Groundviews

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.