29 February 2020

SLMC: having the cake, eating it and more

The 29th Delegates’ Conference of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress is reported to have adopted a resolution to renounce the proposal to completely repeal the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA). The Conference has instead ‘resolved to reform it in keeping with Islamic teachings and on what had been agreed upon by Muslim parliamentarians.’

The wording of the missive includes condemnation of what the Conference believes is an attempt to ‘deny the democratic right of representation to minority communities and smaller parties by increasing the electoral cutoff point from 5% to 12%.’

The Conference is loud on fundamental rights and human rights. ‘Of every citizen of Sri Lanka,’ no less. It wants to pursue and support ‘reconciliation and good will among communities.’ It has tossed in or alluded to terms such as equality, dignity, peace, co-existence and ‘democratic political aspirations’ via power-devolution. 

They’ve thrown in the Rohingya Muslims too and predictably have not uttered one word about the atrocities committed by that community on Buddhists and Christians — quite reminiscent of certain communalist Tamil politicians maintaining silence on ‘the boy’ (that is, the LTTE, the world’s most ruthless terrorist organization).

The SLMC, as the party name shouts out, is about Muslims. Muslim interests is what that party is all about, if we go by face value. Nothing wrong in that. It’s the whines and the inconsistency that irks. 

Let’s start with the MMDA. They are ok with ‘reform’ and object to repeal. First of all, agreement to reform is a positive step. It indicates (at least) an acknowledgement that the MMDA is flawed. It’s however a teeny-weeny ‘positive,’ considering the strong objections raised from within the Muslim community itself, especially certain Muslim women’s organizations. They have offered cogent arguments to the effect that the MMDA is anti-democratic, sexist and violates multiple fundamental rights. 

I would argue that ‘reform’ in these kinds of situations only produces inordinate delays in true resolution of issues. ‘Issues’ include anomalies within the community and vis-a-vis other communities. ‘Reform’ of the kind that the SLMC envisages is so trivial that considering the long struggle of Muslims themselves and especially Muslim women, resolution (yes, nothing short of repeal) would take that much longer (it’s not hard to do the arithmetic in terms of time-length alone, that being a critical factor here).

What’s strange about the resolutions is the democratic pretensions of the SLMC and the ‘concern’ about human rights. How can one be selective about things like democracy, equality and fundamental rights? How can ‘interests’ only be about Muslims or, in this case, Muslim men?

Speaking of the poorly written and perniciously passed (essentially bypassing the Supreme Court) 19th Amendment, the SLMC mentions ‘democratic gains.’ Maybe Rauff Hakeem and Co haven’t read the 19th at all. The SLMC believes that the 19th Amendment created independent commissions and an independent Constitutional Council (CC). A quick look at the compositions of the CC might educated Hakeem and his friends. The 19th did not defined ‘National Government’. That was deliberate and we must conclude this was only to make a mockery of the limit on cabinet-size. The SLMC makes much of the 19th. What more should we say about that party’s understanding of democracy and indeed all things constitutional? 

Let’s move to co-existence and equality. Does the MMDA affirm the principle of equality? No, it does not. It does not treat men and women equally. Neither do the ‘reforms’ sanctioned by Muslim parliamentarians restore gender equality. The SLMC wants ‘reform’ to be in line with Islamic teachings. Now, which ‘Islamic teachings’ is the party referring to? There are many schools of Islam. Who has the last word on ‘THE Muslim word’? Rauff Hakeem? The SLMC delegates? The ISIS? 

It doesn’t matter. Sri Lanka is not a Muslim theocracy. It’s not a theocracy, period. No religion has any special status in Sri Lanka (yes, we have Article 9, but it is effectively negated by sections of Articles 10 and 14, and yes, we should do away with all). Does the SLMC want religion to override the state and the corpus of general laws? If so, would the SLMC object to legislation that offers certain religions rights denied to those in other religious communities? The Muslims have more religious holidays (in terms of overall days once we count the Ramadan ‘off days’ and ‘Friday Prayers’) than any other religious community. Muslim women enjoy more ‘grief and distress time off’ in the event of divorce or widowhood. 

The SLMC wants all that to remain. It wants to be a privileged religious community. It wants Muslim women to submit to male-will. In the name of ‘religion’ it chooses to be silent about the infamous and terrorist-breeding madrasas. The Delegates Conference is upset about Rohingya Muslims but has not uttered one word about those who in the name of Islam massacred hundreds of people on Easter Sunday 2019. 

The SLMC does not want to co-exist if that term implies mutual respect, equal treatment and so on.

No. The SLMC wants to have the cake, eat it and rub the crumbs in the fact of non-Muslims, virtually saying ‘go fly a kite.’  Correction, Muslim MEN in the SLMC  want to have the cake, eat it and rub the crumbs in the fact of non-Muslims and Muslim women, virtually saying ‘go fly a kite.’  And the liberals who have ranted and raved about religion and cried themselves hoarse arguing for a secular state, separation of church and state and so on, are dead silent.  

Humbuggery is interesting, in a way. We live in interesting times. 

This article was first published in the DAILY MIRROR [February 27, 2020]