Kishali Pinto Jayawardene
The recent statement by former Eastern Province Governor M.L.M. Hizbullah that Muslims are a majority in the world and that Sri Lankan Muslims should not fear even if they are a minority is dangerously inflammatory. It also amounts to an encouragement of the primitive cacophonous yelling on the part of Sinhala extremists that more Sinhalese ought to be born, that forced sterilizations of ‘Sinhala Buddhist mothers’ are being carried out by Muslim doctors (without a shred of tangible evidence, let us add) and that the Sinhala-Buddhist nation-state is in imminent and existential peril.
Ploys to fool the citizenry
It is no excuse therefore, when questioned later by journalists, that the ex-Governor piously explains himself that he had only tried to ‘give strength’ to scared and intimidated Muslims in Sri Lanka or that he spoken not at a public meeting but with a crowd at a mosque. Regardless, these are not sentiments that can be excused. In fact, the full weight of his testimony before the Parliamentary Select Committee this week brought to mind echoes of a grotesque circus of clowns as he protested that he had put signboards in Arabic in Kattankudy to ‘attract tourists’ and that date trees were planted in the middle of the road as it was too hot to expect any other tree to grow. At times, it was hard to distinguish which was more ridiculous; the questions put to him by his interrogators or his abominably slippery answers.
These are the antics that took place at the very same time that the Kochchikade Church was being reconsecrated with scores of injured worshippers in the Easter bomb attacks executed by a militant islamist terrorist with whom the ex-Governor had signed an electoral agreement in 2015. It is no answer also to explain (as the ex-Governor did) that this ‘terrorist’ was only an ‘extremist’ when he signed that agreement. As a sobbing teenager who had lost her father in the cruel blasts, called upon the Christian virtues of forgiving one’s enemies but asked that one anguished question ‘Why?”, surely the entire band of political crooks who have ruined this country by their machinations time and time again must stand condemned?
For these political dramas must be recognised for what they are; simply, ploys to fool the citizenry in the face of upcoming elections. And lest there is any doubt on that score, this indictment applies in full measure to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as well. His special address to the nation a few days ago where he pontificated that his leadership was the solution to the crisis is nothing but more of the same political profiting off a communal catastrophe. As much as Tamil nationalists and Sinhala zenophobes fed off each other to prolong a deadly war which laid waste to the country and destroyed lives and communities for decades, this too is similarly cynical manipulation for political purposes.
Why the SLFP/SLPP combine opposes the Select Committee
Mr Hizbullah is not greatly loved by his own people. He may blame the fact that he did not play ball with the Kattankudy ‘extremists’ turned ‘terrorists’ for the fact that he failed to muster sufficient votes in the 2015 general election but the truth is deeper than that. As reward for his lack of popular support, he was given open licence by Presidential fiat to terrorise Sri Lanka’s East as its Governor to the chagrin of not only the Sinhalese but also the Tamils. His detractors point to his being instrumental in transferring a judge who did not obey him but instead, bringing in a judicial officer into that Province who was more ‘compliant’ to his instructions as it were. This is a hair-raising indication of the impunity with which he behaved. So too is the statement purportedly made by him where he boasts of taking over Hindu temple land for his own benefit.
Earlier, another former Governor, Azath Salley had testified before the Parliamentary Select Committee that the Thowheed Jamath and the police had ‘worked together’ from 2005 onwards which was effectively the period where the Rajapaksa writ ran in the country. When ordinary Muslims protested, they were detained or ‘chased away.’ Meanwhile the other testimony of peculiar interest was that of the President of the Federation of Kanthankudi Mosques and Muslim Institutions, Abdul Uvaiz, yesterday who stated strongly that wahabist extremism had run riot in the East during the term of the former Eastern Province Governor M.L.M. Hizbullah and that those opposing this spread, did not stand a chance of being heard. Law enforcement authorities had been deaf and blind to all entreaties.Taken in sum, it is not difficult to understand why the SLFP/SLPP combine opposes the sittings of the Parliamentary Select Commitee probing the Easter Sunday attacks so ferociously.
That opposition emanates also from the political game of one up man ship that all politicians are playing without compunction for the country or its battered, frightened and insecure people. Nervous that the chain of command would lead to the door of the President, (though this is surely a foregone conclusion already), yet another constitutional crisis is being perpetuated as the President has refused to preside over the Cabinet. Now his agitated political mouthpieces are threatening a prorogation of Parliament if the Select Committee proceedings continue. It is a relief that the Speaker has maintained a firm constitutional position on the obvious fact that the President cannot dictate to Parliament as to how it should conduct its own proceedings. But are we some beggarly, newly emerged nation that these fundamental constitutional principles must be reiterated in this way to politicians in high seats?
How does national security come into play?
In any event, it beggars the imagination as to how and in what way, the testimony given by the officials who have appeared before this Committee can, in any way, harm national security. Their posts are known, some of them have stepped down or have been sacked from their positions. There is no great secret as such that is being unveiled. Instead, what we see is a miserable process of political failures in leadership, rebounding both on the President and the Prime Minister. So why are SLFP politicians quoting the danger of intelligence leaks or violation of the archaic Official Secrets Act to circumvent the proceedings being held?
This is purely to hide their own culpability. Indeed, an obscene paradox emerges. While national security was disregarded to the highest possible extent enabling the horrific Easter Sunday bomb attacks to happen with nary a wink, questioning that fog of doubt and suspicion is met with opposition ostensibly on the basis of national security. And while one political party protects one Muslim political extremist leader, the other political party protects yet another, all the time, attacking each other. This has to stop.
Public pressure must make it clear that the citizenry has profound scorn for the political class taken as a whole. The time is not far off where politicians on both sides of the divide may find themselves unable to appear in public without being hooted and jeered at, which is happening to quite a few Sri Lankan Ministers even at this time.
This must be the price for monumental failures in leadership.