Not long after the heinous Easter Sunday bombings, this newspaper issued a word of caution to the authorities. In the pursuit of existing terrorist cadres and the ‘sleepers’, we warned, the tri-forces and police must heed the lessons of the past. They must refrain from breeding more terrorists in the process. This week, all Muslim [...]


Addressing the delicate Muslim issue


Not long after the heinous Easter Sunday bombings, this newspaper issued a word of caution to the authorities. In the pursuit of existing terrorist cadres and the ‘sleepers’, we warned, the tri-forces and police must heed the lessons of the past. They must refrain from breeding more terrorists in the process.

This week, all Muslim ministers, State ministers and deputy ministers resigned from the government along with two Muslim governors in response to a hunger strike by UNP’s dissident Parliamentarian Ven Athuraliye Rathana Thera demanding the ousters of Rishad Bathiudeen, Azath Salley and M.L.A.M. Hizbullah. Saying their community was under threat, the Muslim ministers gave the Government a month to expedite inquiries pertaining to the spate of arrests taking place since the attacks.

There is no disputing that inquiries of a complex nature–particularly those involving global and domestic terrorist networks–cannot be done to deadlines of political convenience. It is not for parties or politicians to deliver time limits to investigators, regardless of the pressures they may face from their constituents.

Decades of interference with due process have today led to a total emasculation of, not just the police force, but the entire security apparatus. The shameless finger-pointing, dereliction of duty and inefficacy that have followed the Easter Sunday massacres are a clear example of what such meddling can cause.

The Muslim politicians, against whom charges are being levelled, must also take proactive steps to clear their names. For years, there has been concern that they were, if not encouraging, turning a blind eye and/or providing political patronage to radical elements, particularly in the East. Money has been channelled from West Asia through various foundations run by some of these politicians. The Sharia University, for instance, is particularly problematic.

But the other side of the coin is that failure to tread carefully and with due concern to the sensitivities of the Muslim minority could result in further radicalisation of a populace that feels victimised by the system. This point has been repeatedly raised by moderate Muslims who are themselves struggling to reverse the trend of extremism that has gripped their community in recent years.

In the initial days and weeks after the bomb attacks, a vibrant discussion emerged amongst the Muslims about the need for reform. The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka issued recommendations for change in the attire and behaviour of Muslims to “promote a common Sri Lankan identity”.  A draft bill to regulate madrasas and Arabic Colleges was given to the Cabinet. Muslim leaders supported the banning of face veils and encouraged women to wear coloured abayas instead of black ones.

Crucially, Muslims turned in to the authorities those whom they knew were connected to the terrorist network. That information link is in serious danger of being broken–if it hasn’t happened already. But such a relationship is crucial to safeguarding public security in future.

At a recent presentation in Kandy, a Government intelligence agency chief said that nearly everyone directly involved with the Easter Sunday bombings is now in custody. However, the conversation between Muslims and the authorities must continue to identify, prevent and de-radicalise anybody veering in that direction again, he said. Muslim people have to be partners or the battle is lost.

And yet, the message is not seeping through to the radical forces among the majority community. The Ven Rathana Thera, by wading into day-to-day politics, brought things to a head. Not for nothing is there an active discussion on social media today about what role the clergy has, if any, in politics.

In Kandy, where the prelate was protesting–a three-day stubble on his chin–volatile crowds had gathered in support. Muslims, not just in Kandy but everywhere, were “petrified” for their lives and their businesses. It is not this one incident that is worrying. It is that this keeps happening–and that emotions can be so quickly whipped up–that should worry any sane-thinking person in this country.

Within a few weeks, the story has moved from the terrorist bombing that claimed nearly 260 lives and the need for reform within the Muslim community to attacks on Muslims (in general) and what they see as a fight for survival in their own country. There is ample evidence abroad to show how people who had not the slightest tendency for radicalisation have thrown their lot in with extremists when they feel pushed into a corner.

National security is paramount but, in this day and age, the tools that must be used to guarantee it are multifaceted. The human element is an essential cog in the wheel. And there is sufficient evidence that Muslims have largely rejected and vilified those in their midst that are taking the path of extremism.

Sri Lanka’s security apparatus needs an overhaul and fast-track modernisation to help tackle prevailing and emerging threats. That includes radicalisation via the internet, which is one of the key tools of the international terror and crime network, regardless of colour, creed or motivation.

What happened on Easter Sunday, however, smacks of criminal negligence on the part of several persons in key positions. Revelations made by the former defence secretary, the former inspector general of police and the chief of National Intelligence (CNI) in the Parliamentary Select Committee over the past few days have shaken the country to its core. It raises questions of trust and confidence in the system; and the ability and capacity–or lack thereof–of the custodians of power and public security to guarantee the safety of the citizens.

The bottom line is that there was sufficient and timely evidence of an impending attack with the actors and general targets also identified. The problem is that nobody acted on it, despite the information being handed to them on a platter. Targeting the entire Muslim community while neglecting the very real issue of dereliction of duty not only smacks of political expediency and opportunism; it is a blatant scapegoatism.

This will have lasting repercussions. The 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom, set alight by a few hooligans acting under the pretext of nationalism, turned the whole world against the majority community. Buddhism, their religion of non-violence, was mocked. The virulent diaspora that was born out of the turmoil continues to be a thorn in the flesh of the country. This may be an election year. But the Government and the Opposition must put the long-term interests of the country before their narrow, short-term gains.



Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
Comments should be within 80 words. *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.