By Faiszer Musthapha
“We must use our minds as rigorously to plan for peace as we have used them to plan for war.” – Martin Luther King.
As the election period has dawned again in Sri Lanka, the above quotation reminds us what our responsibility should be in the context of post-conflict nation building and reconciliation.
The Provincial Council election campaign has now shifted to top gear in all three provinces but it is the Eastern province which has become the cynosure of all for several reasons.
Firstly, the government having carried out development projects investing billions of Rupees and enhancing the quality of life of the people in a manner unprecedented in the history of the country looks forward to a decisive victory.
Secondly, the TNA is testing its strength in the East where the political landscape has drastically changed as a result of the post conflict economic and social changes.
Thirdly, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress which contested under the umbrella of the UNP at the previous PC election is contesting as a separate grouping under its own symbol.
Fourthly, the UNP has fielded its own list despite the strife within the party but is campaigning on a low key.
The striking feature of the lists submitted by the main parties is that the TNA and SLMC lists are mono-ethnic whilst the UPFA and UNP lists reflect a balanced mix of candidates representing all three major communities.
The SLMC and the TNA both with mono ethnic lists have resorted to campaigning on communal lines.
As ‘reconciliation’ is the prime concern of everybody irrespective of ethnic or other differences it was widely expected that the Muslims comprising the major community in the East would take the lead in this regard.
Unfortunately, according to reports from the Eastern province the SLMC in portraying itself as the sole representative of Muslims is exacerbating communal feelings. It has created divisions within the Muslim community; instead of unity. In this backdrop it is imperative to look at the situation in the correct perspective based on the teachings of Islam which emphasises the need for unity.
Unity, like charity should begin at home. In the present context relating to the provincial council election in the East, the Muslims should take the lead in ushering unity and peaceful co-existence among the people.
2. However, divisive politics espoused by certain communal parties have placed obstacles in the path towards building amity among communities. It is not difficult to identify the Dajjal in politics doing much harm to the people.
We recently witnessed the Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress making statements derogative of the Maha Sangha who are venerated by the two thirds of the people of the country. Fortunately, had not the people been tolerant on this occasion all Muslims living harmoniously in other areas, even in a place such as Ampara in the Eastern Province itself would have faced a severe backlash. In such a situation the damage to the lives and property of the Muslim community would have been unimaginable. Are the lives of Muslims scattered all over the country considered less valuable than a few hundred votes ? It must be remembered that two thirds of the Muslims live outside the Eastern Province merging harmoniously with the other communities.
It is to the credit of all peace loving Buddhists of this country that a potentiallly volatile situation had been averted which brought great relief to the Muslims. The venerable Bhikkus acted with a great degree of understanding and tolerance. The Venerable Elle Gunawansa Thera responding to the statement of the SLMC leader alleging the prevalence of a “yellow robe terrorism” highlighted the fact that “All politicians of this country irrespective of whatever party they represent must always make statements which will not lead to disunity and hatred among different groups”. Such was the general tone of other responses made by many a Buddhist monk.
It was only afterwards that wisdom dawned on the SLMC leader driving him to apologise for which he deserves to be commended.
In the aftermath of this scenario the entire Muslim community , particularly the Muslim voters in the Eastern province should consider the prudence or otherwise of his actions vis-a- vis safeguarding the interests of the Muslim community.
Yet, Muslims have to face tragic situations created by extremist elements as we recently witnessed in Dambulla. Everywhere in the world, among all communities we could find extremists and fundamentalists. In our country too we have a fair share of problems created by such elements.
We have seen many Buddhist organizations arranging Ifthar rituals within their temple precincts, during the past few weeks. His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Head of State, at his official residence hosted an Ifthar a few days ago. It also must be remembered that only a few months ago that the President attended the opening ceremony of a Mosque at Nuwara Eliya.
Thus , it would be seen that the present government has created space for inclusivity and cohesion.
3. Hence while condemning the misguided extremists such as those responsible for the Dambulla incident and other protests against mosques we should not lose sight of the fact that such extremist elements constitute only a minute fraction. Unfortunately, they are vocal and the silent majority should assert themselves.
In pursuance of the policies enunciated in the ‘Mahinda Chintanaya’ the government launched a programme aimed at building a tri-lingual nation.
The Ministry of National Languages and Social integration has formulated a National Policy Framework for Social Integration. The objective of this programme as stated in the document containing the policy framework plan “is to foster a shared national vision for a society for all, founded on Sri Lankan values, and belonging and equity”.
This national initiative has been commended by all three communities which not only offers a sign of hope but adds to its credibility .
All these instances demonstrate the will of the government and the people towards building a secular society. Therefore, the responsibility of the minority communities should be to understand this reality and strengthen the lobby pursuing cohesion and peaceful coexistence. In this context, it is imperative to consider all options and arrive at the best proactive and pragmatic plan of action to address the issues of all communities in the Eastern province within the broader spectrum of promoting and fostering unity among all communities.
Eastern Province offers a fertile field for building national reconciliation due to the fact that all three major communities are almost equally represented providing an ethnic balance. Furthermore, the Eastern Province has gained the largest share of peace dividends by virtue of the fact that it had been under civil administration even before the end of the armed conflict in the North. As a result the people enjoy the benefits of development which was far from their imagination before it was liberated from the clutches of terrorism.
In this back-drop of events no right thinking person will ever think of going back to an era of suffering. Instead the people will look forward to continuing the development process unabated.
The Muslims , being the most affected and the largest community in the Eastern province are called upon by historical circumstances to take the lead in safeguarding the fruits of post conflict development. For this purpose it is beholden on them to defeat all machinations initiated by forces working against the national agenda.
The biggest threat to national amity is posed by the communal groups and parties contesting the elections. The TNA and the SLMC have mono-ethnic lists of candidates. Both parties have chosen a communal approach in their election campaigning. Thus, the SLMC has distanced itself from the reconciliation process which should be the foundation in the present day agenda of any political party.
4. What disturbs the average Muslim is that the SLMC, willfully or otherwise by its sectarian and divisive approach is attempting to lead the Muslim community on the path of destruction as in the case of the LTTE in relation to the Tamil community.
The past political behaviour of the present SLMC leader has been inspired by selfish motives rather than acting to further the interests of the Muslim community. After the demise of the founder of the SLMC, the late honourable Ashraff, the SLMC lost its fervour and deviated from the cherished mission of working together towards achieving the aspirations of the Muslim community.
The present SLMC leadership has miserably failed in winning any tangible benefits for the community that it claims to represent .
It is not clear what the SLMC ‘s strategy would be after the PC elections. It has resorted to communal and divisive politics in the election campaign making statements in the Eastern Province on the one hand to embarrass the government whilst issuing soothing statements to the mainstream media on the other-hand in a crafty move to appease the government.
Until a few weeks before the nominations the SLMC leader was flirting with the TNA and many speculated that a TNA-SLMC alliance would result. Actions of political parties should be judged on their past records. The TNA which failed to raise their voice in defence of the Muslims cannot be relied upon now to change its stance .
It is common knowledge that TNA acted as proxy and platform voice of the LTTE which committed grave atrocities against the Muslims. Furthermore, as a result of the ethnic cleansing carried out by the LTTE, Muslims are still languishing in camps in Puttalam as IDPs.
Hence, attempts by the SLMC to place the Muslims in a vulnerable position have to be defeated.
In this exercise the prudent plan of action should be to ensure that Muslims retain their position in mainstream national politics and work in unison with the Sinhalese and Tamils on a programme for social integration and national reconciliation with the ultimate goal of building a Sri Lankan identity. Courtesy: Ceylon Today