Sri Lanka gets tough on Islamophobia


ISLAMOPHOBIA is not confined to Europe’s far-right parties. Long-standing persecution of Myanmar’s Muslims, particularly its Rohingya community, has led to murder, rape and pillage as part of a blatant ethnic cleansing campaign which the country’s effective leader Aung San Suu Kyi refuses to stop. That appalling failure besmirches the Nobel Committee, which awarded her its Peace Prize in 1991.

It can well be argued that the success of the hardline Buddhist monks in Myanmar in pursuing their racist vendetta against the Rohingya has emboldened similar thugs in Sri Lanka. The administration of President Maithripala Sirisena has declared a state of emergency in the central district of Kandy following riots in which the minority Muslim community was attacked.

Mosques and businesses belonging to Muslims have been torched and police have discovered the body of a young man in one of the burnt-out properties.

The government has sent in the army to support the police who appear to have been overwhelmed by the scale of the violence. Local Muslims have been fighting back against their attackers.

There has to be a suspicion that Sri Lankan Buddhist extremists have been inspired, if not indeed assisted by Myanmar’s “969 Movement” a group of radical monks, which has played a pivotal role in the assault of their own country’s Muslim community.

The present Islamophobia in Sri Lanka has in fact been building since 2012 though it has long been a feature of the island. But Muslims have always been part of the community and never sought any special status apart from the right to worship and enjoy the benefits of Islamic culture.

They were very different from the Tamil community who rebelled against their historic treatment as second class citizens. Their 33-year revolt, which ended in complete military defeat in 2009, served to brutalize Sri Lankan society. This may explain why, with one bitter conflict finished, a new and potentially equally disastrous divide is being stoked by extremists.

There is, however, one major difference between the depravities that Aung San Suu Kyi has permitted in Myanmar and the Islamophobic aggression that is unfolding in Sri Lanka. From the get-go, the government of President Sirisena has been absolutely clear that it will not tolerate religious bigotry.

And leading members of society have united behind this complete condemnation, perhaps most tellingly, Kumar Sangakkara the country’s former cricket captain, who remains a sporting icon in this cricket-made country. It must be hoped that no politician will be tempted to offer even the slightest support to the bigoted thugs who have led these attacks of the Muslim community.

The United Nations has called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. It seems that the authorities in Colombo need no such urging. Social media used to organize the violence has not only been suspended but is being combed to identify the culprits.

Phone footage is being gathered to pinpoint the toughs to took part in the anti-Muslim riots. There seems little doubt that those who are caught will suffer the full force of the law. which could include a death sentence though no Sri Lankan criminal has been executed since 1976.

The Sri Lankan government’s crackdown on its Islamophobes will highlight the disgusting failure of Myanmar’s deeply-tarnished Nobel Peace Laureate to deal decisively with the sectarian killers in her own majority Buddhist country.