By Mohamed Harees –
In 2016, an astrologist named Sameera Chandrasiri from Helabima newspaper in his column, in a crafty way predicted an impending Sinhala-Muslims conflict soon and attributed cattle slaughter during ‘Ramazan’time (??) as one of the possible causes/sparks. Leave aside the comical aspects of the prediction itself, this has come true not because of the cattle slaughter but as a result of racist mad cows/cattle and dogs who embarked on a well- orchestrated hate campaign based on a Sinhala Buddhist platform ever since independence which has now reached another new peak in the Post War era. With added venom, they set upon a community who always stood by the Sinhalese in sun or rain to protect the territorial integrity of their motherland- The Muslims of Sri Lanka. In July 2016, I quoted this funny astrologer and wrote an article to Colombo Telegraph titled ‘Another Sinhala-Muslim Conflict Brewing: Government Caught Napping!’ and explored the historical landscape of Post-Independence and Post-War Sri Lanka and argued that the government’s lack of political will and resoluteness is pushing Sri Lanka into a social volcano waiting to explode at any moment. This sadly came true and as a matter of fact, there was no need for an astrologer to predict this calamity, as any observer with a fine tuned common sense will and could have seen telling signs of this gathering storm.
Ethnic or religious clashes or conflagrations have not been anything novel or new to the Sri Lankan Dharma Dweepaya. In fact, modern Ceylon’s first ethno-religious riots targeted not Tamils but Muslims in 1915. Then, ever since Independence, there were many ethnic conflagrations mainly between Sinhalese and Tamils and many renown scholars I have been quoting in many of my articles such as KM De Silva, Neera Wickramasinghe, Amunugama, Tambiah and also Jayadeva Uyangoda have all highlighted that the rise and institutionalisation of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism in post-independent Sri Lanka bear much responsibility for today’s ethnic conflicts between the majority Sinhalese state and the minorities. In a classic case of ‘Labbata Thiyapu Atha Puhulatath’, upon the heels of the end of a protracted Sinhala Tamil ethnic conflict which aggravated with the now infamous 1983 pogrom against the Tamils, there came the well-orchestrated hate campaign against the next biggest minority –the Muslims, which culminated in the Aluthgama dubbed by many analysts as a mini-1983. Sinhalese Christians were targeted too.
Drawing parallels between 1983 riots and 2014 Aluthgama riots may not be fair, but few similarities can be identified. One such similarity being not just the inaction on the part of the then-governments to act decisively and firmly on time but also shameful attempts to brand the victims as perpetrators. Post-war period under MR was a time of immense pressure for the minorities. Tamils after difficult times under the ruthless Tigers were thrown into disarray and marginalized due to the arrogant ,supremacist and majoritarian polices adopted by MR. Many are still languishing in refugee camps while no plausible solutions were offered to sort out their genuine grievances. International community put Sri Lanka on the dock for the excesses committed by the Armed Forces during the last stages of the War. Muslims on the other hand went through hell when many hate groups with implicit State support, operated without fear or sanction throwing all decencies to the wind, while the silent majority watched helplessly. Muslim politicians were caught napping. Sri Lanka became once again, almost a pariah state in the eyes of the world.
However, Sri Lanka was once again provided a historic opportunity when Sri Lanka went to the Polls in 2015 and elected a so-called Yahapalana (my foot!) government which promised many things, particularly to make promotion of national reconciliation and tackling the endemic racism in Sri Lanka, as one of their priorities. As Sri Lanka has proved in the past, this was another historic eyewash and this priority was fast forgotten and the government went into a deep slumber allowing these racist beasts and dogs to decide the destiny of Post War Sri Lanka. While the Tamils, once a dynamic industrious community were beaten back to defeatist mentality after the defeat of the Tigers, Muslims and even Sinhalese Christians were made to feel like second class citizens while the Sinhala Buddhist racist mentality promoted and nourished by rogue Buddhist monks and a political class with vested interests, controlled the national discourse despite all the glib talk of national reconciliation. Yahapalaya (good governance) became Yamapalanaya (devil rule) specially for the minorities in Sri Lanka.
What happened in Gintota sometime ago and more recently in Ampara, Digana and beyond were certainly not issues where battle lines should be drawn between Muslim and Sinhala communities as a whole and sorted out with knives and daggers on the streets. They were local issues and day to day issues which happens almost daily ,which could be sorted out at the local / Police level or at worst in Courts. Hate groups however chose to carry out their evil anti-Muslim agenda whether the canards they based their actions on has any scientific or logical basis or not. It was amusing to see how the government went into a state of utter helplessness and numbness, when there was enough evidence and prior information about the plans of these racist forces to inflict damage of the economy and the psyche of the Muslims. After the horses have bolted, they came out into the open , the government imposed curfew belatedly and also State of Emergency to control the racist goons in action who went from one Muslim village in the Central Province to another setting fire to their houses, mosques (24 were attacked) and also their economic base –their businesses. The law enforcement as usual including the Special Task Forces (STF) acted with bias and in many occasions as reported by the victims themselves helped the perpetrators. The Sinhala villagers says that it was outsiders who came in busloads and in groups who did all this damage while the Police and STF looked on. Ring leaders like Amith Weerasinghe and Ampitiye Sumana (thero) were seen on the streets directing operations mouthing anti-Muslim venom openly without fear of sanction from the Police. Senior Police officers were seen to act impotently in dealing with them. Of course some arrests have been made; but judging by the past records of the Police in directing prosecutions against these racists like what happened in Ampara, the Muslim community is sceptical about the will of the government and law enforcement forces to deal sternly with them and ensure justice to their community deeply hurt.
This government like their predecessors virtually ignored or turned a blind eye to the Sinhala Buddhist majoritarian dog whistles, hush talks ,open barks both in the social media, at the grass root levels, in parliamentary corridors and in temples for cheap political reasons. Sri Lankan Muslims no longer can be the punching bags of these hate mongers at a time when the Muslims all over the world, are facing the brunt of a well-orchestrated Islamophobia campaign and asked to assume collective guilt for the action of the Un-Islamic ISIS. This Government like others have been playing a waiting game to act, which were telling signs appearing on the horizon of impending major Sinhala Muslim clashes.
Muslim patience in the times of the MR regime when these hate groups were at their peak, was admired even by the international community. Even today, Muslims have been showing admirable levels of patience without acting rashly even when these racist dogs have wrecked much damage. They are still listening to their religious and civil leaders (not the shameful political leaders who have lost all their credibility) not to react in haste or emotionally. However it does have its’ limits, as there are likely elements who may get provoked when insulting remarks are made about their religion and the confidence and the psyche of their community been shattered and their families thrown to the streets like rubbish. Today, Muslims, who have always been a irrelevant factor in the ethnic equation during the ethnic crisis times, have now become ‘Nobody’s people’ and political orphans more due to the impotency of the Muslim ‘leaders’ who have been involved in political gymnastics to fatten their nests compromising the interests of the community.
Dayan Jayatilleka, in his article refers to Jathika Hela Urumaya’s and Champika Ranawaka’s Role in Promoting Sinhala Buddhist Fundamentalism and the Launching of ‘Islamophobia’ as an Ideological and Political Weapon. He points out…’The Sinhala racists attacked the Tamils to ‘put them in their place’ and because they could, with some degree of impunity, since they were the majority. The gamble failed. .. The story is being repeated with the Muslims. More attacks on Muslims could eventually trigger Islamist terrorism …and drive the Muslims into the arms of the latently separatist Tamils’. If only this NATO (No action –talk only) government stops their hypocritical post mortem talk and start a conscious effort to act firmly against the racists and promote national reconciliation- a ‘sine quo non’ for national progress for Post War Sri Lanka!
Today, this anti Muslim pogrom have earned the wrath of many progressive movements among the peaceful Sinhala community-Movements like Punarudhaya movement of Victor Ivan, Puravasi Balaya of Viyangoda and Dambara Amila Thero and other progressives and also the IUSF led by Lahiru have spoke out sternly against the racist agenda of these monk led rogue racist movements and the morally waning political elements hell bent on creating a war-lord Somalia in Sri Lanka. Minister Kiriella says Buddhists should be ashamed of these racists and should apologize to the Muslims while Navy Commander talked of the pivotal supportive role played by the Muslims in winning the terrorist war and that those who are involved in attacking the Muslims are traitors. UN and Minority International as well as HR Watchdogs like Amnesty International have taken the SL Government to task. Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has expressed concern and many foreign governments like EU, US and UK have called upon the government to act with fairness towards the minorities and take firm action against the perpetrators of crimes against the Muslim community. Many protests and demonstrations are being held in foreign capitals to draw the attention of the international community to this on-going tirade against the Muslims in Sri Lanka. The country has thus unfortunately been put on the world map once again for the wrong reasons, branding it as a pariah state with no breathing space for minorities.
Cross party consensus should therefore be sought to fight hatred and religious bigotry and to promote national reconciliation. Urgent action should be taken to introduce Hate Speech Law, of course sorting out concerns of civic rights groups of the possibility of provisions being used to persecute political opponents. Legal action should be taken against all ‘Gnanasaras, Amithas, Saliyas and Dan Prasads without fear or favour. A comprehensive plan of action should be drawn out to inculcate the importance of national reconciliation and the dangers of racist and religious extremism in schools, universities and Daham Paaselas of all faiths. Powerful social media should also be used for this purpose. More importantly, a mechanism should be worked out to sort out contentious racial and religious issues at the local level involving religious leaders and social activists. Civic activism and more stronger voice from the Sinhala Buddhist mainstream against these destructive elements, are however paramount to force the hands of the government to take steps to fight racial and religious hatred and to promote national reconciliation. Time to wake up Sri Lanka! Don’t feign sleep!