Goni Billa” Hate Speeches of Bodhu Bala Sena Cause Rise in Attacks on Muslim Women in “Abaya” Attire

20080115muslim women1There is much concern among members of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka over the increasing number of unprovoked attacks on Muslim women wearing the “Abaya”, the robe like overgarment that covers the whole body.

The issue is being viewed with concern at discussions of the Muslim community in different places in Sri Lanka and also features prominently in exchanges of views conducted via various media organs.

It is learnt that this issue was delved into at a recent meeting between some Muslim members of Parliament and representatives of the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama(ACJU)that was convened by Cabinet minister of Urban Affairs AHM Fowzie to examine the full implications of the “Halal”certification Issue.

ABAYA

What is troubling the community most is the phenomenon of rising incidents concerning Muslim women in the Country wearing the Abaya.

Among the forms of feminine clothing of Muslims are the scarf covering the head known as “Hijab” , the veil covering the face known as “Niqab” and the loose robe like overgarment covering the whole body known as “Abaya”in Arabic, “Burqa” in Urdu and “Purdah” in Persian.

The names of these clothing are often confused or used interchangeably by many including the “Ethno Religious Fascist”Bodhu Bala Sena(BBS) organization which has been targeting the manner in which many Muslim women dress as part of its overall Anti-Muslim campaign.

A familiar feature of public speeches by BBS leaders including its President Ven. Kirama Vimalajothy Thera and General Secretary Ven.Galaboda Attha Gnanasara Thera had been the virulent view expressed against the Abaya or Burqa dress worn by Muslim women. All sorts of vulgar remarks and derisive comments were made against women wearing such clothing.

GONIBILLA

Both Vimalajothy and Gnasara Theros flouted principles of Vinaya by viciously attacking the Muslim women wearing such dresses. One description repeated frequently on BBS platforms was “Goni Billa” (scary person in a sack) Since the Abaya covered the whole body of the women, the BBS speakers called it “Goni Billa” in a manner that appealed to low tastes of people.

These derogatory speeches have already begun to impact on some misguided Sinhala youths. There have been scattered incidents where Muslim women in Abaya and even Hijaab clothing have been the target of caustic,offensive remarks.Attempts have been made to yank the clothing by street urchins in a few places.More serious incidents too have begun to proliferate in recent times

MANAMPITIYA

The latest incident is one that occurred in Manampitiya in the Polonnaruwa district concerning the Muslim postmistress who had assumed duties from February this year.On Saturday March 16th as she was leaving after work at the Post Office some youths accosted her and requested her not to wear the “Hijab”.She simply ignored them.

On Monday March 18th morning the Postmistress was on her way to the Post Office on Manampitiya Main street when youths on two motor cycles tried to snatch the Hijab away. The postmistress however held on to the scarf tightly. The youths had sped away as people started rushing to the scene.

The Muslim postmistress has lodged a complaint with the Manampitiya Police. She has stated that she was unable to see the faces of the would be Hijab snatchers as they were wearing helmets with visors.

FORT STATION

Another incident happened at the Fort Railway station on Friday March 15th.Four young Muslim girls all of them law students were walking on the railway platform when a bunch of young hooligans jeered and surrounded them.They began tugging and pulling at the Abayas they were all dressed in.

Mercifully others at the scene saw what was happening and came to the rescue.A gathering crowd began to berate the hooligans who beat a hasty retreat. It is noteworthy that those who chased the hooligans away were mostly Non –Muslims.

DICKWELLA

In an incident which happened a few weeks ago in Matara district three Muslim schoolgirls from Dickwella were attacked near the Mahanama bridge near Matara town. The girls all of them dressed in “Abaya”were returning around noon from AAT classes at Nupe,Matara.

A well built sturdy man with a hefty pole confronted them and began scolding them as “Gonibillas”. He then tried to hit one girl on the head with the stick but she had jumped to a side and escaped with the stick grazing her slightly. He had then tried to clutch the Abaya of another girl and hit her. She too evaded him sustaining a slight injury on her hand.The third girl ran away before the man could reach her.

As the girls screamed and ran people started converging. One Sinhalese woman started shouting at the man.The thug with the pole moved away. The Sinhalese woman then consoled the terrified girls and told them to come with her to lodge an entry with the Police.The woman’s husband however chided his wife for getting involved in unnecessary matters and took her away.

COMPLAINT

The three Muslim schoolgirls returned home but did not tell their parents about the incident. The news however spread and by evening the parents got to know. The families concerned then went to the Police and lodged a complaint.

The Police then went to the spot where the incident took place. A mentally unhinged,feeble looking man with a small stick was seen loitering there. The Police then suggested that this “Mad”man was the person who attacked the girls.The victims however said this was not the man and pointed out that the person who attacked them was a well built sturdy person who had a pole and not a stick.

The Police then asked people in the vicinity whether they saw the attack. All of them denied seeing such an attack and cast doubts whether the girls were telling the truth. Nasty remarks of a communal nature were also made. At this point the Police said they could do nothing more unless eyewitnesses came forward to identify the assailant and departed.

BORELLA

In an incident that happened at a hospital in Borella a Muslim woman wearing Abaya was suddenly kicked in the back by a Sinhalese youth. When the shocked woman asked why he kicked her the youth had retorted in raw filth. He had abused Muslims in general and Muslim women in “Gonibilla” dress in particular.While the affected woman remained in a daze over this unprovoked attack others (Non-Muslims)started remonstrating with the youth who then left the scene

DEHIWELA

At a Bus terminal in the Dehiwela area a Muslim woman wearing the “Niqab” face veil had got into a parked bus with passengers. A Sinhalese woman already seated in the bus with her child started screaming at the Muslim woman calling her “Gonibilla’. She then told the bus conductor that she would not travel in the same bus with the Muslim woman as her child was getting scared by the “Gonibilla”.

The conductor then refused to issue a bus ticket to the woman unless she removed the veil. When she refused to do so the Muslim woman was asked to find another bus.Many passengers too seemed hostile. So the Muslim woman got down from the bus and hired a three-wheeler

TIHARIYA

In an incident of somewhat similar nature but with a touch of humour ,three Muslim women in Abaya attire had got into a bus at Tihariya.Some passengers had then mocked them saying “ This is a “Haram”bus. Why don’t you travel in a “Halal”bus?The Muslim women were targets of such remarks in lighter vein for quite a while. But at least they were not asked to unveil or get out of the bus as in Dehiwela.

KOTAHENA

In an incident at Kotahena a young Muslim girl in Abaya was walking on the pavement when a passing motor cyclist stopped near her and spat on her. He then shouted an obscene phrase and spat again on the startled girl. He then sped away. The girl is the grand niece of a veteran Muslim politician. She was not spat upon because of that relationship but for the act of wearing the Abaya

SPONTANEOUS

These are but a few of the incidents concerning Muslim women .What is frightening about these attacks on Muslim women in Abaya attire or wearing Hijabs and Niqabs is the fact that most of these acts seem spontaneous and not pre-meditated or planned beforehand. The perpetrators seem to be acting independently on their own and not on the orders of any organization.

Ordinary people who are at most times law abiding, tolerant, decent citizens are suddenly engaging in hostile attacks against Muslim women in Abaya attire without any provocative act by the victims.The very sight of a Muslim woman or girl in an Abaya seems to be provocation to some as in the case of the proverbial red flag and bull.

BRAINWASHED

The continuous derogatory references “Gonibillas”to Abaya clad Muslim women by Bodhu Bala Sena Bhikkus is gradually impacting on multiple layers of Sinhala society.Impressionable minds are being “brainwashed”into perceiving Muslim women in Abaya attire as something evil and dangerous.

The Bodhu Bala Sena may claim that they are a “non – Violent” movement but the anti-Muslim hatred they express in their speeches and writings are promoting a hostile atmosphere where violence could erupt on a major scale.

“HALAL”AS”HARAM”

The vicious anti-Muslim campaign of the Bodhu Bala Sena and its allied outfits along with the Jathika Hela Urumaya is helping to form an undesirable anti-Muslim climate in Sri Lanka. The distortions and wilful misrepresentations about the “Halal”certification process has created a monster out of Halal.In a cruel irony “Political Buddhism” is portraying the word “Halal”as being one with negative connotations.”Halal” is depicted as “Haram” to a gullible audience.

Two recent incidents would help illustrate the vilification of Halal that is permeating majority community consciousness now.

KAL-ELIYA

At Kal-Eliya a group of youths went to a footwear store run by a Muslim businessman.They wanted to know whether the shoes ,sandals and slippers being sold were “Halal” products. A huge ruckus was created for many hours. All on account of the “Halal”bogey.

COLOMBO 7

In the second incident a Sinhala student at a prestigious primary school in Colombo 7 asked for water from a Muslim classmate who promptly obliged by giving his friend his water bottle. As the Sinhala student was about to drink another Sinhala classmate said” Bonda Epa. Eka Halal Wathura”(Don’t drink. It is “Halal”water).All three classmates are in the 8-9 age group.

FRICTION

There are also numerous incidents of friction occurring in rural and semi-urban schools where Sinhalese students are in a majority and Muslims in a minority.Sadly several teachers too are contributing to this friction because of their prejudices influenced greatly by the demonization of Muslim practices and beliefs by the Bodhu Bala Sena.

The Rajapaksa regime is covertly and Overtly encouraging the Bodhu Bala Sena through acts of omission and commission. The mainstream media is generally blacking out reports of anti-Muslim incidents due to certain reasons.Even as efforts are on to project an image of everything being hunky-dory in the Paradise Isle tensions continue to simmer beneath the façade.

FASCISM

The vast majority of Sinhala Buddhists both clergy and laity are unhappy about Bodhu Bala Sena activities and disapprove of them. Yet they remain silent in the face of flourishing fascism due to a number of reasons.

By their silence and inaction they are indirectly sanctioning the growth of a virulent ethno religious fascist monster that will surely plunge Sri Lanka into chaos and destruction unless otherwise checked and eradicated.

(dbsjeyaraj.com)

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BBS Saffron Brigade And A Nation In Tears Forever – Sharmini Serasinghe

BBSKandy032013-600x318‘Buddhist Sri Lanka’ perceived as the ‘sole protector’ of the Dhamma is where all beings irrespective of caste, creed, religion or race are supposed to live in peace, compassion and harmony. Then why is this tiny tear-drop shaped nation in the vast Indian Ocean destined forever to be in tears? Where did Buddhism go wrong for Lanka? Or should it be where was Buddhism made to go wrong for Lanka?

 

Never before in recent history has the populace of this comparatively ‘small’ country – Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim – been as ‘largely’ polarized as we see now. Physically we are so very near to one another but yet so far apart. For today we are a nation where not only are the Sinhalese and Tamils surveying each other with fear and suspicion, but the Sinhalese and Muslims as well. Whodunit!

 

With the embers of an ugly and unfortunate civil war still glowing, we are now beginning to feel the ominous signs of yet another episode of racial intolerance emerging, this time with the Buddhist flag being brandished against the ‘other’. Clearly there is another blood-bath on the horizon for Lanka.

 

In the absence of a strong political will to nip this malady in the bud, the ‘Guardians’ of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the Mahasangha, too, have taken to maintaining a stoic silence. It was only very recently and coincidentally in perfect timing with the Geneva debacle, that one of these ‘Guardians’ of Buddhism appeared to have been jolted into action and thus issued a nonsensical and incongruous statement reported in the Sunday Leader of 10th March 2013 under the caption “Asgiriya Chapter puts BBS on notice”.

 

This lame statement claims that they of the Asgiriya Chapter do not accept ‘some’ of the actions of the Bodu Bala Sena. The stress on the pronoun ‘some’ sticks out as a sore thumb. This could only imply that the extremist BBS Saffron Brigade not only enjoys the tacit approval and blessings of the reigning political leaders but the ‘Guardians’ of Buddhism in Lanka the Mahasangha as well, of all what the BBS stands for except ‘some’. This ‘some’ could mean anything or nothing.

 

If this is the interpretation of the Buddhist philosophy, practiced by the Mahasangha, then this ‘Buddhist’ country is better off without such hypocrites.

 

For they are then nothing but ‘Buddhist ornaments’; therefore a lame excuse for Buddhists let alone wear the mantle of the Mahasangha.

 

In this context all what our elected leaders including this ‘Mahasangha’ seem to be able to do is only pay mere lip-service to this ruckus. By this they seem to be implying to the Saffron Brigade “Do as you do, and don’t mind what I say”.

 

There are those blinded by misguided loyalty who take umbrage at the very suggestion that our ‘faultless’ elected political leaders and the oh-so-holy Mahasangha can never say or do wrong. In the minds of some of these individuals, those who accuse their holier-than-though leaders of fanning the flames of religious extremism must be either NGOs or paid by NGOs to sling mud. The truth always hurts, sometimes a lot!

 

They would have to be either extremely naive or endowed with limited gray-matter to believe that our political leaders in governance, ably supported by the ‘mute’ Mahasangha have ‘nothing to do’ with the gloom that is unfolding before our very eyes. After all what do they, the ruling politicians, care what becomes of the Muslims, as they don’t get their vote anyway!

 

What appears stark as daylight is that as long as they at the political top, including their pampered and willingly manipulated Mahasangha, are afforded the privilege of basking in the glory of self aggrandizement and all that entails the ‘good life’, that’s all they care about.

 

They don’t essentially give a !@#$%^&* or a hoot that Lanka may be entering the throes of yet another smouldering blood-bath that would ultimately leave our country in a pile of ash and rubble. After all what do they care, it’s only the common man out there who will suffer and get killed, not them. Déjà vu!

 

What they our elected political leaders appear to be saying but not saying is never mind the Muslims, they are getting too big for their boots anyway. So let them be rattled a bit and put in their place as long as we don’t appear to be doing it. Hence the Saffron Brigade marches forward to attend to the needful.

 

Then there are those languishing in ‘Camps for the Homeless’ in the North and East, torn apart from their families and places they once called home, taken over and occupied by the Army. What our elected political leaders seem to be implying to them through their sheer lack of will to resolve their issues is – never mind they voted for the Swan anyway, so let them suffer it out as those who vote for ‘others’ will be shown no mercy.

 

And as for the Sinhalese what our elected political leaders appear to be implying by denying them the democratic right to plan their families to suit their purse is, let them produce more, more and more so we will have more, more and more Sinhala Buddhist votes. Never mind if they are malnourished and uneducated they can still vote.

 

Let our elected political leaders and others not be bothered by such above-mentioned trivialities. For very soon there is an event of far greater importance that must be celebrated come hell or high water, the great ‘Victory Day’ in the month of May.

 

Never mind that thousands of the innocent perished and became refugees in the name of this ‘Victory Day’. They were after all a mere insignificant collateral cost because “We Won the War”. That appears to be what our elected political leaders are saying but not saying.

 

At a saner level might we ask does this ‘Victory Day’ need to be celebrated with such vulgar pomp and pageantry? Can it not be a day of reflection on all that ails the political system of Lanka? Do we need an annual reminder in such a crass and tasteless way of the mistakes of our own political forefathers? Should this not be rightfully a day of moaning instead of one to be celebrated? Do we have to make it so obvious to the world that we are today a nation marching backwards?

 

As a Buddhist might I ask our ruling political leaders: cannot, at least for one day on this day, some compassion and sensitivity be shown towards all those who gave life and limb to make this day possible? Didn’t we kill off our own and not an unwelcome foreign invader?

 

“Oh no!” I hear that ominous voice of our elected political leaders.

 

Yes they don’t see it that way and to hell with those who don’t see things their way. For this is an all important day that must be celebrated loudly and most visibly as possible and at any cost. For this is the day when The Emperor dons his ‘Victory Day’ cloak to cover his otherwise nakedness and impress the masses that there is no other such as he!

 

The vote to remain forever in power wins at the end of the day!

 

Sharmini Serasinghe was Director Communications of the former Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) under Secretary Generals Jayantha Dhanapala and Dr. John Gooneratne. She counts over thirty years in journalism in both the print and electronic media.

The Thug Monk of BBS: Galgodaatha Gnanasara Thero

BBS022013

This is the true face of Bodu Bala Sena secretary Galgodaatha Gnanasara Thero. See his behaviour and filthy language he uses. Surely he cannot be a monk. Its a shame on the whole Buddhist principles. Why the four Nikayas/Sangha Sabawa are silent about this man.

 

 

The Buddhists and Sinhalese should know about this venomous man who is trying to cause an irreparable loss to the greate nation of Sri Lanka.

‘Bodu Bala Sena, unholy and fake’

damra-amila-thero(Mirror) – The Bodu Bala Sena is attempting to portray Haram as Halal and Halal as Haram, Senior lecturer of the Sri Jayawardenapura University, Ven. Dambara Amila Thero says.

Speaking yesterday (17) at a meeting aimed for national unity, the Thero likened this situation to a person catching a snake by the tail, instead of by the neck.

Noting that the Bodu Bala Sena was unholy and fake, Ven. Dambara Amila Thero said that they would last for another few months only.

The Political Economy of Prejudice: Islam, Muslims and Sinhala-Buddhist Nationalism in Sri Lanka Today: Some Reflections

Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority is increasingly finding itself the target of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists: a campaign 426390_525475650838370_1892996233_nagainst halal, attacks on mosques, boycott of their businesses, hate speech, intimidation and threats. Many concerned social activists, researchers and commentators have attempted to grapple with current manifestations of this phenomenon with a view to shaping meaningful and effective responses by furthering our understanding of its socio-political and economic dimensions.  This reflection is shared in the same spirit.

I focus on two related aspects. Firstly, I highlight why it is important to term (and view) the spate of recent acts not just as anti-Muslim, as many tend to do, but also as anti-Islam. Viewing Sinhala-Buddhist extremist rhetoric only as ‘anti-Muslim’ actually overlooks the underlying prejudice against Islam itself that fuels this campaign. Secondly, the piece simultaneously argues for going beyond a mass-appeal-centred view of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism to account for its links with currently dominant political economic configurations and their interaction with social segmentation and ethno-religious identity-based differentiation in Sri Lanka. I conclude by arguing why the politics of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists constitutes a politics of dominance.

The anti-Islam dimension in Sinhala-Buddhist Nationalism and why calling it that matters. It is common to hear actors such as the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS) claiming that they are not against Islam or even Muslims as such but only against certain fundamentalist Islamist ideas and their advocates. They make a distinction between ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘traditional’ Muslims, claiming that Buddhists have lived in harmony with the latter for centuries. While this distinction is itself problematic, it is also a deceptive manoeuvre. For in reality, the BBS and its ilk have rallied against practices such as halal, which are far from a mark of fundamentalism. It is important to note that one can indeed oppose positions taken by certain Muslims without necessarily being anti-Islam; in Islam as in other religions there is internal criticism and contestation on various issues of doctrine and practice, including on fundamentalisms.

However, the targets of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists today are some of the most widely shared elements of Islam in Sri Lanka—places of worship, halal, Friday prayers, etc. Moreover, they have done so in a manner that signals a desire for dominance (more on this towards the end).

The truth is that fundamentalist forces like the BBS are both anti-Muslim and anti-Islam in character and these two strands must be recognised as distinct though obviously related. This is important, not merely for the sake of analytical accuracy but also to help shape responses better. By overlooking the anti-Islam dimension we may also be reducing, albeit inadvertently, the scale and complexity of the problem. Considering the anti-Islam dimension highlights how certain key elements within Islam’s doctrine and belief structure are characterised as inherently dangerous rendering all practices suspect and all adherents legitimate targets.

Amongst the many similarities between the Sinhala-Buddhist right wing, and birds of a similar feather elsewhere, including Hindu nationalism in India, is the sustained campaign to underline that Islam is more prone to fundamentalism and extremism than any other religion. In other words, just as tolerance is apparently written into the DNA of Buddhism and Hinduism, intolerance is apparently written into the DNA of Islam and therefore Muslims are prone to illiberalism and even violence.

Another related aspect is the consistent demonization of the idea of sociality and fraternity found in Islam. The doctrinal stress on ‘brotherhood’ and unity of all Muslims—a nation without borders, so to speak—is quite central to many interpretations of Islam. This so-called ‘unity’ within Islam is itself posited as a threat and is used to stir up fear and insecurity regarding a national minority behind which lurks a giant global demos—“the destructive hordes of Islam”, to put it like Anagarika Dharmapala did. This is also connected to the myth of demographic conquest, more on that later. However, apart from some core Islamic beliefs that maybe shared (in some cases even this is debatable) there is significant divergence in the religious and secular worlds of Muslims in Sri Lanka (themselves internally differentiated) and in many other countries, especially in the Arab world (itself very fractured). Just consider also that political violence in the name of Islam has in fact claimed mostly Muslim lives or that Muslim migrant workers from Sri Lanka or elsewhere are treated as badly as any others in the Gulf; young Rizana was not even given a chance at justice in Saudi Arabia.

The anti-Islam dimension in this context is also doing the work of stereotyping and essentialising what is a heterogeneous belief system. Islam, like every other major organised religion in the world, is an interpretive sphere marked by disagreement over various elements of practice and even doctrine. Not everything that Muslims do is Islamic and not all Muslims may agree that some aspect of practice or doctrine is Islamic for the same reason. In fact, simply because someone follows Islam does not mean he or she always considers being Muslim as his or her primary identity. However, essentialising Islam is central to the anti-Islam project because it can then also be used to justify calling on Muslims everywhere to explain the actions of anyone who professes to act in the name of Islam anywhere. This recent Daily News article, which connects “disparate events in the Muslim world, taking them out of context and then applying them to Sri Lanka” is a good example.

Let us consider the anti-halal position. It does beg the question as to whether it is linked to Muslims wearing their Islamic badge to a marketplace of otherwise apparently socio-culturally unmarked consumers? Or does certification of commodities as halal amount to a ritual stamping of goods meant to be socio-culturally undifferentiated? However, in reality, a socially undifferentiated marketplace is itself a myth—a full moon has a significant impact on commerce as well as what you can buy in super-markets in Sri Lanka; thus, whether or not one is Buddhist one cannot buy alcohol or meat. Marketing and advertising, branding, and packaging are all to often standard bearers of culture, ethno-religious symbols, and nationalist sentiments—the market is not and has never been a zone free of identity politics and culture. Meanwhile, the ritual stamping of Sri Lanka’s political, economic, socio-cultural and physical geographies with Buddhist relics, ruins and temples as well as flags, statues, pictures, symbols, pilgrimages, etc.—now a fairly lucrative market in itself—is in overdrive.  Even a critique that halal certification was commoditised —i.e. became a means of making profits for ACJU or Muslim businesses—conveniently ignores, among other things, the economic motivations of all producers in reaching out to Muslim consumers not to mention the widespread commodification of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism itself.

Beyond the anti-halal mobilisation, the anti-Islam dimension in this context is doing the work of reproducing the myth that Islam ‘imposes’ economic behavior and patterns of consumption that are designed and always operate in ways that enable some sort of communal accumulation of surplus. However, it also taps into the underlying prejudice that Islam’s belief system is in conflict with the ethos of individualist, capitalist consumerism being illiberal as it is—the clash of civilisations redux. Critiques of consumerism grounded in Islam strike a slightly more discordant note with many liberals for it is seen to bring with it an additional baggage of intolerance, an overbearing sociality, orthodoxy and support for modes of communal accumulation.

The view that Islam is “alien” and Muslims “Shylockian” (Dharmapala again) has a long history in the sub-continent and is connected with narratives of Muslim political and economic conquest through war (in India) and through trade (in Sri Lanka) respectively.  While Christianity too has been targeted in the sub-continent it is arguably connected to narratives of spiritual conquest i.e. conversions, to which are tied to ideas of ‘being led away’, ‘forcibly converted’ etc., which explains why missionaries and the evangelicals are especially prime targets. However, spiritual conquest is somewhat different, not least owing to its reversible nature i.e. reconversion (actively pursued for quite sometime now by Hindu nationalist groups in India). It is also set apart from political and economic conquest, which also allow for stoking sentiments of defeat, loss, and humiliation. In addition to all this, there is the narrative of demographic conquest, connected uniquely with Islam and the structure and rules of family it apparently ‘prescribes’ (including family size and polygamy) which in turn powers myths about Muslims reproducing themselves into a majority, which are in wide circulation in the sub-continent and elsewhere in the world. All of this implies that Muslim sociality (Muslim community structures and organisations), religious practices and institutions, businesses, and persons are all likely legitimate targets.

In other words, the ant-Islam dimension does a significant amount of work in Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalist discourse, which needs to be identified and recognised. We must call out the BBS and their ilk on being both anti-Islam and anti-Muslim because whatever the political economic dimensions they cannot be separated from the prejudice that has lurked for a long time. Just by way of clarification, I am not suggesting that those who use ‘anti-Muslim’ as a descriptive label are unaware of the issues raised above, I am only suggesting, for all the reasons given above, that it is important to make that awareness more explicit.

Religious identities, politics and economics: Lessons from elsewhere in South Asia?

Looking at the anti-Muslim and anti-Islam dimensions helps us unpack prejudice, important because prejudice permeates economic, social and political barriers of class, caste, religion and gender and is central to mass appeal and popular emotional traction. However, this is not to suggest that mass emotional appeal is all there is to explain, we certainly need analyses of the political economic projects that are served by such prejudice. However, such analyses must bring together understandings of the social bases, political configurations, economic interests and identity-difference politics driving current-day Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. In doing so it is important to account for the realities in which political allegiances, economic ideologies as well as social segmentation and differentiation interact.  To clarify what I mean here are a couple of illustrations from Bangladesh and India—these are just two picked from amongst a large number of others to consider.

Mushtaq Khan’s analysis of the political economy of secularism in Bangladesh points to the concert between ideology, religion and clientelist surplus appropriation. He argues that ideology, whether around secular or religious nationalism, works more like “labels distinguishing competing middle-class-led patron-client networks in their on-going and periodically intensifying struggle” over power and resources. He underlines how loyalties based on group identity (religion, language, etc.) serve as avenues for economic mobility and effective instrumentalities of political mobilisation of multi-class factions. In other words, strategic political mobilisation around ethno-religious nationalism and identity can generate vertical alignment and solidarity (however unstable) and horizontal cleavage and conflict.

Shankar Gopalakrishnan has underlined how Hindutva gained momentum in India from its ability to provide prospects of social cohesion and secure identity along with promises of social and economic mobility. Even though the solutions presented to the needs of multiple social sectors “corresponded to the interests of the ruling classes”, the “material-ideological ‘bargain’” was attractive in a context of changing modes of petty commodity production and increased social upheaval as a result of subaltern political assertions, viewed as ‘divisive’. Moreover, he notes how Hindutva’s impulses of an “essentialised individualism” (a good Hindu) embedded within a totalising idea of community (a socially undifferentiated ‘Hindu Rashtra’) chimes with neo-liberalism’s stress on the utility maximising individualism and exercise of free choice in an undifferentiated marketplace. At the same time, Hindutva’s conception of the primacy of the nation as the origin and guarantor of rights rather than the state is in harmony with neoliberalism’s role for the state as a manager rather than redistributor.

The post-war context in Sri Lanka offers significant scope for potential gains and conflicts over re-alignments of networks of patronage and clientelist redistribution, which along with ethno-religious relations was in many ways over-determined by the war. And the dominant players in this competition will only be too happy to align themselves with the so-called moral and spiritual regeneration of the body politic i.e. ethno-religious nationalism and extremism, if it will give them an edge in cementing their socio-political bases (perhaps better seen as multi-class factions?), economic privileges and crucially, reconfiguring the social and eventually even the socio-political and legal substance of citizenship itself.

In conclusion

While underlining the anti-Muslim and anti-Islam dimensions, some cautions are in order. An over stress in the response on the anti-Muslim dimension may actually suit elements like the BBS, who will claim that they do not have any prejudices against Islam as such but are only drawing attention to actions of certain ‘bad’ elements within the Muslim community. On the other hand, over stressing the anti-Islam dimension presents the danger of a slippage into full-scale identity politics and privileging narratives of identity and prejudice not grounded in the political and economic realities. And amongst the dangers of such identity politics is that it can be used not just by hegemonic but also by dominant vested interests amongst subaltern communities to further their own leverage and power, marginalising progressives (in particular feminists), advancing the cause of orthodoxies and hardening boundaries. Religious nationalists and fundamentalists everywhere, across ethnic and religious divides, share many such manoeuvres and operate in mutually reinforcing ways, rendering them indispensable to each other.

Precisely because such manipulation and a reductionist politics of identity are a hall-mark of all religious nationalisms and chauvinisms, a political economy lens is absolutely vital. However, the latter will itself be incomplete and less relevant if it does not also account for the complexities of identity formulation and difference. We must continue to strive towards more fine-grained analysis of what we are living through, choosing our frames with care because it defines the problem itself and therefore how we think and respond.

One last crucial set of points needs to be made. One is not suggesting that non-believers, ‘outsiders’, or for that matter those who believe or practice in non-conformist ways have no right to initiate or engage in a debate or question any beliefs or practices in a particular religion, be it Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or any other. However, anyone seeking to raise such questions, whether from the ‘inside’ or the ‘outside’ must be assessed, at the least, in terms of: a) their stated and unstated motivations, including the nature of potential social, political and economic interests in the outcomes of the debate; b) the extent of inter-group inequality, i.e. the overall relationships of power within the polity, and their own recognition of and location within it; c) the distortions and influence of the state and its institutions, recognising that they are never ‘neutral’ players; and d) their own commitment to democratic principles and justice.

Public debates about religious beliefs and practices are an important part of deliberative democracy. However, this also demands that those wanting such a debate demonstrate a commitment in word and deed to the basic principles of democracy, including within their own imagined communities. The Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists, the focus of this analysis, do not pass this test— they have clear political and economic vested interests in pursuing an ethno-religious nationalism, are not committed to genuine inter-group equality and have the power to bend a pliant state machinery in their favour. Moreover, they have shown that they have little respect for democratic principles such as rule of just law or non-discrimination, on the contrary they have shown that they are willing to use any means possible to have their way.

Intolerance, absolutism, lack of respect for democracy, and, totalising and exclusivist ideas of religious identity and its linking with citizenship, etc. marks out actors like the BBS. And their targets are not just ethno-religious minorities but also those ‘within’ who do not conform. What they are really seeking is an assertion of their dominance and this is inseparable from the reality that the present-day Sri Lankan state is itself a biased arbiter, being significantly oriented towards them. One need not look too far back in our history to comprehend the dangers this presents.

References

Mushtaq Husain Khan (2000) The Political Economy Of Secularism And Religion
In Bangladesh,
in Basu, S. and Das, S. (eds.) Electoral Politics in South Asia, Calcutta: K.P. Bagchi.

Shankar Gopalakrishnan (2008) Neoliberalism and Hindutva: Fascism, Free Markets and the Restructuring of Indian Capitalism, Radical Notes Paper Series, Aakar Books.

Bodhu Bala Sena Begins New Campaign Against Attire of Muslim Women in Sri Lanka After Abolishing Halal Logos

abayaHaving tasted victory over the Halal certification issue, the Bodhu Bala Sena(BBS) organization is to begin another widespread campaign targeting the Muslim community on the issue of attire worn by Muslim women in Sri Lanka.

The co-founder and head of the Ethno-Religious Fascist Organization Ven.Kirama Vimalajothy Thera has announced that the Bodhu Bala Sena will commence a fresh campaign before March 31st 2013 against the form of dress covering the body that is worn by many Muslim women in Sri Lanka.

The Bodhu Bala Sena(BBS) is expected to make details of its campaign known at the Mass rally to be held inKandy on Sunday March 17th.

Vimalajothy Thera expressing happiness over the decision by the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama(ACJU)to stop Halal certified Logos on products domestically also stated that the BBS would like the entire Halal certification process scrapped in the future.

Currently the ACJU will issue Halal certificates free of charge for products catering to the Export market if requested by the manufacturers.Locally, Halal Logos will not appear on products.

Incidentally, the BBS lit crackers in many urban areas in the outstations to celebrate the Halal victory.

Many of these incidents occurred near Muslim owned mercantile establishments.

The BBS Leader however emphasised that while being elated over its triumph on forcing the ACJU to suspend Halal certification locally, the Bodhu Bala Sena will continue with its activities untiringly.

The BBS will now commence with fresh vigour a specific campaign against the attire of Muslim women.

Though various types of clothing are worn by Muslim women in Sri Lanka, the dress that has aroused the wrath of the Bodhu Bala Sena is that which is worn to cover the whole body.

Among the forms of feminine clothing are the scarf covering the head known as “Hijab” , the veil covering the face known as “Niqab” and the loose robe like overgarment covering the whole body known as “Abaya”in Arabic,“Burqa”in Urdu and “Purdah”in Persian.

The Bodhu Bala Sena target at present is theAbaya dress of Muslim women covering the whole body.

The BBS will begin a widespread campaign in Sri Lanka demanding that Muslim women should stop wearing the Abaya in public as it hurts and affects the sensibilities of the non –Muslim population that amounts to 91% of Sri Lanka.

The perverted logic applied here is the same as that in the Anti-Halal campaign where it was questioned as to why 91% of Sri Lankans should buy and consume Halal certified products.

The Bodhu Bala Sena which enjoys the support of Defense and Urban Development secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (BROTHER OF PRESIDENT) has been conducting a multi-faceted anti-Muslim campaign under the pretext of opposing Halal certification.

A familiar feature of public speeches by BBS leaders including Vimalajothy Thera and General Secretary Ven.Galaboda Attha Gnanasera Thera had been the virulent view expressed against the Abaya or Burqa dress worn by Muslim women.

All sorts of vulgar remarks and derisive comments were made against women wearing such clothing.

Both Vimalajothy and Gnasara Thera flouted principles of Vinaya by viciously attacking the Muslim women wearing such dresses.

One description repeated frequently on BBS platforms was “Goni Billa”(scary person in a sack) since the Abaya covered the whole body of the women, the BBS speakers called it “Goni Billa” in a manner that appealed to low tastes of people.

These derogatory speeches have already begun to impact on some misguided Sinhala youths.

There have been scattered incidents where Muslim women in Abaya clothing have been the target of caustic,offensive remarks.

Attempts have been made to yank the clothing by street urchins in a few places.

In one instance the grand niece of a Veteran Muslim political leader wearing Abaya was spat upon in broad daylight on a public road.

The most serious incident was in the Southern Province at Dikwella near the Mahanama bridge where three Muslim girls in Abaya attire were attacked and injured slightly.

Complaints were made to the Police who said that no further investigation was possible due to unavailability of Eyewitness reports.

According to Islamic theologians one of the plus points in wearing the Abaya is that it prevents exposing the female body to unrelated males thereby minimising the potential for unwarranted sexual arousal and temptation.

In that context it is indeed amusing to see respected Buddhist Priests wedded to the notion of celibacy being in the forefront of a campaign urging Muslim women to discard the Abaya.

Although the BBS is expected to formally commence the Anti-Abaya campaign on March 17th in Kandy, posters have already begun to appear in different parts of the country.

Many of these have crude and vulgar words.

It may be recalled that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya had told the ACJU that the BBS had indicated to him that it would not proceed with further its anti-Muslim campaign if the Halal certification process was discontinued.

This was a crucial factor in the decision made by the ACJU to scrap Halal labels locally.

It now appears that the Bodhu Bala Sena as in the case of most Fascist movements has not been truthful in this.

The Halal victory has only whetted its appetite for more triumphs in its on going anti_Muslim activity.

The Anti-Abaya campaign by the Bodhu Bala Sena will fuel the fire of communal discord further and increase insecurity among Muslim women.

Muslim women Abused at Fort Railway Station!

monksSL_CIThis incident occurred on last Friday, at the Fort Railway station. Four young Muslim women (Law students in Muslim dress) were pulled and dragged by their dress, by some young men, then some passersby came to their rescue and chased those hooligans, most of rescuers’ came to help were non Muslim brothers.

 

These type of incidents are very common and victims are Muslim women, in Sri Lanka.  BBS, publicly ordered to protest against the Abaya the (Muslim Women dress) just after the orders, their supporters are in ACTION. Our Muslim community must thanks those non Muslim brothers for the timely help. Pray for God to save our country.