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Sri Lanka: Let a million Vesak lights dispel the forces of darkness

The proliferation of madrasas, as well as mosques, was also aided and abetted by President Jayewardene’s electorally cynical creation of religious affairs Ministries for Sri Lanka’s four religions. 

by Rajan Philips

Sri Lanka is the fortuitous recipient, even beneficiary, of two enlightenments. The first is bodhi - the Buddha’s awakening, or enlightenment. It is also the much older of the two, divinely pre-ordained to some, and spiritually and ritually cherished by millions of Sri Lankans. The second, European enlightenment, came from the west through colonial conquest and ironically with an admixture of Christianity and secularism. ‘Everything came from elsewhere’ – to paraphrase from Dr. Colvin R de Silva’s history lesson to Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, delivered in parliament in 1975, following the breakup of the United Front government.

The Prime Minister had trotted out the trite argument that the Marxist ideology (of the LSSP) was alien to Sri Lanka’s culture and traditions. As the past master of intellectual rebuttals Dr Colvin could not have had an easier proposition to dispose of: Sri Lanka is an island, small as islands go, intoned the Historian; people and ideas always came from the outside; Hinduism and Buddhism of old came from India; much later came Islam from west Asia, Christianity with western colonial rule and, finally, modern Marxism itself.

In the spirit of enlightened synthesis, it is fair to ask how well, or ill, have the two enlightenments intertwined through our modern history to the point where we are today? The results are mixed, at best, or worrisome, at worst, with perhaps greater reason for less pessimism today than there was, say, in 1983. Vesak is the celebration of Sri Lanka’s first enlightenment. The celebrations might be subdued this year, but the lights of Vesak could not have been timelier than now to soothe the frayed nerves of an agitated people.

The country seemed to be on track to normalcy after the Easter tragedies, but the forces of darkness emerged out of nowhere last Sunday and put the country back on edge and under curfew again. Violent mobs targeted and attacked innocent Muslims in the Kurunegala, Chilaw and Gampaha districts, in a pointless retaliation to the perishing of innocent Christians on Easter Sunday.

Although order seems to have been restored somewhat, it was frustrating to see the government failing yet again to anticipate and prevent the outbreak of violence, and being slow and tepid in its response once violence broke out. Compounding the government’s failure in crisis management is its failure to manage its messaging. In fact, there is no coordinated and credible government messaging at all. The huge void in official information is being filled by others from well-meaning religious leaders to over-zealous media speculators.

In a crisis situation, public pronouncements or information sharing by non-officials, however well placed, well-meaning and even ecclesiastical, can do more harm than give help. It is again a sign of the lack of confidence in the government that everyone wants to go public with whatever hearsay information they come across. The social media offers unrestricted space to anyone to pose anything anyone wants. And an inept government trying to control the social media creates more cynicism than confidence among the people.

Frustrations with government failures are the lot of Sri Lanka’s experience with the second enlightenment that arrived with Western colonial rule. While Buddhism and its ethos permeate and inform much of the culture and mores of Sri Lanka, its political society and institutions have been defined and shaped for nearly two hundred years by the enlightenment and institutions from the West. As many of us have been repeatedly writing in recent weeks, the Easter tragedies brutally exposed the fault lines of the political society and the failures of the State institutions. We saw more of the same last week.

The President was again missing in action and out of the country. For what earthly purpose no one knows. The Prime Minister took his own time before bestirring himself to show some signs of control. Not only who is to blame, as I asked last week, the question is also: Just who is in charge? Not to be too harsh, it is difficult not to say that it looks as if everyone is in charge except the government. In hindsight, the 19th Amendment should have addressed the intended omission in the 1978 Constitution to provide for an Acting President while the President is away. The President just takes off without asking anyone to act on his behalf during his absence. That leaves the administration paralyzed in two camps under the current divided government. The divisions and paralyses are quite palpable, and it does also seem that the President and the Prime Minister like to keep it that way. And without term limits, if they could.

Vesak Intervention

Apart from harming innocent people and disrupting the social peace, mob violence diverts the attention and resources of security agencies who are still trying to identify the local actors behind the Easter attacks and their international connects. New information keeps coming out about connections between those arrested in Sri Lanka in connection with Easter bombings and their networking in India. It is one thing to trace and apprehend all the local actors, but quite a different task to trace through all their external connections.

Those who are involved in the work of tracing the ISIS network in Sri Lanka would rather be without having to be distracted by outbreak of mob violence. And new recruits to the ISIS network cannot be prevented if mobs are continually organized to attack innocent Muslims, their Mosques and their businesses. Mob attacks are not at all the way to deal with international terrorism. There is no question that without the attacks on Muslims in 2014 (Aluthgama) and in 2018 (Kandy and Ampara), the ISIS would not have been able to get agents in Sri Lanka to the extent it seems to have been able to do. In the current situation, the government cannot afford to allow mob attacks against the Muslims to recur time after time and in different places.

Sri Lanka has long experience with communal mob violence. Five of them in the last century and three so far for this century including the one last week. The first was in 1915 and brought to surface the internal conflicts of nascent nationalism in a plural society under colonial rule. All the others came after independence and the first of them, in 1958, became remarkable among its other implications for the clinical manner in which it was brought under control by Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, as Governor General acting on the request of Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike. Sir Oliver’s 1958 example has not been emulated in the containment of the riots that came in quick succession after a lapse of 19 years: in 1977, 1981 and 1983. This was so despite Sri Lanka’s transition in 1977/78 from the parliamentary of government to the current presidential system. The pattern has continued into this century in 2014, 2018 and 2019.

The deterioration in political crisis management has a lot to do with the steep decline in police standards, which were very and were impeccably observed in Sir Oliver’s time to what they have become now. Since 1977, governments, police and security forces have shown a consistent pattern of being slow to respond to mob violence, responding only half-heatedly, and even acting at the behest of the attackers rather than to protect the attacked. Two other changes since 1977 too have lot to do with two aspects of the current Muslim question. President Jayewardene’s idiosyncratic approach to expanding a private education system to undermine the country’s public-school system could be totally blamed for the anarchical proliferation of madrasas among the Muslims and apparently against the warnings of all the moderate Muslims.

The proliferation of madrasas, as well as mosques, was also aided and abetted by President Jayewardene’s electorally cynical creation of religious affairs Ministries for Sri Lanka’s four religions. No previous government or Prime Minister had ever done that in Sri Lanka, and President Jayewardene was able to do this because he made himself Executive President, and he chose to do it in order to create secure religious vote banks for himself and his successors in presidential elections. JRJ’s well laid plan started breaking up in 1994 and is now in total shreds. And there have been more riots, more killings and even wars after 1977 than any time before in Sri Lanka’s modern history.

The Vesak intervention this weekend will hopefully quieten and marginalize the dark forces who mobilized and executed last week’s mob violence. It would be too much to expect a weekend of Vesak lights to clean up all the accumulation of the country’s dark forces after 1977. But they provide a breather after the tumults of the last month. Hopefully too, they would also set the tone for greater respect and tolerance for the many vectors of difference among all Sri Lankans.

Sri Lanka: 10 years later after our greater victory

Members of the intelligence services were held in detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. If members of the armed forces are suspected of some crime, they should be dealt with under the ordinary law of the land.

by Mahinda Rajapaksa

On the 19th of May 2019, we mark the tenth anniversary of the decisive defeat of the separatist terrorism that prevailed in this country for nearly four decades. Separatist violence which began in a small and amateurish manner from 1970 onwards, gave rise to the most powerful terrorist movement the world has ever known – the LTTE. The suicide jacket, small explosives laden speedboats manned by suicide cadres, night time aerial attacks using small aircraft are just a few of the innovations that the LTTE introduced to global terrorism. They were well ahead of all other terrorist movements in the world in collecting funds by both legal as well as illegal means. The LTTE was the only terrorist movement in the world that had its own ships deployed in international waters to transport weapons.

The Sri Lankan government bought weapons to combat the LTTE on credit. But the LTTE paid cash on the international market to buy the weapons they used against the Sri Lankan army as well as the Indian army. The LTTE was also the only terrorist organisation in the world to have assassinated two world leaders, – Rajiv Gandhi of India and President Premadasa of Sri Lanka. Those were the reasons why the FBI officially designated the LTTE as the deadliest terrorist organisation in the world in January 2008. Such was the nature of the terrorism that was conclusively brought to an end on the 19th May 2009 with the confirmation that its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was dead.

This was not a victory that was easily obtained. The number of armed forces personnel and officers of the Police Special Task Force killed during that war was 25,367. Several hundred ordinary policemen, thousands of Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim civilians and a number of political leaders also lost their lives. Countless numbers of people were injured. The value of the property that was destroyed during that war has not yet been calculated. We succeeded in winning the war because we resisted the pressure being brought on us by certain countries to halt operations.

The Republican administration in the USA at the time, helped Sri Lanka. It was with American help that we managed to pursuade the EU to name the LTTE as a terrorist organisation in 2006. In 2007, we were able to destroy the LTTE’s arms smuggling ships in international waters off Australia and Indonesia due to specific information provided to us by the USA. However in February 2009, a new Administration took over in the USA and attitudes changed after that. Nevertheless we managed to resist international pressure to halt operations and we won the war.

Sri Lanka is the only country in the recent history of the world to have completely defeated terrorism. After having emerged from a situation of intense conflict, a nation should be able to put all that behind us and to go forward. However though the war ended, certain local and foreign interested parties never allowed things to normalise in this country. From the day the war ended they kept raking up the past in order to keep the conflict going. Some may have been upset that we did not heed their calls to halt operations against the LTTE. They may also have been disturbed by the fact that we were being helped by China.

On the 9th January 2009, a government that dances to the tune of foreign powers was elected to power in this country. The agenda that they started implementing after capturing power was designed to break the back of this nation and to ensure that that we never raise our heads again. From the day the so called yahapalana government came into power, they started relentlessly persecuting the armed forces that amazed the entire world by defeating the terrorist organisation that everyone considered to be undefeatable. In 2015, the present government together with their foreign masters co-sponsored Resolution 30/1 in the UN Human Rights Council agreeing among other things to institute a special war crimes court in Sri Lanka with the participation of foreign judges, prosecutors and investigators.

They also agreed to remove from service by administrative means, all armed forces personnel suspected of having committed war crimes even if there is insufficient evidence to present in a court of law. The government has already passed several laws in fulfilment of the pledges given in Resolution 30/1. Through the Office of Missing Persons Act No: 14 of 2016, they have created an investigative body that can enter any armed forces or police installation at any time and seize any document or object and which can summon witnesses and carry out investigations even in contraventon of the Official Secrets Act.

Through Act No: 5 of 2018 which makes the provisions of the International Convention Against Enforced Disappearances applicable to Sri Lanka, the government has made it possible for foreign countries to request the arrest and extradition to their countries of persons supected of being responsible for enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka. The International Convention Against Enforced Disappearances is actually a punutive mechansim. The Mtual Assistance in Criminal Matters (Amendment) Act No: 24 of 2018 passed by this government enables Sri Lanka to provide evidence and other related matters in connection with cases being heard in foreign courts.

These three pieces of legislation are related to one another. The Office of Missing Persons conducts investigations and publishes reports from time to time. Cases can then be filed in foreign courts against members of our armed forces on the basis of those reports. Such cases can then be heard in foreign courts with the help of the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act. That was the plan.

In the meantime, the Sri Lankan government continues with the relentless persecution of our armed forces. If there is no evidence against a targeted member of the armed forces, he is arrested and remanded on the basis of a statement obtained from somebody else through various means. All officers who gave leadership to the war against the LTTE have been at the very least, brought to a police station and questioned. Even the highest serving military officer in the country, the Chief of Defence Staff spent some time in remand while still holding that position. All this was done to establish the view both in Sri Lanka and overseas that our armed forcers personnel are not war heroes but murderers, extortionists and thieves and to justify handing them over to foreign courts for trial.

Members of the intelligence services were held in detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. If members of the armed forces are suspected of some crime, they should be dealt with under the ordinary law of the land. The PTA is meant to be used during a terrorist threat against suspected terrorists. This government deliberately used the PTA against armed forces personnel to bring down the morale of the entire military. What was in operation under this government is a programme for the complete destruction of Sri Lanka.

On the one hand, members of the armed forces are relentlessly persecuted and neutralised. Then a new constitiution is introduced to weaken the central government and to divide Sri lanka into nine provincial governments. Under the new constitution, provisions were to be introduced to enable anybody to go to courts and obtain a stay order against a declaration of emergency. If by some mischance that constitution had been passed into law, the situation that would have arisen in this country after the Easter Sunday bomb attacks would have been unimaginable.

Another part of the same programme was to replace the Prevention of Terrosim Act of 1979 with the counter terrorism law that is under discussion today. That was yet another pledge made in UNHRC Resolution number 30/1. The main purpose of any anti-terrorism law is to suppress terrorism. Punishing terrorists is a secondary matter. One of the most important aspects of all anti-terrorism laws is the extended period of detention of suspects over and above what is allowed by the ordinary law. All anti-terroist operations depend on such provisions. Under the provisions of the present Prevention of Terrosim Act, terrorist suspects can be held in detention for 18 months and then kept in remand until the end of legal proceedings.

However under the proposed counter terrorism law, a terrorist suspect can be held in detention and remand only for a maximum period of one year, even on the orders of the High Court. After that suspects have to be mandatorily released on bail. If a case filed against a suspect cannot be completed in one year, the High Court is required to release the suspect on bail. No one can prevail against terrorism with such laws. After the London bombings of 2005, the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair tried to get a law passed to enable the detention of terrorism suspects for 90 days.

At that time, senior police offices had requested the British government to introduce laws to enable the detention of terrorist suspects for as long as it takes to complete the investigations. However, because some of Tony Blair’s MPs dependended on the votes of certain communities they did not allow that law to go through. The maximum period of detention was fixed at 28 days. Senior British police officers have consistently pointed out that this period is not adequate.

The Americans however did things differently. In 2011, President Barrack Obama signed the National Defence Authorisation Act which in Section 1021 specifically allowed for the indefintite detention of terrorist suspects until the end of hostilities. NGOs like Amnesty International have pointed out that this law applies equally to foreigners as well as suspect US citizens.

Apart from the period of detention, enhanced punishments also play a role in deterring terrorism. By the 2015 Criminal Justice and Courts Act, the British government amended several of their laws to enhance punishments for terrorism related offences. Thus the production or possession of explosives or training to become a terrorist were made offences carrying life sentences. If any crime is committed in pursuence of a terrorism related objective, British law has enhanced punishments for terrorists which are not meted out to ordianry criminals.

However the counter terrorism law that has been proposed by the present government actually has reduced penalties for terrorists when compared to ordinary criminals committing the same offences. Even those reduced sentences can be done away with altogether if the accused terrorist agrees to fulfil certain conditions. What we have now is a government that persecutes the armed forces while at the same time providing the maximum leeway for terrorists.

In Contrast to this the USA gives top priority to national defence. In 2002, President George Bush signed into law the American Service Members Protection Act which expressly authorised the President to use force if necessary to obatin the release of any American citizen or a friend of America arrested on the orders of the International Criminal Court. The same law also forbade all American courts and governmental bodies from maintaining any connection or communication with the International Criminal Court. That is how a self-respecting country protects its armed forces.

As we mark the tenth anniversary of the end of separatist terrorism, we are once again confronted with a different terrorist threat. What we now have are local terrorists affiliated with international terrorist groups. The 2008 Mumbai attack was not carried out by Indian terrorists. But the Easter Sunday suicide bombers were all Sri Lankans. With their very first coordinated attack, they managed to cause a much higher number of civilian deaths than what even the LTTE was able to achieve with such attacks.

On the tenth anniversary of the victory against the LTTE, I would like to state publicly that no war crimes were committed during the last phase of that war. The law of armed conflict has been formulated in such a way, as to enable a war to be fought. It must also be said that it is the Western powers led by America which has been instrumental in keeping the law of armed conflict within those bounds. I state most emphatically that according to the law of armed conflict accepted and upheld by the Western powers, no war crimes were committed in Sri Lanka.

Some of the world’s foremost experts in the law of armed conflict and the practice of war including Professor Michael Newton, Professor David Crane, Sir Desmond de Silva, Sir Geoffery Nice, Rodney Dixon QC, and Major General John Holmes had provided written statements to the government of Sri Lanka confirming this. The war crimes allegations being made against the Sri Lankan armed forces are politically orchestrated. We will have to respond politically to such allegations.

On this occasion I would like to remember with the utmost respect all members of the armed forces who laid down their lives or were rendered disabled in the effort to win the war against terror and to restore peace to this country.

May the blessings of the Triple Gem be upon you. God bless you.

*Translation of the text of a speech made by Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaka at his official residence on Wijerama Mawatha to mark the tenth anniversary of the defeat of the LTTE.

Fire the Nutcases Leading us to War

Which leads us to ask the question: given all these lies, is it not time for us to begin questioning the official narrative about World War II?

by Eric S. Margolis

President Donald Trump claimed this week that he does not want war with Iran. If he really believes this, the president ought to look into what his subordinates are doing.

Among their bellicose actions are deployment of the ‘Abraham Lincoln CVN-72’ carrier task force to the coast of Iran, massing a strike package of B-52 heavy bombers in Qatar, just across the Gulf from Iran, positioning more US warplanes around Iran, readying a massive cyber attack against Iran, and trying to stop the export of Iranian oil, upon which its economy depends.

Plus repeated attempts to overthrow the government in Tehran – something the US already did very skillfully in 1953.

If all this is not war, according to Trump, then what is? It’s war by another name. Just what the US did to Cuba, Iraq, Sudan, North Korea, Nicaragua, Syria, and, since 1979, Iran. Like a shark, the US warfare state has to keep moving. So it finds threats popping up all over.

The latest alleged grave ‘threat’ to America’s security was an ancient wooden dhow. Spotted by US satellites, this decrepit old sail-powered tub was claimed by Washington war promoters, led by the enragé John Bolton, to be carrying Iranian missiles. What unbelievable rubbish.

Many moons ago, I used to oversee dhows based in Dubai smuggling expensive Western luxury goods and small gold ‘ten tola’ bars into India and Iran. They would dodge Indian and Pakistani patrol boats; if caught, ‘baksheesh’ (bribes) were paid. Some of the smuggled goods even found their way into the Soviet Union, via caravans through Afghanistan.

All this was worthy of Sinbad the Sailor and the Arabian Nights. Great fun and profitable, but hardly of any strategic consequence. But now, Washington’s war-mongers claim the dhows will threaten ‘US interests’ in the Gulf region. ‘US interests’ are, of course, whatever and wherever Washington says they are.

This is yet another charade that will be amplified by the tame US media, and gobbled up by the credulous public unsure if the Gulf is off Texas or Iran. It joins the huge lies about World War I – ‘Belgian babies spitted to German bayonets’ – Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, anthrax attacks, and Saddam’s ‘drones of death.’ Some cynics would add 9/11 and Osama bin Laden to the cast of manufactured villains.

We now know that all the reasons cited for attacking Iraq in 2003 where false. Pure lies. War propaganda. President George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Tony Blair led us into a war by a campaign of lies that fed off one another. Media that supported the war with false news was equally guilty.

Yet we still see, for example, the Murdoch-owned media, New York Times and Washington shamelessly promoting more war in the Mideast. US media has made little progress since the yellow journalism era of William Randolph Hearst. As the great Mark Twain said, ‘if you don’t read the daily newspapers you are uninformed. If you do read them, you are misinformed.’

Which leads us to ask the question: given all these lies, is it not time for us to begin questioning the official narrative about World War II?

Trump is playing with fire by making threats against Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Libya, Cuba, North Korea and China. He appears well on the way to a major war by either plan or accident. He is provoking and trifling with two major, nuclear-armed world military powers, Russia and China. Instead of capable diplomats, Trump keeps consorting with men of low character and even lower knowledge. It’s like the hostess who will never invite to her party another woman who is younger and more attractive.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2019

On Buddha Purnima Day

When Tibet lost it’s freedom, certainly the cause of Buddhism and peace suffered in the world and it is a matter of utmost importance that this loss should be recovered

by N.S.Venkataraman

In 20th century , three grave tragedies took place in the world. Two of the tragedies were the World War I and World War II, when Germany, with unconcealed greed and ambition to dominate the world and emerge as the world leader caused world wars. Millions of soldiers and innocent persons in several countries lost their lives or suffered from grievous injuries. Many families were disintegrated and world suffered enormously. Finally, Germany was decisively defeated in both the wars and the world felt relieved. After the end of the World War II , people of Germany themselves realized the futility of war and pledged themselves not to indulge in military conflicts in future.

The third tragedy in 20th century was the aggression on Tibet and occupation of Tibet by China. The act of China in occupying Tibet was not dissimilar with that of the Germany in the first and second World Wars. Like Germany, China offered various excuses for it’s aggression and exhibited enormous ruthlessness in suppressing the protestors in Tibet. Now , China has been ruling Tibet for several decades with vice like grip and is using strong arm tactics to suppress any possible peace movement in Tibet. Like Germany spreading lies (Goebbels tactics) , China has been attempting to brainwash the Tibetans living in Tibet under Chinese government for the last several decades , trying to create an impression amongst them that they are part of China. However, China has not so far succeeded in getting the approval of the Tibetans living in Tibet for it’s misdeeds.

Unlike Germany, China is yet to be defeated in it’s unethical attempt to hold on to the Tibetan territory.

Tibet is a country where the Buddhist philosophy and thoughts of Lord Buddha have been followed in letter and spirit with high level of dedication. Tibet, as the leading Buddhist country before it’s occupation by China, was a role model for millions of Buddhists living in other parts of the world and Buddhists lost this advantage when Tibet was occupied by China unjustifiably.

The loss of freedom in Tibet due to it’s going under the control of China is a huge setback for the peace movements in the world , as Budhism and Lord Buddha and Tibet espoused the cause of peace and harmony and goodwill with great conviction. Though Lord Buddha was born in India , his message spread around the world, with Tibet assuming leadership role for Buddhist philosophy.

On the auspicious occasion of Buddha purnima which is commemorated to mark birth, nirvana and parinirvana of Lord Buddha, the celebration of Buddha Purnima day would be incomplete without having a thought on the present plight of Tibet , which has been the glorious centre of Buddhist philosophy and thoughts for several centuries.

When Tibet lost it’s freedom, certainly the cause of Buddhism and peace suffered in the world and it is a matter of utmost importance that this loss should be recovered.

To achieve everlasting peace in the world in letter and spirit , the thoughts and guidance of Lord Buddha are vitally important for the world community.

Let everyone in the world dedicate their thoughts to the cause of Tibet on Buddha Purnima day and certainly the strength of such thought process will pave way for restoring Tibet to it’s original glory and Tibet will spring back to its historical place as torch bearer of Buddhist philosophy in the world.

ISIS shadow looms

India will have to take note of the possibility of the ISIS attempting to take advantage of tensions arising out of the Rohingya crisis. A senior Myanmar official recently revealed that even as the ISIS was losing influence in Iraq and Syria, its supporters were moving into Myanmar’s Rakhine state

by G Parthasarathy

The people of Sri Lanka have shown courage, wisdom and resilience in recovering from the traumatic effects of the brutal ethnic conflict between 1983 and 2010. An estimated 47,000 Tamil civilians, 27,000 LTTE members, 50,000 Sinhala civilians, 23,790 Sri Lankan soldiers and 1,500 members of the Indian Peace Keeping Force laid down their lives during the conflict. The conflict, however, did not affect the lives of ‘Indian Tamils’ in southern Sri Lanka, whose ancestors had migrated as plantation workers during British rule. There have, however, been recent incidents of religious tensions between the Sinhala Buddhist clergy and radicalised elements in the Muslim minority. Sri Lanka’s relatively small Christian minority, which is peaceful and relatively affluent, had steered clear of getting drawn into any conflict.

In these circumstances, the world was shocked to learn that in the midst of Easter Sunday church services on April 21, churches in Colombo, Negombo and even the eastern port of Tamil-dominated Batticaloa, were hit by explosions. Three hotels housing a large number of western tourists in Colombo were also targeted. Over 200 people perished. The ISIS soon claimed responsibility for the attack, contradicting President Trump’s claims that the outfit had been ‘100 per cent’ crushed in Syria. It soon emerged that the mastermind behind the blasts was a rabidly fundamentalist Sri Lankan Tamil, Maulvi Mohammad Zahran Hashim, who was from the town of Kathankudy in the Tamil-dominated eastern province.

Indian Intelligence agencies had provided timely warnings to the Sri Lankan government about an impending terrorist strike by the ISIS. These warnings were not viewed seriously. It is, however, imperative that India keeps in touch discreetly with the Sri Lankan government. We are evidently seeing the beginnings of long-term internal and regional problems and challenges, as ISIS members disperse and regroup after being ousted from Iraq and Syria — like the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban did after American intervention in Afghanistan. As the ISIS targets in Sri Lanka were the country’s peaceful Christian community and western (Christian) tourists, the attacks sent ripples across the western world, as they came soon after the massacre of Muslims in New Zealand during their Sunday prayers.

Sri Lanka's Muslim community, which has done well economically, has lived in peace with both Buddhist Sinhalas and Hindu Tamils. Recent studies, however, indicate that some years before the bombings, sections of Tamil Muslims from the eastern province were getting radicalised in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Zahran Hashim was one of those influenced by radical beliefs and made common cause with Sinhala Muslims, including two sons of a Muslim business tycoon in Colombo, who had been deeply influenced by the ISIS. Both died in suicide blasts, even as the wife of another bomber detonated explosives in a suicide bombing the same day, resulting in the death of three police personnel.

The blasts were thus executed by young radicalised Sri Lankan Muslims, cutting across the ethnic divide. Moreover, there are now signs that an estimated 75-100 Indian Muslims, who were with the ISIS in Syria, have dispersed and chosen escape routes, including through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hashim has also reportedly established close institutional links with a counterpart group in Coimbatore and people in other parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. There are now indications that after being forced out of Iraq and Syria, ISIS fighters have now dispersed across Asia, Africa and even to parts of Europe. While the Osama bin Laden-led Al-Qaeda made it clear that its struggle was against ‘Jews and crusaders’, the ISIS targets all non-Muslims, as was evident from its brutal killings of Indians in Iraq. Moreover, the Al-Qaeda operated primarily out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, apart from select Arab countries. Al-Qaeda’s leadership was predominantly Arab.

The ISIS poses a much more serious challenge to India than the Al-Qaeda ever did, primarily because it has recruited its fighters from countries across Europe, Asia and Africa. President George Bush praised India because not a single Indian joined or backed Al-Qaeda. But things are different with the ISIS, which regards India as a part of the ‘Islamic state of Khorasan’. Over 100 Indians are estimated to have joined the ISIS. The reach of the ISIS across India is evident from its links with extremists in Kashmir, apart from those established in the recent past in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Radicalisation in our southern states poses new and serious challenges. The ISIS also acknowledges its links with associates across India’s maritime frontiers in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, Indonesia, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It also has a growing presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

India will have to take note of the possibility of the ISIS attempting to take advantage of tensions arising out of the Rohingya crisis. A senior Myanmar official recently revealed that even as the ISIS was losing influence in Iraq and Syria, its supporters were moving into Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where the Rohingya reside. Malaysia’s police chief recently noted that the ISIS is shifting its focus to Rakhine and southern Philippines. Many refugees, now in Bangladesh, could well make common cause with the ISIS and members of Pakistan-backed outfits like the Jamat-ul-Mujahideen to destabilise the borders of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Pakistan has had an abiding interest in destabilising the Sheikh Hasina government.

Apart from Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, India will now also have to keep a watch on challenges that would arise from the ISIS. Pakistan could be expected to use the challenges posed by the ISIS to absolve itself of responsibility on actions of its jihadis.

( The writer Former diplomat )

Identity politics in Sri Lanka

Since Sri Lanka gained independence from British Empire in 1948, Sri Lankan political leaders have been playing politics with communalism. 

by Sri Lankan in London
Views expressed in this article are the author's own 

What do we mean by the identity politics in Sri Lanka? It means each political party and each politician see politics through the eyes o their community. Each politician works to protect the interest of their community. Politicians both in government and opposition always think about the benefit and welfare of their community alone.

As result this narrow-minded politics, the national identity and national interest of Sri Lanka are forgotten and ignored. That is exactly what happened in Sri Lanka since we got freedom and independence. We are playing with communal politics. Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslim politicians have been focusing on how to protect the interest of their community at the expensive of the national interest. Suppose Singapore has taken such an approach in politics. Chinese Singaporeans, Malay Singaporeans, Indian Singaporean and other ethnic groups have put their community interest over national interest of Singapore, what would have been Singapore today?

It would have been like Sri Lanka today. In Sri Lanka, politics has been identified with communal interest not with national interest. Until we change this, there is no hope for Sri Lanka. We should put nation above our community. This applies to all communities in Sri Lanka.

Since Sri Lanka gained independence from British Empire in 1948, Sri Lankan political leaders have been playing politics with communalism. Shrewd political leaders used language, ethnicity, regionalism and religion to play politics. In 1950s some political leaders played politics with language. Until now, Tamil language has been degraded as a second language in Sri Lanka. Ironically even in predominantly Tamil areas, Tamil language has not been officially used as an official language. This discrimination in language has marginalised Tamil community in Sri Lanka for more than 7 decades now. Even Today, Sinhalese political leaders are playing politics with Tamil language. They are not happy to offer any official status for Tamil language.

Why is it? A simple answer for this question is some Sinhalese political leaders are trapped in superiority complex. They are proud and arrogant in their political behaviour. They think that Sinhalese are the majority in Sri Lanka. So, they could play politics with any issue. They do not like to meet aspiration and wishes of minority communities. All these Sri Lankan political leaders have been pleasing regional and international political leaders to play politics with any issues in Sri Lanka. Sinhalese leaders have been getting away with all these issues for the last 7 decades. How is it possible?

It is possible because Sri Lanka is situated in a strategically important location in Asia. Sri Lanka is a small Island and yet, geopolitical powers need Sri Lanka to protect their geopolitical interest. That is why Sri Lankan political leaders have managed to play politics with Tamil issue. They are shrewd politicians in that they managed to please Chinese and Indian governments without antagonising anyone. At the same time, Sinhalese political leaders managed to please their western masters as and when they needed do so. So far, Sri Lanka has not earned the anger of any regional or international political powers. That’s why Sri Lankan political leaders managed to play politics with Tamil issue. Now Tamils are exhausted after almost 30 years of war. Sri Lankan war with Tamils ended in 2009 and yet, Tamil community did not get any reconciliation package. I do not think they will get anything from these Sinhalese politicians who have been playing politics with Tamil issues for more than 7 decades. Sinhalese political leaders have successfully been playing politics with many minority community issues in Sri Lanka. Good luck for them and how long they could fool the international community.

Sri Lankan political elites know well how to play politics with the national issues. Today, most Sinhalese people too suffer at the of capitalistic Sinhalese politicians. The working-class people from farmers to tea plantation workers, from fishmen to street vendors, from clerks to schoolteachers, from three-wheel drivers to bus drivers, from civil servants to military professionals all must work hard to make a living in Sri Lanka. We send more than 3 million Sri Lankans abroad to work in some terrible conditions. Some housewives leave their children in Sri Lanka to work as house maids in Middle East. Some Sri Lankans do some odd jobs in Middle Eastern counties to support their families. Sri Lanka today experiences some severe economic, political and social predicaments and yet, some political elites in Sri Lanka play politics with all these issues. Some political elites do all political tricks to win votes and to secure their seats of power. At the end of the day, it is all Sri Lankan communities or Sri Lankan public must pay the price for these political blunders. How long and how many years, Sri Lankan public could be conned and fooled by these crafty politicians. It is time all Sri Lankans to wake up against this abuse of political power. Sri Lanka is a rich country with its rich human and national resources. It is bad politics that has ruined the county. It is not merely minority communities suffer at the hands of these political crooks but the majority of Sinhalese too suffer due to incorrectness of politics in Sri Lanka.

Now it appears that some racist Sinhalese politicians are playing politics with Muslim community. (Not all Sinhalese politicians are racists. 90% of Sinhalese public are good people without any racial motives). Since 2011, anti-Muslim sentiment increased in Sri Lanka, Some Sri Lankan politicians are playing politics with Muslim community today. There is no doubt about it. As they marginalised Tamil community, they want to marginalise Sri Lankan Muslim community today. Since, 2011, it is reported that hundreds of racial attacks on Muslim community took place in Sri Lanka. Muslim shops were burned down, mosques were set on fire, copies the holy Qur’an were burned down, even some Buddhist extremists used some rude and ugliest words to insult Almighty Allah with some verbal abuses. Many Muslims were killed, many Muslims were injured, many Muslim villages were attacked in recently time. These violent and barbaric attacks on Sri-Lankan Muslim community are going on in Sri Lanka with the approval of some racist Sinhalese politicians.

This is timely projected attack on innocent Sri Lankan Muslim community. These shrewd Sinhalese politicians know well how to play politics with Muslim community. They know well the strength and weakness of the Muslim community. They know well international political environment is not in favour of Muslim community in the world today. Since Donald Trump waged war on Muslim community, some racist political leaders in the third world unleashed racial attacks on innocent Muslim community. Using this international political climate against Islam and Muslims many politicians attacked Muslim minority communities in many countries. Some radical Muslim youths have indeed, contributed to this political climate.

Some Sinhalese politicians know well that Arab political leaders are inept today. They know well Arab leaders do not have any political influence in the politics. They know well that today Muslim political leaders do not care about what happened in Sri Lanka. They know how to milk Arab countries in loans and aids, but they do not bother to uproot Muslim community in Sri Lanka. Sinhalese politicians know well how to fool Muslim and Arab diplomatic communities in Colombo. These racist Sinhalese politicians know well how to approach and please them. That is why I’m telling that Sinhalese politicians have mastered the arts of politics to play with it in any local and international issue.

With all this in mind, I feel that the future for Tamil and Muslim communities in Sri Lanka is bleak. Unless some regional and International politicians make some political correctness in Sri Lankan politics. Unless, Sri Lankan Sinhalese politicians change their mind in politics. I do not think that this will happen soon as it stands today. Racial politics at its peak in Sri Lanka today. Many Tamils and Muslim MPs have been bought and sold in Sri Lankan politics. Tamil and Muslim politicians do not have any influence in this political system in Sri Lanka today. They have been conned and fooled many times by racist Sinhalese politicians in Sri Lanka. In fact, Tamil and Muslim politicians could do little in Sri Lankan politics. Sinhalese do whatever they could do to protect communal interest of Sinhalese community. How do they do it? what extent they have done it? how do they marginalise and discriminate against minority communities? What is the evidence for such claims? We will try answer to some of these questions next time.