An Open Letter to The National Shoora Council of Sri Lanka

The National Shoora Council (NSC)  describes itself as “… a consultative body comprising several Muslim Organisations and individuals which was formed to address the challenges currently faced by the Muslims in Sri Lanka in a proactive manner.” The NSC identified the “… sudden surge in anti-Muslim activity through hate websites, public meetings, press conferences, demonstrations, media publications, attacks on places of religious worship, business places belonging to Muslims, dress code of Muslim females, the freedom to make available in the open market Halal certified clean food and articles, as well as other more insidious actions” as being a matter of immediate concern towards which it would direct it’s full and undivided attention. The establishment of the NSC, an avowed apolitical Muslim Organization, in 2012 offered hope to the beleaguered Muslim Community that finally a leadership had emerged from among the ranks of Muslim Civil Society which would take the necessary measures to rectify the recent violation of the (Basic) Need of Muslims for (Physical) Safety.

Until the 08th of January 2015, the activities of the NSC to a large extent satisfied the aspirations and hopes of the Muslim Community in this regard. Since then however, it would appear to be the case that the NSC has become rudderless and has lost all sense of direction. Consider for instance the involvement of NSC in the collection of aid for the victims of the Earthquake tragedy in Nepal organized by a group of Muslim Organizations. Nobody questions the importance, value or usefulness of such a project, but to begin with does the NSC have the mandate to get involved in such extraneous matters ? Do we not have enough ‘Muslim Refugees’ in our own Motherland who deserve to be helped in the first instance ? What was the true objective of the Muslim Organizations in collecting aid for the Nepali people ? Was it an attempt at cheap one-upmanship over the other religious groups in Sri Lanka ? Why have we not heard of similar aid being collected for the Muslim Rohingyas by these Muslim Organizations ?

The clearest sign that the NSC is at this point completely at sea is reflected sharply by it’s response to the recently-announced 20th Amendment to the Constitution as reported in the Ceylon Today of 12th June 2015. The news item stated :

The proposed 20th Amendment according to newspaper reports is falling short by way of representation for minority parties and the ethnic minorities, the President of the National Shoora Council (NSC), Tariq Mahmud said. He also praised the government’s effort to foster reconciliation between communities which was almost non-existent in the immediate aftermath of the terrorism of three decades.
Whilst addressing press briefing yesterday he also said “The Muslims will be down by 50 p.c. of their representation in the country. We strongly state that to have meaningful reconciliation proper representation must be reflected in Parliament. A token representation is no representation. The national ethnic percentages must be reflected in Parliament. It will be a representative body where all opinion will be viewed. This is our demand; we would like the government to see to it.” He also spoke in favour of the two ballot systems, indicating that it will introduce a more flexible form of democracy. He said, “The idea of the two ballot system will be useful and more democratic where you will be able to choose your preferred party in the same district and diametrically opposite you vote for another person who you would consider is a better politician. The candidate does not necessarily have to be linked to the party you voted for.” Mahmud also said future elections must not contain the cutoff point.
The NSC also said Parliament should represent the real ethnic proportion of the country. It was the most plausible manner in which the Muslim community can participate in national development. “The campaign for fairness is not only for the Muslim community. As citizens of this country, the NSC also supports fair representation for all other minority communities as well. We are not concerned about the particular models as such, as long as fairness can be achieved in representing the minorities,” the NSC said.

What shocked all right-thinking, progressive Muslims to the core was the demand by the NSC that The national ethnic percentages must be reflected in Parliament.’  With this single pronouncement, the NSC has not only adopted a stance in direct contradiction to Clauses 2.1, 2,2 and 2.3 of it’s Constitution, but it has also revealed the fact that it is directly or otherwise dancing to the tunes of Muslim Political Parties. Does this mean that the NSC honestly believe that the interests of SL Muslims are best served by electing only Muslims as members of Parliament ? Has the NSC already forgotten the behavior of the then Muslim MP’s during the critical days following the tragic incidents at Aluthgama on the 15th  of June 2014 ? And has the NSC forgotten the support rendered to the Muslim Community by word and deed by some non-Muslim MP’s during those tragic days ? If at a time when the Muslim Community needed the Muslim Members of Parliament most, these MP’s failed miserably, how can the NSC rationalize and justify their demand for ‘national ethnic percentages’ on the basis that it will be beneficial to the Muslim Community?

A news item posted in the web-journal, Asian Mirror, of 13th June 2015, reads as follows :

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress is demanding an assurance that minorities will be adequately represented through the new electoral system, its General Secretary Hasan Ali told Asian Mirror. He said that the government was building up a wrong impression that the minority parties are against the 20th Amendment. He totally rejected this notion and said that the SLMC only asks for proper representation.
Ali pointed out that the Muslim population in the country at present is nearly 10 percent. Therefore, this percentage should be represented in parliament, he argued. If the parliament should have 237 seats, the Muslim community should be assured of being able to elect 23 MPs, he said. However, the suggested system will not ensure this, Ali argued. He said that the SLMC is not concerned about the number of MPs in parliament and added that its main concern was ensuring a fair representation for minorities. This is why the SLMC also demanded for a double ballot where a voter will be able to cast his vote for a candidate and a party, Ali said. He pointed out that it is a system currently used by many democratic countries.

The fact that the President of the NSC and the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress are singing in harmony by making the identical two demands on behalf of the Muslims – 10% of Parliamentary seats for Muslims and the introduction of a ‘two-ballot’ system – would suggest some kind of collusion on the part of these two Organizations. Can the NSC therefore continue with the claim that it is ‘Apolitical’ ? Or, has the NSC been hijacked by the Muslim Political Parties ? Has the Leadership of the NSC failed to realize that any demand on the basis of ethnicity will only serve to exacerbate the ethnic divide and goes against the grain of contributing to the restitution of national harmony and reconciliation in our Motherland ? In fact this act violates Clause 2.3 of the NSC Constitution which states “To encourage and contribute towards nation building, social security, sustainable development and enforcement of the rule  of law in Sri Lanka”. And while the NSC is in the ‘Demand Mode’ why does it not go the whole hog and demand, inter alia, that 10% of Public Sector jobs, 10% of University admissions and 10% of beds in Government Hospitals be reserved for the Muslim Community in  the name of ‘Ethnic representation’. As quid-pro-quo, the NSC could persuade all Muslim-owned Business Houses to restrict the proportion of shares owned by Muslims in their Businesses to 10%. If this is deemed to be a stupid, ludicrous and impractical demand, then it is only a reflection of the imbecilic political demand being made by the NSC on behalf of the Muslim Political Parties.

The NSC must desist immediately from dabbling with such political matters. The NSC has failed to realize that, by their collective and independent decision not to support the candidature of Mahinda Rajapakse at any future Presidential Election made immediately after the tragedy at Aluthgama on the 15th of June 2014, an overwhelming majority of the Muslim Community displayed their utter contempt for and total rejection of the Muslim Political Parties as ‘Leaders’ of the Community. The NSC should have stepped into this Leadership Gap not by engaging in the dirty game of amateur politics – even in a supporting role, but rather as the ‘Statesmen of the Muslim Community’ by engaging in discourses with National Parties like the UNP, SLFP and the JVP, to impress upon the leaders of these National Political Parties of the acute need to have in their ranks potential candidates who can appeal to a cross-section of the multi-ethnic voters in our Motherland. Candidates who can convince the Minorities (not just the Muslims) that they will not tolerate any activity by groups that violate the basic safety needs of the Minorities. The NSC should have instilled in the leadership of the National Political Parties the importance of introducing and implementing without fear or favor stringent rules pertaining to Hate Speech – the single-most formidable weapon of anti-minority groups.

The NSC has a lot of work to do if it is to regain it’s credibility among the Muslim Community as the primary independent Muslim Civil Society group from it’s present perception as a puppet of the Muslim Political Parties.

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