Loom­ing Flash­point

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.

Southasia - - Sri lanka -

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

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