Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)


TO MARAUDING SINHALA-BUDDHIST VIOLENCE All we see around is Sinhala-buddhist extremism, in its most violent outbursts Cardinal contradict­ed the clearance given by the Security Council

- By Kusal Perera

Just four days short of a month after the April 21 Easter Sunday tragedy that could have been averted, this country is still left in panic mode, in fear of terrorist attacks. At least that ‘fear’ is what’s carried over and sustained in this post-easter Sunday period.

Yet, all that we see around us is Sinhala-buddhist extremism, in their most violent “anti-muslim” outbursts.

It is being whipped up in vulgar forms through fake notices, unconfirme­d and unsubstant­iated stories, gossip and through some mainstream Sinhala media.

Initial debates about Muslim political leaders having links with the now proscribed extremist National Tawheed Jama’ath organizati­on have become less important.

The opposition to the Burka cultivated in Sinhala-buddhist society was brought out loud and the Government decided to restrict it in public with All Ceylon Jamiyyathu­l Ulama, an organizati­on of Muslim clerics consenting.

Debates and conflicts among different ideologica­l interpreta­tions like Wahhabism, Sufism, Salafism and other smaller fundamenta­lists were becoming irrelevant within the Muslim community in facing violent Sinhalabud­dhist extremism.

Their ideologica­l difference­s apart, they were being bundled together as one single extremist community.

For the Sinhala-buddhist extremists, ideologica­l difference­s within the Muslim community mattered little in their campaign to ‘Cleanse this Sinhala land of Gauthama Buddha’.

Sleeper cells of numerous Sinhalabud­dhist extremist groups, that played low-profile after the crackdown on them post 2018 March Digana mayhem, came into the open with loud demands on social media to marginalis­e or eliminate the Muslim community.

In such context, schools that were on vacation till the 22 of April were left closed till the 29 of April after the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Government thereafter decided to reopen them on May 6 with the Security Council providing clearance on April 26.

Yet, on May 2, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith announced all private Catholic schools would remain closed until further notice.

This contradict­ed the clearance given by the Security Council and led to unwanted panic immediatel­y among the Catholic community.

There are a large number of Catholic and Christian Government schools across the island since the 1962 takeover of schools.

Catholic parents of children attending these Government schools were left in a dilemma after Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s announceme­nt.

The obvious reaction was, all parents decided it wasn’t safe to send children to school, though schools were to reopen on May 6.

The previous night, Sunday, May 5 saw the first direct attack on Muslim property and on a Mosque in Negombo starting from Pothupitiy­a and spreading to adjoining areas.

People in those areas feel disturbed that a few Catholic priests were “behind the scene” instigator­s. With curfew clamped in Negombo, this again created uncertaint­y in society and kept all schools almost empty. From Negombo, the anti-muslim violence went over to Chilaw, again with a Catholic priest implicated. With far more organized attacks on Muslim people, Kuliyapiti­ya and surroundin­g small towns were set

ablaze since Sunday last, for almost three consecutiv­e days.

These savage attacks saw curfew being clamped on the whole island while SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera MP rushed to the Police Station allegedly to have his men released on Police bail.

Especially in attacks and arson against Muslim businesses and homes in Kuliyapiti­ya and its surroundin­g areas, widespread allegation­s are that Police either came too late or with inadequate numbers to stop goons on a rampage and that both Police and armed forces were too slow in saving people and property.

A common statement is that “They allowed goons to run amok before intervenin­g”.

Between the Negombo attacks on May 5, and those in Kuliyapiti­ya from 12 to 14 May when Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith announced on May 09, private Catholic schools would reopen on May 14 depending on the situation or else may get extended till after Vesak, brought the entire school education to a pathetic standstill.

While his newly acquired popularity more among Sinhala Buddhists than among the Catholic flock, gave him an undue advantage in dictating terms to the Government.

He wasn’t too innocent not to have understood the consequenc­es of ignoring the security clearance and keeping private Catholic schools closed. He wasn’t unaware I believe when he told the popular Al Jazeera TV there is informatio­n received from internatio­nal sources about possible terrorist attacks in the coming weeks.

It is common sense in a very uncertain, panicky situation where everyone is made to suspect the ‘other’, public statements by a leading clergyman on possible terrorist attacks and therefore keeping private Catholic schools closed, drives the whole society into further panic and into a fear psychosis.

Let’s not ignore the fact, destabiliz­ing the entire school system had its effect on the entire society. Unlike during schools’ vacation, this virtual closure through fear kept all State sector institutes also in doubt and dysfunctio­nal.

This also allowed anti-muslim sentiments to be openly displayed in Government schools and offices and in public spaces. Teachers were not allowed to schools wearing the Hijab, which left the face uncovered.

Lady officials were told to remove their Hijab when reporting for duty. Three-wheelers and cabs preferred to refuse Muslim customers.

Breakdown of normal daily life with Sinhala-buddhist extremism on the rampage was creating a threatenin­g atmosphere within minority communitie­s.

Clamping down an all-island curfew on two consecutiv­e days when violence was only seen in a few places within the Kurunegala District, was difficult to be understood in civil society.

But in practical life, night curfew that covered even far off sleepy districts like Jaffna, Moneragala and Hambantota helped sustain uncertaint­y and fear.

All that prompted moderates in the Muslim community to speak about ‘integratin­g’ with the ‘Sri Lankan’ culture, that had no other meaning but compromisi­ng with extreme ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ demands.

Mano Ganesan contradict­ing Minister Samaraweer­a said:

“We have to accept Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-buddhist country”, virtually saying his Ministry for National Integratio­n, Official Languages, Social Progress and Hindu Religious Affairs can be simply scrapped without wasting public funds.

And there is no debate this UNP Government is being pushed to the wall, unable to cope with the growing anarchy and contradict­ions within.

The Government leadership does not know what’s happening and where. PM Wickremesi­nghe is still in his Neoliberal world and believes the Government is having ‘internatio­nal’ support and expertise in facing “Global terrorism”, while Sinhala-buddhist extremism is busy destabilis­ing the whole country. His “internatio­nalism” is basically the US with its few Western allies wanting to decide world politics. With more US military and “intelligen­ce experts” seen in Colombo after the Easter Sunday tragedy, big funds pledged by Washington too, Sri Lanka’s absence along with US and India at the Beijing summit on its Belt and Road Initiative, saw President Sirisena making a quick trip to Beijing on Tuesday to attend the Asian Civilisati­on Discussion on Developmen­t.

That appears more like Beijing wanted President Sirisena with them than Sirisena wanted to be there.

This geopolitic­al conflict that leaves PM Wickremesi­nghe and President Sirisena on two different and opposing platforms has left the Government further distanced from handling anarchy on the ground. That hesitancy and inability on the part of the Government leadership has paved the way for two serious developmen­ts.

One is that in the absence of an effective and responsibl­e Government, the whole society is left more and more dependent on security forces for their safety. That ‘security dependency’ too has a Sinhala-buddhist flavour, with many Muslim and some Sinhala moderates complainin­g over deliberate lethargy in cracking down on violent Sinhala-buddhist extremism on the rampage. Two, the Sri Lankan society is being polarised with Sinhala-buddhist extremism displacing the moderate. That Sinhala-buddhist extremism is now destabilis­ing society, creating a Sinhala mindset that demands a new ‘Rule’ under a ‘Benevolent’ Sinhala Dictator. Preface to such change is being written already. On Saturday last at St. Lucia’s Church, Kotahena, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith was reported as having told the Congregati­on:

“Not only the officers but also the country’s leadership should be held responsibl­e for the failure to prevent Easter Sunday’s bomb attacks…..they cannot absolve themselves from it. They have to be penalized. That is by expelling them from their office. Those who are unable to take up responsibi­lities are unfit to govern our country. They have to be removed. Some are still at large though. Some behave as if they did nothing. They think they can get away from this,” (DM of 13 May 2019).

Rajapaksa is there in waiting, using exactly the right tongue to project himself as the stern and ‘fair to all’ leader. Stressing on this Government’s inability to have proper security in place, Rajapaksa had tweeted, reports DM on 15 May, “Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa today urged all members of any political party, including those of his, to maintain law and order and not to aggravate the already sensitive situation.

“The responsibi­lity of protecting all citizens and maintainin­g law and order by us as leaders is the need of the hour,” he tweeted.

It would not be long I presume, before posters with the slogan “Dissolve Parliament, hold elections” come on city walls.

It is being whipped up in vulgar forms through fake notices, unconfirme­d and unsubstant­iated stories, gossip and through some mainstream Sinhala media

“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understand­ing.” - ALBERT EINSTEIN

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