by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 2, Jumada' al-Ula', 1434)
Muslims are being attacked everywhere. Even the non-violent, peace-loving Buddhists have got in on the act as the Muslims of Sri Lanka have found to their cost.
It is open season on Muslims. The anti-Muslim campaigns in North America, Europe (all parts of it), India and Palestine are well known. Such venom has now spread to Sri Lanka as well where a virulently anti-Muslim Buddhist group operating under the name Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), or the Buddhist brigade, has unleashed terror against Muslims. This has come at a time when the Buddhists in Myanmar have been burning Muslims alive. It seems even the “peace-loving, non-violent Buddhists” suddenly go berserk at the very mention of the name, Muslim.
Masjids have been attacked and destroyed, Muslim businesses have been targeted, and there is even objection to the certification of halal meat, which is viewed as somehow threatening to the Buddhists. What is even more revealing is that the anti-Muslim campaign is spearheaded by monks — yes, the same monks that are supposed to be so peaceful that they walk barefoot, dress in simple garb and spend much of their time in meditation and prayer. So what has happened all of a sudden to these peaceful monks? Why does the presence of Muslims arouse so much hatred in them and what have Muslims done to deserve such animosity? After all, Muslims have lived peacefully in the island state for centuries.
One theory is that the monks have been emboldened by the defeat of the Tamils. The monks were instrumental in recruiting Buddhist Sinhalese into the armed forces telling them that they were defending not only their country but also their faith. The Muslims had suffered at the hands of the Tamils as well, especially in the North and East of the country where a large number of Muslims reside. The nationalist Tamils told the Muslims they were ethnic Tamils — this is true — but they are also Muslims. Further, the Muslims did not want the country to be divided. Thus, the Tamils attacked and killed many and drove others from their homes, villages and towns. Tens of thousands of Muslims still live in squalor in refugee camps unable to return because their properties have been taken over by the Sinhalese. The latter have accused the Muslims, without proof, of being Tamil sympathizers. Thus, the Muslims were caught between two elephants fighting each other and were trampled in the process.
Flushed with success, the monks want to go for the kill and eliminate any challenge to their privileged position. Their aim is to make Sri Lanka a purely Buddhist country. Unfortunately, the country’s political elites have refused to confront such chauvinism, allowing the monks to virtually run amok. The result is the terrorization of peaceful Muslims in Sri Lanka. On the issue of halal certificates, the government caved in to the monks’ demand and it has been withdrawn. Why it should be of any concern to the monks or any Buddhist for that matter is beyond comprehension? After all, the Buddhists do not consume meat but the issue is more than meat consumption. They see the halal certification as earning the Muslims revenue that the monks want for themselves.
As the monks’ anti-Muslim campaign has escalated and Muslims have been forced to bring their concerns to the politicians, the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has taken notice. The seriousness of the government is difficult to tell but it has resorted to its favorite ploy of setting up a special Parliamentary Select Committee “to look into racial, religious extremism.” Most observers do not put much faith in such committees based on past experience but they are willing to wait and see. On January 27, President Rajapakse had a two-hour meeting with members of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) at which he raised the issue of the ongoing campaign against Muslims by certain Buddhist organizations. The BBS denied its involvement in any such campaign. While Rajapakse stressed that members of all communities had a right to live as equal citizens in the country and that he would not tolerate any acts of terrorism, it is yet to be seen whether he would stand up to the Buddhist monks.
The only thing that might offer some protection to Muslims is the fact that the Tamils, who are well organized, have raised the spectre of human rights violations at international forums, and gotten attention. The Sri Lankan government is vulnerable on this point and under such circumstances it may be forced to end the campaign against Muslims. After all, it would not want to provide further proof of its oppression of minorities when the mistreatment of Tamils is well documented.
As far as the Muslims of Sri Lanka are concerned, they cannot rely on any help from the Organization of Islamic Co-operation, a body set up for just such a purpose. Instead, Muslims worldwide must lend a helping hand and a healing touch to the community of Muslims in Sri Lanka. This is the least other Muslims can do for their brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka that have lived peacefully and in harmony on the island for many centuries. What needs to be done is to raise the issue of the mistreatment of Sri Lankan Muslims at the UN Human Rights body as well as publicize it widely. Further, they can hold pickets outside Sri Lankan missions in North America and Europe. Exposing and shaming them is the best way to seek protection for the Muslim citizens of Sri Lanka.