- Only judiciary can ascertain real culprits; PSC findings may come in handy
- Preparation for presidential poll may hinder efforts to mete out justice to victims
- Anti-Muslim racism can be the main trump card for certain political parties in the opposition
Although exactly two months have lapsed since the suicide attacks on Christians by the National Tawheed Jamaat (NTJ) terrorists, their impact is still felt in every sphere of the society. The media is hardly in a position to discuss anything devoid of it. In fact, some media outlets are still living totally on it.
The terror attacks on innocent people on April 21 have also deepened the conflict between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and as a result of it, the President had refused to convene the Cabinet meeting last week. In that sense, he must be the first and only State leader in the world to strike work so far.
Like in trade union action, he refused to hold the weekly meetings of the board of ministers, demanding the annulment of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday attacks on three Christian churches in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa and three five-star hotels, which killed more than 250 people and injured at least 400 others.
The President and the loyalists of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa – the joint opposition (JO) and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) – argue that State intelligence officials and the intelligence apparatus are being exposed to the enemies of national security by summoning intelligence officials before the PSC.
Dismissing this contention, the government led by the Prime Minister is of the view that only well-known intelligence officials are summoned before the PSC and they know their limitations.
"The terror attacks on innocent people on April 21 have deepened the conflict between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and as a result of it, the President had refused to convene the Cabinet meeting last week "
In fact, the argument of summoning top intelligence officials will jeopardise the lives of their colleagues and the intelligence machinery is childish as top officials of the FBI and CIA in America are being summoned before the committees of the Congress. Besides, the chairman or presiding member of the PSC informs at the outset of testimonies of the witnesses to refrain from divulging sensitive information before the committee.
This is the first time a PSC is open to the media. The decision to invite the media to cover the PSC was taken at the instance of the UNP leadership. President Sirisena seems to suspect that the idea to probe the Easter attacks by a PSC and to open it to the media was mooted by the UNP with the ulterior motive of tarnishing his image, which cannot be totally denied. Whether it was the motive of the government or not, in reality, it happened during the evidence given by IGP Pujith Jayasundera who is now on compulsory leave over the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks and former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando who resigned from the post over the same issue in the wake of Mr.Jayasundera being taken to task.
Their allegations levelled against the President are extremely serious. But the silence on the part of the main opposition – the JO and the SLPP – over those allegations is deafening.
The PSC was meant for the investigation into the Easter Sunday attacks. Yet, when taking into account the line of questioning of witnesses by the committee members, one would wonder whether it has later decided to delve into some other issues that had been in the public domain, on account of that carnage, such as the Arabisation trend among some Muslims.
Needless to say embracement of elements of the Arab culture by some Muslims in Sri Lanka such as the face veils (Burqa and Niqab), Jubba worn by men, Abaya and Jilbab worn by women, distances all Muslims in the country from other communities.
Hence, there is a common agreement among the majority of Muslims in the country that it is against national integration and thus unnecessary. Nevertheless, it was hardly related to the terrorist attack.
M.L.A.M. Hizbullah, who was forced to resign from the post of Eastern Province Governor on June 3 in the face of a threat against the entire Muslim community owing to the fast by Ven. Athureliya Rathana Thera and the ultimatum by Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera, was questioned about inclusion of Arabic language in signboards and planting date palms in his hometown, Kattankudy.
The answers Hizbullah had provided were deemed somewhat ridiculous and probably not acceptable by the committee members.
In spite of it not being a problem when date palm trees or Arabic signboards in a Muslim area is taken isolated, they give a wrong picture in an environment where there is a trend of Arabisation among Muslims and the region concerned has been a hotbed of Islamic activity as well as extremism. Yet, the relevance of those issues to the Easter Sunday attacks is not clear.
"The media has totally diverted the attention of the authorities and the general public from those culprits and created a Muslim bogey. Now the entire Muslim community is being hounded"
Secretary to the Public Administration Ministry, J.J. Ratnasiri was questioned over a circular on the dress code for employees of public institutions. Unless the committee had decided to look into the larger issue of national integration, it is difficult to comprehend the validity of these issues to the probe.
Yet, the PSC proceeding has already thrown some light on the evolution of the deadly ideology of the NTJ terrorist outfit. NTJ leader Zahran Hashim had been a supporter of President Maithripala at the 2015 election when Muslims across the country had distanced themselves en masse from former President Mahinda Rajapaksa during whose tenure a three-year anti-Muslim hate campaign prevailed.
It is unfair by the President to use this fact to place him in bad light, as Zahran was not a terrorist by birth. He had then been an extremist but seems to have not been a terrorist. He seems to have started to advocate killing of members of other religious communities after December 2016.
Nonetheless, it is ultimately only a judicial process that could and would find out the real culprits who failed to prevent the disaster when the authorities had received specific details of the attacks beforehand. The PSC findings might be helpful in it. Taking the culprits to task would be the only and best justice that can be meted out to the victims of the Easter Sunday carnage. But the media has totally diverted the attention of the authorities and the general public from those culprits and created a Muslim bogey. Now the entire Muslim community is being hounded.
The preparation for the forthcoming presidential election too could hinder any efforts to mete out justice to the victims.
It might further politicise the issue and anti-Muslim racism could be the main trump card for certain political parties in the opposition, a situation where all kinds of unholy alliances among political parties would emerge, eclipsing investigations into the terrorist attacks.