16 August 2020

Ali Sabri (at the crease)


In the aftermath of the victory over terrorism a disbelieving ‘international community’ relentlessly targeted Sri Lanka. That game is still not done. I remember a particularly ‘hot’ session of the UNHRC in Geneva. The year was 2012.

A vote was taken. The USA took the lead and as such the result was a foregone conclusion. There were battles on the sidelines, however. Various outfits organized sessions at which Sri Lanka was either mentioned or directly targeted. The then Government send dozens of people to state Sri Lanka’s case and counter ridiculous allegations.

Most of ‘the team’ marked ‘present.’ That was it. There were exceptions. Rajpal Abeynayake was an explosive opener. Whereas most remained silent, two others raised their voices. One was the present President of the Bar Association, Kalinga Indatissa, PC. The other was Ali Sabry, recently appointed as Minister of Justice.

Sabry’s appointment was preceded by rumors that he would indeed be the next Minister of Justice. My hunch is that the rumor was started by those who were backing someone else for the post. The focus was on the fact that Ali Sabry is a Muslim. Fears were expressed over the likelihood of Sabry serving the interests of that particular community to the exclusion of all others and inter alia the larger national interest.

The assumption is obvious: all Muslims are focused on furthering the interests of that community. This is so wrong. If we take the issue of the NTJ, there have been many Muslims and Muslim organizations that objected vocally and acted against Islamic fundamentalism by appealing to all relevant authorities. No one bothered to listen, this is now established. Let it not be forgotten that there were extremist groups that considered Muslims as a monolithic community either through ignorance or for obviously mischievous reasons. Those Muslims who objected to the moves that culminated in the Easter Sunday attacks were therefore taking huge risks: on the one hand by extremists in their community and on the other, extremists from other communities, especially Sinhalese.

Secondly, it is not the case that non-Muslims have always acted in the national interest or have always considered the interests of, say, the Sinhala Buddhists. Well-meaning as well as ill-intentioned liberals have by acts of omission and commission been complicit in the rise of groups such as the NTJ.  

So what of Ali Sabry? He has not been silent when there were issues relevant to Muslims. He took up the cry against cremation of Muslims who had succumbed to Covid19, citing WHO guidelines. Now I have issues with WHO guidelines on this matter because the WHO, understandably, was operating in unfamiliar territory. Indeed, even today, several months after the pandemic broke out, what’s known seems to be abysmal compared with what is yet to be found out. Sabry was and is sensitive to concerns relating to faith. Nothing wrong in this.

What is most important, to me at least, is that Ail Sabry has been more of a nationalist than many vocal non-Muslims in this country, in particular leaders and key persons in major political parties including his own!

Anyway, he is not the Minister of Justice. Justice is not just about identity-issues. There are archaic laws that need to be changed. There are judicial processes that are clearly inefficient. There is the matter of capital punishment (I want it abolished and although I may be in the minority here, I am yet to hear any compelling argument for that gruesome and uncivilized practice that refutes Albert Camus’ thesis so well presented in the essay ‘Reflections on the Guillotine’).

The 19th Amendment was a flawed, partisan document which, ironically, those now in the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (Sabry’s party) voted for (the exception being Sarath Weerasekera). Sabry has a task here. Is the partisan amendment to be amended in a partisan way or not?  

How about the 13th Amendment? What’s he going to do about it? Well, obviously, his ‘take’ would be framed by the thinking of the government, in particular the President and the cabinet. That’s an amendment that needs to be tossed out.

Ali Sabry has asserted that the bat should be allowed to do the talking. The onus is on him. He knows this. He has accepted the challenge. First up, being a part of the Government, would be the 19th. The 13th cannot be too far behind. The litmus test however will be the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) as well as other matters categorized under ‘Customary Law.’

If it’s about one country, one law (a notion he has championed), then the MMDA has to go. No half-way measures. It rebels against all notions of equality. Sure, you can do away with Article 9 too, which gives the Buddhist Order a special place (not Buddhists or Buddhism, please note). On that note, all religious holidays should be done away with too. Maybe Sabry will stand for a secular Sri Lanka, far more vocally and ministerially than his predecessors.

His bat has to do the talking, but let’s not forget that in this game he’s not a one-man team. Other bats have to talk too. It would be very unfair to single out Sabry if the Government itself is ‘in error’ as per the expectations/reservations articulated in relation to his appointment.

Ali Sabry is at the crease. And in this version of ‘cricket’ it’s not a ‘last man have chance’ affair. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is at the crease too. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and everyone in the cabinet is at the crease as well. The Members of Parliament don’t get to put their feet up in the dressing room. Most importantly, the people can’t retire themselves.

We are all at the crease with Ali Sabry. He can run us out. We can run him out too. Together, we might help the country to a spectacular score and a victory thought to be unimaginable. Let’s see.




nahil said...

I like Malinda's Style.