The Muslim factor - by Syed Ali Mutaba, Published in "newsindpress on Sunday.
By Noor Nizam.
The article under heading "The Muslim factor" written by Syed Ali Mutaba and published in "newsindpress on Sunday (30th.,September 2002) carried in your esteemed electronic newspaper today, needs a deeper insight of some of the facts the writer has presented - in reality, to understand ."The Muslim Factor" in it's true image, which seems to have been hidden behind the creativity of journalistic jargans that have conveniently shelved aside the this important factor in the history of media publicity over the 2 decades of the ethic conflict that has ravaged the little Island of Sri Lanka, is now truely comming to life journalistically.
Let us first agree that the population of Sri Lanka is approximately
18 .66 million of which the Sinhalese comprise of 74%, the indigenous
Tamils 12.6% , Tamils of Indian Origin 5.5% and 7.1% MUSLIMS.(Internet
source ProLog,www.prd.net/webnew /16.9.2002,www.lankachronicle.com,12.9.2002).
It has also been a favourite to many journalists,even from the elite sources such as Reuters, Yahoo, AFP, BBC etc., always to refer to a figure of 64,000 or 80,000 persons killed during the 2 decades of this gruesome civil war that has raged the peace loving and ever smiling people of Ceylon which named itself Sri Lanka after becoming a Republic by constitutional change. Vital Sri Lankan statistics show that the losses are as follows: Rebel losses,17,211 killed between 1982 up to June 2001 (rebel figures). Military losses, 18,000 killed since 1982 (unofficial estimates). Civilians killed, 7,800 since 1993 (official estimates). This totals up to 48,011 lives lost during the 2 decades of the civil armed war as current as September 2002 (ProLog (AFP) internet satistical release dated Sept. 16th, 2002). It also informs that there is no reliable casualty figures available, but the figures provided are the most reliable information available todate.
This should give us a start to look deeper into realities of the subject
matter discussed above. The fact that the Muslims are the 3rd., largest
ethnic group is indeed a fact. They comprise of 7.1% of the population
totallying approximately 1,324,860 and live as close communities in the
Eastern Provinces of Ampara, Batticaloa and the Trincomalee districts.
Some studies indicate that 30% to 40% of the Muslims lived in the Eastern
and Northern Provinces, while the balance 60-70% lived outside these provinces,
mixed with the Sinhalese population. The district of Trincomalee is a
bit different where the Tamils, Muslims and the Sinhalese lived as a mixed
The mother tongue of the Muslims in the Eastern Province has been Tamil
(of equal standard as the Tamils) and Tamil (Moor tamil and tamil mixed
sinhalese) in the South,Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces. Yet as Muslims,
they have lived and maintained their Religion, Culture, Traditions and
distinct ethnic identity for generations know, till todate.
This undoubtedly makes them the "Muslim Minority of Sri Lanka". The Muslims are the 3 rd., largest ethnic community and the 2nd., largest Minority Community in Sri Lanka. It is sad to note that the Ceylon Malayas who are also Muslims totallying approximately 60,000 to 80,000 have not been included in the satistics provided. In reality, it strengths the Muslim community's position in all issues.
The "Ethnic indigenous Tamil Minority " of 13,808,400 are the 2nd largest ethnic community and the 1st., largest Tamil Speaking Minority. The "Tamils of Indian Origin Minority" of 1,026,300 are the 4th largest ethnic community,(also Tamil speaking) 3rd., Largest Minority in Sri Lanka. The native "Sinhalese Majority of Sri Lanka with a population of 13,808,400 are the Majority Ethnic Community.
With a 30-40 % Muslim population living in the Eastern Province, which is also their homeland, that analysts describing this phenomena as the weakest link in the Peace process as discribed by Journalist Syed Ali Mutaba is a gross humiliation to the Peace process. It is the presence of the Muslims in the Eastern and even in the Northern Province before the push-out that took place a decade and and half ago, and the initiatives taken by the Muslim Communities, their leaders and political representatives to find a solution to the grivences of the minorities in general, through the process of DEMOCRACY and not Militancy and violence, that has enrgized the flame of PEACE in Sri Lanka which has resulted in the Peace Initiative being a success to the extent it is happening. If only the LTTE or the militant tamil groups would have been strengthed en masse by the Muslim youth and it's political leaders of the Eastern and Northern Provinces from 1973, Tamil Eelam would have been a reality today. One cannot deny the fact that many a Muslim Youth contributed to the armed struggle of the militant tamil groups and the LTTE in the inception and for a few years more that follwed.
Muslims in the Eastern Province have always lived in harmony with the Tamils,though the Muslims did support the FP and the TULF in general elections and by-elections, in fact, they voted the - the United National Party (UNP) en-block. Of course, Trincomalee district was different, because the Muslims equally supported the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) as well as the United National Party (UNP) in the general elections. Prior to the advent of the SLFP to the politics of Trincomalee, it was the Federal Party that was supported by the Muslims equally as the UNP. The greatest honour the Tamils of Trincomalee have bestowed on the Muslims of that district is when they voted a Muslim candidate on the Federal Party ticket to parliament with a majority of 10,000 votes at a by-election in the 1960's, after the death of the much loved politician, the late Mr.Eahambaram MP. Mr. M.E.H.Mohamed Ali, the young Muslim politician represented the tamils and the muslims of his constituency - the Mutur Electorate.
This exception also culminated in an incident in the Parliament history of Ceylon, where Mr.M.E.H.Mohamed Ali made the 1st ever Speech in the Tamil Language in the floor of the House, in the mist of leading Tamil politicians and political leaders of that era who were elected Members of Parliament. It was a practice for the Tamil politicians who were english educated to eloquently debate in the English Language in Parliament.
At no stage did the Muslims of the Eastern Province earn the wrath of
the LTTE because of their political stand in issues that were of common
and mutual interrest to the Tamils and the Muslims in the region, as stated
by Journalist Syed Ali Mutaba. The demand of a seperate administrative
unit in the Eastern Province was a move to nullyfy the strengthening of
the Sinhalese dominance of border regions by the re-demarcation of electrorates
and districts by delimitation commissions that were setup with ulterior
motives, by whatsoever governments that were in power. The voice of the
Muslims, though they had voted en-block the UNP in the Eastern Province
and sent a UNP Muslim and a Sinhalese MP from the Trincomalee district
to Parliament, as a tradition, their voice was like the "cry in the wilderness"
was never heard by the UNP or the SLFP that was in power. It is this agony
that drove the young muslims politically motivated of the Eastern Province
to form a seperate Muslim Political Party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.
Confronted by the dominance of the Muslims in the South in politics and the Muslim Leadership, they became a challenge to the so called Muslims leadership in the UNP and the SLFP, but won the sympathy and support of the community at large in the Eastern Province and later in the South too.
This new metamorphoses of political leadership showed signs of splits in the community that lead to certain religious involvements and disputes being interpreted as politics in the community. An incident that took place in Moor Street in Jaffana between two Muslim groups, ending in violence, in the 1990's gave birth to the LTTE suspecting the Muslims as an armed group that may be a threat to their cause. The LTTE was conscious of the presence of Muslim militants in it's cadres. It is very strongly believed that this lead to the LTTE leaders in the North, deciding to order and forced nearly 85,000 Muslims who were living among them as neighbours, brothers and sisters, at gun point to leave Jaffana within 24 hours, leaving everything, not allowing them to take even a spare clothing and forfeited all their savings,jewellery and those of value. Many of these Muslims were wealthy tradesmen, businessmen and landlord farmers who lost everything in life from that moment and became destitutes later on as refugess (Internally Displaced Persons) in many parts of Sri Lanka, of which the district of Puttullam has many stroies to tell.
Non of these human miseries have ever been documented , related or refered to by the main Media channels like Reuters, Yahoo, AFP, CNN, or BBC in any of their News Releases of the brutal ethnic conflict stories that have been filed by the correspondents reporting from Sri Lanka over the 2 decades of the Conflict, which has become the "pet" for all journalists today, because of the on-going Peace Initiative.
It is also sad for the world community to have seen, that the representative
of the foreign powers, the so-called Diplomatic Community and the NGO
Champions, both local and International, just for a moment forgot the
"Muslim factor" during the last 20 years of the civil war, but take great
interest NOW to analyse the "MUSLIM FACTOR" as is present.
Said it may be, the young energetic Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress,
Hon.Rauf Hakeem, true to the vision of his late Leader Maroom M.H.M.Ashraff,
founding Leader of the SLMC and having been groomed by him, unknown of
the fate that was lying ahead, has faced the challenges that be in the
present Political senario, and has steered the interests of the Muslim
community with dedication, understanding, tolerance , compromise, consensus
and leadership, giving a ear to everyone, but fully conscious of his responsibilities
as a Leader of a Community which is the 3rd., largest ethnic and 2nd.,
largest Tamil Speaking community in Sri Lanka, without giving any chance
to derail the Peace Initiative and Process that is beingn worked-out in
Sri Lanka, by the International community. Let it be known very strongly,
that it was a member of the Muslim Community who generated the idea of
Norway as the best single Negotiator and Fcailitator to Mediate Peace
between the LTTE and the Sri Lanka Governments, way back in the 1970's
and strengthened the cause in the 1980, working through many mediums of
political lobbying and advocacy, even though there was a set-back during
the Premadasa regime. In 1999, H.E. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunghe
had to concede to the pressure created, that she made a request in writting
to the Royal Norwegian Government to facilitate peace discussions with
the LTTE. H.E Jon Westborg the Royal Norwegian Ambassador, or any Norwegian
Parliamentarian who had officially visited Sri Lanka during the period
1977 to 1999, cannot deny this truth. There are still more untold stories
of the Norwegian involvements in the Political senario in Sri Lanka to
But the two issues that will solve the Sri Lanka jigsaw puzzle are the
Political and Administrative (governance) autonomy to be embeded in a
new constitution that will allow the Tamil Community their freedom of
Political and Administrative Governance , and the similar autonomy for
the Muslims, with their freedom of Political and Administrative (governance)
in the Region and Territory of the Eastern Province and over the Muslim
Population living in the Northern Region and the District of Trincomalee.
This has to be a reality within the Sovereign Nation of Sri Lanka.
The Norwegians should be committed to this equally to both the Tamils
and the Muslims in good faith and sincererity. No influence of Faith or
Religion should be the cause of trust or mistrust of the World powers
in the two structures of autonomy, that the Norwegians should work towards.
It should not be their influence of trust in the geo-politics of the region
in the years ahead of us.
Story-(Newindpress - 30/09/02)
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