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The Rally For Unity crew has done a pretty neat timeline and infographic (click to enlarge) of the events that took place in Grandpass between June and August this year. Accurate information is crucial if anything is to be done about the upsetting problems we’re seeing today. IMO mainstream media, due to various restrictions, is failing at providing a cohesive and honest picture, a much needed vacuum for some solid citizen journalism to fill.

Sinhala and Tamil translations are on the way according to R4U’s Facebook page, which posted the below along with the graphic.

“What Really Happened in Grandpass?” – This infographic was developed to shed light on the events that unfolded at Grandpass from June to August this year. All information has been factually verified and vetted. Sinhala and Tamil translations will be made available by the weekend.

It is regrettable that certain groups can unduly influence and divide peacefully co-existing multi-ethnic communities. We encourage all Sri Lankans to remain vigilant against such interference and to continue to preserve goodwill among all communities.

Azath Salley was arrested yesterday. One of the allegations made against him is making comments that incite religious hatred.  Azath Salley in recent months has built a reputation of of sorts of being pretty much the only Muslim politician with the courage to go up against the BBS in public.

This affidavit penned by the General Secretary and Leader of the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) Dr. Vickramabahu Karunarathne, gives a bit of broader context to what Salley was up to in the run up to his arrest. The NSSP, Salley’s NUA and several other parties were part of a “Movement for Unity with Power Sharing” with a mandate that involved tackling racism.

According to the Defense Ministry, Salley has apparently said that Muslims must start an armed struggle like the LTTE, and that they are actually ready and waiting to be armed. Salley is also suspected of having links with the LTTE. No evidence has been brought forth to prove these allegations as yet.

After some heavy drama where he was denied medical care and had to resort to a hunger strike he was admitted to hospital on Friday afternoon. Where his case will proceed is still not clear. Hopefully we will see a fair and transparent legal process. Anything else could be a serious setback to perceptions of government support for ethnic harmony.

But double standards are not nice. For instance, the Bodu Bala Sena has clearly engaged in hate speech and incitement of ethnic hatred. Yet the BBS has only been allowed to grow and prosper. They seem to have quietened down lately, and rumors of anti-BBS foreign pressure have been heard on the grapevine, but there is no telling if the BBS is now a thing of the past; a mere spike in the long line chart of public distractions giving away to the next (Duminda perhaps?); or in fact a sleeping dragon.

The BBS bias though, begins to make clear sense in the murky twilight of Sri Lanka’s realpolitik. Sinhala Buddhist supremacy is nothing new to the country. It has always been there and maybe it always will.

What is worrying to me is not that the government is responsible for unleashing the BBS, because that would imply that it was actually capable of controlling it. What is worrying is that the government, if those that allege that it is behind the BBS are right, is only trying to appease it. Because it plainly poses fatalistic threats to near term stability in Sri Lanka.

From an economic angle, Sri Lanka has a consistent savings to investment gap, so the only way to seriously grow the economy is to attract solid foreign direct investment (or to borrow, but that way lies disaster). But foreigners are notoriously sensitive to political instability; and ethnic strife along with human rights allegations, the Chief Justice fiasco and sudden price hikes just add to the list of cons when it comes to investing in Sri Lanka, especially given enough safer options in the region like the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia etc.

So the argument that this is merely another ‘distraction’ pre-supposes an extremely short-termist, even stupid government. Because for it to invent ethnic disharmony out of thin air as a distraction from a flagging economy, a tactic that can only worsen the economy’s prospects would be a very stupid thing indeed.

But I don’t think the Rajapakse’s are short termist, in fact, they could just be one of the most long termist entities in power we’ve had. But they are still playing a balancing act, despite their outward show of power. Mark Juergensmeyer has a few great passages on Sri Lanka in his “The New Religious State” (the whole of it is well worth read). This was written in ’95 but still sounds coldly relevant today.

The present rulers in Sri Lanka face the same dilemma as their predecessors: they need Sinhalese support, but they feel they can not go so far as to alienate the Tamils and other minority groups. They have been attacked viciously by Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists for attempting to achieve what might be impossible: a national entity that is both Buddhist and secular. The use of Buddhist symbols is meant to appeal to the Sinhalese, and the adoption of a secular political ideology is supposed to mollify everyone else.

With elections approaching and Sarath Fonseka back on the campaign trail, powers are converging against the status quo. To take Juergensmeyer’s view, this rise of extremist nationalist forces could be the Rajapakse’s first ‘attack’ at the hands of  “Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists” for trying to achieve a “national entity that is both Buddhist and secular”.

I still think that the Rajapakse model of government, while far from ‘good’, is the best we can have in our current context. We can help improve it, but if it is toppled we would probably descend into disarray. From a policy and historical perspective, and in line with examples of East Asian success stories, a ‘benevolent autocracy’ is probably the only model of government capable of giving Sri Lanka the stability it needs to grow in the longer term. Maybe what John Kotelawala said in 1974 is still largely relevant.

Sri Lanka is not ready for democracy. In a country like Sri Lanka democracy becomes government by bloody mugs and idiots.

But how benevolent is this autocracy? Evidence so far has proven that it can be quite belligerent and reactionary. But is that due to this balancing act, this need to keep all sides happy? And now, how autocratic is it? With movements like the BBS emerging, the stranglehold the Rs have on power is beginning to be questioned as well.

After stewing about it for more than two days ‘Team Mobitel’ appears to have finally come up with a response.

Mobitel response

It’s actually quite ridiculous. They apologize for any ‘inconvenience or pain of mind’ caused but reiterate that the racist ringtone will remain on their site on a ‘revenue share basis’. Apparently they still care about upholding the ‘true values of unity and ethnic harmony’ by allowing an organization that stands for just the opposite to make money off its site, and on a revenue sharing basis too.

The image is accompanied by an expanding thread of comments of largely unimpressed people. Mobitel’s social media team and at least one fake account is also feebly attempting to respond, but are only succeeding in digging itself deeper into this hole.

Many are asking if Mobitel would allow an LTTE song to be put up to fund the terrorist group on a ‘revenue sharing’ basis too. The answer, even though it has not been articulated yet, is obviously no. Why in the world would Mobitel do that? Therefore Mobitel definitely does NOT consider the Bodu Bala Sena to be a hate group or a group with any negative social connotations at all.

The utter chutzpah of this response is rather hard to digest, I will say that at my next tea party. The lyrics of the BBS song call for a “Holy War” to destroy the “rallying cry of the unrighteous” and “the heathens” “who have all united into one camp”. Yup, practically dripping with peace and harmony there.

Actually if this song came from any other group, or was just a song released by an individual artist. Its message could have been construed as one meant purely to inspire and provoke steadfastness on a personal level or whatever (the lyrics are actually quite well written). But the BBS has made its intentions clear through its actions, they possibly really do want a holy war. In denouncing imaginary Islamic terrorism in Sri Lanka and countless other made up threats, the BBS is fast mirroring its non-existent worst enemy.

Therefore by allowing the BBS to make money from its ring back tone services (and sharing in the moolah no less) Mobitel is sending a strong message that they support, or at least are indifferent, to its extremist standpoint.

Here’s a poster being shared around on Facebook, which carries the full lyrics of the song and calls for a boycott of all Mobitel products.

islamophobia1

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.

Image from the BBC: Hajj 2011

It’s Hajj season again. From all over Sri Lanka, a few thousand fortunate Muslims have already left to perform the actual pilgrimage, a once in a lifetime obligation for those who can afford it, to join hundreds of thousands more in Mecca. The Hajj is the pilgrimage of Abraham and has been followed by the ‘people of the book’ ever since the time of that illustrious prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him.

But the time of Hajj is also especially significant to those who remain at their homes. According to Muslim belief; good deeds carried out in the first ten days of the month of Hajj bear great merit in the eyes of Allah.  Aside from fasting, charity and reflecting on the Quran; a special good deed carried out by Muslims is the Uduhiyyah or the Hajj sacrifice.

Racial tensions

In Sri Lanka where Muslims are a minority, the sudden influx of animal slaughter during Hajj has sometimes drawn the ire of Buddhists and attracted a lot of bad publicity over the years. This is especially significant now in a climate where certain political opportunists are spurring ethnic rivalrybetween Muslims and Sinhalese.

Here in Sri Lanka animals are killed on a daily basis for meat, and this goes largely uncontested. The majority of Buddhists also eat meat, though many abhor beef. The beef industry is largely monopolized by Muslims and has always been a target for elements seeking political gain.

Lately Sri Lanka has seen a range of anti Muslim activity. The Dambulla mosque attack is the most illustrative. And this has been followed up by pockets of unrest in various parts of the country evidently carried out under the leadership of certain members of the Buddhist clergy. Leading to speculation of a rise in ‘Buddhist extremism’ in Sri Lanka.

But to paraphrase Indi, the ‘beef with beef’ has long been an endearing locus of political opportunism. Notorious thug/politician Mervyn Silva for instance, famously demanded the closure of all beef stalls in his district last year, claiming they offended his Buddhist sensibilities (the same minister has no objection to liquor shops being open. In this case his religious sensibilities are overshadowed by the need to sustain a lucrative source of income). In the same year Silva was warned about creating trouble during the Hajj sacrifice.

Furor also rose in recent times in Sri Lanka over ritual sacrifice of animals in the Hindu Kovil of Munneswar, again led by the same minister, but backed by a faction of Buddhist clergy. The sacrifice was allowed to go ahead despite protests as the penal code in no way prevents the slaughter of animals in the country.

The issue to my mind is not the slaughter of animals per se, since by and large this seems to be OK. But the high sensitivity of the majority of Buddhists to graphic display of slaughter that can sometimes take place during Hajj, or other religious festivals that can be used by opportunistic forces to stir up trouble in the name of religion. And when Muslims themselves neglect to follow proper Islamic protocol in carrying out the sacrifice, the issue is only exacerbated.

Openly displaying the animal to be slaughtered, letting its dying cries be heard by neighbors and unhygienic disposal of waste matter is guaranteed to rub people up the wrong way. These practices are frowned upon in Islam in accordance with the Prophet Muhammad (May peace and blessings be upon him)’s example of respect for the faith and sentiments of non-Muslims. And of course hygiene is a central tenet of Islam (the Prophet said ‘cleanliness is one half of faith’). The above was highlighted in Friday sermons throughout the country on the Friday preceding Hajj, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), the country’s collective of Islamic scholars has a nose for this sort of thing.

To conclusively sort out the issue once and for all and immunize ourselves to forces trying to sabotage peace both Muslims and Sinhalese must try and understand where the other is coming from. Muslims must understand that religious obligations can still be fulfilled without hurting the feelings of non-Muslims, actually they are probably better fulfilled that way, and non-Muslims must understand the significance of the act and the importance Islam gives to animal rights. And not be led astray by misconceptions and political opportunists.

Animals in Islam

The Quran explicitly states that animals can be used for human benefit (Qur’an 40:79-80)* and it stresses equally that animals have their own lives and existences that must be respected and honored by man (Qur’an 6:38, 24:41). This may appear contradictory, but Islam teaches that all objects, from plants to stars, exist in submission to the will of Allah. And on Earth, man is the ‘vice-regent’ of Allah and can use the planet’s resources in accordance with Islamic law. This law is strict on preventing abuse however, and when it comes to animals prohibits overworking, overburdening and the infliction of cruelty on them and allows hunting only for the sake of food.

An animal that is to be killed for meat must be treated in kindness and given food and water; it is prohibited for instance, to sharpen a knife or to slaughter another animal in front of it. The knife must be as sharp as possible so as to make the death as quick and painless as possible. The meat sacrficed by Muslims does not go to waste, all of it is either given away or consumed.

Some accuse that the Islamic method of slaughtering animals is cruel. Actually, you’d be hard pressed to find a method of killing anything, even a tree, that someone somewhere will not call cruel. But that aside, the Islamic way is proven to be a humane and hygienic method of killing a beast. The cutting of the throat, windpipe and the blood vessels in the neck (the spinal cord is kept intact) prevents the flow of blood to the nerves that cause the sensation of pain in the brain (the animal struggles and writhes due to muscular contraction). All the blood is drained before the head is removed, blood being a medium for germs and bacteria. This ensures that the meat is clean and stays fresh far longer.

The significance of the Hajj sacrifice

The significance of the Hajj sacrifice is the commemoration and remembrance of the devotion of Abraham (may peace be upon him). In a divinely inspired dream, Abraham saw himself sacrificing his oldest son Ismail to Allah. When he told this to Ismail, Ismail asked him to obey the command and said that he would be patient with the will of God. But when the blade descended upon Ismail’s neck, it failed to cut; Allah did not take the life of Ismail, providing a ram to be sacrificed in his stead.

This act of complete submission on the part of Abraham is remembered by Muslims worldwide by sacrificing a lamb, cow or another suitable animal. They keep one third of the meat for themselves, give one third to neighbors and friends and the final third to the poor, ensuring that no one goes hungry during the feast of Eid-Ul-Adha, the Hajj festival.

The day starts with a congregational prayer in the mosque. Muslims celebrate by visiting family and friends, exchanging gifts and remembering and thanking Allah for His blessings. The sacrifice of an animal is purely a measure of faith, as the Qur’an says “it is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches Allah: it is your piety that reaches Him..”(22:37).

*Refer Quran.com for the translation of verses

A version of this post was originally published in The Platform blog

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For minorities to know their place in this country all they have to do is to look at its national flag. Here’s a picture. There are the minorities colored in green and orange, and the Sinhala have a big patch of red.. Hey that’s fine, proportional representation ain’t no crime, but what’s that there in the red patch? is that… A lion? wielding a drawn sword..? Roaring in the general direction of the minorities? Keep out, its saying. This is my turf I’ve pissed all over it, one foot where it doesn’t belong and you’ll soon be ingesting several feet of sword.

No matter.. Minorities here know their place. The Muslims especially have always known their place. In Sri Lanka it seems to me that it is patriotism that is the opiate of the masses. and the Middle classes the biggest consumers. The rich are too busy getting richer, the poor are too busy being poor, but the middle class is upwardly mobile.. Asiff Hussein the anthropologist mentioned this in passing once and the thought has been running around in my head and gelatinizing and taking shape.

The middle class want wealth, the politicians and oligarchs steal that wealth and direct middle class anger towards the Muslims. It’s a classic strategy. Take the USA that stronghold of democratic justice, despite all the problems its people face what do they argue about the most come election time? Gay marriage, abortion and yeah, Muslims. Everything else is secondary. The whole political-media mechanism gears itself around these issues and the people are nicely distracted from the real issues. The wars the corporate abuse the widening wealth gap.

The war here is done.. The upwardly mobile middle classes are hungry, educated and success has been long in coming and now they won’t let anything stop them. They’re really starting to chew on what’s stopping them but it would be disastrous if they start chewing on how their leaders are screwing them out of so much money and opportunity.. So the Muslims, probably the most peace loving people in this country are painted black.

Easy job right? global propaganda is already helping them along. All they need to do is translate books of Ayaan Hirsi Ali or of some incident of barbaric cruelty perpetrated against a woman that has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam and sell them on the pavements of Nugegoda. All that needs to be done is to channel the appropriate funds to bhikkus and organizations willing to sell their souls and you’ve got a racist ‘movement’ that operates in increasing legitimacy.

Facebook statuses I see, pictures being shared around by educated Sinhala youth, sometimes even my direct friends and people I like and who I think like me.. They are all wasting their youthful exuberance. Muslims aren’t the enemy. Muslims in Sri Lanka have made it a habit of living off local prosperity. If you the majority aren’t rich then who will buy our goods? We’ve never had any political ambitions that threaten your sovereignty. If you prosper, we prosper and vice versa. In the past we both prospered by working together against the Portuguese, Dutch and English. Crack open a history book, a real history book, not the one you get from school.

Something is sucking your energy, young people here have always been activists, always headstrong and now something is trying to make you blind. The drug that does it is patriotism, in a context far removed from any form of economic prosperity, which is to say a bastardized form of patriotism. You are blind to the social injustice around you.. That effects you everyday. That shuts you out and closes the door; that invisible barrier beyond which true power and wealth lies in this country.

So wake up and smell the plain tea… It’s got a coating of grime on it called patriotism, but actually it’s just trickery.

I couldn’t think of a title. (pic by indi)

I have often wondered what my purpose is in life. I have no truck with this philosophy of letting things ride. life is not a train ride you find out your destination of only when you arrive at it. When i feel jaded and when i know my intellect is clouded i can only get depressed. If i don’t, the only other alternative is to get lost in ignorance.

We are higher beings than animals, if only because we have the capacity to think. It is a sad thing if we just throw that away to a hedonistic lifestyle and live life without even having an inkling of a greater order of things.

After embarking on my quest for reason, i finally hit upon the very truth that i was born into; Islam. I was born a Muslim and prayed but my faith soon failed its test. In those short years I believed but i didn’t believe; I’d work, get high and yeah, thats pretty much it.

We do not think of the future because we are afraid of it. We are afraid of our plans failing so we do not plan. We are afraid of never achieving our dreams so we abandon them and above all and everything else, we are afraid of death, because that is where everything ends, period. It doesn’t matter if you plan, dream or do the hokey-pokey, when your time comes you got to go.

So therein arises a lifestyle of ignorance and ‘happiness’. By ignoring death, we immortalize ourselves temporarily. We live in the present and ignore the future, for what more do we want than ‘happiness’?

But think about it. We are minute creatures living on a huge mass of land that we call a planet. Except of course, this mass of land is not so huge, it is merely but one of nine other, even huger, masses of land that revolve around a star that is 100 times as big. Pretty big.

Except of course even that star isn’t the biggest thing around, It is only but one of billion in a cluster of suns that are closely amalgamated across billions of light years of space, an unimaginable length and breath of space. Now that’s big.

Except that its not. reversing from the panorama of the milky way, after encountering nothing but the blackness of space, tiny pinpricks of light become visible as the galaxy we know fades. We are now beginning to see the true scale of what we like to call the universe; the biggest thing that human senses can perceive. A humongous collection of galaxies stretching to infinity.

And that is not the end. The nature of the universe has led scientists to theorize of alternative realities, parallel universes, an infinite stretch of universes themselves stretching on and on and on. And beyond that, what?

All this, all this magnificence, all this incomprehensible greatness, how did it come about? Are we not as insignificant as bacteria in the context of the scale of existence? Yet our egos threaten to encompass all of it and more. We continue to live lives focussed on goals like earning more money, becoming more popular, climbing the career ladder etc.

Creation

Modern science tends to imply the belief that the universe came about through an accident. I don’t buy it, but that’s only me. I’m perfectly open to the fact that other people do. Actually, people who do buy it are people who have probably at least thought about it. Too many of us tread blindly through life without thinking. I think a lot of problems of the world wouldn’t exist if more people had a firmer perspective on the greater meaning of life. And thought about how they figure in the whole game of the universe. Because that’s reality. And the raiment of our everyday lives is an easy way of hiding from it.

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