ACL Ameer Ali, in Sunday Observer, 14 July 2019, where the title runs ‘Moulding Muslim Culture’ echoes Chinese Uyghur experiment’
The hidden agenda of the far-right and extremist groups like Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), Mahoson Balakaya, Sinha Le and so on, in respect of the Muslim community needs be understood in light of what was announced in that rally by BBS secretary, Gnanasara. From the beginning, and at least since the Alutgama riots of 2015, the BBS and its obstreperous secretary, were vociferous in demanding the expulsion of all Muslims to Saudi Arabia or any other Arab country, reinventing a 19th century argument advanced by Anagarika Dharmapala and Co. in a different context, that Muslims were ‘aliens’ in Sri Lanka. The fact that this community, like the Sinhalese and the Tamils before, were also foreigners but arrived last and that they were indigenised over one thousand years ago did not matter in the BBS’ twisted [readings of] history. Its ultimate goal is to make this island one hundred percent Sinhala Buddhist. It was this aspiration that was once again reinforced in Kandy, when Gnanasara announced that, “every home must have an owner and Sinhalese are the owners of Sri Lanka.” When saying that he quite naively expected the Tamils also to accept their status as tenants and live until they too would be ejected one day.
Perhaps, after realising the impossibility of a wholesale expulsion of any community, especially in the current context of a globally integrated nation state system, the BBS now believes that a solution to the so called ‘Muslim Problem’ should be found within the country. There are three models in recent history which it could adopt, when given the power, to make its dream comes true.
The most extreme of the three was Hitler’s ‘final solution’ to the Jewish problem. His Gas Chambers and organised pogroms killed millions of Jews and provoked the infamous Holocaust. “Never again”, vowed those who escaped the Holocaust and never will the world tolerate such monstrosity to take place anywhere. Even though one thoughtless monk wished that Gotabaya Rajapaksa should play the role of a Hitler to clean the country out of its mess, it is doubtful whether that priest was thinking of a final solution to a Muslim problem.
The second model, although of equal horror but on a lesser scale, was that executed by the regime in Myanmar, which allowed the soldiers and a vengeful mob to kill and rape thousands of Rohingya Muslims, burn their houses and crops, and forced hundreds of thousands to cross over to Bangladesh. One of their monks, U Wirathu aka Win Khaing Oo, who the Economsit described as the ‘Face of Terror,’ and who blessed that cleansing in the name of Buddhism, also visited Sri Lanka and was accorded a red carpet welcome by the then President, Rajapaksa.
If that horror were to be repeated in this country, there is no land border for Muslims to cross but only the Indian Ocean to drown. The BBS and its partner groups like Mahoson Balakaya and Sinha-Le may welcome that. But they have to face the wrath of the majority Sinhala Buddhists of this country whose spirit of tolerance is unparalleled in the annals of Asian history.
The third model is the softest and is the one that lurks behind Gnanasara’s ‘moulding’ of Muslim culture. This model is the one currently being experimented by the Chinese government to produce a new generation of Uyghurs who would forget their ethnicity and religion, Islam, to become completely merged with the culture and values of mainstream Chinese.
According to several but reliable accounts, Uyghurs are now locked up in a huge concentration camp and are undergoing an intensive cultural cleansing. Of course, no government in Sri Lanka would dare to adopt this experiment, and that is why Gnanasara wants a mandate from President Sirisena, who released this man from prison, to undertake this moulding. Is he and his fellow monks of the same ilk going to turn their temples into correction centres where the ulemas could be forced to attend lessons and training? Or, are they aspiring to invade mosques and madrasas to brainwash its attendants with their de-Islamization program? Gnanasara is trumpeting that he wants to eradicate Islamic fundamentalism in this country.
He also confuses religious fundamentalism with Wahabism and extremism. These three are not mechanically connected. A religious fundamentalist can remain non-Wahhabi and moderate. Similarly an extremist need not be a religious fundamentalist nor a Wahhabi. In any case how can any of these be eradicated without the cooperation of Muslims?
One can understand this type of half-baked and nationally destructive ideas of the BBS and other such elements in our society. But, what one cannot understand is the determined silence of a Presidency, Government and parliamentary Opposition to counter this madness.
The Sinhala Buddhist majority has shown its utter disgust by not answering the BBS call to rally in Kandy. Where is the voice of sanity from national leaders? Either, they do not want to give importance to the utterings of a few miscreants, which is understandable but not at the expense of the damage they are causing to the country’s economy and societal harmony, or, they are hypocritically awaiting to reap electoral benefits from politicised Buddhism in the forthcoming elections.
That said, there is no question that the Muslim community and its religious and educational institutions need be reformed. That reformation has to be undertaken by Muslims themselves under an enlightened leadership that understands the current dilemma. No outsider has any mandate to dictate and force reforms upon a community. The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulema (ACJU) and Muslim politicians who are in bed with them have been too lackadaisical or obstinately obstructive in initiating and implementing reforms.
Their joint stand against reforming the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act for example, illustrates best their obscurantism. To start with, the ACJU must include within its hierarchy qualified men and women from other fields.
The religious class has arrogated for too long the name ulema exclusively to itself. That name, which is simply the plural of alim, meaning a learned person, applies even to secularly educated intellectuals. Why aren’t secular experts admitted into the ACJU? Once the ACJU itself is reformed that body can become a progressive force to stimulate changes.
A THOUGHT from Michael Roberts
I would like to have more grounded information on the Chinese policy towards the Uyghurs with bibliographical references on the topic. I cannot see how a large populace can be transformed by force [as distinct from being decimated].