The Burqa Ban is not a “Mere Proposal”
Posted on March 24th, 2021

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe

Last week, the Pakistan High Commissioner Major General (Retd.) Muhammad Saad Khattak, in an unprecedented and shocking move took to Twitter to make a comment on an internal matter of Sri Lanka. His Tweet appeared shortly after Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Retd.) Sarath Weerasekera made the long pending announcement that he signed the cabinet papers to present in Parliament to ban the burqa. Mr Khattak claimed that such a move would injure” the feelings of Muslims in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. 

Pakistan, who had been our all weather loyal friend had always prided itself for not being India. While India for decades had played politics with Sri Lanka by passing itself as a voice for Sri Lankan Tamils (whilst largely ignoring the Indian origin Tamils), Pakistan had maintained a strong relationship with the Sri Lankan Government. As such, Pakistan had been a friend to the nation as a whole without promoting or demoting any community in the Island. Despite the disparity in economy, territory and military strength, Pakistan had always treated Sri Lanka as an equal and given space for us to deal with our internal concerns as we see fit. 

Since the conclusion of the war against terrorism waged by the LTTE, there had been a concentrated effort by known and unknown parties to create tension between the Sinhalese and the Muslims. The incidents at Aluthgama and Digana had been twisted as attacks on the Muslim community. The provocation that led to these incidents or the bravery of the ordinary Sinhalese as well as the Buddhist clergy to protect the Muslims from the mob during these riots are being deliberately suppressed. The calm that prevailed after the vandalism of Buddhist statues in Mawanalla and even after the dastardly Easter Sunday Attack is also discounted. 

The West, masters of divisive politics, had not lost an opportunity to exacerbate the situation and portray that the Muslims are being marginalized by the Sinhalese. It was the West that took cudgels against Sri Lanka for cremating all COVID-19 deaths. The Islamic countries, other than perhaps a private inquiry, kept out of the debate. Even though the matter has been resolved the West remains still concerned” that the burials of COVID-19 deaths are only allowed in the remote parts of the Island. 

The irony is that the concern comes from the very elements that had reduced most Arabic countries to rubble. The resulting displacement of persons has been the largest since WWII. Countries like Germany pat their own back for absorbing large numbers of these displaced persons, but have never addressed the cause for this displacement in the first place. At the very least, none of these countries nor world bodies like the UNHRC had taken any measures to restore the destruction caused by these military invasions to alleviate the people from the consequential suffering. A case of point is the silence over NATO’s actions in 2011 to debilitate Libya’s water supply by targeting critical State owned water installations, including the factory that manufactured pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipes for the Great Manmade River (GMR) project that supplied water to over 70 percent of the Libyan population. 

The Islamic countries have refused to get duped by the hypocrisy promoted by the West. Hence, despite the propaganda against Sri Lanka on alleged discrimination against Muslims, the Islamic world had continued to be supportive to Sri Lanka. The West, to quote the British parliamentarian Lord Tariq Ahmad, is working hard to build support for the new resolution on Sri Lanka” at the UNHRC to make us accountable for all violations and abuses committed in Sri Lanka.” However, he fears that it would be an unwinnable” resolution. This means that they have been unable to muster the support for it outside the Western Hemisphere. 

It is at such a moment that Pakistan High Commissioner Khattak commented on a proposed action by the Sri Lankan Government. The Foreign Ministry’s response is however of greater concern. 

The ban is certainly not against the Muslim community and should not be misinterpreted as a move to intimidate a smaller community. The face covering veil that shrouds the entire body and thus enforcing an anonymity on the person, making it difficult even to distinguish the gender is not a religious or a cultural attire. It is a political stance to create exclusivity from the rest of the nation. Concerns over this alien costume has been coming from within the Sri Lankan Muslim community itself. 

Until the Easter Attack in April 2019, Sri Lankans with a sense of unease watched Muslim women in growing numbers opting to cover themselves in a burqa and some even with a niqab. However, this was seen as a matter that the Muslim community needed to resolve. This perception changed immediately with the Easter Attack. Then only the severity of the situation was grasped as it became clear that this dress code is a strong indication of extremism that will not hesitate at terrorism. Hence, even before the then Yahapalana Government could react, it was the people who reacted against the burqa by not allowing anyone in it from entering public premises, including buses. With everyone following this precautionary measures, the Yahapalana Government had little choice but to impose a temporary ban on the burqa. In turn, it did not provoke a reaction from Pakistan or any of our traditional friends. 

Traditionally, Sri Lankan Muslim women, especially the young women, did not cover their heads. They mostly wore the shalwar with a shawl loosely wound around or hanging from the neck. The older women used to cover the heads very loosely with their sari fold. Today, this has changed almost completely and those who do not wear the burqa often sports a hijab, which still covers the head but with a colorful scarf and done so quite artfully. This does not cover the face and thus does not hide the wearers’ identity. The burqa ban does not include the hijab. 

The burqa/niqab are not the only adaptations by the Muslim community that make the other Sri Lankan communities uncomfortable. The Halal certification for food has become a hidden cost for even the non-Muslims. Sunanda Deshapriya saw the Vesak lanterns hung by soldiers near their camp in the North as a religious invasion. However, this added cost due to the Halal certification to non-Muslims is yet to draw a likewise comment from Deshapriya and his cahoots. Still, though not vociferously communicated, this is a situation that most Sir Lankans are unhappy. 

Special banking facilities for the Muslim community alone is another unfair practice of the Muslims. The Muslim entrepreneurs are privy to bank loans at almost zero interest rates, which makes it harder for the other business communities to compete fairly at the market. 

Muslims also enjoy polygamy, which is an offense if committed by another community. However, the concern in many of the social groups is more on the underaged brides than of polygamy. 

The sharia laws and quasi courts also is extremely upsetting the other Sri Lankan communities. Yet, the immediate recommendation is to ban the burqa along with the niqab. This recommendation was once again reiterated by the Presidential Commission Investigating on the Easter Attack. 

Instead of explaining the background and reasons for the stance on the burqa, the Foreign Ministry has tried to dilute Rear Admiral Weerasekera’s statement and his move to legalize the ban. In a statement released by Foreign Ministry the Foreign Secretary Admiral (Retd.) Jayanath Colombage has stated that the ban is merely a proposal”. 

However, it is not and should not be treated or dismissed as a mere proposal”. Since the Easter Attack the extremism represented by the burqa along with the exclusivism certain sections of the Muslim community is enveloping themselves is cause for apprehension. Even before the Easter Attack, Rear Admiral Weerasekera had been highlighting the unforgivable acts of these extremist elements that also includes the flattening of the ancient Buddhist temple in Digavapi. 

When he contested at the 2020 General Elections he pledged to address this growing extremism that is threatening the ways, monuments and Iives of the non-Muslims in this country. When he started his election campaign he did not have a base in Colombo. Yet, after canvassing for a very short period of few months he got the largest mandate from the district. 

For a man who had always spoken against terrorism and extremism to win with an overwhelmingly large mandate from a liberal minded, cosmopolitan vote base as Colombo signifies the strongly worded message people wanted from the new Administration. No one has the right to dismiss this message as a mere proposal”. 

When Admiral Colombage was appointed as the Foreign Secretary there was hope that he will be without the prejudices afflicting our Foreign Ministry. Despite the numerous missions we maintain throughout the world, we have consistently failed to properly articulate our position to the outside. Instead, we are always aiming to appease and wilt at even the slightest glare. In the face of this abysmal failure to project Sri Lanka positively, the very 

need for our missions has been questioned. 

This sorry state of affairs was expected to change with Admiral Colombage at the helm. However, instead of explaining the reasons for the ban, he had opted to dilute Rear Admiral Weerasekera’s move and thereby have created the space for protest. It is not clear whether the same stance is adapted by the Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena. 

Had the Foreign Ministry explained the basis for this ban, Pakistan would have understood and continue to support us. They too are deeply affected by undisciplined ideologists who harbor extreme views. Protecting the porous borders along the Pakistan territory, especially along Afghanistan is a tough challenge for the country. These border regions, which are often rural and cut off from the mainstream have schools taught by uneducated teachers. Their take on the religion is warped and seeks to twist young minds to view the world violently. It is mostly their action that the Western media often highlight to paint the entire country as a bomb exploding terrorist terrain. 

The statements made by the former western governor Azath Salley would have certainly helped the Foreign Ministry to build its case. Certainly a country cannot allow elements that would not accept or respect the Constitution or the law of the land. At the same time, a community – majority or minority – of a country cannot be allowed exclusive privileges denied to other communities based. 

Instead of taking the easy route to be in other countries’ good books for short term gains, our Foreign Ministry must get its act together. Its duty is not to create dispute over statements made by our policy makers but to articulate our position to the world. Therefore, instead of shooshing the people or their political representatives it is hoped that Admiral Colombage, one time Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy, too would have the same spine and courage as Rear Admiral Weerasekera, who was also a high ranking officer of the same Navy, to stand by the country by fearlessly speaking out the truth. 

One Response to “The Burqa Ban is not a “Mere Proposal””

  1. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Now it is going to be a dilemma for the GoSL. They will have to please those muslim countries who supported us at the
    UNHCR(apists, impotent, deaf and blind in Syria, Yemen etc since western countries involved, rampaging rapists in Sri Lanka). We have to thank the traitor alugosuwa (to Sinhalese Buddhists only) thambi mudiyanselage jr@ who created
    these traitor diasporats all over the developed countries who are using these west’s cat’s paws by their block votes
    to blackmail the deshapaluwas in those countries to pressurise the human rights donkeys.

    The Buddha preached and science keeps proving (discovering) 1000s of years later.
    WW1 Nahi verana verana
    WW2 Nahi verana verana
    Spanish Flu Arogya Parama Labha
    Covid19 (WW3?) Don’t eat poor animals. They too have a right to life. Ask UNHCRpaists if you aren’t sure. Covid19,
    SARS, CJD and then numerous numerous cancers caused by eating meat which the humans aren’t supposed to eat
    (Darwin’s Theory of Evolution). Simply put it’s animals revenge.
    Arogya Parama Labha etc.

    Are people going to believe, accept his teachings? Of course not. Almost all the people outside the religion, the only
    true religion on the planet, want to destroy it. They will keep doing it until the final crash comes to wipe out the
    two legged creatures for good from the planet.

    What’s more all the countries use Buddhis’m Five Precepts as the basis for their penal code. Do we need to say any more
    then. During The Buddha’s day, iran, afganisthan, pakisthan, bangladesh, malaysia and indonesia used to be Buddhist
    countries. Today they all are muslim countries thanks to them having large families. The most dangerous creature on
    the planet will realise Buddhism is the solution to all the problems planet had when the final crash comes to wipe out all
    lives from the planet for good. Then it will be too late.

    Antho jata bahi jata.

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