By Izeth Hussain –
The present article and my earlier ones of July 5 and 12 are meant to constitute a unity, focusing on the questions of what really the Aluthgama/Beruwela outrages signify, and what action can be taken by the Muslims to safeguard their lives and their legitimate interests. I concluded my last article by arguing that the Muslims should, in order to safeguard their legitimate interests, turn to the Government, even though it is carrying out an anti-Muslim project, and also have recourse to the civil society. But neither, I am afraid, will prove to be really effective instruments for safeguarding legitimate Muslim interests. For that they have to turn to what is potentially the most effective instrument available: the international community. I must justify that position before proceeding further because it might be taken by some as betraying an anti-national bias.
It has now become absolutely clear, unlike in earlier weeks – as a result of investigative work courageously undertaken by Latheef Farook and others – that what took place at Aluthgama/Beruwela should be seen as a Government-backed anti-Muslim pogrom. It should really be seen as signaling a new phase in the Government’s anti-Muslim project: a project to reduce them Muslims to the status of second-class citizens who are not entitled to the protection of the State, and to reduce their economic position to levels lower than those of the Sinhalese. As to what really happened at Aluthgama/Beruwela, the most eloquent testimony is that of that noble UNP Parliamentarian Thewarapperuma to whom the Muslims acknowledge a debt of gratitude for having risked his life in trying to rescue the Muslims of the area. According to him the STF was there in full force but merely watched while the murderous arsonists went on the rampage. The Government cannot possibly absolve itself of responsibility for that outrage. It was indisputably a Government-backed pogrom that took place.
The inadequacy of the Government as a resource for safeguarding legitimate Muslim interests becomes very apparent when we ask what can be done to prevent another July ’83.It was quite clear to practically everyone that the racist bull-thugs at Aluthgama were baying for blood, and that very probably they view what ensued as merely a prelude to a grand orgasmic climax of blood-letting that is to take place next year in commemoration of the anti-Muslim riots of 1915. At present what looks like a campaign to provoke a further bout of anti-Muslim violence seems to be going on. Scarifying stories are put out about Muslims insulting and provoking the Buddhist clergy, who are bearing it all with infinite patience because there is no one to whom they can turn in this predominantly Buddhist land that is really under non-Buddhist domination. The further complaint is that the media are blacking out all news about the Muslim provocations. Is there any hope that the Government will make proper investigations and put a stop to such loonily dangerous racist idiocies? None whatever. Is there any hope that the Government will responsibly investigate what really ignited the recent riots? None whatever.
It must seem anomalous that I am advocating a Muslim turning to the Government to safeguard their legitimate interests, while I am saying at the same time that the Government is carrying an anti-Muslim project. Part of the reason for this is that the Government is an amorphous body with many fissures, not a smooth monolith. Its hard core is certainly neo-Fascist, racist, anti-Muslim, but the Government also includes members of the old SLFP and of left-wing parties who could be sympathetic to the Muslims. The Opposition UNP is also basically racist and anti-Muslim, but it too includes enlightened politicians who we can presume will be disposed to give some measure of fair play to the Muslims – to which the Government is averse as shown quite clearly by its Deputy Permanent Representative in Geneva having the damned impertinence to blame the Muslims for setting off the Aluthgama/Beruwela outrages. However the essential difference – the difference that the Muslims can’t afford to ignore – is that the Government can deliver, the UNP can’t. That applies to the civil society too which – though it has shown an impressive dynamism in recent times – cannot as yet play the decisive role that could be expected of the civil societies of Britain or India. Under these circumstances the Muslims cannot be blamed if they turn to the international community to safeguard not just their legitimate interests but their very lives, as a July ’83 could well be on the way.
What the Muslims should now do is to undertake a publicity counter-thrust dealing with all the charges leveled against them. It can be shown, without much difficulty, that the issues bedeviling Sinhalese-Muslim relations, sometimes for decades, are really not much more than irritants, nothing that could conceivably justify a hate campaign and violence backed by the Government. It can be shown also that some of the issues that have continued to bedevil relations are not the consequence of wrong-doing by the Muslims or the Sinhalese, but of the failure, or refusal, on the part of successive Governments to take corrective or regulatory action. Such a publicity counter-thrust could perhaps do more than anything else to restore the traditional amity and co-operation that have characterized Sinhalese-Muslim relations.
The counter-thrust should at the outset emphasize certain facts of fundamental importance. The Muslims and their political representatives have been on the whole, until very recently, abjectly submissive towards the Sinhalese. They have sided with the Sinhalese against the Tamils in every bit of ethnolunacy advanced by the Sinhalese leaders. They made their contribution to the war effort to the extent of incurring a mass genocidal expulsion from the North. They have never asked for a separate state, and even their case for an autonomous Muslim unit is the consequence of the Tamil case for devolution. The wider Islamic world has been of immense benefit to Sri Lanka, in ways that I need not specify here. The point to be highlighted is that the creation of a major Muslim ethnic problem in Sri Lanka argues an advanced, a dangerously advanced, degree of ethnolunacy among the anti-Muslim racists and their Government backers.
The publicity counter-thrust would not, in my view, require detailed abstruse studies. Sometimes the issues are really non-issues, while most of them can be disposed of without much difficulty. As an example of a non-issue, I will take the charge that Muslim countries don’t allow the building of churches and temples and the practice of any religion other than Islam. In a recent letter to the Island, a Sinhalese writer listed several Western countries where there are Buddhist temples, but none he wrote are to be found in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries, while in Sri Lanka Buddhists allow mosques to proliferate all over the place, and so on. He challenged me to express my views about that. I did some checking and found that the position is as follows. The Saudis regard their country as having a unique relation to Islam for obvious historical reasons, and therefore don’t allow the building of non-Muslim religious edifices there, but the practice of other religions is allowed. Churches and Hindu temples are to be found in the UAE, Bahrain, and elsewhere. As I could not get information on the practices prevalent in the 57 predominantly Muslim countries of the world, I asked the writer what are the countries where Buddhists have sought permission to build temples and been refused. There has been no answer.
I would also regard as a non-issue something that the Sinhalese racists, and the Government itself, regard as a serious national problem, the problem of Muslim extremism. The truth about this was put succinctly and exactly some weeks ago by a politician of high integrity, Mangala Samaraweera: There is no Muslim extremism here. I dealt with this supposed serious national problem in a recent article, so that instead of going into details here I will confine myself to the essential facts. There is indeed the problem of the religious extremism of the Wahabis and the Salafis, which have led to a few, very few, clashes with the mainstream orthodox Muslims. That should be of no concern at all to non-Muslims, and constitutes no problem for them, except to the Government as a very occasional law and order problem. The madrasas have not been teaching any form of “political Islam” and consequently there are no Jehadi groups, none whatever in Sri Lanka. I understand that about three SL Muslims have been recruited by foreign terrorist groups, but such recruitment can be easily contained by our secret service with the help if necessary of RAW, the CIA, and Mossad. Supposed Muslim extremism here is a concoction of the Sinhalese racists, as part of their strategy to push the Muslims down and keep the Muslims down.