Political parties must promote the interests of the nation without focusing on one group
Four years after the war ended, development and reconstruction showcases are eclipsed by raw human suffering during Navi Pillay’s visit to Sri Lanka
Rajeswari Ganesan, mother of a 28 year old Vavuniya prison inmate who died under suspicious circumstances in June last year, sobbed out her grief to visiting UN Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem Pillay in the North last Tuesday. This past year, Rajeswari’s grief over the death of her only son, who authorities claim died of a heart attack but she believes was killed in custody, has been a terrible thing to see. Navi Pillay may not have been able to understand Rajeswari’s representation made in Tamil, but overcome with empathy, the UN Envoy put her arms around the weeping mother and held her.
Navi Pillay was the most senior UN official to have visited Sri Lanka’s embattled north and east since the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon toured the region soon after the war ended in May 2009. For hundreds of families living in the former war zone, whose personal tragedies have been ignored for years, the fact that a high ranking person of international influence was finally close enough to hear their cries for help, was undoubtedly an electrifying experience. “I have never experienced so many people weeping and crying. I have never seen this level of uncontrollable grief,” Pillay was to tell The Sunday Leader three days later in an interview.
Steps in the right direction
In anticipation of her visit, the Government made several strides in the right direction. Whether superficial attempts to pacify the visiting UN Envoy and temper her report ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) scheduled for November or not, the Rajapaksa Administration set up a Commission on Disappearances, appointed credible commissioners, returned military acquired land to the people, promised action on the Weliweriya killings and agreed to give Pillay “unfettered access” wherever she chose to go. It was the first time that the regime had opened up the final theatre of war beside the now legendary Nandikadal lagoon to any foreign visitor.
Yet in the end, none of the Government’s efforts to paint a positive picture of Sri Lanka’s leap forward after the end of the war could mitigate the stark reality of weeping women and children on the streets of Jaffna and Trincomalee. Shiny new roads and railway tracks could not hide fundamental issues in the former battle zones that were obstructing genuine post-conflict healing and reparation. Pillay was confronted with tales of livelihood and land loss, the search for missing family members and justice for senseless death everywhere she went in the north and east. And in the capital, journalists and marginalised groups like the country’s Muslim population made representations to her about the ongoing suppression of fundamental freedoms in post-war Sri Lanka.
When the High Commissioner issued a stinging report of her seven day fact finding mission hours before she left the island, it was clear the representations of ordinary Sri Lankans and civil society groups had made a deep impression. There was no mincing of words or attempt to pacify the host government. Pillay hit back hard at her critics – many of them Government ministers and warned she would report any reprisals against those who had spoken to her during the UN Human Rights Council mandated mission, back to the Council.
If Pillay’s presence had given ordinary people extraordinary courage to publicly air their grievances even in the heavily garrisoned north and east, her parting words that the UN considered reprisals a very serious matter has only extended this boldness. One day after the UN High Commissioner left Colombo, Fr. Veerasan Yogeswaran who runs a human rights group in Trincomalee that works with families of the missing or detained, told the French Press Agency (AFP) that he had been visited at midnight and again at dawn by half a dozen plainclothes policemen last Wednesday, just hours after his discussions with Pillay. The Jesuit priest told reporters that his concern was that security forces personnel were entering homes at midnight or in the pre-dawn hours and questioning ordinary civilians. Met with complaints by Pillay about the reprisals against the priests, journalists and civil groups, the Government vehemently denied the claim and then demanded the High Commissioner provide proof to allow the administration to commence investigations. It has lapsed into familiar arguments, about vested interests intimidating people in order to cast the Government in a bad light and even claimed the UN Envoy had been misled by mischievous political elements. But in other ways, the Government has already commenced its own public criticism of those who made representations before the UN High Commissioner, calling them out as tale carriers to the international community. Minister Wimal Weerawansa has already accused the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress of “snitching’ to Pillay because the Party handed over a report about violence against the Muslim Community to the visiting Envoy. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has also reportedly had strong words for SLMC Chief and Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem, about the move.
For Government officials heavily involved with organising Pillay’s visit, her final remarks at the end of the week long tour proved a deep disappointment. The sections of the regime that are advocating greater engagement with the UN system, including Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha who heads the country’s Geneva mission to the UN, genuinely believed that given the opportunity to witness the progress in Sri Lanka first hand, the UN High Commissioner’s perception of the human rights situation on the ground would change. Unfortunately these Government elements are at odds with other more powerful sections of the ruling regime, that are willing only to make superficial changes but have no real intention of meeting international obligations to devolve power to the island’s Tamil population or investigate alleged violations in the conflict’s final phase. Unfortunately for the Rajapaksa administration, Navi Pillay was not willing to merely scratch the surface during her visit.
As for Pillay’s last words in the island, no one is smarting more than President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The explosive statement at the end of her mission, included remarks about the authoritarian direction in which Sri Lanka was headed. Her words continue to rankle power centres in Colombo long after Pillay is gone.
“A dictator is a ruler who does not hold elections,” President Rajapaksa charged at the 62nd SLFP Convention in Kurunegala on Monday, one day after Pillay had left these shores. There had been 11 elections held under his watc, since 2005, he claimed. “What’s more democratic than that?” he asked the SLFP crowd. “What can I do if the Opposition Leader can’t win an election,” he quipped. Under the lighthearted tone however, the rancour is real, Government insiders say.
There is also the question of whether President Rajapaksa was deliberately perpetuating the grotesquely erroneous notion that elections are the sole test of a state’s democratic credentials. Deposed Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein, Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak, Zimbabwe’s President for life, Robert Mugabe and President Rajapaksa’s brand new best friend in Belarus, the self-proclaimed last dictator of Europe, Alexander Lukashenko all belong on a list of autocratic leaders who regularly take their nations to the polls. Elections held under such regimes are tragically flawed affairs. But even so, democracies are measured not merely by whether a country’s leaders are elected (however fairly or unfairly), but also by how a state and its leaders safeguard and uphold the liberties of individuals. In a state where civil liberties are suppressed, elections only impose majority tyranny on the rest of the populace.
The Government has issued rebuttal after rebuttal to Pillay’s statement. External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris even addressed the press in London on Monday evening, in order to reply the UN Envoy as soon as possible. Each rebuttal has dealt extensively with Pillay’s remark on increasing authoritarianism, claiming that the comment was a transgression of her mandate and a political statement. Peiris said her concluding remarks showed a “distressing lack of balance” and claimed her observations suggested that Pillay had “formed her views before reaching the shores of the country.”
The floral tribute
The rebuttal of Pillay’s closing remarks from the Department of Government Information went so far as to accuse the High Commissioner of having attempted to pay a floral tribute at Mullivaikal where the LTTE Leader met his death. The UN Delegation it is learnt was notified by the highest levels of Government in Colombo last Tuesday while Pillay was in the North, that the tribute would not be tolerated.
During her press briefing in Colombo, High Commissioner Pillay said she often lays flowers in commemoration of victims of conflict, in most countries she visits. The question of the floral commemoration has become a hot button issue, with Government insiders insisting Pillay had “shown her hand” in no uncertain terms with the attempted ‘commemoration’.
Given the southern political sensitivities regarding the final theatre of battle where the LTTE leadership perished, the UN`s choice of Mullivaikal for a tribute was perhaps a poor one. But as analysts point out, despite the ubiquitous war memorials bearing unmistakably militaristic symbols all over the country, the Sri Lankan Government is yet to construct a memorial for all victims of the war, despite such a conciliatory memorial being strongly advocated even in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.
Nevertheless, for the first time since the High Commissioner’s delegation left Sri Lanka, her Office clarified the issue yesterday. Spokesman for the High Commissioner, Rupert Colville told Daily FT that the UN considered that the the general area where the war ended after nearly 30 years might be a suitable spot to commemorate all those who died during that conflict. Colville said that the Government had learned Pillay’s team was considering this and made it plain they viewed it in a different light. “We considered their point of view carefully and felt in the end that it might be misinterpreted — as indeed it has been — so decided not to proceed,” Colville said.
He said it was a gross misrepresentation to pretend that Pillay was planning to honour the LTTE. “She made her views on the LTTE very clear indeed in her statement,” the High Commissioner’s Spokesman told Daily FT. Colville said that the words High Commissioner Pillay was due to speak in Mullaitivu had been included in her final statement, when she paid her respects to all Sri Lankans around the country who were killed during the three decades of conflict.
He said that the misrepresentation was “just the latest in the pattern of mendacious abuse” Pillay had referred to in her closing remarks.
Needless to say the slurs cast at the visiting High Commissioner became a large part of the narrative, especially after Pillay tackled the issue head on in her closing remarks. According to informed sources, two remarks particularly irked the visiting UN Envoy. Firstly the reference to her by JHU strongman Udaya Gammanpila as a terrorist sympathiser who saw “her husband in every terrorist”. Pillay’s husband was a lawyer and anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa, imprisoned with Nelson Mandela and others on Robben Island, where political prisoners were detained. The second was Minister Mervyn Silva’s offer to marry Pillay to show her what Sri Lanka ‘has to offer.’ The lewd remarks, made worse by allusions to Ravana-Sita folklore drew an apology to the visiting High Commissioner from President Rajapaksa no less, during his meeting with her last Friday. For the 72 year old judge, who has fought relentlessly for women’s rights throughout her career and especially in her present position, Silva’s remarks were not to be borne.
During a meeting with Leader of the House Nimal Siripala De Silva who was briefing Pillay on the recently constituted Parliamentary Select Committee on Devolution proposals, tried to lightheartedly brush off Mervyn Silva’s slurs. “Don’t worry about his remarks,” the congenial De Silva said during the meeting. Pillay was quick on the draw: “It is you that should be worried, Minister” she said.
Making it personal
There is great weight in that brief but powerful sentence. Rajapaksa administration officials repeatedly make a fundamental mistake in its dealings with international diplomats. They attempt, at their own peril, to individualise UN office bearers or diplomatic officials at local missions. Navi Pillay, as far as the Sri Lankan Government is concerned, can be whittled down to a South African Tamil, a sympathiser of the Tamil cause by virtue of her ethnicity and a convenient tool of the West. Similar mistakes were made with her predecessor, Louise Arbour, who was repeatedly vilified by Government officials. Navanethem Pillay, the Government must understand, even at this late stage, is not just one woman to be discredited and ascribed terrorist labels. Pillay is not just a South African or a Tamil, but the holder of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights at the UN, a fixed institution that will continue to advocate and criticise long after Pillay no longer holds the title. When she presents her reports on Sri Lanka following this fact finding mission, that report will not only remain relevant while Pillay remains in office, but even when her successor takes over the reins.
The UN Envoy said as much during her concluding press briefing last Saturday, when she explained that she and even the UN Secretary General were merely civil servants, bound to uphold the regulations and standards set by 193 member states of the UN. The rules, she said, were set by governments of the world, including Sri Lanka. “If the rules and regulations are violated, that is what the UN points out to Governments. You may call it criticism, but that is what the UN does. When there are gaps, we raise a critical voice, but always with the intention to help,” the High Commissioner told the Sri Lankan press corps. In essence, Navanethem Pillay does not make the rules, any more than Ban Ki Moon, Marzuki Darusman or Arbour does. This fundamental truth that the Sri Lankan Government fails to understand, despite the best efforts of saner counsel within the regime, gravely endangers the country’s international standing at forums such as the UN.
There is little doubt that High Commissioner Pillay’s report on Sri Lanka, to be presented orally in September and in full during the Human Rights Council’s March sessions, will be a bare-naked reading of the human rights situation on the ground. The Government has choices to make as it looks towards Council sessions in Geneva in March 2014, which foreign policy analysts repeatedly warn could herald the beginnings of a fully fledged international inquiry against Sri Lanka unless genuine steps are taken to address accountability issues between now and then.
Costing hearts and minds
Acknowledgement that the need to grant people freedom with dignity, protect human rights and the genuinely necessity to hold people to account for crimes committed against sections of the population not because the international community is demanding it, but for the sake of Sri Lanka’s own soul, could be a starting point, if the political leadership was so inclined. The lack of genuine commitment may have been where everything went wrong for the Government during the Pillay mission, despite all its best efforts to showcase progress. As human rights Chief, Pillay is less concerned with physical reconstruction and more focused on the human condition. The inability to understand that fundamental difference, is costing the Government hearts and minds in the former conflict zones and support in the international arena.
For Navi Pillay, the message came through loud and clear. Everywhere she went in the north and east and sometimes even in Colombo, ordinary people mobbed her with tales of their personal suffering. In the north, observers say, all focus has shifted from the Provincial Council election since Pillay’s visit, with ordinary people convinced again that the UN will successfully advocate on their behalf. Her presence inspired hope for civilians, families of the missing, journalists and human rights activists whose post-war reality has been far from peaceful.
“The fighting may be over, the suffering is not,” Pillay said, as she left Sri Lanka.
If it was paying attention to the more human factors of post-conflict rebuilding, the Government may not have had to endure the embarrassment of having Navi Pillay draw attention to the fact that the peace dividend will elude Sri Lanka as long as a section of its populace remains chained to the suffering wrought by brutal conflict. Sandhya Ekneligoda or Rajeswari Ganesan could have articulated the point with equal eloquence. It would have been apparent in the fear of thousands of ordinary Muslims, worrying that a violent day of reckoning may be in their future. Or in the prostate, uncontrollable grief of Sinnakutty Kanapathipillai from Mullaitivu, who lay on the streets outside the Jaffna Library, asking the UN High Commissioner to find her son who surrendered on 18 May 2009, never to be heard of again.
The compulsion to tell the world of their suffering is a direct consequence of the fact that at home, no one is listening.
Courtesy Daily FT
Within just a few days of the announcement of the new ministry, the Ministry of Law and Order, a rather unusual level of interest has emerged, judging by the many articles that have appeared in response to the government’s move. Though such quick responses are unusual, they are not surprising. If anyone is asked to point out some of the most pressing issues of public importance, the issue of the civilian police would emerge, without doubt. In fact, for several years, this issue has been addressed on an almost daily basis in all media, in all languages.
Therefore, it is worth trying to trace, by way of a brief history, how the issue of civilian policing acquired such importance.
Since the British established a policing system in Sri Lanka, some 147 years back, the idea of establishing a civilian policing system, which would be in charge of the law enforcement in Sri Lanka, gradually became quite a consolidated part of the building of the state in Sri Lanka. The critical point at which the idea of civilian policing came to be challenged is in the aftermath of the 1971 JVP ‘insurrection’. Suddenly, the police, together with the military, was pushed into the executing the idea of ‘exterminating insurgents’. The idea of extermination was in direct contradiction with the ideas of the administration of justice and enforcement of law in the normal sense, anywhere in the world.
Looking back, it is easy to identify the elements of such extermination, as compared with normal law enforcement functions.
Those elements are:
Arresting persons on a large scale, often based on very flimsy information, which the police were not in a position to assess for veracity;
The permitted use of extraordinary forms of torture with the view to discover information about insurgency and those who are involved in it to a greater or lesser degree;
‘Suspension’ of the police departmental orders in dealing with arrest, detention and the welfare of detainees;
Extraordinary forms of permitted secrecy and withholding of information, even from the next of kin of detainees;
‘Suspension’ of the requirement to observe the legal procedures of reporting arrests and detentions to court, as required by the Criminal Procedure Code of Sri Lanka;
‘Suspension’ of the rule relating to the production of suspects before magistrates within 24 hours;
‘Suspension’ of post-mortems in cases of deaths relating to insurgents;
Finally, large-scale killings of persons after arrest and disposal of their bodies.
These aspects of deviation from the normal legal procedure have been well researched and documented, and a considerable body of literature is available. The purpose of reiterating these items here is merely to trace when the beginning of a drastic departure from civilian policing took place in Sri Lanka.
Subsequently, there were other insurgencies, both in the south as well as in the north and east, which continued up to May 2009, during which period these same deviations continued and intensified. As for the south, the commissions appointed for investigation into involuntary disappearances have left a rather lengthy reports of how these practices occurred. Regarding the north and east, there are many reports made by independent observers, as well as, to some extent, recorded in court cases and numerous reports from human rights groups, including those from various UN agencies. However, a thorough, official record is yet to come, as no official investigations have taken place. Such an official recording would have enabled the survivors from such experiences to record their grievances before a state agency.
These deviations was legitimized by Emergecy Regulations and Anti- terrorism laws.
Besides the deviation from normal practices mentioned above, there was also a significant change in the law itself, by way of constitutional changes. The 1978 Constitution brought all public institutions under the control of the Executive President and thus the structure of the institutions underwent a fundamental change in their normative framework. Again, this aspect is also well-reflected in the massive amount of literature that is available on the constitutional changes. By 2001, the impact of this change in the normative framework on the actual functioning of the police and other institutions was drastically felt. The disturbing impact of institutional failures led to a parliamentary debate and the passing of the 17th Amendment with near unanimity, with the objective of taking some partial corrective measures. There was a short period of experimentation with the 17th Amendment, which did not change the normative framework of the 1978 constitution but attempted to provide some relief in relation to the damage caused to the institutions. As far as the police were concerned, the National Police Commission brought about some significant improvements, though, due to normative problems, it was not possible to correct the situation completely. However, even these limited improvements collided with the normative framework of the 1978 constitution and the new political regime, which was thoroughly interested in restoring the 1978 constitutional framework. Thus, the 18th Amendment was adopted by the Rajapaksha regime, which went beyond mere re-affirmation of the normative framework of the 1978 constitution, but in fact created a situation in which it is almost impossible to bring about change.
In short, what now exists as the policing system is a product of the deviations brought about in practice since 1971, and normatively brought about by the 1978 constitution, reaffirmed and re-strengthened by the 18th Amendment to the constitution.
When the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) made its recommendations relating to the problems of the rule of law in Sri Lanka and mentioned the need of delinking the police department from the Ministry of Defence, the aim of that recommendation was the reestablishment of civilian policing in the original sense – meaning before the practical transformations since 1971, and the normative changes since the 1978 constitution.
The present move to establish a new ministry, a “Law and Order” Ministry, and the place of the policing system under this new ministry, is announced as a step towards implementing the LLRC recommendation. However, the mere change of ministry will not create a civilian policing system that has the power and capacity to enforce law within the framework of the rule of law as it existed originally, unless the deviation – practically caused since 1971 and normatively caused by the 1978 constitution, reinforced by the 18th Amendment – is deliberately removed.
Such a change requires a change of design, an expression of intent in terms of principles by way of changing the normative framework of the 1978 constitution, as well as the practical steps to overcome the practices that have gotten entrenched since the aftermath of the 1971 insurgency.
The public has only one of two choices; Either to enter into this debate on civilian policing and achieve a decisive change or live in this same miserable situation without state protection, expecting the things to become even worse.
When I read Charles Sarvan’s first article “Para Dhemalā,” I didn’t see anything objectionable although I sensed perhaps he was not interpreting Michael Roberts’ views on the subject correctly and also I couldn’t agree with his last paragraph which paraphrased Paul Caspersz saying “if one insists on the label “Indian Tamils,” then one should also speak of “Indian Sinhalese.” The paragraph was simply inaccurate. Otherwise there was much meaning and substance to what Sarvan said about ethnic discrimination and caste ideology.
When I was growing up at Moratuwa, almost at the center of the town, I cannot recollect anybody using the term ‘para demala’ even during the cataclysmic communal riots against the Tamils in 1958. Perhaps I didn’t hear them. I had several Tamil friends at St. Sebastian’s College, where I was initially studying, but even there it was not used to my knowledge. But ‘paraya’ was often used not so much at school but in the area where I lived and it was used as a derogatory term in anger or to spite someone who is not liked by you. It also had the connotation that ‘the other’ is inferior.
But even in our school books I believe the terms ‘para desin’ and ‘parangi’ were there and our teachers explained the meanings respectively as ‘foreign’ and ‘Portuguese’ also emphasizing they are not neutral but pejorative terms. In our area, (Sinhalese) people believed that there were two classes of Tamils, those who were called ‘Jaffna Tamils’ and the others, the ‘Indian Tamils.’ Some considered the first group as more or less equal, but not at all the second. But the majority considered both as ‘alien’ and also ‘inferior.’
Having read EW Adikaram’s “A Communalist is a Psychopath” (Jativadiya Manasika Pisseki) as an early teenager, the distinction or the discrimination worried or puzzled me. My effort is not to say that I have been free from any ethnic prejudice. On the contrary, I wish to admit that as a person brought up and socialized within a particular social context, I may have certain prejudices or biases unconsciously. But in my conscious life, I try my best to be free from biases or prejudices while at the same time not rejecting my given ethnic identity.
But the reason to write this rejoinder is not the above. With all respect to Roberts, I believe that there is something extremely significant in what Sarvan has pointed out in his initial article. That is the connection between ‘ethnic conception and caste ideology.’ This is not the first time I have said this. The following is what Sarvan has said.
“The context in which the word para was used, both at boarding-school, in Colombo and elsewhere; the accompanying tone of voice and facial expression, all indicated contempt, dismissal and rejection. Para was linked to Parayā (low caste) and that sufficed to convey meaning to me.”
What he relates is a personal experience, but what is significant to me is what he says as “the accompanying tone of voice and facial expression, all indicated contempt, dismissal and rejection.”
Where does this come from? My conjecture is that it comes from the age old caste-ideology with the accompanied conceptions of ‘purity’ and ‘pollution.’ This caste-ideology manifests among the majority Sinhalese in one way and among the Tamils in another. I am not saying that both are the same in practical terms, one discriminating the other on equal terms, but the ideological roots are more or less the same while there are other root causes as well.
Have I encountered the ‘contempt, dismissal and rejection’ as a so-called Sinhalese? Yes, something closer to that at least once and seen a similar behavior another time. But if I recollect the way the Sinhalese treat the Tamils or the Muslims, then it is almost uncountable. The different experience may be due to me being a ‘Sinhalese’ and moving primarily among the Sinhalese.
Among the Sinhalese, the influencing ideology remains as a ‘superior caste’ which attempts to subjugate a perceived ‘inferior caste.’ It claims ‘purity’ as a ‘chosen people’ by combining ethnicity with religion (Sinhala Buddhism) and attempts by and large to purge the ‘pollution’ through attempted ethnic cleansing of both the Tamils and the Muslims or even the Sinhalese Christians as outcaste.
Among the Tamils, the influencing ideology remains as a ‘distinct group’ also trying to claim a similar ‘superior status’ aligning with the brethren across the Palk-Strait. It also claims ‘purity’ and attempts to purge ‘pollution’ by cleansing whoever perceived as polluting its purity.
I am not saying, the caste or ‘caste-like’ ideology is the only ideological current among the Sinhalese or the Tamils. But often it becomes dominant and distorts ideological landscape or political thinking of the country. We sometimes patronize ourselves by saying or thinking that the caste system is dead and gone in Sri Lanka. But that is not simply the case. The caste ideology is well and kicking. Those who are most communal minded are probably the ones who are most caste minded.
I was recently writing an essay on human rights and the 1978 constitution and wondered why it is so much difficult for the todays Sri Lankans to accept universal human rights. My observation after some contemplation was that because they are (perhaps unconsciously) strongly caste minded. There is a perennial difficulty for many Sri Lankans to grasp and accept the concept of equality due to caste ideology. This may possibly change with the new generations. But that is not the case yet.
The dilemma that Sri Lanka faces in this connection is a historical one, connected with the state and ethnic formation. Let me quote only one paragraph from what I wrote in 2000 (Human Rights, States and Politics: Burma, Cambodia and Sri Lanka):
“It is interesting to examine how the successive migrant communities from India, or other countries in the region, were absorbed into the society after the establishment of the Sinhalese ethnic state. Except in the case of Kshatriya or royal blood, it is evident that others were absorbed at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. At a very early stage of migration, those who came from Madhura in South India were absorbed as the service castes, who were supposed to function as artisans, craftsman, and manual laborers. The origins of several other so-called low castes in the country, e.g. fisherman and cinnamon peelers, can also be traced to the people who came from South India at a later date. What we can see here is a convergence between the ethnic divide and the caste divide.” (p. 59).
During 2002, when I was conducting some field research in the interior of the Kalutara District, I came across a caste called Demala Gaththera. Gaththera caste is one of the oppressed castes in the country, popularly believed a ‘low caste.’ The story was that when some Tamil migrants came to live in the area for some reason, during the early nineteenth century, they were called Demala Gaththera.
Responding to A.R.M. Imtiyaz’s ‘Moors of Sri Lanka are Not Perfectly Peaceful’
For the life of me I cannot imagine why my good e-pal Dr. A.R.M. Imtiyaz Razak would want to write an article feeding on the same thrash that racist bigots in Sri Lanka, under various guises, throw at Muslims to propagate their doomsday scenarios in his article ‘Moors of Sri Lanka are Not Perfectly Peaceful’ that appeared in your popular ‘Colombo Telegraph’.
The usual Wahabbi bait is flung to convince readers there is a looming threat posed by this cult that will somehow swamp all Muslims in Sri Lanka. Whilst it is true there is a Wahabi trend among Muslims, writers tend to exaggerate this tendency to emphasize their points and to propagate their anti-Muslim feelings. Saudi Arabia’s backing of the military coup in Egypt has exposed the rulers there and has brought ‘Wahabi’s’ out in the open claiming the backing of their government for the Egyptian military led government is not in their name or faith. So there is a silver lining among ‘Wahabi’s’ just as much as there is one in Sri Lanka in the form of Buddhist monks who speak of communal harmony and get assaulted by ‘Sinhala Wahabi’s’ for their virtuous deeds. Besides, there is a resistance among Muslims in Sri Lanka to Wahabism and it’s not like as if their ideology is going unchallenged by ‘traditional’ Muslims.
I am surprised that Dr. Imtiyaz had said Moors are not perfectly peaceful. By making such a statement he implies that they are violent if we are to go by opposites. ‘Moors’ have shown great rectitude in remaining peaceable in the face of grave provocation. The overwhelming majority in the Sinhala community have also shown a strong resistance to the ethno fascists among them knowing only too well there is a political hand behind all the shenanigans of the BBS and their acolyte like the Sinhala Rawaya.
And what’s the proof the good doctor provides for Moors not being peaceful? Why, the same diatribe on Madrasas and hijab and abayas those ethno fascists throw about all day every day to sell their hatred for the other. You can be sure those ethno fascist Sinhala Buddhists who revel in creating disharmony among communities for their political paymasters will grab what Imtiyaz had said and fling it with glee at Muslims at will. Why should Dr. Imtiyaz peddle the same jingoism beats me, considering that he is an egalitarian. Being an egalitarian imposes on one professing such values the spirit of liberalism and even support for the wishes of those who want to be different. Why, there is a heartwarming article in your ‘Colombo Telegraph’ about non-Muslim women in Sweden donning the hijab in support of a Muslim sister who came under a racist attack for choosing to dress in accordance with her faith.
I take mild exception to Dr. Imtiyazs’ equation of Muslim with Moors knowing very well he did not mean any harm. I am not a Moor, but I am a Muslim. And there are Muslims among all communities here in Sri Lanka. Some are converts to the faith. But let me hasten to add that as a Muslim I cringe with shame and sorrow if I hear my co-religionists have attacked a place of worship belonging to another faith anywhere in the world. That’s how attached I am to my faith which strictly prohibits acts of a violent nature like all faiths, I suppose.
A recent post in the Colombo Telegraph by the ‘PM of the TGTE’ expressed solidarity with the Muslim community whilst “extending our fullest support to the Muslim people, we also extend our solidarity to the Muslim community, as a community whose mother tongue is also Tamil, asking them to join the Tamils in their struggle to build a secure future for all in the Tamil state”. The article was written on the back of rising incidents of attack against the Muslim community by extreme Buddhist groups.
I not only found this article laughable but highly delusional in the assumptions that the Muslim community would entertain any notion of an alliance with the TGTE, whose singular premise has been to extend the LTTE mantra and campaign on a separate Tamil state. Making this statement, the TGTE was not necessarily ‘concerned’ about the Muslim community per se, but it was aimed at showing the ‘intolerance’ of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism. At quite a crucial time for Sri Lanka, during the anniversaries of the Black July pogroms 30 years ago, the article aims to draw parallels with then and now and to show that nothing has changed. Yet interestingly it seems to have taken the TGTE 4 years since the end of the conflict (and the occasions of these incidents) to publicly reach out to the Muslim community
At one level, it is rather presumptuous and hypocritical of the PM of the TGTE to call for solidarity with Muslims and to suggest that there is a secure future for them in a Tamil state. The experience of the Muslims with the Tamils has far from been the case. Without acknowledging let alone at least apologising for what took place in Jaffna and the north in 1990, with the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim community by the LTTE, the TGTE’s sincerity will be questioned and the notion of the safe presence of Muslims in a Tamil state is merely academic.
However it is not just the expulsions from the north that needs to be discussed. There are other elephants in the room that need to be acknowledged between the Tamils and the Muslims. Whilst the end of July was the anniversary of Black July, the beginning of August brought about two poignant yet painful memories for the Muslim community of the 30 year old war which apart from discussions on facebook, didn’t elicit much of a public response.
The horrific shootings at the mosques in Kathankudy, Batticaloa Province, in August 1990 by the LTTE is a painful reminder that the sanctity of religious places of worship is a stain on inter community relations in Sri Lanka and is not something that has been only violated by today’s proponents of Sinhala Buddhist extremism. Visit Kathankudy today and the physical scars of that day are just as visible as the mental scars.
Fast forward to August 2006, and the precursor to the start of hostilities between the government and the LTTE which led to the end of the conflict in 2009, triggering international protests around the world for the way it ended, the killing of civilians and treatment of displaced people. Almost 50,000 mainly Muslims were displaced once again by the LTTE from the village of Mutthur in the Trincomalee district, after leaflets were sent around the town by the LTTE in April of 2006 warning Muslim residents to leave, in a scene almost reminiscent of what happened in Jaffna in 1990. Despite this mass exodus of people from the town and being kept in refugee camps, the international outcry and remembrance will be for the 17 aid workers who were killed in Mutthur during this time. What is also little talked about apart from the actual displacement and the refugee crisis that ensued are the eyewitness accounts that talk about how LTTE cadres intercepted evacuees from Mutthur and separated youth from the group, executing them, with some dying as a result of government shelling.
Without such acknowledgements and recognition of such incidents, the rhetoric of TGTE and many other Tamil representatives (both outside and within Sri Lanka) ring hollow as they opportunistically ‘reach out’.
Of course the opportunistic hypocrisy is not just one sided. There are those in the reconciliation movement who will have to ask themselves some serious questions as they fail to address the trajectory of Sri Lanka currently. 30 years ago when the mobs came hunting for the Tamils, many Muslims were warned that their time would come. It seems recent incidents involving the Muslim community seem to be proving this statement to be true. In the week of the commemoration of the Black July anniversary, there was a lot of naval gazing and hand wringing as people not only openly apologised for the sins of their community but also spoke eloquently about the need for lessons to be learnt.
Yet a few weeks afterwards in the wake of an attack on a mosque in Colombo, seeming to put into action the threats from 30 years ago, it was evident that those laments were nothing more than just rhetoric. The deafening silence of many prominent Sinhalese activists (a large number of them Buddhist), especially those involved in reconciliation work, a large number of them friends (from the UK), has not only been disappointing, but frustrating and disheartening. In the height of the real challenge for reconciliation for the country, it was met with silence and inaction.
Thus in that light, the premise of the article the PM of the TGTE could be interpreted as right: The actions of the minority extreme Sinhala Buddhist elements actually reflect the sentiment of the majority. If that is the case, then there is no hope for any united Sri Lanka where anyone who is non Sinhala Buddhist can hope to live peacefully. One can argue whether that would also exist for non Tamils in the TGTE, but again that is academic.
There are many who argue that had they been able to, they would have spoken out or tried to help during Black July as lessons were learnt The opportunity that they missed then presents itself now. In the absence of any real effort to tackle ethnic and faith problems now, all the rhetoric of reconciliation (by all stakeholders) smells just of opportunistic hypocrisy.
If we truly want reconciliation, then we have to be consistent and at least speak out against any injustice perpetrated in our name.
*Amjad Saleem is the Head of Communications for The Cordoba Foundation, a Muslim-inspired ‘think and do’ tank which provides an alternative communication channel for thought leaders and policy makers on intercultural and religious dialogue, social justice issues and peacebuilding between communities. He is their lead on the Conflicts, Development and Faith Programme and on subjects including South Asia, conflict reconciliation and interfaith dialogue. Prior to this, Amjad was Country Director for British NGO Muslim Aid in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. He has an M.Eng from Imperial College, London, an MBA from U21Global, and is currently pursuing a part-time PhD at Exeter University on faith in post conflict reconciliation. He has lectured part time at the University of East London and Lawrence Tech University in Michigan, and regularly contributes to online journals, websites as well as other media
“You only lose what you cling to.” – Lord Buddha
This piece is a response to Ms. Shenali D. Waduge’s recent article “The Existential Fears of Buddhists in Sri Lanka must be given high priority and addressed without delay” published on August 13th, in Lankaweb. Having read the article and the even more dangerous comments it gathered, I could not help myself but feel outrage at each line, or should I say each word, I had the misfortune to read.
The one and only sentence on which I agree with in Ms. Waduge’s article is when she says that “A spectre is haunting Sri Lanka”. As for the rest of the article, I could only feel disgusted at each argumentative point that was developed in it. According to the author, Sri Lanka is on the verge of getting overrun by Muslims. Sri Lanka is indeed on the verge of getting overrun but not by Muslims. The island is actually about to get overrun by ethno-religious detractors who, instead of talking in their own name, are talking in the name of both the Sinhalese and the Buddhist communities. Unfortunately, one cannot label the author, her article and its like-minded readers as ultra-nationalists or racists anymore because their so-called “existential fears” go beyond any possible form of extremism. In fact, it goes to the extent of becoming pure idiocy; a desperate behaviour that will end up labelling Sri Lanka in the worse possible manner in the eyes of the international community, with repercussions that might last for quite some time –especially among its allies in the Middle East. And, in this sensitive post-war transition, this is the last thing Sri Lanka needs right now. Not to mention that the UN HRC is to meet in Geneva next month; shifting the international focus on Sri Lanka once more before the CHOGM Summit this November.
To Ms. Waduge and her followers, I wish to say that, being a Sinhalese and a Buddhist myself, the only time I feared for survival in my beloved country was when it went through a three decade long protracted civil war. A war which tore apart communities that once used to live together, in peace and harmony. A war in which every Sri Lankan lost one of their own –irrespective of their religion or ethnicity. A war that I never want to see happen again because of the narrow-mindedness of a few. And yet, given the recent incidents and hate speeches displayed on the public sphere (especially through the media), I now fear that the peace we have all been longing for will never see the light due to idiotic and disrespectful behaviours such as the recent Grandpass incident; behaviours which I must confess are quite “brilliantly” illustrated in the irrational figures laid out throughout the said article.
In fact, before talking about Buddhism, one should perhaps start to read, learn, and may be even practice its deeper philosophy. If Ms. Waduge did so, she would know that there is no such a thing as “mine” in Buddhism. She would also know that Lord Buddha never claimed Sri Lanka, or any other country for that matter, to be a Buddhist land. Mostly, she would know that what Lord Buddha tried to preach us with much emphasize were universal values such as respect, forgiveness and above all compassion among all living beings. So before blaming other communities and religions of overrunning Buddhism, one should perhaps get his/her own communal and religious values/practices straight. That, for me, would be the most effective way to preserve ones culture, religion and traditions without harming others. But unfortunately, I also know that this perspective of mine might not change the mindset of a few in our society who suffer from an ethno-religious inferiority complex of its own.
According to the author, “The territory and space of Islam is non-negotiable and if Islam is non-negotiable what is wrong with others saying the same?” Well, despite the fact that the said statement does not speak for all our Muslims friends, what is wrong here is to assume that others’ mistakes give you the legitimacy and credibility to replicate the same mistakes. If one wishes to set up a constructive example, one should always think and behave with a stronger sense of rationality; a rationality that does not intent of fulfilling one’s own need to the detriment of others.
I do not intent to comment on the factual examples on which the author naively –or not- bases her theory. These facts, I believe, are not only distorted but also taken out of their context. Indeed, while going through these comparative facts, delivered with quite a level of distortion throughout Ms. Waduge’s article, I could not help myself but wonder how any foreign incident/attack which occurred against the Buddhist community had anything to do with Sri Lankans of Muslim religion. I personally am starting to feel tired of reading this type of idiotic comments that are doing no good to our country and certainly not to our people. Perhaps, it is time for us to mature our own thinking process and start behaving as responsible citizens; citizens who are supposed to be working on rebuilding a nation, not destroying it. Bad people are everywhere, Ms. Waduge. That’s no news to anyone. But one cannot, and should certainly not, generalize a specific mindset or incident which occurred due to the behaviour of a few to an entire community. This will only end up in wrongfully labelling the said community and wrongfully labelling ourselves at the same time.
Correct me if I am wrong but currently, Sri Lanka is facing major concerns –both internationally and nationally. Wasting our time on these idiotic matters only takes us further away from addressing the actual post-war issues faced by our country; such as: access to quality education, lack of an effective foreign policy, socio-economic development, reconciliation, restoration of trust between communities; among others.
Ms. Waduge, from a Buddhist to another Buddhist, let me end up with a quote of Lord Buddha, which I strongly invite you to meditate on: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
Central to post-war reconciliation efforts is undoubtedly the political aspect. However, there exists in Sri Lanka, four key strategic points of intervention which ought to be mainstreamed into the national reconciliation project by all stakeholders involved in furthering the imperative of nation building.
Politics By Other Means
At a cursory glance, the links between sport and inter-state reconciliation seem abundant. Some pundits credit Ping-Pong Diplomacy with facilitating the subsequent thaw of U.S.-China relations in the 1970s. Others point to Table Tennis Diplomacy and the attempted Olympic Diplomacy as effective difference-bridges between the two Koreas in the latter decades of the 20th century. More generally, there has been a widely held sense that sports, as Jeremy Goldberg states in his ground-breaking work titled ‘Sporting Diplomacy: Boosting the size of the Diplomatic Corps,’ serve as “a ‘safe’ way to ease a country out of isolation, acting as a first step of engagement.”
This transformation of conflict-laden bonds is not limited to inter-state rivalries. In 2007, the apparent success of the Côte d’Ivoire’s national men’s football team in rallying the country and ending a five-year long civil war between Northern rebels and the government-controlled South was hailed as a testament to the remarkable power of sport in peace-building.
Judging from both the Ivorian example and the images of a celebrating multi-ethnic Iraq following that country’s victory in the Asian Football Confederation Championship, it would seem that sport has at least a temporary ability to create intra-state linkages between conflicting factions.
In both Côte d’Ivoire and Iraq which experienced either “cold” (potential) or “hot” (open and violent) inter-state and intra-state conflicts, there have been concrete examples in which at least a segment of those involved point to sport as a significant factor in obtaining reconciliation.
Acknowledging the power of sport as both a strategy and tool for healing and reconciliation, national cricketing heroes in Sri Lanka came forward last year, in what was hoped would provide impetus for further and future sports for reconciliation projects in the country. The Murali Harmony Cup 2012 got underway on the 8th of September 2012 and concluded on the 12th of September 2012 ahead of the International Cricket Council ( ICC ) World T20 Series in Sri Lanka.
All matches were played at five post-conflict school venues across Sri Lanka’s northern regions of Mankulam, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu and were actively supported by the presence of Sri Lanka’s star national cricketers.
The event was designed as a catalyst for much-needed cricket development in the under-resourced schools of the war-affected northern and eastern provinces which will serve as a platform for involvement in national sporting events.
While sports by itself cannot start the process of reconciliation, it can prove invaluable in a broader programme of national reconciliation that is robustly supported by favourable governmental policy.
An example of such is seen in the recent work of the Department of Sport and Recreation of the Government of Western Australia which is the lead agency responsible for putting into practice government policy and initiatives relating to sport and recreation. Accordingly, the Reconciliation Action Plan 2008 – 2009 which specifically supports the development of a diverse sport and recreation system that encourages participation, develops talent and contributes to the health and wellbeing of marginalized communities and people with the intent of contributing to reconciliation in the country, has been promulgated. Sri Lanka, not unlike Australia, is a sports loving nation. What is required, therefore, is to harness the spirit and enthusiasm for sport that exists across ethnic and communal divides, and channel it into avenues that can foster collective healing and nation-building.
Has the time come for Sri Lanka to use the unifying power of sport to devise a reconciliation plan, similar to models used in countries such as Australia, which would in turn fit into the broader framework of national reconciliation efforts?
A Social Conscience While Generating Profit
In Sri Lanka, there has begun a national momentum to raise awareness on the need to develop the social conscience of the private sector, following the conclusion of the three-decade war that ravaged the country. In this context, what is required is a more radical reprioritizing of the national agenda in the post-war situation to socio-economic and political aims to facilitate such a progressive movement.
What must be recommended is the adoption of investment in four areas as critical to a strategy for contributing to reconciliation and peace-building: First, livelihood and income generation activities; second, training and empowerment through capacity building in soft-skills including those that increase innovation, entrepreneurship and employability; third, a need to engage directly with individuals and communities in war-affected regions of the country and finally, to ensure that all endeavours undertaken embrace the vision of preventing economic stagnation which has been at the root of most political conflicts.
The attractiveness of investing in the north of the country must not be forgotten in this endeavour. The availability of rich natural resources in the region such as limestone, land, groundwater, sea salt, fisheries and agriculture could be tapped into in order to create industries, income generation and livelihood opportunities.
Additionally, the market demand for produce and jobs is increasing with the return of formerly displaced persons to their original habitats. Further, there exists potential for development of tourism-related infrastructure as Jaffna is gaining increasing currency as a tourist destination, both by locals and foreigners.
It was recorded that with the removal of travel restrictions to the north of the country, a total of 31,000 persons had travelled to the north in 2012 alone. This in itself is a testament to the promise for both local and foreign tourism in the north of the country which would benefit immensely from private sector investment.
The business community is well placed for developing capacity of potential entrepreneurs by playing a major role in skill building. Hence, recognition of such a role for the private sector and business community must be taken seriously. Although engagement of the business community has been acknowledged as essential for peace-building by both the World Bank and the United Nations, a system of rewards to lure early private sector entry has yet to be devised, at the international and national levels.
In Sri Lanka, the need for economic prosperity or at least movement away from abject poverty and economic hopelessness is pivotal to moving towards reconciliation and peace building if the spirit of peace is to not falter and be extinguished. It is the private sector that can provide in the long-term economic growth opportunities, jobs and wealth creation.
The Future Has Arrived
Given that both the ignition of the ethnic conflict and the JVP insurrections have stemmed from our Universities as well as from other sections of the youth population, a national strategy for youth engagement in reconciliation must be considered.
Increased investment in the country’s most potent social capital becomes imperative in post-war efforts at development, security, and reconciliation and peace-building. In contrast to most countries in the developing world, the case for investment in youth is very strong particularly in a country like Sri Lanka which records a high literacy rate of over 90%. This means that there already exists a resource pool with a degree of skills and knowledge which is an ideal springboard to move society to a largely middle – income status.
There are more reasons why youth have special power and potential in peace-building. First, young people are more open to change – Young people are searching for new ideas and open to new challenges while adults have already formed their dogmatic discourses.
Second, young people are future-oriented. Since they have more time ahead, they are willing to try alternatives and are more bound to “forget” the past than those who were directly involved in a painful moment of history.
Third, many revolutions were started and led by young students or activists. Students often have more time to think, read, meet colleagues and develop ideas. They also have more time to engage different activists groups. Students historically have always been in the vanguard of social change.
Fourth, youth also create ideas that solve old problems in innovative ways. Youth seek for alternative roots of power and influence.
Fifth, young people are also less experienced and willing to try new adventures. This risk-taking nature combined with a belief in a cause and a situation that cannot get worse pushes them to be courageous, especially when others believe that change is impossible.
Sixth and perhaps the most important case for calling for a role for youth in peace building is because a peace agreement’s endurance depends on whether the next generations accept or reject it, how they are socialized during the peace process, and their perceptions of what that peace process has achieved. Child and youth dimensions are central to the structural issues of peace building – such as inequality, poverty, and unemployment.
In post-war Sri Lanka, youth experience a unique situation – they undergo a dual transition, that is, from youth to adulthood against a larger backdrop of the country’s conflict to peace transition. This dual transition is particularly challenging for the youth of our country and must be taken seriously in all national plans and programmes.
Five key areas need to be targeted for ensuring that youth are potent peace-builders in Sri Lanka in such a national strategy: The perception of youth as being granted equal opportunities and space for growth and development is critical.
In addition to job training and employment training for youth, young people should have access to training opportunities in conflict transformation, mediation, negotiation skills, facilitation of group decision making processes, project and organisational management and other themes of their interest and relevant to their social contexts.
Meaningful participation by the youth in political, inter-ethnic and cultural dialogue must be encouraged at all levels of social interaction. Youth should thereafter be given responsibilities according to their capacities and their contributions taken seriously.
Last and certainly not the least is the need for a sound value-based education for youth of the country. As famously said by the renowned educator Maria Montessori,’ Establishing a lasting peace is the work of education; All politics can do is keep us out of war’.
The State has shown interest in working with war widows, female single headed households and military widows. These women need to be helped further with assistance to rebuild their lives, gain livelihood options and other basic amenities. They must also be empowered so that their voices are heard in the development drive taking place in the conflict affected areas.
Livelihoods are considered the most important issue in post-conflict Sri Lanka. The Giritale consultation held in 2010 recommended the following to strengthen livelihood options for women: skills training in non-traditional occupations for women; the Presidential Task Force in the Vanni to have a Gender Advisory Team; create networks for exchange and sale of seeds and farm produce among women’s groups working in agricultural and fisheries sectors; supporting traders in the north and east to carry out business and to travel and engage in trade and commerce outside of the north and east; and develop credit and loan services that will correspond to the specific needs of women in resettled communities and that will give them access to the material and financial resources they need to build up their livelihoods.
Ultimately, the call has to be for all stakeholders involved in rebuilding the country to accept and realize that women play an important role in structuring the very nature of peace. Women are not merely a vulnerable group, they are empowering as well. They can bring about change at local level through diverse means. What they now need is to be given the opportunity and space to do so.
A mosque in Grandpass came under attack last night and a police curfew followed. The attacked mosque was a newly built one located next to a Buddhist temple in Grandpass. The land, apparently, belongs to the Urban Development Authority. Earlier, it had been assured that the mosque would be relocated within a period of one month but that never happened. Members of ‘Sinhala Ravaya‘ took law onto their hands and threatened to relocate the mosque all by themselves. That was the starting point of the clash.
Last night, when the attack was underway, allegedly by ‘Sinhala Ravaya’, a fear loomed large in the minds of people, both Sinhala and Muslim. They feared a repetition of ‘Black July’. They feared ‘mobocracy’. They feared death, incendiarism and looting. The curfew was on on time unlike in July 1983 and the situation was brought under control within a few hours. Nevertheless, several people were hospitalized due to injuries. Blood was seen.
There were some alarming signs. Grandpass is an area where Sinhalese, Muslim and Tamil communities live in almost equal proportions. When the mob started pelting stones at the mosque, Muslim youth too, rallied around the religious place to counter the attack. That was a perfect recipe for a bloodbath. In the final analysis, Police and the Special Task Force succeeded in preventing butchery though there are several unanswered questions. Why weren’t any of the attackers taken into custody? Why couldn’t the Police nip it in the bud? Those are two pertinent questions. However, the STF had assured the Muslims in the area and they would ensure security for the place of worship. That assurance eased their tension.
Is this the end of the story? No. In all likelihood, there will be a similar clash again, someday somewhere, sooner rather than later. That clash, in all likelihood, will be more intense and will result in more destruction. More blood will spill. And police, in all likelihood, will not be able contain it, and certainly not within a few hours.
I am a Buddhist, by birth and by choice. Buddhism does not advocate violence, under any circumstance. Buddhism I know will not oppose having a mosque right next door to a Buddhist temple. If the mosque is being built in a land that is not legally acquired, there is a law enforcement mechanism to deal with it. Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Burghers can seek refuge in the law enforcement of the country in the face of injustice. If one’s grievances do not harm the interests of those in power, justice, in all probability, will be meted out. In that context, no one can justify hooliganism by Sinhala Ravaya or Bodu Bala Sena.
There were provocations in this country since 1949. Almost every provocation was followed by retaliation. Retaliation, more often than not, outweighs provocation and that was evident in July 1983. Essence of Buddhism teaches one to handle provocation with prudence, without making it an entry-point for carnage. Sinhalese acted with great self-restraint after 1983 in the face of chillingly brutal attacks by Tigers in Colombo and its outskirts. When the ‘Dalada Maligawa’ was attacked in the Buddhist heartland of Kandy, not a single stone was pelted at Tamil Shops in Colombo, or any other place in the country. Something that we, Sinhalese, can be proud of.
I don’t see any Buddhism in the conduct of Bodu Bala Sena or any other extremist Sinhala-Buddhist movement. I don’t know whether there’s any Islam in the Muslim extremism too. In the same way, I did not see anything Hindu in the LTTE. What is going on in Sri Lanka at the moment is a political project in every sense of word. With all due respect, I must say that Gnanasara Thera and his allies are great politicians. Time, I think, will further affirm my convictions.
Yes, our fingers are free. We can point them freely at Bodu Bala Sena, Sihala Ravaya, Ravana Balaya or Muslim extremism, according to our whims, fancies and beliefs. Moreover, we can blame President Mahinda Rajapaksa or Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa for treating the Bodu Bala Sena and other extremist organizations with velvet gloves.
While pointing fingers at them, did we ever look into ourselves? What have we, the citizenry, done, in our capacity, to rescue our society from the quagmire it is sinking into?
What have we done to identify the root cause behind extremism? What have we done to propagate our values – of which ‘moderation’ is an integral part – to the future generation? What have we done to create one ‘Sri Lankan Nation’ in which different nationalities and communities can safeguard their identities and uniqueness? What have we done to wrest the history of ‘Sri Lankan Nation’ from spin-doctors and manipulators who inflame religious and communal violence by perpetuating falsehood? What have we done to assimilate everyone who occupies this land, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or community, into the heritage of the ‘Sri Lankan Nation’?
We haven’t done anything. We have held candle light vigils. We have organized organizer-less rallies. We have been trying to reclaim our old arrears from the Rajapakse regime. We have been dancing to the tunes of opportunists, separatists and NGO-mongers. We have been having fun, frolicking and acting like fools. Moreover, we have acted like a 21 million tombstones, and not like the ‘Citizenry’ of this country.
*Rasika Jayakody is a Sri Lankan journalist who can be contacted at [email protected]