In the aftermath of 21/4
Posted on May 12th, 2019

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe Courtesy Ceylon Today

Three weeks have passed since the Easter Sunday massacres. Normalcy is slowly returning. However, there is a perceptible sense of uncertainty, bewilderment, and bitterness amongst people. Muslims are complaining of being estranged by others. When the entire economy took a catastrophic hit, it is hard to determine if the Muslim businesses are affected because of the general situation or due to a boycott.

There are messages to the effect to avoid Muslim enterprises on social media making its rounds. These posts are being shared by both Sinhalese and Tamils. While people are not openly hostile, they are clearly very upset with the Muslims.

Even before the Government swung into action, it was the people who banned the hijab and niqab. From the next day of the carnage itself, women thus attired were turned away from premises and not allowed to use even public transport. This intolerance is a new phenomenon in Sri Lanka that was not seen once during the 30 years of terrorism inflicted by the LTTE. Though the LTTE was on a mission to carve out a homeland exclusive to Northern and Eastern Tamils, Sri Lankans always managed to distinguish Tamils from terrorists.

Therefore, no one worried when they saw a woman with a pottuwa or dressed in a manner distinct with the Tamil identity. No one advocated a boycott on Tamil businesses. It was not only the Tamils, but everyone were subjected to be searched and their identity verified.

In contrast, the suspicions are wholly on the Muslims. Their mosques all over the Island are subject to thorough search operations. Even the men with long, unruly beards are not welcome. In almost in the blink of an eye, Muslims who were the kingmakers lost their political clout. Since the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord, the Muslims have been voting for the Muslim political parties. Thus these politicians have been able to garner the entire Muslim vote block. This block vote was to manipulate the Government of the day.
Until now, not a single government dared to antagonise these Muslim politicians and risk losing the entire Muslim block vote. However, today the Government or any of the other main political parties cannot afford to be associated with any of these Muslim politicians, especially Rishard Bathiudeen, Mujibur Rahuman, Abdul Haleem, Hizbullah and Azath Salley who represent exclusive Muslim political parties.

However, UNP will not lose any votes on account of Kabir Hashim. He is a staunch UNP member and plays a decisive role in that political party. If UNP loses any votes in the upcoming elections, it is not because of Hashim, but because of their abysmal performance as a government. In fact, given that it was one of his secretaries that provided vital information to the authorities regarding Muslim extremist activities and in turn was rewarded with a bullet by these elements, Hashim might actually attract few sympathy votes that the UNP otherwise would have lost.

This distinction is an important to understand that the Sri Lankans have not suddenly turned into bigotry. One may choose to disagree with Hashim’s politics, but all must agree that he is a very moderate man who has always lived well within the framework of Islamism. Therefore, what Sri Lankans have turned against is not Islamism or its followers, but the radicals and the extremists in the name of Islamism.

The aforementioned politicians may well get into Parliament in the next round as well for they need only five (5) per cent as the district cut-off point. However, on their own, without the ability to latch on to the Government, they will be rendered toothless for they will be without the power to influence the Government. With such small numbers in the Parliament, they might as well not be in existence. They understand this fact all too well. Therefore, they are trying their best to smooth the ruffled feathers of the non-Muslims.

To the non-Muslims, they heartily endorse the ban on the niqab and hijab. To the Muslims, they ask for patience until the others calm down. Once people come to terms with the tragedy, they have pledged to talk about it ‘leisurely.’

However, some Muslims do not seem to understand the situation’s severity. They have taken to wearing facemasks and oversized sunglasses. Alternative to posts advocating a boycott on Muslim businesses, posts encouraging Muslims to patronise only Muslim businesses are also circulating. They argue that a large percentage of Muslims constitute established supermarkets’ market share. Thus, this ban will not be enforced when a drop in market share is noted.

Whether such logic holds water or not remains to be seen. Supermarkets and other enterprises would not want to lose Muslim customers; nor their other customers who would be too afraid to come. Overriding market share would be the risk of ignoring the ban and then been held accountable if an incident should occur.

Some Muslims have questioned the rational of imposing a ban on the niqab and the hijab that was not worn by the terrorists. However, the point is that this attire is a recent addition to the Muslim wardrobe. Until very recently, Muslim girls and young women followed more or less the conservative fashions as the other Sri Lankan girls. The shalwar kameez is still popular among the non-Muslims. The matured women wore soft saris in different and often gentle colours and used the fall as a loose headscarf.

Until the Easter Sunday massacres, the increasing trend was becoming for Muslim women to cover their whole body including face in black, shapeless robes. Then they started moving in groups of at least four or five, where as earlier they moved with girls of all communities. They were fast becoming a sector apart from the rest of the community. This growing trend was confusing and alarming.

Perhaps, not all those who sport long, unruly beards or those wearing the full-face mask cover are radicalised. However, for the rest of Sri Lanka, this is an indication of being radicalised. The exclusivity they propagated by dress code is very much in line with the ISIS ideology that refuses to tolerate anyone who does not conform to their beliefs. Even the Muslims who continue to be moderate citizens have publicly questioned the rational of introducing an extreme Arabic culture to Sri Lanka.

However, it took a tragedy of the Easter Sunday massacre magnitude for Sri Lanka to acknowledge that allowing this radicalisation to exist is presenting a threat to Sri Lanka. Yet, certain some without trying to empathise with the concerns of the larger population is brazenly flouting the law. This in turn is agitating rest of Sri Lanka. No one is fooled that they are wearing masks for health reasons.

Some Muslims highlight that the clues of the existence of a violent group were there, but were not followed. Some others remind us that they had forewarned us and it was not heeded. True as it is, they must also understand that the hands of a majority are tied when it comes to minority matters.

Muslim youth, especially in the East, have been disrespectful of the law. Some did not even wear a helmet whilst travelling on motorcycles. Today, the Police can take appropriate action because of the changed perceptions. The educated Muslim community should have addressed the alien dress code, especially when it was making others uncomfortable. They may have highlighted it, but their failure to effectively address it has led to the point where the law had to intervene.

Likewise, the educated Muslims must hold their clergy responsible for allowing weapons of the crudest form to be stored in their places of worship. They must not keep quiet as they did when an university exclusively for Muslims in the East was coming up, when the State cannot accommodate many of those eligible to a tertiary education. If the Muslim community fails to effectively integrate with the Sri Lankan society, the consequences could be dire for all.

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