Is Sri Lanka sinking in to an abyss of racism and apartheid?

Photo by Shilpa Samaratunge

Two months since the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) inspired anti Muslim attack in Aluthgama took place causing scores of damage, destruction and death to the livelihood, properties and life of the Muslim community, evidence is emerging that the attack is not spontaneous but a well orchestrated plan to attack Muslims and to incite more violence. It is very clear from this that some sections of the political powers that be wanted to create a new enemy as a strategy to deflect the concerns of the citizens about the failing socio-economic and political life in the country. Also evidence is emerging that this wicked project is a precursor to prepare the voters for the forthcoming 2015 elections on a new note with a new message and promises.

Scapegoating Muslims and attacking them by Buddhist extremists is a new phenomenon and the frequency of this rose ever since the emergence of the BBS and their likes during the last two years. These forces have arrayed against the Muslims: the media, certain segments of the law enforcement agencies, political acolytes and certain sections of the bureaucracy as a strategy to create the new enemy: the Muslims. This tarnishes the image of the country and the image of the majority Sinhalese Buddhists. This is also polarizing and fragmenting the society to enable political powers to manipulate outcomes of elections on racial basis instead of pragmatic socio economic policies and programmes to rebuild the nation.

The reason why all of a sudden with the end of war against the LTTE a certain segment of the Sinhala Buddhist powerhouse arraying forces against Muslims, when Muslims have done nothing against the Sinhala Buddhist interests or have demanded anything that undermined the interest of the country is a question asked by both Muslims and intelligent Sinhalese. The Sinhala Buddhist community is bombarded with a new message with a new enemy by the so-called saviors of Buddhism pointing at Muslims as a new threat. The majority Sinhala Buddhist community as innocent and susceptible as they are, are being taken over by this anti Muslim propaganda, the resultant shock of which makes them to forget their daily sufferings caused by mismanagement of state affairs by the political elites and their affiliates.

The series of anti-Muslim attacks shows its telltale marks that these attacks are not perpetrated by the Sinhala Buddhist public at large but by a set of mercenaries wanting to create new conflicts in Sri Lanka to give smokescreens to their political masters to run away from their accountability and answerability to voters in the coming elections. This is setting the agenda for the election. Potentially, this scenario would make way to electioneer not on the credentials of achieving development goals and nation building promised to the people but about a newly invented enemy and its supposed threat to Buddhism to enable the candidate to emerge as the savior of Buddhism as an election ploy.

This is a threat to the nation. Sowing seeds of division, suspicion and doubt amongst citizens to achieve selfish individual political goals would potentially make the country vulnerable to new cycles of violence that can drag for decades to solve. This pernicious political culture has the ability to potentially lead to wholesale revolution and bloodletting amongst the Sinhalese at a point when political leadership exhaust ‘appeasements’ to satisfy their voters or their cheating in the name of pseudo nationalism/patriotism is realized by the citizens. Responsible politicians who love the country and its people would not tread this path.

This is a challenge and a transient threat to the Muslim community and they have to very prudently manage this. The intensity of the threat is such that the unabated attacks on Muslims and the government’s inaction to maintain law and order as appeasement to their Sinhala Buddhist voter bank would potentially push the community to the breaching point to make them the ‘new enemy’. Proper understanding of the emerging threat, identifying its movers and shakers and working with the majority Sinhala Buddhist community is vital for the safety and security of both communities and the country. Nowhere in the history of this country, are people enemy to each other irrespective of their racial, ethnic, religious and cultural diversities. Socio political and economic problems of all the people in the country are one. That is of economic inequity and political mismanagement. To cover up this anomaly the political leadership from time to time manipulated one against the other in order to entrench their particular class in power whilst the average citizens’ life is rendered miserable.

Sri Lankan politics since Independence in 1948 had seen Sinhala Buddhist majority political parties inventing ‘new enemies’ from time to time as a strategy of creating fear psychosis amongst the Sinhalese voters as a ruse to make them to align with chauvinist politicians to propel to power. Six decades more now since Independence, majoritarian political manipulation of the voters and the susceptibility to disinformation and publicity stunt by Sinhalese masses has not changed. The use of the tactics of inventing ‘new enemies’ and using ‘Unique Selling Propositions’ (USPs) by Sinhala majority political parties from time to time have always targeted at undermining the interests of the minority communities as appeasements to the majority. Hence as a result since 1948 the minorities were marginalized and pushed to the fringes of society. These self-centric political manipulations by the majority Sinhala politicians resulted not only in undermining the minorities but also as a consequence undermined the long-term peace and stability of the majority community which engulfed the country in the three decades war. This was the result of marginalizing and setting one community against the other for the sole purpose of seeking political ascendancy to grab power. Until this culture of political voyeurism ends there will be no peace in Sri Lanka. The end of war seems to be a beginning of another war: this time with the Muslims.

Since Independence, the majority political class and their affiliates by their myopic political visions, parochialism and self interest have taken the country down the abyss leading towards a failed state. Failing law and order, rising unemployment, rising rate of school drop outs due to poverty, 8% of the population yet under poverty line, rising tide of state loss making institutions, social and environmental problems impeding progress, failing institutions, rampant corruption, murder, rape and suicide rates, alcoholism, prostitution and communities disintegrating on racial and religious lines hitherto nonexistent whilst the government failing to give the basic necessities of life to its citizens but militarizing society even in the absence of war are remarkable. This with a divided opposition yet to come up with a pragmatic solution acceptable to all is pushing the country down the precipice. Today, the bankrupt political class having exhausted all the democratic options of coming to power by show of achievements and civilized means of meritocracy is thus setting the grounds for an apartheid state for a particular class of people to rule and squander the wealth of the nation in the name of race and religion.

Apartheid is a threat to Buddhism. If Buddhism succumbs to apartheid by becoming a strictly race based religion in Sri Lanka like Zionism, it would be a death knell to it and the chauvinistic Sinhalese Buddhists will be solely responsible for eliminating all Buddhist virtues from this country. In such an eventuality, true Buddhists would become a minority like in the Zionist state of Israel where original Rabbinic/Torah Jews are underdogs. Buddhist community becoming apartheid will be its hara-kiri and none shall be able to salvage them. A religion or culture becoming deviant from its original sources and traditions is self annihilation.

Muslims, Buddhists and others must understand that the current conflict amongst them is orchestrated by the stooges of power that whishes to carve its own space to be in perpetual power. To achieve these goals, they are touching the susceptibilities and sensitivities of people to create religious disharmony and hype the racial and religious divide to cover under the carpet their political mismanagements, corruption, cronyism and broken promises when elections are imminent. It is the responsibility of all communities not to be provoked by these manipulations and not to be distracted from the existential issues that they are suffering from due to political mismanagement. They have to intelligently identify national and regional problems and issues that confront every citizen in the country and prioritize to bring them to prominence and knowledge of the people, power and the intelligentsia and press for urgent solutions to them from political leadership and rise above parochial racial, religious and other divides. The endemic problems in the country confronted by the citizens in their daily life are wanting urgent attentions. Their problems of cost of living, unemployment, pollution, environmental problems, dengue and Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown causes (CKDu), nation and peace building etc are yet to be addressed. The political leadership has failed addressing these but is preparing to face new elections with a USP that damages the society more than what benefits the individual.

More than twelve centuries of peaceful cohabitation between Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka has made both communities interdependent. Therefore safety and security of the one lies in the safety and the security of the other mutually. Similarly, Muslim cohabitation with the Hindus and Christian is also not confrontational. These are positive signs to build a better society if politicians become responsible than self centric. Considering these, the Muslim community must whilst understanding its security imperatives should consciously work with the Buddhist counterparts and other communities in facing this threat which threatens not only the Muslims but also the long-term survival of Buddhism as a value based philosophy from the scourge of racism and prevent Sri Lanka sliding to become an apartheid state.

  • Stel En

    We need Bodu Bala Sena to stop Sri Lanka becoming like Iraq or Pakistan or Afghanistan. Bodu Bala sena is the saviour of Sri Lanka. Jaya wewa

    • No Frames

      BBS is a destructive force. But it’s way better than having an ISIS.

  • Rizwan

    Since independence, it was the NE Tamils who were being scapegoated for political gains by the majority Sinhalese parties. Upcountry Tamils were often not even recognized as citizens, but as some guest workers living on the largesse of the Sinhalese.

    Muslims never voiced a word of concern when the non-Muslim Tamils were being abused, tortured, raped and, murdered, or when their land and property were being ceased. In fact, Muslims often collaborated with the Sinhalese and took unfair advantage of the Tamils (since independence and long before Muslims were expelled from Jaffna). Muslims have done very well in Sri Lanka by licking the boots of the Sinhela rulers since independence.

    Now that the Tamils have very little left to lose, the next victims in line for the chauvinistic Sinhalese is . . . . Muslims. It doesn’t help that the Muslim community in Sri Lanka has grown more conservative in appearance and behavior. Sorry you have few sympathizers left in Sri Lanka. Good luck getting help from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

    • ram2009

      The Muslims also accepted their eviction (ethnic cleansing) from the North by the Gandhian LTTE. Some Muslims do try play the Tamils against the Sinhala and vice versa for their own profit as seen here.

  • srivanamoth

    And what of the Tamils too before them! The war against LTTE was a platform to bring about genocide starting with the ‘Demmalas’, now catching up with the ‘Marakaliyas’! This is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth under the PTA over the last 40 years and serious governance failures since independence. To re-make ‘paradise’ will take another 100 years, if at all, because the minds are so perverted since 1948 to date.

  • srivanamoth

    SL is already an Apartheid state under the PTA for the past 40 years! It has a constitution where Amendments are moved to suit the ruling governments to extend their rule to suit themselves for a long as possible! It is nirvana itself!

  • LoseLoose

    You conveniently avoid mentioning how a local temple and priest were harassed for a period of time by young muslim radicals from a radical wahabi madrassa. You also conveniently try to portray these attacks as one-sides. Muslims burnt homes and attacked houses in the nearby Sinhala village during the riots as well. This was not as one sided as your christian liberal blog tries to make out.

  • Ahmed Mohammed

    In a multi-ethnic nation where the majority Sinhala Buddhist community has been terrorised and traumatized for the last 30 years by a minority terrorist organization, the LTTE, the most ruthless the world has ever known, which was finally put to an end by the military victory of May 2009, the Sinhala psyche, had been badly battered and bruised. To elevate their psyche and ego, its natural that sections of the majority community, such as the extremist, chauvinist and ethno-religious fascist BBS, would attempt to find a soft target to unleash their pent-up anger and frustrations for the last 30 years. The Tamil community is in total disarray after the military defeat of the LTTE, and taking revenge from a defeated enemy may not serve any purpose. The next best target to satisfy the Sinhala ego, would be the Muslim minority of Sri Lanka, who though weak in a military sense are very powerful economically (at least some of them). This explains the violence unleashed on the Muslim community by the BBS. Arousing religious sentiments is only a facade to cover up their deeper lying anger and frustrations held in check for 30 years by the LTTE. This is the psychological explanation for the irrational behaviour of the BBS.

    • Rohanana

      Ahmed, why don’t you talk about the extremist Muslims like yourself, [edited out] who has started these bloody racism based on religion which we never had. So, get your house clean first then those others will disappear, until then Sinhalese needs someone to protect them and BBS is the only thing has guts to do it. [edited out] Otherwise lets live harmoniously. Go to Babile road Gampola and see for yourself what your Mullas have done to Sinhalese people there and then tell the world Muslims are not racists. We can see around the world what Muslims are doing to Christians and other Muslims don’t we Ahmed? Where were those Muslim leaders and people like yourself when LTTE killed and chased Muslims out of North? Were you all scared to say anything then?

    • srivanamoth

      So all the murder, rape and mayhem is the result of deranged minds?! The LTTE was ruthless in response to ruthless governance by the State prior to their birth in the 1980s, in turn due to the series of race riots from Sept, 1956 and pogrom of July 1983 and the order from then President in Jan. 1984 to his nephew Military Commander to decimate the youths of the north and east which saw the creation of many mass graves! In the first place why was the late PM SWRDB assassinated in 1978 and by whom? All because he tried his best to sort out the mess and come to a reasonable governance arrangement with the Tamil speaking people of the north east. And WHO planned, plotted and executed his grizzly murder? Alas! SL has never been same since but lurching from one crisis to the next ad nauseam.

    • Aia

      Ahmed

      A well written article by the author, in that it doesn’t criticise any one else other than the BBS and the Sinhala extremists, for what happened in Darga town. Your effort, however, trying to resurrect LTTE and the analogy extremists’ frustration and anger in dealing with LTTE have clearly demonstrated your intention, and this is what largely observed over the years and even during the dark days of 1983 pogrom. Have your ministers, in the powerful UNP government which orchestrated it ever voiced against it or has a Muslim family given refuge to a Tamil family at that hour of need?. 1983 was the catalyst of LTTE. Your attempt reviving the memories of LTTE and kind of trying to swap the soft target out of the firing line for other community which is in disarray, rather than dealing with the source of fire itself, wont earn a great many sympathisers for what has been happening recently against SL Muslims- and show to some extent your cruel intent. You know full well, LTTE’s manifesto, even if you don’t, the majority knows, even if the younger ones in theirs say up to 40s didn’t know, they know by now in the last 5 years since the war ended. Yes, LTTE were truthless but against a truthless oppressor as well as those who worked against them, be it Tamils or anyone, for that matter. They didn’t go on burning houses or looted them. Muslims know why they had to leave N-E under LTTE.
      To say ‘the most ruthless the world has ever known’ would please those who has racial hatred, if that is what your intention was, but they never let a child holding a severed head by both his hands to pose for a photo shot; never took 200 odd school girls away- isn’t it disgusting. LTTE never fooled by religions. Every one knew the majority of those who put a façade to their image as they have greater faith on the god than others are the ones complicit in heinous crimes. You don’t need to safeguard the religions, if they are worth for their preaching, followers will always there. If you are politically bankrupt as wrote here, or want to hide your crimes and wrongs, you have to go on a crusade to safeguard it. I believe in god but never thought about building an Image around religion or let myself to be misled by some fools or thugs just because they wore a unique Uniforms or Guernsey, be any religion. Try to spread racial harmony in a nation battered by petty differences and don’t give any space for someone to fool you in the name of religion or patriotism, but find out what was in stake.

    • ram2009

      You started well but lost your way. The violence in Aluthgama did NOT arise in a vacuum, and the causes are well known. There is some truth in what the BBS says

      http://www.outlookindia.com/article/Muslims-Pose-A-Threat-In-Sri-Lanka/291662

  • Ulysses_grant7

    [Edited out] The author has strung together a bunch of concepts and has tried to find relevance of these concepts to an issue where local muslim jihadists tried to incite the Buddhists. The author is displaying all the tenets of what he is preaching against. This guy is exhibiting the apartheid of the Sri Lankan muslim jihadists in trying to establish an “Islamic State” in Sri Lanka. The fact that the majority Buddhists wouldn’t allow such nonsense has irked this man and the reason for this diatribe.

    • Amarakoon

      Author avoid monitoring about attacking a Buddhist monk by three Muslims on one of the holiest full moon days in Darga town. Then, in same Darga town Muslims assaulted STF soldiers and tried to grab their weapon. Again, author do not explain why around 3,000 Muslim men gathered in Darga town mosque though it was not a Friday. Buddhist monk was attacked on 12 June around 1000 hrs but police were reluctant to take action till 1800 hrs (as powerful Muslim ministers were continuously calling the police). Even today, Traffic ruls are not observed in Darga town. Why?

  • Ahmed Mohammed

    Despite all the hatred and venomous propaganda unleashed on the Muslims by the BBS, supported by some media channels, who have given them an open forum to propagate their extremist views and a handful of activisits who seem to be at the beck and call of the BBS hierarchy and probably under their payroll, and who were directly responsible for the damage to property and life caused so far, the majority Sinhala Buddhist community seem to be indifferent, unconcerned and unimpressed by the vicious propaganda of the BBS. This clearly shows, that the majority of Sinhala Buddhists in this country are peace-loving, and do not want to be misled by the venomous propaganda of a handful of extremist Buddhist monks, and thereby jeopardise the over 1,500-year-old relationship with the peace-loving Muslim community of Sri Lanka.

    Perhaps the greatest rebuff of BBS extremism in Sri Lanka came from none other than the Hon. President Mahinda Rajapakse himself, when His Excellency ordered that all damage caused to life and property in Aluthgama and Beruwala under the instigation of the BBS, should be fully compensated by the Government of Sri Lanka, and ordered the reconstruction of all Muslim houses, mosques and other property by the Sri Lanka Army, the entire cost of reconstruction being met by the Government. This is a clear message sent by the Government to the BBS, that it has a moral responsibility to protect its citizens and their property, irrespective of their ethnicity and the government would not tolerate the ethnic hatred propagated by the BBS and a repetition of the unfortunate incidents at Aluthgama and Beruwala, elsehwhere in the country.

  • Jayantha

    Is Sri Lanka sinking in to an abyss of racism and apartheid?
    Sri Lanka will never be able to sink up to the depths in Saudi, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Iran or any other Islamic country on this Earth. So why worry so much on Sri Lanka. Write about those countries.

    • sach

      why should he write about other countries?SL is his country ne. No sinhala with a right mind can justify BBS both morally and strategically. We are in a time period where we have to win the tamils and ppl like these lose the muslims as well. If this country is to go forward, we have to understand what SL truly is. SL is a multi ethnic and a secular country. The only way we can go forward is as a secular country. Religious leaders in this case monks need to be kept out of politics. SL faces a lot of external threats. In such a time gov or any sane sinhala buddhist should not tolerate a desabilising agent like BBS.
      The only ones BBS has worked for are for seperatist forces overseas.

    • srivanamoth

      Sri Lanka had joined the League of Failed Nations. The politicians have to educate themselves in political sciences rather than in promoting what they have been doing all these 66 years by promoting themselves, hook or by crook or both!

  • kinston

    International community is misguided by the Muslims
    parties, and corrupt politicians, bodubala sena is telling the truth. I thing
    we need bodubala sena like organizations to save the country form muslims extremists