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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2584

Lalin’s Column: Responsibility for Communal Riots

By Major General (Retd.) Lalin Fernando

Last year, following sporadic BBS agitation and attacks on ‘No Limit’ and other Muslim owned shops there was a discussion on the ‘Halal ‘ and ‘Burka’ issues at the ICES Colombo 7.

The guest speakers were a sedate lady Muslim professor of the Colombo Uni, an agitated Mr. A Kadirigamar and another gentleman who was keen on confusing theories of the economy. At question time, a young man said he was from Tangalla and Royal College, a dual citizen (SL/Australia) and also a member of BBS.

It was later said he had been an officer in the army. He challenged the theme and obsessive idea that the BBS was supported by and supportive of the Government. He invited all present to come to the headquarters of the BBS (address given-McCarthy road?) at the meal time of the priests. They would see them eating a packeted meal of rice wrapped in newspaper. He asked “whether ‘Temple Trees’ would have sent monks meals wrapped in old newspapers”. No one challenged him.

The message was clear yet its substance remains disputed. The disparaging comments about the government and the leadership family often made since then by BBS should be sufficient to demolish any residual belief that the BBS has any state backing. However truth makes dull news. Opposition political leaders for their survival say ‘nay’. Amateur diplomats peddle ‘perceptions’.

Has the BBS, who are accused of being political mercenaries in camouflage, not established relationships at different times including at elections with the leaders of the UNP, NFF, JHU and DP? Did a Mahanayake supportive of the UNP not actually encourage the BBS to defy the Government? The BBS said it would obey no one other than the Mahanayake.

“O what a fall was there, my countrymen Then I, and you, and all of us fell down, Whilst bloody treason flourished over us….. O judgment thou hast fled to brutish beasts And men have lost their reason”. -
Shakespeare ; Julius Caesar

The BBS that instigated communal violence in Beruwala is not being taken to task by the Opposition less the JVP. The Opposition effortlessly promotes to the diplomatic missions and foreign media especially, collusion between the BBS and Government . They have been persuasive. They do not care much for the affected though. Much of Colombo that is fast appearing to be a separate country, accepts this version despite compelling evidence to the contrary.

What is most important to know is why the BBS and its leaders have not been chastised by the state even after the killings at Beruwala? It has not only incited religious riots but virtually incited the forces to mutiny at Beruwala . Did the BBS do so without backing?

Is the backing the BBS is fighting for, the same vital Sinhala Buddhist 70% of SL’s vital ‘high ground’ the Government now occupies? The government having delivered SL from the 30 years of terror, comfortably holds it in fairly tight grip. The Opposition sells the collusion card to the ‘third world bad world news’ to the eager western diplomatic missions and media.

BBS noticed cracks appearing in the former impregnable fortress both internally (cost of living, the ghosts of Rathupaswela and police excesses, daily union and student strikes and protests etc) and externally (Geneva with the sword of R2P swinging menacingly).

BBS first tested the waters last year. It gave notice to the state and dared it in indelicate language to respond. This was carefully ignored. As it failed to take any effective or deterrent action the people were easily led to believe the state was with the BBS. Sedition was no longer a mirage. It then started sapping and mining believing it could sway the people on the ‘high ground’. It impatiently crossed the Gin Ganga Rubicon when its cohorts went for blood and naphtha. There has to be a confrontation now

As predicted, BBS has now challenged the state. It has utilized the fear and apathy of the people who saw the hesitancy if not impotence of the state in the face of violence shielded by velvet religious robes. It looked like the BBS was sure the Government‘s image as ‘Fidei Defensor’- a defender of (majority) faith –would balk at punishing the priests who led the BBS. As the government marches on the Sinhala Buddhist banner is being escorted , uninvited, by the BBS.Is it a prelude to a major snatch operation in the future?

Who however throws the first stone in the blame game? Which Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or Muslim over the last 18 months or more was unaware of the provocative messages of hate, distrust and envy that have been circulating widely on the web? Few whether with hidden agendas or not can say they are not culpable of having aroused in private, sectarian fears, antagonism, prejudices and biases. Who has, with the shining exception of the Hindus, not promoted his religion at the expense of the others? Who talks of Burka or halal now? Why did it look like these were life blood issues last year? Was this the surge the BBS rode?

There are some who are dedicated if not fixated hourly if not daily on the web to prove that multi culturalism has failed in the world, thereby condemning the minorities in SL . They make a case for the hegemony of a single race and religion in SL. They are all to blame for what happened at Beruwala and Aluthgama as much as a Government that was unwilling and unprepared to legally neutralize the actors, buffoons or braggarts call them what you will, when they staged their road shows last year. By June 2014 the state had still not let the curtain fall on this unholy lot. Terrible damage to peace, unity and amity followed.

What are the real problems of SL? Are not the annual over 2000 murders, rapes, suicides and RTA deaths, violence at home and on the streets, explosive growth of the drug menace, bank and house robberies in day light, all indicative of serious strains on the moral and social fabric of the people who are mainly Buddhists? In addition there are the deaths of hundreds due to dengue and contaminated water, spluttering health, education and transport services, omnipresent bribery and corruption and the mounting cost of living. Add to this abuse of house maids (brown slaves) over generations in the Middle East and Geneva. How then did Muslims and Christians come to be targeted despite all this? Were they responsible? Did BBS take advantage of all of these cascading miseries to strike, sensing fear in the government to oppose them? Is it now a political game? Who cared?

It is widely suspected that there is a foreign hand behind the BBS. Because Norway was suspected for much of the villainy during the conflict, its actions in hosting a BBS visit has once again brought them deservedly into the spot light. But who internally and externally gains from instability in SL? It is they who should be suspected and investigated. Like the local agents of RAW.

It is clear that a government that brought peace after 30 years of war against a deadly terrorist force cannot by downed by communal mischief makers and rabble rousers however well they are organised. But the consequences of the state avoiding corrective action now, may give rise to unpredictable events in the future. The state is treading untested waters, emotionally unnerved by the saffron robes in the van guard and threatened by a still unidentified and camouflaged rear guard. The state has to work out its strategies very carefully to neutralize the BBS without alienating the easily roused emotions of otherwise sane people who occupy the high ground and have the power of the vote. All await, with fear mounting, a positive Government response.

The security forces know well that communal riots take place only when the criminal and thuggish riff raff believe the Government is reluctant or afraid to act. When Government ministers join in, nay give the lead as in 1983, pogroms take place. The thugs and criminals know the police will hesitate to take action especially against the majority in such a scenario. It is unlikely the Government is unaware of the dangers of giving such an impression. People are apathetic in the face of political power plays. However it does not mean that the people do not care about the actions of the BBS. Almost all are disgusted.

Pity the Police, with Salley to the right wanting the Army , the Shoora Council facing late night TV attacks to the left wanting the Police while Huckhim volleys and thunders threatening comically to walk out of the wide open Government gates which instead he shakes vigourously. Is he not making a fool of himself?
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0ne good and positive sign was that the BBS fire eater Gnanasara thera was refused entry to the USA even though he had a 5 year multi entry visa. He also has dreams of going to the UK. Was he planning to escape the law in anticipation of arrest? One thing is sure. He will not be questioned on his role during combat. He had none. He has carefully reserved his patriotic and street fighting combat skills to be used with overwhelming, unopposed supporters against unarmed minorities in places like Beruwela, Alutgama and ‘No Limit’ shops .
No one can commit suicide twice. SL nearly did it in 1983 when it set about, not only killing Tamils but burning its capital city too. It created the formidable Tamil Diaspora that is relentless. If not shackled the maneuvers of the BBS, brought to the notice of the International community and to some of SL’s most trusted friends, will surely burn SL to the ground this time. SL, including the Muslims who have among a host of other contributions been utterly loyal and sacrificed their sons to defend the country in the worst times from centuries ago to the recent 30 year Eelam conflict, surely does not want 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide to weigh in as well. Buddhism is about right living, compassion, tolerance and good will as true Buddhists know, even as the BBS shames them and mounts violent assaults on SL values. It is up to the people to decide and the Government to act.

To those who did not come home -Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay, Burgher, and all others

“Lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth, Lead us from despair to hope ,from fear to trust Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe” .
(Derek Hodgson –officer in the Durham Light Infantry and later Archdeacon of Auckland )

- Asian Tribune -

Lalin’s Column: Responsibility for Communal Riots
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