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Sunday, 13 May 2012

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Economic prosperity will lead to national reconciliation - Faiszer Musthapha

*A Sri Lankan conscience essential

*Tamil diaspora should thank Government for saving Tamil community

Technology and Research Deputy Minister Faiszer Musthapha said People in the majority and the minority community should have the will and the strength to work together for national reconciliation and safeguard their motherland. The Sri Lankan identity should not be used for certain issues which lead to create racial hatred. The Deputy Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said President Mahinda Rajapaksa is making a concerted effort towards national reconciliation.

He said the extremists on either side were using minor issues between individuals as a political platform to create racial hatred. Political parties should not be based on race and religion. We have to work towards national reconciliation. Today its easy to be a political hero by display racial placards. Some politicians and extremists use religion and race for political survival which is very unfortunate. The Deputy Minister said he believes in what the President said that there is no minority and majority community. He said as much as the minority community has voted for him, the majority community has also voted for him. He stressed the importance of acting with a Sri Lankan conscience.

Deputy Minister Musthapha said now the TNA talks a lot, earlier they were the proxies of the LTTE. Today they have a free mind to think at least. Tamil political leadership and anybody who thought intelligently were destroyed by the LTTE. Because they thought that they can control the Tamil community through the power of the gun. The Tamil diaspora should thank the Government for saving the Tamil community from the clutches of the LTTE. It has given them the freedom of thought and expression.

Q: As a young Parliamentarian how do you see the prospects for united Sri Lanka? Donít you think the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) is the ideal forum to start?

A: The sovereignty of the people is exercised through Parliament and itís a representation of the people. So the PSC would be the best forum where peopleís representatives could get their diversity and that is the best way forward with regard as President Mahinda Rajapaksa suggested. All parties should nominate people to the PSC as that is the ideal forum to discuss the issues of the people.

Q: Despite the Western democracyís pontification on human rights, transparency, rule of law, civilians are killed in drone attacks, terrorist suspects are held incommunicado and tortured. What have you got to say?

A: Today human rights is fashionable for the West to point fingers at other countries. If they look at themselves in the mirror, you see powerful countries go into sovereign nations killing a person on the basis of terrorism. But the question of a sovereign state is not to interfere with the sovereignty or rule of law in a country. The jurisdiction of one country extends to another sovereign state.

These are fundamental issues of law. But today you see according to convenience and might, in certain quarters might has been termed to be right. There is a rule of law and there is justification. Innocent civilians are attacked under the guise of eradication of terrorism. When a soldier or national of a powerful nation is killed, there is a big hue and cry.

When thousands of innocent civilians of poor countries are killed, they turn a deaf ear. Life then has two values. The life of individuals in a powerful nation is more valuable than civilians in a poor country.

When Sri Lanka eradicated terrorism and we followed the principles of having zero civilian casualties, fingers are raised on human rights violations. We should not forget that we fought with the most ruthless terrorist outfit. When a terrorist is killed, certain quarters can say itís a civilian. To differentiate between a terrorist and a civilian, it can only be done through action.

When military operations were launched against terrorists, the President and the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa were conscious about civilians.

I am sure, we would not have taken this amount of time to finish off the LTTE, if we acted in another way. But for whatever reasons, the pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora tried to lobby the international community to prevent us from eradicating LTTE terrorism. Even the West woke up against terrorism specially after 9/11. They had a taste of it. Earlier they used to read about terrorism in books and magazines.

I think the efforts which we have put to eradicate terrorism has to be appreciated. Everywhere you get bad experience, but the law will take action. The Army has appointed a panel of inquiry to go into whatever issues which anybody brings about. So we are on the right track.

Q: Innocent civilians were killed by drone attacks and bombings in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and Iraq. Are these not human rights violations or bumping off civilians. Why cannot Muslim nations intervene and stop this?

A: I personally feel internationally you donít need Muslim nation, Christian nation, Sinhala or Tamil nation to prevent such actions. It has to be condemned by right thinking people irrespective of race or religion. I think drone attacks are done by powerful nations. As a result might has become right.

Q:Is there any truth in Opposition allegations that the independence of judiciary is eroded and respect for rule of law is on the decline?

A: The Opposition would always try to say various things. That is why the Opposition is there. For example if the UPFA is in the Opposition, there are various issues which would have been raised.

We donít have a hundred percent perfect system. Being a lawyer myself, I think we have a very good judicial system and our judiciary is independent.

There may be other issues and no Government is hundred percent perfect. If you take the history, our judiciary consists men and women who are very independent. I donít agree with this allegation levelled by the Opposition.

Q: People feel the pulse of sky rocketing cost of living despite soothing statements by politicians to the contrary. What measures will be taken to cushion the impact?

A: Oil prices and inflation has gone up. Today we can see certain countries like Greece going bankrupt. Global economies of all countries are facing equal hardship. But our economy is controlled compared to other nations. If I say the cost of living has not gone up, I am making a baseless statement.

The Government is trying to give concessions to parties who need assistance. The Government is also looking at all mechanisms to see how prices of essential commodities could be curtailed. That is the only way forward. At present, the global factors play much more role in our day- to-day life than what it did earlier. .

Q: Minor issues between individuals are often blown out of proportion and spread to the four corners of the world within seconds by interested parties. What could be done to contain such situations?

A: Basically reconciliation should be the order of the day. But it has to come from the minority community as well as the majority community. Before I talk about the Dambulla incident, I would like to point out some of the teachings preached by Buddha. I think Buddhism is a very tolerant religion and Buddhists are one of the most tolerant people in the world. Because Buddha has preached tolerance.

ďI would like to quote as Venerable Walpola Sri Rahula thera (PhD) said in what the Buddha taught, the Buddha was just as clear on politics, on war and peace. It is well-known that Buddhism advocates and preaches non-violence and peace as its universal message.

The Upali-sutta is one of the main teachings of religious tolerance. When Upali, a disciple of Nigantha Nataputta, wanted to become a disciple of Buddha, the Buddha requested him to reconsider and respect his old religious teachers.

The message in essence was to respect all religions. It is following this noble example that Emperor Asoka, in the third century BC, declared the following in the Rock Edict XII. One should not only honour oneís own religion but should not condemn religions of others. But one should honour othersí religions for this or that reason.

We should get together and curtail such a situation because it has an impact. I condemn the Dambulla incident. At the same time, extremists on either side are trying to use this as a political platform and create racial hatred. I donít believe political parties should be based on race and religion.

If you take my mandate, I have got Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil votes and I firmly believe in what the President said that there is no minority and majority community. As much as the minority community voted for me, the majority community also voted for me.

I am conscious of the fact that I have to act as a Sri Lankan. Extremists in all quarters use religion and race for political survival which is very unfortunate. Sinhala and Muslim communities live in harmony. Muslims have never asked for a portion of land of this country.

My forefathers have come as traders. We are Sri Lankans. But certain individuals are trying to say this is a Sinhala Buddhist country. This country belongs to me as much as it belongs to the Sinhalese. The President sent me to Geneva and we defended Sri Lanka. We were proud to defend Sri Lanka as this is our motherland. We donít want any third party intervention. We are a sovereign nation and we can handle our issues. But you get certain quarters propagating this country as a Sinhala Buddhist country. Buddhism is the majority religion. Every country has a majority community.

I respect that and Buddhism must be protected. As much as Buddhism has to be protected, all individuals have to protect all religions. In order to be true Buddhist, you have to respect other religions. Buddhaís primary teaching was tolerance and not to hate anybody. If you look at some websites and newspapers, they attempt to whip racial hatred.

As a whole Muslims are a very peace loving community. Its very easy to create ethnic disturbance. But the Muslim clergy took a responsible role in telling that this is not Buddhist thinking. This is just one incident and donít disturb ethnic harmony. The President and the Defence Secretary won the war for us and I believe everybody should work towards national integration. Now you see the TNA and all these people talking big. Earlier they were the proxies of the LTTE. Today they have a free mind to think at least. Earlier the TNA was only a face without the brain. Their brain was the LTTE.

Q: Muslims have bigger issues such as resettling IDPs evicted from the North by Prabhakaran. What is the progress now?

A:I think the Government is making a concerted effort. After the final phase of the war against terrorists, we saw the international community being lobbied by pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora to make a big hue and cry about the resettlement of Tamils.

Thousands of people were evicted from the North. Sinhalese were also chased away from the North. Why is the TNA silent about the Sinhalese and Muslims to be resettled. Up to date the TNA is silent.

We have to work towards national reconciliation. Today itís easy to be a political hero by displaying in a racial placards. Certain politicians thrive in situations like this. They attack the Government, Opposition, clergy and priests for political survival. Sometimes right thinking can be politically costly.

Q: The UNP-TNA May Day rally in Jaffna is seen in some quarters as a good sign for inter-racial harmony. How do you see it?

A: On that TNA MP Sampanthan holding the National Flag is a positive step. If the TNA and UNP think it is good for them, that is a political decision which they have taken. But donít want to comment on that. I see a positive sign in that.

If the UNP can tell the TNA to come back on track with negotiations and the Parliamentary Select Committee process, that is a good thing.

If the UNP feels they have to go along with the TNA for whatever political goal which they have to achieve, that is an issue. Like the UNP go with the TNA, we have also constituent Tamil partners like Douglas Devananda, V. Muralitharan and S. Chandrakanthan. As much as the UNP can take that up we are secular and work with the TNA towards national integration, the UPFA has Tamil Ministers, Chief Minister and ex-militants who have joined the Government.

I donít think the UPFA needs to have a May day rally with anybody to prove that we are secular. If they feel itís a good decision for them, that is a decision which they have to take. I know how the TNA has commented during the 2005 elections.

Q: National reconciliation is the top post-conflict priority. How far have we progressed in this to reach our targets?

A: Thirty years of destruction cannot be restored in three years. There has to be an exchange of ideas between the people in the North and the East. People to people contacts can only solve this problem. Because I know during the LTTE time, the average persons who lived in the North under the control of the LTTE had been taught that the Sinhala person is a murderer and he will kill you. Therefore, sacrifice your life either to fight it or kill him. That was the mindset. Even though the acts done by the LTTE led to develop animosity towards the Tamil community.

That has to be rectified by the Sinhala and Muslim people and move with the Tamil and live with them. Politicians alone cannot sort this issue. People to people contacts can only solve this issue. I believe certain quarters of politicians for their political survival will put fuel into the fire.

Today we can see the people in the South go to the North and the people in the North coming to the South. UPFA Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa is doing a lot of work with the youth in the North. Because some of the youth in the North have not seen anything other than destruction.

The LTTE child soldiers would have only seen killings. They had been thought that they have to die to get Tamil Eelam.

This mindset has to be changed and there has to be true national reconciliation. The minority community and the majority community have to make a concise effort. The people use race and religion for their political platform and further aggravates the process of national reconciliation.

Q: After the LTTE was rooted out, there is peace throughout the country. However, there are elusive images of hidden agendas threatening peace in the East. How do you look at this disturbing picture?

A: There will always be elements who want to disturb. Those elements can be silenced by the people knowing the value of peace. People have experienced war and peace. At present there is a thrust for peace. I would like to give a simple example. The US produced a coloured President. Why do the people in the Asia think unlikely that a minority can be elected as President. If we reach economic prosperity of like the West, people will change their mindset. When a person wants economic prosperity, its easy to use race and religion as a placard.

But when a person reaches a certain economic status, he mentally develops to think beyond that. Primarily Sri Lanka can move away from race and religion if there is only mammoth economic progress. That is happening under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Unemployment in the North and the East has come down. Banks are saying more money is circulated in the North and the East than in any other part of the country. People in the North and the East may not vote for us as much as we hope. But the Government has given them economic prosperity and improved the infrastructure facilities in those areas. Their mindset would be yet against us.

But with time they will start thinking in a different manner. When a person is suffering from poverty, its easy to teach him racial hatred. But if he is living well, he does not want to go back to that situation. The parties which try racial politics donít want economic progress. If you look at global politics, poverty is something which certain politicians thrive on. Racial hatred or destruction will not take anybody anywhere.

Q: Technology and research is vital for the development of an economy. Could you explain in detail the contribution made by your Ministry in this connection?

A: Countries have achieved mammoth progress through technology. The country could not focus on technology. Technology helps to increase productivity. Our Ministry is working with all stakeholders in various sectors and help to encourage how to increase productivity through technology. This is the primary mandate which we have been entrusted upon.

Q: Despite a brilliant career in law, what made you to choose politics at this young age?

A: I have not given up my career in law. As a Deputy Minister I am still practising and its a very difficult decision I have made. I primarily took to politics to give youth of this country a better future. That is what I aspire to do. I also believe that if we can sacrifice for the betterment of Sri Lanka, that is the right thing to do.

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