By Laksiri Fernando –
It is obvious from the article published by Champika Ranawaka, first in the Daily Mirror, and then reproduced by the Colombo Telegraph, titled “Grandpass: The True Story,” that he has an intimate knowledge of and interest in what others have termed as a ‘despicable act of thuggery and intimidation’ in the name of religion in Grandpass. He obviously is a stakeholder on the wrong side of the fence to come so unashamedly in defending the acts of violence and religious-racial hatred against the Muslims.
His defence begins by saying “It was only in May this year massive anti-Muslim protests were held in central London sending jitters through the spine of David Cameron’s government.” What he has failed to say is that the protest in London in May was against the murder of a British soldier, Drummer Lee Rigby, allegedly by the Muslim extremists, and the protest was organized by the far rights wing English Defence League (RDL) and even there was a counter demonstration by the anti-fascist group, Unite Against Racism. Both demonstrations were reported as tense but peaceful according to EuroNews.
By identifying himself with anti-Muslim protests in London and Islam-phobic fringe movements in Europe he has shown his true face nevertheless saying “Sri Lanka may not be the best country in the world as regards the treatment meted out to Muslims. Still it is certainly not as bad as the West.” This statement condoning discrimination is reprehensible from a Minister. There is no other way to interpret what he has actually said both directly and in between lines and no one with a fair mind would begin an article by castigating a particular religion or a religious group in such a manner if the purpose is to objectively interpret an incident like what has happened in Grandpass.
Why is he so overjoyed to relate that the “Kashmiris continue to live in living hell” and “thousands of mass graves are found in Indian controlled Kashmir?’ The first intention probably is a threat and the second a justification. Anyone with an iota of understanding of human rights or even human decency will realise that those who try to highlight alleged worst violations to justify obvious other violations are in fact justifying both.
Ranawaka claims that there was no attack on a Mosque in Grandpass! He has taken particular umbrage against a statement issued by the US embassy in Colombo for this claim. He is apparently the Minister of Technology and Research! His technological or research methodology on the matter has been the following.
It is “an erroneous statement that a mosque in Grandpass had been attacked when the mosque remained intact.” He further says that “It’s high time that the mission [US Embassy in Colombo] paid a visit to the mosque down Swarna Chaitya Road which is in close proximity to the Buddhist temple and verified the facts for themselves.” His claim is that “The dispute was over a store, temporary used as a Prayer Centre in the neighbourhood.”
First, it is not up to Ranawaka to determine whether the place is a Prayer Centre or a Mosque. After all what is the big difference between the two? Both are religious places. A recent writer in the Colombo Telegraph on the Muslim side, Latheef Farook, has called it a Mosque. More pertinently, the letter issued by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs and signed by its Secretary, M. K. B. Dissanayake, calls it a Muslim Palliya (Muslim Mosque)). This letter in Sinhala was published by the Colombo Telegraph previously. In fact it was the old Mosque, Majid Deenul Islam, at 166 Swarna Chaitya Road that was relocated to the new place at 158 on the same road due to the takeover order by the Urban Development Authority. It is hilarious to argue that the ‘building’ was not relocated and the old Mosque is still there intact, and ask the critics to go and see! This is typical of Ranawaka’s cynical mechanical thinking arguing ‘if the building is not moved the Mosque is not moved.’
What is apparent is a Minister who should be responsible to the people, if not for his conscience, blatantly distorting facts and trying to claim brownie points by misleading the public and criticizing the US Embassy and the international human rights organizations on the basis of distorted facts.
If the dispute is now settled as Ranawaka says, it is well and good. But I doubt it very much given the following reasons. Grandpass attack is not an isolated incident and occurred only few weeks after an attack on a similar Mosque in Mahiyangana and even that was part of a series of attacks (over 25) beginning with the Mosque attack in Anuradhapura in September 2011. It is not only the Muslim religious places that have been ambushed and attacked. Over 40 Christian religious places have come under the same treatment of mob violence, desecration and personal harm particularly after the end of the war in 2009. All these incidents now number more than 65.
Almost all of these attacks have taken place with the passive endorsement of the police as onlookers in many incidents. Very clear video footages are available. There is a very clear-cut endorsement by the government, the President himself asking the newspaper editors recently to ‘ignore the anti-Islam campaign’ as pointed out by Izeth Hussain in his article to the Island this morning. The effort of Minister Ranawaka is on the same lines of the President or much worse very clearly saying to the Muslims that ‘be satisfied, we are treating you better than in Kashmir.’
On the question of the Majid Deenul Islam in Grandpass it is reported that the Muslim side has agreed to give up the location at 158 Chaitya Road and the Buddhist side has agreed to ‘allow’ the Mosque to function at the former location at 166 of the same road. However, it is not clear how long this truce would remain as the Buddhist side now claiming, including Minister Ranawaka, that the 158 is an illegal construction, and the UDA order to acquire the 166 premises is not fully revoked. No firm assurance has so far given to continue Majid Deenul Islam at 166 premises.
What has resulted in at least a temporary truce on the dispute seems to be the stiff resistance on the part of the Muslims in the area and their youth against the alleged Ravana Balaya goons who attacked the Mosque and tried to intimidate the Muslim residents. This may be the reason why Ranawaka complains about the rise of the “the number of Muslim families in the area from about 80 in 1987 to 400 in 2013.” The statement is very clear about the xenophobic mindset.
The Muslim resistance however appears to be justified is also dangerous and this is a result of the complete inaction and partiality on the part of the law enforcement agencies, particularly the Police, and the UPFA Government. This is a recipe for major calamity in the country like in the Sinhala-Muslim riots in July 1915 or the pogrom against the Tamils in July 1983. The whole effort should be to avoid such an event in the future under the rule of law and not superficial truce as advocated by Ranawaka in his spurious article. The Mosque attackers should be apprehended and punished.
Ranawaka has advocated the view that the Muslims should always consult the surrounding Sinhalese villagers and the Buddhist temples and the monks in the area before venturing into setting up their Mosques or Prayer Centres. Why should they, if they follow the rules and laws of the country? If they do so even the temple Dharmasalas would be offered for Muslims prayers, Ranawaka has hinted. What is advocated is the hegemony of Sinhala Buddhism for the survival of the minority religions. The clear threat is that, if otherwise they would be attacked.
The establishment of Sinhala Buddhist hegemony and even suppression over the minority religious and ethnic communities is what is exactly going on in the country after the end of the war. This was there even before, but it has taken an ugly militant turn after the formation of the BBS, Ravana Balaya and Sinhala Ravaya under the direct and indirect patronage of the JHU and some other sections of the government including the Defense Establishment. In my opinion, the Chapter on Buddhism in the Constitution, which was ignored or considered a harmless provision to other religions previously, now proving to be one of the root causes of the present religious intolerance that is spreading in the country with constitutional sanction on which I might return soon.
As the BBS Head, Ven. Kirama Wimalajothi Thera, declared at the Maharagama meeting of the so-called National Collective on 2 July 2013, the ideology is that “This is a Sinhala Buddhist country and others can also live here.” Live here as what? Obviously as second class citizens. It is like the (unnecessarily) glorified 13th Amendment saying “Tamil is also an official language.” Not as equal but as ‘also.’