Cracks in the Wall

A point made in passing in the previous Post deserves elaboration if only to emphasize it’s critical importance at the present moment in time.

After the advent of the new Government on the 8th of January 2015, the SL Muslims have begun to once again feel safe from the threats of verbal assaults and risks to life and limb posed by the anti-Muslims groups. But what many members of the Muslim Community may not have realized is that the hairline cracks that appeared gradually in Buddhist – Muslim relations during the past 3 – 4 decades have widened considerably in the period 2012 – 2014 when these anti-Muslim groups were at the peak of their agitations. Although the situation appears ‘peaceful’ at the moment, it is an extremely fragile, highly volatile ‘peace’. For instance, events unfolding at the Wilpattu Sanctuary have once again placed the Muslims in the spotlight of public anger, demonstrating clearly that the SL Muslims have a long way to go before they can all hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’.

Cracks that appear on a brick wall can be papered over quite easily. The application of a sealer and a thick coat of wall paint and voila ! – no cracks. But cracks in human relationships, based as they are on emotions, are not so easily papered over. A handshake may enable relationships to continue, but the negative emotions – anger, fear, apprehension, etc, will continue to fester beneath the surface unless and until they are specifically addressed and neutralized.

Wall1    Wall2    Wall3

Year1Year2       Year3

The Muslims are a minority in Sri Lanka. It is therefore critical that the Muslim Community take the initiative to commence the process that would ensure that their members and their future generations can continue to live with self-respect and dignity in our Motherland without fear of physical harm or mental trauma by virtue of being followers of Islam. The time to act is now. The members of Muslim Civil Society  must take the lead in this matter rather than waiting for the Majority Community or our Politicians or Theologians do start doing something in this regard. It is in our interest to do so. It is only by doing so that we can not only demonstrate that the Muslim Community has a genuine and sincere desire to contribute towards the building of ethnic harmony and national re-conciliation in Sri Lanka but also lay claim to being equal Stake-holders of the process.

To delay the process of providing the necessary leadership or to avoid doing so will only create a vacuum which will be filled by pseudo-leaders whose motives may not be in the interest of the Ummah at large. Even today (30th May 2015) there is a blog post drawing the attention of the Public to the growing use of Tamil social media by Muslims to make acrimonious and vitriolic comments about the treatment meted out to the Rohingya Muslims by the Buddhists in Myanmar. The intention of such individuals is clearly to deepen and harden the antagonism that some SL Muslims may have towards the Majority Community in Sri Lanka, thereby making the task of rapprochement even more difficult. The author of the above-mentioned post writes “As a Sri Lankan Muslim I am ashamed and disgusted at the way lies and rumours are being spread through Facebook posts by members of my community. Photos from the Tibetan earthquake in 2010, as well as from the massive fuel tank explosion in the Congo in 2010 that killed hundreds are being passed around as photos of “Muslims killed by Buddhists” along with emotional appeals”. Such acts by supposedly Muslim social media activists are reminiscent of similar tactics adopted by supposedly Buddhist social media activists during the period 2012 – 2014 in support of the anti-Muslim groups, which continues to this day.

Identifying the ‘Muslim Problem’

[ This unpublished short post was written in May 2014 and reflects the unsettled social conditions of the day which reached it’s peak two months later in the town of Aluthgama. However the establishment of the new political environment in early January this year has been extremely conducive to the gradual reinstatement of the violated basic need of SL Muslims – the Need for (Physical) Safety. But the fact remains that the activities of the anti-Muslim groups during the period 2012 – 2014 did create a major schism between the Muslim Community  and the Majority Community, resulting in the perceptions of members of both Communities being revised and re-shaped.  So while ‘peace’ of a kind has indeed descended, it is my considered opinion that it has only served to ‘freeze’ the process of estrangement. It is a false peace. It only needs a spark for matters to heat up again. The on-going debate regarding the ‘Wilpattu settlements’ is a case in point  – where  a purely political issue is being given a strong ‘Muslim’ flavor. True ‘peace’ will only prevail if the ‘gap’ between the two Communities is successfully sealed. This is a huge and challenging task, but as the Chinese Philosopher, Lao-tzu (604 BC – 531 BC) said “ A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” signifying the importance of action from a state of ‘stillness’.

 But please do read on, my Brothers & Sisters, ……………………………………………… ]

Prior to conducting any Research Study, the critical importance of identifying the Research Problem correctly cannot be emphasized strongly enough. It is the Research Problem that will determine the Hypotheses generated, the Design of the Study, the Sample Design, the Questions to be asked and the Analysis and Interpretation of the Results. It is obvious therefore that an incorrectly-identified Research Problem will result in a total waste of time and other resources. Worse still, if the Research problem is not identified as being incorrect even at a later stage,  this may result in the application and implementation of incorrect recommendations – which may actually exacerbate the correct Research Problem.

One does not need to conduct any Survey at this point in time to identify the ‘Muslim Problem’ as perceived by the Muslim Community. Over 90% will have no hesitation in stating that it is the ‘Bodhu Bala Sena’ that is the cause of their distress. Their simplistic solution would then be to remove the BBS and other similar anti-Muslim Groups from the scene and everything will be ‘normal’ again. The Muslim Politicians and Theologians choose to address this perceived Problem to bolster their own standing in the Muslim Community. Do these Politicians and Theologians realize that they may have contributed to the creation of the Real Problem and are therefore trying to find an easy way out by externalizing the solution (i.e. the GOSL must ban the BBS) ?

What then is the real Muslim Problem ?

As in the case of most major religions, Islam has it’s share of Extremists, Fundamentalists, Moderates, and Secularists. Now, it is a matter of pride to all Muslims that Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the World. If this is accepted as being true, would it then not be correct to conclude that this growth is being driven to a much greater extent by the Fundamentalists rather than by the Moderates & Secularists ?  And if so, does not this phenomenon lend credence to the belief that Muslim Fundamentalism is spreading all over the world  ? And should we not accept it to be so in our own Motherland ?

The past 30 – 40 years have witnessed qualitative changes in the religious behavior and life-styles of the members of the SL Muslim Community. Social and Religious Walls have been built and are continuing to be built and strengthened between the Muslims and the other Communities. Muslim Political Parties are formed ostensibly to ‘look after the needs of the Muslims’. Islamic Theologians assume responsibility for issues outside their mandate such as Issuing Halal Certificates and joining the GOSL delegation to the  UNHRC Sessions in Geneva. This created a sense of uneasiness and apprehension among members of other Communities, especially the Majority Buddhists, amplifying the ‘Us vs Them’ sentiment.

This gradually heightening sense of apprehension expanded in width and depth among the Buddhist Community over the last 3 decades. However, it found no outlet for expression since the whole Country was engulfed by a far more vicious and widespread danger due to Tamil Terrorism during this period. With all Communities facing a Common Enemy there was no opportunity for the surfacing of inter-Community differences – at least not on a major scale. But there were signs that such concerns existed. It will be recalled for instance that protests were raised when some Muslims chose to extend their support to the Pakistan Cricket Team when they played against our National Team in Sri Lanka. So the ‘dots’ did emerge, but no one appears to have felt the need to join-the-dots at that time.

Then in May 2009, Tamil Terrorism was militarily eradicated and the attention of the populace turned towards re-building their lives and the Nation. Under these changed conditions, the pin-pricks of apprehension and concern experienced by the majority Buddhist Community  regarding the Muslims became more sharp and fearful. The Majority Community was willing and ready to listen to the correct message which would address such concerns. The Conveyors of the message came in the form of the anti-Muslim Groups. The content of the message resonated with the Buddhist Community although many were not happy with the methods of delivery. While criticizing the actions of the anti-Muslim groups, many members of the Majority Community would end their statements by saying “Namuth kiyana eke aththakuth thiyanawa ne ?” (Translation : “But there is some truth in what they are saying, no ?”). These anti-Muslim groups succeeded not so much in rousing the members of the Majority Community against the Muslims, but rather in further enhancing their concerns and apprehensions regarding the ‘extremist’ Muslim Community by giving shape and form to such irrational ‘fears’ (e.g. Halal issue, Population issue, etc).

The key ‘Muslim Problem’ is therefore the deterioration in Buddhist – Muslim Relations. Apart from the serious ‘blip’ in the harmony trend line that occurred in 1915, the relationship between the two Communities have to a very large extent remained cordial and trust-worthy over the last 1000 years. The fact that quite a few Muslim Politicians were elected by large majorities in pre-dominantly Sinhalese electorates bears testimony to this fact. So what caused chinks to appear in these bonds of inter-faith relations which until then withstood the test of time ?

The Cause of the ‘Muslim Problem’ are the changes that have occurred and are occurring to the Islamic Lifestyles of the Muslims of Sri Lanka since around the late 70’s. For a very long time the Lifestyles of Muslims were influenced by the cultural practices and rituals of other religious communities. However, with the growing awareness that some aspects of their lifestyles were not quite compatible with the tenets of Islam, the members of the Muslim Community began to effect the necessary changes, which drew the attention of the Non-Muslims, many of whom experienced such changes while attending Muslim Weddings (separation of genders) and Funerals (non-Muslims being prevented from ‘seeing the body’). A serious lapse on the part of the Muslim Community was their failure to educate other Sri Lankans of the pressing need to rectify existing Islamic practices which until then may have been performed incorrectly. Not being aware of the reasons that lead to such changes in lifestyles, almost all Non-Muslims attributed it to the influence of an external source –  ‘Muslim Fundamentalism / Extremism’.

The Symptom or Effect of the ‘Muslim Problem’ was the emergence of anti-Muslim Groups.

It must then be stated – and I am not going to win any new Muslim friends for saying so – that it was the religious propensity of the Muslim Community to ‘correct & strengthen’ their Islamic Lifestyles that inadvertently created the space for the emergence of anti-Muslim Groups over the last few years.

The Muslim Problem cannot be resolved by addressing the Symptom or Effect. This would be like trying to ‘cure’ your fits of sneezing when you have Viral Flu. The problem can only be resolved to the greatest extent possible by identifying and neutralizing the Causes of the Problem without abandoning our Islamic beliefs and practices. And to do this the Community requires respectable and distinguished members of Muslim Civil Society (excluding the Politicians and the Theologians) to step up to the plate and provide the necessary leadership and direction.

Presidential Election 2015 : Hobson’s Choice for SL Muslims ?

“Mr. Speaker

We have removed the word minorities from our vocabulary three years ago. No longer are the Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays and any others minorities. There are only two peoples in this country. One is the people that love this country. The other comprises the small groups that have no love for the land of their birth. Those who do not love the country are now a lesser group” (President Rajapakse, May 2009)

With the ending of Tamil Terrorism in May 2009 and the subsequent declaration by the President that there are no longer religious minorities or majorities in Sri Lanka, but that there are only two groups – those who love their motherland and those who do not – or words to that effect, the hopes and aspirations of the SL Muslims were raised to such an extent that in the subsequent General Election and Presidential Election of 2010 they helped to sweep the incumbent and his Party  into power for a second time with majorities of about 60%  and  58% respectively of the valid votes polled.

However, the events that followed during 2012 – 2014, have resulted in the sharp polarization of the Muslim Community and the majority community.

Pre 2012    Post 2012

The general feeling among the members of the Muslim Community, then and now, is that the instigators of these  events, the Anti-Muslim Groups, were being actively or passively backed by the then President and his Government. The platform of Buddhist Majoritarianism which was being propagated by these Anti-Muslim Groups have resulted in the Minorities being pushed to the fringes of society and the gradual, setting-in of an ‘Us vs Them’ mentality in place of the ‘We’ mentality that existed fairly strongly until then. The Muslims began to ‘circle the wagons’ in response to the unprovoked attacks on Islam and it’s practices and on the members of the Community. The final nail on the coffin as far as the Muslim Community was concerned was when President Mahinda Rajapakse described the tragic events at Aluthgama which included the loss of life, property and livelihood of Muslims as “Sulu sulu siddheen …” (minor incidents).

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory, ‘Safety Needs’ occupies the second level in the hierarchy and is only preceded by the more basic ‘Physiological Needs’ of an individual.  Safety needs is defined as protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear. The activities of the anti-Muslim Groups violated a basic human need – a basic human right of a community – the need for safety. The members of the Muslim Community were reduced to a state of  helplessness and abject fear by the total lack of action on the part of the President and his Government to contain these virulent anti-Muslim Groups. The Muslims felt abandoned by the very persons who by virtue of being elected officials were responsible for their safety.

It is with therefore with a deep sense of alienation, hopelessness and fear that the Muslim Community participated in the Presidential Election 2015.

Hobson’s Choice

A ‘Hobson’s Choice’ is a free choice which offers just one option. A person has the choice of either taking that option or not.

When they chose to exercise their franchise on the 8th of January 2015, the Muslims were motivated by the single, unifying desire to achieve their basic need for physical safety. They refused to be trampled by Political Leaders who chose to destroy the Muslims Safety Needs to achieve their own selfish Self-actualization Needs. Thus, the members of the Muslim Community were faced with a Hobson’s Choice when they cast their votes at the last Presidential Election.

It should therefore come as no surprise to anyone that, when deciding on a Candidate to vote for, the Muslims based their decision on what was seen as being best for the Muslim Community rather than what was best for the Country. This is exactly what the members of the Tamil Community have been doing for the past few decades.  Since Independence, the Muslims have acted responsibly at all Elections putting Country before Self. “What is good for the Country is good for us” was the driving belief. This credo saw the vast majority of Muslims aligning themselves politically with one of the two major National Parties – the UNP and the SLFP – while the rest chose the Leftist Parties. Even the launch of a regional Muslim Party (SLMC) in 1981 failed to cause a serious dent in this trend nationally. Those were the days when Muslims voted with their heads. In future elections they will be compelled to vote with their hearts, placing Self before Country – a position they have been forced into by the propagators of Majoritarianism who, having driven the Muslim Community to the socio-political fringe,  now accuse the Muslims of being ‘extremists’ in their religious outlook.

During the period just prior to the Presidential Elections, the popular view conveyed by the mass media and the social media was that the members of the Muslim Community were awaiting with bated breath the decisions of the various Muslim Political Parties regarding choice of Candidate before making their own choices. Nothing could have been more further from the truth than this stupid and ridiculous viewpoint. This may have been so in the case of supporters of such Muslim Political Parties, but within hours after the traumatic events at Aluthgama, more than an estimated 95% of Muslim Voters had already made up their minds firmly and resolutely as to which Candidate they will NOT cast their votes for at any future Presidential Election. The objective of Muslim Voters was not to express their rejection of MR or the acceptance of MS as the next elected President of the Country, but to express their burning desire to be permitted to live with dignity and self-respect as citizens of Sri Lanka.

At the end of the day, Mahinda Rajapakse lost the Presidential race by just 293,637 votes. Rather than attributing this defeat to the Muslims and other Minorities for their ‘anti-MR’ sentiments, it would be more correct under the circumstances to attribute it to the ‘anti-Minority’ personality traits that Mahinda Rajapakse had begun to exhibit by his inactions, rather than by his words.

For a politician, who had demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities buttressed by an equally strong internal locus of control, to resort to blaming external factors (i.e. the Minorities) for his defeat at the polls indicates either a serious strategic error on his part politically or that he was blindsided by trustworthy members of his own team.

As a political party which enjoyed the support of many left-of-centre Muslims, the SLFP should engage in some serious soul-searching as it plans for the next General Elections. If the ‘MR-effect’ has been passed onto the SLFP, then it will no longer be perceived by these Muslims as a Party that would fulfil their basic need for physical safety. Such left-leaning Muslims will then look at the JVP, as many have already started to do after the advent of Anura Kumara Dissanayake, as an alternative.

The SLFP, the SL Muslims & the Way Forward

At a Presidential Election, the Candidate who obtains at least 50% +1 of the Total Number of Valid Votes wins the race. By the time the dust settled on the process that began on the 8th of January 2015, the post of Executive President of Sri Lanka had eluded Mahinda Rajapakse by a mere 293, 637 votes – a little less than 2.5% of the total valid votes.  Over the past 3 months, many Analysts have brought to bear their expertise in such diverse fields as politics, sociology, economics, statistics, psychology, psephology and even astrology  to offer an understanding of what happened on that fateful day.

The 5,768,090 votes that Mahinda Rajapakse garnered translates into winning  90 of the 160 electorates under a first-pass-the-post system or 104 of the 225 seats under the current PR system – a clear winner in the popularity stakes in both cases. The anger and disappointment among the members of the MR camp is therefore under the circumstances quite understandable. Unfortunately, in their hurry to identify the primary cause for the debacle of their Candidate at the Polls, many MR-supporters chose to externalize  the issue and the finger of blame was firmly pointed at the Minorities.

True, the votes of the Minorities had played a decisive role at the Election, but if these MR-supporters had examined the situation dispassionately, they would have realized that the this was only the effect of a specific phenomenon and not it’s cause. The real cause of the phenomenon in the case of the Sri Lankan Muslim Community was the total destruction of a basic human need  – the need for Physical Safety.

Abraham Maslow identified a Hierarchy of Needs as being the driving or motivating factors of Human Behaviour. At the most basic level are the primary needs for Food, Shelter and Sex. At the next level are the Safety Needs – consisting of the Need for Physical Safety, Financial Safety, etc.

By failing to demonstrate by word and deed the Leadership qualities that were essential to allay the growing fears of the Muslim Community during the period 2012 – 2014, Mahinda Rajapakse alienated himself totally from the Muslim Community. Asked by a Non-Muslim friend, just prior to the Presidential Poll, as to what proportion of the Muslims in my opinion would vote for Mahinda Rajapakse, there was no hesitation on my part when I  responded “1%” – which he found pretty hilarious. But the fact of the matter is that like many Muslims, my response was based on inductive inferences rather than on deductive conclusions. By his inactions as the President of all Sri Lankans, Mahinda Rajapakse simply destroyed a basic need of the Muslims, period. The efforts of Mahinda Rajapake to win the goodwill of the Muslims thereafter (on October 28th 2014) by offering to devise a method that ensures equal opportunities for all Muslims to undertake the Haj Pilgrimage fell flat. Would any Muslim with an iota of intelligence undertake a Haj Pilgrimage when the lives and limbs of his family are in acute danger back home ? Who is the cretinous mutt who persuaded Mahinda Rajapakse to make such a stupid offer ? This gesture was perceived by the Muslim Community as adding insult to injury.

So what was the ethnic composition of the votes received by the two main contenders at the Presidential Election ? The true answer to this question will never be known, but using a minimum number of assumptions (Occam’s Razor), the parameters of an interval estimate may be determined.

Assumption 1

0% minorities voted for MR

Assumption 2

5% minorities voted for MR

Assumption 3

15% minorities voted for MR

Assumption 4

25% minorities voted for MR

Ethnic Composition of voters (%) Ethnic Composition of voters (%) Ethnic Composition of voters (%) Ethnic Composition of voters (%)
MS MR MS MR MS MR MS MR
Buddhists 42 100 45 97 51 91 57 84
Minorities 58 55 03 49 09 43 16

A formula could be worked out very easily for the general case where n% of minorities voted for Mahinda Rajapakse, but I shall refrain from doing so since the less-numerate among the Readers may find it daunting. But the calculation in specific cases is extremely simple.

It appears therefore that if no member of the minority communities voted for Mahinda Rajapakse, then of those who voted for Maithripala Sirisena, a little over 40% are Sinhala Buddhists. If on the other hand we assume that 1 in 7 members of the minority community (15%) voted for Mahinda Rajapakse, then of those who voted for Maithripala Sirisena, a little over 50% are Sinhala Buddhists. This gives lie to the popular belief that Maithripala Sirisena lacks support among the Sinhala Buddhists.

But clearly Mahinda Rajapakse does lack the support of the minority communities.

As a Sri Lankan Muslim, I cannot comment on or predict the behavior of Non-Muslim Minorities at future elections. However, the following important points regarding the Muslim Voters have to be taken cognizance of.

The aversion of Muslim Voters towards Mahinda Rajapakse has created an aversion towards the SLFP and the UPFA. Except for one or two UPFA Parliamentarians, the vast majority remained mum as the Muslim Community reeled under the onslaught of the anti-Muslim groups during the period 2012 – 2014. They were therefore perceived as passively supporting the objectives and actions of such racist groups. The feelings of the Muslims towards the SLFP / UPFA will manifest itself strongly at the next General Election. The JVP is expected to be the main beneficiary of disgruntled previous SLFP / UPFA Muslim supporters.

The Muslim Political Parties are often described by the media as the ‘representatives of the Muslims’. Nothing could be more further from the truth. Following the violence at Aluthgama, the members of the Muslim Community independently and almost to a man decided as to who they will NOT vote for at any future Presidential Election. The Muslim Community did not wait with bated breath for the so-called Muslim Political Parties to give them leadership in this regard. Estimates based on the performance of these Muslim Political Parties at the Provincial Council Elections held in Eastern, Northern and Western provinces during the recent past reveal that only about 18% of Muslim Voters have cast their votes for a Muslim Political Party. This means that around 5 out of every 6 Muslim Voters have either cast their votes for a ‘Non-Muslim’ Party or have not been sufficiently  motivated to vote for any individual. Thus, if such Muslim Political Parties believe that they represent the Muslim Community, they are only flattering and fooling themselves. Their ‘combined’ performance at the last Uva Provincial Council elections in 2014, where they were totally ignored by around 7 out of 8 Muslim Voters should serve as an eye-opener in this regard. The reason for this is quite simple. The Muslim Political Parties, severally or collectively, are not perceived as being capable of restoring the Muslim Communities basic need for physical safety – even at a point in time when this need is most intense.

The overarching need of the Muslim Community is the immediate restoration of their violated basic need for safety. This felt need encompasses Muslims of all socio-economic groups and resident in all parts of the Island – a Muslim need which is not ‘local’ or ‘regional’ in character, but truly ‘national’. It would appear to be the case that the Sri Lankan Muslims have realized that it is only a truly National Political Party (e.g UNP, SLFP and JVP) that can address this primary problem effectively. If the SLFP has any interest whatsoever in redeeming and retaining the support of Muslim Voters at the next General Election, it is imperative that the Party issues a ‘Mea Culpa’ statement acknowledging it’s abject failure as a National Party to prevent by word and deed the destruction of this basic need of the Muslim Community in Sri Lanka. The leaders of the SLFP should bear in mind that ‘Apologizing means that you value your relationships more than your ego’. However, the pragmatic Muslim Community is not expecting an apology, which normally results from something that is said or done. But a sincere Statement of Regret  from the SLFP leadership for remaining deaf, dumb and blind to the deliberate and well-planned destruction of the physical security of the Muslims will certainly go a very long way towards mending fences with the Sri Lanka Muslim Community.

Hello world!

Rosa Luxemburg – Marxist Theorist, Philosopher, Economist & Revolutionary Socialist – famously observed that ‘Those who do not move, do not notice their chains’. I have decided to ‘move’ mentally, to stretch  my mental powers in new directions, to challenge patterns of thinking and behavior based on blind obedience to established and widely-accepted ‘norms’ and ‘beliefs’ and to offer new perspectives based on the process of  independent reasoning.

The unshackling of the mind is indeed liberating.