Welcome to Scribd. Sign in or start your free trial to enjoy unlimited e-books, audiobooks & documents.Find out more
Standard view
Full view
of .
Look up keyword
Like this
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
The Agony of Sri Lanka’s Muslims

The Agony of Sri Lanka’s Muslims

|Views: 215|Likes:
Published by Thavam

More info:

Published by: Thavam on Jul 01, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as ODT, PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less





A Sri Lankan Muslim gestures toward his charred home in Aluthgama. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi—AFP
After three Sri Lankan Muslims were killed and thousands more were forced to shelter in mosques and schools, many having lost everything in the worst communal violence in decades, the minister of Public Relations, Mervyn Silva, went on TV and offered to marry a Muslim woman to make up for it.The minister has a habit of unsuitable proposals. Not long ago, he offered to marry the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, an ethnic Tamil from South Africa, to teach her about Sinhala Buddhism and Sri Lanka’s ancient culture. No matter that she already had a husband, or he a wife.Silva’s flippant remarks came after he went as an envoy of President Mahinda
Rajapaksa to tour the troubled coastal areas where scores of shops and houses have been torched. “Even if my wife or children tell me off, I am prepared to marry a Muslim for the sake of national harmony,” he said, disguising ethnic chauvinism with mock gallantry.His statement is little comfort for the deeply traumatized families of once comfortable Muslim shopkeepers and traders, now waiting for handouts in mosques and schools. Some have homes literally reduced to ash; others are too fearful to return in case the violence reignites. Just as in the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom which triggered full-scale civil war, Muslim shops and homes were attacked while nearby Sinhalese owned properties were largely left alone by the mob. Muslims says their Sinhalese neighbors must have passed on the information about the owners, though local Sinhalese blame outsiders for all the violence. In several instances the victims allege the security forces stood by and watched the destruction—again a disturbing echo of what happened to the Tamils in 1983 on a larger scale.
So much misinformation has systematically been dished out against Muslims with the result that the average or innocent Sinhalese has built up hatred toward us,” says a Muslim lawyer practising in Colombo, “even an ordinary policeman might believe it; they think all Muslims are wealthy, resort to unfair business practices and don’t pay taxes, but it’s not true—many Muslims are living below the poverty line.” The lawyer credits the Sri Lankan army with restoring sanity but is angry that at times even the Special Task Force of the police failed to stop the violence. “It’s shocking that even the Special Task Force stood by and allowed the mob to attack. They were complicit,” he says.Simmering TensionsIt had been a long time in the making, but the simmering tensions in the southwestern coastal town of Aluthgama erupted after rumors circulated about the alleged sexual abuse of a Sinhalese boy in a Muslim-owned shop in May—though another version alleges this story was invented to cover up an act of shoplifting recorded on a CCTV camera. In June, a motorcycle ridden by Muslim men collided with a car carrying a Buddhist monk and there was a routine traffic altercation. The rumor mill suggested that Muslims had assaulted the monk, for which there is still absolutely no proof. This triggered protests and security forces fired tear gas and deployed armored vehicles, as well as the police and paramilitaries. The extreme Sinhala nationalist Buddhist group, Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Brigade), in a bid to exploit an already tense situation, then announced a rally in the town for Sunday, June 15.The question of why the authorities in Sri Lanka allowed this rally to go ahead has no real answer. After the tragedy, authorities said they couldn’t have banned the Buddhist function because it coincided with the Poson Festival, which celebrates the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The police also said permission for the gathering wasn’t given to the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) as such, but to local temple trustees. But while Sri Lanka
has been swift to prevent candlelit vigils by families of the disappeared in the civil war or protests by students or trade unions, in this case all the warnings were ignored. Muslim groups actually wrote to the inspector general of police, stating clearly: “This is a dangerous situation that could develop into a major riot, hence we call upon you to take immediate and decisive action to safeguard the lives and property of Muslims in Aluthgama and surrounding areas.” Their entreaties fell on deaf ears.Saffron-clad Buddhist monks from the BBS and their supporters were bussed into the small town for the rally. It began with an inflammatory speech from the party’s general secretary, firebrand cleric Venerable Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero. Using offensive racist terms to warn that if a Muslim or foreigner, “so much as lays a hand on a Sinhalese person, let alone a monk, it will be the end of all these fellows,” he proudly declared: “Yes, we are racists! Yes, we are extremists!” He even went so far as to tell the cheering crowd that enemy forces were looting their Sinhala heritage and future generations would curse them if they didn’t unite against it.A subsequent march through the Muslim areas of Dharga Town resulted in clashes injuring several people. The violence persisted even after a curfew was declared in Aluthgama and neighboring towns. At least 2,000 members of security forces armed with tear gas, water canons and rubber bullets were deployed with armored personnel carriers.Some sporadic violence also took place in the suburbs of capital Colombo and other coastal towns. For four days there was serious concern that the violence would spread like wildfire throughout the country. The BBS announced rallies in other towns with a history of tension between Muslims and Sinhalese, only to be stopped at the eleventh hour by court injunctions requested by the police.
There was huge publicity for what was going on and pressure from abroad. At the last minute the government had to act to stop, but they got the police to do it for them so they could pretend they weren’t involved and save face with the Buddhist monks,” explains exiled Sinhalese journalist Bashana Abeywardene of Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka.Government Complicity?Meanwhile, rumors of attacks on statues of Buddha or monks made the rounds on social media, as both state-run and private media ignored the crisis almost entirely after an order was issued against reporting on the communal violence. However, a few brave, local reporters defied this ban, producing excellent accounts of the situation. These also spread on Twitter and Facebook and helped mobilize the attention of the international community. “This violence was sanctioned by the Rajapaksa brothers, but they were dismayed by the publicity that reached the outside world and then there were representations from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the U.S.

You're Reading a Free Preview

/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->