Ten Commandments for Muslims: The flip side of the coin
Dr. A.R.M. Imtiyaz, in his contribution to The Sunday Times of June 17, 2007 claims to offer 10 commandments to restore peace in Sri Lanka. The footnote to his article states that the writer's "primary research interest is in the study of ethno-political conflict, both in Sri Lanka and other countries".
We have no issue with his claimed academic competence or his right to express his views.
Two important observations he has made of the Muslim community/polity in his commandments, however, are too glaring as they appear to evince a tilt in favour of overarching political aspirations/struggle of the Tamil people to the disadvantage of Muslims in the North and East. He states;
|Eastern Muslims affected by LTTE violence
"Tamil nationalists shall recognise the right to self-determination of the Muslims of the North and East and their desire to be identified as a separate if not distinct group." (commandment no. 8). "The Muslim political establishment shall freeze its anti-Tamil nationalist approaches…" (commandment no. 9).
First, while clamouring for the right to self-determination of the Muslims in the North and East, Imtiyaz seeks to qualify it as 'their desire to be identified as a separate if not distinct group". As a political scientist, he would not be unaware that the concept of self-determination is a tricky, politically loaded issue. Despite this limitation, it is important to bear in mind that a basic requirement of a claim to the right to self-determination is the criteria of "distinct" identity of a group of people.
It follows, therefore, that a claim for self-determination may not find political, moral or legal acceptance if the criteria of "distinctness" is not met. Imtiyaz's commandment specifically excludes this prerequisite of "distinctness" through its emphasis on "if not distinct group', and this amounts to a gap in his conception, the implication of which he cannot be unmindful, as a political scientist.
Second, he categorises the Muslims of the North and East as a "separate group", but with an accrued right to self-determination.
What is the implication of this conception? Legally and politically speaking, "distinctness" of identity is a key to sustaining a claim to the right to self-determination (provided other criteria are also met). Although being 'separate' is a corollary to being 'distinct' in its ordinary sense, since he has specifically excluded the application of the latter notion to Muslims in his commandment, the question arises as to whether being 'separate' alone (among other things) would conceive of a right to self-determination for a group of people, or as to what form the exercise of that claimed right would take in a political eventuality.
It is common sense that a group of people may be 'separate' from another, but may not be 'distinct' in their political consciousness, ways of life, historical circumstances, and other socio-economic aspects. Such a group is defined as a cultural or religious group, not a politically conscious, specifically identifiable entity. Applying this to the conception he has thus developed, it would amount to saying that Muslims in the North and East are a group within the larger Tamil Nation/Tamil nationality (or the so-called "Tamil-speaking people", as some Tamil leaders often argue).
The concept of self-determination may then have only a limited application, everything else being equal, and the Muslims in the North and East may, at the most, be only qualifiable to autonomy as a cultural group within a larger nation/nationality. One is not sure whether this is what the Muslims in the North and East would be aspiring to.
Second, he "commands" (note; he advances 10 commandments in his article) that "the Muslim political establishment shall freeze its anti-Tamil nationalist approaches"... There are two aspects in this assertion. The first is, he seems to be making a generalisation of the diverse political forces within the Mulsim community as "Muslim political establishment", which, in reality, is amorphous, and is therefore a vague entity. It is another matter, however, that we may not have confidence in any or all of those political forces, who appear to be self-seeking! The other aspect concerns the message explicit in his ‘commandment’ that “anti-Tamil nationalist approaches” are being practised. He has not defined nor elaborated, however, what these anti-Tamil nationalist approaches are.
The question arises, therefore, as to whether one is expected to take Muslims' objection to the campaign of terror and violence by the LTTE as manifestation of an anti-Tamil nationalist approach? If that is so, no peace-loving, democratic-minded Muslim would subscribe to such an interpretation. It is our duty to object to terrorism whatever form or manifestation it may take, and doing so would never be an anti-Tamil nationalist approach.
I have read, with interest, several articles written by Imtiyaz in recent times. To me, he comes out with some thought-provoking intellectual contributions as a political scientist, who observes the behaviour of people/political actors and analyses, trends and developments in the political arena. He may wish to continue with his research and create a body of intellectual work, which all communities in Sri Lanka -- and also, the international community-- could well draw on.
Nevertheless, he needs to be clearer in his conception of rights/status/identity aspects of the Muslim community, whether they are Muslims in the North and East or in other parts of Sri Lanka. This is because several of his articles, especially those appearing in media sourced to Tamil organizations such as Tamil Sangham, and the subject of this writing, viz., his contribution to The Sunday Times, seems to locate the case of Muslims within the matrix of overall political aspirations/struggle of the Tamil people. Examples abound.
It should be emphasized that some of the concepts as they are presented in his articles have seemingly negative political implications for the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.