Thursday, 7 March 2013

Sri Lankan Terrorism

If you have not been living under a rock at the bottom of the ocean for the past couple of months, you've probably already heard about the recent tension growing in Sri Lanka over an official movement rising against Muslims. I'm not going to talk about what it might mean for the country, or go on a tirade against the government or against Sinhalese supremacists, because honestly I don't know enough yet about politics or our country's history for such an impressive critique.

What I will say is that I am genuinely frightened. 

At first, I thought it was nothing, or rather that's what I wanted to believe, that it was just a small group of radical extremists who would soon be quelled by the majority of rational minded individuals that I wanted to believe make up most of Sri Lanka. Then I heard about a mosque or two being attacked. Then I heard about 'secret meetings' attended by about 500-1000 'true Buddhists' who believed Muslims were a threat to the country. Then I heard about friends of my friends who were posting anti-Muslim hate speech on their Facebook and starting up online groups against Muslims. 

All along, I could hear my mind expressing its denial about it, saying 'no, it's fine, they're still a minority, if the rest of us are just vocal about our resistance and use the right amount of media, this thing will die out and we can forget it ever happened.' This is probably because all along I've been buffered by a circle of friends, online and off, Muslims and non-Muslims, who have been constantly expressing their revulsion and intolerance towards these anti-Muslim sentiments. While so many people around me were complaining about how their Sinhalese friends had suddenly 'turned' into intolerant racists, especially on Facebook, I (fortunately) could not say the same about a single friend of mine. But there is a whole other world outside my little social bubble. 

Every day I hear about someone getting a new chainmail forward, someone starting up a new group, someone receiving a racial slur on the street - little tidbits of anti-Muslim feelings, only tidbits but together they form a big ominous shadow of some scary monster inside my head whose growl is getting louder and louder. Is the fear from my imagination or is it reality? I can't tell for sure. Right now, parallel to this is a counter-movement of people writing features in the newspapers, starting up online campaigns, setting up real life projects, to bring the communities together and to try and fight this thing. The numbers on either side are vague - nobody knows who is 'winning'. The government meanwhile has said that it is 'looking into it' and Muslim representatives in the government are 'in talks' with the Prezzy who himself has allegedly asked Bodu Bala Sena who is supposedly behind all this to put an end to it - not that any of that, at the end of the day, sounds very reassuring at all. 

What are they so mad about? That the Muslims want to eat Halal meat? I've heard that a lot of this has its roots in false education - a lot of people, for example, don't even know what Halal means. It isn't a code name for some big bad plot to take over the country, it's just a simple religious ritual that takes place when  an animal is killed for food, where a prayer to God is said and it is killed in as painless and as fast a way possible. If the problem is the fact that the animal is killed itself, then take it up with all the meat-eaters in the country, not just Muslims, but Burghers, Tamils and Sinhalese too. What bothers me is that we have not really done much to deserve such an anti-Muslim panic - some say Muslims are 'demanding' Halal certificates from certain restaurants or that they are labelling everything 'Halal' and unjustly taking control of the market by catering to Muslim customers - but these sound like such poor, ambiguous reasons for such an extreme movement as one that is spewing hate and intolerance and extolling racial supremacy.  

I want to believe that Sri Lankans as a whole will not allow anything bad to happen to the Muslim community - that there will be enough media pressure, protest and hopefully some semblance of government intervention that can keep this at bay. But for the first time in my life, I'm terrified. A friend of mine said to me, 'There were countless innocent Tamils who faced extreme racism, were killed and displaced for years now - nobody spoke for them, so what makes you think anyone is going to stand up for you?' A friend got a chain-forward today that was supposed to be a dumb joke - it was an advertisement (nice Photoshop job I might add) of a 'Halal condom', that was 'dipped in Zam Zam' and 'would keep Satan away during intercourse', and the package was titled by an Arabic 'In the name of Allah the most Gracious the most Merciful' which I have been so accustomed to seeing on the covers of the Qur'aans we grew up reading from. I don't even know if this is part of the anti-Muslim hostility spreading in the country, it very well could just be a teenager's random prank in bad taste and could have nothing to do with it at all, but it scared me. I asked my friend if he said anything to the person who sent him the email, my friend told me he didn't and that it wouldn't make a difference anyway. 

What I am afraid of is - if this does turn into a thing, and there is an active group walking through the streets and asking Muslims to leave their homes or else - will anybody stand by us and defend us? I know so many Sri Lankans do not approve of this thing, but none of us 'approved' of the cruelty that the Tamil community has had to face either, did that stop them from receiving it? 

When I'm back home in May I want to be an active part of the movement that is removing misconceptions about the Muslim community and trying to battle this thing by promoting national togetherness, maybe even try to convert it into a strong collective media program that can rally the masses against it. A lot of people say I'm just being naive though. I get 'Racial conflict is an awkward thing to talk about on a mass media level, nobody's going to allow you, it's bad for the country's image' (exhibit A: I hear Ras Ceylon's pop song about Sri Lanka 'healing' after its civil war 'Heal Lanka' has been banned from the airwaves). or 'The government isn't doing anything to actively put an end to these racist groups and their meetings so they are probably complacent about it, they're not going to intervene and stop the shit from hitting the fan.' or 'This animosity has been going on since ever, a sequel to our last civil war that has been a long time coming, they won't stop till Sri Lanka is a pure Sinhalese nation.' 

But then if I'm being naive, what's Plan B? Sit and wait and hope for the best? Terrorism to me has always been this thing on TV, with the soldiers with the guns and the dramatic pictures of children crying and homes half destroyed, even in our last civil war it barely touched me in my little suburban Colombo bubble of comfort, save for the checkpoints and reading in the papers about a bus that exploded. For the first time I feel like it has crossed into my house, because as we sit here and wait to see how this will unfold, I can sense in me and my family a vague feeling of foreboding, and terror. 


  1. you don`t have to educate anyone about correcting racist beliefs about muslims... but we must all mobilize to protest against these thugs.

    isn`t it time for the politicians and the wiser sangha to start buying halal in droves .. would anything less suffice...

    a huge sathyagraha at the samadhi budhu pilimaya... in protest against BBS and anti halal non-buddhists.

    sad sad situation..

  2. This is purely your beliefs and assumptions and what you heard by marketable media.It always create a situation to market the news of them :)
    the real situation is not what you think and what you explains ...

    i think your writeup is good to read ... but not to believe and this is not the exact truth :)

  3. meh, islamophobia is a global trend

  4. Living abroad, it's very disconcerting to hear about the anti-muslim movement. The fact that we're hearing about it at all seems to be an indication that it IS worse than we first thought. I'm not a muslim myself, yet I still feel fearful - because conflict like this ultimately affects us all. What I can't understand are the flimsy arguments it's based on and why, after over 30 years of war, the government has done nothing to publicly denounce the hate. It's extremely worrying. I suppose that in a situation like this, all you can do is prepare for the worst and try to educate people in the interim.

  5. Oh go and kill yourself you dumb muslim bitch. Scream alhamdulillah while you do it. Sri Lanka doesn't need you pigs.

  6. I agree with you on the Halal issue,that you need certain specifications to consume meet and all the ppl who criticize is not even vegetarians..
    I believe just being Singhala does not make some of the "heroes" the sole saviors of Buddhisms..unless they prctice it well... and Muslims do deserv to live in harmony in SL

    But I have a question..
    Why does a paint brush need Halal (JAT holdings)
    Why does Fresh Cows milk need Halal (KOtmale/Rich Life)
    Why does spices like chili powder/curry powder directly coming from trees, need halal (almost all brands)
    there are many more examples.... so the fact that it is unnecessary imposed on every thing is unfair... I don't believe in those conspiracies of Jihads and bla bla... but someone in SL is earning big with this Halal certificate by issuing that to every possible thing....not just meat!!
    and I'd like to ask, is it right???

    1. It's true that those things are completely unnecessary, but it's also true that that's an administrative and marketing issue that has to be dealt with accordingly with those responsible - not through fascist racist propaganda that affects the whole Muslim community.

    2. Have a fucking cry Shifani. Start by screaming against the fascist racist propaganda against the Jews that is rampant among the Sri Lankan Muslims.

    3. I condemn those Muslims who are part of that propaganda. Two wrongs don't make a right, Sam. :)

    4. Toothbrushes can be made by pig hair, vitamins and emulsifiers added in milk sometimes can be derivatives of pig, so on and so forth. This is why there are halaal certification for everything you mentioned, even a small quantity makes it haraam. And no one is earning anything from the halaal certification process except maybe for the manufactures for getting the 9 percent of Muslim buy their products. Certainly not ACJU, if you really want to know the truth you can visit their halaal division or ring them up and see the figures for yourself
      And Shifani please educate yourself before replying to a comment, otherwise an excellent article.

    5. Amna, why don't you educate yourself first? Do Muslims eat soap and paint brushes? I hope the answer is NO. So what's the need for a halal certificate for these items? Muslims don't eat perfume do they? Yet they are okay with wearing perfume that contains alcohol, or using alcohol swabs in the hospital setting. The ACJU is just greedy for money.

  7. Excellent post. Not enough Muslims have blogged about how they feel about this, it helps others to view things from the Muslim perspective.

  8. The point you make about your circle of friends is very true; even I was lured into believing this BBS movement was just a minority hate group, until I started seeing my friends posting hate messages, agreeing with messages about the Halal ban, etc. Now that the BBS have managed to remove the Halal labels (I don't know what that achieves) they are apparently going to target the abaya.

    This is hate, and this is sadly a majority. If you look at the rural areas (where I work) almost everyone (95%) believe that Halal products cause infertility and miscarriages.

    Factor that in, and you'll realise that we are the minority.

    What a failure..

  9. Sri Lankan Muslims need to learn to integrate more with the rest of the population instead of trying to force their relgious beliefs onto others. You don't like pork or alcohol? Great, but don't try and coerce restaurants and other establishments to toe your line.

    1. Nobody is 'forcing' religious beliefs on anyone - some places refrain from serving alcohol or pork purely as an internal marketing decision to choose to cater to the minority population of Muslims, NOT because of any external 'forcing' or 'coercion'. Also this is a multicultural, multireligious country, it should be *all inclusive* and I do not believe that any community - whether Buddhist, Muslims or Christians - should have to compromise their beliefs to live here. Buddhists have managed to co-exist with Muslims thus far, and vice versa, in terms of both religion and culture - so using this as a sudden excuse for destructive racist propaganda is so silly, it's almost laughable.

    2. I'm sorry but when you set up an institution that provides "halal certificates" and then a list is published of "halal" and supposedly "non-halal" restaurants and other establishments, then there is an element of coercion that comes into play. Businesses are made to believe that they will lose customers if they do not have a halal certificate and if you look on facebook there certainly are Muslim groups promoting boycotts of places that refuse to get a halal certificate or have rescinded a halal certificate for whatever reason. Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country and has been for thousands of years. The population is overwhelmingly Buddhist and whether Muslims like it or not they will have to get on with their Buddhist neighbours if they want to practice their religion freely. You don't get to blare out the Azan 5 times a day in England for example and neither do you get to slaughter animals on the streets and backyards on Eid Ul Adha. Yes, the Buddhist and Muslims have got on so far - so how did the Muslims survive for centuries without halal certificates?

    3. I have always prided myself thus far for being part of a country that actually allowed Muslims, a minority community, to blare out the Azan five times a day, while Hindu and Buddhist temples performed their religious rites at the same time. Same goes for the Halal consideration that establishments choose to give. This kind of multicultural integration and inclusiveness is a sign of progressiveness, not weakness. It's a sad day when that very thing is being rooted out by people who feel Sri Lanka is essentially just a 'Buddhist country' because of the majority and that only Buddhists should be allowed full religious freedom. I admire Buddhism because ideally it is incapable of producing 'fundamentalists' because its very fundamental doctrine is so chilled out, preaching only self-improvement, love and kindness towards all creatures. I somehow highly doubt Lord Buddha would have approved of this attempt to (ironically) give the Buddhist community in the country the upperhand at the cost of restraining the religious freedom of other communities.

    4. Sitting in an ivory tower and trying to teach Buddhists about Buddhism is really not the way to go if you want to build bridges; others don't teach you about Islam do they? Muslims in Sri Lanka may predominate in some areas, mainly in the east, but the majority live amongst the Buddhist majority. Therefore if they wish to practice their religion freely - to put it bluntly - they best not piss off their Buddhist neighbours. Muslims are free to eat halal food, but that should not be at the expense of others. The ACJU is just running a business trying to make money at the expense of non-Muslims. I think what has happened is that folks like you have taken Buddhist tolerance for granted. You guys have more than enough religious rights in Sri Lanka, and you certainly have more rights than ANY Muslim country affords its religious minorities.

      As for the Azan, I am sorry, but it is not a sign of progressiveness when your personal space is invaded five times a day by a loud voice that declares that there is no God but Allah. Think about it: how would you like it if someone used a loudphone and told you that what you believed was wrong five times a day? The Christian God, the Hindu God, the Buddha are all false and there is only Allah? How is that nice or acceptable in any way?

      As for the Buddha, I'm pretty sure he would not approve of the cruel slaughter of animals that takes place in the name of Islam, and that too in a manner that is calculated to cause maximum suffering.

    5. Haha every religion thinks that it is the right one and thrives in expressing itself - I used to wake up to the sounds of the bana from the Buddhist and Hindu temples too, but I accepted and respected it because those are the beliefs and livelihoods of my neighbors whom I love. As for the killing of animals for food, it is not some distinctly Islamic thing, there are people of all religions in SL, including some Buddhist Sinhalese who eat meat, so you have to take it up with all meat eaters, not just the Muslim community. For your information, the Halal method explicitly states the necessity of killing animals only and only for the purpose of food and only in a manner that causes least suffering.

      If you have an issue with the Halal certificate, that's fine, let's demand the responsible establishments and representatives take it up peaceably with each other and settle it. Let me just state the obvious for you: whatever our issues are with other communities, whether yours or mine, whether credible or not - forming mobs and inciting random hatred is NOT the way to settle them. Your 'you guys' and 'us' distinction disturbs me, and this you-vs-us attitude, whether incited from minority groups or majority group regardless, is exactly what is wrong with this country. But I'm not going to continue arguing with you because clearly you are very set about your ideas and very passionate about seeing things through your one perspective. Peace. :)

    6. Except the Buddhists and the Hindus do not broadcast loud claims that only their religion is true five times a day for all and sundry to hear right? It's quite different to the Azan which is shouting out the supremacy of Islam and Allah over all other religions and their Gods. I'm sure you will agree that is not a nice thing to do. In fact, it is quite rude especially when most of the residents are non-Muslim. Out of interest, did Muslims have loudspeakers centuries ago? No. Just like they did not have halal certificates. And Islam flourished did it not?

      About slaughter, the point is that the Muslim method is unnecessarily cruel, not about eating meat. The so-called halal method of slaughter is a medieval practice promoted by medieval books. We are now living in the 21st century and not medieval Saudi Arabia. There are more humane ways of slaughtering animals without causing so much pain and suffering. To be honest, it's rather disgusting to see young Muslim children being exposed to this ritualistic slaughter and these days they are even uploaded to video sharing websites. The wanton massacre of animals that takes place on Eid Ul Adha is appalling, even more so when it is justified in the name of religion. You can't justify everything in the name of religion, especially when you are living in a non-Muslim country where others are opposed to such cruelty.

      I'm sorry to say this but Islam the religion itself teaches a "you guys" and "us" mentality to its followers. Are you not disturbed by that? Aren't the unbelievers called Kaafirs? This phrase is used by many Sri Lankan Muslims on their facebook pages. Islam teaches Muslims not to be friends with the Jews - its in the Quran itself. Is this what accounts for the absolute hatred that is expressed in Muslim circles towards the Jewish people? Secondly, Islam divides the world into Dar Al Harb and Dar Al Islam. If that is not promoting division and an "us" vs "them" mentality, that what is?

    7. Dear Sylvan, please give it a rest. You already have a lot of negative preconceived notions about Muslims and Islam, some of which are completely untrue I might add, and you are bent on sticking to them, so this argument is futile. If ever you feel like you want to put them aside for a moment and actually listen to what Islam is really about outside your little box of perception, then let me know and I will be happy to shed some light. Till then however, toodles.

      Meanwhile I fervently hope that people such as yourself are given the common sense to realize that your issues with Islam are not, and never will be, a justification for wanting to remove a whole RACE of people from the country.

  10. Shifani... your thoughts?

    It's clear that there are many people and that some aspects of Islamic practice are of issue to many Sri Lankans.