Ethno-Religious Extremism Requires A Dual Response

10 February 2013 06:30 pm - 5     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Text Of Presentation Delivered At Seminar Titled Dilemmas Of Diversity, Post-War Identity And Nation Building Convened By The Liberal Party Of Sri Lanka

- By Salma Yusuf

I want to begin by stating the obvious, mainly because the obvious is sometimes hardest to see, least acknowledged and easiest to overlook. The rise in ethno-religious extremism in general and the recent instances of anti-Muslim propaganda in particular is a reflection of the breakdown in trust between two communities that have lived together in amity for over thousand years. The growing insecurity is primarily due to misconceptions and misunderstanding of the other, and must be addressed with urgency.

The relationship between the Sinhala-Buddhist and Muslim communities must be put in perspective: Muslims from Arab lands arrived in Sri Lanka not as invaders but as traders. In fact, they did not live in isolated communities but rather integrated into mainstream Sri Lankan society by marrying local women. The Muslim community historically developed close and trusted relationships with the Sinhala kings of the time. The Muslim communities fought in the Sri Lankan army against foreign invaders in true patriotic style and as a result were also casualties and victims in such encounters.

The Sinhala kings in turn were grateful for the genuine support and reciprocated by granting the Muslims refuge against specific targets, both foreign and local. Such was the strength of the intimate relationships shared.



The patriotism was also seen in the active contributions made by the Muslims in the country’s struggle for freedom and independence and was recognized by respected Sri Lankan leaders such as SWRD Bandaranaike. Critical to mention is the faith and confidence reposed by Sinhala-Buddhist voters in Muslim politicians over the years.

Two noteworthy examples among many others: M.H.Mohamed was elected from a predominantly Sinhala-Buddhist electorate in Borella; M.L.M. Aboosally was elected from the near hundred percent Sinhala-Buddhist electorate of Balangoda even defeating the brother of the incumbent Prime Minister.
Most importantly;the Sinhala-Buddhist and Muslim communities have and continue to this day enjoyed rich friendships at a personal level, helping each other in good times and bad times. These historical realities must be highlighted and brought to the fore in current turbulent times.

Where concerns do exist between communities they must be addressed but through civil dialogue and discussion. Engagement is the key as it will help to clear misconceptions and misunderstanding. If the concerns are justified, appropriate measures and action must be taken promptly.
That said, concerns must not be blown out of proportion and must be considered natural and inevitable in multicultural societies seeking to live united in diversity. Conversely, tensions must not be neglected or overlooked as they can descend into spirals of violence and extremism which can have disastrous consequences, and we as Sri Lankans know this only too well having experienced a three-decade conflict that ravaged our country.

" Two noteworthy examples among many others: M.H.Mohamed was elected from a predominantly Sinhala-Buddhist electorate in Borella; M.L.M. Aboosally was elected from the near hundred percent Sinhala-Buddhist electorate of Balangoda even defeating the brother of the incumbent Prime Minister "

In terms of responses and dealing with the situation at hand, a two-pronged approach should be considered. The first must be an “Accident and Emergency” type response which deals with the immediate issue at hand. A prompt and immediate response and intervention even by the Government itself might become necessary as the situation demands. In the current context, an example of such an immediate dispute that needs to be addressed urgently is that concerning the issuance of Halal-certification for market produce.

Parallel to this immediate response mechanism which needs to be activated for symptomatic resolution of disputes, is a strategy for the medium to long-term, which is aimed at rebuilding confidence between the ethnic and religious communities in the country. This becomes critical as it will determine all efforts at nation building and reconciliation, while having a bearing on issues of social justice, national stability and national security.

The first aspect for such a long-term strategy would be to ensure that all institutions responsible for maintaining the rule of law are protected and improved. The rule of law must prevail at all times. This will prevent detractors from taking the law into their own hands and hijacking the universal values of fairness, justice and multiculturalism to further narrow agendas. The rule of law must exist to ensure that protests or rallies do not descend into cycles of violence and provocation.
The second aspect is the need for all public institutions and personnel to be sensitized to deal with situations of conflict between ethno-religious communities. Of particular importance is the need to sensitize the police service to act in an independent manner and aware of the sensitivities that arise in such situations. Given that a citizen’s first point of contact with the state is most often the police service, it is critical for citizens to see and feel a sense of fairness and justice in the actions of the police as it will either increase or decrease the confidence in the state of the communities living in the country while also affecting social contract. The sensitization must extend to the entire public service and even cover private sectors and academic communities; it must include a raising of awareness of the concerns and insecurities of all communities living in the country. This in turn could inform the attitude of institutions and persons who encounter such sensitive situations in their discharge of daily duties at work.

A third aspect is the need for immediate strengthening of laws against racial and religious hate speech and introduction of new laws as necessary to criminalize acts of violence directed against any community in the country.

Fourth, the role of the media is also critical in contributing to national harmony and co-existence. The media must refrain from engaging in indirect stereotyping of ethno-religious communities. The media must actively highlight stories of communal harmony both historic and current.Media blackouts on incidents and issues of ethno-religious tensions must be strongly discouraged.

salmayusuf@gmail.com
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  Comments - 5

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  • Sapumal Bandara Monday, 11 February 2013 04:47 AM

    GIVE AND TAKE IS THE BEST POLICY. MAY I SUGGEST THAT THE HOLY QUARAN BE TRANSLATED OFFICIALLY AND MADE AVAILABLE ON THE SL GOVT WEB SITE AS THEIR SEEMS TO BE MANY MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE HOLY QUARAN AMONGST THE SINHALESE BUDDHISTS AND ALSO THE OTHER RELIGIOUS AND ETHNIC SECTIONS OF THE SRI LANKAN SOCIETY.

    desreali Monday, 11 February 2013 06:31 AM

    Translate the Quran and find out what the words means?

    desreali Monday, 11 February 2013 07:07 AM

    Translate the word Jihad and the SL GOVT website will explode with rage.

    desreali Monday, 11 February 2013 07:11 AM

    Salma Yusuf can you provide a geneology of a SL muslim of Arab ansestary.If you cannot provide the source dont mislead or twist the truth around for convience.

    Ash Monday, 11 February 2013 05:23 PM

    Sinhalaya modaya Kewum Kanna yodhaya...


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