By Boz –
The Sinhalese-Muslim race riots of 1915 were sparked off by a minor incident but would later snowball in to widespread altercations similarly, what we are seeing now, culmination of what was simmering beneath surface for the last twenty years ,might very well set the stage for yet another bout of racially motivated violence, implications of which would be far worse than what we had gone through for the last 30 years.
After the Independence the relations between Muslims and Sinhalese had been largely cordial, and the Muslims were affiliated with either of two main Sinhalese political parties. What changed this was the LTTE factor, the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Jaffna and savage attacks against Muslims civilians in the East during the late 1980 s. The need for a specifically Muslim political force to address the grievances of Muslims was felt and SLMC was founded with its leader, late Mr. Ashraff gaining star status as a king maker in the mercurial Sri Lankan political scene by the mid 1990 s. Mr. Ashraff and the SLMC gained considerable clout in the East and then came the allegations of bulldozing Deegawaapi and Muslim expansionism in the areas belonging to the ancient Sinhala civilization in the East . One of the most vociferous critics on this count was the late Ven. Soma . Gradually the general Sinhala Buddhist population began to view SLMC and by extension Muslims with apprehension
Social Media Influence
In the recent past websites began to appear targeting Islam, as well as its adherents, slandering them in foulest terms. Allegedly formulated as response to certain Islamic extremist websites, these blogs were inspired by Faithfreedom.com of one Ali Sina, an anti-Islamic activist operating out from the US. Add to this in social media , especially in the Facebook, where Sri Lankans have a rather large presence , pages such as Sorry.com with their chilling graphics and slanderous articles grew in prominence by the day, creating vitriolic anti Muslim sentiments among the Sinhalese, especially in those belonging to the middle class.
Further there are appeals to boycott popular businesses such as No Limit belonging to Muslims made via Facebook and mass circulation e-mails.
The Halal Issue
Another topic that gained prominence recently was the anti Halal campaign where Non Muslims were asked to boycott Halal products. There are allegations from some quarters that large sums paid to obtain Halal certificate are then being used to fund Muslim expansionism including building of mosques and therefore non-Muslims do not have contribute to Halal certificate costs which are included in to the product price. While ACJU, responsible for issuing Halal certificate ,clarified their stance in a recent statement, the campaign lingers, increasingly becoming popular among Sinhalese moderates as well.
Law College Entrance Exam controversy
There was a recent allegation that the Law College Entrance exam was rigged in favor of Muslim students. Comparisons with the results of the previous years showed an abnormal propensity towards Muslim students who sat for the exam in both English and Tamil streams. Further three top places went to Muslim students as well. Police is now investigating whether the question paper was leaked through a certain tuition class in Wellawatte. This consequently motivated many Sinhalese moderates to reconsider their position vis-à-vis alleged Islamic threat.
Bodu Bala Senaa
Bodu Bala Senaa is a recent manifestation modeled on Shiv Sena of India, comprised of ultra nationalist Buddhist monks and lay people. The stated aim of the this organization is to cleanse the Buddhism in Sri Lanka of what it names as charlatans and also to act as a bulwark against “threats” against Sinhala Buddhist polity. At times it acts as a vigilante force ,a religious police. Bodu Bala Senaa too is instrumental in fomenting anti Islamic sentiment citing expansionist fears.
The Usual Suspects
Like Captain Louis Renault, various analysts are trying to round up the usual suspects of this latest bout of racialism. Some, if not all, liberal and even Muslim commentators lay the blame squarely at the feet of the ruling party. According to them the Government is directly responsible for these actions by creating a diversion for the majority Sinahlese Buddhists from economic and political woes contributing to the unpopularity of the government. However for obvious reasons this theory looks hollow, for the government would be shooting itself on foot if it is indeed promoting anti Muslim sentiments at the expense of the national unity as, facing an uphill battle come March at the UNHRC it needs the votes of Islamic nations like the last time, cheap oil from Iran as well as it has to maintain the cash cow of foreign remittances, lion’s share of which comes from the emigrant workers in the Middle East region. Some pro-Government analysts claim that this is all a Western conspiracy to create divisions and paving the way for another Syria. This too looks far fetched given geo political equations .
However there might be some Sinhalese businessman fearful of Muslim dominance in retail clothing trade behind the calls for boycott of Muslim businesses. Closest to what we are seeing in Sri Lanka today is the anti Semitism in the Europe of last century that paved the way for racial stereotypes and catastrophe. However if the present trend is not arrested we can look forward to further blood letting and international stigmatization and grave economic and social consequences.
Therefore it’s incumbent upon government to look in to the grievances of both Muslims and Buddhists and take corrective actions if any injustices were occurred so there would be no more slogans for religious fanatics like Bodu Bala Senaa or the Jihadists. Further the Government should aggressively pursue offenders who strive to drive a wedge between communities via social media and e-mail campaigns .