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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Sri Lanka: Where does the power of the BBS come from: Political or Sanga establishment ?

(AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
July ’83 and June ‘14:  SL Muslims at the cross roads – 6 By Izeth Hussain
Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first drive mad. – Greek saying
There has been much thinking, writing, and discussion on the Aluthgama/Beruwela outrages, so that we can now try to draw conclusions with some measure of confidence about what those outrages really signify. There seems to be a fairly widespread notion that July ’83 and June ’14 constitute two great divides in Sinhalese/minority relations, with the difference that that in 1983 the outrages were of course much worse. Both divides had behind them two common factors: an excess of drunken power compounded by ethnolunacy in the two Governments of the time.

It has been well-established, buttressed by an abundance of evidence, that excess of power can be lethal both to a country and to the Government itself. It is well-known that an excess of power usually has two terrifying consequences: a weakened grasp of reality, and an inability to distinguish between right and wrong. Both those consequences involve a relegation to the background, or a going into total abeyance, of the rational faculty. Both Governments were notoriously racist, and as I have shown in my last article irrationality is an integral part of racism, – and hence my neologism “erhnolunacy”. The convergence of excess of power and ethnolunacy had, in terms of my argument, to lead to disaster.
The 1977 Government’s election victory was so overwhelming that it went to its head. The Opposition was not worth speaking about, and the civil society was not much more animate than a door mat, so that there was an excess of power which the Government drunkenly abused in a way that no previous government had ever done. Its ethnolunacy went to an extreme in 1983, spawning a 26-year war. By 1988 we had two rebellions going on at the same time, that of the LTTE and the JVP, and the IPKF troops were here, which meant that we had lost control of a third of the country and almost half the coastline. It took until 2009 to put the country together again. The UNP taught us a lesson about the terrible consequences of excess of power and ethnolunacy, but the MR Government seems to be, stunningly and incredibly, engaged in a repeat performance. It is quasi-democratic but its neo-Fascism is growing and it can well destroy what is left of democracy. Its ethnolunacy has spawned another major ethnic problem, the Muslim one, which, as I argued in my last article, is surely an achievement of mind-boggling grandeur.
I will now make some observations on the significance of June ’14, an anti-Muslim racist onslaught, which clearly demarcates a new divide in Sinhalese/Muslim relations, and thereafter I will focus on the countermeasures that might be taken by our Muslims to safeguard their lives and their legitimate interests. I must declare that I regard June ’14 as the maturation of the present Government’s racist anti-Muslim project. For two years the Government has shown in every way possible, except by way of explicit dclaration, that it is supportive of the BBS’ anti-Muslim campaign. That was shown also at Aluthgama/Beruwela. The details are well-known, so that I will mention just a few of them in support of the charge that I am making. The Police gave permission to hold the BBS rally although Azath Sally had pointed out the practically certain outcome; Gnanasera Thero gave his rabble-rousing speech to a yelling crowd of thousands, most of whom had been brought in from outside Aluthgama;; the violence against the Muslims, and the arson against Muslim business premises was perpetrated by thugs brought in from outside; the Police as usual played for the most part the role of passive spectators. What happened at Aluthgama/Beruwela was a government-backed racist anti-Muslim pogrom.
I must make a couple of clarifications before I proceed further. What exactly do I mean by ‘government’ in the present context? The government today is an amorphous body that totally lacks cohesion. Ideals and principles departed from our politics many moons ago, so that many politicians who don’t belong to the SLFP have joined the Government side mainly or only because they want to enjoy power and the perks of power. By “Government” in the present context I mean President MR, the JHU members, all those who support the Government’s anti-Muslim project, and also all those who fail to speak out against it. I exclude therefore the Muslim politicians who speak out against that project and others like Vasudeva Nanayakkara.
By the Government’s anti-Muslim project I don’t have in mid anything that is explicitly declared by the Government, but what is implicit, very clearly and incontestably implicit, in Government backed anti-Muslim action. The project essentially amounts to this: the Muslims must be reduced to a condition of total subjugation to the will of the Government representing the Sinhalese. The Muslim is not entitled as a matter of course to protection under the rule of law. The Sinhalese is also denied that protection, but that is sporadically whereas the Muslims – the victims of the BBS campaign – have been denied it on a systematic basis for the last two years, and spectaclarly at Aluthgama/Beruwela. In addition, during this time when ethnic groups are competing for scarce resources, Muslim business can be put into Sinhalese hands by devious means. Such, in essence, is the Government’s anti-Muslim project.
What should the Muslims do to protect their legitimate interests? In approaching this question we must first of all note that the anti-Muslim campaign does not have anything like the national sweep that the Sinhalese racists would pretend that it has. The established pattern is this: racist bull-thugs bellow forth their anti-Muslim hatred through the microphone; mayhem may be unleashed but only through the agency of bull-thugs brought in from outside the area; on the next day the traditional relations of peace, amity, and co-operation between the Sinhalese and the Muslims are restored. This has been the pattern after two years of a hate campaign that has been blatantly backed by the Government. This could change through presently unforeseeable circumstances, but up to now the hate campaign has failed to ignite Sinhalese mass hatred against the Muslims. On the contrary, there are pointers indicating that there is mass Sinhalese Buddhist disgust over the behaviour of the BBS and other extremist groups.

The obvious reason for the failure is that the anti-Muslim campaign does not have the backing of the Government as a whole or of the Sinhalese Buddhists as a whole. Within the Government the main backer of the BBS is the JHU, widely regarded as a racist neo-Fascist Party, which significantly has no mass support. What about the support outside the Government? A pointer was provided by the fact that although a wide array of civil society groups spoke out against the anti-Muslim campaign, only the head of the Amarapura sect did so – in an exceptionally mild statement – while the Mahanayakes of the other three chapters have been silent. It is presumed therefore that a powerful segment of the Sangha is with the BBS. 

How important is that fact? I don’t know, but I do know that there are Sinhalese Buddhist political analysts who cite evidence indicating that the political power of the Sangha has been highly over-estimated. Where then does the power of the BBS come from? It has had the confidence to speak contemptuously both of the Government and of the Maha Sangha, and remain unscathed. The reasonable surmise is that it has the backing of a group or groups within the armed forces. Those groups could try to bring off a military coup – which seems unlikely – but they certainly have the power of assassinating people. It appears – from the way the situation is developing – that we will do well to bear in mind the assassinations of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and of John F. Kennedy.

(To be continued) [email protected]
The Island


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