Towards a future free from fears of Islamism
Posted on January 7th, 2022

By Rohana R. Wasala

Gravitas News (wionews, World is One News) web portal reported Tuesday December 21, 2021: Riyadh holds 4-day EDM carnival”. Commenting on the electronic dance music extravaganza, unprecedented in Saudi Arabia,  the young news anchor  said, The defacto leader of the Islamic World, the Guardian of the two holiest sites in Islam, Saudi Arabia, did the unexpected this weekend. It’s through a giant rave party, a four day electronic music festival complete with psychedelic lights and international DJs….”. With video footage of densely packed dancing men and women taken  from the exhilarating event held two or three days previously flashing across the background screen, the newscaster continued: …the images that you see are from Saudi Arabia (where) a giant party was held in the deserts of Riyadh with the blessings and money of the Saudi royal family, the House of Saud. They fully endorsed and sponsored this carnival. It was attended by artistes from all over the world. Tiesto, Martin Garrix, David Guetta, Afrojack…you name them, the world’s leading DJs, performed at the rave. Their excitement was evident in their statements”. One of the DJs was heard saying: It was the first time that there was going to be women and men being able to dance together, and there was also a very historical moment, and I am happy to be part of this……….. Of course, there’s more things to be done to improve the country, but I think they opening, are really going to the right direction giving more rights to women like four years ago women couldn’t drive ……they can come and dance…. It’s a huge evolution…”.

That was what one of the DJs taking part in the massive musical show said about its underlying significance for a socio-culturally changed future for the kingdom, the birth place of Islam, with a previous reputation as the exporter of Islamic fundamentalism. The news presenter then dwelt on the fact that the exuberant Western type of music festival in the traditionally conservative Saudi Arabia did indeed symbolise a ‘huge evolution’. She went on: 

(QUOTE) Saudi men and women dancing with abandon, swaying to the beats of Western music, no gender segregation, no full length robes, no face veils, no any religious restrictions for that matter……All this was unthinkable in Saudi Arabia just a few years back. Now it is happening ……….By the way, this rave party comes close on the heels of the ……… Red Sea International Film Festival, the first of its kind to be held in Saudi Arabia. It was a star studded affair with women walking the red carpet in sleeveless gowns, a woman film maker winning the best director award, and an openly queer man winning the best actor award….What do you make of these changes? The sands are shifting in Saudi Arabia, it’s evident. The socially conservative kingdom is trying to shake off its regressive image. It’s limiting the rule of religion in public life and fitting itself as a modern liberal and tourism friendly kingdom. And this, we say, is a welcome change. Although critics of Saudi Arabia  say it’s a facade (and) insist (that) the Saudi society is not making any fundamental meaningful change…., ever since Mohamed bin Salman was made the crown prince in Saudi Arabia, he’s embarked on a liberalisation drive, with loosened gender segregation norms, he’s reopened cinemas, allowed women to drive, to go to stadiums, take the haj without a male guardian….In a way MBS has defanged the country’s religious police that not too long ago would dictate every facet of daily life. And those are all remarkable reforms, they deserve applause…. But I have also to say they are only half-measures, and very late at that. Some very problematic issues persist in the Saudi society. Saudi Arabia continues to arrest dissidents, …to extend prison terms of activists. It continues to detain the rich on allegations of corruption, a tinkering with power structures, arbitrary reshuffling whom the crown prince thinks are potential challengers. Political reform remains taboo……”. (END OF QUOTE)   

The foregoing is based on a news item from an independent online news source that represents the international free media. The comments on the piece of news are those of the newscaster, about  which we listeners and viewers may or may not agree with her, or regarding which we may just remain neutral. But the piece of news is true, and so is what she says about the Saudi crown prince’s commitment to a ‘liberalization drive’ and his determination to rid his country of its ‘regressive’ image. What it indicates is that the tide is turning against violent Islamic extremism. It is the same in other countries too. Isn’t this good news for people all over the world who are faced with forms of violent Islamism? For, in this global anti-extremist background, we need not entertain exaggerated fears about the menace or resort to measures that are likely to breathe new life into it instead of letting it die a natural death.

The Saudi crown prince Mohamed bin Salman’s brave initiative is an extremely praiseworthy example in a world where, in spite of the steadily rising awareness, particularly among the educated youth, of the dangerous insanity of excessive religiosity and the increasing rejection of its political backers and sympathisers by the civilized world, the backward ruling classes seem to believe that they are required to tolerate or even appease the few extremists in order to win the hearts and minds of the ordinary faithful. The Saudi leader’s reformist gestures make good news for non-Muslim majority countries including Sri Lanka where a few opportunistic Muslim politicians maintain secret dealngs with extremists while pretending as if they had nothing to do with them.    

It was justly suspected by many around the time of the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombings (i.e., both before and after the unspeakable horror) that a handful of opportunistic Sri Lankan Muslim politicians with a communal mindset were maintaining treacherous links with suicide-bombing extremists for personal political advantage. It is now well known now that  these sham champions of Muslims try to create the illusion of a non-existent Buddhist-Muslim conflct or disharmony in the country through false propaganda, which is a part of their scheming to position themselves between foreign donors inspired to genuinely help their Sri Lankan co-religionists that, they have been persuaded to wrongly believe, are being persecuted by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority.  All our political, civil and religious leaders need to unite to convince the leaders of friendly Islamic nations not to be misled by these duplicitous, self-seeking Muslim politicos who ultimately betray not only the interests of Sri Lankan Muslims (hardly 10% of the country’s total population) whom they claim to represent, but those of the whole nation.

I dealt with this subject in ‘MWL should separate the wheat from the chaff’/The Island/ May 4, 2021), where I wrote: What should be of greater concern for the government is the fact that, by contriving to get themselves identified as constituting the  whole Muslim community of the country, the handful of Islamist extremists who are widely believed to have provided tacit or explicit support for the suicide bombers are also foisting themselves on its (the MWL’s) powerful patronage”. By the wheat” in the title I meant the traditional Sri Lankan Muslim minority who have co-existed peacefully with the majority Sinhalese Buddhists and other minority communities over the centuries; by the chaff” I meant opportunistic Muslim politicos who secretly associate with extremists, while masquerading as champions of the generality of peaceful Muslims. These duplicitous Muslim politicos manage to enjoy the best of both worlds by making shrewd changes of their loyalty at the right time to join the incoming administration, under whichever major party’s leadership it gets formed. Leaders of both major parties don’t hesitate to cut deals with these communalist Muslim politicians at critical moments. 

This reminded me of certain statements that businessman-turned-politician Shiraz Yunus made recently which were critical of the government, of which he is a partner. He attacked the government while claiming to be prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s national coordinator for Muslim affairs. The PM’s media division has since denied that Yunus holds any position in the government and that he was expressing his individual personal opinions.       

This is according to a statement in Sinhala from the Prime Minister’s Media Division published in the online news portal lankacnews on December 4, 2021 (a day after the Sialkot incident); it was signed by Rohan Weliwita, the PM’s media secretary. The statement was carried  under a headline that translates into English as Mr Shiraz Yunus has not been appointed to any post in the Prime Minister’s Office”:

QUOTE

I wish to announce that Mr Shiraz Yunus does not work as a coordinating secretary to the Prime Minister; such a position has not not been granted by the Prime Minister’s Office.

This is to declare that the PM’s Office has no connection with the statements that Mr Shiraz Yunus makes claiming that he serves as the PM’s coordinating secretary. 

Meanwhile, he has not been given a post of any description in the PM’s Office. 

I wish to further state that his statements are completely personal  and that neither the prime minister nor the Prime Minister’s Office endorses those ideas.

END OF QUOTE 

Why shouldn’t we ask the PM’s media unit to: Tell it to the marines? This is hardly more than mere wordplay. In the following You Tube interview published more than five weeks ago, Shiraz Yunus didn’t ever once refer to himself as a coordinating secretary; he claimed to be the prime minister’s ‘National Coordinator for Muslim Affairs’. This interview took place more than a month before Priyantha Kumara was lynched by an Islamist mob. By denying after more than one month what Yunus never claimed (he never said he is/was acting as PM’s coordinating secretary” for Muslim affairs), the PM’s media unit seems to be trying to eat the cake and have it, too. Did it have to take a heinous crime like beating to death of a helpless man and desecrating his dead body by burning it on a main road in Pakistan on December 3, 2021 by a lynch mob for alleged blasphemy, for the PM (who is also the minister of Buddha Sasana) to dissociate himself at long last from Yunus’s baseless attacks on the Gotabaya loyalist faction in the government? Yunus’s criticisms include the false charge of anti-Muslim discrimination as allegedly exemplified in the mandatory burning of Covid-19 dead, ignoring the religious sensitivities of the Muslims (and of others, for that matter) as an absolute necessity in the circumstances.  Government and Opposition leaders have an unavoidable responsibility to ensure the protection of the non-Muslim majority of the population and the moderate Muslims from the excesses of Islamist extremists. Politicians, please don’t sacrifice these innocents on the altar of political correctness to please the opportunistic ruling elite of the Muslim community. 

During an interview conducted in Sinhala on a You Tube channel on October 27, 2021, Shiraz Yunus, who describes himself as Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s National Coordinator for Muslim Affairs, laments that by now there is clearly a split in the government between a faction that supports the President and another that stands by the Prime Minister. According to Yunus, the latter has been reduced to a nominal PM and rendered powerless. This, Shiraz Yunus says, is in spite of the fact that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) came to power due to the  influence of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Yunus’s claim is not exactly true: What reaches me through the grapevine from Sri Lanka is that ordinary people whisper among themselves that the politically experienced Mahinda has ruined Gotabaya by restraining his actions, the latter being a neophyte in statecraft; Mahinda’s family bandyism and his softness towards certain notorious elements among his loyalists had already dented his heroic image, which helped the 2015 plot against him. The resounding victory of the SLPP in 2020 was not exclusively due to Mahinda regaining his old popularity. Probably a more important contributory factor was Gotabaya’s image as an uncorrupt person and his reputation as an able civil administrator.

Yunus avers that the Rajapaksa government has lost all its credibility. If an election was held today, 98% of the Muslims would not vote for the SLPP; their (i.e., Muslims’) only hope  is for this government to fall; Yunus asserts that the same hope is shared by all Sri Lankans. Only the remaining 2% of the Muslims will want the SLPP to gain power again! And who are those Muslims? Businessmen and wheeler-dealers”, as Yunus claims, including presumably the likes of Rishad and Hakeem,  who are communalist minority politicians. Rishad threw stones at a judge’s house, but was not arraigned in a court of law, Yunus remembers. (In the past, Rishad enjoyed the indulgence of the government, whichever of the two major parties was in power.) Yunus complains that although he wanted to contest the last election from the SLPP, he didn’t get the ticket for it. Now he won’t even vote for the SLPP if there’s an election for it is sure to lose! My hunch is that though, as is well known, Muslims did not make any extraordinary contribution to Gotabaya’s or SLPP’s victory, they gained the whip hand over both (Ali Sabry over the former and Muslim wheeler-dealers like Yunus over the latter).

The PM’s National Coordinator for Muslim Affairs, is no doubt, performing his duty to the satisfaction of his employer. Surprisingly for a Mahinda loyalist, he argues that Rishad and Hakeem emerged and flourished during Rajapaksa times, which, however, is not an untruth. In his opinion, the majority Sinhalese were opposed to the 20th Amendment (that repealed 19A and restored the executive powers of the President that it had clipped). When enough MPs (required to form the two thirds majority) were not available to pass the 20A bill, some potentate arranged to cut a deal with the two to get their support. Yunus addresses himself directly to the duo (MPs Rishad and Hakeem) through the CP/Pnone/TV screen, and takes them to task for sacrificing Muslim interests for personal political gain! He shouts lajjai, lajjai” shame, shame” at them. Rishad and Hakeem must have guffawed in private if they watched him performing his dramatic feigning.  However, towards the end of the You Tube channel QA session, Yunus betrays his hypocrisy by inadvertently revealing that he, in addition to being a disillusioned politician, is a disgruntled businessman as well, with interests at least in fertilizer importation and hydro-electricity production. He asked for a permit, he tells the interviewer, for importing what he calls liquid organic fertilizer, but his application was not granted by the agriculture department (which, he implies, does not know what sort of organic fertiliser is good for the country). 

Yunus makes the patently false claim that the two and a half million Muslim community live in fear today, implying that all Sri Lankan Muslims are being condemned, and discriminated against, as violent Islamists, which allegation is a figment of his imagination. Which community does he hold responsible for this alleged anti-Muslim bigotry? The majority Sinhalese, of course. This is not the place to produce evidence to disprove his false charge (Yunus knows the truth to be otherwise). Even before the April 21 attack took place, some young Sinhalese Buddhist activists and monks made credible claims that hauls of swords and knives were being concealed in mosques. Nothing was done to check the veracity of these alleged wild fabrications”. When hoards of newly imported swords were discovered in mosques during police searches following the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, the Sinhalese Buddhist activists’ claims were found not to be fabrications; the yahapalana government didn’t seem to take exposures seriously. The reality is that this close Mahinda Rajapaksa associate has been repeating the same sort of nonsense in his FB and Twitter accounts and in other mainstream and social media channels.

It is also clear that Shiraz Yunus is better received among global Muslims than the PM himself  who supposedly consults him on Muslim issues. Yunus says that he has acted as Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Muslim affairs coordinator since March 23, 2018 (that is, well before MR became PM). He stresses that he has no connection with the Muslim Cultural Department, which is paid separately. His job was earlier done by an MP, Yunus said. In his capacity as national coordinator he looks after all Muslim affairs. Yunus complains that those that he calls new ‘viruses’ that recently gathered round the PM have failed to communicate the true message to the Muslim public. There are contextual hints to say that Yunus’s alleged viruses are officials from the Muslim Affairs Department and the Muslim businessmen that allegedly surround him. But, doesn’t he himself belong to the same category?

He makes passing references to the problem of Muslim objections to the cremation of  their Covid-19 dead and the Muslims’ perception of the cow slaughter ban as discriminatory towards them as a community. Why didn’t Yunus, as PM’s paid overall Muslim affairs coodinator (advisor/consultant in practice), prevent the PM from so egregiously mishandling both issues? At that time, cremation of covid dead was ordered by the Director General of Health Services, who had been appointed as the competent authority to decide on the way such bodies were to be disposed of. The DGHS made it mandatory to cremate bodies of Covid dead on perfect scientific advice in view of the water table situation of the country that made burial Covid virus infected bodies dangerous to public health. However, the government could have asked the experts to devise a safe way to bury the bodies of those Covid dead whose families insisted on burying them on religious grounds, such as impervious concrete walled coffins. Ironically, even the fiery Ven. Gnanasara Thera wanted Muslim sentiments accomodated in this regard, and burial permitted. But that was running counter to what scientific opinion demanded.The decision belonged to the authorities. The DGHS implemented what the health experts recommended.  The government took it for granted that people of all religious persuasions would prioritise science over religion, and accept his decision. That agreed with president Gotabaya’s approach to the issue. But the biased media interpreted this as Sri Lanka forcing Muslims to cremate their Covid dead (in violation of their religious sentiments). However, some conservative Muslims and the few opportunistic Muslim leaders didn’t relent. 

It was rumoured that PM Mahinda Rajapaksa embarrassed himself by asking Maldives to accept bodies of Corona dead Muslims for burial.That was probably the most clumsy decision the veteran politician took in his generally illustrious political life until then. The Maldivian leaders responded positively which could only be expected, but it appeared that no dead bodies were transported there for burial. However, the PM’s clumsy response to the problem projected Sri Lanka as a country that was not sensitive to the feelings of religious minorities, even at a tragic moment like that. (NB: We are made to understand that PM Rajapaksa never asked Maldives to bury Covid-19 dead Sri Lankan Muslims in its soil, and that the offer actually came from the Maldivian authorities. Be that as it may, whichever alternative was actually proposed, it would have fed the totally unfounded canard that, in Sri Lanka, Muslims are being discriminated against.) Then, reportedly MR had arrangements made for such bodies to be taken to Ottamavadi in Batticaloa, where the shallow water table problem was not there.  Later a boastful controversial Muslim politico from that province claimed with responsibility” that the bodies of some Muslim dead were buried normally in Colombo, while their empty coffins were ‘cremated’ to satisfy the official requirement. He was actually betraying the PM, for he implied that this was done with the knowledge of the latter. (This piece of news was carried, if my memory is correct, in the online Sinhala news outlet lankacnews, but I cannot remember the date it was published.)

This handful of communalist Muslim politicians have a niche in both major parties. While this is the truth, many SLPP speakers have rubbished the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna for having included, in the past, business magnate Ibrahim (father of two suicide bomber sons who perished while carrying out the April 21 Easter bombing attacks) in their national list! But the JVP may not have known that they too had been infiltrated by the same traitors, who use religion as a secret weapon in business and politics. Let’s hope that the emerging Jana Bala Vegaya (People’s Power) movement and other new patriotic alliances beware of the danger. Majority party politicians need not worry about losing the support of the few Muslim political crooks who are at present ruling the roost within the Muslim polity. They are being exposed, and their days are numbered. The future belongs to young Muslim politicians like national list MP (from Wimal Weerawansa’s National Freedom Front  or NFF) Mohamed Muzammil (41), whose non-communalist politics, incorruptability and secular credentials are beyond question. By the time of the next general elections, there will be enough new youthful Muslim leaders of his calibre to elbow out the blighters.

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