Countless examples can be drawn from world history to support the thesis that one of the necessary pre-conditions for the rise of extremism is the silence or indeed the silencing of moderates. There are also instances where moderates flirt with extremists in tirades against a particular enemy, usually an identity-based community, knowingly or unknowingly feeding the worst elements of their own community. Then, when the moderates fail to deliver the patently undeliverable promises embedded in communalist rhetoric, the hands of time slowly but surely move to generate what could be called ‘the hour of the extremists’.
Extremism cannot be wished away, but it can be denied. And there’s no instrument of denial that is as convenient as passing the buck to some communal ‘other’ when it comes to identity-based extremism. It’s also called finger-pointing (in any direction but that of the extremists who belong to one’s community).
This seems to be what’s happening with respect to the violence sourced to extremist elements in the Muslim community in the Eastern Province, Kattankudi in particular. Islamic extremism, wrongfully (and deliberately?) sanitized by the replacement with the word ‘radicalization’ has plagued Kattankudi for several years now. Swords and knives were known to have been used in a clash recently.
A group calling itself EMSL (Ex-Muslims of Sri Lanka) have openly blamed the Thawheed Jamaath for the violence. The tag ‘Ex-Muslims’ is confusing. On the face of it, they are no longer Muslims and therefore Muslims, extreme or otherwise, can legitimately question their right to pass judgment on things Islamic. However, a group calling itself ‘As-Sunnah Trust Sri Lanka’ has claimed that the violence was perpetrated by those with ties to the ISIS. In any event, Muslims in Kattankudi have come out in numbers demanding that the extremists leave them in peace.
The silence of mainstream Muslim political parties in all this is very disturbing. If Muslim moderates feel that looking the other way is an option in view of ‘community solidarity’ they need to review what looking askance in the face of extremism did to moderates in the Tamil community.
A recent example would be the case of the LTTE. The Tamil nationalist narrative (too) easily passes the blame or the buck to ‘intransigent Sinhalese’ for the escalation of inter-ethnic tensions into an all out and bloody conflict and thereby conveniently downplay or dismiss the role of Tamil nationalists in all this. Moderate Tamil nationalists, that is. The silence of the moderates quickly leads into many moderates being silenced (for good) and those remaining being turned into approvers or in the very least apologists.
The silence of moderates in other communities is also worrisome. The Sinhala ‘moderates’ or rather those in the Sinhala community often disavow identity for a community-less ‘Sri Lankan’ tag in the supposedly larger interest of inter-communal harmony and national reconciliation. They rant and rave against extremism and extremists from the majority community as a necessary act to ‘rise above petty communalism’. While one could applaud this, what is hard to understand is the silence when it comes to the extremism of other communities.
Perhaps they feel that raising a voice against other ‘communalisms’ and ‘extremisms’ somehow help strengthen Sinhala extremism by providing grist to the extremism-justification mill.
The hour of the extremists is nigh. What this means is that the hour of the moderates is coming to an end. Ironically, extending the political shelf lives of the moderates depend on their ability to affirm by word and deed their ‘moderation’, for this alone will delay the arrival of the extremists. Rest assured, once the clock starts ticking for the extremists, it stops ticking for the moderates.