This last week i received two emails, one from a friend in Canada and another from a well-placed senior person in Colombo, which, quite independently, touched on Ahmaddiya, Christian and Rohingya refugees brought to the island as transit refugees by UNHCR and parked in the western coastal areas. Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey’s recent public address confirmed the thrust of these two emails. The implications are disheartening and should fore all of us Lankans to review our recent history and its shortcomings.
ONE: Email Note from Canada, 15 May 2019
Hello Michael, The following might be of interest to you as a social scientist. (A) I read the story (in the link below) at Google News – which sends me stories on SL to my inbox, This is interesting as I was unaware that SL had “foreign” refugees. There were rumours that Rishad Badudeen (Minister – Puttalam) was settling some Bangladeshis in Wilpattu.
(B) Apparently, about 60 were Christians from Afghanistan & Pakistan – Peshawar. Others, around 100 were Ahamadi Moslems – a sect being persecuted in most Sunni Moslem countries, who consider them non-Moslems.
The majority including the Christians settled in Negombo, some at Pasyala. Negombo settlers were helped by St. Sebastian’s Church – a site of the Easter Bombing!! St, Sebastian’s even had services in Urdu, according to the CT(Christianity Today News) report!!
Ahmadis –from Wikipedia – believe ” that Islam is the final dispensation for humanity as revealed to Muhammad and the necessity of restoring it to its true intent and pristine form, which had been lost through the centuries. Its adherents consider Ahmad to have appeared as the Mahdi—bearing the qualities of Jesus in accordance with their reading of scriptural prophecies”
C. Since the bombings, I have wondered why these 2 particular Churches were targeted. I see in your blog that there is some discussion of the ethno-religious makeup of the congregation relative to the Kochchikade church that was bombed. It is possible that the churches were selected because of their ethno-religious makeup of Pakistanis and their links to Ahmadi Islam & Pakistan etc.
According to the CT News story, the Taliban attacked Christians in 2016 on Easter Sunday at Peshawar, and also at Peshawar”s All Saints Church in Sept 2013. Is it possible that the NTJ is carrying out the “task ” started by Taliban in 2013 in Peshawar?
D. Also, the Human Rights Watch, well known for its anti SL bias is capitalizing on it, with a headline April 29; saying, ” Sri Lanka: Refugees Attacked and
TWO: Email Memo from Colombo, 16 May 2018
Michael, this might be an interesting line. But it is also confusing, to the degree that it answers less but creates other ‘platforms’ for reckoning how and why these attacks were set up and timed for the particular weekend.
The website Christianity Today is not reliable, in my opinion. They are kinsmen of the bigoted websites and news services that are populated or managed by the Tele Evangelist brigade, breathing vengeance against Muslims and fabricating stories to create suspicion against Muslims of every stripe and colour, similar to that egregiously unprofessional CBN [Christian Broadcast News] which is a website catering to the ambitions of Pat Robertson, a one-time presidential hopeful in the race for the White House a decade or so ago.
They are bent on creating tensions and they achieve this with fake pictures or deft bits of editing, conflating stories from here, there and everywhere and making believe that the world is about to be overcome by Islam because of the laxity of the elected governments in the ‘west’. They are also very much on the side of the nearly universal “Christians for Israel” movement, which advocates Israel taking over the Palestine lands and either subjugating the Palestinians who have a heritage and an occupancy of some 1900 years in that area, after the destruction and sacking of Jerusalem in 70CE at the hands of general Titus under the Roman Caesar, or banishing them into other areas.
With that background, I am not too certain that what one reads in Christianity Today is credible, …. Maybe their news can be accepted only up to a point.
Please note that this ‘foreign refugee’ matter has been in place for at least a decade or more.
I am not able to comment on the accusation that Rishard Bathiudeen has settled Bangladeshis in Wilpattu. I cannot understand why he would do so and under what compulsion or rationale. Unless he was on the lookout for cheap labour. Barring that, it is unlikely that he would ‘waste his time’ and ‘create space’ for people from Bangla who offer him no direct advantage, nor votes. But, that needs to be examined or researched as a separate exercise.
As I indicated, the matter of refugees has been one that has had facilitation by the government(s) of Sri Lanka in arrangements with the UNHCR. None of these refugees are in the same class as those fellows who board a ramshackle boat from off the Mannar coast and head-off to an imagined “new life” in Perth or Sicily. In the case of the refugees from a few countries east of Suez, this has been ratified by national charter. However, the larger number of people are not fully aware of the ’status’ of these refugees. These are, in fact, guests of the state, but are not treated that well, either by the governmental agencies or by the UNHCR. They are provided a stipend to take care of their basic needs and are housed (cheaply) in places that local authorities have been instructed to make available to them. Negombo has been thus made available for a very long time.
How long are they to be housed in Negombo?
The fact is, the stay is not intended to be permanent. The UNHCR is handling those families and individuals on a case by case basis. They are being processed one at a time, and will, in due course, be provided ‘permanent’ abode and residency in another country. The one most favored by UNHCR is Canada, and New Zealand has accepted fewer.
I have been able to meet with some of these refugees. A few who have been in Negombo, and a small number who have also had accommodation in Perahera Mawatha in Colombo 03.
The majority are from Pakistan. They have felt persecution there on account of one or the other issues:
- They are Ahmedis [sic]
- They have converted to ‘Christianity’
- They have married individuals who are not orthodox Muslims
- They are of another language minority within Pakistan and have been chased (like the Rohingya from Myanmar) from whatever place they had been.
- They have been ‘convicted’ in some kangaroo court by the Taliban.
Some of the refugees are from Afghanistan. They have fled violence in that country. Some are Christians. Some are Muslims but are of the Shia sect, and the Taliban have purged them.
Some of those from Afghanistan are originally from Iran! They have left Iran during the Khomeini transition; for even though these ones are Shia themselves, they happen to be descended from tribes who are from further East and who are linked with the migration in the time of Ginghis Khan. They do not look like Persians, but rather they have eyes and features that distinguish them from the ‘Persian’ stock in Iran. So, with the fall of the Shah’s regime, these Shia had moved to Afghanistan, rather than be faced with intimidation and ostracism because of the way they appear and because they were not part of the influential or middle class. [you know enough about Thuppahi to appreciate the sensitivity here!]
But these former Iranian Shia, after having been in Afghanistan for a few years since the fall of the Shah’s regime, were again subject to harassment and persecution at the hands of the Taliban, because of them not being ‘pure Sunni’. So…. again, they were on the run. These ones are also under the aegis of the UNHCR living in Negombo and a few other locales. Among this lot of Afghans are also a small number of Christians. They are from Kabul. Kabul has been a cosmopolitan place until the time of the breakdown about the period when Hekmatyar’s regime was effective. As you know, many things just collapsed with the meddling from both Russia under Breshnev and the US under Reagan. This also saw the rise of the armed militia, which then became the Taliban and turned against their ’sponsors’.
These Afghanis are another type of refugee.
I know these, because of having had conversations with several of them over these past years. I have been fascinated with their stories. Some of them were, in fact, Farsi speakers! But came here from Afghanistan. Very few speak English. But they certainly try.
For a time, until about 2014, I would meet with a pair of brothers. They were in their twenties. Both of them arrived from Afghanistan, but were Farsi speakers. They also managed a bit of English. They were smart and very eager to learn and discuss. However, they were not Shia nor Sunni, but were Christadelphians.
So, that accounts from still another ‘category’. I had several discussions over the weeks and months that these two boys were here. In attempting to find their way ’spiritually’ they had been directed to a Roman Catholic place in Negombo (where Sinhala services were held) and they were appalled by what they saw, in terms of genuflections and histrionics, candles, incense and icons that were in use. They knew they ‘did not belong’ there, and through friends of mine, some very interesting discussion were had with them, and they were curious to know about how Christianity was being used and transmogrified into other compartments that had little to do with the simple principles of Jesus’ teachings etc.
These two brothers had their paperwork done fairly quickly. They were both sent to Canada. And that is where they will have residency and be permitted to build a fresh life. They knew they were going to be cold, and they didn’t like the prospect that much. But, they knew that they were not going to be persecuted for who they are. My friends have not been in touch that much. But those brothers were sharp!
Do you think the cretinous Sinhalese in Negombo, be they Catholic or any other, will ever understand or comprehend any of the subtleties that define these refugees as being another sort from jihadists or the regular Lankan Moors? Of course not! All they can see is ‘foreign refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan’, and therefore they need to be eliminated or chased from our shores.
A similar predicament was faced by Rohingya who were salvaged from the waters off Myanmar by UNHCR, in the heat of the persecution they had in that country maybe two years ago. These Rohingya were housed in a safe place in Dehiwela-Mount Lavinia by arrangement with the State and UNHCR. At that time, Mangala S was Minister of Foreign Affairs. A mob, led by one monk, broke into that safe house and abused and assaulted the families there. It was a dreadful sample of intolerance and monumental ignorance. Even Mr. Samaraweera had hard time trying the quell that antipathy raised by rumour-mongers that Lanka was being invaded by Muslims. That’s all they could understand. Does this action by mobs make it any better for Lanka? Does the reputation that this country has for some sensible approaches to handling issues of community and communal factors, improve because of such intolerance?
This is where several of my friends in Negombo are aiming to bring the matter up with the Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. As they point out, the Cardinal has failed to inculcate tolerance even though he pays lip service to it on the public media. He has not once told his Catholics on the beach that preying on these hapless refugees from another country(countries) makes no sense and would be an act of wickedness. He has conveniently ignored the whole episode of attacks against these people. The fact remains that they are being attacked because of sheer ignorance on the part of the attackers. Such louts have no idea or care not that these are facilitated in this country by sponsorship of an international refugee agency. They are not part of a Jihadi conspiracy.
Now, to the point about services in Urdu. I am not certain about that. I suspect it is an exaggeration. Given the background of my Christadelphian pals from Iran, some of these ‘Christians on the run’ from Pakistan would have been directed to the nearest Catholic place of worship, under the ‘assumption’ that that is what they needed. But, my take on this is that those refugees would not identify one jot with the kind of stuff that happens in Sinhala among Catholics in Negombo. There may have been some attempts to provide them some sort of ’spiritual haven’. And with that in mind, they may well have had someone trying to speak a word or two of encouragement in Urdu. But, I cannot see that the Roman Church would go that far in assisting them with actual ’services in Urdu’. Given the callous dismissal of these attacks against them by the local people, how can it be that they were an integral with the St.Sebastian’s Church and that the NTJ operatives searched that place out for particular attack because of them being there? I find that a bit of a stretch. But, as for the Ahmediya, yes, they could well be a target for the perception that they are an apostate group splintered from mainstream Islam. If that were a rationale, then the vast number of Sufis in Lanka would be an even more ‘important’ target, and the Sufis were not in large nmbers near Negombo’s beach. Those Sufi mosques are elsewhere in Negombo, and all up and down the coast, not in St. Sebastian’s!!
There is a role that the Cardinal can play if he so chooses to deflect these attacks against the hapless refugees. But, he has said not a word to instruct his people to stop. He keeps chirping about the unsettled state the country in is and how it is ungovernable and cannot be governed unless (as he hints) the Rakapaksas are allowed to run the country once again. His loyalties are certainly manifest and his cosying up with the BBS and entertaining the BBS leadership at his Archbishop’s Palace also tells of much. This attitude has not gone unnoticed. Some of his own fellows are noticing that this harping on the country being unsettled and also that it is unsafe for normal activity is all part of the attempt to labour his point that the economy of the country will falter until a new government is formed. He is seeing to it (as do the Mahanayakes) that the siege mentality is underscored. This will ensure further economic breakdown. In turn, the political agenda that has presented itself in the context of the shape and form of a terrible and unexpected tragedy, is being exploited to the maximum. The convicted and jailed for life politician Duminda Silva’s TV channel, Hiru, day and night is trumpeting this same story. It is aggressive and corrosive. And how [do we] face and quotes appear on the news bites on that channel? The Cardinal, pontificating on how the government has mishandled everything and is bringing the country into perdition.
Casting the Nelsonian eye upon the attacks against the refugees is all part of that strategy to discredit. None of these people are thinking of healing and repairing, of joint action to rebuild relationships and forge a cohesive society and to reach out to perceived enemies and respond to the humanity that rests within the minds and hearts of the people. What we are seeing is an evil manipulation.
That’s my non-professional non-academic sociologist take on this issue!
A SUBSEQUENT NOTE
Today, the Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith performed a good deed. As reported here, he had visited the scenes in Negombo, where Muslims were being abused, and had spoken thus : ” I urge all Catholics not to raise hands against our Muslim brothers. We are all brothers, we are all children of Abraham. Our faith should unite us. We call our God, God, and you call him Allah.”
These words relayed from the Negombo Mosque might help the louts out and about that their behaviour is not heroic but despicable.
Hopefully those words will heard by many and heeded. Even by his buddies with the BBS.
CARTOONS to provoke Reflection?
An Ecumenical Muslim Speaks ... Today, ….. A Fervent and Stirring APPEAL in Sinhala = https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100017552029238
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Ratnajeevan Hoole: “Afghan Refugees face Jaffna’s Hostility. These Sri Lankans are Crazy,” 20 May 2019, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/afghan-refugees-face-jaffnas-hostility-these-sri-lankans-are-crazy/