Sri Lanka’s security forces are doing a commendable job, cracking down on extremist elements to bring about normalcy. - AFP
It goes without saying that there is an urgent and existential need to eradicate terrorism in whatever form it exists. By and large, the security forces are doing a commendable job, arresting suspects from various parts of the country to ensure that the terror cells linked to the Easter Sunday attacks are completely wiped out.
Commenting on the security situation, government leaders have said that the new terror war the country is facing is different from the 30-year separatist terror campaign of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE). They acknowledged that the new terrorism threat, with a global reach and an Islamic label, needs to be dealt with cautiously, carefully and differently.
It is not clear whether the government and the security authorities have adopted a strategy taking into consideration the sensitivity involved -- the claims about international agendas and the warnings that the measures being taken should not lead to more radicalisation of the youth or create more terrorists.
This is where the government needs a vision. The situation demands that the government should rise to the occasion and take full charge of the security operation. The people yearn for a strong government, as they believe that a weak government’s writ lacks the authority or the command of enforcement.
Given the antagonism between the President and the Prime Minister, the people expect, at least on security matters, that they should speak with one voice. With the president pulling in one direction and the prime minister in another direction, one wonders whether the armed forces and the Police are getting the right guidance, while the ensuing confusion has only given a freehand to racist elements to promote their ugly agendas.
"The situation demands that the government should rise to the occasion and take full charge of the security operation"
As the French Statesman Georges Clemenceau said ‘war is too important a matter to be left to the military’, the government needs to guide the security forces as they set about the task of eliminating the threat of terrorism. This, the government must do, while being alert to the danger that the measures it takes should not lead to further radicalisation of misguided Muslims.
Thankfully, the military top brass seem to be aware of this danger and are treading the course carefully, not to give room for more Zaharans to surface.
But this cannot be said of the government. Take for instance, the Presidential pardon granted to the Bodu Bala Sena Secretary, the Ven. Gnanasara Thera. It came at a time when the country was fast hurtling towards the abyss of racism’s hell. Either the president does not understand the gravity of the situation being made worse, with each day passing, by racist forces, or he deliberately wants to aggravate the situation to achieve his political goals.
The government action in stemming the rising racism is woefully wanting. It watches helplessly, as certain sections of the media, probably in cahoots with the main opposition elements, spew out venomous racism with their coverage of the security situation in a deliberate attempt to build anti-Muslim hatred in the Sinhalese minds and divide the people of this country along religious or ethnic lines. With little or no countermeasures coming from the government to arrest this dangerous trend where fake news is repeated with such Goebellesian frequency as to give them more than a veneer of authenticity, Sri Lanka’s Muslims have become collective target of hate crime. Is the government waiting till the hate campaign grows into a critical mass and explodes in a 1983-like pogrom?
"Educated and jobless and in the prime of their lives, these youths could become vulnerable to terrorist poachers"
Then take the controversy created by the irresponsible news coverage on the arrest of a Muslim gynaecologist. Without realising that what they are practising is not journalism but media terrorism that has killed the industry’s ethics, the so-called pro-opposition media outlets give undue air time and space for rabblerousing politicians and supremacist monks, to condemn and convict the doctor in what is seen as a trial by the media. What they are trying to harp on their viewers and readers is that Muslims, on the one hand, breed like rabbits and, on the other, they implement a secret plan to sterilize Sinhala women so that they could make this country a Muslim majority nation in decades to come. The reportage is triggering a feticidal war.
What is worrying is that, with the type of ugly journalism they practise, even those who, only a little over a month ago, had liberal views on race relations, have become suspicious of Muslims. Probably the so-called media terrorism is aimed at bringing the Joint Opposition back to power on the strength of Sinhala votes alone. But they do not realise the harm they are doing to the country by dividing the people.
If immediate action is not taken to expose the racism-breeding media, what guarantees can government leaders give that the country we all love would not be dragged into another civil war? Mind you, big powers, having their eyes fixed on Sri Lanka, are waiting for an excuse to send in their militaries under the cover of the responsibility-to-protect principle or some other pretext. We cannot overlook the reality that this country has already become embroiled in big power politics, with China’s large foothold in the south and in Colombo being a security concern to other big powers.
"Either the president does not understand the gravity of the situation being made worse, with each day passing, by racist forces, or he deliberately wants to aggravate the situation to achieve his political goals"
This column, last week highlighted that the global Islamophobia industry, backed by the war lobby, neoconservatives and the Zionists, has an agenda for Sri Lanka, too. We raised the question whether the racist elements, in cahoots with international Islamophobes, were working overtime to create more terrorists for ISIS, a creation of some powerful countries.
We need to also raise the question whether the government has worked out a plan to rehabilitate those who are in custody and those who may be taken in on suspicion in the future. The fear is that the current Islamophobia that is being allowed to grow unchecked like a secondary-stage cancer due to government inaction has its toll on the Muslim community. A clear victim is a Muslim woman who wore a kaftan with a picture of a ship’s steering wheel. She has been taken into custody and remanded. The Attorney General’s Department’s lack of intervention in this case is also questionable.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Muslim youths have lost their jobs. In several private companies which are struggling to cope with the current situation, Muslims are the first to be retrenched. Then there is a Boycott-Muslim-shops campaign. A popular restaurant owned by a Muslim had a work force of 60 in one of its outlets. Now it operates with 25 employees. Muslim tuk-tuk drivers complain of some customers refusing to get in because they are Muslims.
Unemployed Muslim youths fear that they will not be hired by private companies in the future. Educated and jobless and in the prime of their lives, these youths could become vulnerable to terrorist poachers. Some may be forced into criminal activities.
Government leaders, if they are true statesmen, need to step up measures to eliminate racism and avert a situation where jobless Muslims youths could be drawn into criminalisation or terrorism.