Featured image courtesy The Star

Ven. Ampitiye Sumanaratne Thero of Mangalaramaya temple in Ampara walks in to the residence of the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, Nazeer Ahamed and threatens him over the despicable incident at the Sampur school function:

Later, the venerable Thero leads a protest in Ampara, shouting Islamophobic slurs.

The Editor of Sunday (Irida) Divaina in his editorial on 29th May 2016 calls for the slaying of Chief Minister, Eastern Province, Nazeer Ahamed, to be carried out by the father of the child who was accidentally hit, and for his head to be offered to the Governor of the Eastern Province – Austin Fernando.

 Where is Sri Lanka heading as a nation? Has the saffron brigade been revived? President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, the architects of Yahapalanaya need to awaken from their slumber. Many risked their lives for regime change, and people do not want the same wine in a different glass. Do we need more violence than what we have seen during 30 years of ethnic strife? The international community and Sri Lanka’s vibrant civil society that has been hitherto supporting the reconciliation process along with the Northern Tamil population is silent on the attack on the Muslim community.  Aluthgama/Beruwela is a forgotten story.

The Yahapalanaya revolution in January 2015 that brought the opposition’s common candidate Maithripala Sirisena to power as President was celebrated as the end of the racist campaign of the Rajapaksa regime which nurtured extremist Buddhist monks to unleash violence with impunity against Muslims and evangelical Christians. A large number of moderate Sinhala Buddhists and almost the entirety of minority communities voted against the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had the illusion that he could win elections by pandering to Buddhist extremism and alienated the minorities. He without a doubt was considered the savior of the nation by almost all Sri Lankans (including the Muslims) and was reelected for his second term with an unprecedented majority against another hero of the war against terror, Sarath Fonseka. He learned his bitter lesson and miserably failed in his third attempt in January 9th 2015, due to his racist and dictatorial attitude towards the nation.

The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), which was the creation of the Rajapaksa hegemony, went underground immediately after the elections because they lost the immunity that was offered by the Rajapaksa regime. The multiple court cases against Ven. Gnanasara Thero and BBS have kept them busy attending to their legal battles. Their attempt to regroup has failed miserably, especially after their contempt of court charges filed by the bold Homagama magistrate.

This has given rise to a new group of saffron robed extremist monks, who are attempting to come in to the limelight through propagating a racist agenda. The desperate common opposition led by the Rajapaksa faction in parliament has started playing the racist card once more, provoking Buddhist extremism. They are using multiple fronts to attack minorities, especially the Tamils and Muslims after their dismal performance at the May Day rally in Kirulapone, in the hope that they can harness the vote bank of the Buddhists.

These forces have now been unleashed to create hate and target the Muslims and evangelical Christians with the hope that the international community and, especially the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) would notice it and impose sanctions on Sri Lanka that would lead to the collapse of our economy.  A ban on the import of Sri Lankan labour to the Middle East would drive the majority of our population to the streets – literally begging for their next meal. The income from foreign remittances is estimated to be around 6-7 billion US Dollars per annum.

The Buddhist extremists are forgetting that a number of Muslim nations came forward to support the Rajapaksa regime in their fight against the Liberation Tigers Thamil Eelam (LTTE). Libya, Pakistan and Iran played a major role in providing military hardware. It was even suspected that Pakistani pilots were flying sorties to destroy the LTTE arsenal.  Many other Arab Muslim nations provided financial support. The only friends Sri Lanka had at the UNHCR in Geneva at the time were Muslim nations. Today, Sinhala Buddhist extremists have forgotten the Muslim contribution to the government’s war efforts and branded them as aliens to the nation. Many Muslim intelligence officers sacrificed their lives throughout the war. Only the security forces know their contributions, because most of them were intelligence operatives who could not be exposed to the public.

A few incidents involving Muslim citizens of Sri Lanka are being highlighted as crimes committed by the entire Muslim community. The irresponsible behavior of the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, Nazeer Ahamed, which was totally condemned by the Muslim community, is being presented as a Muslim person insulting Sinhalese forces of the Sinhala nation, implying that the Muslim citizens do not belong to Sri Lanka. A forgotten fact is the behavior of the army goon squad of Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sarath Fonseka and violence against public servants and forces by Mervyn Silva, Wimal Weerawansa and Nishantha Muthuhettigamage (amongst many others). Their insults of the police and armed forces have never been branded as Sinhala Buddhist excesses. Only Chief Minister Nazeer Ahamed’s action is being branded as an act of treachery by a Muslim.

There have been numerous incidents of conflict and violence at parents teachers meetings in hundreds of schools, but a simple incident at Madawala Muslim Maha Vidyalaya, where a Sinhala teacher who had sided with the Muslim principal was “screamed at” by a Muslim person. This had nothing to do with religion or race but today some news and social media platforms have twisted it as a racial attack on a Buddhist.

Muslim miscreants, who were drunk after a Perahara in Mahiyangana had damaged a Buddhist flag in their drunken stupor. This incident too is twisted as a racially motivated attack on Buddhism. It was the Muslims who caught these youths and handed them over to the police. They have been remanded for two weeks and yet extremist Buddhists are branding it as a crime against Buddhism by the entire Muslim community.

Some Buddhist monks, who are going around intimidating Muslims, have formed themselves in to vigilante groups. One such group is demanding the cessation of the renovation of a mosque down Bhatiya Mawatha, Dehiwela. The building plans and the renovation has been approved by the local authority, the Dehiwela Mount Lavinia municipal council.  Some local politicians along with these monks have marched in to the mosque under police protection and intimated the trustees of the mosque to stop the construction. The Police who are supposed to protect and maintain law and order are providing protection to this vigilante group. The complaint of trespassing in to private property has not been entertained.

Law and order in the country has been deteriorating during the decade long rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The majority of the Sri Lankans of all races expected the war winning President, Mahinda Rajapaksa to pave the way for a reconciled Sri Lanka in 2009. Regretfully, he pampered Buddhist extremism due to his greediness for continued political office. Racism has now been rooted out amongst a fair number of Sinhala Buddhists, who fear dominance of the minority community. The Muslims are even accused of strategically increasing their population to make Sri Lanka a Muslim state. The population ratio of Muslims has remained the same since 1891. There is no doubt that the majority of the Buddhists are peace-loving citizens, but they have no voice in the presence of these extremists. The behavior of some of these thugs is a disgrace to the noble teachings of Lord Buddha.

There is a need for the government to take the bull by the horns. No vigilante group should be allowed to intimidate anyone. Law and order needs to be maintained. Their failure will force the country to be a divided nation that would have serious repercussions on the envisaged development and progress that all Sri Lankans hope for.

Religion should be a private affair and remain so. An elected government should not favour one religion above another.  We, the people of Sri Lanka need to come forward as one Sri Lankan nation, devoid of differences in religion, race, caste or creed. This responsibility is not with the government alone but with every individual, religious and political leader. This is easily attainable if every citizen commits to this noble goal.

The new constitution making process needs to ensure that all communities in Sri Lanka have the same rights and religious freedom to practice the religion of their choice.