The recent fire that broke out at the Fashion Bug store in Pepiliyana has given rise to new questions. For anyone who has been following the ‘post war Sinhala Buddhist’ phenomenon, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Although conclusions are yet to be reached, and investigations into the cause of the fire are yet to be conducted -- the voice of the company speaking to the media that night was telling. “We have suffered in the past, there is reason to believe that there was foul play. There was nothing to indicate an electric short”, was what he said.
The last time the store caught fire in May 2013, there was no suspicion. It came under attack. The catalyst that was used to further the narrative of course was a personal dispute. A narrative the media and the government played on. I remember visiting the site in order to report the incident. Upon inquiry, the Sinhalese neighbours who lived around the area, kept telling me how the crowd had gathered at the Temple nearby. Within that while the mob had organized themselves and started walking towards the store, the Temple bell (Gantaraya) was rung. It was rung initially to gather the crowd there too. These were all edited out of the narrative. Truth sometimes is selective. Criminal proceedings were not instituted, and the owner of the store was pressurized to come to a settlement, which he did. He had no option but had to, he was to recall later.
When the anti-Muslim riots broke out in mid June 2014, the then government and the media played the same role. The selective truth narrator. To this day, not a single person has been held responsible for riots which gutted an entire village in flames. No one had been held responsible for the torching of the ‘No Limit’ (garment departmental) store in Panadura. There were 5 deaths. Every source, including the officers of the Special Task Force (STF) who were on duty that evening, when the rally was conducted told me how the riots were in fact ‘organized’. It was no sudden reaction as was made to believe. The intelligence officers on the ground were aware of the plan. The foot soldiers of the STF had also joined the mob and played an integral part of the ensuing carnage. None of them made it to the official narration. The media played dumb. The reason given -- the assault of a Buddhist monk in the town -- was a lie. The government knew it was. It never happened. The Minister of External Affairs G.L Peiris told me that it was a lie they played on. So did the Attorney General at that time. The intelligence officers on the ground and the Police knew no such ‘assault’ took place. But a narrative was fed and was eagerly bought too. The Post War Sinhala Buddhists believed it. Rejoiced in it and blamed the attacked. The media, oh well, how could we forget the role it played! Malinda Senevirathne remained the only editor who was willing to publish the truth, which he did. But it fell on deaf ears.
But that wasn’t the start of the events. Exactly a month earlier, in May 2014, a Muslim-owned store in Aluthgama was set ablaze by mobs. Again, a beautiful narrative was sold which the post war Sinhala Buddhists bought. The media shunned the story, but when social media took over, we were told how a worker at the store was caught attempting to sexually abuse a child. Another utter lie! It never happened. It didn’t occur to the post-war Sinhala Buddhists, that even if it did happen, torching had to be condemned. The perpetrators had to be brought to book. None was. There was no ‘selectivity’ here though. The media pretended it never happened. Had the real facts been put out of this incident, we may have averted the full blown riot a month late.
Following the end of the war in 2009, a triumphalist, bigoted, racist and insecure section of the community were emboldened. A phenomenon that I identify as the “Post war Sinhala Buddhist”. This is by no means a brush with which all peace loving, Sinhala Buddhist nationalists should be painted. Nor are all Sinhala Buddhists, nationalist or otherwise, lumped into this genre. In fact, it was the Sinhalese Buddhist who were at the helm of denouncing the hate that was spewed. But there exists a rising tide among the Sinhala Buddhist youth mainly, active on social media, who justify the violence with the warped narrative. The selective ‘truth telling’ is what they believe. They, not only believe it, they justify the reactions too! The justifications also now stretch beyond a ‘small group’.
Take for example the recent arrest of the head of a fringe fundamentalist movement -- The Sri Lanka Thawheed Jamath (SLTJ). A day before his arrest, another hate-driven social media poster boy-- a ‘post war Sinhala Buddhist’ was arrested. If anyone cares to follow the nature of the hate spewed by him, it would either shock or create awe. The reaction would be extreme, depending on the ideological spectrum with which it was viewed. “ We must all get together and kill them. Just finish the ‘Thambiyo’ off”, is just one part of one of his many speeches. But selective truth telling becomes the order of the day. The SLTJ never had uttered a single word that even remotely compares to what was said. In fact, the poster boy was not reacting to the SLTJ at all. The protest of the SLTJ regarding the Muslim marriage and divorce Act that came much after the poster boy said among many other things “We have the stuff, we will eat the throats of the Muslims” (apigaawa badu thiyenawa, ugurudanda kaala marenne). But the Post war Sinhala Buddhist, doesn’t understand such hypocrisy. Instead they latch on to this being a reaction to the rising ‘fundamentalism’. It wasn’t. There was no “Muslim anthawaadiya” (Muslim extremism) in his rhetoric. It was directed at all Muslims. In fact, the ‘Muslim anthawaadiya’ is now the justification for anything and everything. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera was also quick to jump into the limelight following the arrest of the poster boy. “about 100 or 200 of our people will die, but let’s start from Maligawatte and finish them off”. He is on record saying this, and in the same vein calls for the arrest of the SLTJ. He in fact gives an ultimatum.
Make no mistake, Muslim fundamentalism has crept into Sri Lankan society. It is an issue that must be addressed. But there is no Muslim fundamentalism that could be remotely compared to the systemic hate either directed or perceived by the Post War Sinhala Buddhist. The fact that it is all a ‘reaction’ is a lie. A lie propounded by the selective truth teller and understood by the bigoted justifier. A justification to attack an entire community. Muslim fundamentalism in Sri Lanka has got nothing to do with the take over of the State or the annihilation of the Sinhala Buddhist. It has got to do with literal interpretations of a text.
"Make no mistake, Muslim fundamentalism has crept into
Sri Lankan society. It is an issue that must be addressed."
These interpretations have got to do with finding individual salvation, not materialistic possession. These are warped interpretations, true, but they aren’t directed at the world: wearing a Nikhab doesn’t indicate the desire to kill Sinhalese or take over land. If there are individuals who believe in a creator of the universe -- and such creator -- mind you the creator of Galaxies, the stars the sun and the planet earth, the trees, their leaves and the ocean, and that same creator is actually concerned about the day-to-day affairs of a few people and insists on a Law which has no place in modern society, that is delusional thinking. The delusion has to be fought ideologically, yes! But the Post War Sinhala Buddhist isn’t altruistic. The garb is ‘Fundamentalism’ and the attack is on all Muslims as detailed.
Throughout the last 7 years, the Muslims have been systemically targeted. Each time a different narrative is put forth. First it was the Halal issue. Again a lie. There were no “billions” (or even millions) gained from the certification process. No money was directed to the mosques, nor were the finances used for anything but the certification process and charity. Second came the issue of “Wilpattu”. The post war Sinhala Buddhist latched on to it, and hammered an entire community again. There was no reason for that. But this issue was a good cover- ‘protecting the environment’ always is.
Media reports pre-1983 would indicate such selective truth telling too. We know what ensued. The pre-1957 riots justifications may draw parallels, with today’s selective truth telling. I wouldn’t know. But suspect, I can. We could continue to be selective truth tellers, and selective truth seekers or we could take on hate in any form and condemn it. We could continue to use the selective justifications, based on lies and fabrication, or we could stop justifying any kind of hate. We could stop the call to kill and burn Muslims, or justify such actions, like we have in the past. The decisions would define the path this country could take in the not-so-distant future.