Tag Archives: london

Lankan Muslims in London and Political Myopia

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First Published for Groundviews and the Colombo Telegraph.

There was a protest that took place yesterday by a group of Sri Lankan Muslims in Britain outside the Sri Lankan High Commission in London mostly regarding the spate of anti Muslim activities that have been occurring in Sri Lanka. But in this instance what the group responsible for yesterday’s protest sought to achieve is unclear, what is pointedly obvious is the blatant incongruence between what they did and what they thought its influence would be. The very premise of having any such protest is not just questionable, but can create a cycle of many political unknowns. There are significant issues that the Muslim community in Sri Lanka currently faces, their plight is most depressing and worrying, as I have highlighted here. But knee jerk reactions to or exploitation of a genuine plight to gain isolated political mileage is not the prudent way to operate.

As any other Lankan Muslim Londoner, I am as familiar with the Sri Lankan Muslim Diaspora, the numerical minority and the politically weakest of the three Sri Lankan ethnic Diaspora groups in London. And it beggars belief as to what would have led to the said group deciding to protest outside the Sri Lankan High Commission in London. I argued here a few years back that there is a significant structural disconnect between some parts of the strategies of the British Tamil Diaspora and the genuine needs of the Sri Lankan Tamil people whose plight we must all sympathise with. If this trend isn’t stymied and nipped in the bud, there is a very fair chance that the Lankan Muslim Diaspora in Britain would suffer the same fate and alienation that sections of the Tamil Diaspora have suffered. This would not just result in loss of authority and negotiating power (which for the Muslims in London is currently hardly existent anyway) but would indeed cause damage to the Lankan Muslims in Sri Lanka, the very Muslims that they claim to represent.

Protest is certainly a beacon of democracy that needs to be put into good use, I am not doctrinally against the principle of protesting outside embassies, indeed I was amongst those who marched to the Israeli embassy in London off Kensington High Street on a cold spring morning in 2010 when the Marvi Marmara and the Gaza flotilla were attacked.

The role of the Diaspora is extremely important, the monetary and intellectual power they hold, not to mention the electoral influence they have upon their elected representatives in British electorates can be used to good effect. But the fundamental matter that has to be understood, which sections of the global Tamil Diaspora failed miserably in understanding, is that the whims, strategies and the dictates of the Diaspora must never supersede the needs and political intonations of the local peoples they claim to represent, in this instance the Sri Lankan Muslim community living in Sri Lanka, which to the overwhelming vast majority is still very much the parent community. If there was a coordinated effort by the Sri Lankan Muslims on the ground and the Lankan British Muslim Diaspora and the protest was a reconciled act by both parties, then that could have been lauded. But on this occasion, such is not the case and this was indeed repudiated very wisely by the National Shura Council, the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka in this statement and thisvideo statement by NM Ameen.

In the case of the Tamils there were flagrant issues of racism and ethnic violence with the connivance of the then Sri Lankan Government that resulted in the deaths, humiliation and damages to property in the riots of 1983, not to mention the serious known and unknown figures of Tamil civilian casualties towards the end of the war in 2009. But Muslims in Sri Lanka have not faced such a situation and such a situation can be avoided only by political and social prudency. Of course it is without a shadow of doubt that the Bodu Bala Sena and Buddhist extremists in general running amok against Muslims and other minority groups, in their coordinated attacks, have powerful figures sympathetic to their actions, this is evident in how law enforcement authorities watch impotently as the monks behave in such brazen vulgarity, but unlike in 1983 where large swathes of Sinhalese got involved in the violence, the actions of the BBS are not widely appreciated by the Sinhalese community at large and it must be stated that the actions are indeed carried out by a group of rebel monks and not necessarily Sinhalese lay embittered by the Muslims they around them. It also needs to be mentioned that the reactions of the Sinhalese towards other minorities, particularly the Tamils was in the context of an ongoing ethnic conflict. Not that the former is excusable, but the actions of the BBS and others of similar ilk are executed when the country is not in a state of emergency, at least based on ground realities. Again, it must be stressed that this is not a condemnation of protest, nor am I a flag bearer for this government that has allowed lawlessness to reach such giddy heights, but it is the timing and astuteness of this exercise that has to be reflected upon.

Strategically it laughable to expect that this is going to make the Sri Lankan Government look towards the local Muslims with renewed respect and concern, indeed the danger is that the opposite of that could be true. What is also amusing is to look in bewilderment as to the extent of the power parts of the Sri Lankan British Muslim community perceives it wields. Furthermore, with due appreciation of the fact that Lankan Muslims settling in London took place in smaller numbers and very much after Tamils and Sinhalese established themselves there, the Lankan Muslim Diaspora in Britain is quite backward compared to the other two groups in many social standard indices. Not to in any way sound elitist, but a look at our educational standards, the percentage of us who are above the British average household income, and the percentage of us whose social movements aren’t influenced by the insularity of our own community in reference to the Sinhalese and Tamils are indices that should be taken seriously if an honest discussion and measure on political influence and power is to be gauged. It must be noted that, to borrow a computing phrase, this is a zoomed out view of the three communities, when you zoom in there are indeed Lankan British Muslim families and thereby pockets of social circles who can and should exert influence on the political centre in Colombo.

Politically, the problem with trying to fly so high too young is that you expose yourself to predators who can significantly curtail your growth and development. If the actions of the Diaspora results in further damage to the political standing of Muslims in Sri Lanka, not only should they shoulder the blame but as we Muslims say in private amongst ourselves, they are answerable to Allah if in case their motives weren’t purified.

It is not my place to question the integrity or sincerity of the intentions of those behind this exercise and I certainly will not, on the contrary I am sure they acted in the way they best saw fit. But as someone who relates to the British Lankan Muslim community as much as one who does to the Sri Lankan Muslim community in Sri Lanka, and with the conscious understanding that the social threats to Muslims in Sri Lankan far outweigh those of the former, the political maturity of this act has to be interrogated.

Rather, the Lankan British Muslim community should have built coalitions with their Sinhalese and Tamil counterparts, and acted towards a holistic national cause questioning the damages caused by lawlessness, the cancer that is corruption, nepotism, cronyism and political suppression of minorities in general. This may come across as political first principles, but for a Diaspora community only just establishing itself politically, these matters need to be borne in mind. Working with Sinhalese and Tamil Diaspora groups in London, I can say with a certain degree of authority that Muslim representation in the upper echelons of collective Lankan British Diaspora has room for improvement, of course this is from the interactions I have had and another may have a different tale. I am conscious that there are frictions in building coalitions and that this is easier said than done. But in the same way that the local Muslims will best further their political agenda when they work in tandem with the Sinhalese and Tamil communities, to bring to account probably what is the most corrupt and unpatriotic government in post Independence history, the Lankan British Muslims will best achieve even a scintilla of success only when they work together with the others. They risk being politically burned out far too early if they do not, and that will be to the detriment of the collective Muslim political cause as a whole, Lankan Muslim Diaspora groups have a lot of potential to power Muslims in Colombo and that potential has to be used with responsibility, or as elders in the Muslim community would say, consider it an amaanah.

The localised context has to be understood first before ramifications of protests are to be made in London. The connection between the parent community and the diaspora has to give birth to an understanding as to how this matter should have been approached. The actions of the Tamil Diaspora vis a vis local Tamils would prove to be a good case study, the mileage they gained, the sound calls they made and the errors they committed. Having already had a precedent of another Diaspora of an oppressed community and how they negotiated political upheavals makes it easier for the Muslim community in that they can avoid much of the trial and error that the Tamils inevitably had to engage in, and therefore mistakes once done by another community can be averted. There is a risk that actions of the Muslim Diaspora can adversely impact the local Muslims and that must absolutely be understood.

This is a significant error of judgement on the part of sections of the Lankan British Muslim community in London and I am both thankful and relieved by the political astuteness of the Sri Lankan Muslim civil society groups based in Sri Lanka who have swiftly distanced themselves from this sad manifestation of political myopia.

Image from here.

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Shepherd's Bush

First of all, apologies for being so reticent in this blog. Have been held up with a lot of things. Now that summer is approaching and due to the super weather we have been having in otherwise wet England, I did manage to go out a bit and take some photographs.

My regular followers may have seen my other photos of the London Underground. Here are two of my favourite photographs.

Taken at Shepherd’s Bush station, London.


A woman watches as the train leaves the platform.


A train departs as the other stays on the platform.


Train arrives.


Shepherd’s bush Station

In other news, I am now on Tumblr. Follow me here.

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The Big Ben and the birds disturbed

Taken on a warm spring day in London.

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The Drummer

No, not our other drummer RD, although he does frequent this area and god knows if he stops to do the same when not very busy. Taken on the bridge that leads to the Royal Festival Hall, for some reason I can’t remember its name!

Have a great weekend!

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The London Eye at night

The London Eye at night.

Oh, I finally started a facebook page for my photography. It is under my real name, toying with the idea of linking it in this blog – but still undecided. Those who know me are most welcome to look it up!

Enjoy the rest of the week!

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Happy 2011, Trafalgar Square.

The National Gallery, London.

Photo of the National Gallery taken from Trafalgar Square.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Also, the last Kodachrome was processed today – well technically yesterday – 30th December 2010. No more film roll developing hereafter, digital photos are here to rule. Read more here.

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Royal Albert Hall, London

Royal Albert Hall

For those of you who don’t know, “The Royal Albert Hall is an arts venue situated in the Knightsbridge area of the City of Westminster, London, England, best known for holding the annual summer Proms concerts since 1941.”

Photos taken on a leisurely night stroll in Kensington and Chelsea. Both images were taken from Kensington Gardens looking out.

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A small act of kindness really does wonders – My 100th post

Today was one of those days. I cycle to work now; I have now been cycling for about two weeks. It’s about 25km a day to and fro in the busy streets of central London; funnily enough I seem to like it. My backside was in protest every single day, since it never had been pressed against such a solid surface as the hard bike saddle in about three years, but now it seems to have accepted that giving me relentless pain is not really going to change things.

I went to work today, normal day in the first half – but something about the second half after lunch just wasn’t right. I had a deadline today and was really busy trying to get the drawings out, and working for a seemingly I-am-recovering-from-a-hangover senior colleague who is directly responsible for the project and hence has his backside is in the firing is not very easy. I managed to get work done and left work about 15 minutes late, which is about average.

I very reluctantly had to cycle off route for about 10 minutes to go to Liverpool Street to get something. I locked my bike into a custom made post where other bicycles were parked and went rather hurriedly to Liverpool street and came back to find my bike vandalised.

Mine was a glittering new bike amidst some other hacked or relatively old ones, and someone who really didn’t like seeing it in its well, errm virgin state thought he or she will do me a favour by trying to damage it for the first time. The chain was pulled out and everything was a mess, the vandal had tried more things but evidently didn’t get enough time to do his thing and go. I dirtied myself and spent at least 15 minutes trying to get the complicated gear chaining system in place, fifteen minutes is a long time because it takes me only half an hour to ride home. I pushed the bike to the nearest restaurant to get tissues to wipe my very dirty greasy hands and then started riding back.

I was a bit upset, mixed emotions really. You know that feeling when you buy a new ipad and it falls for the very first time and gets scratched all over? Well it was that with frustration and anger really, anger that some people out there just have fun by causing another unnecessary suffering.

Riding home, past my office again since I had to go in the other direction and went riding in my usual direction home, one hour later than when I usually past that spot. Riding on, I was just not in the mood to take on the slope that was coming, I cut across a park where I thought I may be able to avoid the slope and when I went in I got lost, well not lost in the usual sense – I could have just gone back and taken the usual route, but because of the day’s developments I just couldn’t be bothered.

I just shouted at a fellow cyclist, told him where I wanted to go and after some thought, still riding parallel to each other he said ‘just follow me’ and I did. We went through the park, a really nice one – would be my new route home.

Riding parallel to him we got to speak a bit, I mean we can’t be riding together and just ignore each other can we. Besides this man was doing me a favour, so I just asked him if he was from around here and surprisingly he gave me a fairly detailed response – bear in mind we were still cycling. I was surprised because, after a hard day’s work (and Brazil playing a world cup football match tonight) you usually would want to get on with it and not really spend time with some random stranger.
He asked me where I was from, what I do and the usual.

I told him I was originally from Sri Lanka – and he instantly went ‘I knew you must be from Sri Lanka!’ I was pleasantly taken aback really. ‘That’s surprising, given that I can also be mistaken for an Indian’ I said, ‘well, Indians have several faces, and the Sri Lankan look is more consistent’ he went on. And if I am quoting correctly, he said something like ‘you know what mostly made me think you were Sri Lankan? Your smile – you have a very Sri Lankan smile.

Now this was different, very very different – first of all I don’t smile like this (pun intended), Secondly I am not really known amongst my friends as a ‘Smiler’ of the smiling kind! My sisters will bet all their buttering skills (buttering in the Sri Lankan sense) to say that I don’t smile! Thirdly, I was actually proud and happy for the fact that a non-Sri Lankan European associated a ‘smile’ with Sri Lankans.

We came out of the park and just as we were going back onto the main road my bike gave a weird noise. We stopped to inspect it and I realised a 65mm steel nail had pierced my tyre from the slightest of angles, the angle was so slight that it had gone in from one side and the other side of the nail was sticking out of the tyre – so two perforations.

What happened could easily have not happened if I had just moved 10mm away from where I came, it was so illogical to explain what happened that my new friend very aptly described it as ‘Sod’s Law.

I was told there was a bike shop close by, we walked to it and it was closed. I was getting a bit worried now. There are no tubes stations on that route and thinking of taking a bus with my bike on board is a joke! And unlike in Sri Lanka, we don’t have a bike repairing place (fondly known as a ‘vinkal’) at every junction.

My friend offered to go to his home and help me fix it. I was very much obliged, as I knew I really had no choice at all! Unless – well there was no ‘unless’.
We went to his house, which was a good 20 – 25 minute walk and he pushed his bike alongside mine. I had a very uneasy feeling; you know that feeling where a stranger goes through all that trouble just because I was in difficulty. I mean he could have easily said ‘Sorry about what happened mate, hope you get that sorted’ and cycled on his way, and if he did do that it would still be understandable, surely people do have other work to do.

We spoke of a lot of things; he had travelled a lot in Sri Lanka and absolutely loved it! And he had proposed to his wife in Sri Lanka, just at that moment I remembered a few female bloggers/tweeters who may have gone ‘awww’ if they were there ha! He had a decent knowledge of the Sri Lankan and global political scene and what we spoke about is a blog post in itself. Decent from the amount we spoke, but I don’t enough to deny the fact that he may be someone really well read on these matters.

We later shook hands and introduced ourselves, his name is James.

We went to his house and he genuinely took a lot of trouble to help me fix the puncture, borrowing tools, dirtying himself and the usual stuff that involves fixing a puncture. Whilst we were at it, I did remark – and I meant it when I said ‘I am sorry for all the inconvenience, I guess you are missing the Brazil match to be stuck helping me out’, and he went ‘I guess that can’t be avoided cuz you need help, but what I really may miss is reading a story to my little boy’. I was introduced to his son as we came to his house.

After a good dinner, and at the comfort of my room – when I look back, I don’t regret anything that took place today, however malicious or regretful they may have been when they did take place.

When my bike was vandalised, it was so unnecessary, something I really didn’t deserve and something about that incident just didn’t fit in place that I thought – surely, surely there must be some good in this happening to me, and may be in the grand scheme of things this will actually be a good thing.

I got lost, and I found someone who was kind enough to direct me – just then I got a puncture in the middle of nowhere, and if I hadn’t met James I really wouldn’t know what would have happened. Hell! I may still not be at home!

What if I never had to go off route to Liverpool Street? What if my bike was not vandalised? What if I was not tired, and did not get lost? What if I was just 10mm to the right or left and the nail never pierced? Answers to which I will never know. God works in mysterious ways, and I am ever so grateful for the dangerous precision in which his mystery has worked to my benefit.

This post doesn’t do justice to what James did for me, it was a great help that he did and the way he did it was unexplainably refreshing amidst all the negativities we see around us, all we have to do is just look.

Not to be politically incorrect, but if someone in Sri Lanka, where everyone looks like me and talks like me and understands me better did what James did, I won’t make a scene of it. But believe me when I say that in here, in London, where I am as significant to the great city as a dead twig is to the Amazon, and where most people are understandably just too busy to help someone, having James to help me just at that moment is simply just one of those rare things!

This is my one hundredth post, and it is only apt that I dedicate this post to you James, cheers mate!

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Down down they go

Going down the escalator at the Liverpool Street tube station. London

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Rabbit Gate

This is an average day to day gate that you would see. I pass this gate everyday on my way to work, being the main entrance to the studio of some Rock Band (I think), they do have some very interesting themes going on.

At the moment they have an innocent rabbit when seen from about 45 degrees from one side of the gate, and if you were to look at it from about 45 degrees from the other side of the gate, you would see an evil red nerved rabbit.

This image has been capture right in front of the gate, i.e standing parrallel to it, thus capturing the dual sides of the Rabbit.

Also in the background is the moving image of a pedestrian.

The theme of the gate changes periodically, and I hope to keep adding more images of this gate as they change.

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