The motive of the nine Sri Lankan Muslim suicide bombers, who attacked four hotels and three churches on April 21, might have been to punish the Western powers and their religion Christianity for the atrocities being perpetrated against Muslims in the Middle East.
But what the bombers have achieved concretely and visibly is quite different. They have significantly widened the gulf between the Sinhala Buddhist majority and the minority Muslims in Sri Lanka.
On the one hand, many sections of the civil society have stood up for innocent Muslims who were attacked and harassed following the blasts. On their part, Muslims have offered to help rebuild the three destroyed churches. Heads of mosques from Galle have appealed to the government to remove Wahhabism from Sri Lanka root and branch in the interest of communal harmony.
But on the other hand, there is also poisonous anti-Muslim propaganda aired through the social and mainstream media.
While there is a case for asking the Muslim community to stop some of the divisive religious and cultural practices that have gained currency due to the excessive influence of Wahhabism in recent times, there is also an unseemly tendency among a growing section of Sinhala-Buddhists to make unreasonable demands from the Muslims.
Wild charges are made against Muslims with the intention of tarnishing their collective image. There is a tendency to demonize the Muslims as a whole, and hold each and every Muslim responsible for the horror of April 21.
The government has already outlawed the niqab which is a full-face veil. But the population apparently wants the entire female Muslim attire, including the abaya to go. There is a subtle call to boycott Muslim businesses and Muslim suppliers.
A group of Sinhala Buddhist customers in a Colombo restaurant reportedly protested vehemently when the Sinhala-Buddhist owner was seen in discussion with her regular Muslim supplier. The customers stormed out of the restaurant and threatened never to return, when the owner stuck to her stand that the religion of her suppliers did not matter to her.
In another instance, a group of customers called the police to evict a Muslim girl wearing a head scarf though the law allows head covering so long as the face can be seen.
The Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission has written to the University Grants Commission to ensure that there is no invidious communal distinction in the universities when security measures are taken. It had received complaints that the security staff are frisking only Muslims.
Dr.Jehan Perera, Executive Director of the National Peace Council, wrote of an itinerant Muslim sweetmeat seller who lost his market after April 21, because non-Muslims had stopped buying from him. Perera also noted that in the Iftar party organized by the Colombo Municipal Council with much fanfare recently, Sinhala-Buddhist participation was low, “reflecting a polarization of Lankan society.”
He further says that there is a propaganda barrage to make it seem that many, if not most Muslims, are acting in a way adverse to other communities.
“During the first three weeks of panic, the media contributed substantially to the consternation of people by repeatedly showing pictures of piles of swords in mosques, which created an impression that swords were being found in a large number of mosques. This generated a fear in people of an assault on them by sword-wielding Muslims, though swords were found only in two of the 2000 mosques in the country,” Perera points out .
Then there is the running story about a Muslim doctor, Shihabdeen Shafi of Kurunegala government hospital who has allegedly sterilized over 8000 women while delivering babies. The furor that these reports raised led to the police calling upon women to submit complaints about the doctor. About a 128 women have so far submitted complaints. Under pressure, the Minister of Heath, Dr.Rajitha Senaratne, has appointed a six-member committee to probe the deeds of the doctor.
Initially arrested for having unaccounted wealth amounting to Rs.400 million, the doctor, who is also a follower of the controversial Muslim minister Rishad Bathiyudeen, is now suspected to be part of an alleged Wahhabist plan to reduce the population of the Sinhalese-Buddhists.
Meanwhile, the Tamil press has been reporting about the questionable conduct of a Muslim convert to Hinduism working in a Hindu temple in Kiliveddy in Tricomalee district.It is alleged that he has been mixing in the panchamritam given to devotees to consume after the pooja, a substance that will affect fertility.
In February 2018, there were riots in Ampara over a suspicion that a certain popular Muslim eatery, patronized by Sinhalese Buddhists, was mixing an anti-fertility substance in a fast moving food item. In 2013, a leading Muslim clothing outlet was targeted by Buddhist monks as it was alleged that the candy it was giving as a PR exercise, had an agent which would adversely affect fertility.
Though an overwhelming majority, the Sinhlese-Buddhists harbor the fear that they may be outnumbered by the Muslims who allegedly do not limit their families.
It is now clear that the post-blast anti-Muslim riots in the North Western Province, which took place three weeks after the April 21 multiple blasts, were politically organized to gain the support of the majority Sinhala-Buddhist community.
“Many of those arrested were affiliated to the opposition political parties. Opposition politicians were seen fearlessly mingling with the mobs even as they took the law into their own hand,” Dr.Perera of the National Peace Council observes. red.
President Maithripala Sirisena issued a Presidential pardon and released the radical anti-Muslim Buddhist monk Ven.Gnanasara Thero on the grounds that the monk had forewarned Sri Lankans about the dangers from radicalized Muslims when others ignored radicalization.
Gnanasara Thero was serving a six year sentence for contempt of court.
But the monk’s release (made on questionable legal grounds according to the Bar Association of Sri Lanka) was politically driven. Sirisena is using it to garner support for his bid for a second term as President of Sri Lanka in the election due at the end of this year. Significantly, a photograph of the President entertaining the monk to tea at the Presidential house was flashed in the newspapers.
Through the release of Gnanasara Thero, who had led movements against the burqa and Halal certification, and had instigated riots in Aluthgama in 2014, Sirisena has sent a message to the Sinhala- Buddhist majority that he is the champion of their rights vis-à-vis the Muslim extremists. Subsequent to his release, Gnanasara Thero has threatened to launch an agitation if the government fails to curb Islamic extremism.
After the Tamil separatists were militarily crushed in 2009, the majority community Sinhala-Buddhists began to look at the growing influence of the Muslims and their ministers with disfavor. The Sinhala-Buddhists felt that their political and economic space was being usurped by a minority which was also becoming an exclusive group culturally through the adoption of an alien Arabic culture. The Sinhala-Buddhist character of Sri Lanka appeared to be under threat from Wahhabism.
This is the reason for accusing influential Muslim politicos like minister Rishad Bathiyudeen and Eastern province Governor MLAM Hisbullah of financial fraud and terrorist links. There is a No Confidence Motion against Bathiyudeen. There is a demand that the two be inquired into and sacked.
With such demands emanating from the majority community, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that the so-called “Shariah University” being set up by Hisbullah will not get permission. He also said that the thousand odd Madrassahs will be put under government control.
To curb the tendency in some Muslim areas to put up signboards in Arabic, the government has said that sign boards can only be in Sinhalese, Tamil and English. Sale of beef is banned within the municipal limits of Kurunegala.