Sri Lanka Muslims want govt. that respects minorities

Sri Lanka's main Muslim party withdrew from ruling alliance, claiming the government suppresses minority identities

Sri Lanka Muslims want govt. that respects minorities

World Bulletin/News Desk

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government's alleged links with an ultra nationalist Buddhist group will be its downfall, according to the country's leading Muslim political party. 

The Sri Lankan Muslim Congress withdrew from the Rajapaksa's government over the Christmas period bringing to the fore the expressed and unexpressed concerns of the Muslim community that makes up almost 10 percent of the island's population. 

Rauf Hakeem, Sri Lanka’s former Minister of Justice and the leader of the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress, said he and his party withdrew from the government because of its failure to deliver justice.

His party insists that the country should view their decision in the light of continued attacks on the Muslim communities and businesses, linked to the Sinhalese Buddhist national Bodu Bada Sena, which made it difficult for the party to continue as a constituent ally of the ruling majority-led coalition.

Their concern, shared with the significant Tamil minority, is that the Rajapaksa administration has been both authoritarian and majoritarian in style, a charge Rajapaksa himself has not bothered to respond to. 

He has used the success of his political leadership in the all-out war to crush the separatist militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers, to end nearly three decades of civil war in May 2009.   

“The successful waging of war has made the administration blind to many other issues that have become the key campaign issues,” says Rishard Bathiudeen, the first Muslim to quit the Rajapaksa government. 

He accuses the administration of being tainted by allegations of massive corruption, nepotism, suppression of religious and cultural identities of minorities and a failure to devolve power.

Disillusionment of Muslims

The party's General Secretary and parliamentarian M. T. Hasen Ali said that the Muslim community has plenty of reason to disassociate themselves from the current administration. 

“We have been completely disrespected and our religious-cultural identities suppressed,” he told The Anadolu Agency. 

Ali noted that the Sri Lankan Muslims have always worked with elected governments in harmony but with the present administration, it had always been difficult.

“The Mahinda Rajapaksa administration is linked to too many hawkish elements that actively suppress minority rights. There had never been a time like this, when a government has consistently allowed attacks on religious and ethnic identities,” Ali said.

The Muslims of Sri Lanka, irrespective of their political leanings, have gone through severe hardships, particularly in the recent months, he said.

“We have been tried in different ways. Our religious beliefs, rituals, dress code to eating habits, all have been questioned. Why should a community be pressurized to justify religious and cultural practices,” he queried, adding that the Muslim community has taken the lead to defeat the ruling coalition, thereby ending blatant and ongoing suppression of their ethno-religious identity. “The SLMC decided to respect the public will,” he said.

Of particular regret, according to Ali, is the role of Bodu Bala Sena, which translates as Buddhist Power Force. 

“The Bodu Bala Sena has taken post-war triumphalism and majoritarianism to a new level and has created havoc in this once plural island. The government has now been called upon to pay for its creation,” Ali said.

According to the senior parliamentarian, representing the island’s east where Muslims form more than one third of the total population, the fundamental freedoms enjoyed by Sri Lankan Muslims for centuries have been recently denied by ultra nationalist groups provoking violence.  

“We quit our positions in a powerful administration to be a reflection of the Muslim community’s sentiments. We represent them and this is what was expected from us: to no longer be a part of a government that crushes minorities at will.”

He said that instead of staying neutral, his party wanted to make up for its role in the government, hence the decision to back the common presidential candidate, Maithripala Sirisena.

“At least we will have the satisfaction of not being a part of the victory of someone who attacked the Muslim community,” Ali said. 

New expectations

Ali rejects the Rajapaksa administration's claims that Muslims demanded their own administrative unit in the country's east, claiming they were really fighting for better representation of different minorities, especially in the Tamil-prominent areas. 

“The request was not communal but practical," he said. “We want to have a Tamil-speaking government agent in areas where Tamil is the dominant language. A similar arrangement exists in the northern district of Vavuniya to facilitate the Sinhala community. This request is not communal at all.”

The seasoned politician from the east admits that initially, the party tried to work with the ruling coaltion to address several issues affecting the Muslim community. “It was awkward to remain within the administration,” he said.

Instead of rocking the boat, attempts were first made to appeal to the president to address special concerns of the Muslim community, including the securing of a special arrangement for the eastern province and to have the growing trend of attacking Muslims arrested. There were more than 200 attacks on Muslims in 2013 according to a report Hakeem presented to the UN. 

“There is one thing about this administration. Even if you are a hardcore militant out to draw others’ blood, if you are within their camp, you are a patriot and will be protected. If not, you are simply a traitor. They label you for life,” he said. “We left with injured feelings. This government respects none but their own.”

The entry of opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena into the presidential foray, himself also a defector from Rajapaksa's government, has given the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress opportunity to reconsider its political options. 

Hasen Ali insists there is good reason to expect different treatment for Muslims under a different president. 

“The common presidential candidate represents all shades of opinion and is not beholden to one political party or an ethnic group. That augurs hope," he said. 

 

Last Mod: 08 Ocak 2015, 10:25
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