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leader Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem with the President Mahinda Rajapaksa

In the 2010 elections, in which Rajapaksa harvested his military success, Muslim parties found a way of aggregation with the government. But today the Muslim in Sri Lanka feel again under sever pressure by the Buddhist Sinhalese majority. A sentiment of discontent and barely tolerance of the Islam presence in the island is making itself visible, with the case of the Durambulla mosque1 for example, or the fishermen and the judge court in Mannar2.

The dynamic seems quite obvious: on one side the Muslim political parties felt that to protect their interest, it was a better way to side with the government rather than to oppose it.

Today the majority doesn’t really need anymore the support of the Muslims and the government is signalling its distaste with the episodes against the Islam community. It is a very well know tactics in Sri Lanka: there is not such a thing as bottom up unrest that is not authorized by the government. Especially after the firm grip on power of president Rajapaksa. The message couldn’t be clearer: we don’t need you anymore.

courtesy BBC

In other words the Muslim parties sought protection within the mainstream of power and now they are not needed. It is an exchange of favours. But of what sort? Surely Rajapaksa wanted a vast front to legitimate his power. But the Muslim contribution was it really necessary in 2010? Rajapaksa’s party won an easy majority, what he had to thank for the Muslims?

 Well, the Muslims are a numerous presence especially in the Eastern and Northern provinces. During the IV Eelam War the Eastern Provinces have been defeat by the betrayal of Karuna. The offensive of the Sri Lankan army needed to secure the passage in the North-western corner, in the Mannar district. Rajapaksa in person admitted that the turn around of the war occurred when they won the region of Madhu, within the Mannar district3. He said that after that, the operation has been a walk away.

In fact the area is strategically proximal to the Adam’s Bridge, the strip of land that fragmentary connects Sri Lanka with India. If you want to isolate the Vanni area from any possible supply line via mainland, you must take the Mannar district.

It is arguable then that the Muslim community supported the Sri Lankan army in its endeavour to grab the stronghold. In exchange, Rajapaksa consented to include Muslim politicians (the leader of the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress has been appointed minister of Justice) and to accept the return of the refugees from Puttalam. But the Darambulla and the Mannar episodes are the signal that the relation has already reached its peak. It can be speculated that Colombo doesn’t want the Muslims to grow too strong, especially in the areas previously under the control of the LTTE.

So Rajapaksa needed their help, but suddenly stopped them to re-establish themselves confidently in their homeland.

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Muslim in Sri Lanka are quite a distinct case. Unlike Tamils and Sinhalese, they never made any claim of sovereignty in the island. But they found themselves harshly hit by the civil war. They suffered ethnic cleansing in the Northern Provinces by the LTTE and complete oblivion by the Sri Lankan government as refugees.

About 100,000 Muslim Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) for the past 20 years have lived in refugee camps in Puttalam District and neighbouring areas. Tamil Tigers had expelled them.courtesy asianews.it

In Puttalam more than 100 000 people have been forgotten in refugee camps for 20 years. As recent as in 2009 the UNCHR (the United Nations agency for refugees), in partnership with Brandix Lanka were still struggling to deliver basic needs, like water and sanitation to them.

The Muslim in the Northern Provinces were Tamil speakers and lived in the region since hundreds of years. Their presence in modern times is old as the ones of Tamil or Sinhalese; yet they were considered stranger by the LTTE, on the main ground that they weren’t ‘real’ Tamils. If it was necessary, an evidence more of LTTE’s lack of democratic and inclusive conscience.

On the other side as well, Colombo showed its absolute disinterest for any other ethnic group outside the Sinhalese. During the IV Eelam War, Muslims parties have orbited around president Rajapaksa, on the ground that as a minority, it was better to cooperate rather than contest the majoritarian force of the central government. In the present coalition of government, Sri Lankan Muslims are present as ministers, but this compromise seems shor-lived.

The supremacist Sinhalese sentiment is growing stronger also against the Muslims. In April, radical Buddhists have tried to demolish the mosque of Dambulla. They fire-stormed the mosque and they threatened 70 others buildings of cult.

The monks involved in the protest claimed that they are just protecting Buddhism from encroachment, but everyone knows that all the other religions on the island are quite low-profile and don’t dare to contest the dominant position of the Buddhism. The minorities only try to survive in a climate of mistrust and oppression.

It is significative that the government is placidly turning its eyes somewhere else, when these cases of hatred and violence erupt. In a state where authoritarian rule is based on the iron-fist of the army, you may wonder how episodes of anarchy can take place. The reason is always the same: from the communal riots of ’58 and ’83, the government is implicitly backing up the racist-driven unrest.

All the the rhetoric of the Sri Lankan state is dedicated towards a unitarian entity, but in any possible occasion it is remarked that unity Sri Lanka is Sinhalese and Buddhist. Consequently all the other minorities should consider themselves as barely tolerated.

The reality in the island is an intense hatred of the minorities by the majority. Sometimes this underground sentiment surfaces and explodes in violence. But the government is far from trying to reign it. On the contrary it deliberately let the steam off as a measure of control and threaten of the minority.

The LTTE was responsible for heinous crime, but the war was not anti-terrorism. The Tigers desperately tried to resist a force of discrimination and oppression, a violent force with the secret intent of eliminating and wiping out all the outsiders of the Sinhalese mainstream.

Until Sri Lanka will come to terms of the diversity within itself, an underlying resentment of the other minorities will be kept alive for further challenges of this unjust authority.

 

Sri Lanka Buddhist monks destroy Muslim shrine

In Septmber 2011 a mob destroyed the Muslim shrine in the city of Anuradhapura. In April 2012, thugs stormed the mosque of Dambulla. We have already talked about the strange ‘spontaneous mob’ in the history of Sri Lanka and as in previous cases, police officers were present but they didn’t intervene. The peculiarity about these incidents is that they were led by Buddhist monks.

At present they are focusing on the Muslim community ,so Rauff Hakeem, a Muslim politician, asked president Rajapaksa to suppress the ‘yellow robe terrorism’. It seems as the Sinhala Buddhist extremists are tolerating less and less the simple presence of the Muslim community(and now they come for the Muslims!).

Victim of a white van abduction

The message is that the Muslim are the new undesired guest, even if they always maintained a very low profile. This is particularly striking, given that the country just ended a bloody civil war with another minority. Sri Lanka has been characterized by various forms of “terrorism”. The government made a point of its identity in the so called “counter-terrorism”( instead it was a civil war). But the state itself committed act of terrorism, torture and abuse against citizens, like the case of the “white van” abductions are very well recorded. And of course all the atrocities that targeted the Tamil people. So what is the position of the state about the “yellow robe” one?

The answer is that Buddhism is at the core of the Sinhala supremacy. Sri Lanka in its constitution of the 1972 clearly defined itself as Sinhalese and Buddhist. The first victims of this intransigence were the Tamils. In fact the state made any possible gesture to undermine the identity and the position of the Tamil. The Sinhala Act of the 1956, the pogroms of the 1958 and 1983 are all example of majoritarian violence against the Tamils. This absolute intolerance lies in the specific religious tradition of the island. You could find a bit odd that a religion that is professing the impermanence of everything, would be so concerned in affirming it’s mundane presence. But there is a reason behind this. The Sri Lankan school of Buddhism is founded on the ‘Mahavamsa’, a poem of the 5th century CE narrating the early history of the religion on the island. The essential context of these chronicles is the falling of Buddhism in India. Devotees were clearly scared by the eclipse of their religion in the very place of origin, so their reaction was to ground their tradition as a firm stronghold for the doctrine.

Therefore the Mahavamsa itself must be contextualized in a period of profound concern for the survival of Buddhism. But the Buddhist clergy took this mandate in a totalitarian acceptation: any diversity must be considered as a direct opposition. No matter how marginal, any sign of not-alignment with the mainstream, must be viewed as the seed for future destruction. Hence it must be eliminated.

The problem is that after the Mahavamsa (or even before actually), other communities came to Sri Lanka. The Tamils can indeed trace their presence on the island back for millennia. And yet, this presence after independence was never completely tolerated. The necessity to assimilate the North by the Sinhalese ideology has always been present and fed by the pretext of Mahavamsa (see the very insightful article of Dr. Dewasiri). So the Buddhist clergy actually is the backbone of the movement to subjugate the Tamils before and now the Muslims.

We can see now a very clear trajectory of a supremacist ideology, that wants to eliminate any diversity.

The reaction of the LTTE masked this very simple fact: that the Sinhalese extremists don’t accept any other presence on the island, no matter how small or marginal this difference can be. The Sinhalese supremacy will always consider any difference as a direct opposition (here the hypothesis of a “Buddhist fascism”). The idea of reconciliation cannot exist until the “yellow robe” terrorism is dominant. Sri Lanka will never be pacified with this totalitarian violence of majority: the civil war was not caused by the LTTE; the roots of that virulent reaction are all still present and quite active now. It must be faced the simple fact that the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka is an element of disturbance and violence. I still don’t get how people who profess impermanence and mindfulness can so storm the lives of the others. Really I don’t get it.

Dambulla and Black July:Not just anti-terrorism against the LTTE

Muslim in Sri Lanka are quite a distinct case. Unlike Tamils and Sinhalese, they never made any claim of sovereignty in the island. But they found themselves harshly hit by the civil war. They suffered ethnic cleansing in the Norther Provinces by the LTTE and complete oblivion by the Sri Lankan government as refugees.

In Puttalam more than 100 000 people have been forgotten in refugee camps for 20 years. As recent as in 2009 the UNCHR (the United Nations agency for refugees), in partnership with Brandix Lanka were still struggling to deliver basic needs, like water and sanitation to them.

The Muslim in the Northern Provinces were Tamil speakers and lived in the region since hundreds of years. Their presence in modern times is old as the ones of Tamil or Sinhalese; yet they were considered stranger by the LTTE, on the main ground that they weren’t ‘real’ Tamils. If it was necessary, an evidence more of LTTE’s lack of democratic and inclusive conscience.

On the other side as well, Colombo showed its absolute disinterest for any other ethnic group outside the Sinhalese. During the IV Eelam War, Muslims parties have orbited around president Rajapaksa, on the ground that as a minority, it was better to cooperate rather than contest the majoritarian force of the central government. In the present coalition of government, Sri Lankan Muslims are present as ministers, but this compromise seems shor-lived.

The supremacist Sinhalese sentiment is growing stronger also against the Muslims. In April, radical Buddhists have tried to demolish the mosque of Dambulla. They fire-stormed the mosque and they threatened 70 others buildings of cult.

The monks involved in the protest claimed that they are just protecting Buddhism from encroachment, but everyone knows that all the other religions on the island are quite low-profile and don’t dare to contest the dominant position of the Buddhism. The minorities only try to survive in a climate of mistrust and oppression.

It is significative that the government is placidly turning its eyes somewhere else, when these cases of hatred and violence erupt. In a state where authoritarian rule is based on the iron-fist of the army, you may wonder how episodes of anarchy can take place. The reason is always the same: from the communal riots of ’58 and ’83, the government is implicitly backing up the racist-driven unrest.

All the the rhetoric of the Sri Lankan state is dedicated towards a unitarian entity, but in any possible occasion it is remarked that unity Sri Lanka is Sinhalese and Buddhist. Consequently all the other minorities should consider themselves as barely tolerated.

The reality in the island is an intense hatred of the minorities by the majority. Sometimes this underground sentiment surfaces and explodes in violence. But the government is far from trying to reign it. On the contrary it deliberately let the steam off as a measure of control and threaten of the minority.

The LTTE was responsible for heinous crime, but the war was not anti-terrorism. The Tigers desperately tried to resist a force of discrimination and oppression, a violent force with the secret intent of eliminating and wiping out all the outsiders of the Sinhalese mainstream.

Until Sri Lanka will come to terms of the diversity within itself, an underlying resentment of the other minorities will be kept alive for further challenges of this unjust authority.