I write this post with some level of pain and sadness. I write this also as a Sri Lankan and as a Muslim. My credentials in the Sri Lankan blogosphere are established, if not anything at least as someone with genuine love to Sri Lanka where I was born, where I lived except for five years of my life and where I hope I will be buried when I die.
Those of you who know me, know me for various reasons, one being my fluency in Sinhalese and the fact that it wouldn’t be discernible that I am a Muslim when I speak in Sinhalese to someone who doesn’t know me. Never in Sri Lanka (or elsewhere for that matter) have I been affected by racism, never have any of my Sinhalese friends (who consist of the vast majority of my Lankan friends) addressed me in racially derogatory tones with intended venom or malice, unless in instances when I myself have referred to me and other Muslims facetiously as ‘Thambiya’s.
However, racism has been present in Sri Lanka right throughout my life; I am in my mid twenties now. Never have I known a Sri Lanka devoid of racism. Sadly it seems, racism may be an intrinsic part of Sri Lankan society for years if not for decades to come, in fact one wonders if there will ever be a time in Sri Lanka devoid of racism. Racism is usually propagated by a majority community towards a minority, that is true for almost any instance in the world where racism takes place. By this almost golden rule of how racism takes place, Muslims and Tamils have been mostly at the receiving end in Sri Lanka. I am not suggesting that Muslims have in Muslim majority areas not preferred a Muslim over a Sinhalese or a Tamil.
But forget not the contribution Muslims have made to the Sri Lankan social fabric and forget not how loyal Muslims have been to Sri Lanka as a nation and as a state at its most crucial moments. From spilling their own blood for Sri Lanka in fighting colonial invaders to the crucial political struggles Muslims have made to gain independence from Britain. Remember ‘Parangiya Kotte giya wagey’ ? How Muslims took the colonial invaders on an almost wild goose chase?
Unlike in Britain, where Muslims are mostly immigrants not more than a few generations old, the question of Muslims in Sri Lanka isn’t even a question!
There have been several instances where Muslims have been attacked recently in various instances. There was this whole debacle surrounding the Grease Yaka, and now the following incident I am about to relate.
Images suggest that Sinhalese youth under the guidance of Buddhist Monks and the connivance of the Police (who clearly are meant to be acting on the contrary) destroying a sacred place of Muslims in Anuradhapura.
These are Buddhist Monks we are speaking of, whatever happened to the very Buddhist principles of causing no harm? Of course it does not help the Buddhist philosophy when monks stand by watching and those desecrating the premises do so with Buddhist flags being waved about.
This news piece suggests the place was built illegally. Perhaps it was, or perhaps it wasn’t, I for one do not know. If it was should there not be a court order for it to be demolished in such a way? If there was indeed a court order should it not be the state that carries out such a demolition and not hooligans and thugs waving Buddhist flags with Monks monitoring their every step with hawkish scrutiny ?
It sets an extremely dangerous precedent when vigilantism spreads its thorny fingers around with the state doing nothing about it, more so when such vigilantism has been encouraged when there wasn’t even any harm done to anyone.
Traditionally, Muslims and Sinhalese have been on the best of terms. I have always maintained how Muslims (then Arabs who later married local women) have been in Sri Lanka before Islam itself and Muslims in Sri Lanka have a history as old as Islam itself. Halik writes about this here.
This is not the first time I am blogging about a mosque attack, I blogged here a few years ago.
I refuse to believe that the primary seed that is creating such hatred towards Muslims by Sinhalese Buddhists comes from Sri Lankan Buddhist themselves. The vast majority of Sinhalese Buddhists are innocent human beings who want to get on with their lives; the slim minority who physically sweat to do such laborious tasks are just the labourers. They have no ideology, they have no world view, they do not even live by the sacred texts of Buddhism (some monks included), they are just that – labourers who can wield an axe. Their capacity to wield an axe is being used, exploited by someone who would like to see the dangerous effects of what they do.
Call me a conspiracy theorist if you will, but I see a third hand involved, a third hand that would benefit in seeing Sinhalese – Muslim clashes. The Sinhalese – Muslim riots in 1915 were unnecessary and were based on an incitement. I have read material suggesting that with 2015 being the one hundredth anniversary of those riots, they should be commemorated. I fear for the Muslims of Sri Lanka when those commemorations take place.
This is beneath the vast majority of Sinhalese to do. This country does not need another conflict to screw us deep into an abyss. It is in the best interests of all to identify these elements and have them dealt with.
The problem with Sri Lanka is that you see negativity on such a regular basis where that which was abnormal once, becomes such a normal thing where people are desensitised to consider it serious.
I will not appeal to the Sri Lankan Muslims to remain calm, I know they would. Being the ever patient and resilient community they have been in the wake of so many difficult and tumultuous events, they would dismiss this as just another incident and try and get on with life. But the fact remains, these incidents keep happening, and the danger lies in the fact that the frequency doesn’t seem to diminish.
I am currently living in the UK. I will eventually return to Sri Lanka, I have never been part of the ‘Diaspora’ and intend never to be so. But when my friend asks me, Machang when are you coming back, and I see images like these, least I can do is tell a date and just shrug or sigh to myself.
Enjoy your weekend.
Click image to see larger.
UPDATE – For some reason I am having problems uploading images. Please save the above image to desktop and view it large. My post would seem less substantial without the images.