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  • A country obsessed with racial and religious conflicts
    Sri Lanka, as a nation has been wasting time debating sensitive racial and religious issues for the past several years, without gaining anything. Only thing the country has been witnessing as a result is communities distancing themselves from each other, while portraying a false unity among them. 
    The situation seems to have come to a head with people of various communities being emotionally charged over these issues subsequent to the attacks on three Christian churches and three major tourist hotels by the Islamic terrorists on April 21, 2019, which was also the Easter Sunday.
    The terrorist attacks which caught the nation off-guard demanded united action by all communities and political parties to handle the immediate situation and to prevent future recurrence of...
  • Burqa ban: Security, human rights and male chauvinism
    A few years ago, on a Turkish beach exclusively for women, a bikini-clad woman offered her prayers. The video clip of the woman going through the postures of the Muslim prayer went viral and created a major debate among the Muslims.  Some censured her for not adhering to the dress code for prayers, but others said what mattered was her piety and not the dress.
    Following the release of the Easter Sunday terror attack commission report, Sri Lanka is mulling whether to ban burqa – the Muslim dress that covers a female body from head to toe – and niqab, which only shows the eyes of the wearer, but the issue needs to be looked at from human rights, security and spiritual angles to come to a right decision.
    If at the one end of the spectrum is public nudity, burqa will...
  • South African Muslim bodies seek intervention over burqa ban in Sri Lanka Foreign Minister of South Africa urged to intervene
    South African Muslim organisations have called on the country’s foreign minister to intervene in the proposed Sri Lankan ban on the burqa and closure of hundreds of Islamic schools. This followed the announcement by Sri Lanka''s minister for public security, Sarath Weerasekera, during the weekend that his country would ban the traditional full-face covering worn by some Muslim women because it posed a threat to national security. This was quickly followed by a statement from the Sri Lankan foreign ministry, which said a decision would only be taken on the proposal after consultations and further discussion. The United Ulama Council of South Africa (UUCSA) has now asked South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Naledi Pandor to intervene in the matter. UUCSA had earlier also called for such intervention when...
  • Banning Burqas and Madrasas illegal: Fmr MP
    Former MP M.M .Zuhair said yesterday it would be unlawful to ban Burqas and Madrasas. Issuing a statement, he said some observations and recommendations of the Commission on Easter Sunday attacks are invasive of the absolute protection given to every person under Article 10 of the Sri Lanka Constitution. He said the Commission’s report though good in parts, can be seen as an attempted assault on Islam for the heinous crimes of a dozen suicide bombers. The right to the freedom stated in Article 10 is ‘assured to all religions’ under Article 9. No one, not even Presidential Commissions can invite or promote the State or any limb of the Executive or Judiciary to violate the freedom guaranteed under Article 10.This protection is guaranteed notwithstanding any national security concerns, as the law stands today. In this constitutionally...
  • Pakistan says likely ban on Niqab in SL to serve as injury on Muslims
    The Ambassador of Pakistan to Sri Lanka, Saad Khattak today said the likely ban on Niqab in Sri Lanka will only serve as an injury to the feelings of ordinary Sri Lankan Muslims and Muslims across the globe. In a tweet, the Ambassador said that at today’s economically difficult time due to COVID-19 pandemic and other image related challenges faced by the country at the international fora, such divisive steps in the name of security, besides accentuating economic difficulties, will only serve as fillip to further strengthen wider apprehensions about fundamental human rights of minorities in the country. Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral (Retd.) Dr. Sarath Weerasekera said today that in addition to banning the burqa, the cabinet proposal would also include banning the niqab which covers the face of the wearer except the eyes. The...
  • යුරෝපයේ රටවල් 8 කින් හිස්බුල්ලාට සහාය
    මානව හිමිකම් වෙනුවෙන් පෙනී සිටින ප්‍රමුඛ නීතිඥවරයකු වන හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලා මහතා වැනි මානව හිමිකම් ආරක්ෂා කරන්නන්ට ගරු කරන ලෙස ශ්‍රී ලංකා රජයෙන් ඉල්ලා සිටිමින් යුරෝපීය රටවල් අටක මානව හිමිකම් තානාපතිවරුන් ඒකාබද්ධ නිවේදනයක් නිකුත් කර තිබේ. නෙදර්ලන්තය, ජර්මනිය, එංගලන්තය ස්වීඩනය, එස්ටෝනියාව, ලිතුවේනියාව, ලක්සම්බර්ග් සහ ෆින්ලන්තය...
  • Eight EU HR Ambassadors raise concern over Hejaaz Hizbullah
    In a statement issued today, Eight Human Rights  Ambassadors of Europe including the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden called on the Sri Lankan government to " respect human rights defenders such as Hizbullah". The statement issued by the Ambassadors of the United Kingsdom, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and the Netherlands said that after ten months of Detention, Hejaaz Hizbullah was being accused of speech related offences. Prominent Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah was arrested by the Criminal Investigations Department on the 14th of April 2020. He was thereafter accused in the media of various activities related to terrorism. He was thereafter produced on the 18th of February 2021 where the Attorney General informed court that the entire case against Hizbullah was to be based on purported statements made by children. Hizbullah...
  • Circular on burial of COVID-19 victims issued
    The circular containing the guidelines with regard to the burial of COVID-19 victims has been issued, the Health Ministry said. Some key guidelines are as follows, The relatives of the deceased should inform the Director/ Head of the health care institution (Where the death has occurred) of their desire to bury the corpse without delay. The Director of the hospital/ Head of the health care institution should obtain a written request from relatives for burial. The relatives need to provide a coffin in advance. It is the duty of the director/ Head of health care institution to transport the corpse in a coffin provided by the relatives to a designated location in Colombo Institute of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology (office of JMO) / BH Welikanda where the corpse will be received by the designated officer. The vehicle transporting the...
  • Muslims to raise concerns over Iranaithivu burial with global bodies
    A leading Muslim organisation in Sri Lanka will this week send an official letter of concern to the global Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the World Muslim Congress, seeking their intervention to urge the Sri Lankan government to allocate a decent land for the burial of Muslim COVID-19 victims. The Daily Mirror learns that the Sri Lanka Islamic Centre, which is a member of the World Muslim Congress will raise serious concerns with the global bodies and will also send a letter to the World Muslim Congress office in Geneva urging for immediate intervention after the government announced that burials of the COVID-19 dead would take place on the Iranaithivu Island, in the Gulf of Mannar. Senior Muslim officials said they were disappointed at the government’s decision to allocate the Iranaithivu Isle for the burials and instead urged...
  • Hizbullah and Madrasa School Principal further remanded
    Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah and Principal of Madrasa School Mohammed Shakeel were further remanded till March 18 by the Fort Magistrate’s Court today. They were earlier remanded under section 2 (1) (h) of the PTA and section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act. Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.
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A country obsessed with racial and religious conflicts


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Sri Lanka, as a nation has been wasting time debating sensitive racial and religious issues for the past several years, without gaining anything. Only thing the country has been witnessing as a result is communities distancing themselves from each other, while portraying a false unity among them. 
The situation seems to have come to a head with people of various communities being emotionally charged over these issues subsequent to the attacks on three Christian churches and three major tourist hotels by the Islamic terrorists on April 21, 2019, which was also the Easter Sunday.

The terrorist attacks which caught the nation off-guard demanded united action by all communities and political parties to handle the immediate situation and to prevent future recurrence of such barbaric acts, but what really occurred thereafter was something totally unacceptable.

The whole issue was politicized with political parties and their supporters vying to get mileage from the carnage. Media outlets used the situation to rouse communalism, according to their respective political affiliations. Communal forces were seen in full swing in sowing hatred among the masses.
Everybody has since been attempting to identify or tie up all his/her adversaries – political or otherwise - with the perpetrators of the disaster. The immediate upshot was that while the real victim community was waiting to be meted out justice by the authorities for the losses they suffered in terms of lives and limbs, two other communities started to fight over various issues.

The then Trade Minister Rishard Bathiudeen and two provincial governors, Azath Salley and M. L. M. A. Hisbullah were accused of being behind the carnage. However, they are still at large with even the former having received the clean sheet from the top most official of the police. Even the Parliamentary Select Committee and the Presidential Commission of Inquiry that probed the terrorist attacks had exonerated them. (Sally was arrested on Tuesday for openly challenging the country’s law, despite him being later said to be questioned in connection with the terrorist attacks).

The debate then turned towards Madrasas - the Muslim religious schools, and Quazi courts, the courts that have been established by the Judicial Service Commission under the Muslim Personal Law in Sri Lanka. Then a Sinhala newspaper reported that 4000 Sinhalese women had been sterilized by a Muslim doctor called Shafi Shihabdeen, diverting the attention of the country from the terrorist attack. However, with the two main candidates of the Presidential election vying for the minority votes, all these and the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks were forgotten by October 2019.

Four months after the ascension of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the President, the COVID-19 entered the country creating another dispute over the disposal of dead bodies of pandemic victims. It was the subject matter for the media and the politicians for a year, with politicians rekindling it whenever its tempo was subsiding. Twice President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa instructed the officials to find a dry land for burial of cadavers of COVID- 19 victims which provoked protests interestingly by pro-government elements. 
Yet, nobody protested when the government had to give up its hardline on the issue, against the backdrop of the UNHRC sessions where some tough measures were proposed against selected authorities in the country over alleged human rights violations. Nevertheless, as if government wanted the debate to be dragged on the authorities first decided to bury the bodies in Iranaithivu, an island 20 km off the mainland in the Kilinochchi District, before they were sent to Ottamavadi.

In the meantime, another controversy was about to be opened with the Prime Minister submitting in September last year, a proposal to ban cattle slaughter to the Cabinet. However, it only provoked few demonstrations and “voice cuts” in favour of the government and the Cabinet decision vanished into thin air. It was later revealed that the decision had been taken while the South Asia’s largest meat processing factory was being built in Katunayake Investment Promotion Zone. The factory was opened on December 12.

As if the tension between the Sinhalese and the Muslims did not suffice, government ministers wanted to abolish the provincial council system that was introduced under the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. Subsequent to the issue cropping up during the ongoing UNHRC session, now the government is to hold the provincial council elections soon, despite there being legal issues to be sorted out before calling nominations for the elections. 
Then came the report compiled by the Presidential Commission that probed the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks. It too contributed to the heightening of communal tension rather than to a healthy debate on how to mete out justice to the victims of the carnage and how to prevent recurrence of such terrorist attacks.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on March 12 issued an extraordinary gazette (2218/68) under the highly controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for “De-radicalization from holding violent extremist religious ideology.” The gazette, despite it having not literally aimed at arrest of extremism among Muslims in this country is nothing but a move to control the activities of Muslims that might be harmful to the society. Also it seems to have stemmed from the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the terrorist attacks on the Easter Sunday in 2019.

Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara on last Friday said that he had signed a Cabinet paper to ban unregistered Madrasas, the Islamic religious schools and Burqa a face veil worn by some Muslim women. However, again the government said it will decide on Burqa after consulting relevant stakeholders. The backtracking seems to be a result of two tweets by the Pakistani High Commissioner Saad Khattak and UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Ahmad Shaheed, expressing their displeasure over the proposed ban.

Despite the possibility of the gazette on “De-radicalization” and the Burqa ban too falling into the category of maintaining the communal heat, a healthy and constructive debate on the purpose of them is essential. Whatever the modalities of implementation proposed by the gazette are, one cannot contest the purpose of it which prescribes rehabilitation of those indoctrinated with violent extremist ideologies.

There is no assurance that all those brainwashed by the extremists who killed 269 people on the Easter Sunday two years ago, have been put behind bars or at least identified. Former Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka who was also a member of the Parliamentary Select Committee that probed the Easter Sunday carnage, citing CID officials say that hundreds of those who had been indoctrinated by Zahran Hashim’s National Thawheed Jama’ath (NTJ) must be at large. Whatever the number may be, it is acceptable that a killer ideology would not vanish overnight just because the apparent major players have been killed or arrested.

It was revealed during the investigations that the terrorists had first targeted the Kandy Esala Perahera and the police after the attacks on churches and hotels had announced that they were planning to attack what are known as “Hubbu Mosques,” the mosques with the graves of Islamic saints. Therefore no community could be assured of their safety unless the killer ideology is arrested. 
However, the gazette gives the responsibility of identifying the radicals to the police. And there wouldn’t be trial by the courts of law either. With regard to the radicalization among Muslims, are the police competent enough to ideologically differentiate the radicals and the ordinary Muslims to weed out the former, without being influenced by the various media hypes and politicians?

In fact, face veil is a controversial issue among Muslims as well. The point expressed by the Pakistan and the UN was that the ban would marginalize a community. But, on the other hand, the people concerned have to accept the fact that the face veils such as Burqa and Niqab are counterproductive in terms of integration of various communities.
However, the country must dedicate its time and energy mainly for a fruitful debate on economic and social development, rather than wasting time on communal issues that are detrimental to the social progress and useful only to power-hungry politicians.

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