by Rohana R. Wasala
Justice Minister Ali Sabry is reported to have said the traditional brand of Islamism which has been practised by Muslims in Sri Lanka for centuries has to be preserved while the religion should not be practised according to the likes of one group. He reportedly made this remark after taking part in a religious ceremony at the Dewatagaha Mosque, Colombo. (This architecturally impressive place of Islamic worship is a proud national monument situated at the heart of the commercial capital; it is a symbol of the peaceful coexistence of Muslims with Sri Lankans of other faiths.) The Minister is reported to have added that unity among Muslims in Sri Lanka should also be preserved just like preserving unity among various religious and ethnic groups.
Sri Lankans of all beliefs interested in the early restoration of the externally disturbed customary religious and communal harmony subscribe to that laudable view with the necessary alterations. But will his equation of Islam with Islamism work in the current context.
(CAVEAT: There is no way to check the authenticity of the news report in question unless Minister Ali Sabry confirms or denies what is claimed in it about him. It has not been indicated in which language he expressed these ideas. Did he actually use the words Islam and Islamism speaking in English or their equivalents speaking in another language, or has the media arbitrarily translated into English, using those two terms, what the speaker said in another language?)
But for the purpose of this essay, I assume that the Minister’s words have been reported accurately. I don’t know whether Muslims in Sri Lanka have started using the words Islam and Islamism interchangeably, which, of course, I’d have thought, is a near impossibility, given the universally recognised difference in meaning between the two terms. Google.com defines Islam as ‘the religion of the Muslims, a monotheistic faith regarded as revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah’. Islamism on the other hand, is generally taken to mean Islamist fundamentalism associated with violent militancy, which is purely a religiopolitical movement. The Wikipedia defines Islamism thus: “Islamism (also often called political Islam or Islamic fundamentalism) is a political ideology which posits that modern states and regions should be reconstituted in constitutional, economic and judicial terms, in accordance with what is conceived as a revival or a return to authentic Islamic practice in its totality”.
(By the way, the Wikipedia is no longer regarded as an easily available smart tool for the amateur researcher for the reason that the entries are made by voluntary editors at various levels of scholarship and academic authority and authenticity. The Wikipedia user must be sufficiently educated and well informed to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. In this case, the definition given is sound enough.) Explaining the relation between Islam and Islamism, the Wikipedia says:
“The relationship between the notions of Islam and Islamism has been subject to disagreement. Hayri Abaza argues that the failure to distinguish between Islam and Islamism leads many in the West to support illiberal Islamic regimes, to the detriment of progressive moderates who seek to separate religion from politics. A writer for the International Crisis Group maintains that “the conception of ‘political Islam’” is a creation of Americans to explain the Iranian Islamic Revolution and (that) apolitical Islam was a historical fluke of the “short-lived era of the heyday of secular Arab nationalism between 1945 and 1970”, and it is quietist-political Islam, not Islamism, that requires explanation.
“Another source distinguishes Islamist from Islamic “by the fact that the latter refers to a religion and culture in existence over a millennium, whereas the first is a political/religious phenomenon linked to the great events of the 20th century”. Islamists have, at least at times, defined themselves as “Islamiyyoun/Islamists” to differentiate themselves from Muslimun/Muslims. Daniel Pipes describes Islamism as a modern ideology that owes more to European utopian ideologies and “isms” than to traditional Islamic religion.”
When Ali Sabry reportedly made the particular remark, he probably had in mind what the Wiki quote refers to as ‘quietist or political Islam’ (which, in common parlance, is called ‘moderate Islam’). Moderate Islam is not regarded as a problem, but Islamism definitely is. It need not be reiterated that the problem of Islamism affects the whole world. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, Islamic/Islamist fundamentalism came to prominence relatively recently, although it has been smoldering since the mid-20th century as some commentators have pointed out. Given this background, responsible speakers do not use the two words (Islam and Islamism) as alternatives. I believe that minister Ali Sabry speaks as a responsible person. That is why I am sceptical about what has been reported of his speech. But these are strange times. Anything is possible.
However, it is somewhat inconceivable that Ali Sabry, who has been entrusted by the President with such a great responsibility or an array of responsibilities as he bears in a government that sought election on the main platform of “One Law, One Country” and that is poised to bring in a new constitution, made this thoughtless identification of Islam with Islamism.
The President wanted to assure the Muslim community that they were safe and would not be subjected to discrimination under his rule, particularly in the face of incursions into Sri Lanka of rampant Islamist extremism, although most Muslims did not vote for him at the presidential election in November 2019. It is conceivable that the President’s more important aim in appointing Ali Sabry to that key post was to enlist the participation of the Muslim community in governance despite their implicit initial refusal of his goodwill. It is unlikely that Ali Sabry has forgotten this.
‘Cake, icing and power cuts’ – reply
You deserve the entire nation’s plaudits for the above-titled editorial, where you have identified the causes of power cuts. Let me elaborate on the causes that have led this country to this predicament. As stated by you, the Sampur Coal Power plant which was to be funded by India was cancelled by the then President Maithripala Sirisena, instead an LNG plant was to be constructed.
The story of this LNG plant is a sordid and corrupt affair to say the least, as the then Minister of Power and Energy interfered with the award of the tender to the lowest tenderer and instead awarded it to a higher bidder, a Chinese construction company. This dragged on for over four years and with the change of government, it was resolved by awarding the tender to the lowest bidder. Had this LNG plant at Kerawalapitiya been completed as scheduled, it could have averted power cuts to a certain extent, I believe. Then there was the interference by the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), in the Long Term Least Cost Generation plan where a coal plant was included. This, too, dragged on disrupting the plans of the CEB.
I venture boldly to question as to what the best authority in this country is, to prepare a generation plan other than the expert, knowledgeable and trained engineers of the CEB, taking into consideration local and international requirements.
It should be mentioned here that the former Minister of Power and Energy, Dallas Alahapperuma, made representations to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to remove PUCSL from interfering with the CEB, which was granted. Unfortunately for the CEB, this was overruled by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa who was also the Minister for Finance. I do not wish to question the rights and wrongs of this action. The result of this objection, I believe, and I expect it to be wrong, is that Minister Dallas Alahapperuma who pledged to make the CEB a profitable venture, was removed in a Cabinet reshuffle.
Then came the thunder, a bolt from the blues, when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pompously declared the cancellation of the additional Coal Plant at Norochcholai and imposed the CEB to achieve 70 percent of power generation through renewable energy sources by 2030 without consulting the Ministry for Power and Energy or the CEB as to the possibility of achieving this target.
The Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers’ Union (CEBEU) has said that, even with a steady fuel supply, power cuts will be inevitable when hydropower reservoirs dry up drastically during the drought period and solar or wind power generation is affected by unpredictable weather patterns. CEB engineers suggest the construction of the additional Coal Power Plant, which I hope will be granted, unless of course the government resorts to power purchase from private suppliers for reasons left unsaid.
Environmentalists cried foul over my support for the introduction of coal power generation, without really understanding that it would only be until renewable energy sources took over. I also pointed out that other countries which were signatories to the Paris Accord on Climate Change, that added coal generated power to their grid, such as China, India and Bangladesh. Then comes the FNE American firm, awarded a tender for an LNG plant at Kerawalapitiya, without the knowledge of the Ministry for Power and the CEB, with the CEB Chairman confessing to his ignorance of the terms of the agreement, at a press conference.
As icing on the Power and Energy cake comes the appointment of a General Manager, much to the objection of CEB Engineers. The proper procedure of appointing the person next in seniority was not followed, and the matter had to be brought before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who put it to right to the satisfaction of CEB engineers. Otherwise, there would have been a major strike. The person responsible for this irregular and unacceptable action should be severely dealt with.
It is earnestly hoped that the President will honour his pledge made at the inauguration of the current parliamentary session that he would take stern action to steer the country to prosperity within the next three years. I
Neglecting this vital sector along with agriculture is disastrous.
G. A. D. Sirimal
‘CEB engineers should be ashamed of power cuts’
The Secretary, Energy User’s Association, Sanjeewa Dhammika seems to be confused or uninformed as regards his statement that engineers of the CEB should be ashamed of power cuts. He says, ‘They must implement the Long-Term Generation Plan. They too have scuttled the schemes that could have helped to overcome the current situation…’ These accusations should be squarely placed on the government and the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka [PUCSL], which torpedoed the Long Term, Least Cost Generation Plan when at first PUCSL objected to the plan for having a coal plant included and it took a long period to settle the issue. Next, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa boastfully announced the cancellation of the additional coal plant at Norochcholai and set a target of 70% renewable sources of energy by 2030 without consulting the CEB as to its capabilities in reaching the target. When I say capabilities, I mean the administrative structure, the available resources and what is needed, etc. On top of that, the then Minister for Power and Energy, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, interfered in awarding the tender by over four years for the construction of the Kerawalapitiya LNG power plant. If that project was approved in time, perhaps the CEB could have averted power cuts. Keep all that aside, the most important factor is the non-availability of US dollars to purchase fuel which caused the shut down of the Biyagama oil refinery and also the refusal of CPC to supply fuel to CEB due to non-payment, running into billions.
My sincere advice to the Secretary to Energy Users Ass. Jeewaka Dhammika is do not mislead consumers without knowing facts.
What I have stated above is what I have gathered from newspaper reports and could be refuted or confirmed by CEBEU or any other.
G. A. D. Sirimal
SL Volunteer Air Force in counter-insurgency ops in 1971
This article was written by the late Sqn. Ldr. J.T. Rex Fernando (S. L.A.F.Retd.), First Commanding Officer Sri Lanka Volunteer Air Force, four years ago.
The contribution made by the Sri Lanka Air Force throughout five and a half decades, to safeguarding the country’s airspace and thereby the territorial integrity, has been given wide coverage in the print and electronic media. Recounting its illustrious history, it can look back with pride and satisfaction at its enviable record of operational successes, its reputation and also its contribution towards the development of the country’s non-military fields.
While recounting the vital role it played in crushing the abortive armed insurrection of 1971, it is only appropriate to recall the supportive role of the Sri Lanka Volunteer Air Force.
The armed insurrection of April 1971, to overthrow the lawfully constituted United Front Government, demonstrated clearly the tragic unpreparedness of the Government’s security forces at the time to deal promptly with a major, bloody uprising as the one the insurgents launched. On the one hand, there were not enough arms and ammunition. On the other hand the strength of the security forces was far below that which was required to sustain a major operation. The Air Force in particular had to perform a number of tasks in the first difficult days of the campaign with the Regular Force and found the need to supplement the relatively small Regular Force.
On April 24 Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike said, “On the 5th of April we found that we had inadequate weapons, ammunition and aircraft to meet a sustained threat over a long period of time by the terrorist insurgents.” The Prime Minister made this point again in July when she told the parliament that, “The week immediately following the 5th of April was an extremely vital week and the armed forces and the police had to struggle against many odds during this period.” The Air Force had to expand and expand fast. Likewise, other sections of the security forces had to be put in a state of preparedness to deal with any future threat to the country’s security. The need of the hour, when the country was facing a considerable threat from terrorists, was to strengthen the Armed Forces and the Police. It was this pressing need that led to the formation of the Sri Lanka Volunteer Air Force.
To Air Vice Marshal Paddy Mendis, the establishment of the volunteer Air Force was the realisation of a cherished dream. For over 20 years, since inauguration of the Volunteer Force had never been given serious consideration. With the pressing requirement to supplement the regular strength, the formation of the Volunteer Air Force was formally authorised by a proclamation by the President on 14 April, 1971.
Appointed the first Commanding Officer, I was directed by A.V.M. Mendis to proceed with the setting up of the infrastructure, recruitment, training and deployment as a matter of utmost priority. The task itself was challenging and unenviable. However, with the guidance of the Commander and the continuous support of the Air Force Board of Management and with the exemplary dedication and admirable commitment of my adjutant Flt. Lt Mani Seneviratne, the task was pursued and successfully accomplished.
The role of the Volunteer Force was essentially to assist the Regular Force in its primary and internal security duties. With more volunteers employed on internal security duties the skilled regular tradesmen were able to concentrate on their specialist technical and other skilled duties.
On the basis of their functional role the Volunteer Force was organised broadly into Ground Operational Squadrons, Work Services Squadrons and Air Operational Squadrons. Despite the relatively short period of training and the limited ‘on the job training’ Volunteer personnel contributed considerably to the Air Force tasks. Apart from internal security duties and general operational tasks Volunteer personnel were employed in almost every field of Air Force activity, on flying duties, airfield construction, mechanical transport operations and maintenance, engineering duties, logistics and catering duties and administrative, clerical, medical and other miscellaneous service duties. The Air Field Construction Regiment was organised to undertake major construction projects and maintenance commitments. The Volunteers working side by side with the regulars assimilated the service form and gained confidence. The ‘esprit de corps’, the cordiality and friendship that prevailed contributed greatly to the success it achieved.
Recruitment and training
Recruitment commenced almost immediately. After the promulgation, the first batch of Volunteer Officers and Airmen commenced their initial Ground Combat training at Diyatalawa on April 23, while the Volunteer pilots at the same time commenced flight training at the No. 1 Flying Training School, China Bay. The task of the Instructors was not an unenviable one. They had to train personnel recruited from various walks of life as combatants capable of operating their intricate flying machines and coping with various operational and non combatant duties within a short period. The full, authorised cadre was recruited and training completed by the end of May.
The initial training courses were so designed to mould the trainees into alert, efficient and well disciplined members of the Air Force; proficient in all basic aspects of ground combat and other general responsibilities; capable of working with confidence, side by side with their regular counterparts in a supporting role. All Volunteer trainees, within the short training period, were trained adequately in varied service aspects, among which were drill, weapons training, field-craft and tactics, map reading, jungle training and watermanship, Air Force Law, and afforded an adequate knowledge of the organisation of the Air Force, along with first aid and fire fighting. Special emphasis was placed on physical fitness and the standard of physical fitness gradually raised, training them to take on the role of combatants irrespective of their specialised trades. Subsequent to initial combat training, trainees were afforded ‘on the job training’ on their particular trade duties.
Among the officers, specialists recruited were General Duties Pilots who were required to supplement the meagre number of Regular Pilots who were continuously flying day and night on operational and Air Transportation commitments, since the outbreak of the terrorist offensive. The Volunteer Pilots were intended to provide some relief though it was not possible to immediately employ most of them on operational duties. While very few were experienced pilots, most of the selected pilots had previous experience in light trainee aircraft only. After a rapid training course on the basic Chipmunk, then converting to the Dove and Heron aircraft, they were able to be of assistance to the Regular Pilots.
With the formation of the Volunteer Air Force there was an encouraging and unprecedented response from persons of all walks of life to join the Force. Reputed professionals of various disciplines as well as highly skilled and semi killed persons were all driven by a sense of patriotism and yearning to contribute their skills to preserve sovereignty and national integrity. While a great number of professionals volunteered and served with distinction, it is appropriate to mention the names of some in appreciation and expression of gratitude for their service, and also to highlight the multiplicity of disciplines and professions that made up the Volunteer Air Force. Medical professionals, Senior Consultant Late Dr. T.H. Amarasinghe, Consultant Surgeon Dr. S. Maheshwaran, Dental Surgeon Dr. S. Rajapakse, experienced and reputed pilots Susantha Jayasekara and David Peiris, Consultant and Chartered Cost Accountants late Dayalan Tharmaratnam and S. Balakur, Registered Auditor R. Ramachandra and Chartered Management Consultant, Kuda Liyanage, Banker Nimal Gunatunge, Chartered Civil Engineers Mervyn Wijesinghe and Ben Navaratne, Chartered Architect Mano Kumarasingham, Attorney at Law and Human Resources Consultant Tilak Liyanage and Lucky Moonamale, Civil Servant Mervyn Koch, Management Specialist Mahes Goonathilake, Business entrepreneurs late Ed Nathanielz, late Bevis De Silva, Upali Gunesekera and late Harold Pilapiya, reputed entertainer Desmond De Silva and National Cricketers Brian Obeysekera, Tony Opatha and Nihal De Zoysa are a few noteworthy examples.
All these gentlemen with a great number of others served the force with distinction. Most of them did so despite personal inconvenience, disruption of their regular employment, business and domestic life since most of them were stationed in remote and uncongenial locations such as Ridiyagama, Weerawila, Weeraketiya and Hambantota.
Entry of women
The entry of women into the Volunteer Force can be considered a unique feature of the formulation of the Volunteer Force. Armed Services, an exclusive preserve of the men, opened its doors to the women. The four pioneering women on graduating on 4 October, 1972 were engaged in secretarial duties and duties associated with tourist flying.
It must be accepted that when personnel initially enlisted in the Volunteer Force, they did not anticipate to be mobilised for prolonged periods of time. Especially those with permanent employment and holding responsible positions and those in the government sector encountered hardships as a result of continued mobilisation and deployment in remote areas. Some of them were gradually absorbed into the Regular Force, and some left after fulfilling an obligation on cessation of hostilities.
In 1973 just two years after the formation of the Volunteer Force, the Commander of the Air Force AVMP. H. Mendis, with a sense of great satisfaction, referring to the Volunteer Force asserted, “As a result of hard work and dedication to duty of the highest order, the Volunteer Force has distinguished itself in combat, security, administrative, operational and constructional duties. Your units are based in many locations within the country and you have carried out your duties exceptionally well.”
Every Volunteer was conscious that he or she had a vital role to play in the defence of the country. The sense of dedication and devotion to duty inculcated by the Regular counterparts was indeed the most encouraging feature of the Volunteer Organisation.
These gentlemen who spontaneously responded to a call to serve the country in her hour of peril, maintained their enthusiasm and displayed remarkable dedication to duty. Their service was of help to the Air Force at a time the country was plunged into bloody chaos. It is only appropriate to recall their contribution and express our appreciation of their services.
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