While expressing solidarity with the victims of the Easter Sunday terror attacks and those affected by the recent spate of violence, prominent Sri Lankan Muslim leaders today called for one united Sri Lankan identity.
“We, as a community, have done a lot of soul searching following the attacks. We could not imagine that they came from us. We concede that we saw elements of Arabisation but didn't think it would turn to this,” Minister Kabir Hashim said.
Addressing a media conference at which former Ministers Imthiyaz Bakeer Marker and Ferial Ashroff together with President's Counsel Ali Sabry were present, Hashim said that the need of the hour is to “forge a Lankan identity”.
“We all can’t even imagine how to express gratitude to his Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith for his leadership in this dire hour for this country” the speakers said.
“I was the first to be personally affected by these extremists. My Secretary Thaseem was shot at point blank range after he provided information on them following the attacks on Buddha statues. We did everything we can and are continuing to do so to eradicate this menace from our community” he said.
He further said that there was “soul searching from within the community unbeknownst to many”
Ali Sabry PC speaking said that following the attacks the admonishing of a whole community of two million was unjustifiable.
“We immediately took steps to take on the issue of the Madrasas and want them regulated under the Ministry of Higher Education. We want to know what is taught at these Madrasas and who is teaching them, they all must be regulated. The overview of mosques and sermons, the steps to ban the Niqab were all done by the Muslims themselves before intervention of the government,” he said.
He further said that the law must be applied equally to every citizen of the country.
“We, as community, are doing everything possible to quell any form of extremism. There have been many steps taken in this regard by the community although there seems to be little visibility to it. I have always spoken against this Arabisation and we are more determined to eradicate it,” he said.
He insisted that the Muslim community has taken all necessary steps to eradicate extremism.
“But don't let a single person be pushed towards terror again. Reports say that following the Digana attacks there was a surge in recruitment for Zaharan’s gang. That is what we fear the most. Don’t push normal people towards them. We will lose as a community and a nation.Extremism feeds extremism” he said.
Iterating that there was introspection and steps taken in liue of it from within the Muslim community, Sabry said that there was more to be done by the larger community..
“For example, there is no need for racially segregated schools. How does a child who goes to a Muslim only school know the meaning of a monk in robes or a Pottu of our Tamil brethren? How can we segregate a child when they are five and expect them to live in harmony at 18? “ he questioned.
Former Minister Ferial Ashroff addressing the conference pleaded against marginalising an entire community, for the actions of the terrorists.
“We are still in shock as to what happened on Easter Sunday. We are still grieving. We couldn't imagine that these terrorists could come from our community. I have spoken to many in Kalmunai which was my electorate and they still are in shock and are helping the law enforcement authorities. We concede that we could have done more to quell the extremism, this was a shock and an eye opener to all of us. But I plead of you to not look at an entire community with hate and suspicion” she said.
Ashroff said that the country grieved together following the attacks.
“However, unfortunately and unexpectedly there was violence against the Muslim community,” she said.
Former Minister Imthiyaz Bakeer Marker, addressing the gathering, requested a deeper comprehension of the geopolitical dynamics which led to the attack and the violent aftermath.
“You all must’ve read books about how some countries trained the Army and the LTTE at two different places. I’m not going to pass judgment but we must think. We must try and comprehend what took place in Libya and in Syria..what happened in Iraq. Before all of these attacks, there is also a propaganda war that is unleashed. Before the Iraq war the propaganda machine was that Iraq possessed WMD’s. After a million deaths, we are told that it was a lie. We must think about this,” he said.
He pleaded against the branding of an "entire community" and urged that all Sri Lankans to unite against hate and extremism.
He also said the media had played a 'regressive' role following the attacks contributing the fear psychosis.
Sabry PC speaking to the Daily Mirror said that there were only two mosques at which "swords" were found.
"The only mosque at which they were found was in Slave Island which is really an underworld area. CCTV footage show that they were taken in on the night of the 21st of April. The other was near a mosque in Maligawaththa and not inside a mosque. Out of over 2,500 mosques, this was what was found but as rightly pointed out by the Army Commander a massive fear psychosis was created among the people, leading to unwarranted suspicion," he said.
Recalling the history of co existence, Bakeer Marker called for the “shedding of differences and embracing commonalities”
All speakers insisted that they are willing to take the mantle of leadership and responsibility on behalf of the Muslim community.
“You must trust us and our people. Our enemy is a common enemy and we must stand together to fight it,” they said. (HF)
Pix by Waruna Wanniarachchi