The state of Emergency continues in Sri Lanka after a group of Muslims beat a truck driver belonging to the Buddhist community to death. Soon, Sinhalese mobs wreaked retaliation on the entire Islamic community, attacking mosques, burning down houses and ransacking shops of Muslims. The gravity of the situation notwithstanding, the lib-left theory that the Bodu Bala Sena, or any other Buddhist extremist group, has been looking for a new ‘enemy’ since the fall of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is bogus. By definition, the “right wing” of any community is a reactionary force; the reaction ceases when the action that provokes it ends. Further, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are not known to run their government on principles that would give a fillip to mobocracy. To whatever extent Mahinda Rajapaksa might have been majoritarian, his regime is long gone. In the past week, as the normal governance mechanism was felt to be inadequate, the special provision to tackle crises had to be invoked seven years after the island country last saw an Emergency. It is facile to ask a government why it could not pre-empt a riot. That is near impossible, as the complaints of mass murders and destructions would follow a normal course of first reaching the police, which, in any country, is a state apparatus meant to handle crimes committed by individuals or, in the worst case scenario, organised gangs. By the time the police plead helplessness, and the Army, paramilitary forces and riot police are deployed, hundreds or thousands of lives are imperilled. In Sri Lanka, as in India in similar situations, the communal riots witness Muslim casualties much higher than the number of lives others lose, but this is not to suggest that one life is more precious than another.
Such riots beg the question as to what makes the Muslim minority so belligerent that, more often than not, it is an action by them that triggers the flare-up. As other communities are wary of accommodating them in regular neighbourhoods, Muslims get confined to ghettos. Living with fellow religionists, however, runs the risk of the community turning an easy target, as rioters cordon the area off during a pogrom. Despite numerous repetitions of this pattern, what makes Muslims, in countries where their numerical strength is low, invite the wrath of the majority? Is it an ideology that drives them to the death wish? Or, do they carry a misplaced belief that theirs is a martial race that can invite, afford and survive attacks — maybe prevail too — even when they are hopelessly outnumbered? Again, it is not to suggest they must opportunistically turn persecutors, if not butchers, when they comprise the majority, but the scene inside a Muslim-dominated country is not the subject matter of this editorial.
The episode of conflict with the Tamil minority may be invoked to argue that the Sinhalese — the politically correct equivalent of “Buddhist” — have, in Sri Lankan history, not treated the Hindus well either. Some may say the discrimination had come across so much as a part of the Lankan state policy that Indira Gandhi, followed by her son Rajiv Gandhi, had to revise India’s tenet of non-interference in other sovereign countries. However, the diversionary argument misses the point that (a) the Tamils targeted did not profess Hinduism alone (many were Muslims and Christians, and Buddhists in Tamilakam and Jaffna, too), and (b) the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict was never triggered by any one incident for which the Tamils could be branded as an irresponsible minority. From Godhra of India to Kandy of Sri Lanka, instead of hiding behind the flattering hypothesis of Muslim innocence that the leftists float during all incidents of communalism, the community, especially in countries where they are a minority, must mull over the issue of the trigger.