Don’t paint us all with the same brush, Sri Lankan Muslims plead after terror attack

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A Sri Lankan Muslim imam talks to Sri Lankan Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith during a function to express solidarity with all the victims of Easter Sunday attacks, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 28, 2019.(AP)
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A Sri Lankan Muslim priest, lights a candle as Buddhist priest, left, Hindu priest, right, and Christian archbishop, center, watch during a function to express solidarity with all the victims of Easter Sunday attacks, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 28, 2019. (AP)
Updated 28 April 2019
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Don’t paint us all with the same brush, Sri Lankan Muslims plead after terror attack

  • Several mosques across Sri Lanka did not conduct Friday prayers on April 26
  • President Maithripala Sirisena reiterated that the entire Muslim community cannot be held responsible for the crime of a few people

NEW DELHI: In an unprecedented development, following an attack on April 21 which killed at least 250 Christians on Easter Sunday, several mosques across Sri Lanka did not conduct special prayers on Friday, marking a first for the country where Muslims account for 9.7 percent of the total population of more than 21 million.
Some mosques which did conduct the prayers did so under a heavy security blanket while maintaining a low profile.
On Friday, after appealing for calm, President Maithripala Sirisena reiterated that the entire Muslim community cannot be held responsible for the crime of a few people.
“There is a deep sense of fear among the Muslim community,” Hilmy Ahamed, Vice President of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, said.
“In the first couple of days, there was a genuine fear of things going out of control and Muslims being at the receiving end of the collective wrath of the society. The situation now has calmed down. But we are worried about the backlash,” Ahamed told Arab News.
For his part, he thanked the Christian Cardinal of Colombo for releasing a strong statement to drive home the point that “Muslims cannot be held responsible for the acts of few terrorists.”
“That really calmed the situation very much,” he added.
Colombo-based Ahamed said that lots of bridges needed to be built to “maintain inter-religious harmony in the country.”
“At the same time, the Muslim communities in Sri Lanka will have to address the issue of fringe extremism in society. We have decided to set up a committee in every mosque in the country to be vigilant about any nefarious activities – be it by an outsider or insider and check the radicalization of youth,” he said.
Sheikh Muiz Bukhary, a renowned Muslim preacher, concurred.
“The perpetrators of the terror attacks had Muslim names. The entire Muslim body does not want to have anything to do with these criminals so much so that we have decided not to accept their corpses in the Muslim burial ground,” he said, adding that despite the measures taken, there continues to be a certain level of “uneasiness in the society.”
“The president’s message was very assuring. We don’t want to be blamed or charged for what a small and the tiny section of the people did,” Bukhary said.
He told Arab News that “we hope that the majority of the country does not act in a xenophobic or Islamophobic way.”
Citing examples of incidents reported in the past few days following the attack, he added that looking at Muslims with suspicion, asking Muslim women to take off their hijabs or abayas at department stores, was “disturbing.” “This is going to make it difficult for us to continue to have a normal daily life,” he said.
Lawyer and civil rights activist Ali Sabry PC said this has become a catalyst for the Muslim community to remain in “a state of shock and disbelief.” “We are appalled at what has happened on Sunday. We also fear what will happen to our country,” he said.
“We fear the consequences which the Muslim community might have to face as a result of this violence. With the undercurrent of tensions already existing between the majority Buddhist community and Muslims, the terror attacks have added further uncertainty to the inter-religious relationship,” Sabry told Arab News.
He added that with messages and speeches to promote solidarity, the Sri Lankan leadership was taking a step in the right direction, but he noted that the initiative was taken a little too late, blaming the government for not acting against Muslim extremist forces despite being warned about them last year.
“We gave a list of Muslim extremists last year who were involved in the attack of a Buddhist temple and warned the government about the danger they posed, but the president did not prioritize the threat,” he said.
Abdul Wahab Mohamed Imthiyaz, a prominent Colombo-based lawyer, added that the issue doesn’t end here, with several from the community now worried about their future.
“Muslims are concerned about our future generation, how are we going to co-exist in this multi-cultural society? A tiny group of extremists, guided and exploited by geo-political interests, have created a mess in Sri Lankan society and we, as Muslims, are facing the consequences now,” Imthiyaz told Arab News, adding that several are thinking of migrating to another country.
“Some of the Muslims are now thinking of migrating. We are going to be questioned, tortured. Already a section of the majority community has started questioning our ways of life, like wearing hijab, going to mosque and all,” he said, adding that “our acceptability in society is being challenged now.”
Political analyst Ahilan Kadirgamar added that it is “a really worrying time for Sri Lanka today.”
“The development might inject some religious tension into our politics. It’s very important that all communities come together and no backlash takes place against any community,” he told Arab News.
“A new dynamic of religious tension has come into play after this attack. My worry is that there might be a mobilization of extreme religious forces in the country...and this may not be confined to only one particular group,” he said.


Priyanka standoff ends with visit to victims’ families

In this handout photo taken and released by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) Communication Department on July 19, 2019, Indian politician Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (2L) meets Sonbhadra massacre victims at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) Trauma Centre in Varanasi. (AFP)
Updated 46 min 14 sec ago
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Priyanka standoff ends with visit to victims’ families

  • Priyanka Gandhi’s protest continued throughout Friday night while she demanded the right to visit the victims’ families

NEW DELHI: A political standoff over detained Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi ended on Saturday after she was allowed to meet relatives of 10 people killed in a caste clash in the eastern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress general secretary and sister of outgoing party president Rahul Gandhi was detained in Mirzapur on Friday while traveling to Sonbhadra to visit family members of 10 people shot and killed in a land dispute a day earlier.
The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh, led by Yogi Adityanath, detained Gandhi for violating the peace and stopped her from traveling further. The Congress leader then began a sit-in protest with her supporters at the Mirzapur guest house where she was held.
Her protest continued throughout Friday night while she demanded the right to visit the victims’ families. Television images showed Gandhi sitting in the dark after power and water supplies in the guest house were allegedly cut off by the local administration.
Her presence in the area, which also falls in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency in Varanasi, galvanized Congress workers who staged protests across the state.
Early on Saturday, relatives of some of the victims visited the guest house to meet the 47-year-old leader of the Gandhi-Nehru family, India’s pre-eminent political dynasty.
“My objective has been served as I have met the victims of the shooting,” said Gandhi before calling off her protest.
“The responsibility for the Sonbhadra massacre lies with the Yogi government,” she said.
Gandhi told her supporters, “I will be back,” before flying to New Delhi.
The BJP has accused the Congress leader of playing politics over the shootings.
“Congress has a history of playing politics over dead bodies,” said Swatantra Dev Singh, BJP president in Uttar Pradesh.
“The drama should stop. That is what I will say to Priyanka. All the accused have been arrested, and the officials responsible have been suspended,” he said.
The fatal shootings in Sonbhadra, 800 km southeast of New Delhi, drew mainstream media attention only when the Congress leader arrived in the state.
Observers say that the killing of 10 socially marginalized and landless tribes people by members of the dominant caste has highlighted the fragile caste situation in India’s most populous state.
The people of Gond tribe have been working the disputed land for generations. According to reports, the village head wanted tribes people to vacate the farm land. This led to conflict, and on Friday more than 200 armed men attacked the helpless villagers, killing 10 and injuring several others.
Gandhi, who entered politics only a few months before the general elections in May this year, seized the opportunity to connect with the people.
For the BJP, Uttar Pradesh is the jewel in the crown. The state gave the party 62 of its 303 parliamentary seats, and it is determined to maintain its political grip.
Political analysts say that Gandhi is determined to revive the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh by 2022 when the state goes to the polls.
“Priyanka Gandhi handled the Sonbhadra incident in a mature way, exposing the ham-fisted attitude of the Yogi government,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi-based analyst and author.
“She also managed to expose the BJP’s class bias  and how the ruling party is protecting the interests of  dominant caste in the state,” said Mukhopadhyay.
“This incident gives the party a chance to go back to the people immediately after the huge loss in the elections,” Mukhopadhyay told Arab News.
Lucknow-based political analyst Ram Dutt Tripathi said that Gandhi has “shown her courage as a political leader willing to fight administrative injustice.”
“Her detention was illegal and the Congress has high hopes that she can lead the revival of the party,” said Tripathi.
“It is unfortunate that the state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has not visited relatives of the victims so far and is putting restrictions on political opponents who want to stand with them,” he said.