Sri Lanka’s 26 year old war is finally over. An ending that heralds an era free of suicide bombings, insecurity, and extravagant defense budgets. After what seemed like an eternity to many Sri Lankans, the world witnessed a truly mass celebration when the country’s Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim peoples set aside differences of every kind to welcome the end to war. Still it’s neither unusual nor unbecoming to find those who wonder ‘what next?’. After all realistically speaking, an end to war does not automatically transform into an end to the racial hostilities that laid the foundation for war.
Although the battle was essentially between the government’s military, and a band of Tamil guerilla fighters seeking a separate homeland for the Tamils, it is a fact that Muslims living in the conflict zone suffered as collateral over the years. Grimly testifying to this fact are the 90,000 or so Muslims who were expelled from their homes overnight by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE, in 1990. A move widely reputed as an act of ethnic cleansing. Still others were massacred while at prayer in mosques, kidnapped, extorted, and had their wealth robbed at gunpoint, largely in the eastern parts of the country where a majority of Sri Lanka’s Muslims live – a boundary that the LTTE claimed as a part of its fictional ‘Ealam State’.
The Muslim dimension of the war and more recently, victory is sometimes underplayed, festering feelings of marginalization and insecurity in the Muslim community. It’s easy to feel overpowered and impotent at moments like this, and simply resign the fate of oneself and one’s community to a handful of Muslim politicians.
These realities however should not be allowed to dampen the opportunity presented by this victory that has brought the country’s main ethnicities together intriumphant celebration. In short, these moments of togetherness offer the perfect opportunity for Muslims to demonstrate their patriotism, build bridges with other ethnicities, and heal past wounds left over by Sinhala-Muslim and Tamil-Muslim communal disharmony. After all it is a fact that Muslims of Sri Lanka are in a privileged position as a result of being bilingual, in a country where language has long been a barrier in national reconciliation between the Sinhalese and Tamils.
Having said that, I present ten ways in which YOU and I and every Sri Lankan Muslim can use this moment to lay the footing for long-lasting ethnic harmony.
Keep yourself informed – many Muslims become overly offensive/defensive about unfolding scenarios. Stay abreast of events which demonstrate that Muslims have stood for an undivided Sri Lanka. Being informed will enable you to speak intelligently about the topic-whether to your family, friends, colleagues, or to politicians. An objective source of information on Sri Lankan Muslim affairs is www.sailanmuslim. com
Hoist the Sri Lankan flag outside your house, taking appropriate measures to demonstrate that the inhabitants of the house are Muslims; for instance pasting a sticker with Arabic inscriptions on your door/gate.
Make yourself heard in the local media – Write letters to editors and op-eds to local newspapers and magazines, expressing the joy this victory brings, and the hope it holds for a better tomorrow.
Write to your representative in parliament congratulating on the victory, and pledging your support to rebuilding.
Urge local mosque authorities to deliver sermons supporting the current status quo while incorporating facts and figures about Muslim support for an undivided Sri Lanka. Publicize the contents of such sermons among friends, neighbors and colleagues.
Publicize the President’s statement in his address to parliament; that with the end of terrorism “We have removed the word minorities from our vocabulary…. There are only two peoples in this country. One is the people that love this country. The other comprises the small groups that have no love for the land of their birth” by displaying signs in places where people congregate/leaving fliers in cars windshields etc.
Urge Muslim-owned businesses to donate a part of sales revenues or to request their staff to donate a day’s salary to rehabilitation initiatives, to local NGO’s serving displaced people, to armed forces funds. Thereafter send out a press release about this venture to the local media.
Keep yourself informed about Muslims who served in the security forces and use every opportune moment to spread the word about these soldiers. The likes of Major Nizam Muthalif Commanding Officer of the 1st Military Intelligence Corp of the Sri Lanka Army, who was assassinated by the LTTE in 2005 is a case in point.
Volunteer to serve in refugee camps/government welfare centers, ensuring that you do while unequivocally demonstrating your Muslim identity.
Maintain a persistent presence in the World Wide Web, by commenting on blog spots, articles and other news pieces focused on developments in Sri Lanka, consistently voicing opinions as a Muslim point of view. Some examples of useful blog spots/sites www.historyandwar. blogspot. com, www.srilankaguardia n.org, http://landlikenoot her.blogspot. com, http://servesrilank a.blogspot. com