23 May, 2022


Rescuing Patriotism From The Extremists

By Ameer M Faaiz

Ameer M. Faaiz

Ameer M. Faaiz

It is almost five years since the military victory of May 2009 brought an end to three decades of armed conflict. Yet, the prospects for securing a stable and inclusive peace in Sri Lanka appear bleak. The first victim of “peace” was the APRC. This long and important process for developing a consensus-based political solution was marginalised and shelved. The second victim is ethnic and religious relations. Emergent Buddhist extremist groups have been allowed target and attack both Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike with relative impunity – to the point where minorities are experiencing a distinct sense of being under siege.

The war’s end was heralded as giving birth to a new era of freedom. However, instead of freedom, our country is gripped with fear. Over the last three years, systems of law and order protecting our basic rights and liberties have been dismantled, the already beaten and bruised press has been further muzzled and constitutional checks and balances – so essential to preventing abuse of power – have been significantly compromised.

Sri Lanka’s Muslims: from frying pan to the fire

The plight of Muslims is a case in point of these broader trends. The Muslim community endured great hardship during the war. Violence against Muslims, including brutal massacres of worshippers engaged in prayer in mosques, left hundreds dead. Attacks against Muslims culminated in the mass eviction of the Northern Muslim population by the LTTE in October 1990. Thousands were left destitute overnight, having been forced to leave behind homes, lands and property worth billions. The abuse of Muslims by Tamil militants, and the events of 1990 in particular, had broader ramifications in that it contributed significantly to the erosion of the legitimacy of the Tamil armed struggle.

Yet today, besides its use as a means of highlighting LTTE brutalities, the plight of war displaced Muslims is rarely recalled, let alone addressed. The defeat of the LTTE in May 2009 was widely hailed as the end of an oppressive era. However, historic indifference to the Muslim community’s grievances marks an all too familiar continuity, perhaps one of many identifiable continuities, between the war years and post-war Sri Lanka.

Recent years have seen an alarming rise in anti-Muslim violence, fuelled by organised campaigns of hate-speech and propaganda. Mosques have been attacked, businesses and establishments run by Muslims have been boycotted, Muslim dress codes have been mocked and Muslims have been harassed and branded as aliens and subversives.  These incidents still continue, even in 2014. Impunity for attackers and purveyors of hate has meant that widespread fear-mongering has gone unchecked. Intimidation, harassment and outright discrimination against Muslims and those of other religions in Sri Lanka have become increasingly commonplace. Over 300 such incidents have been reported, from all parts of the country, against Muslims in 2013. These have often been accompanied with official inaction. Arson, vandalism and physical violence have taken place with Police officers standing idly by.

Patriotism demands Protection

These grave violations of the supreme law of Sri Lanka – the constitution – make a mockery of its solemn protection of fundamental rights. It is certainly not patriotic to sow strife, preach hate and promote intolerance, and doing so does disservice to our country and our heritage. Those who set fire to places of worship, bully school children and destroy property and livelihoods should never be hailed as patriots. They are not. The patriot protects his fellow citizens when they are being harmed. The patriot resists when hate and violence threatens to divide us and the patriot guards institutions when they are slowly twisted to become instruments of personal power.  Theodore Roosevelt’s worlds are appropriate for us all to think about in this context:

“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”

Why shouldn’t the people of Sri Lanka have the same protection to which all human beings are entitled? After all, these protections are articulated and enshrined by all the people of the world in multiple international treaties. Sri Lanka has not only ratified these treaties, but it has also actively participated in international mechanisms designed to protect communities that have become vulnerable to oppressive states – for instance: Palitha Kohona, the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations was the Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. He reported to the UN General Assembly on the ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners and the dispossession of Palestinians from their agricultural land.[1] We should not short-sell the people of Sri Lanka.

The Patriot’s response to an Unpatriotic State

The State’s response to discriminatory practices against Muslims and those of other religions has ranged from disinterest and lethargy to tacit collusion. In other words the State has been both unpatriotic and immoral. Attempts at negotiation and mediation to iron out differences have come to dead ends. Pursuing legal remedies has proven futile, given the collapse in the rule of law. For example, over a hundred families lost their homes and land due to military land expropriations in Ashraff Nagar. Appeals on this issue have been made to the highest authorities, but to no avail.

Precisely such a crisis existed for Sinhala people in the South in the late 1980s. The actions of the State had become unpatriotic and immoral, and domestic institutions and authorities were simply refusing to stem the injustice.

It was in this parallel predicament facing the Sinhala people that Mahinda Rajapaksa, now the President of the country, set his eyes on remedying the problem through an appeal to the international community. On 11 September 1990, Mahinda Rajapaksa set out to take the case to the 31st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in Geneva. On this journey he carried with him 533 documents containing information about missing persons and 19 pages of photographs (including of dead bodies), which he admitted he was taking to Geneva to “promote the protection of human rights in Sri Lanka.”

No one doubts the patriotism of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The action he took then as a response and remedy against the betrayal of its people by the Sri Lankan State was the right response. It is a testimony to the public recognition of his patriotism, that Mahinda Rajapaksa was later elected President in 2005.

The Response of the Rogue State

At that time, the only challenge to that patriotic action by Mahinda Rajapaksa came from the venal and vice ridden agents of the state. As he attempted to board a flight to Geneva at the Katunayake airport, an Assistant Superintendent of Police stopped him with a fabricated excuse. Mahinda Rajapaksa was informed that his baggage needed to be checked for “fabricated documents”. The ASP claimed that these documents were likely to compromise national security interests and promote feelings of hatred or contempt towards the government, which had been deemed an offence under Regulation 33 of the Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions and Powers) Regulations of the time – an unpatriotic State tends to pass regulations that criminalise patriotic actions.

The documents that President Rajapaksa was carrying were confiscated unjustly and arbitrarily. Rightfully taking umbrage at this action, Mahinda Rajapaksa later filed a fundamental rights application (Rajapaksa v Kudahetti) on the constitutional basis that his freedom from arbitrary arrest and freedom of expression had been violated.[2]

Patriotism should not be silenced by Extremism

The media has been agog recently with statements that the Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Rauff Hakeem, has been unpatriotic. But what is this all about? It is about the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress informing the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights of the factual situation with regard to the violence and harassment faced by Muslim people in Sri Lanka in recent times. As far as allegations against the government go, these facts on religious intolerance are a great deal milder than what President Rajapaksa was carrying with him to Geneva.

That the President might have forgotten his patriotic commitments is not a reason for the SLMC to abandon them as well. In the present context, whoever takes steps to push back against the unpatriotic functioning of the Sri Lankan State, is doing a service to the country and its people and should be hailed as such, just as President Rajapaksa was hailed when he first ran for Presidency in 2005.

It is simply unacceptable to think that only Sinhalese are allowed to file complaints with the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva. It is also unacceptable to think that such complaints can be filed only when Sinhalese are the victims of the Sri Lankan government. Such limiting attitudes are a form of rank extremism, which unfortunately might be prevalent in some circles.

Muslims, Malays, Tamils, Christians and all such communities, just as the Sinhala Buddhists, in Sri Lanka should consider making proper use of international mechanisms, the evolution to which Sri Lanka has actively contributed; and they should not be prevented from doing so.

Informing the UN Human Rights Council of the factual situation regarding religious violence and harassment is an act of truth telling and is no less an expression of patriotism than Mahinda Rajapaksa’s action in 1990. To vilify and condemn this action is not just unpatriotic folly, but is also an expression of underlying extremism and all right-thinking people of Sri Lanka should desist from it.

[1] See Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, Sixty-eighth General Assembly, Fourth Committee, 23rd Meeting, General Assembly, GA/SPD/548.

[2] See Mahinda Rajapaksa v. Kudahetti and Others [1992] 2 Sri.L.R. 223.

*Ameer M Faaiz, LL.M., is a practising lawyer who has also been a civil society and a political activist and his current positions include Director – International Affairs of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and Director – Secretariat for Muslims

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Mr. Ali,

    RE: Rescuing Patriotism From The Extremists.

    Rescuing Patriotism From The para-Extremists Rescuing Patriotism From The Para-Extremists?

    Who are the Para-Extremists?

    They are the Paras. The Foreigners. The Para-Sinhala, the Para-Tamils, the Para-Muslim and other paras, who need to get back to their native South India. The Para-Sinhala following the imaginations of the para- monk Mahanama is the biggest problem.

    Rescuing Patriotism From The Extremists Rescuing Patriotism From The Extremists

    These Paras, have overstayed their welcome in the sacred lad of the native Veddha, and have a made a mockery using their Myths.

    Request that all paras, leave the land of the native Vedda, if they cannot behave as humans, as per Native Veddah Culture.

  • 0

    SL Muslims should leave SL for good

    Things are not going to get any better if not WORSE when Narendra Modi becomes Indian PM.

    • 5

      “The Muslim community endured great hardship during the war.”

      This is your problem Thambi. You think of any problem from the Muslim angle only!

      Learn to understand that there were millions of Sinhalese, Tamils and others who also “endured gret hardship during the war”.

      When you learn that, we might be able to go somewhere together!

    • 0

      Modi is just like you. just that he is Hindu.He supports violence against minorities but does not openly support raping them as you do.

      You are Modi too. I am sure you know what it means in Tamil.

    • 1

      Fathima Fukushima and Avtars,

      “SL Muslims should leave SL for good”

      Being Muslim is a belief system, not ethnicity. Any Para can become a Muslim, like being a Christian or a Buddhist.

      ALL Paras, Para-Sinhala, Para-Tamil, Para-Muslims, Para-Hindus, Para-Buddhists, Para-Christians, Para-Malays, Para-Portuguese, Para-Burghers, Para-Dutch, Para-English and Para-Chines should leave the scared Land of the native land, if they cannot behave as guests.

      The native land of the Native Veddah, is to be pristine, for the Native Veddah to live in harmony with nature.

      The Para-Sinhala and the Para-Tamils have made a mess of the land of the Native Veddah. These Paras must leave first to South India, where they came from, based on DNA Analysis. It should be followed by the other Paras.

  • 1


    Good piece.

    But like all good advice these days, yours will also fall on deaf ears. There is an old Armenian proverb, ‘One day the blind donkey will fall off the cliff’. Let us all hope that such a day is not too far off for the Rajapaksa government.

  • 3

    Mr Faaiz instead of writing to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, why don’t you appeal to the Muslim Countries?.
    Despite the treatment you have been receiving at the hands of the extremist Buddhist monks, who are nothing but thugs
    in saffron, Muslim countries like Pakistan and Ssudi Arabia voted against the Resolution recently in Geneva in favour of Sri lLanka.
    Apparently you are not addressing your problems to the right people.

  • 0

    ‘It is simply unacceptable to think that only Sinhalese are allowed to file complaints with the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva.’

    These Mara-type fellows that you very correctly say, are extremist don’t want even Sinhalese to complain to the UN, Ameer. This is so forgetting the fact that the chief Mara was the biggest crybaby of all, running to Geneva in the eighties to complain when the Sinhalese were killed. They are pre hypocrites and have no valid reason for their actions than covering up their corruption, killings and bad rule under a front of Sihala Buddhism. But as far as the Muslims are concerned, Hakeem has been a bitter disappointment, unable to take strong positions and then putting up woth being abused.

    When you look at what the Mara parrots, who hide under anonymous names on this forum and others and attack when they see people making strong points against the Maras, you can see that. All that they can do is parrot about the west, about the dollars and about this fictional Gopi! Not one sensible point can they make. Not one criticism of the govt do they engage in.

    But you can’t beat racism, opportunism and roguery by sense, rationalism and soberness. The Sri Lankan ordinary people will realize this slowly – look at the West and South PC polls. But they will need a little bit more time.

  • 0

    The Muslims undeniably suffered alongside the Sinhala and the Tamils. The Tamils also suffered the ignominy of being murdered and pauperised by some of their own kith and kin carrying the guns supplied by their cousins across the sea.
    The Muslims on the other hand have done very well over the last fifty or so years. They looked to education for their emancipation, and NOT to the gun. The Muslims today are well represented in the universities and other educational institutions. The young ladies who were kept hidden away at home behind curtains are now educated and able to hold their own with the rest of them in society. They can own, and drive their cars on Sri Lankan roads, unlike in Saudi Arabia. Quite a proportion have have mastered all three languages, and even if one does not agree with the politics, the speeches the Muslims MPs make are moving.
    There are a few negatives at local level, but they are vastly outnumbered by the positives, and the writer ought to take a balanced view. I can only wish the Muslim community in Sri Lanka further success.

  • 0

    Ameer M. Faaiz,
    Other than in terror attacks by LTTE, only Muslim mosques where minarets were demolished in Sri Lanka was by Wahhabis and Salafis and never by Sinhalas. Muslims were killed in Sri Lanka in religious riots were only by Wahhabis and Salafis and never by Sinhalas. 150 Muslim houses were burned only by Wahhabis and Salafis and never by Sinhalas. Muslim saints were exhumed in Sri Lanka only by Wahhabis and Salafis and never by Sinhalas. Nowhere in Sri Lanka a Muslim or a hindu or a Christian was killed in a religious riot by a Sinhala Buddhist.

    On 10th April 2014, Independent newspaper reported ‘Harlow (UK) mosque damaged in attempted arson attack’. It also reported in the independent that it was in the news last year after a funeral was held there for a woman and her five children who died in a blaze at their home in Harlow. The children’s father, Dr Abdul Shakoor, worships at the mosque. We hear no such blaze killings in Sri Lanka.

    Google for more such information, and you can read attacks on Mosques all over the world. Then ask the question in reverse: How many attacks one sect of Muslims has made on mosques belongs to other Muslim sect, churches, synagogues, temples etc in 2014 all over the world.

    I think its all because you insist that ‘there is no God but Allah.’

  • 1

    Dear Muslim brother
    When Tamils were massacered you kept quiet and even helped the army as Tamil speaking intelligent officers. When churches were burnt down you kept silent. When Tamils were chased away from the island by violent pograms you were happy to take over their businesses in Colombo.When the JVP Sinhalese youngsters were killed by the government your voice was never heard. Now who is going to speak for you

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