Sri Lanka: Dealing with unrest and seeking unity
Sri Lanka has seen an unprecedented disruption to peace and stability once again, ten years after the end of a brutal civil war. The recent Easter Sunday terrorist attacks have left many Sri Lankans fearful for the future. As a British Muslim, Sri Lanka is a country dear to me. It is where my parents were born, where I got married and where I have built on my childhood memories, having visited the country on holiday almost every other year with my family.
I was extremely heartbroken to hear about the Easter Sunday terror attacks, and my thoughts and prayers rest with all the victims and their families. The perpetrators of the Easter attacks have gone against the tenets of the faith they claim to be part and have no place in Islam.
Despite many Sri Lankan Muslims sharing the same sentiment, many Muslims in Sri Lanka are being reprimanded and blamed collectively by ignorant groups for the actions of those terrorists whom they strongly condemn. The majority of Sri Lankans are peace loving people and want to work together harmoniously to restore peace within the country. However, this new spate of unjust retaliatory attacks against Muslims is hindering the progression of rehabilitation of the country.
Anti Muslim backlash has been soaring over the last few days and has been deemed one of the worst spouts of anti-Muslim violence since the 2014 Aluthgama riots. A man had been slashed to death by the mobs, mosques have been burnt, and Muslim-owned businesses have been destroyed which has only brought further unrest to an already grieving country. My own family have not stepped out of their homes; they are awake at night in fear and have not sent their children to school.
Mobs were recorded on CCTV camera in videos posted online with the police and authorities accused of being bystanders to the violence as mobs continued to attack Muslim minorities. A curfew was put in place, yet this meant that Muslim minorities were kept inside their homes in a vulnerable state while the mobs defied the curfew and were easily able to roam around the streets and cause destruction. The authorities failed to protect Christian minority groups despite many calls from Bishops that attacks were being perpetrated against the Christian community.
Now the same thing is happening with the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka. Muslims on the ground feel unprotected with some families, even stating that they had to wait for two hours for the police to arrive after they reported incidents, and this is unacceptable. When those who are tasked to protect and keep the nation together are enabling the violence, what can Sri Lankans expect for the future of the country?
Thankfully my family were amongst many Sri Lankan Muslim families who were invited by kind neighbours to take shelter in their home for a safer place to stay while the mob attacks were going on and this is a testament to the unity of the country. It was heartwarming to see that Christian priests, Buddhist Monks and Hindu priests were among those that attended the funeral of the man who was killed in the mob attacks in solidarity with the Muslim community.
Sri Lanka temporarily banned some social media networks and messaging apps, including Facebook and WhatsApp, after a social media posting had allegedly sparked the anti-Muslim riots across several towns. The island nation still has a chance to restore peace and communal harmony if people come together to combat all forms of hate and work collectively rather than pitting against one another which would be playing directly into the hands of those who wish to divide us. The country had proven that peace could be restored having achieved stability over the last nine years following 26 years of civil war between the government and LTTE in the north of the country.
Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has been at the forefront of meetings with religious leaders from Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Christians communities in the country in an attempt to promote peace and unity after the attacks. Ranjith condemned any backlash against Muslim minorities, telling me in an email that “No Muslim should have to face any harm or backlash” and called for peace.
In an address to the nation, Prime Minister RanilWickremesinghe stated that the unrest would hinder investigations into the April 21 attacks. For Sri Lanka to recover from the Easter attacks and the latest spout of violence, there need to be several measures put in place starting with a unified voice from the government to safeguard minority groups and curb any violence immediately. We need to acknowledge that any attacks on our faiths or any form of hate and racism are considered acts of terror, and we need to remain united against all forces of hate. Those in power need to be at the forefront of calling for peace and unity and ensure that every community is protected and made to feel safe.
Also, the people of Sri Lanka need to be reassured that all political parties will work collectively, setting aside political differences, and ensure national security measures are met. Appropriate action needs to be taken against any perpetrator of violence and discord and assured that justice and accountability are sought through the eyes of the law. Preventing retaliatory action in Sri Lanka is critical to establishing peace and unity in the country and rehabilitating the lives of the people of Sri Lanka who want to get on with their lives and live in peace once again.