The Secretariat for Muslims (SFM) would like to acknowledge the recent public statement by Tamil National Alliance M.P M.A. Sumanthiran made in early May at the meeting to commemorate the 36th death anniversary of S.J.V. Chelvanayagam held in Vantharumoolai, Batticaloa. Recognising the Expulsion of the Northern Muslims from the five districts of the North – Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Mulaitivu and Kilinochchi as an act of ethnic cleansing, Mr. Sumanthiran reportedly stated that the Tamil community needs to acknowledge its own mistakes and take steps to correct them, including in not neglecting the Muslim community. He emphasized that unless the Tamil community does this, it would have no moral right to expect others, including the international community to take up their grievances. We welcome this statement and the collective statement by leading Tamil political activists in 2011 as important steps in rebuilding and reconciling relations between the Tamil and Muslim communities in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Mr. Sumanthiran’s gesture provides an example to other political and civil society leaders of the measures that need to be taken to strengthen peace in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is faced with the challenge of transitioning from a protracted conflict to one of sustainable peace. The country has endured a bitter and long drawn-out war that has created multiple ruptures, polarized society and formed ethnic enclaves. There has been only limited progress in achieving substantive reconciliation, and much remains to be done by the major stakeholders – first and foremost the State – to address the fears and divisions between ethnic and religious communities. Processes for healing and trust building among communities, are few in number and have to function in an extremely challenging environment. There have been few attempts to celebrate the diversity and pluralism of our peoples.
Instead, we are witnessing efforts to drive freshly formulated communalistic divisions along ethno-religious lines. The first five months of 2013, for instance, have seen a significant surge in problems for the Muslim community in the form of an insidious hate campaign resulting in violence against and harassment of the Muslim community and in creating tensions between the Muslims and Sinhalese Buddhists in particular. Although some political leaders have spoken out and up against this campaign, there is also self censorship and insufficient expression of outrage. Therefore, we call upon others, like Mr. Sumanthiran has done, to speak up. In turn, we also call upon political and civil society leaders from the Muslim community to play their part in reconciling Sri Lankan society, including in highlighting the challenges and problems faced by communities other than their own, and to putting forward common solutions to problems shared with other communities.
As the country attempts to transition from war to peace there are a whole range of issues that need to be addressed including resettlement and reintegration of war-torn communities in the North. There have to be greater efforts by both Muslims and Tamils to recognise each other’s histories. Northern Muslims are finding it difficult to return, integrate and rebuild life in the north and are facing discrimination at the hands of some elements of the Tamil leadership and administration in the Northern Province. Hence, it is important for Tamil politicians and civil society to play a role in re-building ties and recognising the suffering of the Muslim community. Tamils also complain of Muslims being prioritised in assistance programmes. Muslims and their leaders in particular need to be more sensitive to the losses suffered for decades by the Tamil community: the many deaths and disappearances of loved ones, the brutalisation of social life and the devastation of the northern landscape. In order to move forward, Muslims and Tamils in the north must find a way to live together and again celebrate the common heritage shared through the Tamil language and their strong linkage to the land they both call home, while also ensuring the due place of the Sinhala community in the province.
We all need to invest more time and energy in finding ways to speak to each other across our divisive politics and histories of suffering in order to ensure a future of coexistence and wellbeing for all Sri Lankans.
By the Secretariat for Muslims