networks, economic developments, public facilities, good governance, tea rubber and coconut export has also improved. Hotel and hospitality industry is also at top level. International companies are investing in various sectors. Many international financial aids are flowing to the government such as china, Iran, Pakistan and India playing a major role. Making Sri Lanka wonder of Asia is a good vision. Making Sri Lanka IT, Education and knowledge hub of Asia may defiantly would drive Sri Lanka in to a top level and we may become a leading and developed nation in Asia. More or less, the entire sector is improving swiftly which is an excellent sign.
Apart from these development theme, Sri Lanka is facing many internal and external issues within the government, with the government and private sector and also internationally they face numerous issues like, human rights violations, Diaspora issues, financial issues including various other dilemmas. At times the government representatives are not efficient and qualified enough to compete with and not in good terms in negotiation particularly with the international community; ultimately it brought various negative phases and mottled the image. One of the major reasons behind this is the communal violence and revulsion. The extremism elements within the government and other major Sinhalese community against the minority are rapidly escalating. Therefore, the post war Sri Lanka could be seen in various points of view in terms of domestic and International eyes which it varies in all aspects. Sri Lanka should be pleased in ending the long conflicted civil war between LTTE and the government at a cost of at least Rs 23 trillion, which still the government and major Sinhalese community has not learnt any lessons after all fighting for nearly three decades and having lost hundreds of thousands of lives of military as well as innocent civilians including prominent political leaders in comparatively the government and groups of extremist and other organized elements are concerned, their responses towards minority Muslims in post war is a matter seriously to be concerned. The Sinhalization and Buddhist only thoughts and acts are taking place in Sri Lanka are watched by the international community and many predict Sri Lanka may end in inviting another conflict between a community and communities. The recent Israeli presence in Sri Lanka believed to be provoking covert communal violence based on religious and cultural affairs which resulted in destroying 21 mosques in various parts of Sri Lanka. Sinhala Buddhist or popular extremist elements partly a political party (Bodu Bala Sena similar to RSS in India) extremely oppose the Muslims. They have established an organized forum to destroy Muslims livelihood in all aspects and forcing to listen and follow the orders if not insisting Tamil to run to India and the Muslims to Saudi Arabia.
The clash of identity is the contemporary communal issue in Sri Lanka. There are 9 percent of Muslims in Sri Lanka as per the government facts which is not acceptable at any cost while there should be nearly 13 percent of Muslims in Sri Lanka currently. The reason being omitting the real facts and figure as many Muslims see is to avoid the Muslims government quotas/allocations in all facet, such as; education, security/armed forces, teaching, scholarships, public facilities, parliament representation, religious, monitory aid, housing, health, and many other areas and allocating among the majority. Tamils are already lost almost everything and Muslims have become their latest prey. There are serious sectarian and religious antipathy activities and violations are taking place with the knowledge of the government. It is understood that the government is taking the complete advantage in stirring the most sensitive aspects of minorities. Destroying Mosques, Kovils (Hindu) and banning Muslim owned brands and making barriers for Muslims in conducting businesses is brutal activity. This wave of religious extremists and harsh social violence and racism is gradually effecting towards the Christian community too without differentiating either Tamil or Sinhala Christians. The fear among Buddhist has sensibly greater than ever, and the monks involvement in remonstration against minorities in all phase generates more Sinhala Buddhist responsive against the minorities are creating absolute danger to Muslims.
Sri Lanka has obtained millions and billions of international, government, non-governmental monetary aids on long term debts, which the government denies and takes some Chinese and Indian assistance for certain sectors in developing. Such as the highway networks and other construction sector where as India is playing a major role in resettling Tamil IDPs in the North and the East by developing housing and facilitating them in humanitarian assistance. Although, here the resettlement differ from actual resettlement in the North and the East, there are many Muslims who fled the area during the forceful mass departure by the LTTE with no land documents in their possession which they now vulnerable to reclaim and the government taking advantage over this matter and occupied many areas possible as they could and built military bases and settling Sinhalese people from other areas which the government deny.
Post war Sri Lanka is obviously peaceful up to certain extent which people of all the communities and particularly major Sinhalese involved in day today activities with a piece of mind is greatly appreciated. Colombo is worlds one of the famous cities when consider Sri Lanka as a tourist destination. Anti Muslim campaign is a sheer madness. This is how one can describe the potentially disastrous hate campaign unleashed against the island’s peaceful Muslim community by a handful of racist rabble rousers, who are a law unto themselves.
Initiated, two Muslim pavement hawkers were attacked by monks at Embilipitiya. Then there appeared provocative posters in Mahiyanganaya, showing a person carrying a sword in a fit of rage to kill, stating ‘remove the mosque or we will do it.’ With that came the report of a medical officer in a government hospital, who tried to forcibly sterilize a Muslim woman who gave birth to her third baby. However, no action was taken by the government to trace these lawless elements. The question is who are these outsiders disrupting communal harmony? Who finance them and for what purpose? How do they get away scot free? I am sure they embarrass the mainstream peace-loving Sinhalese. So far, Muslims have demonstrated remarkable restraint, but the question is for how long? At some point, some Muslim may react and such a development could be exploited to unleash an anti-Muslim pogrom which Muslims should never repeat the mistake of what LTTE did in the past.
In the aftermath of the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, the entire country hoped that all communities could move ahead peacefully for a better future, though the wounds were still deep. It appears that these racist elements have shattered all these hopes.
The campaign to poison the minds of mainstream Sinhalese against Muslims began by a small but well-organized group demonizing Islam and Muslims through 19 Sinhalese and English language websites. In the midst came the destruction of a 400-year-old Muslim shrine in Anuradhapura followed by the shameful attack on the Dambulla Mosque, led by a chief Buddhist priest. This was the first time in the history of Sri Lanka where mobs vandalized a mosque and prevented Friday prayers. Since then, there were attacks on a number of small mosques all over the country. However, perpetrators, always outsiders, remain free. Leaflets calling for the boycott of Muslim trading and other establishments and not to sell properties to Muslims started circulating all over. Do they realize that around a million Sri Lankans, majority of them Sinhalese, are happily employed in Muslim countries and their inward annual remittances, around US$ 6 billion, help keep afloat the island’s economy?
Muslims oil is better but Muslims are not. These countries supply the bulk of our oil requirements. We export tea, non-traditional and many other items to Muslim countries from where a considerable number of tourists, who insist on halal food, come here. Muslim countries also provide billions in development aid. Timely assistance of Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Libya proved crucial in defeating the LTTE. Neither the Christian West nor the Buddhist East came to Sri Lanka’s aid in times of crisis. Only Muslim countries remain sincere friends. For example, most Muslim countries stood by Sri Lanka against the US-sponsored UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka.
On top of all, it was the refusal of the Muslims to support the LTTE’s separatist call and their sacrifice that helped Sri Lanka preserve its territorial integrity, especially at the early stage when the island’s armed forces were not equipped to meet this challenge. Under such circumstances, to whose benefit these racist elements are provoking the Sinhalese against the Muslims. It is sad that the Sinhalese unaware that the Jews who cleverly put the Christian West and the Hindu extremist dominated India against Muslims are now manipulating to set Buddhists worldwide against Muslims?
According to reports, those who attacked Buddhist temples in Bangladesh were not people from the area, but brought from outside as it happened in the case of the attack on the Dambulla mosque. Buddhist pilgrims to Bodhgaya visit Nalanda where tour guides sow the seeds of hatred towards Muslims by portraying Muslims as responsible for destroying Buddhism in India. Many suspect that what is happening in Sri Lanka is part of this overall hate-Muslims campaign unleashed under Washington-Tel Aviv-New Delhi axis. If this continues we may fail to save the country from another potential disaster?
According to New Delhi based fortnightly The Millie Gazette of 1-5 December 2009, Indian Information Ministry report (2008) disclosed that foreign money, Rs 7877 cores, was received by Hindu communal organizations in India to cause riots against Muslims. These organizations got money from Israel via Europe, instead of getting them direct from Israel. Similarly, tours of leaders of Hindu organizations to Israel have also very much increased. They are brainwashed in Israel and used as tools against Indian Muslims. The same ingredients are applied against Sri Lankan Muslims. As Israeli backed anti Muslim riots happening in India, Sri Lanka is under the shadow of the same substantive activities and the socio-political atmosphere may change in to a disaster. Politicians, journalists and others started visiting Israel. Israeli penetration in the island’s print and electronic media seems to be effective, judging from the number of pro-Israeli and anti-Muslim articles in the recent times. More than two centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, warned his countrymen of the danger of allowing the indiscriminate migration of Jews to the US. True to his predictions today, Jews are the effective rulers of that great country. Isn’t it time Sri Lanka learns little more about this? Most Muslims suspect that the Jews, architects of Islamophobia and the force behind the US-led European invasions of Muslim countries are behind the anti-Muslim hate campaign in Sri Lanka. They started raising issues such as halal food, Muslim women’s dress code, slaughtering animals, increasing population and anything and everything to demonize Muslims. These are issues which could be solved by peaceful means. The anti Muslim campaign occurred long before and symptoms were all around for many years and it had ruptured now. Muslim employee in government departments and other State institutions even the mercantile sector seems to have closed their doors to Muslims who are, by and large, excluded from government contracts, tenders and all such activities.
Indifference towards Muslims remains open and around 130,000 Muslim Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from the North continue to languish in camps in appalling conditions three and half years after the war. In this regard, it is worthy to note that last year, when a 44-year-old Madawala Muslim, Mohamed Rafeek, who was running a small shop, was killed in an accident, around 20 bus loads of people from Mahiyanganaya, all Sinhalese, attended the funeral weeping and crying till 10 p.m. as if their own family member was killed. This is what Buddhism is about. This is what Sinhala-Muslim relations have been, though extremism had forcefully been poised to the common Sinhalese and Buddhists by certain radical elements.
Paying tribute to the peaceful nature of Sri Lankan Muslims and their organizations, former Chief Justice, Sarath N. Silva said on 29 June 2008, “A salient feature of the Muslims of Sri Lanka and their organizations is that they never organized themselves for armed insurrection or destruction. They are a peaceful ethnic group spreading through the length and breadth of the country. They interact with other religious and ethnic groups, cordially interlinking those cultures with their own culture, while polarizing their own culture. This is appreciable.”
Since Independence, politicians of all shades of opinion exploited racism to retain or gain power. The result was the armed conflict, during which these very same politicians flourished on arms purchases while innocent ones from poor families sacrificed their lives. Their irresponsible and short-sighted policies brought the country to where we are today. Under the circumstances, isn’t it the responsibility of reasonable elements in the Sinhalese community to wake up and contain racist elements, whose anti-Muslim campaign has the potential to turn this country, once again, into a killing field Governments have a responsibility to ensure that all communities regardless of their ethnicity or religious persuasion have equal rights and access to all aspects of social welfare and facilities.
Economically Sri Lanka is better in South Asia. Per capita income is considerably high in contrast to the neighboring countries. Majority Sinhalese are rural living while all other community is mixed. North and Eastern Sri Lank is majored by Tamil Hindu and Christians wile Muslims seconds the majority Sinhala population is the minority living in these areas. Major cities such as Colombo, Kandy, Galle, and Kurunegala are mixed with all the communities. It is vital that Muslims populations in urban areas are considerably high in numbers where they are into trade activities. Based on these facts it is hard to conclude Muslims are well to do. Yes, Muslims are scattered all around the country. Their living standard varies from poor to the rich. Majority Muslims are poor in Sri Lanka. There is a substantial number of lower, middle and upper middle class living with various issues and difficulties to tie lives. Talking about the capital Colombo (central), Muslims are the majority and within this too community divides in to various categories, from labor to the administrative to the parliament representatives. Few are well to do in trade and commerce activities. Majority Sinhalese are in to the government jobs while Muslims are very miner; therefore they are opted to do any business, from selling grams to the import export level. Tamils are very much in to trade in comparatively to the Muslims and Sinhalese. Somehow the economic conditions of Muslims cannot be measured because of few Muslim giant traders. They are poor and fair in evaluation to the other two communities.
In the meantime access to education and the literacy rate in Sri Lanka is high. It is the highest literate country in South Asia as per government and SAARC evaluations. Free education is equally given to all Sri Lankans Tamil, Sinhalese or Muslims are free to admit in any government schools. Free books and school uniforms are divided among them. The education system is high and one of the best in the world. From elementary to the university education one could study free of cost. Yes, there are semi governmental and private school where a certain number of people are engaged with. If there is any discrimination it begins with the university entrance as the government has reduced the allocations for Muslims. Not only education this also matters with seeking government jobs in various sectors. Apart from that there is a considerable number of Muslims who do not have even basic needs to access for the free education where government is neglecting to assist them.