By Hilmy Ahamed –
The tragic events of 21/4 Easter bombings destroyed the ‘peace’ that prevailed since the end of the Eelam war in May 2009. Exactly a decade later, it was not the Tamils who had regrouped to launch the biggest ever terrorist attack on civilians in Sri Lanka, but a bunch of well educated, misled rich Muslim youth who had no specific demand from the Sri Lankan State. Their motive is still a mystery and the Muslim community as well as the families of the terrorists came forward to assist the security forces in quelling any growth or left over killer cells. Through this, the security forces were able to quash the widely expected second wave of attacks. Yet, the harassment of the entire Muslim community continued with search operations, indictment and incarceration for possessing the Quran and Arabic literature (which every Muslim possesses), camouflage clothing (which was legally sold even by pavement hawkers), kitchen knives, swords and even toy guns. The policy of the Police was ARREST AND INVESTIGATE and many innocent civilians were humiliated. Most were charged under the INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS (ICCPR) ACT or PREVENTION OF TERRORISM ACT (PTA), which does not allow a Magistrate to grant bail, while the Sinhala Buddhist rioters in the Kurunegala and Gampaha districts who caused death, looting and destruction were charged under normal civilian laws and bailed out a few days later. This travesty of justice could create hundreds of more Zahrans similar to what led the Tamil youth to an armed struggle due to the carnage of the July 1983 riots. The local media, with a sinister political agenda and to boost their ratings, magnified and sensationalized these arrests, implying that everyone arrested was a terrorist or possessed dangerous weapons.
The attack on Muslims continues in the form of harassment due to their attire, cultural and religious practices, organized boycott of their businesses and trade and targeting Muslim professionals and public servants. The Police arrested a Muslim medical practitioner who was a candidate of the ruling party during the August 2015 elections at 2.30am for amassing wealth. Is this a Police duty or the responsibility of the Inland Revenue Department or Bribery Commission? Later, the Police, through Media, made public calls for anyone who underwent a cesarean section to lodge complaints of possible unauthorized Tubal ligation (LRT) surgical procedure for sterilization by this senior house officer (SHO) who worked under a Consultant Gynecologist. However, weeks after, the Consultant Gynecologist has not been questioned and arrested.
Three weeks after the Easter carnage of 21/4, Sinhala extremists started a riot in the Kurunegala and Gampaha districts causing damages to mosques, houses, vehicles and business premises. One person was killed in the mayhem. As usual, the Government imposed a curfew and forced the Muslims to stay indoors while the rioters were allowed to roam free in the presence of the Security Forces and destroy everything Muslim. This was a repeat of what happened in Aluthgama, Gintota and Digana. The armed forces and Police usually bring the situation under control only after extensive loss for the Muslims.
The Muslim community is still in a state of shock not because of the cowards who killed and destroyed the livelihood, homes and places of worship in the Kurunegala and Gampaha districts, but because of our inability to have prevented the radicalization that was happening in our backyard which culminated in the death of over 250 and injuring more than 500 Sri Lankans and visitors to our nation on Easter Sunday. The average Muslim never dreamed that there could ever be violent extremists within their community. Although Muslims were subject to ethnic cleaning in the North by the LTTE or the many violent riots perpetrated on them in the presence of the security forces since the end of the war, the Muslim community never imagined a group of Muslim youth would resort to violence or acts of terror . Why would any Sri Lankan destroy the hard won peace in our beautiful country after 30 years of bloodshed?
Zaharan and his bunch of lunatics do not represent us Muslims. The Holy Quran teaches that to take a life is like killing the whole of humanity, and to save a life is like saving all of humanity. Islam forbids suicide and the killing of innocents, hence they had left the fold of Islam. Then how can these terrorists have been Muslim? They deserved the burial they got, being denied religious rites by all mosques in the country.
It is sad that some mistakenly believe that the Muslim community knew about this terrorist attack. How can it be so, when even the wife who dropped her husband at the airport believing he was traveling to Zambia, did not know he was on a suicide mission? She travelled to her parental home in Mannar and even received text messages from him claiming to be in transit in Qatar. How then could the Muslim community have known the sadistic plans of these senseless murderers?
The brutal attacks of 21/4 have damaged the goodwill between the Muslims and majority of the peace loving Sinhala Buddhists and have created mistrust and suspicion. The entire Muslim community came forward to assist the armed force, Police and the Government in the clean up that was successfully launched by them. A mother reported and handed over her daughter who was married to one of the suspects. Mosques, neighbours, family and friends came out and reported suspicious behavior around them. Millions donated by the government for the information that led to the detection of the eastern network of terrorists was donated by the Muslims to the victims of the church bombing. The network of the terrorists was broken within days by the quick and vigilant action of the security forces thanks to the patriotic Muslims. Yet, deep suspicion and racism were created by opportunistic elements to proportions beyond imagination in the average Sri Lankan.
In the 30-year ethnic war, the Tamils were accused of protecting the Tamil Tigers and their armed struggle to set up a separate state. They may have justified it because of the discrimination and violence perpetrated against them, especially in 1983 where the Tamils living outside of the Northern peninsula lost everything including lives, livelihood and properties. Throughout this period of violence in Sri Lanka, the Muslims remained patriotic for a unitary state.
Racism has found a new meaning and everything Muslim is being targeted. Trade rivalries have come to the fore and call to boycott Muslim establishments has been renewed. There is total harassment of Muslims in public places, busses and trains, taxis and even in work places. This is not a healthy sign. Pushing Muslims against the wall will force them to react and I pray that it doesn’t end up in further violence.
The Muslim contribution to the development of the Sri Lankan economy is well recognized. Their contribution to winning the war has gone unnoticed as most Muslims worked in the intelligence arm of the forces and worked mostly under cover. Their contribution to winning the war is well documented by the armed forces.
Many Muslims who now feel a sense of hopelessness consider leaving the country. There are others who are contemplating moving their businesses outside Sri Lanka, which will be a huge blow to the economy, employment opportunities and development of the country. But what is most concerning and needing immediate attention is the anger and frustration of Muslim youth who may feel there is no justice, there is no rule of law, and they’re not equal citizens in their country.
A brief history of Muslims in Sri Lanka
Arab traders who arrived in Sri Lanka during the 7th century A.D also brought Islam, which began to flourish. The first people to profess the Islamic faith were Arab merchants who had taken native wives with the blessings of the ancient kings. By the 8th century A.D., Arab traders dominated trade in the entire Indian Ocean. Many of them chose to settle down in the island. However, when the Portuguese arrived during the 16th century, many of these Arab traders’ descendants or Sri Lankan Moors were brutally persecuted. The Portuguese colonists attacked and destroyed the Sri Lankan Moor settlements, their warehouses, and trading networks. Most Moors sought refuge from persecution by escaping to the interior of Sri Lanka towards the central hills. King Senarath of Kandy encouraged them to settle in the central hills and the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. These Moors adopted to the Kandyan lifestyle and even today carry ‘Gae’ names given by the kings.