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.


Britain and EU spar over Brexit as clock ticks down

Updated 21 September 2019

Britain and EU spar over Brexit as clock ticks down

  • Britain says a deal is possible
  • Ireland says not close to a deal

LONDON/BRUSSELS : Britain said on Friday a Brexit deal with the European Union could be reached at a summit next month, but EU member Ireland said the sides were far from agreement and London had not yet made serious proposals.
Three years after Britons voted to leave the EU, hopes of a breakthrough over the terms of its departure have been stoked in recent days by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the shape of a deal is emerging and European Commission President Juncker saying agreement is possible.
But diplomats say the two sides are split over London’s desire to remove the Irish border “backstop” from the divorce deal struck by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, and then work out a replacement in coming years.
The backstop is an insurance policy to keep the 500-km (300-mile) border between Ireland, which will remain in the EU, and the British province of Northern Ireland open after Brexit.
“We both want to see a deal,” British Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said after talks in Brussels with EU negotiator Michel Barnier. “The meeting overran, which signals we were getting into the detail.”
“There is a still a lot of work to do but there is a common purpose to secure a deal,” Barclay said, adding that Juncker and Johnson also both wanted a deal.
Leaving the EU would be Britain’s biggest shift in trade and foreign policy for more than 40 years and deprive the 28-nation bloc of one of its biggest economies. The EU has set a deadline for a deal to be reached by Oct. 31.
British parliament has rejected the deal May agreed with the EU. Johnson has said he wants to secure an amended deal at an EU summit on Oct. 17-18 but that Britain will leave the bloc if that is not possible. He will meet European Council Donald Tusk at the United Nations in New York next week.
Ireland is crucial to any Brexit solution. Unless the Irish border backstop is removed or amended, Johnson will not be able to win parliamentary approval but Ireland and the EU are unwilling to sign a deal without a solution to the border.
The EU fears a hard border could cause unrest in Northern Ireland and undermine the fragile peace provided by a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of violence between Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland, and the British security forces and pro-British “unionists.”
The Withdrawal Agreement that was agreed with the EU last November says the United Kingdom will remain in a customs union “unless and until” alternative arrangements are found to avoid the return of border controls in Ireland.
The British government, worried the backstop will trap it in the EU’s orbit for years to come, wants to remove it and find a solution before December 2020, when a planned transition period ends.
The British pound fell from a two-month high after the Financial Times reported Johnson had told colleagues he did not expect to reach a full “legally operable” deal next month.
One EU official said Britain’s proposals are not enough to replace the backstop.
“As it stands, it is unacceptable,” the official said. “If they don’t really change their approach, we are at an impasse.”
The European Commission said in a memo that Britain’s plans “fall short of satisfying all the objectives” of finding an alternative to the backstop, Sky News reported.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the mood music had improved and that both sides wanted a deal but that they were not close to an agreement.
“There is certainly a lot of commentary now and some of it is spin I think, in the context of where we are,” he told the BBC. “We need to be honest with people and say that we’re not close to that deal right now.”
“Everybody needs a dose of reality here, there is still quite a wide gap between what the British government have been talking about in terms of the solutions that they are proposing, and I think what Ireland and the EU will be able to support.”
Britain said on Thursday it had shared documents with Brussels setting out ideas for a Brexit deal, but an EU diplomat described them as a “smokescreen” that would not prevent a disorderly exit on the Oct. 31 departure date.
Coveney, Ireland’s second most powerful politician, said a no-deal could lead to civil unrest.
“Trade across 300 road crossings that has created a normality and a peace that is settled on the island of Ireland for the last 20 years, that now faces significant disruption,” he said. “That is what we’re fighting for here.