Sri Lanka Muslims at the cross roads – 10


By Izeth Hussain

I argued in my last article that the world is becoming a unit, and that what happens inside a country today carries with it an external dimension to a far greater extent than it did in 1983. I argued further that the Sri Lankan Muslims have no alternative to using that external dimension to safeguard their lives and legitimate interests. They have no alternative partly because the civil society is not yet effective enough to pressurize the Government into giving fair and equal treatment to the minorities. As for the only credible alternative to the present government, the UNP, it too is essentially an anti-Muslim racist party. That fact is being shown in an outrageous way at present. The Government’s strategy now is to make it out that the Muslims were responsible for igniting the Aluthgama/Beruwela horrors. It is a despicable strategy, but the UNP does not bother to establish the truth and use that for devastating attacks on the Government. The reason is obvious: the innate racism of the UNP which makes Sinhala supremacy its first priority.

So our Muslims cannot be blamed if they turn to that external dimension to safeguard themselves. In fact, if not for that external dimension – in the shape of an international community that can harm Sri Lanka in various and serious ways - the fate of the Muslims might today have been much worse. Quite possibly they may have already faced a genocidal pogrom together with an island-wide torching of their business premises. The fact that that has been evaded so far attests to the power of that external dimension. That power has been shown also in another and paradoxical way: the Muslims have to turn to the external dimension to safeguard themselves against a two-year long anti-Muslim campaign, but that campaign itself has its origin in that same external dimension. I refer to the theory that the anti-Muslim campaign is the result of a foreign conspiracy.

The main purpose of this article is to argue that there is a case for an enquiry into the possibility that the anti-Muslim campaign is the result of a foreign conspiracy. The idea of such a conspiracy seems to be very widespread today, but there is confusion about the reasons for that conspiracy. I must acknowledge that conspiracy theories usually abound among ill-informed and naïve persons, but in this case well-informed and responsible persons also share their views. For instance Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera, who entered Parliament in 2004, said in an interview (Island of July 24), "They are trying to destroy the national leader by destroying the bhikku first". He dismissed the notion of "Muslim extremism" and argued that there had been an attempt to set up a conflict between the Bhikkus and the Muslims in order to alienate Muslim support for the Government in international fora. He went on to say, "So I repeat – this is definitely a conspiracy hatched by certain powerful countries. There is also an attempt to lay the blame for all this destruction at the feet of Gotbhaya Rajapakse".

Ven. Baddegama Samitha Thera, who in 2002 was the first monk to enter Parliament, much esteemed in left-wing circles, and whom I hold in deep respect, expressed different views but was in concurrence about the conspiracy. Chandraprema, who also conducted the other interview, asked whether he was surprised that not just one but two or three Bikkhu organizations had popped up out of nowhere with a lot of resources and the ability to muster crowds. The bikkhus in those organizations were completely unknown before 2012. He replied, "Certainly this sudden emergence of these organizations is a cause for suspicion. With the war, we got close to countries like Israel. One part of the Israeli strategy has been to destabilize Muslim countries all over the world. We see suspicious international involvement. For example, the visit made by the Bodu Bala Sena monks to Norway is surprising because Norway is a very liberal country. It is still unclear why they were invited to Norway." He had this to say about the lenient treatment of the BBS by the Government: "In no other country in the world would anybody have got off Scott free after behaviour like this. Anywhere else, they would have been in jail". He too dismissed the nonsense about "Islamic extremism". The following is also noteworthy: "The mindset which says that no concessions at all should be given to the minorities has always existed in this country. This has today assumed very ugly proportions".- (Island of July 17)

The Island of July 12 carried the statement of the National Shoora Council in response to the BBS’ call to ban it. The statement began by referring to the fully paid visit in October 2011 of BBS members to Norway, a country that almost succeeded in setting up Eelam, where they met members of the Tamil diaspora and Norwegian Islamophobes. It appeared most convincingly that the BBS had entered into a dubious contract to destabilize Sri Lanka through an anti-Muslim campaign through racial conflicts, which would be to the benefit of the Western powers at the UNHRC. The statement thought it significant that the first target of the BBS was the All Ceylon Jammiyathul Ulama, the President of which had gone to the UNHRC meeting in March 2012 to defend Sri Lanka. The BBS picked on the Halal issue even though the Chambers of Commerce could attest that the main beneficiaries of Halal certification were Sri Lanka’s non-Muslim exporters. The statement included the following important sentence: "Every one of the issues raised by the BBS against the Muslims was false, fabricated or exaggerated".

I will not comment on the statements quoted above as my purpose has been only to show that eminent and Venerable monks and responsible organizations share the widespread notion that the anti-Muslim campaign is the consequence of a foreign conspiracy. I will now add some comments to strengthen the case for a full-scale investigation into the alleged conspiracy. The reason given for that cataclysmic visit to Norway – the reason given by the President, not the General Secretary of the BBS – was that it was in connection with a project to help the Tamils. That must raise a smile, given the present notoriety of the BBS. I must mention that a friend of mine, vastly successful in business, had a project to help the Tamils. It provoked the ire of expatriate Tamils who told him that the Tamils didn’t want his money because they were a wealthy community. What really was the purpose of that Norway visit?

Why was the halal issue chosen as the first salvo in the anti-Muslim campaign? If the BBS wanted to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment, it could have been done far more effectively through the issue of cattle slaughter. Hardly any Sri Lankan was aware of halal certification as a problem. What, after all, did it involve? Muslims are forbidden certain food items, which could figure as ingredients in certain synthetic foods, and therefore there was a need for halal certification. Furthermore exporters of food items to Islamic countries – among whom the Sinhalese were in a majority – also needed halal certification. I have seen a legal opinion by a leading lawyer according to which the ACJU did not exceed its authority in issuing halal certificates. There was nothing in all that that could not have been sorted out without too much difficulty, provided the Government had a will to do so. However, I believe, that halal certification has been an issue in some foreign countries. I wonder whether the choice of halal as the first salvo in the anti-Muslim campaign was made by foreigners who were Aware that halal could constitute a problem.

Likewise the main BBS charge against the Muslims, that of "Muslim extremism", could have a Western provenance. Hardly any Sri Lankans – before the emergence of the BBS and apart from the JHU – were aware of "Muslim extremism" as a national problem. Among the public there was a vague consciousness of Wahabi extremism leading to a few, very few, conflicts among Muslims. But there have been no signs, none whatever, of Jehadi groups or "political Islam". How, then, did "Muslim extremism" come to be projected by the BBS and the JHU as a mighty threat to the nation? I believe that the explanation is to be found in the fact that particularly after September 11, 2001, Western Islamophobes came to be obsessed by what a famous political scientist called "the myth of universal terrorism". Was the choice of "Muslim extremism" as the main charge against the SL Muslims dictated by Western conspirators?

If the charge of a foreign conspiracy is to make sense, we have to be able to ascribe a rational motivation for it. I believe that the underlying factor of decisive importance is that India believes that a lasting solution to the Tamil ethnic problem will only be possible through the full implementation of 13A, while President Rajapakse is adamantly against it. The hidden purpose of the anti-Muslim campaign – of which the BBS may not be aware – is to destabilize Sri Lanka and to bring about the fall of the present Government. Even if one does not agree that that is the rationale for the foreign conspiracy, it remains that the prima facie case for a full scale investigation is very strong.

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