- Ven. Gnanasara raised prospect of fresh communal backlash
- GoSL should do more, to protect Muslims from revenge attacks
- Tamils as a community lost their once esteemed place
It does not take a political scientist to feel that the mass resignation of Muslim Ministers is in bad faith. More so when they took place barely six weeks after Islamic terrorists unleashed a serial carnage, killing over 250 Easter worshippers and tourists and injuring many hundreds more.
Worse still they resigned en masse in an awkward defence of two Muslim governors and a Minister who were accused of being in cahoots with extremists. The collusion of some of top Muslim politicians in Wahhabization and Arabization of local Muslims were alleged for long and overlooked for political convenience. There were also fresh allegations over the business relations between Minister Rishad Bathiudeen and his brother with the family of twin suicide bombers in Dematagoda - and a subsequent phone call made by the Minister to the commander of the Army over an arrested suspect. The Batticaloa campus dubbed a ‘Shari’a university’ partly owned by M.L.A.M. Hizbullah is now under scrutiny over illegally receiving 24 million USD from a Qatari foundation.
Some quarters of Buddhist monks, some of course tainted by strong ultra-nationalist affiliations, demanded the resignation of three Muslim politicians, ex-governors Azath Sally, Hizbullah and Bathiudeen.
A death fast launched by Ven. Athuraliya Rathana MP drew support from more than the traditional Sinhalese Buddhist audience; he was visited by Archbishop Cardinal Malcom Ranjith. Shops were closed in majority Catholic areas. Another ultimatum issued by Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara raised the prospect of a fresh communal backlash. The two governors were persuaded to resign just after the ultimatum lapsed. Hours later all the Muslim Cabinet, non Cabinet and deputy Ministers resigned, along with Minister Bathiudeen. The basic legal principle is that a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Borrowing from that, it was argued that calls for the resignation of Muslim Ministers and governors without an investigation were in bad faith and that they smacked of racism.
That is hogwash. The same folks, NGO captains, social media warriors and a few everyday Joes who think parroting the same garbage makes them posh, did not come up with that excuse when Ravi Karunanayake who was accused of an equally egregious abuse of his ministerial position and his complicity in the bond scam (for both of which, he has not yet been officially tried) was asked to resign.
"The Batticaloa campus dubbed a ‘Shari’a university’ partly owned by M.L.A.M. Hizbullah is now under scrutiny over illegally receiving 24 million USD from a Qatari foundation"
That was a fair call then, and Ravi K, equally thick skinned, resigned only after much persuasion. Whether he was a crook is for the Courts to decide, so is whether the three Muslim politicos were enablers of Wahhabi or Salafi extremism. Allegations do not erode the presumption of their innocence until proven guilty.
The fasting monk did not demand that the Muslim politicians under scrutiny be locked up without a trial in the Mao’s style (or that of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or Iran). Instead, he demanded that they resign for the obvious fact that those allegations themselves were a big enough stain on the integrity of public office they held.
(The erosion of public trust in the public office is not mitigated, simply because the accused politicians are of ethnic minority origin or Ranil Wickremesinghe, the embattled prime minister has reappointed Ravi K, one of his only true loyalists, to a Cabinet post within months after his resignation).
On the other hand, it was stone- faced refusal by the three politicians, and the vacillation of their appointing authority , the buck stops at the president, that led the Sinhala nationalist Right to take to the streets. Their tactics may not be healthy for a pluralistic democracy, but, their demand was reasonable. Elsewhere in norm binding political systems, holders of public office have habitually resigned when their integrity was challenged.
There is another logic for mass resignations. They smack of a calculated gesture to shift the blame. It also distracts the Muslim community from a much needed introspection over the Wahhabi radicalization of the community. The radicalization and Arabization in the name of ‘true Islam’ were embraced and facilitated by most Muslim politicians and community elders. The drivers and facilitators of Wahabization occupied the top echelons, staring from All Ceylon Jamayathul Ulama(ACJU), the top most Muslim theologians, who have periodically issued Fatwa’s promoting Wahabism and decrying traditional Sufi practices. As way back in 2009, when a few really bothered about Islamic fundamentalists, ACJU issued a fatwa instructing women to wear Burka.
More recently, the same group campaigned against the reforms in Muslim marriage and divorce law and at one time, they also demanded the legalizing of female genital mutilation. None of the Muslim parliamentarians spoke out against any of that. They were enablers of Wahabism by commission or electorally calculated omission. Communal backlash and collective demonization of Muslims after the Easter Sunday mayhem is deplorable and should be avoided at all cost. Still, that reaction is predicable and not unique to Sri Lanka. From Gujarat to 9/11, terrorist attacks have triggered a backlash on Muslims. In New York, even Sikhs wearing turban were mistaken for Muslims and targeted.
The government in Colombo should do more, to protect Muslims from revenge attacks and to confront rising Islamophobia. It should act proactively when the danger looms. But, this government is spectacularly weak and is torn apart by internal bickering. Its incompetency is not racism. Not that the Muslim MPs know that. They were part of this government all too long. Their playing victim card is intended for the foreign audience, mostly those of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation(OIC). Earlier OIC issued a statement cautioning anti-Muslim attacks in Sri Lanka will have regional and geopolitical implications. There is behind-the-curtain lobbying to get the OIC to issue a stricture on Sri Lanka. Given the dependency on remittance by the immigrant workers in the Middle East, made ever more important in the backdrop of reduced tourist earnings after the Easter attacks, Sri Lanka is dependent on these countries.
"Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE, their individual donors and organizations are also active promoters of Wahabism and Salafism. The emergence of parallel societies in Muslim dominated areas in the East are intrinsically linked to ‘Gulf funding"
Some of those states, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE, their individual donors and organizations are also active promoters of Wahabism and Salafism. The emergence of parallel societies in Muslim dominated areas in the East are intrinsically linked to ‘Gulf funding’.
Both the government and Muslim MPs could learn from an historical analogy: In the not-so- distant history, Tamil political elites did a colossal blunder. They refused to condemn the killing of 13 soldiers by the LTTE in July 1983 (whereas Muslim MPs and Muslim society have unequally condemned the Easter Sunday carnage). They declined to uphold an amendment to the Constitution that envisaged to defend territorial integrity and resigned en masse from their parliamentary seats. They habitually resorted to use India to bully the Sri Lankan state, and utilized nascent militancy to intimidate the government. It might have felt then though temporarily that their strategy was paying off (there are still Tiger apologists who tend to believe in the same). But 30 years on, it appeared clear that they dug their own graves, both literally and figuratively. Two generations of Tamil youth were lost, and Tamils as a community lost their once esteemed place. The self-destruction of the community was almost complete by the time the war was brought to a brutal, but conclusive end.
That is not a feat that Muslims dream for themselves. Nor did Tamils, but parochialism of their political elites, (and much less the real grievances) drew them to that end. There are lessons for the government too. Which are a lot more than playing homage to naïve political correctness. That also includes reorganizing domestic and foreign policy for a potential long term fallout.
Probably, that would be up for discussion for some other time.
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