Colombo, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, Reconciliation, Religion and faith

The ascendent hate speech in Sri Lanka: In conversation with Mohamed Hisham

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Mohamed Hisham, Co-Spokesperson, Rally for Unity begins the interview by saying why he chose to be associated with and helped co-found a group that openly and in public stands up against hate speech, in a country where most citizens are fearful of opposing policies, practices and bitter invective supported by the highest authorities in government aimed at minority groups and certain communities. He notes the reasons that drove a small group of diverse people to set up the initiative, its constitution and sources of funding.

We then focus on the video series Rally for Unity has created on YouTube, featuring some of Sri Lanka’s best known individuals, speaking out against hate and harm. Hisham looks at some of the common ideas and themes emerging from this set of interviews.

Based on Rally for Unity’s leaflets that were distributed to thousands on May Day, Hisham is then probed on his understanding of a ‘patriot’ and ‘patriotism’, especially since leaflets distributed at the Rally for Unity’s first rally held in Colombo in April 2013, by individuals who had clearly come to disrupt it (see the leaflet and images of those who distributed it here), accused those who attended the rally and its organisers of being unpatriotic.

We then talk about the massive numbers of ‘fans’ and their interactions on Facebook groups and pages that promote, openly and with complete impunity, hate and harm against specific communities and religions in Sri Lanka (including Gay, Lesbian and Transgender groups, Christian sects and evangelical Churches as well as Muslims and Islam) in comparison to the relatively small following of Rally for Unity’s Facebook page (which at the time of the interview, stood at just over 930). Hisham’s answer goes into why he is both heartened by Rally for Unity’s small but informed and committed following, as well as deeply concerned by hate speech in online social media fora.

We end on a hard question – how Hisham thinks Rally for Unity will endure the challenges it will face around social mobilisation and awareness raising over the longer term.