By Latheef Farook –
President Ranil Wickremesinghe in announcing his intent to resolve the long standing North East Tamil national question has already ignored the NE Muslim factors which are indivisibly intertwined in any solution of the Tamil problem. He has ignored on more than one occasion the consequential Muslim problem that certainly would be created in any attempt to ignore a comprehensive solution to the two major minorities in the North East.
Wisdom dawned, perhaps under Indian pressure, to solve Tamil issues. However this peace move cannot dismiss as non-existent the long standing grievances of the demonized, discriminated, battered and bruised Muslims.
This has been the pattern since independence in 1948.For example during Prime Minister Srimavo Bandaranaike’s government Muslims were persecuted and their economy crippled. Her Justice Minister Felix R Dias Bandaranaike arrested and detained several prominent Muslim businessmen.
Then President JR Jayewardene forcibly merged the East with the North under Emergency Regulations in 1987 amidst wide spread protests against the Indo-Lanka Treaty. He thereby gave the Northern Tamils statistically undue Tamil majority in the East, though Tamils were a minority of 46% in 1946 before independence and 42% in 1981 while there were 32% Muslims and an ever increasing Sinhala population reaching 25% in 1981.
JR’s forced merger led to the Muslims becoming a minority under another minority resulting in their much misunderstood demand for separation from Tamil rule in the Province. Muslims’ resistance to JR’s merger led the brutal expulsion of the innocent Northern Muslims from the North by 1989 and the massacre of Muslims in several mass killings of Muslims in the East. In 2005, LTTE Eastern leaders too broke away from the Northern controlled LTTE signaling the Eastern Tamils opposition to merger. By 2006, the Supreme Court held the forced merger as illegal.
Is President Wickremesinghe acting on the manipulations of Norwegian LTTE broker Erik Solheim, his latest advisor, laying the foundation for problems in the East by ignoring not only the Eastern Muslim factor but also the 25% Sinhalese in the East? Incidentally didn’t Norway brainwash Gnanasara Thero in 2011 and 2012 in the Oslo University and elsewhere against the Muslims of this country which led to the anti- Muslim campaign from 2012 and the anti-Muslim riots in 2014, 2017 and 2018. The Presidential Commission on the Easter attacks of April 2019 blamed the anti- Muslim violence resulting in the terrible Easter Sunday attacks!
Former MP MM Zuhair PC in a speech at the biennial meeting of the National Shoora Council last Sunday had raised the timely question as to who benefitted from the 30 year war between the brothers! He has been quoted (Island 5th December 2022), “Arms manufacturers in the USA, USSR, Britain, France, Germany, Israel and China were the beneficiaries, though we must blame ourselves for it. The country’s wealth, savings and the dollars ended up in foreign countries during the next 30 years. Today, we are pleading with their governments, with the begging bowl, for food and fuel, for the survival of our people”. Nothing but the truth for not recognizing who our friends and who our enemies are!
Much has been written about successive Sri Lankan government’s destructive policies towards minorities which turned this paradise island into a living hell. Tamils and Muslims wanted to live as equal citizens with dignity in an undivided country.
For example Tamil Congress and Muslim League were integral parts of United National Party governments. Respected Muslim leader Dr MCM Kaleel served as United National Party treasurer and chairman. However discriminatory policies forced Muslims to think in terms of separate political party.
For example late President JR Jayewardene dismissed a Muslim delegation led by Dr Kaleel which requested him not to bring in Israelis here, fearing they would pit Sinhalese against Muslims. Dismissing the delegation President Jayewardene said “I would even go to any devil and get help to fight LTTE”. He forgot Israel is a major exporter of wars everywhere! President Wickremesinghe cannot be unaware that Norway is another arms exporting country and that their interest conflict with Sri Lanka’s.
More than 45 years later today Muslims’ fears were proved right. For example Israelis were allowed in and was given an exclusive channel to spread their lies in the SLT which has removed popular Muslim channel “Peace TV” of respected Dr Zakir Naik, renowned international Islamic scholar on comparative religion.
Frustrated Muslims formed the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress, with the slogan of Islam and unity. However Islam disappeared and Muslim Congress divided into more than half a dozen splinter groups with a disgusting and well known reputation for compromising community’s interest for perks and positions. The more recent one being the 20 th amendment to the Constitution to make President Gotabaya Rajapaksa a dictator. A Muslim Minister Ali Sabry presented and supported the amendment while several Muslim MPs voted and passed. What happened later is common knowledge.
Saudi Arabia built 500 houses to Tsunami affected Muslim families. Sinhala extremists, led by Buddhist monks, opposed. Thus the houses were not given. Today they are covered with thick jungle where snakes, reptiles and other wild animals live in an around these valuable houses.
President Kumaratunga initiated a move to sign a joint mechanism with the LTTE. But the Muslim tsunami victims were ignored by the agreement to please the LTTE which opposed Muslim participation.
In negotiating and signing the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS), the President Kumaratunga, did exactly what Ranil Wickremesinghe did when he signed the Ceasefire Agreement, CFA, with the LTTE on February 2002, when Muslim interests were dismissed.
Columnist Sassanka Samarakkody said, “The main priority of our opportunistic political leaders is not the well-being of the people or the territorial integrity of the country, but to cling on to power at any cost. And as recent history has demonstrated, they will not hesitate to enter into a pact even with the devil to enjoy power.
Once the LTTE war ended in 2009, Muslims tried to rebuild their lives only to realize government sponsored violence started against them .They burnt Muslim owned houses, commercial and industrial properties and even mosques where Holy Quran was not only burnt but urinated on them.
In the midst there appeared Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a government backed violent organization which terrorized Muslims. A German Jew gifted a house for BBS in the south. Myanmar’s so called Buddhist monk Asin Wirathu , described by Time magazine as the face of Buddhist Terror, was invited and accorded more than a head of state honor.
Frightened and cornered Muslims voted the Maithri-Ranil team to power in 2015 only to realize they were no better. Without any provocations Muslims were attacked, looted and their properties including mosques were burnt causing billions of damage depriving their livelihood especially during attacks in Central hills in March 2018.
Organized violence against Muslims proved that Maithri-Ranil government continued Mahinda-Gota’s racist policies. These attacks culminated in the Easter Sunday bombings on 21 April 2019 which killed more than 300 and wounded more than 500 and plunged the country into chaos.
Then Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told reporters that there had been “several warnings from foreign intelligence agencies about the impending attacks”.
However President Maithripala Sirisena refused to act and went on pilgrimage to Tirupathi from where he went with his family on a three day holiday to Singapore while Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was holidaying in Bentota.
Muslim community had nothing to do with this carnage. Yet Muslim men, women and even children were treated with hatred. Maithri-Ranil government swiftly dispatched troops with shoes and dogs to search mosques. So called search operations became nightmare for frightened Muslim families. Not only hospital security but even shops and super markets forced Muslim women to remove traditional shawls though Covid 19 that followed forced everyone to wear masks.
In the midst knowing very well that mercenaries were awaiting to attack Muslims at Wennappuwa and adjacent areas Maithri left to China to attend an insignificant conference leaving innocent Muslims at the mercy of racist thugs awaiting to attack.
What had happened is common knowledge.
It appeared later that Maithri and Rajapaksas were hand in glove in their anti-Muslim campaign misleading Sinhalese whose 6.9 million votes elected Gotabaya Rajapaksa as president.
Battered, beleaguered and helpless Muslims did not take to arms. Instead they raised their hands in their daily five times prayers and left it to the Creator.
It did not take long for Sinhalese to realize that Rajapaksa brothers used racism to gain power while reportedly robbing the country of its wealth. The irony is that this very same 6.9 million woke up and ousted both President Gotabaya and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in most humiliating manner in the history of the island.
This vicious campaign continued until the economic collapse which turned the attention from Muslims to the increasing sufferings of people.
In the midst of the political confusion and economic bankruptcy nominated Member of Parliament Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was defeated in the elections and his party UNP wiped out, was appointed as prime minister and then as president.
He has adopted a policy of ruthless suppression to crush popular uprising.
It was in this chaotic political environment President Ranil Wickremesinghe has offered peace talks to Tamils, ignoring Muslims. Thus the indifference towards Muslim grievances continue unabated to the detriment of communal harmony and the country
Any lesson learnt?