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In defence of Bathiudeen

2 years ago

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  • The Muslims are with the nation, and so is Rishad

  “Do not antagonise us! Do not push us away! Do not compel us to give up our religion! Muslims are on the side of the nation.” – Parliamentarian Rishad Bathiudeen  

Living in turbulent times, the position and calibre of a politician such as parliamentarian Rishad Bathiudeen has been called into question. His high stature and popularity among the Muslim population has had him branded as a communal politician. However, his speech in Parliament on 7 April 2021 during the debate on the Easter Sunday terror attacks portrayed him in a different light. His speech had a single theme throughout. It is that the Muslims were on the side of the nation, and that the Government should not antagonise Muslims lest they risk radicalising the entire Muslim community in the name of de-radicalisation. It was fairly academic and contained many thought-provoking points that deserve consideration.   1,000 years of harmony Bathiudeen began his address highlighting the harmony between the Muslims of Sri Lanka and other communities, which had subsisted for over 1,000 years. He tabled a book by Dr. Lorna Devaraja, The Muslims of Sri Lanka – 1,000 Years of Ethnic Harmony, that established this factor. In fact, Muslims do have a rich history in Sri Lanka. Apart from the spices and abundant trade that contributed towards the economy in Sri Lanka, the initial Muslims had brought their assets and settled in Sri Lanka. Bathiudeen pointed out that Muslims had made a lasting relationship with the monarchs of Sri Lanka, and never resorted to plunder the nation like the Dutch, the Portuguese, and the British. Even during the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) war, when the Muslims had the option of picking a side, the Muslims chose to risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones, even earning the wrath of the LTTE. Apart from the 1915 tensions, the Muslims had always been a peaceful community that was happy to live in this island nation.   Zahran Hashim Bathiudeen did not seem to hesitate one bit in attaching the term “terrorist” to Zahran Hashim and his group. He said they were not Muslims but terrorists who exploited the name of Islam. Since 2011, when tensions first simmered, although it was the Muslims who appeared to be the primary target, Christians also received a significant brunt of the damage. Bathiudeen claimed that Muslims and Christians were both at the receiving end of extremism, adding that therefore there did not appear to be any reason for any Muslim to target Christians. It was implied that Zahran’s motives were aimed at breaking the unity between Muslims and Christians. He further claimed that the State was playing to the tunes of Zahran, hence making moves adverse to the Muslim population. Bathiudeen referred to page 94 of the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the Easter Sunday bombings where it was stated that Zahran had intended on causing tensions between the Sinhalese and the Muslims. He also quoted page 331 of the report, which reads: “Reciprocal radicalisation is the cycle of radicalisation which promotes each other’s radicalised ideologies.” The quote was alluded to Minister Wimal Weerawansa who had earlier made an allegation that Bathiudeen had phoned Zahran, after which Bathiudeen had applied to court and obtained an interim order demanding that Weerawansa stop making such remarks. However, more importantly, the quote from the report delivers a far bigger message. It is that the actions of rival factions can provoke the adverse reactions of another. In other words, if one community continuously antagonises the Muslim community, it is likely that some Muslims will succumb to their sensitivities at some point and react. With this message in mind, Bathiudeen commented that if the Government keeps its representatives in check, the de-radicalisation programme will be half complete.   Genocide Bathiudeen recalled the violence that ensued in the aftermath of the Easter attacks, giving statistics as mentioned in the report. He went on to claim that such blatant, uncontrolled attacks on the Muslim community should be termed “State-sponsored oppression”. He was quoted as saying: “The report also identifies that several local government politicians were instigating violence. The report points out that the Police did nothing to stop these mobs. Apparently, they did not have the strength. These attacks were anticipated. Curfew was in motion. It is the duty of the law enforcement authorities to enforce the law. They were aware of the situation and did not reinforce security in the areas. They allowed the mobs to create unrest at will. This was willfully executed against a religious minority in this country.” He further went on to make reference to the alleged brutal public execution of Fouzul Ameer Mohamed Salley in Kottaramulla, Nattandiya in the aftermath of the attacks. He claimed that the State had allowed the execution of an innocent man in the presence of his family, and referred to it as genocide under Article 2 of the Genocide Convention. Article 2 of the Convention is reproduced below. “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Bathiudeen attributed this point to the fact that the State was permitting such oppression of the minorities, even fanning the flames of it.   Innocent Muslims are convicted Bathiudeen further remarked on the arrest of certain public figures, one of whom was former Governor Azath Salley. He claimed that the arrest of Salley was political victimisation to silence a man who sought to speak up for the Muslim community. He remarked that it was Salley who publicly denounced the criminal activity of Zahran in 2017, and that it was not fair that he was arrested with suspected links to the Easter attacks. “How is this fair? You are holding him without a charge only because he spoke on behalf of the Muslims,” Bathiudeen had said. He further made comments on the arrest of Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah and young poet Ahnab Jazeem who was arrested for composing and publishing a poem that condemned the Islamic State.   One country, one law Bathiudeen reflected on the slogan of “one country, one law”, which has been trending under the reign of the current Government. He commented that the slogan was being misdirected towards a notion of “assimilation”, rather than “integration”. He claimed that assimilation would require the Government not only to abolish customary laws, but also provincial statutes which also have territorial application. Furthermore, giving interpretation to the term integration, he emphasised on the fact that even in confederate nations, the laws of a state would be compliant with the Federal Constitution. Likewise, even in Sri Lanka, as long as a law is compliant with the Constitution, it shall be deemed as one law for the nation. He further went on to state that the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) was being unfairly targeted with the slogan of one country, one law. He claimed that Muslims had adopted the set of practices 800 years ago, although it was codified only 200 years ago, and that the Muslims had no conflict with any other religion to date as to the customs and practices of Muslim marriages.   Call to then Army Commander Gen. Mahesh Senanayake One of the hottest topics in the aftermath of the Easter attacks was in respect of a call by Bathiudeen to the Army Commander of the time, Gen. Mahesh Senanayake. Bathiudeen gave further information on this call. “This was a call only to inquire if Ihsan Moinudeen was in the custody of the law enforcement authorities. His father, who is a Class I Special Grade Sri Lanka Administrative Service Officer and an additional secretary to a ministry, is known to me and he called me as a concerned parent. He not only called me, but also wrote to the then President and the media on the abduction of his son. First, I called the Officer-in-Charge of the Dehiwala Police and the relevant division’s Senior Superintendent of Police Wickremesinghe who responded saying that he has not been arrested by the Police, and he suggested that I check with the Army. Then I called Gen. Senanayake to make an inquiry, and he said he wasn’t aware and that he would try to find out. I called him a second time to find out if progress was made, and again he said that he could not check yet. The third time I called, he told me that Ihsan was in their custody, and that was the end of it.” He then went on to make reference to the actions of State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara who had called and visited the Hettipola Police Station with intent to free six persons who were arrested for incinerating and destroying shops and places of worship belonging to Muslims. Jayasekara had proceeded to transport them in his own personal vehicle. Bathiudeen claimed that it was discriminatory to place so much significance on an overhyped phone call, when compared with the serious actions of Jayasekara. “Is it because I’m a Muslim?” he asked.   Dealings with colossus The report had also made reference to the sale of scrap metal from the Industrial Development Board (IDB) to Colossus. The IDB came under the purview of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, and the transactions happened when Bathiudeen was the Minister. Bathiudeen claimed that he would go the very next day to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) and ask them to investigate the claims. True to his word, Bathiudeen did visit the Commission the next day and forwarded a request to investigate and reveal the truth of the transactions.   Banning of books and the burqa Bathiudeen further addressed the ongoing hot topic of the banning of the niqab (only the eyes are visible) and the burqa (entire face covered), as suggested by Minister of Law and Order Dr. Sarath Weerasekera. He claimed that it was almost impossible to make a law prohibiting the niqab and the burqa without also banning medical masks, helmets, sunglasses, and other pieces of garments. He said it was only possible if the Government was willing to be Islamophobic. He went on to comment on the restriction on bringing in Islamic books into the country as a discriminatory practice that violated Articles 9 (Buddhism and the rights of other religions), 10 (freedom of thought, conscience, and religion), and 14 (the freedom to manifest religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, and teaching) of the Constitution. When questioned on the topic after his parliamentary address, he specified that it would be detrimental to our relationship with the Middle Eastern nations who have predominantly been our allies and friends. He also commented that tourists from the Middle East, who comprised mostly Muslims, usually carried the Qur’an and sometimes other Islamic texts during their journeys. He said it would be counterproductive for Sri Lanka to impose such a restriction.   De-radicalisation He further commented on the proposed de-radicalisation programme, stating that the Muslim community cannot support it. He said that while he supported the idea that a de-radicalisation programme was compulsory, it ought not to be abused to brainwash Muslims to give up their religion. Bathiudeen endorsed the successful rehabilitation of ex-LTTE combatants and said that Sri Lanka can build a similar programme. He went on to say that just as some Muslim groups require de-radicalisation, it was also compulsory to de-radicalise other extremist organisations named in the report, such as the Sinhala Ravaya, the Mahason Balakaya, the Sinhala Jathika Balamuluwa, the Sinhala Jathika Sanvidanaya, and the Shiv Sena Movement. He also claimed that there were many peace-loving Buddhist monks who could help with the rehabilitation of radicalised youth from among their factions. As for the radicalised Muslim youth, he said that the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) ought to be consulted.   Conclusion Bathiudeen had made his point clear that the Government was reacting to the actions of Zahran in the manner that Zahran would have anticipated. He said that such oppression would lead to further radicalisation and that we ought to learn from the LTTE war. Citing examples, Bathiudeen said that it started with the 1956 Sinhala Only Act, and the constant struggles which then led to the burning of the Jaffna Library in 1981 and the Black July which made the three-decade-long war inevitable. “It is not like we haven’t seen this before. It is that we haven’t learned from these mistakes,” he said and went on to add: “We, the Muslims, Christians, Tamils, and Sinhalese of this country, want to live in peace like we always did. We are an economically backward nation, still fighting to maintain our place as a developing nation, and there is no other reason for this but our ethnic divisions. We cannot progress as a nation unless we resolve our internal disputes and march forward as one nation. Therefore, let us say enough. Let us admit that we are different and still be one people. Let us recognise that we hold different values and yet still stand united as one nation.” (The writer is a legal researcher. He can be contacted via

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