By Harim Peiris –
The above was the anguished and rather alarming cry that emanated a few weeks ago from Cabinet Minister and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem. That a minister, of justice at that and the leader of the preeminent Muslim political party had to make a plea for an end to ethno religious hate mongering in Sri Lanka was sobering enough. Coming as it does on the heels of a sustained and systematic low intensity civil assault on the Muslim community, that has included attacks on mosques and Muslim owned businesses is alarming. Sri Lanka is just emerging from nearly three decades of an ethnic based civil war and the signs are ominous that we seemed to have learned nothing from our past and are hell bent on starting a new conflict, this one an ethno religious conflict, with religion thrown into the toxic mix.
1. The hate campaign
The new campaign is spearheaded not overtly by political parties, but organizations led by religious leaders who seem to draw inspiration from the ruling alliance and seemingly have the complete backing on the ground of our politicized police force. It is led by an organization that certainly faces no opposition from the State, which subsequent to a high profile meeting with the nation’s head of state successfully pulled off a show of force in Maharagama, a week ago. Going according to reports, their meeting most closely resembled in rhetoric, atmosphere and attitude, the fascist rallies that swept parts of Europe before the start of the second world war, complete with attacks on ethno religious minorities for economic oppression of the majority, attacks on their family size (as if this is not a free choice available to all), their mode of dress and other social practices. Strangely reminiscent of exactly what the Nazi’s said of the Jews in the early part of the last century. Today it falls on the Muslims, the other descendants of Abraham, to face similar accusations in Sri Lanka.
2. The Hallal certification
The ostensible irritant is presented as the Hallal certification that informs Muslim community consumers that products are compliant with their dietary laws. In much the same way as a Rabbi in Colombo actually issues Kosher certificates for products that are exported to Israel and before we explode with anger, let us remember that Israeli (read Jewish) Kafir jet squadron contributed significantly to our war victory. What is wrong with Hallal certification or informing a certain community that products are compliant with their dietary requirement? Such a basic and inoffensive facility, on commercial terms should be available in any civilized society, especially one like ours which values its antiquity and a proud historical record of tolerance and plurality. Hallal certification should be nothing more than stating that a product is fat free or lactose free for consumers who are calorie conscious or allergic to lactose. If there is a fair trade issue, that matter should firstly be reported to the Consumer Affairs Authority or the Fair Trading Commission and in the event of unsatisfactory redress referred for judicial adjudication. It is certainly not an issue for mob violence and street (in) justice.
3. The Sri Lankan Muslims
The Sri Lankan Muslim Community, a religious and linguistic minority has been an ancient community in Sri Lanka, now predominating in the Eastern Province and also scattered throughout the country. An integral part of Sri Lanka’s cultural mosaic, they have contributed significantly to Sri Lanka’s national life. Led politically by secular and moderate leaders, during the ethnic war, they were hounded and brutalized by the Eelam Tigers, ethnically cleansed them from the North and murdered by the LTTE while at prayer in their mosques. Muslims have been an integral part of Sri Lanka’s war on terror against the LTTE, playing an active part in military intelligence and the long range reconnaissance patrols (LLRP)’s that operated deep behind LTTE lines, their native Tamil language capability an essential requirement for Sri Lanka’s counter intelligence and covert operations. More strategically though, Muslim nationalism, if one may call it that, has since the rise of Tamil militancy, generally sided with the Sri Lankan State and historically seen Tamil nationalism as a greater threat to its own rights and freedom, than Sinhala nationalism. It was a political judgment vindicated by the LTTE’s atrocities against the Muslim people. It is not in the interest of Sri Lanka’s that another minority, the Muslim community also become as alienated from the Sri Lankan State as the Tamil community has become.
Prior to the recent spate of attacks on Muslim mosques and businesses in Sinhala areas, it was the LTTE in pursuit of an ethnically pure Tamil Eelam that persecuted and harassed the Muslim community in the North and East and indeed the Sinhalese in the South. It would now be a great pity if the current crop of Sinhala ethno religious goon squads, in their pursuit of a ethnically pure Sinhala Eelam in the South (as opposed to a multi ethnic, multi religious pluralistic Sri Lanka) was to destroy the peace and create the tragedy of a new ethno religious conflict, to replace the ethnic based civil war we ended three years ago.