By Latheef Farook –
Leading Sinhala and Muslim civil society organizations have got together to educate mainstream Sinhalese of the threat posed to the country by the ongoing racist attacks on Mosques and Muslim owned business establishments.
This is the only way to save the country from further disasters and to take concrete measure to stop the rising tide of racist attacks on Muslims.
The initiatives towards this end were jointly taken by the National Movement for Social Justice, NMSJ, and conveners of Puravasi Balaya which included Gamini Veyangoda, Janaranjana, Saman Ratnapriya and Dharmasiri Bandaranike together with National Shoora Council, (NSC), an umbrella organization representing eighteen leading national Muslim organizations.
Professor, Sarath Wijesooriya, Convener of NMSJ said “the main purpose of the timely initiative is to keep the people, especially the Sinhalese community, informed of the damage, the ongoing racist campaigns could cause to the image of Buddhism, the Sinhala people and the country projecting them to the world as violent and lawless.
He said the country which is facing numerous burning issues in many fronts cannot allow a campaign which divides communities and brings only disaster to all in the country.
The two sides met two weeks ago and decided on a work program under which they decided to launch an overall campaign to inform the people that this anti-Muslim campaign launched by few individuals do not represent the views of mainstream Sinhalese community which is keen on living in peace and harmony and sort out issues within communities in the largest interest of all.
To begin with they decided to hold a press conference distancing the mainstream Sinhalese community from these racist elements and highlighting the need for the Sinhalese community to be vigilant about these racist activities.
As part of this program they met on Sunday 11 June 2017 the Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara and emphasized the need for immediate and visible steps to enforce the law and deal with the racist elements effectively. Issues concerning Muslim communities were discussed in detail and the IGP has assured effective action within the framework of law.
This week, June 14, the two sides met President Maithripala Sirisena at his office and put forward concerns of the Muslim community and the need to enforce rule of law in the country to stop attacks on mosques and Muslim owned business establishments. The participants also pointed out that these attacks have all the potentials to lead to a July 83 type pogrom which the country not only do not want but also cannot afford.
The Muslim team, led by NSC Chairman Tariq Mahmud, also informed President Sirisena that “we are not here interested in taking Galagoda Atte Gnanasara into custody. That is a matter for the country’s law enforcement agencies and the judiciary. All what we want is when we wake up and go about in the morning we should be able to move freely as we had always lived and we are entitled to. Safety of our mosques and business and other properties need to be ensured and that is the responsibility of the State. That is why we are here. Though racist elements were trying to provoke Muslims with their attacks on mosques and business establishments, our community had maintained remarkable restraint in the face of insults to Allah and the religion, only to ensure their age-old ties with the Sinhalese continues unabated.”
Meanwhile there is a growing feeling among informed circles in the Muslim community that racist elements such as the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) in the government, who once spearheaded anti-Muslim campaign and caused immense hardships to Muslims, of influencing and confusing President Sirisena from taking firm action against racist elements.
Today the Muslim community lives in fear and tension all over the island. They live in small pockets amidst the Sinhalese. The hate campaign is aimed at poisoning this relationship. The President has so far failed to take stern measures to bring these racist gangs to book. There is a general opinion among the Muslims that this indifference on the part of the authorities, has given the green light for the violent extremists to go ahead with their lawless activities.
Muslims pointed out that “though former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is accused of orchestrating these racist attacks, yet the question is what is preventing the present government from enforcing rule of law and maintain law and order?
In the midst, the two sides welcomed as a timely development the steps taken by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for directing law enforcement authorities to initiate immediate action against hate speech, perpetrators and instigators of violence against religious and ethnic groups.
Making a special statement to the media at Temple Trees, the Premier said Police have been directed to take legal action against those who engage in communal, ethnic and religious hatred, violence and hate speech. He said if someone engages in communal, ethnic and religious hatred and violence and hate speech, measures will be taken to investigate, arrest and produce the offenders before court.
The premier also pointed out that the country was affected by the Aluthgama anti-Muslim riots in 2014 and the unity among communities was damaged. He said the same incidents affected the image of the country. “We cannot repeat the same,” Premier Wickremesinghe said. “We would not allow them to be repeated.” We need to watch real action on the ground.Ends