- Should try to get rid of insular behaviour
- It is better if we voluntarily try and adjust in order to maintain some dignified presence with everybody
- Assumption about radicalism among Muslims is bound to get credence
- We are still in disbelief that such animals could have been among us
Minister of City Planning, Water Supply and Higher Education Rauff Hakeem speaks about the impact of Easter Sunday’s bomb attacks. Mr Hakeem who is also the leader of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) says in the interview with the that the Muslim community should have an introspective look at the issues at hand.
He says the newly emerged terrorism can be wiped out through united, concerted efforts. Excerpts:
QWhat are your comments on the incidents and their impact on communal harmony?
Some assumption about radicalism among the Muslims is bound to get credence by this outrageous, heinous, unfathomable, destructive behaviour. All of us are outraged. We are still in disbelief that such animals could have been among us. They committed such a senseless crime. Muslims have always been worried about the unwarranted suspicion that has been cast on them, on and off, by certain people. We are all now worried that this will affect us. Their misplaced suspicion will gain some credence. Even some well-intentioned non-Muslims have begun to look at the community with some suspicion. This is very, very unfortunate. But, I am sure all of us can overcome this problem by united, focused attention on any sign of radicalization.
It is very important for the Muslim community to engage in very serious introspection and get rid of insular behaviour among some of us.
QMegapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka called for de-radicalization of Muslims. Do you agree with it?
Minister Champika had a particular position on this issue from the very inception. What is important to understand is that this radicalization has come as a result of some demented individuals trying to contort Islamic teachings. As a matter of fact, the community, for the last several years, has been engaged in very serious introspection about all these issues. We have been suffering from this enough. We have been voluntarily involved in exposing some, who seemed to be toeing even a minor deviation from the moderate path. We have always wanted the community to be watchful. We have brought it to the notice of the law enforcement authorities. When it comes to complacency, everybody is guilty.
We can root out this problem forever if we make a united effort. You cannot find even a single person who can speak in support of these crazy, deranged people.
QYou said you raised this question within the community. Do you feel that you were let down by your own community by their not listening to you?
When criticism comes from outside, you tend to assume that there is unreasonable targeting. Then, the actual reasoning behind some of our religious practices is misunderstood. Some are actually not religious but cultural. Unfortunately, of late, some alien cultural practices have been adopted as strict religious doctrine.
When you live in a multi-ethnic environment, we have to be mindful of what others think about us. We don’t have to be apologetic culturally. Islam accords women a lot of dignity. This is perceived by others as if we are chauvinistic, and impose certain control. It is a free choice for them.
My grandmother and my mother used to dress in a different manner. Over a period of time, certain alien practices have been adopted since they are also in line with cultural features. It is a matter of choice. Nobody imposes this on them for convenience. They have chosen it. Nobody should try to impose ideas on the community. We must engage in very serious introspection. We have to do it voluntarily. There is no compulsion to be dressed in a particular way as long as you follow the basic tenets. Some of them have taken it to the extreme level, unfortunately. Suspicions and fear can harm many people. It is better if we voluntarily try and adjust in order to maintain some dignified presence with everybody.
QWhen the question of radicalization among Muslims, particularly in the eastern province, was raised either in Parliament or outside, the government did not respond seriously. What do you think of it?
No government wants to impose restrictions when certain things are done in the name of religion. They will always be very circumspect, not wanting to interfere in freedom. The UN has even held that Burka ban in France is a Human Rights violation. It is a matter of choice for Muslim women. The fact is that the French Government thought otherwise. There is a worldwide phenomenon called Islamophobia. One feeds on the other. Fear is a funny thing. I don’t say that you must compromise your religious teaching merely because others want it. We must also be flexible enough to look at the way you are perceived from outside. We should try and explain things wherever possible to make slight adjustments.
Moderates are the majority. The extreme fringe is resistant to the imposed change. We cannot deny the fact that over a period of time our lifestyle issues have had some kind of new phenomenon creeping in.
After all, the intelligence community of Sri Lanka comprises eminent officers from the Muslim community. The Muslim community gave some of the best intelligence officers. Most of them sacrificed their lives. That should not be forgotten. Our commitment to the nation is not less than that of others. ISIS has managed to create this cell, unfortunately
QWhatever you said, the Muslim organizations used to deny the existence of radical elements whenever this question was raised in the public domain. Only the community has better potential to identify such elements. Why did the community fail or deny?
There was no intention to live in a state of denial. Knowingly living in a state of denial cannot be attributed to anybody. The fact remains that we have now been jolted into outrageous disbelief. We are in total disbelief that such a radicalized, inhuman bunch of people could have used the name of religion to commit heinous crimes. These demented people had been handpicked and brainwashed. I am certain that they lack political ideology. They cannot find even a single person supporting them. Without an iota of support, they cannot survive in a vacuum. ISIS has also not given the reason for it.
QActually, radicalization to the extent of committing suicide bomb attacks cannot happen overnight. They have braced for it for a long time. There had been military training provided at different locations. In that sense, do you see any failure on the part of the intelligence authorities to trace it?
I am hearing for the first time that there have been local training camps. That is news to me. If that is the case, it is a colossal failure. There is no doubt about it.
QDo you blame the government for weakening the intelligence authorities?
The combined force of intelligence personnel exceeded 500 persons at one point. Among them, there could have been a few bad eggs. They could have used their authority and power. The emergency power cannot be used disproportionately. If there are no checks and balances within the intelligence authorities, some can overstep the line. Then, they can do some parochial things. After all, the intelligence community of Sri Lanka comprises eminent officers from the Muslim community. The Muslim community gave some of the best intelligence officers. Most of them sacrificed their lives. That should not be forgotten. Our commitment to the nation is not less than that of others. ISIS has managed to create this cell, unfortunately. Of course, we have to prevent reprisal attacks. Muslims are quite vulnerable now. They live in absolute fear. We are thankful that the Christian community and Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith have been magnanimous in handling this issue. They refused to attribute it to the entire community. The community has to be at a continuous vigil.
When you live in a multi-ethnic environment, we have to be mindful of what others think about us. We don’t have to be apologetic culturally. Islam accords women a lot of dignity. This is perceived by others as if we are chauvinistic, and impose certain control. It is a free choice for them
QWhen dealing with the LTTE terrorism, the Tamil community had to undergo some difficulties. They were subjected to constant search operations and all. Do you fear that the same would happen to the Muslim community now?
A certain amount of inhibition is there. We should not allow such fear to inhibit our daily life. There is also an equal amount of responsibility that lies with the security authorities to do it in a responsible manner. You must use the emergency powers proportionately. That is a necessity to do investigations.
QThere are allegations that funds are sent by some Islamic countries to these radical elements. What is your view?
Foreign funding is available not only for Muslims but also for other religions. Every religious community gets funding. The problem is whether such funds are channelled for radical ideology. That is what is important to see. Every country has come under a microscope today. There are international conventions and legislation dealing with terrorist financing. There is proper oversight by banking networks. We cannot blindly accuse other countries. Charitable organizations also face imposed control.
I don’t say that you must compromise your religious teaching merely because others want it. We must also be flexible enough to look at the way you are perceived from outside. We should try and explain things whenever possible to make slight adjustments