Photo of ‘World Trade Centre’ by Anuradha Henakaarachchi at the Colombo Art Biennale 2009.

Originally published in Groundviews

I was sitting in my garden, gazing at the stars listening to my Walkman, which was the only thing to do back then as you ticked off the minutes until the regulated power cuts that cursed Sri Lanka at the time wore away, every night, when I heard the absurd news. Planes hitting the twin towers and then causing them to fall down? And they say a Muslim did it, some guy in a turban and thobe with a long beard sitting in a cave in Afghanistan. I could barely place Afghanistan on a map.

Weeks became months and as more news of Bin Laden flooded the world I sunk further into my mid-teen bubble of O/Levels and school; music and movies and street cricket. This was a bubble I had always been in, but unbeknownst to me its surface had already been breached.

The breach became a gaping hole one day after an Interact Club meeting, I was walking ahead and behind me a girl, in a borrowed Fox News accent, jokingly referred to the boys she was with as ‘Funnamentahlist Muzlehms’. I had heard the term on the TV back then, but it had never struck me with so much force as it did then, overhearing it in a random conversation on a street in Maradana.

Because here was a new category of Muslim, given birth to in America and now brought to the streets of Sri Lanka. Revealed to me in its rawest form, with the original accent still coloring it; the newborn Fundamentalist Muslim. Though no one back then, and no one still, has succeeded in successfully defining what his moniker means, his invasion into my bubble began to force me to confront certain… realities.

He refused to acknowledge my own Muslimness for one. My Muslimness was a rather dormant part of my identity then, more or less a cultural marker that differentiated me from non-Muslim friends. It involved certain rituals like going to the mosque on Friday and hurriedly going through the motions of daily prayers when the inclination struck me. But this new ‘Fundamentalist Muslim’ was having none of that.

As the years passed, his voice became louder and louder. He was staring down my drab, boring Muslimness; ignoring him wouldn’t make him go away. He wanted my Muslimness to man up. “There are lines being drawn up”, he seemed to say. “Which side will you choose?” I was either with him or against him. Familiar words, back then, to those that eventually supported Bush’s War on Terror.

But I am no terrorist, I don’t believe the killing of innocent civilians is a part of Islam. So if you’re looking for an apology from me on the anniversary of 9/11, you can stop looking now. I don’t relate to the people who did the crime just because we ostensibly share the same religion. Just as much as people who believe in ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ don’t relate to the war crimes in their name that have shed the blood of hundreds of thousands before 9/11 and since.

On the other hand, there were the voices forcing me to become a ‘moderate Muslim’. A Muslim that unconditionally gives himself up to materialism, maybe has a drink on occasion, a Muslim that does not question extant global power structures, a Muslim that does not stand up for justice, compassion and equality; in short, a Muslim that is Muslim only In name.

But I am not a so-called ‘moderate Muslim’ either. I resent being on someone’s alien scale of what it means to be Muslim. Categorized as being somewhere in between a Muslim that drinks and smokes and a Muslim that kills innocent civilians. I reject the label ‘moderate Muslim’ just as much as I reject the label ‘Fundamentalist Muslim’ not only because they’re both meaningless essentializations, but because they place my faith within a worldview that presupposes its evidential guilt.

My identity as a Muslim, struggling with my refusal to be boxed into labels invented by Islamophobes and neo-khawarij alike, has evolved over the years in a continuing process. After more than a decade of soul searching, my Muslimness now definitely dominates my worldview. But 13 years on I still haven’t worked out what ‘kind’ of Muslim I am or must seek to be; I strongly suspect that I need not be any kind of Muslim other than simply a Muslim, inasmuch as it only means a slave that submits to God’s will and leads a life seeking only His pleasure.

9/11 wasn’t the trigger for a religious awakening. But it was one more event in my life, perhaps the first, which woke me up to realities that I was previously comfortable ignoring. It not only helped introduce the world to me it forced me to confront things like heritage and history, beliefs and ideology. It was so big that it refused to be ignored.

And I’ve learned a thing or two since then. I have learned that to look at the world in terms of generalizations such as ‘America’ and ‘Islam’ is to buy into the propaganda that perpetuates the violence of our times. The obscurantism via generalizations that the media and extremist propaganda alike feeds us conceals the real workings at play; the corrupt politics; the propped up oppressive regimes; the warmongering; the ruthless corporations; the proxy wars; and most importantly, the long arm of history.

Looking along the accusative finger pointing after 9/11, I began to also see the numerous fingers pointing back. Now I realize that this is a discourse between extremists on either side, and we’re all stuck in the middle. The mostly deluded, self-absorbed majority, the silent victims.

The BBS ringing tone on Mobitel had recorded nearly  a 1000 buys as of 9am, 27 March

The BBS ringing tone on Mobitel had recorded nearly a 1000 buys as of 9am, 27 March

Racist and hate groups are supposed to remain on the sidelines of society, screaming their subversive rhetoric in order to appeal to the seedier side of the collective conscience. Their funding usually comes from shadowy sources with powerful interests and money to be made from destruction and chaos. All of them invariably will remain behind the scenes, after all  who in the name of God would want to be publicly associated with hatred?

Mobitel, apparently. Mobitel the subsidiary of the publicly listed Sri Lanka Telecom. One of the country’s largest telecom services companies, and one of the most visible corporates in Sri Lanka. Mobitel has been openly funding hate groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and Sinhala Ravaya. Evidence of Mobitel support for extremists first emerged at a BBS rally held in Panadura when it was announced that a ringing tone available for download via Mobitel would help fund the organization’s racist activity. Images (later published on Sanjaya Senanayake’s facebook profile, who by the way i must thank for much of the research for this post) revealed Mobitel advertisements in a newsletter of the Sinhala Ravaya. Uncharacteristically, Mobitel’s Facebook group has been avoiding all contact and even deleting posts of protests against this, for now, their once dynamic social media team seems to have slunk under a rock.

Widely known for their extremist nationalism, these groups have already attacked mosques, churches and even other Buddhist temples conducted illegal raids, spread fear and paranoia and generally taken a very loud and belligerent stance toward the country’s minorities. After initially targeting the Halal certification of the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (which was peacefully resolved thanks in part to the ACJU’s good sense), the BBS has now turned its attention on the Hijab an element of Muslim culture that in some form or the other has been present in this country for centuries, and always in peaceful coexistence with other communities. The emergence of apparent large scale corporate backing for their activity is worrying to say the least.

A quick look at the ownership of Sri Lanka Telecom reveals some unsurprising and surprising details. Unsurprisingly you would find that the majority of the shares (49.5%) is owned by the government, 5.5% by the general public. This is kind of well known. SLT was fully owned by the government until it was partially privatized some years ago. But surprisingly, if you’d forgotten this little detail, shares owned by the Japanese NTT Communications were then sold to Treasury and Global Telecommunication Holdings N.V. This is supposedly an entity based in Netherlands but is actually a fully owned subsidiary of Usaha Tegas Sdn. Bhd  an investment firm based in Malaysia. Usaha Tegas also owns Maxis a Malaysian telecom giant. Sandip Das and Chan Chee Beng from Usaha Tegas serve on the boards of both Maxis and SLT.

It is rather ironic that Mobitel’s second biggest shareholder and the lifeline of its management and capital is based in a Muslim country, while at the same time it funds extremist right wing organizations pursuing strong racist agendas against Muslims and other minorities in Sri Lanka. If the BBS is anything to go by, Mobitel’s senior management probably has no issue with this glaring inconsistency in its moral standpoint. Last week I heard an Australian-Sri Lankan citizen and a member of the BBS, Chanaka Perera, comment on help received from a monk based in Malaysia to the BBS whilst at the same time condemning Muslims as a whole purely based on his views on Saudi Arabia. Hate is deaf to reason they say.

Mobitel has so far shown a complete lack of responsibility in responding to the thousands of calls for it to stop funding these extremist groups. Its continued silence is a gross violation of its public accountability. Cricketers like Mahela Jayawardene are brand ambassadors for Mobitel. I respect Mahela, and as a public figure and a person of influence being sponsored by Mobitel he should step up and say something about this.

Sri Lanka just came out of a 30 year war. I’m just saying that out loud you know, in case anyone has forgotten. The government so far seems to be perfectly happy to allow the BBS and its affiliated groups to carry on with their campaign of hate, although voices of dissent have begun to emerge; you know things are getting really out of hand when Mervyn Silva himself stands up for what is right. The president has been strong worded on the racist issue, but so far all of that has been lip service and none of it directed at any specific racist organizations. The all powerful Government of Sri Lanka has failed to take any concrete steps to stop this spread of hate and violence. Meanwhile, the Police is cooperating with extremists, and now government owned companies are openly funding them.

UPDATE: Mobitel has since issued a highly inadequate response.

Terror. What begets it? More terror? Or are we talking about Original Terror here?

Imagine Sam. Sam was a young man living in a small unimportant town on the Eastbank of Innocentville. He chopped wood and managed to scrape through with a meager living; feeding his ailing old mother and little sister in the process.

Suddenly invasionary troops from the neighboring country of Baddasery do what they do best; invade. They break through the villager’s meager defences, break into Sam’s home, kick his door in, and do away with his mother and sister after doing unmentionable things to them. Sam comes back after a day in the woods, sees this, is devastated, and vows revenge.

Innocentville gets organized under the leadership of Sam. They seek help from the King of Deviousville, who furnishes them with weapons and extra troops. Ten years later Sam’s forces break thorugh to the capital of Baddasery- Badassopolis, raze it to the ground, kill everybody who cannot be gainfully enslaved and generally introduce Badassery to a whole new level of badassery.

Who’s the biatch now?

Jack that’s who. Jack is twelve is years old. His father was a farmer living outside the city limits of Badassopolis. When the Innocents invaded, they killed his parents in front of his eyes; Jack was an only child. He hid from the armies of Sam and escaped to friendlier territories. He then dedicates his life to his revenge.

Terror has already been enacted. Question is, where or when will it stop?

(Title of post borrowed from a Lost Prophets track of same)

They say that we are a people prevented from exercising our free will when it comes to saying what we want to say, doing what we want to do and basic tenents of freedom that we are entitled to are trapped under a mire of ever spreading intellectual terrorism only half heartedly still maintaining its disguise as a fake brand of patriotism.

At least, this is what it seems like from a certain light. From another angle all seems rosy and sparkly and well oiled. The country is ‘united’, the bad seeds are dead and we are on the brink of a Parakumba esque era. The steady flow of economic benefits going away from the common man to a priviledged few is concealed under this happy veneer and the loss of basic freedoms are tolerated. The people are in a trance like state.

How can anyone assume that they are always right? That any dissenting views cannot be tolerated? What logic supports these arguments? Yet a vast majority of the people side with these lopsided views and the rest keep silent in fear of repercussions.

Maybe people have a tendency to believe blindly without reason in reaction to this shadow of force and fear that is applied behind the subtle wave of propaganda that is denouncing all dissent to the powers that be. The people here are the people’s very own worst enemy. Sounds like something Orwell would write about no?

I have heard people talk about some detention camp meant for people who talk shit about the government online. Isn’t this against the basic rights which we are supposed to have as human beings? This should be unconstitutional but that would only be the case in a nation that upholds the rule of law. Therefore this is nothing short of terrorism and I, as a blogger who is in fear of writing anything lest it pisses off the government, am terrorized.

Governance in this land saw its steady decline since governance started in this country it seems. Fuss-budget has a good write up on the whole thing at LBO, I strongly suggest you read it.

I have imagined myself being arrested for a lot of things, not that i get up to anything illegal, often. But the last thing I imagined getting arrested for was tweeting.

Rumor, and Lakibima, has it that a crack team of cyber thingummywhats are due to arrive from the Land of the Free that is China to help the government weed out rebellious netizens intent on sparking revolution through Facebook and Twitter. Now I don’t know any of these people supposedly arrested for talking unhealthy things on Facebook; but i am glad it is not me. To be honest.

There are to my mind two broad categories of netizens or social networkers here they could be targeting. One is the vastly numerous Sinhala blogosphere and the less populated but still substantially connected English blogosphere, the one I belong to. Now these two rarely mix due to the differences in language but that is not to say there are no crossover bloggers who manage to create an impact in both spheres.

So I’m hoping the nerdy Chinese that are going to be holed up in some LCD monitor laden hovel will be practicing their Sinhalese first because lets face it, the Sinhala sphere has the widest reach, and no one really cares what the minority of urban English people have to say anyway. We just like bitching about things for fun.

But I’m not taking any risks and I suggest you be vigilant too. Delete all your unknown followers on twitter for starters. You never know which of them could be a Chinese spy posing as a TwitterPorn babe or an obscure PC troubleshooter.

 ‘The city is the graveyard of the guerilla’
Che Guevara said that. What he meant was that the lifestyle of the city spoils the guerilla and makes him soft and weak. He needs the hardship and continuous challenge of the jungle in order for him to be on his toes and in fighting form.
When Rohana Wijeweera was captured in 1989, he spilled the beans on the rest of the JVP before anyone could say ‘spill the beans on the rest of the JVP’, just like he did post 1971. Most of the other leaders of the JVP did the same. By contrast, many of the lower ranks resisted severely and endured harsh beatings and still kept mum.
At this disgraceful show Varadarajah Perumal the first Chief Minister of the Northern Province quipped;

I say, Prabhakaran wouldn’t have died like that. He would have died fighting. If he was in a tight spot he would take cyanide. But he would never be taken alive to be spat on by his enemies.’

(Source: Sri Lanka; the years of terror, C.A Chandraprema)

Varadarajah was being delusional. Prabhakaran (or Pirabaharan as it is fashionable to call him now), like Wijeweera, had everyone duped. Even i thought he’d swallow a pill rather than suffer the ignomity of capture. But most evidence so far uncovered about the bloody ending of the war points at exactly this. Prabhakaran surrendered/ was captured and subsequently was killed/ died. Just like Wijeweera.

One wonders if it is this underlying cowardliness of the leadership that doomed both these post independece movements of rebellion to a bloody end. The leadership was in both cases inherently corrupt and unscrupulous; terrorizing the very people they claimed to be liberating. Their revolutionary ‘struggles’ were undermined by their own greed and lust for power. The movements they led soon turned into a criminal war to attain benefits for the criminals who ran it. Their ideals, however noble in their origins they may have been, quickly decomposed and became demonized.

They both led priviledged lifestyles at the times of their capture. They were far removed from the ground level of their struggles and left the fighting and dying to their countless minions. In this context, Che Guevara’s statement is not even applicable to the likes of Prabhakaran and Wijeweera. Criminals probably thrive in city environments. And they all die like cowards in the end.

Rohana Wijeweera, source unknown

Cobra is a desease, meet the cure

This was originally published early last December on the Lair. The war was swinging up to its fever pitch and clamp downs on general freedoms were high. I just thought it’d be interesting to see how things might have changed in the way people percieve terrorism after the LTTE’s defeat.

Ok now here’s a question for all you people out there who think Prabahakaran’s a terrorist. Does he not wank at night before goes to sleep? If you prick him does he not bleed? If you stole his lunch and beat him up, would he not cry? Is he but a man like you and me? Or is he really a woman inside like Boy George or Mervin Silva? Or is he, like many believe him to be, the illegitimate, discarded son of the devil himself? Illegitimate because the devil in a drunken stupor landed in Jaffna thinking it was LA and did it with a bush lizard of some type thinking it was Celine Dion or Donald Trump? And even though you might say all the devil’s children, like George Bush, are illegitimate since after all the devil leads by example, discarded because a bush lizard is still a bush lizard and even the devil has his standards?

Yes, yes it is very brave of me to sit safe in my room in an undisclosed location in the greater Colombo area and smugly type away vicious insults to the grand old boy of Sri Lankan terrorism I know. But that’s okay, I am not asking for any medals, just doing my civic duty as a roadblock loving Sri Lankan citizen who would think nothing of sacrificing about 15 minutes of the first part of his crucial CIM exams so that some power loving money hungry white shirt wearing deranged komodo dragon of a politician can wait for his wife to leave (through a different route, eliciting the services of other patriots and honourable citizens such as I) so that he can get his servant to suck him off in the kitchen and still get his nice round ass to parliament for the next power hungry bastard with something to gain to kiss in 15 minutes flat. Oh yes, I am all for efficient governance.

While retracting my rather tasteless comments about the devil and his dirty deeds above, for after all a lady is still a lady even though she may have been unfortunate enough to have a son like Prabhakaran, I am forced to ask, who is the real terrorist here?

 One, gets people to die for him without even meeting them in the name of an ancient cause that frankly no one even knows anything about anymore. The other, revels in the war effort and uses it to consolidate his power by scaring the people making them bend over double and give him all their money. Probably half of which he uses to buy weapons netting a handy commission out of the whole deal. Some might call it a lost cause. But no one really knows anymore.

It’s like when Mr Perera snapped at Mrs Soyza’s dog and Mrs Soyza called Mrs Perera a drunken whorebag because Mr. Soyza who drinks every night, can’t resist looking over the wall to get a peek at Mrs. Perera’s extra large green cotton panties hanging on the washing line. And so begins a long drawn out battle between the Pererá’s and Soyza’s and including, among it’s many casualties, a cut down thambili tree for daring to drop its produce on the wrong side of the parapet wall, a surprised bas unnahey who chose the wrong side of the border to keep his foot on during some construction, a harangued local police officer sick and tired of dealing with petty complaints and who ultimately suffered a stroke, and even more harassed looking neighbours unable to sleep due to noisy arguments from both sides all through the night, and who went out and didn’t contribute positively to the workforce and spread the insomnia throughout their acquaintances and throughout over ever widening circles causing car accidents, bus accidents, moral degeneracy and a serious economic down turn preceded by a financial crisis in the US where the Perera’s stressed and vacation deprived son was working at Bear Sterns as an investment banker looking for a new high return, risk insurable investment opportunity.

Ultimately, the Soyza’s dog died from a heart attack and Mrs. Perera stopped wearing extra large green cotton panties due to having lost so much weight by fighting all day and through having developed an allergy to cotton that brought her out in itches and boils that her doctor said was due to stress and from not being able to stand the colour green anymore because it gave her traumatic nightmares about how it all started. And Mr. Soyza stopped drinking after a bout of extreme depression when Mrs Perera stopped wearing extra large green cotton panties and stayed sober in order to better focus on the fight at hand and trounce the opponent even though he hadn’t the faintest what it was all about, having been drinking at the time it all started. And Mrs Soyza wouldn’t stop fighting till Mr Perera stopped and Mr. Perera didn’t see why he should stop until Mrs. Soyza backed off and apologized despite the pleadings of the harangued police officer and his insistence that there was nothing left to fight over anymore.

And so they bred the same hate and ignorance within all their children who in turn proudly presented it to their children as a part of the great heritage of their respective families and the Perera’s and the Soyza’s continue to fight to this day and no one really remembers or cares that it all started over a long dead dog and a pair of extra large green cotton panties.

So who’s the real terrorist here I ask you again. If you were to ask me, I would say neither. There are no terrorists here at all, only angry people with weapons (and a possibly inherited fetish for alcohol and extra large green cotton panties), who have forgotten why they got angry in the first place.

And as for terrorism itself, well we are all unknowingly embroiled in it. It is an aura surrounding us that we can’t shake off.

Disclaimer -The selection of these two esteemed Sri Lankan last names was purely random, and may have been triggered by the memory of two families in my former neighborhood that were constantly at loggerheads with each other. No offense meant to any individual bearing the names of Soyza or Perera, nor to anyone fond of green cotton undergarments of any size.
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