Sri Lanka Muslims at the cross-roads – 2 by Izeth Hussain
I concluded the first part of this article by stating that the Muslim strategy of political quietism had several reasons behind it, one of which was the fear psychosis set off initially by the anti-Muslim riots of 1915. I had intended to begin this part of my article by going into the other reasons, but I have since then come across excellent material to substantiate my point about the Muslim fear psychosis. M.S.M.Fouzer, writing in the web site Halal SL, states that there are disturbing signs at present that the anti-Muslim campaign is catching on with the Buddhist masses.
He gives importance as a causative factor to the spread of a video which had been shown by the BBS to the heads of the Sangha in Kandy. He pointed to the destruction of a shop in Aluthgama and other ominous incidents, and advocated, among other things, that Muslims should avoid clothing that identifies them as Muslims while mingling with the Vesak crowds.
Are people like Fouzer being alarmist? I think they are being courageous in being outspoken in spite of a pervasive climate of fear in Sri Lanka, which – with good reason – afflicts our Muslims in particular. Fouzer is also being realistic: I myself will eschew ethnic markers declaring myself a Muslim if I go into a Vesak crowd. I think we need some clarity about Muslim fears on what could happen to them as a result of the State-backed anti-Muslim campaign. The very fact that it is indisputably State-backed justifies some amount of a fear psychosis. It seems to be now generally believed that the Government will not allow a July ’83 against the Muslims, not because of moral scruples but because of the probable adverse international repercussions. But much that is horrible can be perpetrated against the Muslims short of a July ’83. For instance the torching of a Muslim shop in Aluthgama a few days ago, under the most absurd of pretexts, has not apparently so far led to any police action to apprehend the culprits – see the excellent and outspoken article by Hameed Karim in the Colombo Telegraph of May 14. It is the sort of thing that can multiply until the Muslims are degraded to the status of a lesser breed that is not entitled to any protection under the rule of law. The State racists may be able to bring that off without provoking international punitive action.
The traditional fear psychosis of the Muslims is today enhanced by the obvious external dimension of the BBS. It appears that it really got going consequent to a visit of its leaders to Norway, after which hitherto unheard of monks suddenly shot to national prominence with their anti-Muslim campaign. The political analyst Chandraprema, who has been emphasizing these facts, believes that the BBS is part of a programme aimed at destroying Buddhism and Buddhists in Sri Lanka. I myself thought that Norwegian Islamophobes may have wanted to encourage Islamophobia in the Buddhist world, and hence the nexus established between the BBS and anti-Muslim Buddhist extremists in Myanmar. Later, it seemed to me that the BBS’ anti-Muslim campaign amounted to an advertisement for Eelam, for reasons that I don’t want to repeat here. In the absence of hard evidence, I would emphasize just two points that we should bear in mind. One is that while the Islamic fundamentalists are nutty, the Islamophobes are equally nutty, and any kind of lunacy can be expected of both of them. The second is that sinister foreign forces could be working towards the destabilization of Sri Lanka.
It is in the context of the external dimension of the BBS that I would view the video that is said to contain material that is outrageous to Buddhists, so outrageous that it could easily ignite anti-Muslim violence on a nation-wide scale if the State racists organize it. Before dealing with that video, I must make some clarifications about the story that has apparently gained wide currency that Wahabi Muslims have been attacking Buddhism.
As I have stated above, I regard Islamic fundamentalists as essentially nutty and therefore I thought it just possible, not probable but just possible, that some Wahabis made irate by the ignorant denigration of Islam have retaliated on some occasions with ignorant denigration of Buddhism. But I am assured by knowledgeable Muslim contacts that the story is utterly false and that not a single Sri Lankan Wahabi has ever attacked Buddhism in public. There is a Sinhalese convert to Islam who has attacked Buddhism, but his behavior is atypical of the SL Muslims and is typical of converts who tend to become ultra. The story of SL Wahabis attacking Buddhism does not accord with the deep fear psychosis that is built into the SL Muslim psyche.
I come now to the video which I have not seen, and therefore depend on the account given about it in the Hemantha Warnakulasuriya Island column of May 13. I quote: “A person called Razeek Rafideen, alias Abdul Razeek, Secretary of a Muslim religious organization was addressing a crowd in very fine Sinhala. His objective was to commit the worst kind of blasphemy by castigating the image of Buddha and Buddhism. He said that the Buddhists were worshipping and praying and asking for protection from the ‘Triple Gem’ (theruwan) which were three gems. Therefore they prayed to three stones and that was nothing but a false belief.Can stones help you in difficulties? “Then he went on to say that ‘in the Majima Nikaya Buddha refers to a person who is unborn (nupan) and that person is none other than Allah.; The he referred to a book written by Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda, claiming that according to it and the sutras, he claimed that Buddhism encouraged Cannibalism,”
HW also wrote: “Up to the time of writing this letter, not a single Muslim organization or the Moslem Council of Ulamas (All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama) and Minister and other persons of importance had not condemned that blasphemous and sacrilegious statement.” He is clearly faulting Muslim institutions and individuals in important positions for not speaking out against those sacrilegious statements. Some would draw the conclusion that the Muslims as a whole either approve of those statements or attach no importance to them.
Let me try to explain what I would regard as the Muslim position on this matter. First of all there is the Muslim fear psychosis which dictates a strategy of political quietism. Most Muslims if confronted with the shocking statements attributed to a possibly non-existent Rafideen would want to keep quiet about it and hope that the problem will simply go away. That, in fact, seems to be the position of the President himself in regard to the Muslim problem. Secondly most Muslims, including the ones in important positions, may not even have heard of those sacrilegious statements. I myself, as well as some of my well-informed Muslim contacts, have come to hear of the famous video only very recently. So, the question of a self-incriminating silence on the part of Muslim notables does not arise. Thirdly, most Muslims viewing the video would almost certainly regard it as no more than anti-Muslim propagandist garbage. They would find it impossible to believe that any Muslim who is not a certifiable lunatic would make that statement about Buddhism encouraging cannibalism. A significant fact about the video is that it has been in circulation since June 2013, almost a year, and thousands have seen it, but it seems to have caused a stir only very recently. The probable reason is that most Sinhalese viewers have also regarded it as not much more than propagandist garbage.
But unfortunately the matter cannot be allowed to rest at that. Mr. Warnakulasuriya is a successful lawyer with much experience behind him – whose column I usually read with much interest. He has shown in his article that he is by no means anti-Muslim by several statements against the BBS and other extremist groups. He has been clearly outraged by the video, and his Buddhist sentiments have to be respected. Furthermore, the video has reportedly been shown to the Maha Sangha by the BBS to show that it has come into action only because the Government has been failing to protect Buddhist interests. These facts point to one conclusion: the Government must hold an inquiry into the authenticity or otherwise of the video. This is desirable also for the reason – as I have argued above – that there could be sinister foreign forces working towards the destabilization of Sri Lanka. If proved authentic, punitive action must be taken against the culprit, and nothing should be held against the totality of the Muslims who will most certainly unanimously support such punitive action. Alternatively, the BBS must show that it was not complicit in the production of anti-Muslim propagandist garbage.
In my present series of articles on Muslims at the cross-roads, I will be emphasizing two points for positive action. One is that the rule of law must be relentlessly applied. Our Government seems to be bent on showing that our Muslims will be treated as one of the lesser breeds who are not entitled to the protection of the rule of law as a matter of course. The other is that problems that have been bedeviling Sinhalese-Muslim relations, sometimes for decades, must all be addressed and solved. In my view there is none that is really intractable. Successive Governments have failed, or rather refused to do this, and that is why in addition to the horrendous Tamil ethnic problem we now have a Muslim ethnic problem that can also become horrendous.