By Latheef Farook
This is sheer madness. This is how one could describe the potentially disastrous hate campaign unleashed against the island’s peaceful Muslim community by a handful of racist rabble-rousers who are law unto themselves.
Recently two Muslim pavement hawkers were attacked by monks at Embilipitiya. The police first refused to accept the victims’ complaints and recorded them only after JVP intervention.
Then there appeared provocative posters in Mahiyangana, showing a person carrying a sword in a fit of rage to kill, stating “remove the mosque or we will do it”.
There are also allegations that a medical officer in a government hospital tried to forcefully sterilize a Muslim woman who gave birth to her third baby.
About three weeks ago a medical camp was jointly organized by Sinhalese, Muslims and Christians to help the poor at Maggona to mark the first death anniversary of a Buddhist monk. The late monk was so loved by people of all communities that trustees of the adjoining mosques and other Muslims carried his coffin on their shoulders.
While the medical camp was underway two unknown Buddhist monks accompanied with few others demanded to close the camp immediately. When the monk tried to explain the two monks threatened him and closed down the camp forcefully.
The question is who are these outsiders disrupting communal harmony? Who finances them and for what purpose? How do they get away scot-free? I am sure they embarrass the mainstream peace loving Sinhalese.
So far Muslims have demonstrated remarkable restraint. At some point some Muslim may react and such a development could be exploited to unleash an anti-Muslim pogrom.
In the aftermath of the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009 the entire country hoped that all communities could move ahead peacefully for a better future though the wounds were deep. It appears that these racist elements have begun to threaten the new found peace.
This campaign, poisoning the minds of mainstream Sinhalese against Muslims, began by a small, but well organized group demonizing Islam and Muslims through 19 Sinhalese and English language websites.
In the midst came the destruction of a 400-year-old Muslim shrine in Anuradhapura followed by the shameful attack on Dambulla Mosque led by the chief Buddhist priest. This was the first time in the history of Sri Lanka that mobs vandalized a mosque and prevented Friday prayers.
Since then there were attacks on number of small mosques all over the country. However, perpetrators, always outsiders, remain free.
Leaflets calling to boycott Muslim trading and other establishments and not to sell properties to Muslims started circulating all over. Do they realize that around a million Sri Lankans, majority of them Sinhalese happily employed in Muslim countries and their inward remittances, around six billion dollar annually, help afloat the island’s economy?
These countries supply bulk of our oil requirements. We export tea, non-traditional and many other items to Muslim countries from where considerable number of tourists who insist on halal food. Muslim countries also provide billions in development aid.
Timely assistance of Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Libya proved crucial in defeating the LTTE. Neither the Christian West nor the Buddhist East came to Sri Lanka’s aid in times of crisis. Only Muslim countries remain sincere friends. For example, most Muslim countries stood by Sri Lanka against US sponsored UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka last March.
Under such circumstance to whose benefit these racist elements are provoking Sinhalese against Muslims? Most Muslims suspect that the Jews, are behind anti-Muslim hate campaign in Sri Lanka. They started raising issues such as halal food, Muslim women’s dress code, slaughtering animals, increasing population and anything and everything to demonize Muslims.
Their main purpose is to crush and sideline Muslims. But Muslims have already been sidelined. For example, hardly any Muslim is recruited to armed forces, police and rarely one could see a Muslim employee in government departments and other state institutions. Even the mercantile sector seems to have closed their doors to Muslims who are, by and large, excluded from Government contracts, tenders and all such activities.
Muslim politicians who sold their souls for positions, perks, and titles and sealed their mouths do not raise these burning issues. Shameful state of affairs is such that when the UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa raised issues of rising anti-Muslim attacks, reducing government budget allocation for Muslim Religious Affairs Department from Rs.35 million to Rs.15 million in Parliament, some Muslim parliamentarians interrupted him.
However, the role played by JVP to expose the anti-Muslim campaign is laudable. Isn’t it time that Muslims abandon and ostracize Muslim politicians, and turn to mainstream parties such as JVP to strengthen communal harmony which was jeopardized to a great extent by the so called Muslim Congresses.
In this regard it is worthy to note that last month a 44–year-old Madawala Muslim, Mohamed Rafeek, who was running his small shop, was killed in an accident. Around 20 bus load of people from Mahiyangana, all Sinhalese, attended the funeral weeping and crying till 10pm as if their own family member was killed.
This is what Buddhism is about. This is what Sinhala–Muslims relations have been.
Since independence politicians of all shades of opinion have exploited racism to retain or gain power. The result was the armed conflict during which these very same politicians flourished on arms purchase while innocent ones from poor families sacrificed their lives. Their irresponsible and short-sighted policies brought the country to where we are today.
Under the circumstance isn’t it the responsibility of reasonable elements in the Sinhalese community to wake up and contain racist elements whose anti-Muslim campaign has the potential to turn this country once again into a killing field.