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In this Daily News article penned by one Shenali Waduge on Muslims in Sri Lanka and why Buddhists should be scared of their ‘encroachment’, she displays a high level of confusion, connecting disparate events in the Muslim world (fabricating where it suits her), taking them out of context and then applying them to Sri Lanka.

Particularly absurd is her apparently iron clad statistical theory of Muslim’s 4 phased strategic and collective effort to ‘take over’ the locality, wherever they are, and install an Islamic ‘theocracy’ whatever that may mean.

Ms. Waduge, I WISH the Muslim community was as united as you appear to think it is. Even if you appear to think that such unity is always used for nefarious aims. I WISH our leaders were half as focused on the problems affecting the community as you appear to allude. At least you seem to have more faith in their selflessness that I.

While she appears to think that Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf States are synonymous with Muslims everywhere in the world, as if they are the ideal representation of what Sharia law and collective Muslim life is like, when it suits her, she likes to equate all of us with ‘extremist terrorists’, taking an about turn, since most of these ‘extremists’ are extremely anti-Saud. I wish she’d make up her mind.

She also doesn’t seem to have heard of a little event they call the Arab Spring where millions of Muslims stood up to depose tyrannical rulers, oppressing them since their so-called independence from the West. There’s a lot of dissent against existing rule in Gulf States too, but this writer doesn’t seem too interested in specifics, sweeping generalizations are her forte.

Around 1400 people have liked it on Facebook. And at least two of them are people I actually know. This is almost as hard to stomach as the fact that this bit of rubbish journalism was actually published in the Daily News. Which, while not exactly a journalistic stalwart, is significant in its position as the closest thing we have to a state sanctioned English language newspaper; are we to assume that this anti-Muslim vitriol is also state sanctioned? Or at the very least published with the assurance that no one up there is going to seriously mind?

The Daily News is legitimizing this garbage by publishing it. Is this is a glimpse of the next wave of erosion in Sri Lanka’s print media, heralding the advent of anti-Muslim sentiment from the underground world of pithy Facebook groups and into the edges of the mainstream? Stuff like this is dangerous, when you have a climate of growing social unrest. People susceptible to hate are not going to verify things that confirm their bias, especially when it’s published in a leading newspaper.

Conspiracy theories that gain a widespread following don’t just pop out of nowhere. If anti-Muslim sentiment finds an ever broadening audience it’s because it actually perceives what it takes to be a very real indication of ‘Muslim supremacy’ happening in society. But this can be based on misinformation and bias.

I was chatting to Indi about this, and he talks about this a little in his post as well. He thinks Muslims have increasingly appeared to distance themselves from the rest of Sri Lanka. Case in point the niqab or the veil.

While I sympathize with his argument; I do think that without the veil’s modern connotations (a misconceived notion that it symbolizes gender abuse, repression and Islamic extremism) it would have been much easier for people to accept it as a personal choice of consenting individuals in society. Indi to his credit, doesn’t think this warrants racism against Muslims.

Halal food does not mean that some secret chemical compound is inserted into all items certified Halal in some underground plant in the Empty Quarter (although admittedly this would make for excellent dystopic fiction). Halal just applies to the way food is prepared, according to certain standards of religious guidelines which include hygene and ethics.

Paying to obtain the Halal certificate is a decision purely based on choice and the profit motive. No one is compelling anyone to eat Halal. There’s plenty of non-Halal choice out there. No one is shoving Halal meat down feebly protesting throats.

Quite the contrary to what Ms. Waduge states, non-Muslims have full legal rights in Sharia courts by Islamic law. In fact, just consider that in the UK, non-Muslims are also turning to Sharia courts to settle some disputes in certain cases. If anything, it is a parallel system of law, and does not contradict the integrity of the country’s main legal system in any way.

In Sri Lanka, Sharia courts are merely a legal support structure for the Muslim community. There are no widespread plans to convert everyone to Islam and forcibly make them accept sharia law. And neither is here any such thing happening in France, England or anywhere else with a minority Muslim population.

To dissect the full scale of half truths, convolutions, blatant fabrications and outright lies in Ms Waduge’s article would take reams of text, and the question arises if it is actually worth refuting, as most of what she says in my eyes reeks of hate-speech and blatant fabrication, hardly the sign of a person looking openly for honest feedback. But if anything, it’s a good place to go for to get a gist of the prevalent misconceptions that are driving this new wave of Sri Lankan Islamophobia.

Frederica Janz was a controversial figure in the local media, and working with her as my editor was an educational experience. Here she is talking to Al-Jazeera on what is probably her first media appearance after being fired from The Sunday Leader and leaving the country. 

The Sunday Leader may not have been perfect, I only joined after the war and was spared the trauma of Lasantha’s death, from which i am given to understand that the paper never recovered. But the Leader continued to be one big pain in the behind of the establishment.

It crossed lines that were only located on the distant, unvisited borders of other papers. It was kicked out of the country’s primary journalistic association. The Sunday Leader had its faults, it had a tendency to sensationalize things and its vitriol was often perceived as lacking in taste, but it asked the right questions, even thought it may not have always come up with the complete answers to those questions, these were questions that no one else dared to even think about.

The Leader was fearless but also a little reckless about the way it approached things. And I supposed its fast living finally caught up to it. Today the Leader is a shadow of its former self, though still trying to come out with hard hitting stories, thanks to a few reporters who are holding on, despite its ownership’s supposed vested interests to the contrary.

Journalistic stalwarts i know like to decry the Leader as being a ‘rag’.  But in an age where most other papers are good for little else than wrapping your lunch packet after catching up with your daily dose of directly-observed reportage and classified ads (so_many classified ads), it offered excitement and a hint at what was really going down behind the scenes. Not that it mattered really.

It didn’t matter because the means for free expression were steadily closing down. The institutions by which free expression could be made use and put into action like the judiciary and the opposition had long since shut down. Free expression and the freedom of press was fast losing its currency, and its value to the general public has all but dissipated, replaced with state owned propaganda machines at one extreme, and sensational reports of crimes-and-other-shocking-goings-on to keep the public’s appetite for gore satiated at the other.

Investigative journalism that looks at the essence of what goes on behind the inner workings of the country has disappeared, along with many of the journalists who actually did the investigating. Today the press here has given up trying to be free. Like a caged animal finally come to terms with the boundaries of the rest of its life, it doesn’t even try to rebel, not even like an angry teenager, in a slightly immature way. In fact, it hardly pouts.

Water Is Life is carrying out a play on a twitter hashtag that is usually considered to be satirical. #firstworldproblems tweets are usually self effacing guilty admissions of how people have it so good but they still complain.

Water is Life however have voted to take it seriously. I don’t whether on purpose or not. Their campaign features poor kids complaining of how much they hate it when their leather seats don’t heat up, when they leave their dirty clothes lying around for so long that they stink, or when they say no pickles but they still get pickles.

The whole effect is quite jarring. I don’t know how many first worlders would donate after seeing it though, especially those first worlders who might have at some point tweeted something with the hash #firstworldproblems, who might be a little too guilt tripped to look at it with any favor. Apparently some think it in bad taste. But perhaps not as bad as the tweets themselves, which, taken in context of what people have to go through in Haiti and other places like it, can seem downright cruel.

Are a thorny topic. officially the unemployment rate is pretty low. But unofficially people are just not happy with their jobs, or employers are not really happy with the type of people who work for them. This is underemployment, or mal-employment and im not sure the latter qualifies as a proper economic term.

Add to this, there are the myriad economic factors that affect education. How dynamic is our tertiary education system, How much money is pouring into the system, Is the money pouring being used properly, Is the government really focusing on developing human resources, what are the other policy measures the government can and must take and what if anything, is wrong with the people?

On the latter, more than you think. Or just as much as you think. Sri Lankans have propensities to either engage in government bashing or people’s-attitude bashing seemingly based on their mood. But actually the government and the people are highly intertwined within the issue of education. And word on Intelligentsia Avenue apportions equal blame to both.

The government can initiate reform. But the people are just too damn backward and intent on handouts to brave the new world of competitive spirit. Kishu Gomes, at an IPS organized panel discussion on the topic (accompanied by a Twitter discussion) yesterday, voiced the opinion that Sri Lankans have knowledge, but that knowledge is not ‘commercially viable’. While this might seem like blasphemy to puritans who believe in knowledge for its own sake, Gomes has a point. Economically speaking, within the traditional measures of wealth such as GDP, knowledge that cannot make money is of no use.

Another interesting point that Gomes raised was that people here don’t aspire enough. They aren’t motivated for progress. Sri Lankans are much less inclined to want great things out of their lives than workers from countries like India, China or the US (examples are my own). I agree, we do have this islander tendency to kick back. And personally i find the idea of converting myself into a sweating, steaming corporate machine geared to achieve a definition of greatness outlined by materialistic frameworks of human well being repulsive (some might read this as: But I’m just a lazy bugger). But wanting some downtime in your life doesn’t mean you can’t be a productive citizen.

And here’s the other point, on the employee’s side there is sentiment that the jobs available don’t really accommodate their needs. They aren’t customized to their skill sets or they don’t respect their knowledge levels. This ties in with Gomes’ first argument. Knowledge does not match job availability. And the unemployed graduates can scream all they want, those empty board room seats (I’m assuming) aren’t getting filled. But it isn’t only because graduates are under qualified. Many people who are more than qualified and have shining skill sets to boot, leave the country in droves because the job market here simply cannot offer them what they want. This results in maybe more foreign remittances to the country, but betrays a chronic inability for it to hang on to its most valuable human resources.

One of the biggest drivers of the economy, what am i saying, THE biggest driver of the economy, is business. And how easy is it for people to start businesses in Sri Lanka? Given that Sri Lanka ranks 89 in the world for doing business, starting a business especially for a young person out of school with only a plan and no capital is like climbing a grease pole during Avurudu, you deserve a prize for doing it. At least that’s what young entrepreneur Gayan Panditharathne says. He started a drink bottling business but received virtually no help from the government, his many approaches to various government offices proving useless. The one’s who’ve somehow managed, have a hard time doing their first year taxes, for instance. Sri Lanka ranks a shocking 173 globally in the efficiency of paying taxes, and has actually slipped two places in 2012.

Another big issue is stigma. Parents don’t like their kids venturing into business. It is seen as risky and crass. The riskiness can be improved. With proper policy reform and support mechanisms, but for this the government has to really get involved. But the image problem of business is not something that policy can cure. Being a lawyer, doctor or an engineer is seen as infinitely more respectable than being a wheeler dealer bringing in the millions.

Talking about tertiary education and ‘education sector reform’ almost seems useless. The topic has been bandied and boxed around for fifteen rounds. And like a doddering prizefighter with nerves of steel, is refusing to go down. On both sides there is inertia and unwillingness to change. I sympathize with FUTA’s call to increase spending on education to 6% of GDP (this interesting slide set from Moratuwa University claims to make a case, well worth a read) but do not sympathize with how the local education system is run. And i think feeding more money into a broken system is pointless.

More money going into education is all very well. But i worry when i see protests, seemingly based on nothing but vested interest, denying the implementation of a private medical college for instance in the country. The opposition to private education from the so called ‘free education’ system and its politicized left wing student unions is nothing short of irrational and downright scary.

Add to this a government that wants to make the country an ‘education hub’ but displays absolutely no intention of investing in any form of research whatsoever and allows its best academic minds to leave the country in flocks for want of sufficient benefits and you have an ‘education system’ that reads like an analysis of one of Freud’s most difficult patients.

So what’s the alternative? The market. The economy, if it keeps doing well, will attract more investment, and people will do whatever it takes to get those jobs coming in. We already have ample private education in IT, design, tourism, finance, marketing and business. Vocational training isn’t doing too badly either i hear. All being said though things right now are a bit of a Charlie Foxtrot.

Quite enjoyed Vedi, which i had the pleasure of watching on a recent bus ride to Jaffna.

Tamil movies capture the imaginations of millions, and completely command the attitudes of a good chunk of them. A certain segment of Tamil movie fans will swear by their favorite movie stars. To them this shit is real. And this is evidenced by the large proportion of actors who become very successful politicians in Tamil Nadu.

In Sri Lanka growing up in a Muslim household with plenty of uncles who were fans of the likes of Rajni KanthMGR (who was born in my hometown) and Sivaji I had somewhat of an early exposure. I never developed into a frenzied fanboy because my extended family was probably much saner by the time I was born. But walk along Galle Face on any evening and chances are you’ll see plenty of guys wearing Kolaveri Di t-shirts and denim jackets or busting the latest Danush and Suriya dance moves on the pavements, while music blares from parked vans with open doors and loud sound systems. Tamil movies are getting bigger. And continue to penetrate the zeitgeist here. A part of a global phenomenon of Indian ‘soft power’ making strong inroads into global culture.

Actors who play heroes appeal to masses because they idealize perfection on screen, or so goes my theory. They’re always honorable, powerful and love the poor. And so the poor love them. Tamil movies are never complete without a despicable villain; evil and convoluted as much as the hero is honorable and upright. It is always black versus white, good versus evil.

The villain isn’t villaining for business. He’s in business purely for the villaining. He is intelligent but too confident, loud and brash, and reveals the full extent of his evil plans in fierce monologues often overheard by a lowly minion or his long suffering mother. Always displaying some suitably spine tingling idiosyncrasy, he will either fling his shirt collar back in a manner that reveals an acre of chest hair, walk with a swagger so pronounced he is practically turning sideways at every step, or if he is old and ugly which he often is, will have a uniquely spine chilling sound affect play every time he enigmatically breathes out his cigar smoke.

The villain and his muscles-for-brains goons carry out their unbroken assault on society; raping, stealing and kicking dogs, all the time laughing at some rich private joke that no one else understands. They are mean and petty, brutally cruel. But their spree of glee ends when they finally mess with the wrong guy. Usually by messing with the wrong girl. And the hero, awakened from his humble, everyday-Tamilian stupor by a maddening righteous anger, rises to spell doom and gloom to all villainy, everywhere.

But before the villain can meet the hero, whom he always underestimates, in the final battle; several important events must take place. There is, for instance, the small matter of the chemistry between the hero and the heroine that must bubble with an acidic fervor. When locked in their haphazard game of a thousand flirtations, they must dance along at least a dozen different beaches, alpine mountain ranges, and botanical gardens and develop the skill of surreptitiously changing costumes in the few seconds when the camera pans to the horizon. Random strangers and distant acquaintances in marketplaces, college campuses, night clubs and ‘autorickshaw’ stands must suddenly develop remarkable skills of coordination as they dance along in tandem to music that apparently plays out of speakers hidden in barrels and fruit baskets.

Heroes in tamil movies have full scale symphony orchestras following them around with different tunes for every on screen emotion, innovative punch, kick and every cleverly executed pun. Of course there are separate actors who specialize in comic relief. But they don’t have it so well in terms of physical prowess or sexual prospects. Their orchestra comprises of random pings, poinnggs and other scraping noises to complement their varied failings and faux pas as they bravely attempt to aid the hero in his struggle against his personal Goliath. These actors tend to be a few in number and can often be seen in the same role in countless movies. Vadivelu for instance has been around for as long as I can remember and is quite the powerbroker now I hear.

With roughly 65 million moviegoers in India, 12 million Indian Tamils abroad and countless other Tamil speakers in Sri Lanka including Muslims, Tamil films enjoy a bigger market than the UK cinema industry. In Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh (which makes films in Telugu – 75mn people), India’s biggest movie industries outside of Bollywood, popular films are more recognisably ‘about’ local culture and exhibit a close relationship between film and politics. Fanclubs will often morph into political organizations as a particular actor decides to become a hero in real life (I.e politician). Actors become politicians and fail to do anything helpful sparking the need for more actors to become politicians in order to replace them. A neat vicious cycle.

Of course not all Tamil movies are so stereotypical and transparent. Many movies, even those of the cornier variety show a high level of political and social awareness. Their heroes wouldn’t appeal to the masses otherwise. But some movies do stand out as masterpieces all on their own. A real fan would rattle off many. To me right now Mani Ratnam‘s Roja and Bombay come to mind.

In terms of entertainment, they are pretty good when they get the formula right. Pretty much like any movie industry.

Frontier Research does this nifty summary as a part of its overall range of news products, usually for private clients. They scour through the myriad goings on in the global economy so you don’t have to, and bring out what’s relevant from a Sri Lankan non-expert’s perspective. Pretty useful if you’re generally into economics, or just want to get a feel of current hot topics. Here I’ve syndicated their Weekly News Summary with permission. The Indian economy is drawing quite a few uncanny parallels with Sri Lanka’s and global markets primarily reacted to goings on in China.   

The Week in Global Markets

Markets in Asia fell as economic slowdown in China, Korea and Australia sparked fears of lower corporate profits. Meanwhile US markets rose on hopes of policy easing in China, as the latter saw its slowest economic expansion in three years. Euro markets also advanced on similar hopes while Italy’s falling borrowing costs also contributed to optimism. Oil rose on speculation of Chinese stimulus and on the back of tightening US sanctions on Iran.

The Week in Economic Views

India’s emerging fiscal and BOP problems are uncannily similar to Sri Lanka as the latter battles an expansion of its Current Account and doubts as to whether it can keep its budget deficit under control.

The US presidential race draws near and ‘outsourcing’ is increasingly becoming a dirty word as candidates seek to distance themselves from it, something regional outsourcing firms should keep an eye on.

An interesting article in this week’s summary discusses the Indian people and their tolerance of government censorship; a topic currently under hot discussion in Sri Lanka.

In Mid 2013, Sri Lanka will have an announcement on how much oil it possesses; a possible game changer for the country. It is worth keeping an eye on new oil rich nations such as Kenya to get an understanding how the impact of oil discovery will flow through to the rest of the economy.

With the emergence of South East Asia as a growth hotspot, global powers are falling over each other to woo the region’s governments and to secure a portion of the pie. South East Asia’s rise poses emerging threats as well as opportunities for Sri Lanka.

In China, while official headline Macro data continues to be reasonable, other news and data has turned much worse; perhaps indicating a need to find alternate data on the Economy for Sri Lanka that could provide similar tracking to assess the latter’s performance as well?

India and Sri Lanka have both suffered large depreciations of their currencies in recent times. Non resident Indians are however inadvertently rallying to their currency’s cause, by investing their dollars in the India to take advantage of the cheaper rupee.

Frontier Research does this nifty summary as a part of its overall range of news products, usually for private clients. They scour through the myriad goings on in the global economy so you don’t have to, and bring out what’s relevant from a Sri Lankan non-expert’s perspective. Pretty useful if you’re generally into economics, or just want to get a feel of current hot topics. Here I’ve syndicated their Weekly News Summary with permission. The “markets” section gives a lowdown of global stock and crude oil markets, but for the more interesting analysis and discussions check out the “views” section.

The Week in Global Markets

Anticipation of monetary policy easing in Europe and Asia stimulated markets in those regions, while lingering optimism from last week’s Euro summit also propped up European markets. But pessimism about the same in the US, along with weakening job data, caused markets there to fall. WTI and Brent crude moved in opposite directions. WTI fell on account of weak US job data, while Brent rose on account of an oil workers’ strike in Norway.

The Week in Economic Views

Given current global events, the question is being asked if India is prepared for a real European crisis; a salient point for Sri Lanka to ponder as well because of its dependence on European markets.

On that topic, a very pessimistic, but comprehensive analysis of the current global economic situation comes from Swaminomics.

Military polarization has been advancing quietly in the Asian region. Increasingly, the so called ‘middle-nations’ between the West and China are finding a need to strike a balance in military relations with the two global giants; especially in the context of Burma’s recent troubles.

Meanwhile, a media outcry has made the Pakistan authorities enforce adherence to standards of physical fitness in its police force, which has obtained an image of being fat and corrupt.

South East Asian countries are set to become an IPO hotbed in months to come as several firms prepare to go public in an investment environment where IPOs are facing bleak prospects globally, including Sri Lanka.

India’s biggest Tea company is seeing very high profit growth due to Tea prices rising on a global production shortfall; a useful and positive perspective for Sri Lankan Plantations.

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