Image courtesy Azzam Ameen

It is an interesting phenomenon in Sri Lanka that the very same people who bristle at the very suggestion of deficiencies in the Sri Lankan State and most vehemently argue against the need for either state reform or reconciliation, that through their uncivilized and indeed illegal actions, make the strongest case for both the urgent need for reforms and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. What we witnessed in the past two weeks, puts us to shame as Sri Lankans, makes the need for state reform more important not less and in the failure of the Sri Lankan state to protect the person, properties and community (religious) infrastructure of her citizens, increases the severity of international community voices that question the ability and capability of Sri Lanka’s state institutions of law and order, justice and governance to ensure basic civilized behavior within our borders. Having mini pogroms against ethnic or religious minorities is not the best advertisement for Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in Geneva.

Violence against the Muslim Community is both organized and calibrated

The past week witnessed the anti-Muslim violence in the Kandy District, which was preceded the previous week by similar, though lesser scale attacks in Ampara. This violence again, was no flash in the pan, the steady hate mongering campaign against the Muslim community has been in the making for at least five years, beginning most notably and seemingly benignly as an anti halal campaign. Both the Government, through the Honorable Prime Minister and law enforcement have acknowledged that the attacks on the Muslim community has been premeditated and organized. The so-called provocation in Ampara, that of orally administered (or mixed in food) impotency medication is a product non-existent in the world and the contrived paranoia would be laughable if it was not tragic. The violence, especially in Kandy was also carefully calibrated to not result in the loss of life and limb but to destroy the economic assets of the Muslim community. Hence their homes, shops, vehicles and goods were targeted. In a particularly barbaric manner, Muslim places of worship, their mosques were attacked, vandalized, damaged and destroyed. It is a particularly distressing aspect of Sri Lanka’s political violence that the sanctity of places of worship is not observed. In the very same Kandy, where during the war years, terrorists attacked the hallowed Sri Dalada Maligawa, to the condemnation of the whole world, in post war Sri Lanka, a new breed of terror was unleased on other places of worship. What we are witnessing in these attacks is not communal violence. It is not the Sinhala community against the Muslim community. Most Sri Lankans of all ethnicities and religions long for a peaceful and prosperous post war Sri Lanka, undergirded for many by the most tolerant and non-violent noble precepts. What we are witnessing in Sri Lanka, are small fascist movements, intent on violence to achieve their socio-political objectives.

The Malwatta Mahanayaka speaks out

The rather unfortunate and distinguishing feature of our own variety of fascism, as opposed to say the German Nazi or Italian fascists movements is that while European fascism was purely ethnic, Hitler being obsessed with his pure Aryan race, Mussolini with his new Romans, post war Sri Lankan fascism mixes in the added toxicity of a religious veneer into its characteristic, making it even more dangerous and fearsome than the European variety of yester year. It is in that context, that the statement of the Most Venerable Tibboutuwawe Sr Siddharatha Sumangala Mahanayake Thera of the Malwatta chapter should become a guide post. The Prelate has observed that when there are state armed forces and the police to protect the country and the people, there is no need for auxiliary Balakayas and Balasenas to offer them protection. A thinly veiled reference to the Ravanaya Balakaya and the Mahason Balasena, which are at the center of investigations into the anti-Muslim violence, given their use of social media to spread their hate and publicize their violence. Video clips of the clergy rather than the laity, associated with those organizations, inciting people to mass murder no less, rests now on many servers, hard drives, sim cards and phones, making it virtually impossible to deny culpability.  The Venerable Mahanayake moreover clearly articulated his vision for the venerable Maha Sanga, by stating that if every temple guided the people of their devotee village on the correct path, the moral and social upliftment of the village would occur. The two ideas, namely that the Sanga should provide moral and spiritual guidance to the village community and that state and democratic processes and institutions are there for social and political objectives, taken together completely debunk any religious, spiritual or moral basis for the fascist campaign of political terror being engaged in by the “Balakayas and Balasenas” of Sri Lankan fascism.

Electoral gains by the Pohotuwa opened the space for new violence 

There is little doubt that the recent local level electoral gains of the Pohotuwa, opened the door for a fresh wave of anti-minority violence by the small fascist groups, drawing their inspiration and energy from the thinly veiled racism and ethno-religious nationalism, which are the hall mark of the tribal politics which the Rajapakse comeback project employs. It opens up the space and opportunity for the kind of ethno-religious violence we observed. The fascists groups, their predecessors and embryos were also nursed both covertly and overtly during the Rajapakse second term.

The Government has promised swift compensation to the victims of the violence, a Presidential commission or at least a committee to investigate the attacks and the Army to be deployed to rebuild homes and mosques which were destroyed. But the real loser from the events of the past several weeks, was post war reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Developing a new Sri Lanka, where we have a unifying identity which overlays our ethnic or religious identities and a state which protects all her citizens irrespective of caste, creed or class were the fundamentals which was seriously damaged these past two weeks. Rebuilding those is harder work and not solely the preserve of the political leadership, but is a responsibility, for all of us.