Where are the Muslim parliamentarians and what about the burning issues facing the Muslim community? This is the question raised in many Muslim circles following reports of talks between the government and the Tamil National Alliance aimed at solving the problems of Tamils. However, Muslim politicians, it appears, have not even woken up from their long slumber, leave alone highlighting the grievances of Muslims. One after the other, individually and collectively, Muslim politicians struck deals and joined the government stating that there was "no point wasting time with a weak opposition, better to join the government and help the community".
Now that they are in the government Muslims thought they would take up the community's problems. However they seem to be helping themselves rather than helping the community. There is a growing feeling among the community that Muslim parliamentarians have abandoned them for power and benefits and do not represent them anymore.
To cite an example, they were completely silent when the controversial "Revival of Underperforming Enterprises and Underutilized Assets Bill" was passed this month in parliament though even the ultra nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya and the National Freedom Front, constituent members of the government, abstained.
Also talks are underway between the government and the TNA to find a solution to problems facing the Tamils .However once again, the Muslim parliamentarians behave as if the Muslim community has no problem at all.
Peace talks aimed at solving the ethnic problem concern every Sri Lankan genuinely interested in the future of this multi racial, multi religious, multinational and multi cultural country. The inevitable reality is that all communities are bound to live together and need to share a common destiny.
Thus these talks should cover not only Tamils but also all minorities to ensure all Sri Lankans are treated as equals. The military defeat of the LTTE has offered the country a rare and, perhaps, the last opportunity, to solve the ethnic issues under a comprehensive package. However the ongoing peace talks give the impression that there are only two communities in the country – the Sinhalese represented by the government and the TNA voicing the grievances of Tamils.
As we all know under former President J.R. Jayawardene's draconian constitution the island's democracy was reduced to a "One Man Show" — an all powerful presidency which is above law and not accountable to any one. Therefore, the Muslim parliamentarians had to deal with the President to seek solutions to Muslim issues.
Under such circumstances it is difficult to understand what prevents Muslim parliamentarians from, jointly or otherwise, meeting the President, as the TNA has done, to discuss issues of the community. Certainly the President is not going to chase them away. I am sure he would listen to their grievances. An issue may be solved or not, but
at least he would be aware of the issue.
However Muslim parliamentarians have miserably failed in this respect and the general feeling within the community is that they are scared that, by trying to raise Muslim issues, they would antagonize the President and would lose their positions, perks, comforts and what not? So they do not want to jeopardize their positions.
Muslims have been, as rightly pointed out by the former Chief Justice Sarath N Silva, a peaceful ethnic group interacting with other religious and ethnic groups, cordially interlinking those cultures with their own culture. "They never organized themselves for armed insurrection or destruction".
Instead the Muslim community came to the rescue of the country at all critical times. in the island's history. For example Muslims fully supported the campaign for independence in 1948 despite the bill being detrimental to the community. Late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike's emotional response, perhaps the present generation may not be aware, speaks volume for Muslim contribution and sacrifice. Subsequently, the Muslims vehemently opposed the LTTE's calls for the division of the country and firmly stood for the territorial integrity of the country.
Nevertheless, they were entangled into this unfortunate and unwanted ethnic conflict only to face death, devastation, loss of property and livelihood and displacement with little or no appreciation of their contribution to the country. Had the Muslims in the North and East supported the separatist call in its early stages when the island's armed forces were not properly equipped, history would have been different today.
Even today contrary to common misconception around 70 percent of the community lives below the poverty line. Around one percent of the community perished in the tsunami and, adding insult to injury, Muslim survivors were discriminated even in the disbursement of aid, which flowed from donor countries. They were also taken for a ride in the P-TOMS agreement that died a natural death. Muslim parliamentarians have a lot to worry about the community.
A mere visit to the Muslim slums in Colombo will speak volumes of the extreme poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and related social problems which threatened the very root of their survival. This is the same plight in almost every Muslim village in the country.
The Northern Muslims, mercilessly evicted more than two decades ago by the LTTE, are yet to be settled and, even after the ethnic war ended, Muslims in the North and East face numerous issues affecting their very survival.
In spite of their miserable plight, it is a travesty of justice that peacemakers, both here and abroad, call for solutions to the grievances of the Tamils, and conveniently ignore the plight of Muslims — the third largest community in the island — as if they are non-existent. In the midst, the silence on the part of Muslim parliamentarians further insults the community.