The hidden hands behind the anti Muslim riots | Sunday Observer

The hidden hands behind the anti Muslim riots

It is a well-worn cliché that, a disaster occurring once may be regarded as a misfortune; when it occurs again, it looks like carelessness.

That is quite an apt way to describe the comedy of errors regarding the country’s security situation that is being staged in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings that left more than two hundred and fifty persons dead.

That the bombings were preventable, if only someone had thought it fit to act on the warnings that were apparently available more than a fortnight before the attacks, is now well established. What has not been established is who that someone is.

That someone depends on who you ask. The Opposition blames the Government, while the Government is blaming each other within it. The Defence Secretary and the Inspector General of Police have become convenient scapegoats for politicians looking for an easy way out of the mess. Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith hit the nail on the head when he said that not only officials but also politicians responsible for the lapse should be dealt with.

At least after that debacle, one would have thought that those responsible for the country’s security would have woken up from their deep slumber, shaken off their peace hangovers and got to work, to ensure that another calamity would not affect the nation.

Indeed, if one went by the announcements being made, that seemed to be the case. The nation was assured that they were safe, even though parents were still scared to send their children to school. From among those responsible for the attacks, ‘ninety per cent’ had been arrested, we were told.

Meanwhile, one didn’t have to be an expert on military intelligence to see that there was a rising tide of anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping the country- anyone with a Facebook account and a semblance of common sense would have noticed that.

Keyboard warriors in the guise of patriots were out in full force. Some wanted all Muslims to leave the country. Others claimed that Muslim-owned restaurants were introducing ‘sterility tablets’ to their food to obliterate the Sinhala race, a canard that is a medical impossibility.

There were frequent calls to boycott Muslim business establishments and lists of institutions allegedly owned by Muslims did the rounds.

It was only a matter of time before the powder keg ignited. It did, last week. Mobs took to the streets, damaging properties and Muslim places of worship, first in Chilaw, then in several other areas in the North Western Province and in Minuwangoda. These attacks left many properties and mosques destroyed or damaged and one person reportedly hacked to death.

This led to the clamping of curfews, arrest of some of those allegedly responsible, detention of leaders of various self-styled ‘save the Sinhalese’ type organisations- and much publicity internationally about how Sri Lanka is a country where minorities- this time, the Muslims- are being attacked on a regular basis by the majority Sinhalese.

The anti-Muslim riots raise many questions. If the riots were a reaction to the bombings and an outpouring of grief and revenge, they would have occurred shortly after the Easter attacks, just as the July 1983 riots did soon after news of the killing of thirteen soldiers in the North filtered in. Instead, they occurred three weeks after the Easter Sunday bombings. Therefore, was it more orchestrated than spontaneous? If so, who was the mastermind and what was the motive? Was the grand design to create a situation similar to July 1983, that would have invited a massive backlash against the country?

The attacks occurred primarily in regions in the North Western Province and Minuwangoda, not the likeliest of hot spots for communal unrest. Colombo, which bore the brunt of the Easter Sunday attacks was untouched. Was it because these regions were soft targets for mischief makers, whereas the capital was more stringently policed?

Evidence certainly seems to be stacking up to indicate that violence was deliberate, organised and designed to achieve political objectives. Again, it was Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith who called it as he saw it. The Cardinal said certain political masters should rein in their members, for the violence to cease. This brings us to the most important question: if our intelligence services were in a heightened state of alertness after the Easter bombings- as we were assured they would be- and if the anti-Muslim riots were not spontaneous eruptions, why weren’t they alerted to the fact that attacks were being contemplated?

That was on the cards, soon after the Easter attacks. Only appeals by religious leaders of all denominations prevented such a calamity. Did our intelligence services and the armed forces drop their guard after a few weeks, creating a window of opportunity for opportunistic racists masquerading as ‘patriots’ to strike?

Even after the news of the riots emerged, the armed forces were not in a state of sufficient preparedness to quell them instantly. It spread to a few areas, where looting, arson and property damage occurred for some time. Why was that allowed to happen?

Our intelligence services were competent enough to nab most of those in the network of terror responsible for the Easter bombings within a few days. Thereafter, the public was informed of who they were and details of how they operated began to emerge.

Will they be equally competent to unearth the hidden hands behind the anti-Muslim riots, expose them to the public and deal with them with the full force of the law? Surely, that shouldn’t be difficult because most of the attacks have been captured on closed-circuit television!

It is fortunate that the anti-Muslim attacks were confined to a few regions in the country. At least, the authorities were successful in nipping it in the bud- for now. That is no reason for complacency. In the coming weeks and months, with Presidential elections approaching, there will be no shortage of politicians seeking to exploit absolutely anything for their advantage.

The moral of last week’s events is that the public should be vigilant, not only against the potential terrorist trying to set up a bomb explosion but also the politician masquerading as a patriot. The damage they do to the nation is not much different.