Making sense of Bodu Bala Sena - II


By Izeth Hussain

In my article of April 26 I wrote that that article was meant to be no more than notes towards making sense of the Bodu Bala Sena, a large and complex subject requiring in-depth treatment. In the present article I am continuing those notes because the BBS problem seems to have moved to the forefront of our political consciousness, replacing the position earlier held by what many Sri Lankans believed to be UNHRC diabolism. I believe that the reason why the BBS is moving to the forefront is that many Sri Lankans could be becoming aware of the possible sinister significance of the BBS’ external dimension.

The main reason why I have decided to continue these notes is the feedback I have had from a Sinhalese lady who spent decades in journalism, and though in retirement continues to have an informed interest in Sri Lankan politics. From what she wrote I gathered that she had been aware of the BBS’ Norwegian connection – to which I referred in my last article – but that had apparently been relegated to the background of her consciousness because she had come to assume that the main force behind the BBS was the Tamil diaspora. In other words, the main force behind the BBS consisted of those who are not reconciled to the unity of Sri Lanka. I am sure that that notion must be at least fairly widespread among the Sinhalese, but they dare not speak out. The BBS has blatant State backing and, far more important than that fact, it is above the rule of law. That certainly means that there are mighty forces behind the BBS, which makes it understandable that the mass of the Sinhalese dare not speak out even in favour of the unity of Sri Lanka if it means pointing the finger at the BBS. Sri Lankan politics of today are largely the politics of blue funk.

In my last article I gave the broad reasons why the anti-Muslim campaign of the BBS and other extremist groups can be seen as resounding advertisement for Eelam or a confederal political solution, which would come close to the setting up of a separate state: the Muslims have been an abjectly submissive minority, they have wholeheartedly backed the Sinhalese in every bit of egregious ethnolunacy against the Tamils, and they contributed significantly to the war on the Sinhalese side. If such a minority can be treated with such utter contempt by the extremist Sinhala Buddhists and the Government, can anyone in his right mind really believe that the racist Sinhalese power elite will ever give fair and equal treatment to the Tamils? That question leads ineluctably to the conclusion that the Tamils should be given Eelam or a confederal solution. That conclusion will be drawn, not by an insignificant person such as myself, but by the international community a component of which can deploy redoubtable destructive power against Sri Lanka.

The time has come for counter-action against the forces that are working, consciously or otherwise, for the disintegration of Sri Lanka. There are factors, apart from the ones mentioned in the preceding paragraph, which could lead to disintegration. It is many years since I first spoke at a meeting at the N.M.Perera Centre about the possible imposition of a Cyprus-style solution in Sri Lanka. I could see that my speech made no impact at all on the audience, who very probably thought that I was being highly fanciful. Later I wrote two articles on the subject, which apparently also made no impact at all. Subsequently, the late Silva declared in an article that he had thought that my views were fanciful, but some statement by the Indian authorities made him change his mind. Probably most readers thought that he too was being fanciful. The situation has changed radically since then. The shadow BJP Foreign Minister declared in the course of his election campaign that Eelam is a distinct possibility, and there were very threatening noises from Tamil Nadu. Very probably the BJP Government will initially be moderate and responsible towards Sri Lanka, but we can’t be sure about what may happen later. Since then the specter of Ukraine is stalking the world, making us think of eerie parallels. The idea of a Cyprus-style solution is no longer fanciful.

I would give importance to Minister Wimal Weerawamsa’s recent charge that there is a foreign conspiracy to alienate the Sinhalese and the Muslims so that the latter will turn to the Tamils and their fellow Muslims, with all of whom they share the commonality of being Tamil-speaking – a point to which our Tamils have given much importance over many decades. The idea of such a conspiracy may seem fanciful, but as I have shown above what seems fanciful today can turn out to be very realistic tomorrow. I don’t see any reason to preclude such a conspiracy. Anyway, I am deeply concerned about another possibility: there may be no conspiracy, but a July ’83 can take place against the Muslims.

I don’t think that our Government and the people as a whole, just like the peoples of the third world unlike the Westerners, really understand all that is entailed in racism. What is relevant to my present purpose is that it entails, among other things, a total annihilating hatred of the Other. The Sinhalese racist would believe that it is not only some Tamils who want Eelam but all of them without exception, some openly and the others secretly. The Tamil racist would believe that the Mahawamsa mentality, which precludes fair and equal treatment of the minorities, imbues every single Sinhalese without exception. And so on. It is an outlook that could lead to genocidal attacks on the minorities, because all their members, without exception, are regarded as guilty. Up to now the protracted anti-Muslim hate campaign of the BBS and other extremist groups has failed to ignite Sinhalese mass action against the Muslims. But it could happen due to an unforeseeable concatenation of circumstances. All human beings subjected to lethal attacks will either fight back or run. The Muslims can run, not to the Arab world or Indonesia, but only to the North East. That will have fateful consequences, including a coming together of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-speaking peoples. Conspiracies to promote that outcome – to which Minister Weerawamsa is pointing – cannot be ruled out.

It is time, surely, for counter-action against the forces that could lead to the disintegration of Sri Lanka. What should be done? I do not believe that the BBS and other extremist groups should be banned because that could well lead to an aggravation of the extremism. Rather, they should be countered within a democratic framework. In regard to the BBS, I believe that two-fold action is required. Firstly, there should be a thorough investigation of its foreign links. At this point I must make a crucial clarification. I don’t believe for an instant that the BBS leaders will lend themselves to an anti-national program. The point is that they could be used for such a program, without their being aware of it, by sinister foreign forces.

Secondly, the rule of law must be made to prevail over the BBS. Most countries produce their extremists – usually called "the lunatic fringe" - but a peculiarity of Sri Lankan politics is that the Buddhist extremists have been close to the center ever since 1956. The situation today is in reality worse: the State is seen as actually backing the BBS extremists. This situation surely needs correction, if only for the reason that UNHRC action is impending on the treatment of our Muslim and Christian minorities. The Government should therefore take immediate action to distance itself from the BBS. I believe that the best way of doing this would be, not through rhetorical duck-like quacking, but to assert the rule of law over the BBS monks. Since the Government could be wary about taking such action, I suggest that the President proceed to Kandy on a well-publicized visit to seek the guidance of the Mahanayakes on whether or not Buddhist monks should be subject to the rule of law. I cannot doubt the reply. My understanding of Buddhism is that it places the Dharma over the Gods, and from that central doctrinal fact some principles about the rule of law can be derived.

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