Timely wake up call to save the country

2016-03-05 00:00:39

Every Sri Lankan, keen on the welfare of at least our future generations, should appreciate Dr. Ranga Kalanasooriya’s thought-provoking article in the Daily Mirror on February 19, 2016 on the need for Buddhist and Muslim harmony. 

Titled “An open letter to my dear Muslim brothers and sisters-Buddhist-Muslim relations could be warmer” The writer rightly pointed out that the main factors that fuel ethno-religious tension are  suspicion, lack of understanding and absence of direct engagement and both communities should do more to address those  issues”. 

Generally speaking even today there is hardly an issue between Buddhists and Muslims who lived in harmony for more than 1000 years until 1930s when educated Sinhalese from the south began their racist politics and turned this island paradise into a killing field.

Throughout the four and half century Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial rules this harmony prevailed. Muslims fought colonial powers, integrated well with Buddhists and shared the country’s prosperity and adversity. 

Even on the eve of independence though the Dominion Status Bill was detrimental to Muslims, yet they voted in favour and facilitated the country’s independence on February 4, 1948. In response, the then Opposition Leader S.W.R.D Bandaranaike assured that the Sinhalese would never forget this. What happened later was common knowledge.

After the Independence, both the UNP and the SLFP competed in their extremely dangerous vote catching strategy of promoting Sinhala interest side-lining helpless Muslims. 

Though this policy continued, yet the Muslims never failed in their responsibility.

For example in the 1980s, Eelam may have become   a reality had the Muslims in the North and East supported the Indian backed LTTE’s armed struggle for a separate State as during the early stage of the war Sri Lankan armed forces were ill equipped and ill trained.

As a result, the Muslims paid a heavy price and their misery continues to date.

They were massacred in mosques, the entire Muslim population in the North were flushed out from their homes with only an extra set of clothes and Rs. 150. They ended up in refugee camps where they still suffer abandoned by successive governments. In the east, Muslims lost their lands and livelihood and lived under LTTE barbarity for almost three decades.

In December 2004, tsunami waves wiped out almost one percent of the Muslim population. East was worst affected.  Yet, the Amparai GA even failed to visit them, leave alone helping.  Around four billion-dollar tsunami aid was given to the government and yet the Muslim tsunami victims are still

languishing in temporary sheds. What happened to the aid funds which in fact was blood money? Politicians and officials robbed the money and got away with the government’s blessings.

The Saudi government built 500 houses for Muslim tsunami victims. They were prevented from being distributed. Now they are in dilapidated state covered by shrubs. 

When the LTTE was defeated in May 2009, the Muslims, especially those from the North and East were happy hoping they could resume their normal lives.

However to their shock, the Rajapaksa regime unleashed an unprecedented violent anti- Muslim campaign which caught Muslims unaware. This shameful State backed carnage, suspected to have been financed by Israel through Norway, struck at the very root of the community’s political, religious, economical, cultural and social life and thus its very survival.  

The State machinery and saffron-clad mercenaries were fully exploited to drive terror into Muslims while mercenaries in the mainstream media were employed to poison the Sinhalese minds against Muslims. Thus the Buddhist-Muslim suspicion and misunderstanding.

The climax of this carnage was when The State-backed horrendous crimes were committed against Muslims at Aluthgama, Beruwala and Dharga Town under the watchful eyes of The STF. The MR regime should be held fully responsible for allowing global anti-Muslim war mongers to bring their war campaign to Sri Lanka and pit the Sinhalese against Muslims.

It was these Muslims,   described by mainstream local media as extremists, radicals, fundamentalists and what not -- words coined by the western media which remain integral part of the US-led war machine destroying Muslim countries and massacring Muslims all over.

The result is the current unfortunate suspicion between the two communities though no Muslim poses any threat to any Buddhist or Buddhism. This situation was aggravated by the irresponsible media and lack of communication between the two communities.

Muslims, living scattered all over the island and politically disorganized, expected their political and religious leaderships to take the initiatives to clear the misunderstanding. Unfortunately, by and large; Muslim politicians have become sell-outs and abandoned the community for positions and perks. Equally disastrous is the Muslim religious body, the All Ceylon Jamiathula Ulema, ACJU   which has miserably failed to guide the community to ensure that age-old ties with the majority community are preserved. Issues such as suspicion, lack of understanding and absence of direct engagement as pointed out posed by Dr. Kalanasooriya and other issues were ignored or not properly handled by the ACJU. 

 As a result, judging from the serious allegations in the social media, the ACJU and its leadership have lost the confidence of major section of the community. This is the reason why there have been calls on the need for   complete overhauling of ACJU   to suit the time.

Betrayed by politicians and ACJU, the Muslim civil society has started taking numerous initiatives to re-establish the lost ties with the Buddhists. This is a welcome sign.

It is also time that the mainstream Buddhists, who genuinely follow Buddha’s Buddhism   to free themselves from racist elements and help build a society where all could live in harmony. 

This is essential in view of the reality that this is a multi-religious, multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-cultural society where all need to understand each other and move ahead avoiding past mistakes.
There is hope, as numerous initiatives were undertaken from Buddhists too. 

For example, an activist and former dignified journalist Jayatilleke de Silva and a group of Sinhala professionals organized a forum of the three major communities at the Mahaweli Centre in Colombo recently on how to bring better understanding among all.   

Such moves on the part of   Buddhists and Muslims alike should continue to save the country. Let us hope and pray at least future generations live in peace and harmony.

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