Last week, when I wrote about the looming danger of fringe Sinhala Buddhist extremism, it was all quiet in Kandy, at least on the surface. But, those who were privy to local intelligence should have known about simmering tension in the area after the death of a Sinhalese lorry driver who succumbed to injuries after being assaulted by a group of drunken Muslim youth.
The government as usual did nothing to sooth the unrest. Only after Digana was burning, and local thugs were on rampage, attacking Muslim shops, residences and mosques that it finally decided to act. Then it was too late. The damage was done. A young man was found dead inside a burnt out shop, another succumbed to injuries due to a grenade attack.
Muslims had sleepless nights, ethnic relations were damaged. The government handed a propaganda coup to the Eelam lobby and their assorted accessories, which are hell bent on projecting Sinhalese as barbarians.
The tourism industry is likely to take a beating. Economy will suffer. All of that is due to the incompetency of this government to meet even a peripheral threat, which could have been defeated with a single dose of political will and common sense.
Now the police have gone on an overdrive, arresting around 200 suspects. Though belated, still, it is better being late than never, because, what the country witnessed last week was only a teaser of what the Sinhala bigotry is capable of producing, if it is given space and time.
However, arresting suspects in drove and then releasing on bail would not address the problem. This is not a bar brawl. This is hate crime. Judicial measures should reflect upon the security risk these individuals pose to the peace and order. The country is better off if those folks are behind bars. When a national security and hard won peace are at stake, the laws ought to take a utilitarian perspective, rather than overly emphasizing on individual liberties.
The government should also act proactively to fight this emerging threat. The rising Sinhala Buddhist extremism is still an incipient threat. So were the JVP and Tamil separatism in the early 80s. The then government’s failure to determinedly meet those challenges led to decades of carnage in the north and the south. This government seems to have not learnt lessons from the mistakes of its predecessors. In some ways, its complacency before an emerging threat is more sinister than white vans. The latter is selective in terror; this complacency is robbing the future of the nation as a whole.
Apprehending suspects in droves and then releasing on bail would not address the problem. This is not a bar brawl. This is hate crime
It is mind-boggling as to how a so called ‘ Mahasohon Balakaya’ a fringe racist group could operate an office in Kandy and very publicly propagate hate against Muslims for years. Whether that is a matter of incompetency of the police alone, or whether the police had been forced by politicians and top brass to look the other way, in order to avoid confrontation with powerful individuals and monks is also a moot point. It is also worth probing what follow- up actions have been taken against the perpetrators of previous attacks. Any commission that investigate lapses into the government and police handling of violence should also dig into why bigotry had gone unchecked so long.
Incidentally, Ampitiya was also the home town of Col. Fazly Lafir, one of the founding officers of Sri Lanka Special Force, who died while leading a rescue mission after the LTTE overran the Mullaitivu military garrison in 1996. He was posthumously awarded Parama Weera Vibhushanya, the highest award for military valour. There is many an anecdote about his bravery; in the last mission, he insisted to proceed, even after the chopper pilot initially refused, knowing that it was a near dead mission.Those brave men and many thousands of youth in the South and North had to die because successive government played politics with the future of this country. Now, it is an affront to many Muslim officers who paid with their life and limb to protect this country, when these racist fanatics keep on spewing hate in public and burn down their home towns.
Recently, two young Tamil men who posted pro-LTTE propaganda in facebook were arrested and placed in remand custody. It might not have pleased the NGO captains who themselves have a twisted view on things, skewed against the Sinhalese Buddhists, however, Sri Lanka’s past and current security vulnerabilities warrant such measures. Same measures should also be applied against Sinhalese extremists. Anyone who considers majoritarian extremism as a sign of patriotism is a closeted bigot.
Kinetic measures alone would not help in fighting extremism. The government should foster national reconciliation and ethnic co-existence; at the same time it should actively delegitimize bigotry of all kinds. It should start with school textbooks. Sunday religious school should also be told to promote some kind of multi-religious understanding. Also, the government should also take active measures to increase the minority representation in the civil service, as well as police and security forces. And community leaders also have a responsibility to highlight the commonalities, rather than fretting about differences.