H. L. D. Mahindapala
Anbarasan Ethirajan is a seasoned Correspondent of the BBC who covers Sri Lankan politics from time to time. His latest report is titled Sri Lanka’s Muslim demonised” after Easter bombings. (August 13, 2019 – BBC News). The overall thrust of his latest report is to present the Muslims as victims of the Sinhala-Buddhists. He weaves his story to cast the Sinhala-Buddhists as the majority persecuting the minority Muslims. This theme of majority persecuting the minority is the usual excuse that hits the headlines, each time inter-religious, inter-ethnic, inter-cultural violence breaks out in any corner of the globe. It opens up space for criminals in minority communities to pose as victims of the majority. Intellectuals and academics use it to white wash minority crimes against the majority.
Blaming the majority helps the minority to get away with their crimes against the majority. In some instances, it helps criminals from minority communities to pose as heroes (Example: Prabhakaran). The need to combat the majority at any cost even enables criminal leaders of minority communities to justify their crimes to liquidate their dissidents refusing to toe the official line. The minority passing the buck to the majority also breeds a plethora of human rights activists and globe-trotting UN rapporteurs who, after a hurried visit of few days, write their reports on the stereotyped format of blaming the majority to justify their stipend.
Above all, it is easy to spin a sob story of victimisation even when the minority had been beneficiaries of the highest privileges. Sri Lanka is one of the unique nations which produced billionaires who carried backpacks loaded with explosives to target Christians at prayer in suicidal terror attacks. Even Osama bin Laden, the other billionaire, did not carry out suicidal attacks. He got others to do it. Only Zahran Hasheem led the suicidal attack on foot. It is also a nation where minority violence originated from the most privileged segments of society.
Ethirajan spins his story around this hacked theme of victimised minorities. In a country of 70 % Sinhalese, he focuses on the plight of a Muslim (10%) trader facing virtual boycotts from the Sinhalese customers who were reacting to the Easter Sunday bombing that killed hundreds of mainly Tamil Christian worshippers. He interviews Mohammed Iliyas, a hardware shop owner, serving mainly Sinhala customers. Quoting Iliyas he says: “Since the Easter Sunday bombings, almost 90% of my Sinhalese customers have stopped buying from my shop. My business has gone down significantly and I have lost hundreds of thousands of rupees.”
He adds: Minority Muslims live among the majority Sinhalese community in this area (Kottaramulla). For decades, Mr. Iliyas, who is a Muslim, spent his days serving people from all religious communities.
But that has changed since Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday bombings in April,” says Ethirajan.
It is at this point that he spins his story to project Muslims as victims of the majority Sinhalese. In doing so he narrated the usual sob story of the majority reacting negatively against the Muslim minority. This is typical of Western reporters projecting the majority Sinhalese as persecutors of the minorities. The story of Iliyas is incontrovertible. But that is not news. It happens in any global community where the majority reacts against the violence of the minority, or vice versa.
The newsworthiness is in the story he skipped. That story is elsewhere. It is in two places mainly. It is first in the big picture where the majority is confronted by the aggressive minorities pursing identity politics to violent extremes – a common feature in global politics today. Second, it is in the third wave of Sri Lankan youth exploding violently to pursue futile political goals.
Of the three, the two initial waves came from the Sinhala youth who flocked to the JVP in the early seventies in search of a socialist paradise. The second was the Tamil youth who took up arms in search of an elusive Eelam in the late seventies and eighties – violence that lasted for 33 years (from the official declaration of war in the Vadukoddai Resolution in May 1976 to May 2009 in Nandikadal). And the third was the rise of Muslim youth from the most affluent layers of the Muslim society. All three movements were aimed at attacking, and if possible dismantling, the democratic mainstream to impose the will ideologically obsessed youth from all three communities.
Iliyas’s story, as narrated by Ethirajan, is a local manifestation of the global phenomenon of the minority moving aggressively to impose their will on a majority culture. It also raises the question as to whether Iliyas is a victim of the Sinhala-Buddhist majority or the politically engineered internal politics of Muslims who have been driving their former sedate culture with the calculated intention of radicalising the Muslim community to achieve pie-in-the-sky caliphates in Sri Lanka.
One of the political strategies has been to Arabify the community with Wahabist extremism with a nudge and a wink from the Muslim leaders. With funding from Wahabist Muslim sources from the Middle East, they have been deviating deliberately from the traditional Muslim culture to radicalise a community that co-existed peacefully with the other communities for centuries. Prior to the radicalising and Arabification of Muslims in Sri Lanka, mosques survived and thrived with the Churches and Buddhist and Hindu temples with the least amount of tensions.
But the new politicised culture aimed at the Arabification of the East in particular, with madrassas sprouting like mushrooms in other parts for the radicalising of the Muslim youth. This Wahabification (a local version of Talibanisation) produced a new breed of foot soldiers for politicised Islam. Brain-washed Muslim youth were trained in bomb-making and other terror tactics. The militarisation of the domesticated neighbourhood consisting of traders, butchers, wayside buriyani-makers, tailors, etc., posed a new threat for peaceful co-existence with other communities. The traditional saree draped casually over the head was replaced by niqabs and burkas signaling the rise of an aggressive assertiveness within the Muslim community. That is the feminine manifestation of Muslim radicalism. The masculine version reached new heights, creeping up as far as the affluent middle-class youth. They emerged from behind the shadows of imported Imams to assert emphatically their radical Islamic identity. Instead of covering their faces with the black cloth they substituted a thick and lengthy growth of defiant Blue Beards. They declared their commitment to Islam through the fierceness of their beards. The public manifestation of a hirsute Islamic identity hit the tonsorial trade very hard. They also wore the thwab / thobe, the ankle-length, long-sleeved robe.
The Arabification of Islam was demonstrated publicly in the sartorial idiosyncrasies. It was visible for those with eyes to see. Practically everyone in the Muslim community was aware of the rise of this new force. Nevertheless, it took everyone by surprise on Easter Sunday when the leading militant Muslim youth walked coolly into Churches for a cause which had not been articulated clearly by their Muslim leaders, or even by the Muslim terrorists in a coherent or cogent ideology. Various theories have been bruited as the cause, some of which lead to even foreign sources. But what emerges as a certainty from the fog of theories, speculation, conflicting evidence, and the mystifying paralysis and inaction of the state is that the Muslim leaders were aware of the power and the aggressive nature of the Muslim youth and, of course, their external political and financial sources.
Billionaire Zahran Hasheem became the leading model of the affluent terrorists, debunking the pop theories of oppression and poverty as the root causes of political violence. He was, in a sense, the carbon copy of billionaire Osama bin Laden. In Sri Lanka, the Muslims were producing a new breed of terrorists riding in Pajeros with money to burn. They wielded sufficient power to summon Muslim leaders and make them obey their commands. They even dared to challenge the state forces by staging a violent political protest with impunity. They were in a commanding position to get away as a law unto themselves with the critical segments of the state turning a blind eye.
The politicising of Islam into an Arabic cult (albeit with Sri Lankan characteristics) was the critical turning point that propelled the Muslim youth into violence. Rightly or wrongly, it also turned the image of the Muslims as a new kind of violent separatists seeking to establish a caliphate on Sri Lankan soil. The reaction of the non-Muslim majority was not too traditional Islam (which among other things produced flavoursome buriyani and wattalappam) but to politicised Islam that turned violent.
The rise of aggressive Islam threatening to challenge and confront the other settled cultures inevitably produced a predictable reaction. It is unrealistic for an aggressive minority attempting to have their way through violence to expect the sympathy of the other peace-loving communities. So the story of Iliyas facing boycotts and distancing by the Sinhalese is predictable. It is not a peculiarity of the Sinhalese only. It is a universal story common to all societies in conflict with each other. The Irish Catholics bombing the hell out of the British Protestants, or the Muslims in the post 9-11 period faced the identical reaction from the communities their leaders targeted. The BBC has streamed overwhelming evidence of this instinctive human trait. Clearly, the BBC narrative to make Iliyas look like a victim of the Sinhalese is to distort the realities of a global phenomenon. I won’t be surprised if the next BBC bulletin reports that the sardines packed in Canada were killed by the Sinhala-Buddhist migrants!