November 1, 2002

The racial tension situation unfortunately hasn’t got much better. They had more clashes yesterday and curfew again. Due to the clashes day before yesterday, one person had died and that had been a Muslim. Since Muslims bury their dead before 24 hours have elapsed since the death, the funeral was yesterday and from all accounts, some people had gotten worked up after the funeral and had gone off to seek “redress”. Even worse than the clashes themselves are all the rumours that are flying around – yesterday we were told that certain shops had been set on fire and that a mosque had been burnt down. A friend of mine from work called around and found out that none of this was true. Most people unfortunately, will not take the time to verify these things and go off in a “religious” rage and start more fights and the rumours themselves will only grow as they spread.

I do not know what today holds in store since today is a Friday and that’s the day of congregational prayer for Muslims. Come noon, you know that all the Muslims are going to be gathered in mosques around the country. Anybody who wants to find Muslims will know where to find them and so many Muslims together in one place can be dangerous too since they can band together after prayers and get into mischief. I can’t conceive how somebody who’d come from prayers can go out and go on a terror spree but that seems to be easy enough for us humans. We seem to find destruction and mayhem so much easier than thinking for a moment about the actual principles involved in the religions for the sake of which we are supposedly fighting. I hope and pray that today goes through without any incidents since another incident today probably would only escalate into further violence in the coming days … I guess we can only believe in God and hope that things work out.

Incidentally, to give an idea to those of you who might be totally clueless as to the scenario here, Sri Lanka is mostly Sinhalese (about 80%) and the Muslims and Tamils are each less than 10% – my figures might be slightly off since I haven’t had to look at population figures in ages. That makes the Sinhalese the majority and the Tamils and Muslims minorities. Some of the Tamils felt that they weren’t getting proper representation and they started a war to get a separate state of their own (this in a country which has only about 25,000 square miles of area in total mind you – probably smaller than any of the states in the US). Since this civil was was a guerilla war where they struck and ran, the war continued for over 20 years with great loss of life on both sides. The LTTE (the liberators/terrorists fighting for Tamil freedom) and the Sri Lankan government signed a cease fire agreement this year and peace talks are underway to settle the conflict in an amicable manner.

Of course, the Muslims had to take just this opportunity to go and create problems of their own! The current clashes might not have been the fault of the Muslims (I don’t have enough facts to be objective – the news media is very reticent about saying who did what probably so as to avoid inflaming more people and encouraging further outbursts of violence …) since it seems to have erupted due to some protest by the Buddhists (Sinhalese are mostly either Buddhists or Christians) to a Muslim mosque (or school – accounts vary) being built in front of one of their temples. The whole protest seems rather silly to me but one person dying because of all of this is really sad. There is more behind it though since some of the Muslim politicians have taken the peace talks to be the opportunity to demand for a separate autonomous area of government for Muslims as well. This probably has led to a lot of ill-will towards Muslims even though I don’t think the common man supports this – I know that I don’t!

Whatever the case maybe, the next few days might decide whether the country erupts into bloody violence again or if we somehow resolve this without problems. I hope it will be the latter since I remember the violence in 1983 when there were racial riots and people killed, burnt, looted and generally behaved like crazed animals. I can only hope that all of us Sri Lankans as a nation learnt a lesson from that incident …

Posted by Fahim at 5:13 am  |  2 Comments