Latheef Farook, as usual, goes off on a tangent when writing about the alleged ‘plight’ of the Muslim minority vis-à-vis the Sinhalese Buddhist majority (“Muslims expect positive overtures from President’’/The Island/November 27, 2019).
The title of the piece implies that the Muslims are experiencing a sense of alienation from the newly elected president, for which he is somehow responsible and must make amends, according to the writer. But this is a baseless assumption. Has the new president said or done anything that causes Muslims to put themselves on their guard against him? No, he has neither said nor done anything like that. Instead, during his campaign, Gotabaya Rajapaksa made a special appeal to the Muslim and Tamil minority communities to join with the patriotic nonracist mainstream for electing him the president, so he could undertake the nation building task. The polarized pattern in the voting seen in the polls results shows that both communities did not respond positively to his cogent appeal for support to the degree he expected, as he frankly conceded after winning the election with a majority of over 1.3 million votes. He said that he knew that he could win by relying on Sinhalese votes alone, but that he wanted the Tamil and Muslim minority communities to be partners with the national victory.
Nevertheless, on the occasion of his swearing in at the historic Ruwanveli Maha Seya, the president elect repeated his urgent request for minority cooperation for implementing the developmental blueprint contained in his election manifesto; he stressed the fact that he is president for all Sri Lankans across the country. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s past services performed at the risk of his life and limb benefited all Sri Lankans equally, but he polled only 5% of the minority vote, according to polls analysts. But the principled Gotabaya, while being known to be a strict disciplinarian and a tough taskmaster as an administrator, is a gracious person. Those who bit the hand that fed them need not fear any discrimination from him (‘I am president for all Sri Lankans alike’). Then, what could be behind LF’s untenable, simplistic claim that ‘Muslims expect positive overtures from President’?
The true situation is contrary to what LF is suggesting. Certain powerful Muslim politicians are under suspicion regarding their alleged close relations with the April 21 bombers and their local leaders, who are trying to radicalize sections of the Muslim youth in Sri Lanka through their fundamentalist Islamic religious ideology. These politicos were prominent members of the previous UNP/Yahapalana rump government, with the kingmaking power that the quirks of an abused parliamentary democratic system conferred on minorities. It was an open secret that the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) appointed to look into the bombings was most probably intended to exonerate those Muslim politicians from charges of sponsoring terrorists.
At a recent news briefing, the CEO of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) Dilanthe Withanage, a senior university lecturer in Information Technology and a professional educational consultant to a number of government agencies over two decades, remarked how a person from the All Ceylon Jamiyyatul Ulama (ACJU), called to testify before the PSC, falsely suggested that young Muslims felt a need to take up arms only after the Aluthgama incident (June 2014). The Aluthgama violence equally victimized both Muslim and Buddhist citizens of the area. But anti-Buddhist propaganda apportioned blame only to his organization, the BBS, and this was what the misinformed and indoctrinated world believed. Actually, the truth was that those riots started when some Muslim youths threw stones, from what looked like the roof or upper floor of a mosque, at a peaceful Buddhist religious procession passing by (There was a Youtube video to prove this at the time; it may still be there). The demand made by the BBS, other Buddhist organizations, and even separately urged by some sensible Muslim leaders, that a presidential commission be appointed to study the circumstances that led to the Aluthgama episode was not heeded by both the then and the subsequent Yahapalana governments; obviously for fear of antagonizing the ordinary Muslims and losing their votes, by having to reveal the culpability of Muslim extremist elements. (Incidentally, Gotabaya will not be unnecessarily constrained by this kind of unreasonable concerns.) Anyway, the Ulama representative’s claim at the PSC was tantamount to an attempt to deflect attention from the real culprits behind the Easter bombings (who were none other than Islamic extremists and their suspected patrons then in positions of power). LF cannot be unaware of these things. He must explain to the reader what made him suggest that the President make ‘positive overtures’ to the Muslims in this context. Let’s hope that LF is not identifying all Muslims with extremism.
What campaigners representing the SLPP assured the masses who demanded that associates of terrorists and vandalizers of forest reserves be NOT accommodated in a future government, was that no extremist of any kind should be allowed to participate in it under any circumstances, which is fair enough. Gotabhaya said he would not seek an alliance with extremists or give in to their unacceptable demands even if he had to run the risk of losing the election. He also flatly rejected the 13 demands put forward by the TNA. Sajith Premadasa (SP) seemed to have secretly agreed to these demands in return for TNA support at the election. Had SP won, this promise would have been fulfilled bynow.
During his first overseas state visit after his inauguration, which was to India, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made it clear to the Indian Prime Minister Modi, who has been insisting that the 13th Amendment be implemented in full, that the amendment was already operational, but that certain clauses such as that relating to police powers could not be enforced without the concurrence of the majority; he was ready to negotiate these. He also pointed out that the devolution mantra repeated over the past 70 years has done nothing to advance the progress of the nation. It must be clear to any doubting Thomas by now that Gotabaya’s approach will be through equitably distributed overall development for the promotion of which the support of India and other friendly powers will certainly be welcome. He will be mindful of their concerns as well. A politically stable, economically prosperous Sri Lanka will be beneficial to all stakeholders, national and global. Gotabaya Rajapaksa who displayed such self-conviction and courage before the regional superpower on behalf of all Sri Lankans, need not make special ‘overtures’ to the Muslim or any other community for winning their allegiance. He enjoys it already.
While that is the ground reality, LF pontificates: ‘What the Muslims need is for the new government to understand their plight, stop violence against them, and attend to their grievances’. There is no evidence of any violence being done to Muslims by Sinhalese Buddhists or other non-Muslims. Dilanthe Withanage (DW) denied even those long-standing previous allegations that the BBS attacked mosques and other places of worship belonging to non-Buddhists. Such charges were based on fabrications of propagandists.
By the way, the truth that much violence perpetrated on traditional Muslims involving attacks on mosques, corporal punishments, even illegal executions have been committed by Islamic extremists remains largely unknown outside the immediate neighbourhoods of the victims because of fear-inspired communal censorship. This came out during pre-poll electioneering by the parties. The BBS itself established in 2012 and subsequently branded by religious extremists and separatists and their Western sympathizers and sponsors as a violent Sinhalese racist, and Buddhist fundamentalist terrorist outfit (‘saffron terror’) is actually no more than a nonpolitical whistle-blower organization. It is a complete falsehood that Gotabaya was behind it. Had its numerous revelations been investigated appropriately, the April 21 attacks could have been avoided and those precious lives could have been saved, and the misery of the survivors and their families could have been prevented. It is the violence of the Islamic terrorists against non-Muslims and non-compliant Muslims that LF should worry about, if his own apparent fundamentalist sympathies allow him to do so.
A couple of days ago there was news in the free media (Hiru TV) about a young Muslim family being harassed by their Muslim neighbours for voting for Gotabaya. There have been numerous cases of traditional mainstream Muslims being persecuted by co-ethnic extremists and these hapless Muslim victims approaching BBS monks for assistance and refuge. Meanwhile, hardly any media channels make these things known outside a limited space that is not served by vested interests. The Sinhalese Buddhists, being a friendless minuscule global minority, have no way to counter the intensely hostile propaganda blitzkriegs directed against them.
Intentionally or unintentionally, LF is contributing to the global media campaign of demonizing the innocent majority community, which is done in order to destabilize the country by inviting foreign interference in its internal politics. Sri Lanka has never had an ethnic or religious issue. The current problems are inflicted on the Lankan population from outside. The defeat of armed separatism in May 2009 was the brightest moment in post-independence history up to that point. Usual communal harmony had survived a few isolated artificially created communal disturbances like those in 1958 and 1983, and the long drawn out separatist violence of about 30 years that ended in that year. But foreign vested interests started talking about so-called reconciliation. But to justify a need for reconciliation, there had to be prior alienation between the two main communities, but there had been no discernible alienation between Sinhalese and Tamils even at the times of the worst fighting during the civil conflict.
So, the powers that be have done what they have done following the 2009 victory, particularly since January 2015. The country experienced the recent anarchy as a result. Ten years after that epoch-making event, we are witnessing the first signs of a fresh national resurgence under an able leader, who will look after the interests of all Sri Lankans, despite the machinations of parochial minority politicians, who are now getting alienated from their own people, except for some ineffectual feeble voices raised in their support.
So, instead of hypocritically calling upon the new government ‘to understand their (that is, Muslims’) plight, stop violence against them, and attend to their grievances’ (which, if any, are actually not caused by Sinhalese Buddhists, but by extremist elements among themselves), LF ought to listen to educated young Muslim leaders like Mohamad Musammil, the media spokesman of the National Freedom Front led by Wimal Weerawansa, and Ali Sabry PC, Gotabaya’s legal advisor for15 years, and other so many fair-minded young Muslims like them including intrepid young maulavis, and address his intellect and sense of humanity if he has any, to the benefit of all suffering Sri Lankans.
Courtesy: The Island