23 May 2019

And here comes the Equivalency Circus



M.S. Fouzul Ameen should have been alive today. The furniture shop owner from Kottaramulla, Nattandiya was killed by a mob on May 13, 2019. Many shops owned by Muslims should still be standing. They are not. No one should have or should show any apprehension of any Muslim, regardless of attire or appearance. Non-Muslims are wary and Muslims are apprehensive of one another. Should not be that way, but that’s what things have come to. 

After Fouzul Ameen was killed, a Facebook post with a picture of his ID card tagged to it, raised a question.  "මේ මනුස්සයා ගේ දරුවන් අන්තවාදීන් නොවී සිටීමට අපට කළ හැකි දේ මොකක්ද? -ඔව් අර ලේ ඉල්ලපු අයගෙන් තමයි අහන්නේ?-“ (what can we do to stop the children of this man from becoming extremists — yes, the questions is for those who were demanding blood).  

Legit. As legit as this response to the post: ‘තව්වො මරපු මිනිස්සුන්ගෙ ID හොයාගන්න බැරිවෙන්න ඇති නේද? බී කොන්සිස්ටන්ට් බී සයිලෙන්ට් කිව්වලු.’ (Perhaps you couldn’t find IDs of those who the NTJ killed? Be consistent or be silent, they say). 

Perhaps as response to the observation, a clarification followed: බෝම්බ ප්‍රහාර වලින් මිය ගිය ජනයා ගැන මෙසේ ලීවෙමි "මම ආරක්ෂාවෙන් පසු නොවෙමි, මියගියේ මගේ මිනිසුන් . මා සයිලන්ට් නොවෙන අතර කන්සිස්ටන්ට් බව සහතිකය’ (This is what I wrote about those who died in the bomb attacks, ‘I am not safe, those who died are my people.’ I am not silent and I am convinced of my consistency.’ And here’s the response: ‘හරිම ලයාන්විතයි බෝම්බකරුව්න් විශයෙහි. ඔබ කොන්සිස්ටන්ට් නැත.’ (Very tender are you with respect to the suicide bombers; consistent you are not.’

The violence in the North Western Province is unlike what we saw on Easter Sunday in that the latter was a product of long-term strategizing including the setting up of terrorist training camps, stockpiling arms and ammunition, and systematic indoctrination. But we can and should talk about the equivalencies.

The law enforcement authorities were clearly complicit in the case of the Easter Sunday attacks and in the mob violence led by people outside the particular areas that erupted three weeks later that took the life of Fouzul Ameen. Politicians offered support, direct or indirect, or were silently complicit. Theoretically, both could have been prevented provided warning signs noted, warnings heeded and relevant measures put in place.

Issues of identity marked both. In the one, terrorism for the purpose of faith-affirmation. In the other, the targeting of a community. In the one, some argue, the rise of a movement as response to existentialist angst. In the other, although the same people will not acknowledge, a similar angst, at least in the outward expression, never mind the clear hand of bankrupt politicians.    

The equivalency has been given credence by many commentators, mostly from Colombo’s Twitterati (aka Kolombians and Colombots) made up of Born Again Democrats and Funded Voices. The Easter Sunday bombs shocked them, naturally. So did the violence in the North Western Province. In the first case, they were quick to say ‘Terrorism has no religion’ (never mind that the terrorists were affirming a faith and not forgetting, following that logic, the fact that we have many religion-less mosques and Islamic educational institutes! In the latter case, the perpetrators were labeled: ‘Sinhala Buddhists’ (with or without the ‘extremist’ tag).

Some, correctly, pointed out the long history of patriotism affirmed by Muslims. The names of officers who laid down their lives in the war against terror were mentioned. And yet, interestingly, the very same people who make this point also claim that ‘Sinhala Buddhist majoritarianism’ caused the war which, again they say, was fought by Sinhala Buddhists against Tamils! Strange. 

Dr Harsha De Silva went an extra mile, claiming that the Kuliyapitiya violence cost the economy more than the Easter Sunday attacks. Yes, ‘Doctor’ Harsha De Silva. Economist. Someone called Taylor Dibbert was more specific. He penned a piece for www.foreignpolicy.com titled ‘Buddhist anger could tear Sri Lanka apart’. At least he’s said out loud what the aforementioned twitterati only whispers in private. Yep. Buddhists are the villains of the piece. They are who could tear Sri Lanka apart. What that to-be-torn country is, of course, is up for debate.

For a long time, we have had this anti-Buddhist sentiment finding expression in various ways. It takes the form of advocating a secular state without mentioning history, without talking about all the privileges enjoyed by non-Buddhist religious fraternities (compared, for example, to what religious minorities enjoy in Muslim or Christian nations). Mangala Samaraweera and his ilk say ‘We are Sri Lankans’. Correct. But then again, why don’t this One Sri Lanka folk work tirelessly to advocate and constitutionally concretize the ‘One Nation, One Law’ thesis? Why not scream for the abrogation of customary laws? 

But we are in a season of equivalency here and that calls for a vilification of Buddhists and of course Sinhala Buddhists. In the long history, we have had villainy. Magha of Kalinga: was he a Buddhist? The Portuguese who destroyed temples: were they Buddhists? The British who perpetrated genocide (a word oft mis-used by its users), ethnic cleansing and whose rule was marked by religious persecution and, again, the vandalizing of temples and kovils: Buddhists? Then there is the recent history. Velupillai Prabhakaran, goaded by Tamil racists: a Buddhist? The NTJ/ISIS: products of Buddhist extremism? 

Back to equivalency. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). They were quiet for three whole weeks and were quite shy about explaining off the fact that they entered the name of a top rung NTJ operative in their national list. Then, Kuliyapitiya happened. Then came the poster, condemning all extremisms. Correct. But late. And selective, strangely. 

And now we have both the United National Party (UNP) and the JVP in navel-gazing mode regarding the vote of no confidence on Rishard Bathiudeen. We know the charges. We know that the near and dear, blood-wise, faith-wise and political loyalty wise, were right up there among the bigwigs of the NTJ terrorists. Sure, we can and should ask why a similar vote is not taken on Dayasiri Jayasekera for some actions that were similar to the lesser charges against Bathiudeen. That aside, it is nothing less than scandalous for Navin Dissanayake to say that the move on Bathiudeen is racist. That’s almost saying ‘if you are not a Sinhalese or a Buddhist and you engage in any kind of hanky panky, you get a wide berth because, well, you belong to a minority and therefore any action against you has to be racist.’

There’s equivalency of other kinds. Recent history. Tamil racists persuaded  hotheaded Tamil youth to take up arms. They introduced a kind of vulnerability that the Tamil community had not hitherto experienced. Look what the NTJ did. The same. And yet, behind the shield called ‘religious freedom’ we saw the rise of a doctrine among whose key tenets are elements that are in contravention of basic democratic norms and seek to bend the penal code. Yep. Wahhabism. That’s a religion. It fathered the NTJ. But we are not allowed to say it, are we? Oops, I just did! So sue me!  

Equivalency is the word here. I think I might have got it wrong. It might be better to talk about wild extrapolation. As another social media commentator observed, ‘Those very same losers who were silent when 250 plus people were killed by some nutters, are now so vociferous about some politically staged crap about the majority of the country being racists; if that were so, this place should be worse than Syria.’

Last weekend we saw Muslims and Christians in their thousands celebrating Vesak. That’s not going to deliver reconciliation, but it will not hurt it either. Indeed, even though the gesture was warm and warmly received, I don’t think anyone should feel compelled to celebrate some other faith on account of penitence (on behalf of ‘nutters’ professing the same faith) or fear. I say this knowing well that many among them did it for reasons more wholesome than fear and which went beyond ‘penitence’.  What is more important, and I believe it is happening in the Muslim community in a big way, is determined objection to all forms of teaching that buttress extremism of the kind we saw on Easter Sunday. 

At a recent media conference, some Muslim leaders were outspoken about the need for the Muslim community to indulge in introspection. Ali Saby observed that a historic opportunity has arisen to reform Muslim Law and customs in Sri Lanka. I offer that this opportunity can be squandered by the equivalency hordes referred to above.  

There are two ways to trip. One is to sweep the truth under the carpet. The other is to spin a web of lies or half-truths. Such things are not the preserve of any single community, religious or otherwise, of course, but the Equivalency Clowns are certainly doing it full time. Doesn’t help. If indeed we get to reconciliation and civilization it will not be because of them but in spite of them. We owe it to every single victim of the Easter Sunday attack and to the good furniture shop owner, the late M.S. Fouzul Ameen.

malindasenevi@gmail.com

19 May 2019

Sriyan Cooray and the Bradby of 1983


Every Royalist and Trinitian who goes for the Bradby Shield on a regular basis will have special memories. The players of course see things from a different angle. Their recollections are qualitatively different. Naturally, the nail-biters and the victories by large margins stand out as do the exploits of friends. 

My first Bradby Shield experience was in Bogambara, Kandy. It was the second leg in 1976. Royal had beaten Trinity by a record margin (at the time) of 36-0. Back then it was a 60 minute game, as opposed to the current 80 minute format. Tries gave you 4 points then, not 5. Anyway, Manik Weerakumar’s team won 25-6, after Trinity woke up the Royalists drawing first blood. 

Since then there’s been Sampath Agalawatte's Invincible Team of 1984, the juggernaut led by Lasitha ‘Bonsa’ Gunaratne in 1988, the 2002 team of Zulki Hamid that still holds the record for the highest aggregate (83-0). There have been other memorable teams, matches and moments of individual brilliance, all of which make for a lot of pride. The greatest lesson that I, a mere fan, obtained from the Bradby, however, was not from any of these games. Indeed it was from something that happened after the game.

The year was 1983. Royal was led by Sriyan Cooray. The first leg was in Kandy. A good, hard fought match. The records show that Trinity won 14-6. The record don’t show that no less than four tries scored by Royal were disallowed. I remember Royal’s Centre, Ajith Gunasekera in tears after the referee refused to acknowledge that he had touched down. At one point, the boys had wanted to leave the field. Sriyan and perhaps a few other seniors had prevailed on them to understand that ‘The Bradby’ is not only about each of them as individuals, but was bigger than all that.  

Such conversations, I did not hear from the sidelines. What I did hear is what makes that Bradby special for me.  

The Royal camp was devastated, naturally. We had been robbed, we were convinced. We could do nothing about it. But then again, the Kandy Leg is also about revelry, and Royalists seldom dwell too long on defeats. Indeed, they don’t seem to go overboard even in victory. I was ready to put the match behind me. 

Just then Sriyan led his team out of the dressing room. They all seemed a bit down in the mouth. Then he spoke to his team. 

‘We are Royalists. We don’t complain about what happened. Now let’s join our boys and the college band.’  

He may have said other things, but I don’t remember. I do remember a great roar of support and the usual cheer, R-O-Y-A-L….ROYAL! 

Years later, recalling the match, Sriyan, smiling as he always does, said that the Trinitians had been quite apologetic about what had happened. 

Royal won the second leg in Colombo, but Trinity retained the Bradby because of the greater margin in Kandy.  

Clearly, that is not the only match marked by poor refereeing.  Referees err. Some have bad days and some have outrageously bad days. The record stands. No one disputes or calls for re-matches or a nulling of the result. Sriyan and his boys left it all in Bogambara. I took something away. We move on.  An out-of-class lesson taught by a student, just one year senior to me. Thank you, Sriyan Cooray.

malindasenevi@gmail.com



16 May 2019

The prerogatives of humanity and citizenship

It will take more than a pretty picture, sure. But let us not arrogate upon ourselves the tasks of the Police and security forces. Let us be vigilant but resist all urges to become vigilantes. Let not fear, anxiety and suspicion immobilize us into doing nothing to alleviate the fear, anxiety and suspicion of our fellow citizens. 


This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the historic defeat of the LTTE. It coincides with Vesak. It comes just four weeks after a deadly attack by the National Thawfeek Jamaath (NTJ), an attack for which the ISIS has also claimed responsibility. 

There are many things to talk about at this moment. We can talk about the utter incompetence of the Government in terms of the subversion of national security. We can talk of the government’s complicity, first on account criminal negligence, but also in casting a blind eye for reasons of political expedience and an insane fixation on the principle of religious freedom that allowed for worry-free growth of extremism. We can talk about the complicity of previous regimes in similar terms. These are articles for another day. 

We can talk about the popular idea being floated by the Colombo Twitterati, aka Kolombians aka  Colombots that terrorism has no religion. We can discuss whether or not the Easter Sunday attacks were carried out by people affirming a particular faith, namely Islam. We can ask, ‘if that is the case, should we not conclude that there are “religion-free” mosques?’ We can ask, ‘If terrorism has no religion, does it mean that the ISIS and NTJ do not exist?’ We can ask, ‘can they be wished away?’ We can ask, ‘if we cannot use the words “Islam” and “Muslim” when we talk about the Easter Sunday attacks, how is it that those who hold these position talk about “Buddhist” extremists?’ Articles for another day.  

We can talk about customary law. We can question the logic of a legal system where sex with a minor is considered statutory rape but where such things are sanctioned by other laws. We can ask how it is that certain citizens could be punished for having more than one wife but others are not. We can ask how reconciliation is served by dress codes that essentially say ‘I can see you, but you cannot see me; do not communicate with me, I do not trust you but you better trust me, for this is my way and if you don’t like it, take the highway!’ We can talk about such walls. In other articles. Another day.

We can talk about many other things, but I will not. I will talk about and to the citizens of this country. 

There are things beyond our control, and things we can and should do. We can read the signs, read the movement of signs and draw conclusions. We can thereafter design plans of action and execute them to secure our preferred outcomes. Do that. I have no problem with it.  

Today, I want to talk about fear. About anxiety. Suspicion. 

There are crimes of omission and commission that all communities, religious and ethnic, are guilty of. This is not to say that we should disregard history and the magnitude of error and crime of course, but that’s also for another day.

Today the entire country is in confusion. We cannot trust either the Government or the Opposition. Leaders of all communities are suspect. There’s a gap between word and deed. The problem and the uncomfortable truth is that we have been forced to be hesitant even about things that are within our control. For there’s suspicion among us. There’s fear of each other. There is anxiety. 

I remember a similar time of anxiety, fear and suspicion. July 1983. We lived at the time down a lane where there were families of all communities, ethnic and religious. Indian Tamils, Sri Lankan Tamils, Sinhala Buddhists, Sinhala Christians, Tamil Hindus, Tamil Christians, families of mixed faiths and ethnic identities, Muslims. The mobs looted the Tamil houses and set fire to one. The fire was put out by three teenagers and an old man, all Sinhalese. Our neighbors and other family friends and friends of friends took refuge in our house.  

That evening, I overheard my mother telling my father, ‘They say that houses where Tamils have taken refuge will be attacked.’  My father responded, ‘They are our neighbors and friends, such questions do not arise.’ 

I’ve heard people talk about July 1983, not wanting another such tragedy, partly for the monstrous affront to humanity and partly out of fear that it would push Muslims into the arms of extremists and thereby produce another protracted armed confrontation, partly for the ‘economic fallout’ and partly for the ire of the ‘international community’.  Be that as it may, what is crucial about all of it is that such an incident would mean that we have compromised everything that is good and wholesome embedded in the notions of ‘neighbor’ and ‘citizen’.  That is the first and foremost concern, for now. And that alone should spur us to do what needs to be done.  

Rev Mawarale Baddiya Thero, speaking at an event titled ‘Jathika Maga’ (‘National Path’) recently referred to all this, after speaking of the political factors that produced the Easter Sunday attacks. Let me paraphrase and transliterate.

‘This is the month of Vesak. It should be fragranced by incense sticks and flowers. Let not this month be polluted by the stench of blood. There are karmic consequences to what we do.’ 

Of course it is not something that should be limited to Vesak, but the reverend was obviously obtaining from the religious significance of the month to make the point. 

Who are we if we cannot take care of each other, especially in a time of anxiety, fear and suspicion? Isn’t this the moment when we can best affirm our humanity, neighborliness, friendship and citizenship?  The call is not for a dropping of the guard of course. Be circumspect by all means, but let not fear, suspicion and anxiety move us to displacing frustrations and picking easy targets as proxies for ‘The Enemy’. Let us not presume. Let us not judge. Above us, let us not arrogate upon ourselves the tasks of the Police and security forces. Let us be vigilant but resist all urges to become vigilantes. Let not fear, anxiety and suspicion immobilize us into doing nothing to alleviate the fear, anxiety and suspicion of our fellow citizens. 

Let me repeat. Let us not retire our sensitivity, our humanity and the basic responsibilities of citizenship when we are called upon to affirm these things in the service of one another. 

Shihara Farook, a doctor currently resident in the United Kingdom, wants to send a message calling all mosques to ask Muslims to step out and light a Vesak lantern outside their homes. It would be a sign and a positive sign.  There can be other things that the Muslim community can do, but let me not be presumptuous enough to prescribe.  The same goes for other religious communities. Rev Baddiya Thero spoke to Buddhists. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith speaks to the Catholics. Members of the clergy belonging to other faiths no doubt will speak to their respective flocks.  

My schoolmate and friend Mujib Alavi, when concerns were raised about issues of safety, thanked his friends but insisted that he will take care of his family to the best of his ability. My response was this: ‘Muji, we are part of your family.’  He would take care of me and I would take care of him, I didn’t have to elaborate.  I can speak only for myself, but each one of us can and perhaps should consider speaking for themselves and hopefully in ways that heal and bring people together rather than drive them apart, even as we fight in all ways necessary, the threat at hand: terrorism. It would be a fitting tribute to those who laid down their lives to rid this country of the terrorist menace one decade ago.  

tenderness will not hurt



malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com


11 May 2019

අනතුර, ආරක්ෂාව සහ පුරවැසි වගකීම


මේක පරණ කතාවක්.  ඒ කියන්නේ 80 දශකයේ අග භාගයේ. මතක හැටියට 1988 සැප්තැම්බර් මාසයේ. පේරාදෙණිය විශ්වවිද්‍යාලය මාස ගානකට පස්සේ වුවෘත  වුනා. එදා පන්ති වර්ජනය කරන්න පේරාදෙණිය ශිෂ්‍ය ක්‍රියාකාරී කමිටුව තීරණය කරලා තිබුනා. අපට වෛද්‍ය පීඨයට එන්න කියල තිබුනත්, රැස්වීම පැවැත්වූනේ ජිම් එකේ. ඒ කාලේ එම කමිටුවේ කැඳවුම්කරු නිෂ්මි. නිෂ්මි පැය දෙකක් විතර කතා කෙරුවා. බොහෝ දෙනෙකුට අවශ්‍ය වෙලා තිබුනේ කොහොම හරි විභාග කරලා උපාධිය ඇරගෙන විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයෙන් පිට වෙන්න. එහෙමයි මට හිතුනේ. ඒත් නිෂ්මි ගේ කතාව අහලා සෑහෙන පිරිසක් ශිෂ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරයේ ස්ථාවරය අනුමත කෙරුව. නිෂ්මිගේ කතාවෙන් පස්සේ තවත් ශිෂ්‍ය නායකයෙක් මොකද්දෝ වැඩ පිළිවෙලකට එකඟතාවය ඵල කරන්න කියල ඉල්ලුවා. හැමෝම වගේ අත ඉස්සුවා. මතක හැටියට ඇත ඉස්සුවේ නැත්තේ මමයි  ධම්මික අමරකෝනනුයි විතරයි. 

ඒ කාලයේ අපේ ෆැකල්ටියේ දෙවන වසරේ කිහිප දෙනෙකුට ශිෂ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරයේ වැඩ ගැන කිසිම පැහැදීමක් තිබුනේ නැහැ.  ශිෂ්‍ය නායකයෝ අපට සරසවිය තුල දේශපාලනය තහනම් කරලා තිබුනා.  පන්ති වර්ජන නිසා දේශනා තිබුනෙත් නැහැ. මාස ගානක් ගෙදර හිටිය නිසා යාලුවෝ එක්ක ඉන්න එක හොඳයි කියල හිතුන. අපේ කණ්ඩායමේ හැමෝම වගේ වැඩි කාලයක් ගත කෙරුවේ මාක්ස් ප්‍රනාන්දු ශාලාවේ. භීෂණය කියන වචනේ දේශපාලන ව්‍යවහාරයට ඒ වෙනකොට එකතු වෙලා තිබුනේ නැහැ. කාලය ගෙවුනේ පොත් කියවමින්, යාලුවෝ එක්ක වල්පල් කතා කරමින් සහ මේස පන්දු සෙල්ලම් කරමින්. 

'උඹලට ප්‍රශ්න තේරෙන්නේ නැද්ද?' ජවිපෙ ක්‍රියාධරයෙක් දවසක් ඇහුවා මතකයි.

'තේරෙනවා. අඬන්නද කියන්නේ?' මම ඇහුවා. 

මට තේරුණා විදිහට එජාප ආණ්ඩුවත්, ජවිපෙත් ඒ වෙනකොට රට මහා විපතකට කැඳවාගෙන යන තත්ත්වයක් තිබුනේ. ඒ ක්‍රියාවලිය නවත්තන්න මට ශක්තියක් තිබුනේ නැහැ. ඒකට සම්මාදම් වෙන්න අවශ්‍ය වුනෙත් නැහැ. 

'උඹලා ඔය සෙල්ලම නවත්තලා වරෙන් කතා කරන්න.'

මේස පන්දු සෙල්ලම් කරමින් හිටපු ප්‍රියන්ත වික්‍රමසිංහටයි මටයි ආරාධනා කෙරුවේ 'ජෙප්පෙක්' නෙවෙයි.  අපේ කණ්ඩායමේ නිල නොලත් නායකයා ලෙස කටයුතු කරපු ප්‍රේමසිරි. අපි කිව්වේ 'අලියා' කියල.

'මොනවා කතා කරන්නද? හැම දේම පැහැදිලියි නේ. මුන් (ඒ කිව්වේ ජවිපෙ සහ එජාපය) පිස්සු කෙලිනවා. අපට කරන්න දෙයක් ඉතුරු වෙලා නැහැනේ.' මම එහෙමයි උත්තර දුන්නේ.

'ඒකට කමක් නැහැ. වරෙන්කො.'

ඉතින් කතා කරන්න මාර්කස් ශාලාවේ අංක 3 කාමරයට අපි ගියා. සෙට් එකම හිටියා. කතා කෙරුවා. ටික වෙලාවක් යනකොට මට තේරුනේ හැමෝම වගේ ඒ වෙනකොට ජවිපෙට ඍජුව නැත්තම් වක්‍රව එකඟයි කියන එක.  ජවිපෙ වැරදියි කියන මතය තහවුරු කරන්න විවිධ කරුණු කාරණා ඉදිරිපත් කෙරුවා. ජවිපෙ දේශපාලනය මාර්ක්ස්වාදී නොවන බවට තර්ක කෙරුවා. පේරාදෙණියේ ජෙප්පන්ගේ තක්කඩිකම් මතක් කරලා දුන්නා. ඒත් ඒ වෙනකොට එක්කෙනෙක්ගෙන් සමන්විත සුළුතරයක් බවට මම පත්වෙලයි තිබුනේ. ඒක මට ප්‍රශ්නයක් වුනේ නැහැ.

'උඹලා හැමෝම ජවිපෙ හරි කිව්වත් මම එකඟ වෙන්නේ නැහැ,' කියල කිව්වා.

එදා රෑ අලියා 19 කාමරයට ඇවිත් මට මෙහෙම කිව්වා: 'ජවිපෙ හරි කියල කියනවා නෙවෙයි. ජවිපෙ හොඳයි කියනවත් නෙවෙයි. මෙහෙ ජෙප්පෝ කරන දේවල් අනුමත කරනවත් නෙවෙයි. එත් මචං අපේ ගම්වල තත්ත්වය වෙනස්. උඹ වරෙන්කෝ. උඹට තේරෙයි.'

පහුවදා අලියා එක්ක මම අම්පාරට ගියා. අම්පාර කිව්වට, අම්පාරම නෙවෙයි. අම්පාරට මෙහා උහනින් හැරිලා කිලෝමීටර තුන හතරක් විතර ගිහින් වමට හැරිලා තවත් කිලෝමීටර් දෙකක් විතර ගිහාට පස්සේ හමුවෙන කුමාරිගම තමයි අලියලාගේ ගෙදර තිබුනේ. 

දවස් දෙක තුනක් හිටියා. විවිධ අය මුණගැහුනා. විජේවික්‍රම ඉස්කෝලේ මහත්තයා රටේ ඇතිව තිබුන තත්ත්වය ගැන ගැඹුරු විග්‍රහයක් කෙරුවා. එතුමා පරණ 'ශ්‍රීලංකාකාරයෙක්'. විවිධ මට්ටම් වලින් ක්‍රියා කරන ජවිපෙ සාමාජිකයින්, නායකයින් හමු වුනා. කව්රු කිව්වද කියල හරියටම මතක නැහැ එත් කව්රු හරි මෙහෙම කිව්වා: 'අපිට ශක්තියක් තියෙන තැනකට යන්න වෙලයි තියෙන්නේ.' 

පහුවදා දේශප්‍රේමී ජනතා ව්‍යාපාරය සංවිධානය කරපු රැස්වීමකට අපි ගියා. සෑහෙන පිරිසක් ආවා. ශ්‍රී ලංකා නිදහස් පක්ෂයේ අපේක්ෂකවරුත් ඇවිත් හිටියා. විවිධ අය කතා පැවැත්වුවා. හමුදාවේ පිරිසක් ශබ්ද විකාශන සපයලා දුන්නා. ජවිපෙට හිතවත් සරසවි ශිෂ්‍ය පිරිසක් ඇවිත් මෙහෙම අපෙන් ඇහුවා 'අන්තරේ නියෝජනය කරලා කතාවක් කරන්න ඕන...ප්‍රේමසිරි කතා කරනවද?'

ප්‍රේමසිරිව ඒ වෙනකොට ශිෂ්‍ය ක්‍රියාකාරී කමිටුවෙන් ඉවත් කරලා.

'මම කතා කරන්න ද?' ප්‍රේමසිරි මගෙන් ඇහුවා. 'පොදුවේ සරසවි ශිෂ්‍යයින් නිජෝජනය කරන කතාවකට මම අකමැති නැහැ,' කියලා මම කිව්වා. අලියා කතා කෙරුවා. ආණ්ඩුව සැරට විවේචනය කෙරුවා. කතාව මගක් යනකොට හමුදා නිලධාරියෙක් කතාවට බාධා කෙරුවා.

'අපේ ලවුඩ්ස්පීකර් පාවිච්චි කරලා ආණ්ඩුවට බනින එක හරි නැහැ නේද?' නිලධාරියා එහෙම කිව්වා. අලියා කතාව නැවැත්තුවා.

'උඹල දැන්මම පලයන්,' කව්රු කිව්වද කියල හරියටම මතක නැහැ, ඒත් අපේ යාලුවෙක් එහෙම කිව්වා.

අලියාගේ ගෙදර ගිහින් අපේ ඇඳුම් බෑග් අරගෙන ආයෙත් අම්පාරට ඇවිත් නුවර බස් එකකට නැග්ගා. එදා රෑ අලියව හොයාගෙන කට්ටියක් ගෙදර ඇවිත් තියෙනවා. රැස්වීමේ කතා කරපු හැමෝම භීෂණය කාලේ මරල දාල තිබුනා. අලියා ආයේ ගමට ගියේ භීෂණය අවසන් වුනාට පස්සේ.

ඒ පරණ කතාව මතක් වුනේ අද පවතින තත්ත්වය ගැන කල්පනා කරද්දී. මුස්ලිම් අන්තවාදී කොටස් මේ රටේ ඉන්න බව පාස්කු ඉරිදා ප්‍රහාරයට කලිනුත් රහසක් වෙලා තිබුනේ නැහැ. දැන් 'ආගමික නිදහස,' 'සිංහල බෞද්ධ අන්තවාදය' වගේ කතා වලින් ඒ ත්‍රස්තවාදය සාධාරණය කරන්න බැහැ. එහෙම අන්තවාදී කොටස් නැහැයි කියල කියන්නත් බහ. දැන් මේක රටේ ආරක්ෂාව පිලිබඳ ප්‍රශ්නයක්. පුරවැසියාගේ ආරක්ෂාව පිලිබඳ ප්‍රශ්නයක්. රජයට ජාතික ආරක්ෂාව සලසා දෙන්න බැරිනම් පුරවැසියන්ට ආරක්ෂාව සලසා ගන්න වෙනවා. රජය අවංකව ඒ වෙනුවෙන් කැප වුනත් පුරවැසියන්ට්ත් වගකීමේ කොටසක් පැවරෙනවා. එහි ප්‍රධාන කාර්යය වෙන්නේ විමසිල්ලෙන් සිටීමයි.

අනතුරේ, තර්ජනයේ දිග පළල මේ වෙනවිට කාට කාටත් පැහැදිලි යි. අදක්ෂ, අදූරදර්ශී, අමන සහ දූෂිත යහපාලන ආණ්ඩුව සම්පූර්ණ ආරක්ෂක ව්‍යුහයම අකර්මන්‍ය කර ඇති බවත් පැහැදිලියි. දේශපාලනඥයින් ඡන්ද කුට්ටි ගැන සිතා පාස්කු ඉරිදා ප්‍රහාරයටද මුස්ලිම් අන්තවාදයේ වර්ධනයටද පාර කැපූ බවත් පැහැදිලියි. වම්මු, (ගල්)ලිබ්බෝ, හෙජමනියෝ යනාදීන් මෙන්ම සිංහල බෞද්ධ විරෝධීන් ඇතුළු ඇරියස්කාරයින් ආගමික නිදහස, නිරාගමිකභාවය, සංහිඳියාව යනාදී වචන පිටුපස සැඟවී මේ සියලු අනතුරුවලට තර්ජන වලට උඩගෙඩි දුන් බවද පැහැදිලියි.  මුස්ලිම් පක්ෂ, පල්ලි, ආගමික සංවිධාන සහ මුස්ලිම් ප්‍රජාවේ ඇතැම් කොටස් අනතුර දැන දැනත් ප්‍රධාන කාරණය වසන් කරන ආකාරයට කටයුතු කල බවත් පැහැදිලියි.  අනතුර දැක්ක නිසා නැත්තම් සිංහල බෞද්ධකම් ගැන අන්තවාදී අදහස් දරන නිසා හෝ සිංහල බෞද්ධ කොටස් ආගම්වාදීව ජාතිවාදීව හැසිරීමද මේ තත්ත්වය නිර්මාණය කරන්න දායක වින බවත් පැහැදිලියි. කෙසේ වෙතත්, වහාබිවාදයේ වර්ධනය ගැන කිසිම සතුටක් නැති බොහෝ අයද මුල්සිම් ප්‍රජාව තුල වෙසෙන බවත් පැහැදිලියි. අසරණකම හෝ වෙන කුමන හෝ හේතුවක් නිසා හෝ ත්‍රස්ත ප්‍රහාරයට පෙර වහාබිවාදයට මේ බොහොමයක් එරෙහි නොවූ බවත් පැහැදිලියි. 

ඒ කෙසේ වෙතත්, මේ මොහොතේ සියලු මුස්ලිම් ජාතිකයින් ත්‍රස්තවාදීන් ට පක්ෂ යැයි සිතීම බරපතල වරදක් හැටියටයි මට පෙනෙන්නේ.  සියලු මුස්ලිම් ජාතිකයින් ගැන සැකයක් ඇති වීම අසාධාරණ වුවත් ඇති වී ඇති තත්ත්වය හමුවේ එසේ සැක කිරීම තේරුම් ගන්න පුළුවන්, මන්ද මෙය ආත්මාරක්ෂාව පිලිබඳ කාරණයක් බවට පත්ව ඇති නිසා. මේ වැනි අවස්ථාවලදී බිය සහ සැකය සාමාන්‍ය දෙයකි. ත්‍රස්තවාදියාට අවශ්‍ය පුංචිම පුංචි ඉඩක් බවත් ඇත්ත.  ආවේගයටත් පුංචිම පුංචි ඉඩක් වුවත් ප්‍රමාණවත් වුනත්, නොඉවසීම, අවිනය සහ විශේෂයෙන්ම ආරක්ෂක අංශ වල වගකීම් තමා වෙත පවරා ගැනීම විශාල ඛේදවාචකයන් ට ඉඩ සලස්වාදීමක් ද විය හැක. 

80 දශකයේ ජවිපෙට එකතු පිරිස් ජවිපෙට එකතුවුනේ මතවාදී කාරනා ඔස්සේම වුන නෙවෙයි. 60 දශකයේ නැත්තම් 70 දශකයේ මුල් භාගයේ ඉපදුනු පවට කෙනෙක් ජවිපෙ සාමාජිකයෙක් ලෙස සැකකර අතුරුදහන් කිරීමේ දැවැන්ත තර්ජනයක් ඇති බැවින් බොහෝ දෙනා 'ශක්තියක් ඇති තැනකට' තල්ලු වුනා. 80 දශකයේ දමිළ තරුණයි එල්.ටී.ටී.ඊ. සංවිධානයට නතු කර ගැනීමට ප්‍රභාකරන්ට හැකි වීමට ලොකුම හේතුවක් වුනෙත් එවැනිම බියක් ඒ අය තුල නිර්මාණය වීම මිස ඊලාම්වාදය වැළඳගත් නිසාම නෙවෙයි. 

එවැනි තත්ත්වයක් නිර්මාණය වෙන්න පුළුවන් නිසා දැන් දැන් ත්‍රස්තවාදියා අමතක කරලා, තර්ජනය අමතක කරලා ඇති විය හැකි මුස්ලිම් විරෝධී ප්‍රහාරයක් පදනම් කරගෙන සිංහල බෞද්ධයින් ප්‍රධාන හතුරා කරලා අවලාද නගන තත්ත්වයක් ඇතිවෙලා තියෙනවා. මේක හොඳ දෙයක් නෙවෙයි. ඒ ඔල්මාදයේ ප්‍රතිඵලයක් හැටියට සිංහල බෞද්ධයාද 'ශක්තිය' හොයාගෙන යන්න ඉඩ තියෙනවා. ආත්මාරක්ෂාව ගැන හිතන්න එයාලටත් සිද්ද වෙනවා. මුස්ලිම් දේශපාලකයින් වගේම පූජකයින් කඩු කිණිසි ගැන විකාර කතා කියද්දී, ආගමික නිදහසේ නාමයෙන් විකාර භාවිත් සාධාරණය කරද්දී වෙන ජන කොට්ටාශ වලට 'ඉවසන්න,' 'හික්මෙන්න,' වගේ දේවල් කියන එක විහිළුවක් වෙනවා.  ඔය විදිහට  සිංහල බෞද්ධයා බිත්තියට හේත්තු කරලා ව්‍යසනයකට අවශ්‍ය වාස්තවික තත්ත්වයන් නිර්මාණය කරන්න බැරි නැහැ.  ඒ නිසාත් සිංහල බෞද්ධයා තව තවත් පරිස්සම් වෙන්න ඕන.

පරණ කතාව ලියද්දි ඊටත් වැඩිය පරණ කතාවක් මතක් වුනා. කතාව මුලින් දැනගන්න ලැබුනේ ශේක්ස්පියර් ගේ 'ජුලියස් සීසර්' කියන නාට්‍යයෙන්. සීරර්ගේ ඝාතනයට අනතුරුව මාක් ඇන්ටනි විසින් ඝාතකයින්ට එරෙහිව පුරවැසියන් උසි ගැන්නුවා. කුපිත වූ පුරවැසියන් ඝාතකයින් සෙව්වේ එයාලව මරා දාන්න. එක් පිරිසකට සින්නා කියල කවියෙක් හමු වෙනවා. කවියා ගේ සම්පූර්ණ නම ගයියස් හෙල්වියස් සින්නා. සීසර්ට එරෙහි කුමන්ත්‍රණකරුවන් අතර ලුශියස් කොර්නේලියස් සින්නා කියල කෙනෙකුත් හිටියා. පිරිසයි සින්නායි අතර ඇති වූ කතාබහ ශේක්ස්පියර් නාට්‍යයේ ඉදිරිපත් කෙරුවේ මෙහෙමයි.

'තමාගේ නම?'

'සින්නා'

'මූව කෑලි වලට ඉරා දමාපල්ලා. මූ කුමන්ත්‍රනකරුවෙක්!'

'මම සින්නා නම් වූ කවියා! මම සින්නා නම් වූ කවියා!'

'මුගෙ දුර්වල කවි නිසා කෑලි වලට ඉරා දමාපල්ලා!

'සින්නා කියන කුමන්ත්‍රනකරුවා මම නෙවෙයි!'

'ඒක අදාළ නැහැ. මුගේ නම සින්නා. ඒ නම උගේ පපුවෙන් ගලවලා දාපල්ලා.'
     
බිය කියන දේ භීතිකාවට පෙරලෙන්න වැඩි දෙයක් අවශ්‍ය නැහැ. වේදනාව ආවේගයට පහසුවෙන් පෙරළෙනවා. ආවේගය ට බ්‍රේක් නැහැ. ඉතාම සූක්ෂමව, සෑහෙන්න කාලයක් සැලසුම්කරලා ප්‍රහාර දියත් කරන ත්‍රස්තවාදීන් එහෙම මට්ටු කරන්න බැහැ. වෙන්නේ මිතුරන් දුරස්වන එක. දුරස්වන මිතුරෝ හතුරෝ බවට පත් වෙන එක. අවුල වියවුලක් වෙන එක. 

මතවාදී තලයේ පරාජය කල යුතු හතුරන් පරාජය කල යුතුයි. ඒකට කඩු කිණිසි බෝම්බ අවශ්‍ය නැහැ. මතවාදී සටන ට එන්නේ නැතුව ත්‍රස්තවාදය තෝරාගත් අයව තර්කයෙන් පරාජය කරන්න බැහැ. සැලසුමක් තියෙන්න ඕන. කැපවීමක් තියෙන්න ඕන. ආවේගය පැත්තකට දාන්න ඕන. ප්‍රඥාව ට මුල් තැන දෙන්න ඕන. හැම වෙලාවෙම අවදියෙන් ඉන්න ඕන. ආරක්ෂක අංශ වලට උදව් කරන්න ඕන. ආත්මාරක්ෂාව සඳහා අවි ගන්න සිදුවෙන අවස්ථා නැතුව නෙවෙයි. ඒ අවසාන ඔප්ෂන් එක. ඒක මුලින් තොර ගන්න එක වැරදියි. මෝඩයි. මුග්දයි. ව්‍යසනයක පරණ කතා අලුත් කරවයි. එවිට ජයග්‍රහණ ලබාගන්න සිද්ද වෙන්නේ ලොකු වන්දියක් ගෙවලා. තිස් වසරක යුද්ධයේ පාඩම මෙයයි. 


09 May 2019

Easter Sunday Attacks: Naming the enemy is a game now!

The terrorists can't be named, 'they have no religion'
so let's name someone else, huh?


Make no mistake, it would be a massive travesty of justice to see the Muslim community as a monolith and to conflate it with the NTJ and other such extremists groups claiming to be affirming the same faith.  All communities must stand with the Muslims of this country. Talk has to be walked. Extra miles have to be walked. By all. But let us be clear that when we speak about Muslims (or Christians or Buddhists or Hindus), we are speaking of religious cultures, where, for good or for bad, religion is the operative word. 

‘Terrorist has no religion’. That’s a poster-line. Appropriate given the context of the Easter Sunday attack. It is moreover a statement that clearly disassociates the religious from the terrorists, especially those of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.  Simultaneously a Facebook group calling itself ‘Sri Lanka Unites (a young movement, they say, for hope and reconciliation), has announced that it is ‘looking for 1000 volunteers to counter hate speech on Facebook and WhatsApp.’  

These organized responses to the attacks and the fears they engendered have been accompanied by numerous articles in the English press echoing the same sentiments. Letheef Farook, writing for the Colombo Telegraph headlines it thus: ‘Easter Sunday carnage brought global islamophobia to Sri Lanka.’  It’s almost as though there was no islamophobia before Easter Sunday. It’s almost as though the only phobia around is that associated with Islam. It’s as though he has missed the obvious — the fact that global terrorism had set up office in Sri Lanka. He’s upset about consequences but is dismissive, almost, of cause.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, speaking at a ‘Vigil for a United Sri Lanka’ asks, ‘How did we create young men and women capable of such hate? What did we do or not do to make them receptive to hate mongering and delusion?’ ‘We’ she says.  Who are ‘we’ here, pray? It’s an interesting acknowledgment of complicity simply because she obviously doesn’t mean herself and because, all of a sudden, it’s not Zahran or the NTJ who is to blame, but ‘us’!  Neat!

The subtext however is inescapable and indeed at times it is quite ‘The Surface’.  The finger that is pointed is directed to the Sinhala Buddhists. There can be a couple of legitimate reasons for this. First of all the Sinhala Buddhists comprise the largest community in the island and any collective response from them can have serious repercussions, far more than the acts of omission and commission of other ethnic or religious communities. Secondly, we had the acts of aggression from the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and political fellow travelers. 

Interestingly, however, those who weren’t averse to whitewashing the LTTE by urging people to look for root causes, forgot roots and causes when it came to the BBS. Indeed, those who are now urging people not to conflate Muslim with the NTJ were not that insistent when it came to the BBS and the rest of the Buddhist community. Vilification of the collective came without saying and therefore was taken as ‘goes without saying’.  

What is forgotten or sidelined in the entire exercise is the shy-making when it comes to naming the perpetrator. In another time, similarly heart-wrench-exhibitors refused to name the LTTE as a terrorist organization. Indeed, they echoed the LTTE claim of being the sole representatives of the Tamils and even called for parity of status vis-a-vis the Government of Sri Lanka. Today, they wouldn’t dare call the NTJ anything but terrorists, but instead, cutely, refuses to talk about the organization outside of the unavoidable tokenism of alluding to the attack. Yes, the attack. They talk of the attack but do not delve into the attacker, the doctrine that prompted the attack and the religious faith in whose name they were carried out. That’s not on, apparently, perhaps because we need to have ‘hope’ and ‘reconciliation’.

Hope is a word that is generally apolitical although what is aspired is naturally colored by political preferences. So too reconciliation. Just like ‘peace’ in that other time of suicide attacks. For some, it was about concessions to the LTTE, just like anything less than wide-scale devolution would not add up to ‘reconciliation’.  Interestingly, there’s very little talk about devolution these days. No Provincial Council elections, no sweat. 

For the record, let’s re-post a pertinent observation by Dayan Jayatilleka: ‘Do you realize that if the “New Constitution” project had gone through, we'd have had a self-governing Eastern Province, with an all-powerful Chief Minister, a powerless Governor, no Executive President and a Government in Colombo which had to ask for permission before deploying troops in Kalmunai, or setting up military camps in the East, because law and order would be vested in that Council. Neat, huh? Remember all those who wanted that outcome and pushed hard for it.’

All of a sudden, to get back to the matter at hand, it’s as though the greatest obstacle to hope and reconciliation is posed by Sinhala Buddhists. M.A. Sumanthiran of the TNA, for example, tells the New York Times, ‘We have a new enemy but the same hate’. No prizes for guessing where he believes this hate emanates from. Again a ‘goes without saying’ that came without saying. 

So far, only S.I. Keetaponcalan (‘Understanding Zahran: Sri Lanka’s ultra-terrorist’ in the Colombo Telegraph, has mentioned that the man’s original focus was his jihad against Buddhists. For the rest, it’s the soft target which helps vent frustration and inter alia helps divert people from the real enemy here. It’s not ‘hate’. It’s an existentialist angst and that’s not the preserve of the Buddhists either. It is an error to think that the greatest threat is Sinhala Buddhist extremism just as it is an error to think that ‘religion’ had nothing to do with the situation we are in. 

So let’s go back to this notion of terrorism having no religion. The religious who abhor groups that unleash violence in the name of the very same faith are quick to point out, ‘that’s not who we are or what our faith is about’.  Correct. This does not mean that the terrorists are religion-free. The NTJ killed in the name of Islam. They were affirming their faith. They were terrorists. And, as someone quipped, it appears that there are many religion-less mosques in the country. This too we need to think about. 

And yet, again as Dayan points out, a lot of commentary has been irrelevant or diversionary. Referring to a statement issued by South Asian activists, academics and journalists urging Sri Lanka not to violate fundamental rights in the name of combating terror, Dayan observe, ‘All references to “terror" ( sometimes within inverts!) are to a possible governmental/state ideology or policy response; not to the massacre, or the character of its perpetrators. These people should read or re-read Sartre or Camus to learn or be reminded how engaged/committed intellectuals respond to fascistic terror threatening their countries, societies and citizens. Start with “The Roads to Freedom”.’

It is high time that we had a long and serious discussion about religious freedom, not to curb it but to figure out what faiths or bodies can come under that label, especially if there’s an avowal to affirm faith by drawing literally from texts (i.e. disregarding context or interpretive necessity) those sections that advocate violence. The bible (both old and new testaments) contains calls for violence against non-believers, but we haven’t seen any Christian sects in Sri Lanka (and there are many, including those who have registered themselves as companies!) taking these literally, out of context, and advocating exclusively for application to the letter.  

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has a line about religious freedom which offers a pertinent rider: ‘Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.’  

Where does Wahhabism stand on this? It is a question for everyone in Sri Lanka, not just the Muslims, although that community given its greater fragility at this moment cannot afford to brush it under the carpet as the hope-and-reconciliation ladies and gentlemen seem to have. 

Those who want to police social media by tossing out ads for trolls would do well to understand that it’s a pretty short distance from where they are to the problem at hand and that complicities, when they are tossed out (seemingly) randomly, have a way of dropping on one’s own lap.

Dayan is absolutely right when he says, ‘The “intellectuals” are divided between those who suffer from Sinhala-phobia and those who suffer from Sinhala-philia. The ISIS doesn't give a s**t about either, because they believe in absolute ethnic equality: they'll blow up anyone of any ethnicity, any opinion about ethnicity, any gender and any age. Only dangerously stupid people don't get it.’ 

Wishing away the enemy does not help, as seems to be trendy in these days of ignoring the abuse of the notion of religious freedom enshrined in the constitution and the need to call a spade and spade.    

    
malindasenevi@gmail.com

08 May 2019

Ostriches cannot fight terrorists



Immediately after the LTTE was militarily defeated, the peace-brigade that had for years fought tooth and nail for ‘parity of status’ (i.e. for the LTTE vis-a-vis the Government of Sri Lanka) and insisted, inter alia, that the LTTE was the sole representatives of the Tamils, said ‘the government can now dismantle all military camps in the North and East.’

At first glance, this seemed to be a logical suggestion. After all, there was no military threat now. On the other hand, that logic could be applied to all military camps, which ought to be dismantled. One could go further and argue that the entire military establishment should be done away with. Silly. 

Silliness, however, seems to go hand in hand with such people. If, as they have argued, the LTTE was a product of a history (a tale told selectively and with appropriate twists to justify a narrative that is poor on substantiation, by the way), then what is done or not done in the here and now can have consequences. 

In a terrorist-infested world order, dominated by powers that are not adverse to unleashing terrorism, national security is not a suspendible subject. If there were doubts on this, the Easter Sunday attacks would have laid them to rest.  

And yet, we have seen the Colombo Twitterati (Kolumbians, if you will) and of course those who think they’ll get membership in that exclusive and snooty club by parroting their prejudices repeatedly skirting the issue of terrorism. 

We had Phil Miller of the website ‘Morning Star’ (which is ‘for peace and socialism’ no less!) pointing the finger at Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, following the now tired tokenism of flagging the terrorist. Here’s what he says: ‘There are certainly some Muslims in Sri Lanka who may exhibit extremist tendencies.’ Some? May? Talk about downplaying the most terrible single-day execution of terrorist attacks! 

Let’s forgive Phil. He obviously doesn’t know much. The New York Times and the BBC ought to know better than to conjure the now tired ‘billa’ of Sinhala Buddhist extremism, but then again going by the political persuasions of those who provides information at this end, one need not be surprised.  

There are others less forgivable. Prof Jayadeva Uyangoda, in an interview with the Sunday Observer offers two proposals. The first is to defend democracy and human rights. He explains, ‘Slightly similar to the 9/11 attacks on American and global democracy, the Easter Sunday tragedy could be used by certain sections in Sri Lanka to curtail democracy and bring in an authoritarian form of governance.’ He is correct. 

Here’s the second: ‘Restoration of the institutional balance between the President, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet is vital for Sri Lanka to resolve the political crisis which paved the way for the Easter Sunday tragedy.’ Well, some form of clarity is of course useful, and to that extent this is a sensible suggestion.

Is that it, though? It seems that’s it as far as Uyangoda is concerned. In terms of dealing with the threat, all he has to say is ‘[t]he so-called radicalization of Islam has a unique feature, has associated itself with a global armed insurgency, or a global war,’ and ‘what is necessary now is a global conversation about all religions’ secular role.’  So-called? He’s not sure? Well, a conversation is important and that is taking place in various forms, but Uyan talking to Jehan and sharing insights thus obtained with Victor Ivan and Victor briefing Sumanthiran so that Civil Society can take a cue is hardly a conversation and certainly not something that those who plot attacks such as the one on Easter Sunday will lose sleep over. 

Victor Ivan, writing a guest column for the Daily FT titled ‘Sri Lanka: our of the frying pan into the fire,’ talks about the history of Muslims in Sri Lanka, the political conundrum of a president and premier at loggerheads, throws in the bogey of Sinhala Buddhists (as the villains of the piece, obviously) and glosses over the terrorists and the ideas, ideals, identities and faith they profess and affirmed. All he has to say is that it has ‘caused shock and shame among the Muslim community.’ That’s in all of 2,698 words! At least Jehan Perera, in his initial responses to the attacks (published in international media) was not so verbose in the usual vilification of Sinhala Buddhists. Jehan, though, demonstrated once again that he was all at sea when it comes to identifying threats. Still, one would have expected him to advocate a negotiated settlement with the perpetrators. He did not. Is it because churches were attacked, one wonders!

Sumanthiran, TNA Member of Parliament, speaking at an event organized by people who could be described as Wannabe Kolombians, offers that the Easter Sunday attack is a result of Sri Lanka’s failure to address minority grievances. Yeah right! Is he saying that removing the tokenist privileging of Buddhism from and scripting Eelamist devolution into the constitution would have stopped the terrorists who claim to be doing the work of Allah (and not necessarily delivering the aspirations of all Muslims)? 

‘Civil Society’ had to issue a statement (see ‘We cannot afford a second breach’ in The Island,  May 1, 2019). They were ‘appalled by the carnage.  They are, like Uyan, upset about the President and Prime Minister not being united. Naturally, for most of the signatories were gung-ho about the yahapalana lie. They don’t want another ‘carnage’ but apart from a cursory and dismayed allusion to the need for emergency regulations, they’ve focused primarily on possible vigilante violence.  

We don’t need vigilante violence. That would be a tragedy and would play into the hands of the terrorists. Agreed. But is that what everything boils down to?  

Many such people were and are horrified about elephants being used in peraheras. They were quite vocal about elephants being kept in Buddhist temples. They’ve not been upset about swords being found in mosques. They are not questioning the Minister of Muslim Affairs explaining swords as garden tools. They don’t see the truth. They don’t see the threat.  

They are ostriches. And they want the rest of us to play ostrich too. Such an eventuality would be the closest thing to heaven as far as the ISIS, the NTJ and other Jihadists can experience. 

They were like this with the LTTE too.  Indeed, the LTTE may have been defeated much earlier and much carnage avoided had these people not diverted attention from the matter at hand (defeating the LTTE). Red herrings is what they are all about (when they are not being ostriches, that is). It’s not too hard to figure out that the terrorists will have to be defeated, with or without the ostriches. 


02 May 2019

The problem has to be unveiled


Today the talk is not about the Easter Sunday attacks but ‘the politics of distraction’.  The word has been used by the US Ambassador, Alaina B Teplitz (‘The focus should be on the victims and their loved ones,’ she said and not conspiracies about her country striking while the iron is hot, so to speak). Shaahima Raashid, writing in the website Groundviewsalso uses the word (‘The niqab ban and the politics of distraction’). She points out correctly that none of the terrorist suspects were wearing ‘niqab/burqa/chador’ and claims that the focus on attire is a distraction. More on that later.

We’ve had not just distraction but outright idiocy from many quarters. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe virtually handed out an open invitation to international terror groups by saying Sri Lanka lacks the laws to deal with citizens who are members of such groups. He was demonstrating incompetence, ignorance and sloth. As usual. We had the BBC in the immediate aftermath of the attacks casting aspersions on the Sinhala Buddhists. The BBC, let us remember, made much noice when the Mannar mass graves were discovered but went silent when the results of the carbon dating tests came out.  

Then we have ‘the focus’ of the New York Times: ‘Sri Lanka’s Muslims face an angry backlash after Easter Sunday Attacks.’ The article was interestingly co-written by Dharisha Bastian, an editor at Lake House, the government’s print organ. Political loyalties need not be elaborated. As one would expect, the extrapolation follows a single incident where a mob attacked a house where a family of Pakistani refugees were resident. Typically, again, following tokenist allusion to the attacks, we find broad brushstrokes vilifying Sinhala Buddhists. 

Nothing of the in-your-face assertion of religious identity by significant sections of the Muslim community [in terms of attire, both men and women], a significant section of them inspired by Wahhabism causing existentialist anxieties among people who are well informed about how predominantly Buddhist nations were turned into Islamic States and/or those Buddhist communities destroyed [the Nalanda educational complex was torched along with the monks, in Bangladesh Buddhists were driven to the hills and are still being persecuted]. Forget all that; the NYT is yet to give us a comprehensive feature about the rise of extremism in Sri Lanka where followers borrowed extensively (and of course selectively) from the Quran. Patali Champika Ranawaka, a senior minister of this government, revealed that there were some 800 ‘Islamic’ clerics illegally teaching in schools run by fundamentalists. Apparently they are here on tourist visas!     

Who is against the niqab and why, though? If you want a one-story example to extrapolate NYT style, there are tons to pick from in social media, even during the ban imposed on Facebook and WhatsApp (courtesy VPN). Dozens of Muslims decried both the terrorists and the outward trappings of fundamentalism, including the niqab. Yet their efforts were not reported in the NYT. The objection to the objection, in fact, is the distraction here.  It’s a simple matter of identification. We are suspicious of unattended parcels, bags, vehicles and such. We are suspicious of those who cannot be identified, the faceless to be precise. And rightly so. It is an existentialist issue. Our alternative becomes: either allow the use of what can be turned into a disguise (evidence of such usage exists even in the US), or militarize our streets, our public and civic spaces, our schools, our very country. No thank you. Been there, done that. 

Another distraction: religious freedom. Sure thing. Shihara Farook’s Facebook post on April 24, 2019 talks about it not in the preferred black-white terms used by ‘liberals’ but in ways that address the complexities. She speaks of the kind of tolerance and celebration of other faiths evident in Sri Lanka that the terrorists just do not profess or practice. She does not deny inter-religious tensions nor intolerance, but does not indulge in the kind of extremist vilification as do the BBC, NYT, many ‘liberals’ and supposedly dispassionate commentators.

The truth is that privileges accorded to religious minorities in this country far exceed those extended to counterparts in ‘Islamic States,’ and indeed in most other countries, including the United States. Racial profiling, mass incarcerations of innocents, these are activities preferred and practiced there. Indeed freedoms denied their own in countries run by fundamentalist Islamists are enjoyed in full by Muslims in Sri Lanka. That’s another article and this is not the moment for it. Needs to be flagged though. 

We hear more, however, of the rise of Wahhabism as being a response to ‘Sinhala Buddhist extremism’.  Ven Gangodawila Soma Thero’s expositions in the early days of this century and of course the antics of Rev Galabodaaththe Gnanasara Thero of the Bodu Bala Sena are mentioned frequently. It’s as though the ‘Sinhala Buddhists’ have been making inroads in Europe and even in Syria. It’s as if they had such a reach that they spurred Muslims in the UK and Australia to study the Quran (as per Wahhabist dictates). No. That’s simplistic and a distraction. Ranga Jayasuriya’s piece last Wednesday (How Wahhabism was fostered until it’s too late) paints a more realistic, sober and therefore frightening picture. Speaking of religious freedom in this context, it would not be out of place to mention that perpetrators were exercising precisely that. That ‘affirmation of faith’ apparently also lead to stockpiling swords and other weapons, bombs and ammunition. Apparently, these terrorists were praying and preying on those who were praying to a different god, as per their faith. 

The time for pussyfooting around it is long past. The time to be dismissive or ostrich-like is long gone. A lot of veils have come off. The liberal and even leftist veil has come off the anti-Sinhala, anti-Buddhist veil hordes. Some of them are showing that their Islamophobia is more pronounced than their so-far-privileged religious and ethnic antipathies. Similarly, Sinhala Buddhist extremists have removed their ‘moderate’ niqab in ways that cannot be justified by the real and obvious existentialist threat. 

Several Muslim political parties and even ‘mainstream’ Muslim organizations have been exposed, including those with parliamentary representation and the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama . They’ve said that they had informed authorities about the rise of extremist groups. The question is, why did they then, at the same time, go out of the way to pooh-pooh concerns raised by other religious communities and indeed vilify them as religious intolerants? The question is, how come close associates of RIshard Bathiudeen (Minister of Industry and Commerce and leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress) and so many second-rung politicians in Muslim parties as well as Muslim representatives in other parties were arrested following discovery of weapons and/or revelation of close relationships/friendships with the terrorists? The question is, why didn’t they come out and make public statements? That would have clearly pushed those who see the Muslim community as a monolith to question those unfair assumptions. It may even have lead to the saving of hundreds of lives. Were those lives unimportant because they weren’t the lives of Muslims? 

I was in Kandy on Easter Sunday and travelled back and forth twice in the same week. I saw white flags in mosques and predominantly Muslim areas in Kandy, Mawanella and Kegalle. I saw banners decrying the violence. The white flags, I understand. Mourning. Solidarity with the victims and their families. As for the banners, I did not see one banner or poster naming the perpetrators. Genuine grief, insurance or just more tokenism?  I suspect that the anxiety over the rise of Wahhabism as far as these groups are concerned was itself an existentialist issue: loss of flock and money. I will give the benefit of the doubt, but I would not drop by guard.

The liberals. The peace-lovers. The Yahapalanists. The advocates of co-existence and tolerance. Let’s talk about them again. Why aren’t they (for example Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council) not urging the government to ‘redress grievances,’ enter into negotiations with the terrorists to obtain a dignified ‘solution’? Why aren’t they, in light of these developments, revisiting the much-trumpeted ‘worth’ of devolution and the abolition of the executive presidency? As for the nondescript good dudes and dudettes (candlelight ladies, born-again democrats and such), when Hafeel Farisz first broke the story in the Daily Mirror hours after the attacks they ranted and raved, demanding proof. Looks like they’ve been soundly asleep for years and have crawled into their shells again!  Some veils have been lifted here too, one feels.  

There is a call from all quarters (including people with dubious agendas and suspect political practices) for the affirmation of humanity. It must be heeded. There’s a call for the exercise of compassion. We have to be compassionate. We have been asked not to be emotional. We should dial down emotion, most certainly. In some cases, however, these recommendations have the following subtext: suspend reason. This we cannot afford to do.

There’s a terrorist at large. Sorry, there’s a terrorist organization at large. It is abusing the noble notion of religious freedom. It is preying on tolerance. It has caused a serious existentialist threat to the entire nation and people of all communities in Sri Lanka as well as the world. Quite apart from a serious re-haul of the security apparatus, we need to know more about the dimensions of the problem. The veil must come off the (mis)educational institutions which are clearly being used as breeding grounds for the terrorists. Who set them up? Who teaches in them? Who funds them? Are ‘customary laws’ being abused? Is religious freedom being abused? Is the penal code adequate? Answers and action are required. Swiftly. We could also take a cue from Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country, where over 30,000 Madrasas are to be taken over by the Government and modern education introduced while banning hate-speech. 

Distraction never helps. Denial does not either. The niqab, metaphorically speaking, is coming off the political face of our nation. It is a good thing. 

malindasenevi@gmail.com