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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hate Speech In Sri Lanka: Why Are We Still Listening?

We all have experience with crazy people. They're normal, in almost every way, except that tiny little thing that sets them off, and before you know it you're wondering how this person managed to escape the asylum.

This post isn't about those people. God knows that just like taxes and Enrique Iglesias, no matter how hard you'd like for them to just disappear, you make peace with it because you know they're not going anywhere.

This post is about the crazy people that get put on a pedestal and asked for their 'opinions'.

Today I read this post, titled "Laws and religion - some concerns for Sinhala Buddhists" written in the local Daily News. In it, the writer - one Shenali Waduge - goes on a point by point defense of Sinhala Buddhists from the wily and scheming attacks against them, especially the claims that they are 'racists', 'extremist' and even 'militant'.

This, to me, is just laughably absurd. See, there are a lot of people at risk in our little island paradise. Depending on your gender, orientation, politics, religion, mother tongue, upbringing, or just your appearance, there is a real danger which lies under the surface of day to day life. However, the members of the Sinhala Buddhist majority are not one of them. Yet, the writer goes on to paint a picture of a systematic campaign to not only destroy the entire section of the community, but to introduce a new wave of 'Muslimized' converts to rule the land. It's a beautiful tale of intrigue and conspiracy, not unlike which we have seen on TV shows such as "Homeland", but like those shows, this too is just another piece of sensationalist fiction.
Let's break down some key quotes.
"There is little to challenge that freedoms and rights have been enjoyed by Tamils (11 percent) and Muslims (9 percent) and it is because of the rights they enjoy that minorities have been able to openly bring up issues."
I wonder what the writer means by 'openly bring up issues', because there are few things that are 'open' in Sri Lanka, least of all anything that has to do with negative press. Just last week there was a violent protest outside of the No Limit department store, a Muslim owned enterprise, by a radical group of so-called 'patriots' calling for a boycott of the store because of it's ownership. There were violent clashes, and the police were involved, yet not a single iota of this incident made it to any of the local papers. So much for openly bringing up issues.
"Sinhalese Buddhists are concerned because Buddhist cultural heritage is being destroyed, Buddhist archeological and historical cultural monuments are being destroyed"
This is an interesting point to make, considering a large portion of this crimes have been traced back to Buddhist monks raiding their own temples of relics. The most popular story last year was the case of the Kotte double murders, where a Nilame of another temple was found to be the mastermind behind the heist that went wrong, leading to the death of two monks who were unfortunate enough to identify the criminals. Then there was the bizarre case of the mob led by a Buddhist monk that stole a deity from a Hindu temple in broad daylight up north. These are just a few cases I can think off off-hand which have made it to the news, while other reports have always linked ex-military men and deserters to these temple thefts. I haven't heard anything about secret Muslim strike squads and Christian ninjas infiltrating temples to steal things.
"We are concerned because the growing number of Sharia Law courts that were never present in Sri Lanka previously. When Muslims had been following the Sri Lankan laws for decades, why should there be a sudden need for a Muslim only law? Why should 9 percent of the population have a separate law when as citizens of Sri Lanka, Muslims must abide by Sri Lanka’s laws?"
Sharia law, after some light research, has been in effect for quite some time. The main purpose of these courts in Sri Lanka are to settle Muslim marriage disputes, which are governed by a different set of laws. As far as I know, there have not been any legal issues between the State and the Sharia courts regarding Sharia law since all the parties involved are Muslims, and as such it doesn't affect the remaining 91% of the population as the writer states. How then is this a national issue that affects Sinhala Buddhists? Are Sinhala Buddhists marrying Muslims and then getting the short end of the stick? Since these courts are mainly community based and are set up primarily in towns that are of majority Muslims, doesn't the writers argument go against her?

"We are concerned about extremist demands like loud speakers which does not constitute a fundamental right – speakers are only an electronic tools, a recent phenomenon."

You have got to be kidding me. Demands for loudspeakers? Buddhist temples and mosques basically have a chanting war every single day, and I'd like to see either party decide to lay aside their weapons of noise pollution even for an evening. Labelling this as an extremist course of action is sort of hypocritical, surely.

"Even Muslim owned supermarkets that caters to all communities shut down for prayers on Friday. "
Seriously, this is about as consequential as complaining about those Liberty Plaza stores that close for lunch. Seriously, national issue? Attack on Sinhala Buddhist way of life? Seriously?

"We question how peaceful Islam is when almost all the major conflicts in the World are Muslim-oriented and end up Muslims killing each other due to sectarian violence far more than the damage the West does with their air warfare."
I just. I mean. What the. I can't. Huh?

"It has become a practice for both Muslims and Tamils to hide their follies and wrongs behind the cry of “ethnic discrimination”, “hate campaigns” to cover up accusations made against them. It has worked well to camouflage their ulterior motives by internationally promoting Sinhalese Buddhist as “extremists” and using the power of money to spread the news via media. It has been convenient to quote “compassion” of Buddhism and ridicule Buddhists when they attempt to stop Islamic expansionism by bring the truth to the public"
From what I have read so far in this article, the so-called 'follies' and 'wrongs' are closing shops for prayers, loudspeakers and for exercising their faith. What Ms.Waduge fails to mention are the numerous acts of mob violence against the Muslim community, including the Dambulla incident last year when Buddhist monks stormed a mosque, disrupted their prayers and protested outside, demanding that the mosque be demolished. True to form, the 'majority' held firm and the mosque has been slated to be demolished and relocated, despite the fact that it has been legally registered more than 50 years ago and has never incited any form of communal disharmony until then. Does this sound like justice to you, oh mighty majority?
This doesn't even take into account the various unreported incidents of churches being attacked around the country by Buddhist monks and their goons. I have come to know of several of these through people we know, with some even being attacked simply for having a gathering of Christians at their home every Sunday. This somehow, never makes it to the news. Last year there was a report of valuable stained glass windows being destroyed in a small secluded church down South by - you guessed it - our friendly non-racist non-extremist protectors of Buddhism, yet that too never made it to the news! Are you starting to see the trend? Majority for the win!

The rest of the article goes on to detail the secret plan Muslims have for taking over the country. It's a convenient four step strategy, involving such things as migrating to a host country and keeping a low profile, before seeking representation (the nerve!) in all spheres and then having the gall to file lawsuits against 'Islamaphobia', converting citizens secretly against their will and then holding the host country and religion 'hostage' before declaring it a Muslim theocracy.
Look; the entire article is completely bonkers. It sounds like someone on a bad acid trip, or some kind of low budget sci-fi movie, and what's even worse is that the writer identifies with the crazy people she is defending. I'm sad to say that this isn't the first time I'm hearing people speak like this, and a 5 minute search on Facebook will uncover a massive number of pages dedicated to similar extremist, racist, militant thinking. Yet, to find sensationalist, fear-mongering dribble published in a national newspaper is inexcusable! When our media is controlled to such a point that people have now forgotten there is anything north of Anuradhapura except free food and joyous Tamil families playing hopscotch with the Army, any platform given to mad men/women like this writer is negligent and just intolerable. The entire article compares Sri Lanka to radical Muslim states and rules such as those held in Saudi Arabia. Why can she not understand that we are not to hold ourselves to such low standards, but instead aspire to be a free nation that doesn't have to militantly put down the minority when they try to seek representation? Yes, there are Muslim states with grave injustices being carried out, but is that an excuse to conduct our own form of terrorism on their communities in our country? What kind of playground mentality is this?

Bottom line: there are crazy people out there, but it's our job as a sensible, peace-loving community of intelligent adults to refuse them a platform to spread their hate-filled message. In that respect, and in the light of this (and other) article(s) written by writers such as Shenali Waduge, we have failed miserably.


Anonymous said...

A very timely and selfless piece. Here's another response to Shenali's hogwash - http://www.dailynews.lk/2013/01/19/fea01.asp

Jack Point said...

Great post, well said.

I wanted to write something but I simply could not get the energy to wade through all the rot.

Anonymous said...

Brilliantly Written article. I was completely shocked to see an article of that nature make it to the national paper.

If more and more people start buying into these nonsense, i fear we might have a another civil at our hands.

cj said...

Great article... but if you have noticed these days the Daily News has turned quite rabid in its vitriol and its editorial stance is more of a mad woman striking out at everyone than one would expect of a national newspaper. Even to call it a national newspaper would be a misnomer. Fortunately no one reads the Daily News even though they buy it so the impact of this article would be minimal. Thank Goodness!

Anonymous said...

Very good response to Shenali Waduge's hate speech and tripe.

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