LAW AND ORDER
URGENT CALL FOR DETERRENT ACTION
Dr. Jehan Perera calls on the government to denounce hate crimes
In recent months, there have been several violent attacks targeting the Muslim community in Sri Lanka with Muslim-owned businesses and places of worship being targeted. These individual attacks on commercial establishments and mosques are only sometimes reported in the media.
Recent violent attacks against Muslims are not by the larger community but appear to be deliberately planned and executed. This is why it is dangerous. The attacks have been accompanied by social media campaigns alleging that Muslims have a long-term plan to take over the country.
Attacks on Muslims have been occurring on an irregular basis for the past several years. They spiked in 2014 with the burning of a section of the Aluthgama town in which the Muslim community was dominant. The danger is that left unchecked by deterrent governmental action, they will lead to an unpredictable eruption.
There are undercurrents of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian sentiment among the larger Buddhist and Hindu populations. This is primarily due to what is seen as expansionist activities of these two communities that take the form of more rapid population growth, economic visibility and evangelisation.
While anti-Muslim violence assumes centre stage, anti-Christian violence has been directed for a longer period against evangelical groups.
According to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, 111 incidents took place in 2014, 90 in 2015, 89 last year and 36 incidents so far in 2017. It notes that although these numbers reflect a slight decline in reported incidents, attacks involving state officials have increased.
The failure of law enforcement officers to apprehend those who have broken the law is at the root of the puzzle. It has led to calls for action by the government to uphold the rule of law. These calls have been made by civil society organisations, political parties, foreign governments and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL).
A statement issued by BASL sets out provisions of the law under which the police can arrest those who perpetrate violence and hate crimes against the Muslim community, and under which the Attorney General’s Department can file indictments in the courts of law.
The puzzle is that the police has been inactive in taking the first step – i.e. to obstruct the violent actions of those who terrorise the Muslim community, and arrest those who have been videoed and documented as having been involved with the attacking parties.
Often, evidence of attacks and the identity of attackers are readily available. Many of those who have suffered violence and destruction at the hands of violent groups have also provided the police with footage of the attacks.
All indications are that the governmental leadership does not believe that this is the time to act as it feels itself to be politically on the defensive. The crowds at the May Day rally of the Joint Opposition were larger than any other, indicating the opposition’s ability to get people power onto the streets. In this context, the government’s instinct may be to delay taking decisive action and hope that the problem will fade away.
The government may fear that opposition political parties and Buddhist nationalist groups will come together if it cracks down on perpetrators of religious violence. Its concern would be that these two powerful forces could combine on the ground and create conflict on the streets in a way that would render the country difficult to govern.
But the government must act decisively. When problems are left unresolved and permitted to continue unchecked, they only become worse. Unless they’re nipped in the bud, it’s difficult for the police to control mob action against minorities once it has been unleashed.
At a fundamental level, anti-minority violence must be seen as a problem in law and order. Local law enforcement officials are also reluctant to take effective action against persons who infringe on the liberties of minority religious groups due to influence and pressure exerted by local Buddhist monks, government officials and politicians.
But the government must uphold law and order. Its leaders need to begin by explicitly denouncing the attacks regularly. They could also emphasise the importance of initiating accountability processes for these crimes and ensuring that perpetrators face justice.
In the longer term, there needs to be education and training of the police and civil society on the value of multiculturalism, pluralism and respect for the law.
As I’ve noted some time back, there’s an almost universal tendency to sympathise with the minority, despite the heinous crimes they may plot and perpetrate. It’s the majority that always take the flak for orchestrating violence against the minority. The media and human rights advocates who are overeager to point the finger at the majority for the faintest sign of violence and aggression are practically blind to the covert aggression of the extremists in the minority that provoke such skirmishes.
There have reportedly been a number of cases where the Muslim extremists have been found guilty of selling to the Sinhalese the food laced with the drugs that’d cause infertility. Whether they have been brought to the justice on top of ordering a shutdown of their food service outlets is yet to transpire, however.
My point is that we should take off our blinkers before we look at this issue. There’s nothing justifiable, admirable or patriotic about racial violence or hate-crimes. They’re the basest of the evil deeds and should be denounced by all people with a moral conscience. But, to arrive at a lasting solution, we’ve got to delve into the roots of this issue and address the ideological undercurrents that drive the extremism on both sides of the divide.
This article is intended to support the Tamil diaspora propaganda in order to get the attention of the UNHRC, so they can beat Sri Lanka with their HR batton, which is never raised against powerful war mongering nations such as the US and UK.
I was a born a Buddhist, and was reborn as an atheist. Religion is at the root of our differences. Isn’t it all about market share? Each religion has its market share and like any other multinational company, when one religion attempts to grab the source of revenue of another, the target will respond. Religious leaders have an advantage over commercial leaders in that they can kill with impunity – believers of other faiths are damned. Depending on the preacher, they are non-believers or idol worshippers.
It’s about time we abandoned ideas promulgated when the earth was believed to be flat and knowledge about other ethnicities was limited and hostile. Religious (and political) leaders need hostility to survive – much like Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.
Evangelism by any faith seems to be a religious war by stealth. As a non believer I get annoyed when evangelists knock on my door peddling salvation. Just imagine what a believer of one faith feels when someone who is dammed by ‘their faith’ comes to their house or town and tries to change their beliefs. It’s not quite hate speech but hate whisper. If we, as a country, can stop the attempts by religions to be dominant and ban preaching outside recognised places of worship, then the level of religious animosity may subside.