Organized attacks on Muslims in Sri Lanka, which began almost two years ago, continue unabated while the government remains indifferent. In the absence of any official attempts to put an end to these assaults, worried Muslims are thinking of taking to streets to highlight their grievances. Muslims all over the world are closely monitoring developments in the island state fearing it could become another Myanmar.
There is growing feeling within the Muslim community in Sri Lanka is that though these attacks although look isolated, they are well organized and coordinated with ulterior motives.
However, Sri Lanka, which has just emerged after a 30-year-old ethnic war cannot afford another catastrophe. Muslims suspect that militant Buddhist monks are attacking, looting, plundering and killing Muslims as part of their well-planned strategy and are least bothered about its fallout on the country.
The precarious situation prompted former Information Minister Imtiaz Bakeer Markar to ask the government: “What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for a calamity to happen? Isn’t it time to drive sense into Buddhist extremists who are pushing the country toward yet another disaster?”
In a recent interview with a Sinhala weekly, Markar, a politician loved and respected by Muslims and Sinhalese alike, emphasized the need for immediate government action to stop these attacks, warning that failure to do so will inevitably lead to a catastrophe.
The besieged Muslim community that constitutes about 10 percent of the island’s population is made to believe that the government’s refusal to bring these extremists to book is like patronizing them. So far all appeals from the Muslim community and the mainstream Sinhalese community to stop this hooliganism have fallen on deaf ears.
Muslim politicians in general, sandwiched between their desire to cling onto their positions to enjoy perks and their obligations toward their community, betrayed the community and sold their souls. Divided into many splinter groups they have been cleverly exploited as tools to serve the government’s interests. This is the reason why Muslim parliamentarians are not taken seriously by the government and the Muslim community as well.
The question is that if Tamil National Alliance, TNA, parliamentarian M.A Sumanthiran could accuse the government of being behind attacks on Muslims what is preventing the Muslim parliamentarians from opening their mouths.
Shameful state of affairs was such that while Sumanthiran accused the government of being behind the attacks on Muslims and had done nothing to protect Muslims, Muslim parliamentarian Faizar Musthapha defended the government claiming that it was “Bodu Bala Sena which was responsible for these attacks.”
However the prevailing view among Muslims is that “How BBS could function as a government within the government and openly violate laws, harass and humiliate Muslims without the government’s connivance.” The attacks on Muslims, which began with the destruction of a Muslim shrine at Anuradhapura under the watchful eyes of the police around two years ago, have now become almost a regular incident in one form or other.
Last month a group of Buddhist extremists went on a protest march from Kataragama to Temple Trees to submit a memorandum asking President Mahinda Rajapaksa to ban animal slaughter. Is there any need for a provocative march, aimed at whipping up anti-Muslim sentiments?
Days later, on June 30 night, a Buddha statue was secretly placed at Azhar Vidyalayam playground in Batticaloa district. This has been the only playground for students at Azhar Vidyalayam and Shaduliya Vidyalayam. A complaint was lodged at Valaichenai police followed by filing a case in a court, which in its June 25 2013 verdict, stated that the playground belongs to the school. Defying the court verdict, the temple authorities placed a Buddha statute in the center of the playground. No one was taken to custody so far.
Ten days later Arafa Mosque in Mahiyangana was desecrated in one of most barbarous manners on July 11, 2013. The tragedy is that this happening in a country known as the land of Dhammadipa, known for its 2500-year old Buddhism, Buddhist culture and ancient civilization? Even the aborigines Veddhas never stooped to this low level of barbarism. Do the perpetrators understand the damage they are causing worldwide to the image of the mainstream Sinhala Buddhists?
In a statement to the media, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader and Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem had this to state: “The Mahiyangana Mosque has been targeted for over a week, in what appears to be the latest in an organized series of attacks carried out on mosques and the hate campaign against the Muslims in Sri Lanka by extremist Buddhist groups for many months. Such acts of intolerance especially during the holy month of Ramadan hurt the sentiments of Muslims in the country contributing to further polarization of communities. On an earlier occasion when the mosque came under attack by extremists, evidently, no preventive measure had been taken. The government’s impervious attitude to such rising crimes and inaction in curbing such mounting hate campaign will be dangerously read as that of stimulating religious violence.”
• Abu Ahmed is a Colombo-based journalist.