Resignations and their aftermath (2) | Daily News

Resignations and their aftermath (2)

President Maithripala Sirisena has reportedly expressed grave concern at the mass exodus of Muslim ministers from the Government. The President has conveyed his views in this regard at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, according to media reports. The President's concern over the across-the-board exit of Muslim ministers, no doubt, would be shared by most independent observers.

To begin with, Monday’s announcement of Muslim ministers, deputy ministers and state ministers that they would be leaving their portfolios to facilitate investigations against some of their colleagues charged by opponents of colluding with the Easter Sunday terror suspects, no doubt, has driven a wedge between the two communities, at least temporarily. We say this because Muslims are and has been an integral part of the national polity, in that they have been regular participants in national politics and enriched the country's political landscape with their presence. Besides, they have also firmly integrated with the country's democratic process and often times been the deciding factor in electoral outcomes.

Now, with the exit of the Muslim ministers, there is all likelihood of a breakaway from this pattern, with the Muslim community being painted to a corner and pushed into isolation. The recent spate of activities by Buddhist monks and Opposition politicians, with an unmistakable communal flavour have not helped matters and have only gone on to create an ‘us vs. them’ feeling among the Muslim community. Hence, the President's concerns, no doubt, are amply justified. He, more than anyone else, knows the contribution made by the Muslim voters towards his election. It is moot, though, if the Muslims, as a community, will even, henceforth, exercise their franchise to help elect a leader from the majority community, given the prevailing situation.

If that be the case, then we are once again heading for re-play of the scenario relating to the Tamil community. It is such isolationist acts such as standardization and the denial of other fundamental rights that forced the community as whole to rebel against the state. In the case of the Muslims it could be worse. Here it is not a case of denial of freedom or fundamental rights, but a direct onslaught on the community by imputing terrorist motives on the community as a whole, if the strident rhetoric emanating from certain quarters is anything to go by. We say this because, despite the well couched wordings by the spokesmen for the Joint Opposition that they were not targeting the Muslims as a whole but only those who pandered to the terrorists, the nuances are unmistakable who their wrath are directed against.

This column has not been a great fan of the Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera and we have often been critical of his conduct that is unworthy of the saffron robe-to put it mildly. But we are in full agreement of his stand that the Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera's death-fast was ill timed and that it only served to whip up antagonism against the entire Muslim community. Such a course of action, if at all, should have been taken in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks. The Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera's fast-unto death campaign could push the moderate Muslims in the country towards extremism, the Ven. Gnanasara Thera said.

Addressing the media in Colombo, shortly after the fasting monk withdrew from his campaign, upon the resignation of the Muslim Governors Azath Salley and Hisbullah, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary pointed out that it was the moderate Muslims who helped curb extremist acts by the followers of the terrorist leader Zaharan after the Easter Sunday bombing. "Acts like the Ven. Rathana Thera's campaign will only push such moderate Muslims towards extremism”, he stressed. Ven. Gnanasara Thera went on to say that Ven. Rathana Thera's act could have been justified if he had held the protest at least within a week after the Easter Sunday attacks. The Thera also questioned why Ven. Rathana Thera was protesting against three individuals when there were so many others behind the Easter Sunday carnage. The requirement today was for a national agenda to defeat extremism and not individual acts like Ven. Rathana Thera's fast.

True, the location of the death fast in the precinct of the Sri Dalada Maligawa, the predominantly Buddhist crowds present, the chanting of Sadhu, Sadhu etc., all created a picture of a campaign against the entire Muslim community, although the specific targets were the two Governors and the Muslim minister. It underscored the division based on communal lines. It is also doubtful if the fears and doubts could be expelled anytime soon. The resignation of the Muslim ministers has only exacerbated the division.

What is needed most at present is for measures towards de-escalation. The President, Prime Minister and religious leaders should play a positive role in this respect. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a firm friend of the State of Palestine should also not find it difficult to assist in this cause, by first getting his minions to tone down their rhetoric with an anti-Muslim flavour. Why, even the Ven. Gnanasara Thera, now that he has apparently moderated his stance, could be co-opted in this exercise by appealing to his core Buddhist following to see things in perspective.


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