By Aboobacker Rameez –
The Persecution of Muslims in Sri Lanka and the indifference of Muslim MPs and Ministers
The LTTE was fiercely decimated purely because they forcefully expelled the Muslims from the Northern province at gunpoint, and abruptly put an end to the call for prayers ( Athan), thereby closing the mosques in the province. As such, let those who attempt to close mosques currently in Southern Sri Lanka be decimated in the same way and I am sure that they will also face the consequences sooner or later. I deliver this speech today in this parliament, while fasting, during our sacred month of Ramazan in the strong hope that my plea will be answered by the Almighty Allah. The world knows what is happening to minority Muslims in this country and to their places of worship. I fervently request our brothers living here in Sri Lanka and abroad to pray (Duas) to Allah in this holy month of Ramazan against those who draw up a cunning plan to suppress and oppress Muslims and their mosques in this country. (The Speech delivered by MP. Hunaiz Farook in Parliament yesterday-26/07/2013)
This speech is a genuine reflection of the emotions and grief in the minds of any Muslim in the country, against the backdrop of them continuously being targeted by the ethno-religious fascist Buddhist forces like BBS and SR, obviously stirred by the government. The recent months have seen that a large number of Muslim MPs and local government members, both government and opposition, choose to remain silent in the parliament or local government bodies against the stridently venomous persecution of Muslims across the country. The rapidly growing aggression against Muslims in the country requires our representatives in the government to raise their concern in parliaments and other forums. I began to worry that they are more concerned with protecting their own perks and privileges, rather than protecting the legitimate concerns of the people who elect these representatives. I was eagerly yearning for a day to witness someone in parliament representing the Muslims, standing up for the rights of the Muslim community, but my expectation resulted in utter vain and was really sickening. No representative in the parliament or local government bodies vehemently criticized the continuous persecution of Muslims or at least attempted to cross over to the opposition to show his or her condemnation against the unfair practices of the ruling government, if they had an iota of self-respect and prestige.
However, I was deeply touched by the speech of MP Hunaiz Farook yesterday which has begun to change my impression that there is hope. With courage, at least one has stepped forward now to fight against the plight of Muslims at the hands of ethno-religious fascist Buddhist forces in Sri Lanka. Some people view this speech positively, while others attribute this to being a mere political investment for the upcoming Northern Province Council election. Those who regard this speech as a political gamut have some valid points to draw such a conclusion. The Muslim government ministers and MPs have spoken about issues previously at a far too convenient time to ensure their political clout in their electorates. For instance, it is no secret that Minister of Justice, Mr Rauf Hakeem, the leader of the SLMC, had stirred the emotions of the Eastern populace by cunningly articulating the government’s hand in the persecution of the Muslims during the last Eastern Provincial Council Election and ensured the victory of his party in the election to form the council with the government, whom he was severely critical of, with ever more concessions. Moreover, he is popularly known as a tongue twister because of his nature of saying something in the North and East and something entirely different in the South.
One of the objectives of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, which is a minority political party founded in 1980s, was to raise the legitimate aspirations and concerns of Muslims in Sri Lanka, especially those who are living in the North East. This objective of the SLMC has apparently been put to rest with its members presently in the pursuit of perks and privileges and a strong focus on development drives that involve with massive material benefits. They are good at emotionalizing the people with a ban on halal issue, mosque attacks, BBS saga and other issues pertaining to the Muslims in the country during elections and other events at their electorates, but bad at raising or convincing the rulers that BBS saga would eventually drive the country to another civil war.
In addition, we have recently learned that Muslim ministers and MPs have a difficult time seeking an appointment with the president to discuss the matter pertaining to the mosque in Mahiyangana which has apparently been closed following its desecration by unknown groups or to discuss solutions to other anti-Muslim issues getting from bad to worse with every passing day. It clearly underlines how vulnerable and insignificant these politicians are in the government, although they claim to be part of the coalition. We came across news recently of the president appraising some of the SLFP stalwarts including Matale Mayor, Hilmy Careem, Kurunagala District SLFP Coordinator Mr Abdul Sathar that Muslims should take a desecration saga the likes of Mahiyangana Mosque for granted, citing the example of the Buddhists who are able to tolerate the recent incident in Balangoda where a Muslim businessman abused a young Buddhist monk and another incident in Belimada where a Muslim businessman molested a young Buddhist girl. This is their basis for saying there is no need for Muslims to make a mountain out of a molehill. It should be noted here that the law applies to all, regardless of ethnicity, class or caste. In such circumstances, had the law been applied at that time and the culprit would have been severely punished based on the penal code section of the land, with no regard to his ethnicity either in Balangoda and Belimada, it could have, in fact, been a lesson for others on simply getting away from such crimes. Alternatively, the explanation given for the desecration of the mosque, which is a place for thousands of worshippers, followed by its closure does not paint an optimistic picture for the Muslims in this country. Furthermore, it goes to say that the Muslims, in general, are blamed and taken revenge for what one miscreant member of the community does. This does not bode well for the long term reconciliation between ethnic groups in Sri Lanka. Employing symbols and other brands of ethnicity to ensure the stable clout in the electorate or politicizing the ethnicity will take us nowhere, but winning the election at the expense of losing the peace and reconciliation. It is very explicit now that the war that lasted for three decades has taught us nothing, but the mentality to suppress the minorities further by establishing the majoritarian hegemony in the country.
Therefore, it is high time for the government to take some measures immediately to contain these ethno-religious fascist movements mushrooming in the post-war scenario, and to restore the religious rights of the Muslims historically enjoyed by them throughout the country. It is also important for the Muslim MPs and ministers to show genuine commitment regarding the issues plaguing the community at large, adopting a view that looks beyond the next election. They should also raise this issue in parliament and cabinets. This issue should also be drawn, with the intervention of the Muslim politicians, to the attention of the international community, especially the Muslim countries that support Sri Lanka financially and diplomatically in international forums like Geneva. The continuous persecution of Muslims in the country is a serious issue that must be dealt with immediately by those in power, lest it lead to another national catastrophe.
*The writer, who is currently a PhD scholar at National University of Singapore, is a lecturer in Sociology at South Eastern University of Sri Lanka.