In a world of sharpening divisions, trust deficits and widening fissures, few countries have been able to rise above religious prejudice and stay focused on justice and fair play — as well as protect vulnerable and marginalised groups. Not many of those countries are in South Asia unfortunately. So it is important to name the country that is doing its bit to keep hate crimes and religiously-motivated vandalism and their perpetrators in check. Sri Lanka has earned our praise for arresting a key figure implicated in a series of hate crimes against Muslims.
A close associate of Gnanasara Galagodaatte, a senior representative of the extremist Buddhist Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), has drawn international censure for his actions. His organisation is suspected of organising up to 16 arson attacks against Muslims that have fanned religious unrest in the island nation. There were similar attacks against the Muslim minority community in 2014. In a country where 70 per cent of the population is Buddhist, it perhaps is difficult to imagine the authorities taking a tough stand against arson attacks and hate mongering, especially if the alleged perpetrator is a Buddhist. But thankfully the action did come.
Since the last three months Sri Lankan Muslims have been targeted in their homes, businesses, mosques and cemeteries. They have endured multiple attacks with stones and petrol bombs in particular. Policemen were reluctant to step in and play their due role, fearing a popular backlash against them.
Arresting one of the lynchpins behind the arson attacks is only one encouraging move on the political chessboard, more need to be taken in succession. There is little time to lose. The island nation has barely seen the end of a traumatic and deeply divisive civil war which brought pain to all its dwellers, Muslims included. Colombo is mindful of the scars of that long war but needs to forge unity for the good of all.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 12th, 2017.
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