The Muslim community finds itself in a precarious situation in Sri Lanka, being at odds with the two major ethnic communities - the Tamils and the Sinhalese.
Having ended a two-decade long separatist war in May 2009, over-enthusiastic Sinhala nationalists contended that the ethno-nationalist conflict had been resolved with the termination of the LTTE and that the country was now at peace. However, many Sri Lankans who held a realistic understanding of the problems between the two major ethnic communities, the Sinhalese and the Tamils, argued that the country desperately needed to move from a post-war to post-conflict scenario. It is against this backdrop that the concept of reconciliation gained significance.
Today the term “reconciliation” has become popular with political and civil society actors. The impact of reconciliation speeches and small projects so far has been disappointing, mainly because ethnic relations continue to hamper progress and the two communities remain polarized than ever before. The consequent polarization is the result of two fundamentally differing views about peace and the future orientation of the Sri Lankan society and the state. For instance, the government believes that devel-
By S. I. Keethaponcalan opment projects, focused especially on the construction and renovation of highways and bridges, are the primary vehicles of reconciliation. The Tamil groups on the other hand insist on a realistic political solution and social justice, which they view as the primary means of resolving the fundamental political problems plaguing the country. However, the government is yet to demonstrate any serious commitment to a political solution of the ethnic conflict.
Often lost beneath the rubble of the wider ethno-political discourse are the politics and concerns of the Muslim community, which constitutes about seven per cent of the total population of Sri Lanka. Although a vast majority of the Sri Lankan Muslims speaks Tamil, they have managed to develop and preserve a separate identity from the group and cultivate cordial relations with the majority Sinhala community. The Sri Lankan Muslims also opposed a separate state for the Tamils and any substantial project for devolution of power that does not take into account their concerns. This concern previously led to an informal war-time alliance between the Sinhala-Muslim communities against the LTTE. However, the Muslim groups were never directly involved in the war. Now that the war is over, the Sinhala-Muslim alliance seems to be weakening and the tensions between the Muslims and the major ethnic groups, Tamils and Sinhalese, are on the rise.
The tensions between the Sinhala and Muslim communities revolve around the recent Buddhist attacks on mosques. Incidents of mosque attacks were reported from Dambulla, Kurunagala, Dehiwala and other places. In April 2012, a group consisting of local politicians and Buddhist monks staged a violent protest demanding the immediate removal of the Dambulla Mosque, alleging that it was an illegal construction. Dambulla is a sacred site for Buddhists, which, according to some reports, prompted the demand for removal of the mosque.
Nevertheless, the mosque attacks dealt a severe blow to the SinhalaMuslim alliance. Speaking at an election rally, Sri Lanka’s justice minister, Rauf Hakeem (who also leads the predominant Muslim party, the Sri Lanka