CCivil Society: Awaken from unbearable silence | Sunday Observer

CCivil Society: Awaken from unbearable silence

12 May, 2019

In any progressive society, civil society is the first group to be alarmed, when the country‘s democracy is in danger. During the past decade in Sri Lanka, civil society played a key role in establishing the country’s core democratic principles, which were under threat, and even when the so called ‘good governance’ failed to materialise, civil society was at the forefront of its criticism. The Easter Sunday tragedy was a phenomenon that changed the political landscape of Sri Lanka, and ironically, this, the biggest human rights violation in the country, was caused by the carelessness of the State itself. As a result of this unprecedented terrorist attack, some Emergency Laws and Regulations have been restored immediately and the country is moving back towards an era where the protection of the State is paramount, while suppressing the underlying features of a progressive society- such as democracy, human rights and media freedom. When the issue of national security comes to the forefront as the main concern of society, there is a rising intolerance towards those who advocate multiculturalism, rule of law, respect for Human Rights and other cherished ideals of a democracy. The BBC Sri Lanka correspondent Azzam Ameen is a classic example and has been the target of online trolling. The biased reporting by some journalists and activists outnumbers those who are against hate speech and who have strong beliefs in democratic values. However, as compared to previous tragedies, most of civil society has become obscured in the light of this unfortunate event. A majority of civil society members who were pushing for democratic reform are in trauma and seem to be helpless in this regard. As Martin Luther King once said, ‘he who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.’ Although the way ahead may be long and bitter, civil organizations must move forward against international radical-terrorism, while also safeguarding against the arbitrary misuse of power by an executive presidency. and strive to restore democratic governance. The Sunday Observer spoke to some civil society activists and well-known personalities, to obtain their views on the crucial role that civil society must play, for restoring democratic government. Some comments -

Dr. Ranjini Obeysekara - ‘Due to the Easter Sunday attack, State security went into crisis mode, and security became the first priority. As a result, all the democratic features of our society will be eroded and this will be ‘justified’ using national security as an excuse.

A major impediment is the arbitrarily power of the executive presidency. Although everybody who came to power after President J R Jayewardene promised to abolish the powers of the executive presidency, none of them did so. It’s like opium addiction. However, with this terrible attack we have another opportunity for people and the civil society to come together. If the government can soon bring an Act to abolish the executive presidency to parliament,this is an opportune moment.

The Easter Sunday attack actually shattered the lives of everyone.It takes time to understand this new face of terrorism and actually the situation is quite complex. However, I’m sure that without an opportunist political motivation, ordinary people have no interest in provoking racist violence. Right now the public are bewildered, with no faith in any of the leaders of the country. This is the ideal opportunity for the civil society and ordinary people to come forward and demand abolition of the executive presidency’.

W. Janaranjana, Senior Journalist - The Easter Sunday attack was an event of great pain and anguish for all members of civil society and organizations who stood for the democratic reforms.

However, talks have begun between civil society organizations to discuss what needs to be done and what kind of reforms need to be suggested to the government although this has not yet been made public. However, the standpoint of civil society organizations is very clear- that the Easter Sunday attack was an act of an extremist group, not terrorism involving the entire Muslim community. Using this radical Muslim extremism, those who propagated racism in the past have started attacking the entire Muslim community. The authorities have to understand that this is not the time to reshuffle and question all the cultural, religious-believes of Muslims. Although it seems that we are silent, we are not. However, at this point, the media have become completely polarized and the most dominant opinion is the one that has the most access to the media. Therefore, the opinion of civil society is marginalized.

N M Ameen - President of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka - We brought all the Muslim civil societies under one banner and we are trying our level best to normalise the country. We met the Acting IGP C D Wickramaratne and he’s quite responsive to our problems.

He immediately took action to incorporate the sensitive points which we discussed and issue a circular to every Police station and he appointed DIG Wickramasinghe and eight people including myself under him to look after Muslim concerns, during this critical situation.

Also the authorities have informed us to appoint one person from every village to liase with the Police during their search operations. There are more than 900 Muslim villages and we are in the process of allocating people for this. We as the Muslim community have never supported any kind of violence and we are against this terrorism which is against the Quran’s teachings. We as a community extend our fullest corporation to the Police and Army forces and our only request is, do not look upon us as terrorists in disguise, and do not marginalise our community. We look forward to progressive collaboration with Sinhala civil society in the country and I think it will be helpful to bridge the gap between Sinhala and Muslim communities. So far we couldn’t meet and talk, but soon we will. However, there are a few Sinhala journalists who came forward to talk to us and they are willing to help us to work towards one common goal, that is to re-establish the trust between Sinhala and Muslim communities.

Ameena Hussien- Writer

It is through civil society that we can bridge the divide between the Muslim community and the others. The finger can be pointed to the self appointed leadership of the Muslim community like the Wahhabi hardliners ACJU and some Muslim politicians who only have their self interest at heart, have brought the Muslim community to this hopeless situation.

A community that was well integrated for a thousand years is now seen as alien, selfish, and senselessly violent.

To get past this and look to a future of unity and peace the responsibility lies within the Muslim community in transforming themselves into citizens of Sri Lanka, and contributing positively to their motherland.

This includes ensuring that other communities feel comfortable around them; this includes participating in ordinary social life together with other communities by establishing commonalities rather than emphasizing difference. Instead of seeing themselves as victims, the Muslim women must extend themselves towards understanding the current social situation.

This is our country; we have lived here for generations. We must never forget our identity as Srilankan Muslims.