By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
Are we, the Sinhala people, so addicted to war, that we cannot do without one? Or are the Rajapaksas trying to manufacture a new threat and a new conflict as camouflage for their dynastic project?
A well organised and financed anti-Muslim campaign has burst into destructive life over the last several months. Organisations, manifestly conceived in the same pathological-womb, are trying to outdo each other in spreading anti-Muslim vitriol. In the name of Buddhism – the most non-violent and tolerant of all religions (in its original pre-Sinhala form) – these organisations break the law at will and sow seeds of a new ethno-religious conflict. Their members picket Muslim-owned shops, organise anti-Muslim demonstrations and attack mosques; they even invaded the Law College and the day’s TV news carried shocking footage of a monk-demonstrator attacking a layman (possibly an official) with his umbrella.
Who created these organisations? Who finances them? Who are the organ grinders of these destructively dysfunctional monkeys?
Organisations such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) seem to be above the law. They run around protesting and demonstrating, arresting people illegally and disrupting perfectly legal activities ordinary Lankans, while the police remain passive and mute. For instance, on June 26th 2012, a BBS mob surrounded the Ministry of Buddha Sasana demanding that the Minister cracks down on a rival Buddhist who ‘insulted Buddhism’ within two weeks. On January 21st, 2013, another BBS mob stormed a tourist hotel in Beruwala, where a private party was in progress, alleging that the hotel possessed a ‘Buddha Bar’.
The latitude permitted to these fanatics to sow hatred, the impunity enjoyed by them indicates connections – if not patrons – in very high places. According to DBS Jeyaraj, when an organisation calling itself Hela Sihala Hiru unleashed a rabidly anti-Muslim demonstration in Kuliyapitiya, several Muslim community leaders tried to lodge a complaint in police, in vain; the police claimed that “nothing could be done as orders had come from the top to let the demonstration happen. Some policemen said their duty was to afford protection to the demonstrators and not to take action against it”.
If accurate, this story points to a definite nexus between the orchestrated anti-Muslim hysteria and the Rajapaksas.
Seeds of Another War
A majority of the Sinhalese are not affected by the anti-Muslim germ – yet. Most Sinhalese and most Muslims have lived in perfect amity all their lives. The official history taught in schools is suffused with tales of ‘Sinhala-Tamil conflicts’ and of ‘evil Tamil kings’ (of the long centuries of peaceful Sinhala-Tamil cohabitation, including intermarriages and the cultural, religious and linguistic cross-fertilisation, history books are largely silent). But there are no comparable stories about Sinhala-Muslim conflicts or Muslim conspiracies. Therefore there are no anti-Muslim ‘historical memories’ in the collective Sinhala-psyche which can be tapped into and exploited.
Nor are the Muslims requesting any political reforms, as the Tamils did.
Therefore Muslim-phobia must be manufactured through gross lies, absurd exaggerations and malicious misrepresentation. The Muslims are portrayed as the ‘Cultural Other’, a task made easy by the fact that liberal Muslims (like liberal Buddhists/Hindus/Christians) are in decline and the more extremist currents of Islam are on the rise. (InSri Lanka, public manifestations of every religion are sky-rocketing, even as morality declines and crime flourishes; every religion has become an excuse for bigotry and violence). Everything is the grist to the mill of the Sinhala fanatics in their effort to create the ‘Muslim enemy’, from Halal meat and the Sharia Law to the noxious fabrication of a conspiracy to turnSri Lankainto a Muslim country in 2020.
The project of these fanatics is not just anti-Muslim/anti-minority. It is also anti-democratic and socio-culturally retrogressive. Like fanatics of every religion, their dream is a society shackled in reactionary ideas and ultra-conservative mores. Like their Muslim/Hindu/Christian counterparts, the BBS is viscerally opposed to Enlightenment ideas and liberal values. At its first National Convention held last year, the BBS demanded that the government stop family planning, amend existing laws to protect Buddhist rights and “appoint a regulatory body to supervise the content of books and other materials on Buddhism and to do away with those that had distorted the doctrine” (The Island – 12.7.2012). The BBS has attacked Christian services and disrupted family planning clinics; Dharisha Bastians reported that a BBS leader wants a law which permits a Sinhala man to marry five (presumably Sinhala) women (otherwise how can they produce pure Sinhala children?).
A Sinhala-Buddhist Saudi Arabia would be their dream.
Currently organisations such as the BBS amount to a law-and-order problem rather than a political one. If the regime so wants, it can nip this anti-Muslim hysteria in the bud by treating law-breaking BBS activists the same way any normal law-breaking citizen is dealt with. The argument that the regime fears to move against these saffron-robed hooligans because it does not want to antagonise Buddhist clergy is ludicrous. The Rajapaksas snubbed the four Mahanayakes over the impeachment issue and used threats to prevent the holding of a Sangha Council to oppose the arrest of Gen. Sarath Fonseka. According to a Wikileaks cable (26.2.2010), “Two days before the Sanga Sabha was to open….temples had been told that bombs would be hurled at buses transporting monks to the council. On February 16th the Mahanayake of Malwatte announced the assembly had been indefinitely postponed due to security reasons” (Colombo Telegraph – 29.11.2011)
President Rajapaksa has reportedly promised tough action against those creating communal disharmony. According to the same President Rajapaksa “The Maha Sanga and all Buddhists are free of no racialism and regionalism” (Daily Mirror – 21.1.2013). Who does he think is responsible for causing communal disharmony? The Muslims? The West? The President has also promised to “call the Buddhist clergy for discussions to resolve the issue” (Ceylon Today – 26.1.2013). What issue? There is no Sinhala-Muslim issue. The ‘issue’ is being artificially created by criminal elements. The ‘solution’ is not to dignify the mob by holding conferences but to apply the law, without fear or favour.
But will the Rajapaksas do it?
The Rajapaksas need justifications for their serial murder of democratic institutions and freedoms. The undead-Tiger does not suffice; other issues/enemies are needed, to addle minds with fear, to muddy the political-waters, to befuddle and bamboozle.
The Rajapaksas want a new over determination, so that the Sinhalese will be too busy chasing spectral-foes to confront the real enemy: the Rajapaksas.
A new war will fragment anti-Rajapaksa forces and enable the Siblings to justify the militarization of society, the exacerbation of economic burdens and the erosion of rights and freedoms.
A stage-managed war against ‘Islamic terrorism’ would reopen Western/Indian doors for the Rajapaksas.
A Sinhala-Muslim conflict can be in Rajapaksa-interests; but it will not benefit Sinhalese, Muslims or Tamils. The article by Hiran Gunaratne provides an excellent analysis of the politico-economic damage such a conflict will do toSri Lanka. We lost 30 years thanks to one ethnic war. A Sinhala-Muslim conflict will last longer, reach further (Sinhalese in the West/Middle East will become unsafe), cause more destruction and drag Sri Lanka down to the very depths of living-hell, below even Sudanor Somalia.