Rauf Hakeem said he had been “disturbed” by recent comments from the country’s defence secretary which warned of efforts to “promote Muslim extremism” in Sri Lanka. “We are extremely disturbed by the specific reference to the Muslim community of Sri Lanka as possible breeding grounds of extremism within the country,” Hakeem said in a statement.
I make the following statement on behalf of the Muslim Community of Sri Lanka in response to some important observations made by the Secretary of Defence in his key note address at the recent Defence Seminar.
In order to avoid any controversy arising out of any misunderstanding, I would like to quote the exact words of the Secretary of Defence and its context:
“Similarly, it has been observed that there are some foreign groups that wish to encourage Sri Lankan Muslims to identify themselves more with the global Muslim community, thereby reducing their integration with the rest of the population. It is a known fact that Muslim Fundamentalism is spreading all over the world and in this region. This is a situation that our law enforcement agencies and security forces are concerned about, particularly as there have been instances where extremist elements have been in transit in Sri Lanka prior to arrest and handing over to appropriate authorities. The possibility that such extremist elements may try to promote Muslim extremism in Sri Lanka is a cause for concern.”
The cogency and the relevance of this statement in contemporary domestic and global contexts are understandable.
There is indeed a phenomenon of rising consciousness in the Islamic world which is seen as ‘Muslim fundamentalism’ or ‘Militant Islam’ mainly by the non-Islamic world. The most eloquent example is that of the Islamic Republic of Iran which is the global enemy- number-one of the United States of America. This same Nation has extremely cordial relations with Sri Lanka.
Similarly, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan too are also often unfairly projected in negative light globally, despite their state actions against militant extremism, but, they remain sincere friends of Sri Lanka who voted in favour of our country at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. It has more to do with ‘perception’ and ‘passion’ and less to do with ‘realty’ or ‘accuracy’.
The observation that the Muslim communities may have some elements with extreme parochial prejudices is both possible and probable. Yet, we are extremely disturbed by the specific reference to the Muslim community of Sri Lanka as possible breeding grounds of extremism within the country. I find it imperative to make this observation in the context of the most vital part of the address made by the Secretary of Defence.
He says and I quote:
“ If the level of political discourse in Sri Lanka is not raised above these narrow ethno-religious concerns to address the core issues facing all of our people, it will be very difficult for the nation to make progress. In this context, it is particularly important that all of the main political parties work throughout the country to promote the interests of the nation, without focusing on one group or other. It is only when we bring all the ethnicities and cultures of this country together into one Sri Lankan identity that we will truly make progress as a nation.”
The Muslim community of Sri Lanka that has been a historical minority of Sri Lanka from the time of Ancient Sinhala kings fervently hopes to see the State promoting the interests of the Sri Lankan nation , and avoid “focusing on one group or other”.
The minority communities of Sri Lanka would have been genuinely reassured if the words of wisdom of a public officer such as the Secretary of Defence included ‘all communities’ that make up our plural polity. Prejudice and parochialism are neither a minority monopoly nor a decease that the majority community is immune to.
I would like to publicly contradict the assertion of the Secretary of Defence that, “One of the consequences of the increasing insularity amongst minority ethnic groups is the emergence of hard line groups within the majority community.”
On the contrary, I wish to say that, it is the intransigence and intolerance of a miniscule minority within the majority community who under the pretence of being defenders of the teachings of the greatest defender of human dignity and non- violence hold the entire populace in helpless anxiety while driving the hapless minorities in to servile insularity.
The “vicious cycle of greater fragmentation of the Sri Lankan identity” can only be halted only when the state that is uniformly protective of all its people, leaving matters of religion and culture in the hands of the respective peoples and groups as is the case of all enlightened democracies.
Surely, our nation state is mature enough to discern the difference between coexistence and subsistence.
Rauff Hakeem MP
Minister of Justice
Leader, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress