By Dayan Jayatilleka –
The entire discussion or debate about the BBS, Gnanasara Thero and extremism is missing something. The discussion confuses ultra-nationalism, chauvinism, Islamophobia and extremism with the real issue: incitement to violence.
Whether an ideology is extremist or not is one issue, but it is an issue that is difficult to resolve. What is far easier to resolve, legally and morally, is the issue of whether or not an action or statement constitutes an ‘incitement to violence’ against an individual or a collective.
It is morally slippery to avoid the central issue that is present before our very eyes, namely incitement, and instead to shift attention by merely equating all forms of chauvinism and denouncing them all equally.
It is still worse to brush under the carpet the issue of incitement by stating that the BBS extremism is but a “reaction” to Islamic extremism.
Not every “reaction” is justifiable or else domestic violence could be justified as a “reaction” to a child’s or spouses behavior. “Extremism” and “provocation” are in the eye and ear of the beholder or listener. Incitement is not. Again, intentionality is not the issue, because it is difficult to prove that someone intended to incite violence. However, since ignorance of the law is no excuse, the courts can deliberate on the basis of the weight of evidence, what does and does not constitute an act of incitement, and the guilty party/parties can be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Nor is the main issue Islamophobia. While Islamophobia is in and of itself reprehensible, what should be focused on is incitement to violence. And here, the matter is very clear. Much as I have harshly criticized Wigneswaran and Tamil chauvinism, and am opposed to the growing (quite visible) fundamentalism within Sri Lanka’s Muslim communities, and also disappointed that there is no moderate Muslim fight back against it, there is no equivalence between Wigneswaran, Hakeem, Rishard Bathiudeen, Azath Salley and Ven Gnanasara for one very simple reason. After the war, some politicians representing the minorities have resorted to sectarian ultra-nationalism, chauvinism, covert and latent separatism, borderline threats and even provocation (‘genocide’ resolution, Sivajilingam, Sritharan, Gajan, Suresh), but no one has resorted to incitement of violence. As a stack of video footage can prove, the same cannot be said of the BBS or Ven. Gnanasara.
While fascism is extremist and chauvinist, not every extremist and chauvinist is fascist. The BBS and Gnanasara Thero represent, as I wrote years ago, “ethnoreligious fascism”. Those who try to equate fascism with every kind of chauvinism or extremism, are only covering up for fascism. All else apart—and there is no point making moral arguments to people who don’t seem to know right from wrong or have a conscience—the fudging of the issue of ethnoreligious fascism will only plunge this country into a religious civil war in which all will lose, including, and perhaps most especially, the Sinhalese (given that there are 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet).
I write about these matters not without some recognized credentials. In 2001, Nelson Mandela hosted in Durban, South Africa, the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance which issued the famous Durban Declaration and Program of Action. Ten years later there was the Review conference. The preparatory work was done in Geneva at the UN Human rights council and the report presented by me in Geneva was presented to the UNGA in New York under my name (though I had been sacked by the Rajapaksa administration and was not present on the occasion). I had been elected the Chairperson of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
Though I had been Chairperson of the ILO and handled contentious issues between labor, employers and governments of 193 countries sitting in a single assembly, the task of managing the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Durban declaration required even more concentration because the issues were of Islamophobia, defamation of religions, freedom of expression etc. where even the matter of the European cartoons on Prophet Mohammed had come up. Passions ran high. Under my chairpersonship we broke the deadlock by isolating the main danger—that of incitement to violence. We were able to reach consensus between regions, civilizations, cultures and religions of 193 countries, on that basis. It is with this experience and achievement that I make the point that what we should focus upon is not Sinhala and Tamil racism, chauvinism or extremism, but precisely and specifically the incitement to violence, i.e. the rousing of mob violence or individual attacks.