By Tisaranee Gunasekara -
“The elephant is crashing about in the room, trampling people to death, and politely ignoring it is no longer an option”. AC Grayling (To Set Prometheus Free)
With the mob-attack on a Muslim-owned shop,Sri Lankatook a giant leap towards a new conflagration.
The attack on the Pepiliyana outlet of the ‘Fashion Bug’ happened less than a month after Gotabhaya Rajapaksa publicly associated himself with the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and less than a fortnight after the outfits’ Rabble-Rouser-in-Chief, Rev. Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thero, launched an uncouth diatribe against the Muslim owners of the ‘Fashion Bug’, accusing them of conspiring to turn pure Sinhala-Buddhist maidens into harem-inmates[i]
According to media reports, the mob-attack happened consequent to a rumour of a 15 year old Sinhala-Buddhist employee of Fashion Bug being raped, within the premises, by a Muslim fellow-employee. The connection between this wholly apocryphal rumour and Ven. Gnanasara Thero’s Kandy-diatribe against ‘Fashion Bug’ is obvious. Like the Nazis and the White Racists, the BBS is using the image of the ‘Lascivious and Predatory Muslim’ threatening Sinhala-Buddhist womanhood, and by extension Mother Lanka, in order to weld ordinary, law-abiding Sinhala-Buddhist men into a baying mob. Muslim-owned establishments are being depicted as dens of sexual iniquity; implicit and explicit images/charges of a sexual nature are being used to titillate and incite Sinhala-Buddhist men, and to provide the resultant mob with a cast-iron and time-honoured justification for hating – and attacking – any Muslim.
According to video footage, the mobs were led by monks. Reports indicate that the attackers took their time, undeterred by a heavy police/riot-police/STF presence[ii]. The criminal-mob was not tear-gassed, baton-charged or water-cannoned by the uniformed guardians of law and order. Even when the advance guard of the mob manhandled police officers, the police forbore to react[iii]. Why the screaming horde got the licence denied to law-abiding political demonstrators is not hard to guess. Which policeman is going to lift a finger against a saffron-mob, after Gotabhaya Rajapaksa came out of the closet and paraded his affinity with the BBS? Which policeman wants to risk a sudden punishment-transfer to nowhere?
The tactics used by the Rajapaksas and the BBS, to clear themselves of any blame for this deadly incident, are identical to the politico-propaganda ploys used during the ‘Humanitarian Operation’. The attack is being de-politicised by depicting it as an ordinary crime, caused by an ordinary girl-boy issue. The purpose is to deceive the international community and that part of the Lankan public still sane enough to be alarmed by the thought of another Black July.
The modus operandi is clear. Incite the Sinhala-Buddhists to fear and hate Muslims. Instigate/permit a few attacks on Muslim establishments. Mouth pious-platitudes about peace and harmony. Impose an unofficial censorship on the media. Use lies and half truths to explain/justify any crime which cannot be covered-up. Blame the opposition, the NGOs or international conspirators if things get out of hand.
The current anti-Muslim hysteria, like the past anti-Tamil hysteria, did not happen spontaneously; it was created, word by word, figure by figure, image by image, by the BBS and its offshoots, in an enabling environment of Rajapaksa-provenance. Even if the Pepiliyana mob was not a BBS-creation, the BBS is politically and morally responsible for the outrage. In the last few months the BBS monks went from city to city, town to town, village to village, spewing the anti-Muslim toxin among ordinary Sinhalese.
Unless the Rajapaksas do not lock up their baying hordes, a new war will be upon us.
An Encore for Black July
Pity the people who abandon their destiny into the hands of their own barbarians. They will know neither peace nor progress; only endless bloodshed.
In July 1983, the barbarians within the Sinhala community were given a free rein to indulge in their bloody fantasies. In return many – if not most – Tamils abjured moderation and threw their lot in with their own barbarians.
Whether the Tamils have learnt from their Tiger-error remains to be seen. But the Sinhalese seemed to have learnt nothing and forgotten everything.
How can a nation learn from its past mistakes and misdeeds if its leaders deny the very existence of such errors and crimes? Being a Sinhala-supremacist precludes seeing the ‘Sinhala Only’ as an error or Black July as a crime. In the Sinhala-supremacist cosmos, moderation was the sole error, restraint the sole crime. The war happened and lasted for 30 years because the Sinhalese were too weak, too complacent and unwilling to crack down hard enough and fast enough on the ‘erring’ Tamils.
Today that same logic is being applied to relations with Muslims (and Christians). Since the ‘original sin’, according to the Sinhala-Buddhist creed, is being too soft on the minorities, the way to prevent another war is to ensure that all minorities know their place and they never depart from it, even for a second.
A nation must be driven out of its senses, before it can be induced commit homicide and suicide.
Black July happened because the South was a dry prairie of anti-Tamil beliefs. Respectable, educated middleclass Sinhalese believed that Tamils were overrunning the country, taking over the professions, the universities, the businesses. The tracts produced by UNP’s Cyril Maththew were avidly read, discussed and distributed not just by UNPers but also by committed anti-UNPers. Both UNP and SLFP parliamentarians freely indulged in anti-Tamil rhetoric. The plague of hatred permeated every nook and cranny of Southern society. No institution was immune to it; it seeped into political parties and professional bodies, universities and schools, the police and the armed forces, ordinary homes and ordinary temples. When the Tigers killed 13 Sinhala soldiers, the South ignited because the prevailing climate of opinion sanctioned madness. Without societal approbation the orgy of violence would have died down in a couple of days; it continued because the perpetrators felt no opprobrium.
There were a couple of mini-riots in the run up to Black July. Had they been condemned by society and cracked-down on by the regime, the final carnage could have been avoided. The regime indulged the mobs. Decent, kind-hearted people justified the horrors. A few years later the mirror images of this approbation became visible in Tamil society.
Today the past is returning. Like then, decent, respectable middleclass people are talking about the ‘Muslim menace’. The same apocryphal charges can be heard across Sinhala society: ‘They’ are everywhere; ‘They’ are taking over our land, our resources and, this time, our women; ‘They’ must be stopped.
In the Merchant of Venice, Shylock asks: “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means… as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed?” We lost this sense of common humanity in Black July and became lost in a moral-ethical wasteland.
We were too busy being Sinhala patriots to be human – a fate that befalls any people who lapses into fanaticism.
Are we going to allow the barbarians within to decide our destiny, again?
Are we going to be amoral and stupid, again?