A Muslim view of the Faiz Mohideen case
Discriminatory measures
By Izeth Hussain
The coverage of the Faiz Mohideen case in The Sunday Times of May 23 could come to be seen as having a historic importance. It was covered in a news report right at the top of the front page, also in the ST Financial Times, and most notably in the centre page column of the Political Editor.

Let me recall for the reader's benefit a few of the salient facts about this case. Faiz Mohideen got a First Class Honours degree in econometrics at the prestigious London School of Economics. Thereafter he had a distinguished career as an official at the Ministry of Planning and the General Treasury where he rose to the position of Deputy Secretary. But a Cabinet paper was prepared proposing his immediate removal from that post and consignment to the so-called "pool". The proposal was approved straightway instead of after a week as is reportedly the usual practice. Mohideen received his marching orders on May 6, which appears to have provoked among his astonished colleagues a show of sympathetic solidarity with him. Mohideen thereafter sent in his retirement papers.

The story is that this sudden and inglorious end to a distinguished career was the consequence of the new Secretary to the Treasury complaining to the President that he would not be able to work with Mohideen. It appears that the relevant Minister, Sarath Amunugama, was out of the country at the time of these developments. It was not expected that he would take corrective action on his return.

This is not the first time that a Muslim official has been given what looks like pariah dog treatment. At the time the 1977 Government assumed office the three most senior Muslim officials were all given this kind of treatment. But that did not draw the attention of the media. The generous coverage given by The Sunday Times to the Faiz Mohideen case seems to have a historic importance.

This case can be viewed from two different perspectives. One is that of the relationship between the administrators and the politicians. In that perspective the Political Editor wrote, "Humiliation of public officials by politicians has become endemic in our society." I need to add to the forceful presentation made by him.

The other perspective is that of ethnicity, with the focus more particularly on the Muslims. There has been serious discrimination against Muslims in the Administration, particularly at the higher levels. It is therefore legitimate, or rather it is necessary, to look at the Faiz Mohideen case in an ethnic perspective.

I must first contextualise this case by mentioning some horrible facts about the ethnic imbroglio in which Sri Lanka finds itself. This imbroglio is the result of a colossal failure in nation-building. There are two obvious desiderata for nation-building in multi-ethnic countries such as Sri Lanka. One is that there should be no discrimination against minorities. The other is that priority should be given to the clearing up of misunderstanding that could lead to inter-ethnic disharmony and possibly conflict.

The reader may not share my bleak view about the prospects for a negotiated solution, but there certainly will be a wide measure of agreement that after all the ethnic turmoil we have known, it will be sheer madness for a Government to indulge in discrimination at the present stage. It therefore came as a great surprise to many Muslims, that there was not even one Muslim among the forty and more Ministry Secretaries appointed recently. The Sunday Leader in noting this fact, noted also that there were only two Tamils among the Secretaries. Clearly there are Sinhalese who believe that the Government is indulging in anti-minority discrimination.

It may be that the Government has excellent reasons for what it has done, and the impression of discrimination is a mistaken one. In that case, the Government should fill the second desideratum I mentioned about the clearing up of misunderstandings. I must state in advance that it will not be an excuse to hold that none of the Ministers wanted a Muslim Secretary. That will be tantamount to saying that there is systemic or institutional discrimination. In that case, the system should be changed forthwith, not perpetuated.

In the Faiz Mohideen case also there has been Sinhalese indignation over what looks like pariah dog treatment, though most Sinhalese will not see that in ethnic terms. But most Muslims who hear about it will certainly do so. Again, the Government may have reasons for what it has done, in which case it should clear up the misunderstanding. Failure to do so will mean that the Government does not have a grasp of even the most basic desiderata for nation-building. In that case, Sri Lanka may be doomed to disintegrate.

I must add a couple of concluding observations. It is a commonplace that a negotiated solution will be possible only on the basis of a very wide measure of devolution, so wide that in my view it will probably set off centrifugal forces that could lead to the final breakup of Sri Lanka.

It is imperative therefore that devolution be counterbalanced by measures and institutions that could set up a centripetal, that is a centralising, momentum. An important, or rather essential, requirement for this purpose will be the participation by the minorities as equals in the central institutions of the state, including the Administration. In this situation, discrimination against minority members in the Administration amounts to criminal irresponsibility.

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