Editorial/Opinion

Never again!

The anti-Muslim riots that erupted in the North Western Province last week in and around Chilaw are a stark reminder that the forces that pushed this country into 30 years of war are still very much alive and kicking.

Those in their 40s and above will have vivid memories of the carnage that took place on 25 July 1983 when mobs attacked Tamil homes and businesses and eventually set fire to the whole country over the next 30 years.

The mobs that ran riot in Chilaw, Kuliyapitiya, Bingiriya, Minuwangoda, etc. last week were “outsiders” high on some substance and their only motive was to destroy Muslim property and provoke a backlash. So then, who were these mobsters, from where did they come and most importantly, who sent them, are questions the Police, who are now supposed to be carrying out investigations, must find answers to, sooner rather than later.

In 1983, the current Prime Minister’s uncle, President J.R. Jayewardene made the colossal mistake of choosing to appease the racist elements in his government and let the anarchists go scot free with little or no investigations to bring those responsible to book. The rest is painful history.

Unfortunately, we in Sri Lanka seem to be immune to pain and are allowing history to repeat itself just a decade after the end of the war. Thankfully, at least this time around, the authorities stepped in to put a halt to the violence.

According to the Police, some 78 mobsters are now in custody over the violence and there is some semblance of justice being seen to be done. At the end of the day, the mobsters are only the pawns of a yet-to-be-identified hand at work, who obviously believes that anarchy is the path to power.

Following the anti-Muslim riots that swept the outskirts of Kandy close upon a year ago, two names that constantly kept surfacing as being responsible for the mayhem were that of Namal Kumara, who supposedly heads an anti-corruption outfit, and Amith Weerasinghe, who heads the Sinhalese extremist outfit, Mahason Balakaya.

This time around, a third individual, Dan Priyasad was identified as having a hand in the violence but was arrested and swiftly released on bail.

In October last year, one of the main reasons attributed by President Maithripala Sirisena for sacking Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and replacing him with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the allegation made by Namal Kumara that there was a conspiracy to assassinate him.

To date, the country has not been informed whether there was any substance to this allegation even though the country was turned upside down by the President based on Kumara’s unsubstantiated allegation.

This same individual has now been arrested for his alleged involvement in last week’s violence. What is intriguing is that investigators probing the Kandy violence allegedly instigated by Namal Kumara and his sidekick Amith Weerasinghe stumbled upon the Wanathawilluwa mini armoury of National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) on 16 January this year.

This begs the question whether these Sinhalese extremists and the Muslim extremists responsible for the Easter attacks have a common interest in destabilising the country. The question that warrants an urgent answer is how investigations into the activities of the extremist Sinhalese organisation lead investigators to the armoury of the Muslim extremists in Wanathawilluwa in January? Is there an unseen hand at work in a deadly game of chess, where the people have been reduced to mere pawns?

Political games are nothing new to Sri Lankan politicians irrespective of racial boundaries. But this is the first time that their games seem to be taking on a deadly demeanour either by design or default.

For instance, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake’s stunning revelation that Minister Rishad Bathiudeen personally called him to secure the release of an individual arrested over the Easter Sunday attacks casts serious doubts on his denials that he did not have personal contacts with any of the families involved in planning and executing the attacks.

Bathiudeen’s name has constantly surfaced over multiple allegations in the recent past such as facilitating supplies to a controversial copper factory, the owner of which was a suicide bomber and also allegedly facilitating the release of suspects arrested from the same copper factory after the Easter Sunday attacks.

Although the Minister denied all these allegations, the “Joint Opposition” is gunning for the man with a No-confidence Motion now before the Speaker, seeking his ouster from ministerial office. UNP backbenchers have already called for a conscience vote and it remains to be seen how this latest drama will play out in the House.

Meanwhile, there is growing discontent against another prominent Muslim politician who was recently appointed as a Provincial Governor by President Maithripala Sirisena.

This is due to his alleged role in the propagation of extremism after it was revealed that his immediate family members were the main shareholders of the sprawling Eastern Campus now referred to as the “Sharia University”.

Besides politicians, according to today’s edition of our sister paper Sathi Aga Aruna, many top cops in charge of “useful” areas are allegedly on the payroll of Muslim businessmen. According to the report, the favours extended to the policemen include supply of household provisions, payment of vehicle leases, supply of building materials, etc. In return, these cops turn a blind eye to the goings-on in their respective divisions and in some cases even security is provided to certain individuals.

What this shows is that the cancer of extremism is aided and abetted by both within and without, at various levels. If and when there is political patronage aided by the tacit support of corrupt cops, the spread of the cancer of extremism, be it Muslim or Sinhalese, can be fast and deadly, as the events of the past few weeks have shown.

The current set of rulers who have been directly responsible for the fate of this country over the past 40 years or so, have an obligation to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated ever again. Their legacy, or whatever remains of it, depends on it.