Different meanings of ANTHAWAADAYA (Fundamentalist/Extremist)
We can go back into history to attempt to explain some of the dynamics at play today in the way we in Sri Lanka feel, act, and behave, none of which amount to any sense of Nationhood, and all point to our own particular corner of identifying with our own particular community, and their feeling of betrayal, most notably by their own leaders as in political or religious leaders, who both have agendas that appear more personal than of putting the interests of the Nation front and center of any debate.
So let me start with the debate in parliament on Friday, 9th March, all facts extracted from the reports in Saturday’s Lankadeepa Sinhala, and if I am wrong in taking that information as reported, forgive me if those facts themselves have been misreported, I can only go by what I read.
Harsha de Silva, a UNP Minister, when speaking in Parliament about the present crisis, asked Dinesh Gunewardene of the Mahinda Faction or the Joint Opposition to stay behind a little to listen to what he was saying, as DG was attempting to leave the chamber when he was speaking. The unsaid part was that DG had his say, and was of no use listening to what Harsha had to say.
He was trying to say that Buddhist Fundamentalism, has been given succor by the Joint Opposition, and given strength by their recent success at the local government election, which has been the precursor to the current indiscriminate violence against innocents. Of course the Joint Opposition will NOT accept this label, washing their hands of any connection. It is clear that while knowing that their constituency is the very people harboring feelings of resentment against the Muslims, (justifiably or not) come overwhelmingly from the very people who voted for the BUD in the last election.
They harbor the hope that if the JO was in power, they would take steps to neutralize fundamentalism in its tracks.
Then Harsha to be fair, also accused the Muslims of harboring Fundamentalists, within their midst, directly reflecting what his own constituency was telling him, nothing else, where they felt that the rise in their economic power, has given them the confidence in demanding more rights, or at least showing their strength in the Halal issues and a more extreme form of Islam as reflected in the teachings in mosques, influence by the Wahabi faction of Islam over the years.
Then once his speech was over, when Mujibur Rahman another Colombo MP from the UNP got up to speak, Harsha was leaving the Chamber, and this MP also hollered out to Harsha and asked him to stay to hear what he had to say.
In essence he told the Chamber, that Harsha was wrong, that there was NO fundamentalism in the Muslim community, and he was only using that term incorrectly to blame the Muslim community, and justify the actions of the Sinhala extremists against innocent Muslims. He had also said earlier that he was ashamed of being part of the UNP, in this Government, presumably because they too were holding anti-Muslim views and had not taken action sooner to help the Muslim community when this issue was brewing, to take steps to nip the issue in the BUDD as soon as it occurred.
Now all this was after confirming that the initial cause of the crisis, the alleged WANDA PETHI (sterilization pills) were in fact lumps of starch or flour.
If you follow the drift, all these people referred to above were merely representing their own constituency feelings as politicians, far removed from reality, as it pertains to what leaders should to resolve conflict. All three constituencies have an agenda, the JO to regain power, the UNP to clearly blame the JO for fostering this festering anti Muslim feelings, to gain power, and blaming them for causing this riot, while the Muslims, who see that the Sinhala constituency are finding reasons for the violence are looking at Fundamentalism as the cause of all this mistrust, when they tell their leaders to tell the people that they do not engage in Fundamentalism.
All the parties are wrong here, and Sri Lankan nationhood is the loser.
They must all agree to meet outside of chamber representing their own constituency and put prejudice aside and determine what really is the need of the hour? In order to put everyone’s minds at rest to solve this crisis, and prevent it from becoming an even bigger problem, what needs to be done?
So let me try and untangle this unholy mess, so we can see some light, and go in that direction of this light.
Every community must bear their share of the blame here, and in the end it boils down to how the economic pie is distributed. In short it is a question of economics, and power that comes through wealth. Wealth is power, as power can be purchased if there is wealth, as you can buy people with your money in this world. Everything has a price, and we resent people who use their money to buy influence no matter what that influence is, or if it is used for the right or wrong reasons, we don’t like it, and instead of looking inward, we look outward
The problem then is not with the successful community it with the less successful community in any society. So the successful community do not think there is anything wrong with them, it is with those that resent them, and even more so those, they point as being fundamentalists, who stoke this resentment.
So just how Jews in Cairo who were discriminated against by the Muslim Egyptians, due to their success and economic power, which finally led them to leave, is just using one example, to pick on a racial or religious minority for the sins of the majority.
A particular trait of Theravada Buddhism is the power of the Clergy, who demand that their following for charity to assist in building and maintaining increasingly more lavish temples, is cause for some of this resentment. While Buddhism abhors the accumulation of wealth for personal use, as one is supposed to find Nirvana, by not being attached to anything worldly, Islam main precepts is to follow their strict pillars of faith, which does not say anything about abandoning wealth, and only in helping their poorer brethren.
So just think about it, Buddhist charity goes to make Temples, and priests powerful, not contributing anything to the wealth of the flock in any sense, and not even encouraging its acquisition and further the sin of killing any living thing. Islam on the other hand puts human beings as the only God’s creature, and helping other human beings as being the most noble of deeds that they help their community to improve their lot, resulting in a community that grows not just in population, but also in wealth.
Is it hardly surprising then that the Muslim community numbers are rising, along with their wealth, and therefore their power in relation to what it was 30 years ago? NO
So there is your answer. Resentment that with power, and the influence of Wahabism, there is a gradual shift to their behavior, dress, needs and demands. It is normal that when a community grows, their political influence grows with it, partly to preserve their status in the community, and to permit them to flourish. It is NORMAL. They must understand that others think differently.
I had a very wealth friend of mine tell me she felt uncomfortable that some Muslim women in full black covering, were looking at her very disapprovingly, for the way she was dressed. She said they were staring at her. She was angry that she in the majority community would be made to feel that way, a classic sign of Majority thinking in a minority way, a sure fire way to stoke resentment. Now she will not go throwing stones at a Muslim house, or not buy from a Muslim shop, but would subscribe to banning of the black dress in Sri Lanka.
As long as you have people you can point to from a different community as being different in the way they behave, you have a recipe from problems, further accentuated by growing political power in numbers, which many people feel is removing Sinhala Buddhist Hagemony from Sri Lanka, another myth that is being perpetrated. It is easy using facts and figures to convince a docile flock that this is in fact true.
So what gives? Compromise. The Muslims in Sri Lanka must understand that there is this feeling of resentment, it is not going to go away, merely by prognostications to the contrary. Change in practices will allay their fears, even if some are rather far-fetched solutions. Fear is stoked by people for personal gain and political power, unless steps are taken to neutralize them.
We must understand reality. The power of the Muslim community is rising. Their wealth is rising exponentially when compared with the Sinhala community. It is not the fault of the Mulim community that their wealth is rising, and it is not the fault of the Sinhala community that their wealth is not. It is simply the way people feel about wealth. So it is wrong for the Sinhala community to take revenge by looting and burning property, in short breaking the law, as it is a silly and destructive option, that in the end they have to pay for as the compensation paid is also paid by the whole community from taxes!
Another painful fact is that the Police Force is overwhelmingly made up from the Sinhala Community, subscribing to this racist view point of their leaders, as Mahinda Rajapakse stuffed the Police Force with his loyalists, not professionals. This means that in a future conflagration, Muslims cannot rely on the guarantee of the Police to save their property from being destroyed.
In life it is the art of compromise, and they must (that is the Muslim community) learn a few things from the tiny minority communities of various Muslim and Hindu sects, who thrive in Sri Lanka and are under the radar. Whether it is the Sindhis, Memons, Borahs, they are primarily businessmen who don’t use their religion to show their power. They quietly acquire their wealth, and know how to invest, and they employ 500,000+ Sinhala and Tamil workers with little resentment against them in the workplace!
Muslims should learn a few home truths. Mujibur Rahman said his wife doesn’t cover her head, then, you can be a good Muslim, without. He should tell his community to learn to live in peace and harmony, without an outward show of their power, that could irritate the host community. The host community MUST understand that on the other hand maintaining the huge number of Temples in Sri Lanka is actually pauperizing them unfairly, and they should help the Temple less, but instead their less fortunate neighbors more, to gain merit.