Tariq A. Al-Maeena
At a time when the Sri Lankan government should have seized the bull by the horns and ensured ethnic harmony, the opposite is seen as unfolding with very little interference from the government.
Today, there are verified charges against that form of complacency by a government not willing to act against a rising terrorist force in the form of an extremist Sinhalese Buddhist group that calls itself the Bodu Bala Sena, or the Buddhist strength force. It has in recent times focused its target of racial hatred against the peaceful Muslim minority of the island.
A Sri Lankan Muslim had this to say: “We have been inhabitants of the land for centuries. We have assimilated with the culture and consider ourselves Sri Lankans. Unfortunately, we do not get cooperation in return. Many of us are denied job opportunities in the government because of our religion. There are many educated Muslim Sri Lankans, yet they are not preferred for good posts. There is discrimination in all walks of life against us, but we manage, hoping for the day things will change.”
She continued, “When the war against the Tamils was over, we thought that now the country would mend itself and become strong. Instead, it seems that the victory has given some of these extremist Buddhist groups more courage to carry out further carnage against all minorities including the Muslims and Christians of the island.
“The government seems to be going along with these militant groups as they have not carried out their steps for reconciliation. We are not supported for quality state education, nor does it seem lately that our safety is something which concerns the government. Our places of worship have been attacked, our people assaulted, and the terrorism continues unabated.
“There are a number of militant groups operating openly in Sri Lanka and spreading their message of rabid racism and intolerance. The government can put a stop to all of this if they want. Not only the government but also the country’s security forces have got into the act and are cooperating with these thugs.”
She goes on, “As you know, Muslim camps remain open and around 130,000 Muslim refugees from the north of the island continue to languish in refugee camps in appalling conditions three and a half years after the war. The irony is that this is happening three years after the 30-year ethnic war ended. What lessons have we learnt from the past carnage? Absolutely nothing!”
Events took a more sinister turn recently when thousands of supporters of the militant group Bodu Bala Sena joined in a rally calling for the boycott of halal foods. The rally that took place in Colombo drew thousands who heard the calls of ethnic divisiveness and nationalist speeches by the group’s monks. These exhortations come at a time of mounting religious tension in the country. In recent times, there have been many recorded attacks on both mosques and churches, and Muslim-owned businesses and the clergy have not been spared either.
A three-member BBC team who were covering the rally was “seriously threatened with violence by some members of a mob of more than 20 young men who told us not to drive off.” According to the team leader Charles Haviland of BBC News, “Some police arrived and looked on as my Sri Lankan colleagues were verbally abused in filthy language, described as ‘traitors’ and accused of having ‘foreign parents’ and working for a ‘foreign conspirator who was ‘against Sri Lanka’”.
“Some of them warned us that if we returned to the location - the mainly Buddhist suburb of Maharagama - it would ‘be the end’ of us. The police held back the more aggressive youths but appeared to comply with the mob by barricading our vehicle, calling us ‘suspicious’ and ordering us not to leave until they got the go-ahead from their superior. That was worrying.”
A news agency reported that the leaders explicitly called for a boycott of halal meat and demanded shops clear their stocks by April or else. This message was loudly cheered by the attendees at the rally sporting T-shirts denouncing the Muslim halal method of slaughtering animals prior to eating.
Mujeebur Rahuman of the opposition United National Party worries that at “any moment, the ethnic riot will start between Sinhalese and Muslims. They are now working freely. Nobody is talking about this organization and the government is not trying to stop their activities.”
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse is again giving tacit support to communal provocations against Sri Lanka’s minorities to deflect attention from the country’s deepening economic and social crisis. But that is a dangerous strategy, one guaranteed to backfire.
Meanwhile, GCC countries with their economic muscle and the OIC should begin to sit up and take notice of the events happening on the island. A message should be sent to the Sri Lankan government that the widening of racial and ethnic hatred against the Muslim minority or any other will not be tolerated. Failure to heed that message should bring economic and political sanctions into consideration.
We wish the island well, but not under the present circumstances.