There is no doubt that this SLPP Presidency was built on a vicious and relentless campaign of hate against Sri Lanka’s minority communities in general, and the Muslims in particular.

(Text of an Editorial appearing in the “Daily Financial Times”of October 21st 2021 under the heading “The Politics of Hate”)

A new report published by Amnesty International this week is a damning indictment against the Sri Lankan state that continues to countenance – and promote – consistent discrimination, harassment and violence against the country’s Muslim people, since at least 2013.

Amnesty International said that its new report, From Burning Houses to Burning Bodies – Anti-Muslim Harassment, Discrimination and Violence in Sri Lanka, traces the development of anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka since 2013 amid surging Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism.

The report speaks to sharp regression of the situation in recent years, with violence against Muslims, committed with the tacit approval of the authorities, occurring with alarming frequency. The current Government had also adopted rhetoric and policies that have been openly hostile to Sri Lanka’s Muslim community, noted AI Deputy Secretary-General Kyle Ward on the publication of the report.

On Monday, as the Muslim community marked the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, the Government chose to reintroduce legislation to ban cattle slaughter in the island. The announcement was a thinly veiled effort to pacify its hardline nationalist base as the economy crumbles and has the additional impact of injuring the Muslim community, culturally and economically.

The policy announcement comes hot on the heels of Amnesty International’s scathing report about the situation of Muslims in Sri Lanka. The announcement of the beef ban and Amnesty’s findings come as no surprise, particularly since the present political dispensation blatantly sowed anti-Muslim hate and fear-mongering to win power in 2019. Ahead of that electoral contest, carefully orchestrated hate campaigns against the Muslim community spanned the length and breadth of the island. Mistrust of the Muslim community is an age-old prejudice, but the virulent hatred and violence have raised their ugly heads because someone has stood to gain politically from it. That is the common thread that runs through the harassment of the Muslim community that Amnesty International traces since 2013.

The Wanda-Kottu saga, based on spurious claims that a Muslim restaurant was spiking food served to Sinhalese with substances that induced sterilisation, sparked communal unrest from Ampara to Kandy soon after the SLPP clinched a stunning victory in the 2018 Local Government elections. Dr. Mohammed Shafi, a surgeon attached to the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital, was jailed on the absurd, and now debunked, claims that he had forcibly sterilised some 4,000 Sinhalese women on his operating table. Current members of the ruling party had been among the instigators. Women who complained Dr. Shafi had sterilised them without their consent went on to give birth to healthy babies.

Sri Lanka’s latest pogroms have been targeted against the Muslim community, beginning with the Bodu Bala Sena-led siege on Dharga Town, Aluthgama in June 2014. The deadly communal riots laid waste to the predominantly Muslim residential settlement and claimed three lives. The riots were the culmination of years of blatant State patronage for hate-mongering hardliners like the BBS and its fellow travellers, as they built their credentials as the avengers of Sinhala-Buddhism by raiding abattoirs, churches, and Islamic shrines.

The communal unrest in the aftermath of the Easter attacks had protagonists who hold Cabinet ministries today. There is no doubt that this SLPP Presidency was built on a vicious and relentless campaign of hate against Sri Lanka’s minority communities in general, and the Muslims in particular. When the Government used COVID-19 as an excuse to institute a ludicrous forced cremations policy in the country, the Muslims saw through the cruel decision quite clearly as punishment for how the community had voted in 2019. International calls have been growing for the Government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to alter course and safeguard the rights of all communities in Sri Lanka. Its continued antipathy to the Muslim community is winning this Government no friends internationally. But for the SLPP, such a reversal in attitude and policy could prove an existential dilemma, for to do so would mean abandoning its raison d’être and jeopardising its electoral prospects in the future. Little will change, as long as there is gain to be made politically from spewing hatred and inciting violence against the Muslim community.

Courtesy:Daily FT