Afternoon. Let me start by thanking the Rajani Thiranagama Memorial Committee
and the Jaffna People’s Forum for Coexistence for inviting me to present this
lecture on this 30th year remembrance of Rajani Thiranagama’s tragic death at
the hands of a young LTTE militant. I am incredibly humbled to have my work
recognised as worthy of honouring Rajani’s memory.
I am also
aware of the context within which this choice is made, and this recognition is
aftermath of the bombings six months ago on April 21, 2019, we in Sri Lanka are
at yet another crossroads. The death of 253 people at the hands of nine young
Muslim male suicide bombers has unleashed immense trauma and suffering across
communities. People are struggling today to come to terms with loss of life and
limb the disappearance of support structures and destruction of community.
context of suffering we are also anticipating the tightening of democratic
space in the country ostensible to protect us from the threat of Islamic
militancy. The Rajapaksa dynasty’s attempt to keep its political project alive
received what seemed like a deathblow with the failure of the coup in October
2018. However the bombings have created the possibility of their resurgence.
up of space for dissent in the aftermath of the presidential elections of 2015,
and the possibility of progressive politics that seemed to emerge, now seems to
be lost. The ability to speak again in opposition to those in power, some
minimal achievements in the strengthening of rule of law, the passing of the
Right to Information Act, the setting up of the Office of Missing Persons were
achievements of that time.
activists we have critiqued the minimal progress in the rule of law and
accountability processes both for past war crimes, but also for corruption
allegations under the current regime now coming apart at the seams. But the
transformation that we are anticipating is such that even the limited successes
of the Yahapalanaya regime loom now as achievements soon to be lost. We seem to
be anticipating reverting back to an overly securitised regime with a vision of
development limited to spectacular material progress for the few and shrinking
of democratic space for the many.
This is the
shift that occurred after April 21, 2019.
• Sep 21,
you #Rajini !
members paid their tribute to Dr. #RajaniThiranagama at her 30th death
remembarance at St. Jhones Church
Cemetry #Jaffna this morning.
Sept.1989,Rajini an academic, activist &
co-author of the Broken Palmyra was brutally gunned down
on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter
Memorial Committee and Jaffna People’s Forum for Coexistence held a
"Remembering Rajini" , 30th Death Anniversary Memorial Event & a
memorial lecture at Trimmer Hall,
Vembadi Road, Jaffna today evening #lka #Srilanka
8:45 PM -
Sep 21, 2019
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I find it
especially important and relevant that I have been asked to speak in Jaffna
memorialising the brave and exemplary life of Rajani Thiranagama and her
commitment to a struggle for justice under far more trying circumstances than
those that we are facing today. Rajan Hoole speaking about Rajani on behalf of
the UTHR in October 1989 quoted the following from the Broken Pamyrah,
the pursuit of truth and the propagation of critical and honest positions, was
not only crucial for the community but was a view that could cost many of us
our lives. It was only undertaken as a survival task.”
Later on he
explains these words of Rajani’s importantly, not as prophetic but as
articulating the need to note a shift in the reality that Rajani’s death
signalled at that time. I quote again –
Rajani’s views, the task of expressing the truth of what is going on around us
impartially, and making people feel for the tragedy became a survival task.
This is what the UTHR (Jaffna) tried to do in its first two reports. Rajani
used the expression ‘creating a space’ to describe this work. She hoped that it
will lead to some discussion, at least within the university, of what was
happening around. She believed that sound values and anger against hypocrisy
and injustice were major assets to survival.
report on Rajani’s death notes the shift in Tamil politics that Rajani’s work
and her death indicated. Appealing to those sympathetic to the Tamil problem
the report notes that it is not widely recognised that (the Tamil problem) has
moved far from the simple ethnic problem that it was seen to be in 1983. It is
now one, where for the short term at least, the internal dimensions have by far
overshadowed the external.
I will not
say much more about the specificity of the long standing struggle that was
articulated so well in 1989 by the UTHR and which ultimately took Rajani’s
life. That it remains an ongoing struggle to articulate the internal critique
in the face of terrible state racism and intransigence is understood.
that Rajani Thiranagama and the UTHR carried out were done under very different
circumstance that are in no way similar to what we are facing now. While the
stressors are intense and the future does not look very promising the everyday
experience today is hardly the same. The kind of bravery and commitment
required of Rajani and others at that time is not required of us today.
There is no
equivalence. The deterioration of our situation is imminent and it is not clear
what direction it may take. But it is important that we acknowledge the greater
tragedy of the war years that the country as a whole is yet to come to terms
with. The similarity that I will see is
this: we are in need of narratives. We are in need of frameworks through which
to understand what happened to us as citizens of a very flawed state but also
for Muslims as members of a minoritised group.
a group whose leaders made specific choices about how they would engage with
the state and a group whose mostly male leadership still insists – despite its
size and internal fractures – on calling itself one community. At this time it
is crucial that “the Muslim community” has a way of critically understanding
what happened in April, how we are being made to seem as one and as culpable.
also not lose sight of the dire necessity to engage in self reflection and
critique. When all possible
interlocutors are insisting only on Muslim fault it is important that there is
push back. Getting the balance right is our challenge.
end of the war, there has been a sustained and very successful anti-Muslim
movement that is giving voice to long-standing prejudices against Muslims and
has enabled active harassment. The success of this movement, resonating with
global trends has been such that today anti-Muslim rhetoric has the status of
sentiment, always present and dormant slowly built up in the aftermath of the
war. It maintained a presence on the web for some months in the form of vitriol
spewing blogs and Facebook pages and sporadic violence was perpetrated against
small Muslim communities — in Anuradhapura in 2011 and Dambulla in 2012.
suddenly in January 2013 it was at the front and centre of public discourse
with marching monks, middle class apologists and the mainstream media all
joining the fray. Almost overnight the activities of large sections of the
Muslim community were publicly debated in the Sinhala media and practices of
Muslims that had been in circulation for some time were being discussed, their
ethics interrogated and their legitimacy undermined without any significant
consultation or participation of Muslims themselves.
movement gained added momentum with a trumped up controversy over the halal
labelling process. This sentiment was spread with such success in its initial
form in early 2013 that today many have forgotten that initial massive push
that was necessary. Large scale orchestrated violence against Muslims — riots —
are a fact of life today.
two events, Aluthgama in 2014 and Digana in 2018 that were of particular
significance. Many more seem imminent. The bombings occurred then in the
context of an ongoing anti-Muslim campaign that was being used periodically to
fuel “riots” in Sri Lanka.
revisit the tragic events on April 2019. On Easter Sunday 2019, nine Muslim
militant suicide bombers detonated themselves in six coordinated attacks across
that morning bombers detonated themselves at St. Sebastians Church at
Katuwapitiya, St. Anthony’s shrine at Kochchikade, and at the Shangri La and
Kingsbury hotels in Colombo. At 8.50 there was an explosion at the Cinnamon
Grand Hotel . At 9.05 at the Zion Church, Batticaloa.
caused the deaths of 253 people. The militants were members of the National
Tauheed Jamaat and the Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI) that have both now been
banned. This possibility of an attack by
Islamic militants — although periodically invoked—had not been seriously
anticipated in the country’s troubled history. It was the most devastating
incident of violence after the brutal end of the war in 2009, and one of the
most deadly terrorist attacks in the world to date.
We Miss This Possibility?
By we, I
mean those of us from the Muslim community, including political and civil
society activists sometimes thought of as being in the know. Our position on
the issue might have been influenced by the fact that the figure of the Muslim
militant has been a long-standing rhetorical device of anti-Muslim campaigners
of various hues and there has been little evidence of their actual existence.
of jihadists were raised by the LTTE during the Norwegian mediated peace
process in 2001 and later on many careless commentators have seen Islamic
militants “lurking” in the east. At one point politicians’ militias were called
jihad groups; at other times groups armed by the military were named that.
proliferation of small arms during the conflict saw the emergence of many armed
underworld gangs – all, if Muslim were termed jihadists. Muslim activists felt
the need to repeatedly state in public to the security establishment – if there
are jihadists, Islamic militants, Al Qaeda operatives or ISIS fighters, please
2012, the BBS had a prelaunch closed meeting in Kotte. At that meeting the
Venerable Gnanasara talked of 12,000 jihadists being trained in the Maldives.
aftermath of Aluthgama, when the government took great pains to
internationalise a narrative of Muslim culpability for the violence, member of
parliament Champika Ranawaka, in a short film entitled the True story of
Aluthgama, outlined that the violence occurred because there was a large
meeting of Jihadists.
embassy officials picking our brains about the ground situation, and Sinhala
allies writing about anti-Muslim violence would routinely mention Muslim
militancy in the east as if it was an established fact. In 2014 Gotabhaya
Rajapaksa also stated that recalcitrant minorities bring about majority anger
and that Sri Lanka’s next global threat was Islamic Militancy. In a context
where global narratives saw an Islamic jihadist behind every beard and
skull-cap and where anti minority sentiment was a condition for political
existence, fielding this knowledge was exhausting.
had the following exchange with Meera Srinivasan of the Hindu in the aftermath
of the Digana violence:
How do you
respond to claims that there is rising fundamentalism in the Eastern Province,
with funding from West Asian countries?
it’s very typical, this question after a lengthy interview of this nature. Not
only you, several media people who have come to interview me end up asking this
question. It is again a manifestation of an international mind set. But
locally, I don’t see that Muslims have been radicalised to that extent so as to
resort to violence.
comes to religious practice, whether it is in Hinduism, Christianity, or
Judaism, there are different strains, different ideologies being practised by
fringe groups. I don’t think we need to worry about these fringe groups as long
as they don’t resort to violence as a means to propagate their culture or
Mohamed and Wanniasingham from an article in 2015 entitled Fracturing
Community: Intra-group Relations among the Muslims of Sri Lanka state the
to degenerative factionalism, the researchers also investigated the accusation
made both within and outside the Muslim community that a Jihadist Movement was
emerging in the East. On interviewing several Thablighi, Thawheed and Sufi
representatives, it was found that while there is talk among discontented youth
about espousing jihadi practices, these are just idle youth responding to the
global trend in Islam, but with no motivation or the means to make this a
reality. Local organisations such as mosque federations are also monitoring the
community and nipping such ideas in the bud. The ACJU, Shoora Council and local
Mosque Federations confirmed that there are no Islamic Jihadi groups in Sri
similar sentiments in a 2011 publication. At that time the threat was not ISIS,
but Al Qaeda. In the article I tried to argue that Islamic reformist projects
bringing about transformations in dress and practice were projects of personal
piety and not those mobilising for political change.
disavowal by such a range of disparate actors, barely in conversation with one
another should be taken seriously today not because we were all being
disingenuous but because within the frameworks that we were using to understand
“community” and “Jihadism” among Muslims this particular threat was not one
that appeared as immediate.
the Muslim community who considered themselves to be “community
representatives” were clearly inadequately representative of their communities.
Those of us conducting inquiries into such communities, or politicians having
their constituencies from them, were speaking mostly to male mosque committee members
– and were having inadequate access to the wider community of youth and women
and to the disaffected.
important that both the politicians and the researchers think deeply about what
this might mean.
issue that is important to note is that this form of radical sentiment is diffused;
web and social media based, and finds disconnected community that does not
claim to or feel the need to share a past or future. Muslims are popularly
identified as part of tight knit and supportive and almost suffocatingly
collectives are considered opaque to the outside world because of the many
protective and dense networks that might shield them. But what is apparent is
the case of these individuals that we can now claim to have been “radicalised”
is that they were removed from such community, and distanced themselves from
well-known authority structures. They worked only with small kin groups and
were looking for solidarity in an idea alone.
“radicalisation” also speaks to a graver problem. It speaks to a revolt against
the various Muslim communities, their authority structures, their ethical
frameworks and the manner of their gatekeeping. This is where the critique and
self-reflection needs to be grounded.
And this is
where there should be a wake up call to the Muslim community. A large majority
of Muslims especially the proponents of piety, function on an assumption of
ethical superiority based on the cultivated commitment to the faith. This commitment requires showcasing and maintenance.
gatekeepers — both men and women — maintain piety practices through shaming
those who do not comply; by stating that they are less than pious, less than
the ideal. What the appearance of 100 plus persons, enamoured of the Caliphate
and looking for community outside indicates is that this ethical framework is
becoming irrelevant for some.
other ways in which this control of pious elders is being challenged. One is
the young women agitating for reform of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act.
But this flirtation with Daesh and the Caliphate is clearly a far more
dangerous wake up call for Sri Lanka’s Muslims.
more pedestrian reason why our refusal to see the many jihadists that the
others saw is what the community leaders stated to Mohamed and Wanniasingham
– such ideas were the province of youth
without the motivation or the means.
When we are
provided information with regards to the motivation and the means that
propelled these bombers to detonate themselves we will be better aware of how
this phenomenon occurs and can be managed. The incident of the bombings is not
attributable to the ISIS ideology of the bombers, their families and their
groups of followers alone.
still much that is not clear about how money was made available, the targets
were chosen, the bomb making training was imparted, timing was decided upon and
the planning was carried out. Further the bombings were permitted to happen.
The security apparatus was permitted to lapse.
We have not
been informed as to what level of negligence has been established. We have been told that ISIS was not involved
in the planning. But no information is still available about who was. It is
election season and we are fed information about the rounding up of Zaharan’s
followers. We see on television the spectacle of visibly Muslim people being
transported to and from a Black Maria. But we have ceased to hear about the
intelligence that was received and not acted upon.
money trail is revealed it is possible to speculate that the sentiments held by
these fringe groups were enabled into action by forces that are as yet
unidentified. Those who benefited from the fallout are many and the stakes are
very high. Until we know otherwise it is hard to imagine that the intention
behind the bombings was the bombers attainment of martyrdom alone.
bombings have left the country’s Muslim community completely at sea as to how
they might move forward in the aftermath. There are many disparate and
uncoordinated activities much of the time involving the same people. Some of
this activity began with the emergence of the BBS.
three possible frames through which this can be discussed:
with heightened anti-Muslim sentiment throughout the country.
the narrowing of space and the emergence of the security apparatus in the north
and east, now targeting Muslims.
upending of authority structures among Muslims.
with heightened anti- Muslim sentiment throughout the country
context where anti-Muslim sentiment was already rife, every Muslim was seen as
complicit with, directly involved in and accountable for the bombings. The
seamless mapping of the attacks on to the readily available rhetoric of the
anti-Muslim movement was made inevitable by the leadership’s refusal to take
responsibility for their failure to prevent the attacks. The dysfunctional
state of the government in the aftermath of the attempted coup in October was
at least partly responsible in the security establishment’s failure to prevent
ineptitude of the president and the prime minister and their complete disavowal
of responsibility set the tone and permitted the anti-Muslim sentiment to reign
evidence of the president’s own negligence and attempts at a cover-up were
mounting, he pardoned the Venerable Gnanasara. The chief spokesperson of the
anti-Muslim movement, and the secretary general of Bodu Bala Sena, had been in
jail on charges of contempt of court at the time of the bombings.
Gnanasara’s rhetoric had been that ‘Muslim extremists’ were harbouring
‘jihadist cells’. On May 23, 2019, he was released on a presidential pardon.
The gesture decided not just how the national conversation on the bombings was
to be conducted in the future but also announced to the country that the
anti-Muslim movements’ own possible culpability in the cultivation of jihadists
sensibility would not be part of the conversation.
leaders’ repudiation of responsibility and theirs and the entire social and
political system’s complicity in building up and sustaining the anti-Muslim
sentiment, this was perhaps to be expected.
outpouring of journalists and commentators views in the aftermath often read as
the airing of long held prejudices. There were comments about good and bad
Muslims, about the spread of Wahabism and about madrasas. All changes in Muslim
religious practices that had occurred in the past 30 to 40 years were discussed
as if the inevitable endpoint of all Islamic religious mobilisation was
religious practices long targeted by the BBS and other anti-Muslim groups were
written about in legitimate newspaper columns as “problems.” The reportage
indicated a lack of knowledge on the history of Muslim religious transformation
in the country that had occurred over several years and had accelerated visibly
during the war years.
Nuhman, Fara Mihlar, Mohomad and Wanniasingham and myself have documented, with
varying degrees of detail there is great
complexity of religious affiliation among the different Muslim communities.
Arguably there is still no substantive mapping of the different groups or a
historical account of their emergence.
and Tauheed groups that the now derogatory term “Wahabi” generally refers to
were only one group propagating reform and they were not necessarily the most
successful. While some Salafi-Tauheed groups were very vocal, the Tabligh
Jama’at was probably the largest and most widespread, as was the Jama’athi
Islami the group with arguably the most sensitive to the contextual
specificities of Muslims in Sri Lanka.
include those who celebrate local sheikhs like the Quadiriya orders of Beruwela
but also those who are part of global sufi networks like the Naqshbandiya.
Wanniasingham suggest a further complication of groups. Most commentators had
little awareness even of this basic taxonomy and seemed uninterested in
understanding the complexity. There was no acknowledgement of the fact that the
piety movement’s emphasis on religiosity resonated strongly with the vast
majority of Muslims most of them not attached to any group.
positive transformations that this new frame of reference brought about among
Muslims across the country were also not acknowledged. There were a few
articles in the immediate aftermath that called for explanations from both the
security establishment and the political elite. They were scathing in their
critique of politicians. One called for an understanding of Zaharan’s group not
as representative of the entire Muslim community but as a cult that had little
popular support. These were needed but they were sparse.
organised economic boycott against Muslim businesses is ongoing. Destroying
local Muslims’ economy seems to have been the primary motivating factor behind
the riots in the Kurunegala district a few weeks after the bombings as well.
in the country, there are reports of people being asked to leave long term
rental premises. It is almost impossible to rent new places. There are Facebook
groups for all of this. One Facebook
group – a collective of Sinhala businesses – was sharing information about the
availability of shops and land for sale to be shared only with Sinhalese.
For a few
months after the attacks there was a coordinated attempt to keep the anger
against Muslims at a fever pitch. The Venerable Gnanasara held a moderately
well attended rally at Bogambara grounds in Kandy, then the political monk
Athureliye Rathana engaged in a fast unto death asking for the resignation of
two Muslim politicians.
group of Muslim cabinet ministers resigned in protest at his antics. The most
troubling of these circuses like displays through which the conspiracy theories
of the anti-Muslim movement were mobilised was the Dr. Shafie debacle. A Muslim
doctor attached to the Kurunegala teaching hospital and carrying out Caesarian
sections was accused of sterilising thousands of Sinhala women by squeezing
their Fallopian tubes.
anti-Muslim phobia was whipped up to such an extent against the doctor that 800
women were found with complaints against him. The police filed a case against
him and investigated him on the basis of the allegations. State resources were
spent on a case taking as a given the conspiracy theory regarding Muslims
plotting a future take over through the force of numbers. An anxiety based on
the conspiracy theory of the anti-Muslim rhetoric was taken to be assurance
enough to begin a government investigation and a criminal case against the
One of the
first acts of the government under emergency regulations was the imposition of
a ban on covering the face. These included the niqab and full face motorcycle
helmets. Government institutions, schools and hospitals refused entry to women
who were dressed in any identifiably Muslim clothes. There was jubilation when
the emergency laws banned the face cover but all Muslim dress was rendered
suspect. Women were made to take off their headscarves before entering certain
premises and refused entrance if they did not.
legitimising of anti-Muslim sentiment in the aftermath of the bombings is such
that it seems irreversible. It is unclear what political use will now be made
of this state of affairs. The Sri Lankan state and regimes have benefitted from
minoritising group identities and then manipulating them for various political
ends. Since it is time for a presidential election, where all votes count, not
much is being permitted to happen.
possibility of mobilising against Muslims remains so easy today, many
electoral, nationalist and business goals could now so conveniently be met that
it is inevitable that the carnival of harassment and violence will resume. With
campaigning for the general election it is likely that the scapegoating of
Muslims will take off once again.
With Security Apparatus Now Targeting Muslims
security apparatus seems to have emerged almost completely intact from the
pre-2015 times and is being directed this time with the same format and same
strategies as they were then done but with the Muslims as the primary target.
In the extensive and invasive search operations that are being conducted,
harassment as method is clear.
also systematic targeting of those seen to belong to any community organisation
and close to people. Any relatives visiting, any friends dropping by have to be
explained to security forces personnel who felt at liberty to turn up at any
time of the day. Clearance was required for organisations to carry out their
programs and while various complicated questions were asked about resource
persons and the program content prior to granting clearance, clearance could
also be withdrawn with no notice.
constant inquiries by local representatives of the CID and the TID and the NIB
about the activities of organisations.
The pattern was familiar from years of harassment of Tamil
situation outside the north and east seems a bit different. Everyone known to
have had some connection with any group with the Tauheed name are being
investigated. The authorities are following up on even the most far-fetched
tip-offs and there are instances where other enmities and resentments are being
worked out in this fraught context.
mosques and different reformist groups are reporting about one another and
neighbourly and workplace squabbles are being sorted out through such reports.
Arrests are being made on the basis of such reports. No report on torture has
been recorded so far. There a number of fundamental rights violation cases that,
have been filed.
upending of authority structures among Muslims.
This act of
terrorism was puzzling, distressing, incomprehensible and substantially life
changing to the large majority of local Muslims across region and class.
Dealing with the fall out of the attacks many across the country were angry;
but unclear as to where to direct their anger.
against fellow Muslims. The piety movement’s enormous successes in the past few
decades was brought about by the active mobilisation of several different
these factions, with variations in practice held very dear, often treated one
another with anger, suspicion and resentment. Such enmities were heightened in
the aftermath of the bombings
several different fault lines that became apparent in the immediate aftermath.
Because of Zaharan Hashim’s association with the group National Tauheed Jamiat,
Tauheed became a bad word. Some within the Muslim middle class who had been
subjected to their relatives’ Tauheed inclinations, had been sidelined or
critiqued as not sufficiently pious, or shamed for still wanting to drink or
smoke or dress “like the kafirs,” felt vindicated.
Muslims associated with Salafi practices and formerly proud in their long held
position of community leadership were suddenly suspect and their status
depleted and the brunt of other Muslims’ ire. Many were shocked out of their
complacent moral superiority.
also substantial opposition against the Tablighi Jama’at group that was most
insistent on the Niqab for women. Ever sensitive to context many of them
transformed their dress practices overnight. In my family, an uncle who is a
Tabligh Jama’at stalwart, who had spearheaded his entire extended family’s
transformation towards greater piety, drastically changed his dress. Generally
bearded and Thwab wearing, he now wears trousers and shirts.
formerly Hijab, Abaya and Niqab wearing went about in a Saree with the shawl on
actions were especially troubling because the transformation in dress had been
hard won. It did not come easily it was done with preaching about the right
way, many hours spent in prayer trying to convince others of the right path,
constant and vigilant policing and if necessary shaming of regular practices.
Muslims who had been loath to fall in line with the Salafi or even the Jama’at
movements had been sidelined socially by these groups shaming practices. Many
of them who had refrained from commenting were now vocal in their critique and
dismissal of the movement’s priorities, modes of engagement and challenged
been some commentary on the Sufi Salafi confrontations with the Sufis generally
seen as the “good” Muslims hounded by the reformist Wahabis. There has not been
adequate attention paid to the support bases of the Sufi groups in different
parts of the island. There have been significant confrontations between the
Sufis and members of Tauheed groups in both the East and the South. Zaharan’s
opposition to the Rauf Maulvi group in Kattankudi, and the Tauheed groups
damaging of another Sufi leader Payilvan’s body in 2006 had received some
In 2009 a
small Tauheed mosque – Masjidul Rahman – was attacked by members of the
Alawwiya Tarika and the Quadiriya Tharika in Beruwela. It was the time of the
annual mosque feasts at the famous Ketchimalai and Buhari mosques frequented by
the two groups. The Alawwiya Tarika feast alone was attended by over 80,000
after the Alawwiya feast and on the day of the Quadiriya feast the Masjidul
Rahuman Tauheed mosque preached that these feasts were Haram and that those
carrying them out were kafirs. And this was not the first time that they had
Sufi groups are taking advantage of the anti-Muslim movement narrative that
portrays them as the “good” and “traditional” Muslims.
development of the past several years that has been receiving some pushback
from community elites as well as from grass roots community activists has been
the increased organisational strength and presence of the All Ceylon
Jamiyyathul Ulema in an ever-widening field of activities.
demonised today as backward with regards to women’s issues and as a bastion of
conservatism, has substantial support at community level due to the manner in
which it has institutionalised itself and its branch networks. As religious
leaders they also have ready acceptance among communities at all levels.
the manner in which their representation as the community’s only non-political
leadership has begun to reflect on Muslims in general, push back has been
building. While many Muslim business and professional elites are supportive of
the organisation taking on a religious leadership, and are open to recognising
the scholarly authority of the membership, they are now quite invested with
limiting the range of activities that the ACJU is engaged in.
ACJU remains entrenched, well funded, well organised and widely accepted in the
communities. The organisation is responding by being cordial and accommodating
of their opposition. Non controversial but authoritative. As any religious
leadership they speak with the confidence of their acceptance and legitimacy.
There is a
lull now that the attention has shifted to the presidential elections.
Relatives and acquaintances seem relieved and read the shift as the country as
a whole moving on from the experience of the bombings. Some community activists
however are uneasy at both the mood of the Muslims and also the heightening of
excitement around the elections.
Some of the
activists that I spoke to were concerned about weather all of those associated
with the National Tauheed Jama’at or harbouring their ideals had been
identified. The possibility of that form of violence remains. Then the Niqab
ban is no longer in effect. Many are worried that women wearing the Niqab might
be used to incite another “riot” somewhere.
No one who
is working on the issue believes that things are getting better. Many are
waiting for violence. Any one of the factions could use the violence as a
distraction tactic. It is simply a matter of time.
and the political class in Sri Lanka has required and benefited from violence
perpetrated mostly but not only against ethnic and religious minorities.
end of the war we had the emergence of the anti-Muslim riot. It is yet to be
seen if bombings by Islamic militants are going to be the next form of violence
that we will have to experience as part of our everyday.
are benefiting from the fear and discomfort are in full force now and we are
seeing the reduction of our democratic space. Recently the cabinet approved the
drafting of new legislation to deal with the threat of ISIS.
We have no
knowledge of how it might be shaped or what will be the content. It is to cover
that which does not come under the current laws, we have been told. That in
itself is ominous. Another example is the dismissal of the Jaffna university
vice-chancellor citing security concerns. This decision and this justification
has received the support of the UGC.
commented already on how making a decision on an academic appointment citing
concerns experienced by the military shrinks the democratic space.
How we are
to address these new problems remains, as of yet, unclear. At the least, it is
important that we have as much information as possible and be as knowledgeable
as possible. It is also important that we think of these problems as ones which
are having an impact outside of our narrowly defined ethnic and religious
this invitation as a great honour bestowed on me but also as an important step
in taking forward a broader collective conversation on how to address these new
conditions. Such conversations help us identify that these new conditions are
also channelling some very old undemocratic forces and institutional structures
in restricting our democratic freedoms.
Dr. Farzana Haniffa is senior lecturer of the
department of sociology at University of Colombo. She is the Smuts Visiting
Fellow in Commonwealth Studies (2018/2019) at the Centre of South Asian
Studies, University of Cambridge.
Headline: How the
Easter Bombings Left Sri Lanka's Muslims With No Path Forward
Source: The Wire