Foreign power influence and impact on the presidential election – A response
Posted on October 18th, 2019

By Rohana R. Wasala Courtesy The Island

Latheef Farook (‘Foreign power influence and impact on presidential election’/ The Island, October 16, 2019) asserts that a number of countries ‘including China, India, United States, its European allies especially United Kingdom and France, Russia and Israel’ ‘competing to control the Indian ocean’ (he identifies these countries collectively as a new global anti-Muslim ‘axis’) ‘have entered Sri Lanka in view of its strategic importance’. While his broad subject is what the title indicates, his specific thesis seems to me to imply a warning that the success of a pro-Mahinda Rajapaksa candidate at the forthcoming presidential election is going to be unfavourable to local Muslims because, in his opinion, what he calls the global campaign against Muslims made its entry into Sri Lanka under the previous MR government. This is a very simplistic generalization made on the basis of woefully inadequate evidence, hence devoid of meaning, to say the least!

The names of the countries and the order in which they are listed here reveal the writer’s pro-Islamist and anti-nationalist bias (something obvious to readers who are familiar with Sri Lanka’s current political scene and its relation to foreign power interests in the region). In my opinion, these countries may be safely described as economically and/or militarily powerful ones. But I don’t know whether all of them are equally interested in Sri Lanka for strategic reasons. Neither do I subscribe to the view that there is a global anti-Muslim campaign as such. It is a quixotic claim.  Can Latheef suggest any convincing reason/s why global Muslims should attract special hostility from other nations as he seems to claim? Islamic extremists do excite disagreement, fear, and anger among people of other faiths and among moderate Muslims themselves through their dangerous fanaticism.. But not all Muslims – the overwhelming majority – are extremists. There certainly is this global problem of religious extremism involving Islam. 

Be that as it may, three of the countries named are heavily involved in a partly cooperative and partly competitive or even adversarial regional engagement with each other that entails important economic and national security implications for themselves, and most critically of all, for Sri Lanka as a small independent sovereign state: these three powers are, of course, India, China, and America. It can be said in retrospect that Sri Lanka has been reaping both good and bad outcomes from its interactions with these powers. Probably, the greatest benefits have come from China over the seven decades since independence, and both good and bad results from America.

 Meanwhile, a politically and economically stable and independent Sri Lanka that is secure from external aggression and internal division is a sine qua non for its close neighbour (and Big Brother) India’s own stability. An unwelcome offshoot of the inevitable interplay between Sri Sri Lanka and the superpower presence in its neighbourhood is the unnecessary foreign intervention (sometimes amounting to interference in its internal affairs) that transforms itself into a conducive background for the divisive and destabilizing forces of separatism and religious extremism, both drawing sustenance from abroad. These evils would be easily manageable for Sri Lanka but for the cover that forced mediation intentionally or unintentionally provides for them. 

But here I would like to refute categorically two manifestly false claims that  Farook makes in support of his main point. These are: (1) the alleged coming of ‘Islamophobia’ to Sri Lanka in the wake of the  Easter Sunday attacks and (2) the establishment of relations with Israel and the permission of connections between the Hindutva Movement in India – as part of a global anti-Muslim ‘axis’ composed of the countries mentioned above -, and the so-called ‘racists’ in Sri Lanka (presumably, BBS monks) against Muslims, as Farook complains. 

About (1), for want of time and space, I will not say more than the following: Latheef Farook may be unaware that the so-called Islamophobia has been well and truly debunked by both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars. There are numerous books and articles written about the subject by Muslim, ex-Muslim, and non-Muslim researchers into the global Islamist problem. The internet provides an easily accessible interface for proponents and opponents of the construct of ‘Islamophobia’ to advance and exchange their arguments, and the rational minded have no difficulty in deciding which side to agree with.  A phobia is an unhealthy fear, like agoraphobia (fear of being in places that cause unreasonable anxiety and panic in the sufferer) or claustrophobia (irrational fear of closed spaces). A person’s fear of a venomous snake is not a phobia, it is a healthy fear that can be sourced to our evolutionary history that causes the person to avoid contact with dangerous snakes. If there is any real Islamophobia (an unhealthy fear of Islam) at all, it has to be among non-Muslims. Isn’t it up to the Islamic scholars themselves to dispel this fear by explaining matters to them as they surely must be able to? Non-Muslims do not fear a non-literal peaceful interpretation of the Koran, but they do fear the literalist version of the fundamentalists (which is apparently not accepted even by moderate Muslims, who far outnumber extremists), and this is not a phobia. What Muslim fundamentalists actually attack as manifestations of Islamophobia are criticisms of extremist interpretations of Islam.

Latheef Farook claims that ‘……the global Islamophobia entered the island with all its ferocity in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings and killings on April 21’. This is a deliberate distortion of the true situation. The (alleged IS) terrorist bombings killed 270 people, worshippers in churches and others in hotels (bombs went off in eight places around the country) including men, women, and children, and injured over 500, some grievously. What does Farook imply when he asserts that ‘the global Islamophobia entered the island with all its ferocity…’? The uncountable noun ‘ferocity’ does not refer to the terrorist attacks. He actually suggests that there was a very violent (‘ferocious’) reaction to these attacks by the (newly created) local Islamophobes! But this is not at all what actually happened after the bombings. What Farook describes as ferocious seem to be the few isolated incidents in Kuliyapitiya and Minuwangoda – indiscriminate attacks on shops and houses of both Muslim and Buddhist residents by strangers (charged by some Opposition politicians to be agents provocateurs doing the bidding of some interested party close to the government for fomenting the communal conflagoration that they wanted to flare up after the bombings, but didn’t). It is also noteworthy that these incidents happened a week or more after the attacks on April 21. From that very day onwards, Opposition politicians pointed out, there was an sinister attempt in certain quarters to somehow suggest that Sri Lankan Buddhists were behind the Easter Sunday bombings, but later evidence showed that Islamic extremists were responsible. Ordinary Sinhala Buddhist citizens from the majority community led rescue operations immediately after the attacks. It was Buddhist Sinhalese residents who successfully prevented those incidents at Kuliyapitiya and Minuwandoda from escalating into major incidents. A young Sinhalese Buddhist gem businessman (owner of the commercial establishment ‘Priyan Manik’), Priyanga Pushpakumara, offered to rebuild one of the damaged churches at his own expense, but the Cardinal gracefully declined that offer. 

There was no Islamophobia in Sri Lanka in the past, and there is none at present either. Buddhist monks have been turned into hate figures by anti-Sinhala Buddhist propagandists through misinformation. These monks have been protesting for many years now against the unacceptable activities of some Christian and Islamic extremist sects that are trying to make inroads into the country’s traditional Buddhist religious space. N. Arunkanthan, president of the All Ceylon Hindu Federation, a close ally of Bodu Bala Sena (which, in actuality, is not the violent extremist entity it is usually made out to be in the biased media), says Hindu Tamils have the same problems as Buddhist Sinhalese with these extremist groups. Actually, Sri Lankan Muslims are persecuted by Islamic extremists, not by fanatical Buddhist monks or lay Buddhists,  as the fundamentalists and some Muslims sympathetic to them claim. Ordinary Muslims harrassed by them seek the help of monks to save them from the depredations of the extremist minority among themselves, who promote something different from the traditional Islam that they have been following for centuries in Sri Lanka in peaceful coexistence with the exceptionally tolerant Buddhist and Hindu religions. A Muslim resident from the Eastern Province has given a scholar monk, a well known Buddhist activist, as he publicly declared a weeks ago, a written claim that some twenty Muslims have been executed under Sharia in that province for such alleged offences as lending money at interest, adultery, being a member of Sri Lanka Army etc. 

Concerning point (2), Farook writes: ‘This global anti-Muslim campaign entered the island under the Rajapaksa regime, when it opened the country to Israelis and India’s Hindutva forces who have established close ties with government backed local racist forces’. Spelling out fears of ‘growing’ Israeli connections being potentially detrimental to Sri Lanka’s minority Muslims, he says: ‘Sri Lanka’s growing ties with Israel have also become cause for serious concern among the Muslims, who always fear that this may spell disaster for communal harmony, in view of Israel’s extreme hostility towards Muslims.’ He makes a similar charge about alleged ties between Indian Hindutva and Sri Lankan Buddhist organizations: ‘Meanwhile, extreme right wing militant Hindus working tirelessly to eliminate Muslims in India, have also entered Sri Lanka with their Hindutva agendas during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime.’ 

Farook’s complaints are baseless and ridiculous. Ordinary Muslims do not share his concerns. Muslims of his mentality are a dwindling tribe in Sri Lanka today. All racial and religious communities are uniting against Islamic extremism, which seems to have grown particularly during the past five years with the connivance of the authorities despite the desperate warnings of the Buddhist monks, who were always held down as racists, lunatics, and intolerant religious extremists. The vast majority of Sri Lankans are waiting for the arrival of the leader who, they are sure, will be able to resolve the country’s numerous crises including nascent IS terrorism. It is the eagerly expected coming of this leader that Latheef Farook seems to have misgivings about.    

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