21 September 2019 01:00 PM

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P.K.BALACHANDRAN | 14 MAY, 2019

Anti-Muslim Violence in Sri Lanka, Curfew

3 Islamic radical organisations banned


COLOMBO: As it struggles to contain anti-Muslim violence in several towns in North Western Sri Lanka, the Lankan government on Tuesday banned three Islamic radical organizations suspected to be involved in the serial suicide bombings on April 21 which claimed 253 lives.

The organizations banned are: the National Tawheed Jamaat (TMJ), Jammatei Millathu Ibraheem (JMI) and Willayat As Seylani (WAS).

According to experts, these are inter-connected organizations. They were led by Zahran Hashim, who was one of the suicide bombers.

To be able to tackle the Islamic State-linked terrorist outfits better, President Maithripala Sirisena is to sign two agreements with China, one to get command and communication equipment and the other to get technology to defuse explosive ordnance.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had in a special statement on Monday said that he had given “full powers” to the Security Forces to restore law and order. Army Commander Lt.Gen. Mahesh Senanayake has warned that the army will use “maximum force” to curb any unlawful activity.

With anti-Muslim violence spreading in North Western Province and threatening to affect Colombo, the police on Monday clamped an island-wide night curfew. It was lifted on Tuesday at 4 am.

Social media, blocked on Monday, are still to be freed.

Security experts described the anti-Muslim violence as being “serious” especially because violence had taking place while the curfew was on. Many Muslim houses, business premises and vehicles were vandalized though no one was killed or injured.

Media have reported cases of Muslim women, who were trying to enter public institutions, being asked to take off the Abaya and the head cover.

Such situations arise from a misunderstanding of the government order about banned clothing. The Niqab or the face veil has been banned but not the Abaya or the Chador. Many non-Muslims think that ban covers the Abaya and the Chador.

In a Tamil-medium school in Avissawella near Colombo, non-Muslim teachers objected to Muslim teachers coming for work in Abayas. In turn, Muslim teachers in Abayas objected to women police frisking them. The quarrel was settled only after cabinet minister Mano Ganeshan and Western Province Governor Azad Sally intervened.

Social interaction between non-Muslims and Muslims has reduced. It is reported that taxi companies avoid taking calls from Muslims on the ground that they do not know who they may be ferrying. Suspicion stems from the shocking discovery that some of the suicide bombers were from respectable, educated and wealthy families living in mixed neighborhoods in friendship.

Violence against Muslims houses and businesses began in Negombo, a Christian area, north of Colombo. It was attributed to two ruffians from outside the area and the matter was settled quickly. However, anti-Muslim actions spread to a number of towns in the vicinity in which Sinhalese Buddhists took a proactive part.

According to a Tamil member of Parliament, this happened because the Buddhists felt that the Christians were not retaliating against the Muslims even though they were the main casualties in the suicide bombings.

The bombers had blasted three churches during the Easter Sunday Mass. But the Catholic leader, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, urged his flock not to retaliate and add fuel to fire. Till date, Christians have been following the Cardinal’s advice and maintaining their traditional poise.

A cabinet minister attributed the Sinhala-Buddhists behavior to the government’s inaction against cabinet minister Rishad Bathiyudeen and the Eastern Province Governor MLAM. Hisbullah who are suspected to be promoting Wahabi radicalism in Sri Lanka.

Opposition MP S.B.Dissanayake had charged that Bathiyudeen was linked to the National Tawheed Jamaat and also Y.M.Ibrahim, father of two of the suicide bombers. Hisbullah is accused of building a “Shariah University” in Batticaloa meant to attract students from Islamic countries.

The government has put the so-called “Shariah University” under the Ministry of Higher Education and Bathiyudeen has offered to appear before a Parliamentary Select Committee to clear his name.

Meanwhile, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera, a Buddhist monk Member of Parliament from the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), and Udaya Gammanpila MP from the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) have urged the government to substitute communal schools with communally mixed schools; to control the Madrassahs; and to ban communal dresses in government institutions and schools.

In other words they have sought a ban on Abayas and special “Islam compliant” uniforms for Muslim school students.

The two MPs have urged the government to change the electoral system to enable a single party to come to power. They want the abolition of the Proportional Representation System as it helps create and sustain small communal parties, which then become king makers and a key factor in shaping government policy.

These Sinhala-Buddhist leaders point out that “communal” leaders like Bathiyudeen and Hisbullah are created and nurtured by the existing electoral system. The communal leaders use their influence in coalition governments to promote and sustain Islamic radicalism, they allege.

The Sri Lankan army, which is now a key player in curbing violence and in the investigations into the suicide attacks, has said that it will use all its powers to restore law and order.

In the absence of a united and strong political leadership, Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake’s tough talking on TV on Monday, has brought some relief to the man in the street in Sri Lanka who is keen on leading a normal life.

As on date, schools are open but are reporting poor attendance. Social media has been blocked and traffic on the roads is thinner than normal.
 

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