An extract of a speech delivered by M. M. Zuhair PC, former Member of Parliament at the Islamic conference organized by the Muslim World League held in Colombo recently.
The theme of this conference, “Muslims and the prospects for co-existence”, is timely in the context of attempts in most parts of the world to show that co-existence with Muslims is difficult, sometimes impossible. This dialogue initiated by the Rabitha, with the participation of a large number of members of the clergy of the different faiths, will certainly strengthen the process of co-existence, respect for diversity, national integration and reconciliation that Sri Lanka has already embarked upon. Let me, now look at the situation in our country in greater detail.
Sri Lanka is perhaps the only country in the world that had succeeded in eliminating terrorism which had plagued this country for over 30 years. Following the January 2015 Presidential Elections, Sri Lanka is fast becoming a good role model of peaceful co-existence, where unity, peace and harmony among the people take the foremost place.We have, of course, many issues that need to be addressed in our ethnic relations. But the good thing is the government is addressing them, though some sensitive issues require careful handling to
Buddhism is the religion of 70% of the people of our country. The pre-eminent role that this religion plays in the lives of the people here, has helped sustain a tolerant society. It is a popular belief that the peaceful co-existence of all faiths and their followers in Sri Lanka, is primarily because of the inclusive and accommodative qualities of Buddhism.The intrinsic values that it had nurtured amongst its practitioners have undoubtedly established, peaceful co-existence, as a hallmark of its culture.
However, there had been small groups within the majority community which had attempted from time to time to hijack religion for communal and sometimes for commercial purposes. True followers of all religions know that religious ideals cannot co-exist with racism. In fact there were many groups with parochial and racist objectives which had contested even the elections. A few decades ago, such a group contested some 50 Sinhala majority seats to enter Parliament. They lost all 50; including the seat contested by its leader. Almost all such racist attempts had been rejected at the polls by the majority community itself. At the last General Election held in August last year, one such extremist group, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) contested and lost in all the seats. Furthermore, the former government was packed home by the people, because of its sudden tilt towards communal politics!
The point that I wish to make is that though there are communal politicians in all the political parties in our country, the ordinary masses, particularly in the majority community in Sri Lanka, have never supported religious or communal divisions amongst the people.The over-all prospects for co-existence and unity in our country are therefore quite promising and need to be further strengthened.
The present government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are working to strengthen national integration and unity, while respecting diversity. In fact a separate Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation has now been created with the country’s President as the Minister in charge and A. H. M. Fowzie as the State Minister.
This Ministry has already commenced several programmes through schools and sports aimed at fostering closer interaction and unity. I must add that though the President is the Minister of this important Ministry, he has time and again urged Minister Fowzie to consider himself as the Minister and lead the activities of the Ministry. We have a long way to go in cementing national unity. The Rabitha may consider supporting certain agreed programmes of the government aimed at fostering unity and economic advancement of the country. Let me now briefly refer to the global scenario as well.
Whilst many governments, including that of Sri Lanka, are striving to strengthen the atmosphere for peaceful co-existence, elsewhere we find, the world is being driven towards confrontation instead of co-existence! There appears to be many actors orchestrating events that are seeking to marginalize whole communities of Muslims for events which have nothing to do with Islam or the acts of an extremely few misguided persons with Muslim names. A criminal act done by anyone is the act of a criminal. In what civilization does anyone grab the event to ostracise whole communities and even their religion? I wish to point out that vast sections of the western media are guilty of committing the greater crime of continuous baseless attacks on the integrity of communities of Muslims, in violation of international laws and international humanitarian laws, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
Let us go back, just 30 years ago, to the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Did we have, 30 years ago or even earlier, all these international terror groups that are blamed on the world of Muslims? Didn’t we then co-exist peacefully as part of the universal community of nations? But then what happened? Why is that several un-Islamic terror groups had allegedly emerged or been created post-9/11? Everyone knows who supported and armed the Taliban against the invasion of Afghanistan by the then USSR.
Muslim youths are accused by sections of the Western media of getting radicalised. But the media do not blame those who are invading Muslim countries on false pretexts, as exposed by the Chilcot inquiry, as the root cause of possible radicalistion. I have some questions to pose, the answers to which are clear as day light. What about the far right-wing extremist groups, playing an increasingly dominant political role in many countries in the West? Are they less radical than the misled Muslim youths? Why is the pot calling the kettle, black?
Before the emergence of the ISIS, the un-Islamic terror organization, didn’t its leader Al Baghdadi meet with US Senator John McCain, who unsuccessfully contested Obama? Didn’t John McCain, at a press conference, urge President Obama that he should support ISIS to clear Middle-East of regimes that do not support them? So, was it wrong for the Muslim world to assess who was behind whom?
Before the collapse of the USSR, were there no invasions of Buddhist majority countries like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia etc? Wasn’t communism the then enemy? Millions of tons of ammunitions were experimented ‘to protect these countries from communism’! Even nuclear bombs were experimented in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, after all ‘to end the second World War’!
Who is always the winner in all these wars? Not the people of the West or the East. The arms industry, however, never lost a single war!
The challenge for co-existence is not the so-called Muslim extremism, fundamentalism or the radicalization of youths, but the ever-winning arms industry, which is always the winner. They, and not governments, that control today’s world. My message, to the extremists and radicals if any, foolishly struggling against ‘powerful governments’ in the world, that their campaigns are a clear waste of time. A peaceful sustained worldwide campaign against the manufacture of arms for commercial purposes is the foundation for peaceful co-existence. So long as these factories exist, wars will never be over. Wars will be justified by the media, sections of which are in the possible payroll of the