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  • A country obsessed with racial and religious conflicts
    Sri Lanka, as a nation has been wasting time debating sensitive racial and religious issues for the past several years, without gaining anything. Only thing the country has been witnessing as a result is communities distancing themselves from each other, while portraying a false unity among them. 
    The situation seems to have come to a head with people of various communities being emotionally charged over these issues subsequent to the attacks on three Christian churches and three major tourist hotels by the Islamic terrorists on April 21, 2019, which was also the Easter Sunday.
    The terrorist attacks which caught the nation off-guard demanded united action by all communities and political parties to handle the immediate situation and to prevent future recurrence of...
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  • Burqa ban: Security, human rights and male chauvinism
    A few years ago, on a Turkish beach exclusively for women, a bikini-clad woman offered her prayers. The video clip of the woman going through the postures of the Muslim prayer went viral and created a major debate among the Muslims.  Some censured her for not adhering to the dress code for prayers, but others said what mattered was her piety and not the dress.
    Following the release of the Easter Sunday terror attack commission report, Sri Lanka is mulling whether to ban burqa – the Muslim dress that covers a female body from head to toe – and niqab, which only shows the eyes of the wearer, but the issue needs to be looked at from human rights, security and spiritual angles to come to a right decision.
    If at the one end of the spectrum is public nudity, burqa will...
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  • South African Muslim bodies seek intervention over burqa ban in Sri Lanka Foreign Minister of South Africa urged to intervene
    South African Muslim organisations have called on the country’s foreign minister to intervene in the proposed Sri Lankan ban on the burqa and closure of hundreds of Islamic schools. This followed the announcement by Sri Lanka''s minister for public security, Sarath Weerasekera, during the weekend that his country would ban the traditional full-face covering worn by some Muslim women because it posed a threat to national security. This was quickly followed by a statement from the Sri Lankan foreign ministry, which said a decision would only be taken on the proposal after consultations and further discussion. The United Ulama Council of South Africa (UUCSA) has now asked South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Naledi Pandor to intervene in the matter. UUCSA had earlier also called for such intervention when...
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  • Banning Burqas and Madrasas illegal: Fmr MP
    Former MP M.M .Zuhair said yesterday it would be unlawful to ban Burqas and Madrasas. Issuing a statement, he said some observations and recommendations of the Commission on Easter Sunday attacks are invasive of the absolute protection given to every person under Article 10 of the Sri Lanka Constitution. He said the Commission’s report though good in parts, can be seen as an attempted assault on Islam for the heinous crimes of a dozen suicide bombers. The right to the freedom stated in Article 10 is ‘assured to all religions’ under Article 9. No one, not even Presidential Commissions can invite or promote the State or any limb of the Executive or Judiciary to violate the freedom guaranteed under Article 10.This protection is guaranteed notwithstanding any national security concerns, as the law stands today. In this constitutionally...
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  • Pakistan says likely ban on Niqab in SL to serve as injury on Muslims
    The Ambassador of Pakistan to Sri Lanka, Saad Khattak today said the likely ban on Niqab in Sri Lanka will only serve as an injury to the feelings of ordinary Sri Lankan Muslims and Muslims across the globe. In a tweet, the Ambassador said that at today’s economically difficult time due to COVID-19 pandemic and other image related challenges faced by the country at the international fora, such divisive steps in the name of security, besides accentuating economic difficulties, will only serve as fillip to further strengthen wider apprehensions about fundamental human rights of minorities in the country. Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral (Retd.) Dr. Sarath Weerasekera said today that in addition to banning the burqa, the cabinet proposal would also include banning the niqab which covers the face of the wearer except the eyes. The...
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  • යුරෝපයේ රටවල් 8 කින් හිස්බුල්ලාට සහාය
    මානව හිමිකම් වෙනුවෙන් පෙනී සිටින ප්‍රමුඛ නීතිඥවරයකු වන හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලා මහතා වැනි මානව හිමිකම් ආරක්ෂා කරන්නන්ට ගරු කරන ලෙස ශ්‍රී ලංකා රජයෙන් ඉල්ලා සිටිමින් යුරෝපීය රටවල් අටක මානව හිමිකම් තානාපතිවරුන් ඒකාබද්ධ නිවේදනයක් නිකුත් කර තිබේ. නෙදර්ලන්තය, ජර්මනිය, එංගලන්තය ස්වීඩනය, එස්ටෝනියාව, ලිතුවේනියාව, ලක්සම්බර්ග් සහ ෆින්ලන්තය...
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  • Eight EU HR Ambassadors raise concern over Hejaaz Hizbullah
    In a statement issued today, Eight Human Rights  Ambassadors of Europe including the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden called on the Sri Lankan government to " respect human rights defenders such as Hizbullah". The statement issued by the Ambassadors of the United Kingsdom, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and the Netherlands said that after ten months of Detention, Hejaaz Hizbullah was being accused of speech related offences. Prominent Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah was arrested by the Criminal Investigations Department on the 14th of April 2020. He was thereafter accused in the media of various activities related to terrorism. He was thereafter produced on the 18th of February 2021 where the Attorney General informed court that the entire case against Hizbullah was to be based on purported statements made by children. Hizbullah...
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  • Circular on burial of COVID-19 victims issued
    The circular containing the guidelines with regard to the burial of COVID-19 victims has been issued, the Health Ministry said. Some key guidelines are as follows, The relatives of the deceased should inform the Director/ Head of the health care institution (Where the death has occurred) of their desire to bury the corpse without delay. The Director of the hospital/ Head of the health care institution should obtain a written request from relatives for burial. The relatives need to provide a coffin in advance. It is the duty of the director/ Head of health care institution to transport the corpse in a coffin provided by the relatives to a designated location in Colombo Institute of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology (office of JMO) / BH Welikanda where the corpse will be received by the designated officer. The vehicle transporting the...
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  • Muslims to raise concerns over Iranaithivu burial with global bodies
    A leading Muslim organisation in Sri Lanka will this week send an official letter of concern to the global Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the World Muslim Congress, seeking their intervention to urge the Sri Lankan government to allocate a decent land for the burial of Muslim COVID-19 victims. The Daily Mirror learns that the Sri Lanka Islamic Centre, which is a member of the World Muslim Congress will raise serious concerns with the global bodies and will also send a letter to the World Muslim Congress office in Geneva urging for immediate intervention after the government announced that burials of the COVID-19 dead would take place on the Iranaithivu Island, in the Gulf of Mannar. Senior Muslim officials said they were disappointed at the government’s decision to allocate the Iranaithivu Isle for the burials and instead urged...
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  • Hizbullah and Madrasa School Principal further remanded
    Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah and Principal of Madrasa School Mohammed Shakeel were further remanded till March 18 by the Fort Magistrate’s Court today. They were earlier remanded under section 2 (1) (h) of the PTA and section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act.   http://www.dailymirror.lk/breaking_news/Hizbullah-and-Madrasa-School-Principal-further-remanded/108-206945 Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.
    Read More...
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Time To Stem The Rot; Next Generation Growing Up Hating The “Other”

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By Mohamed Harees

Lukman Harees

When we don’t know who to hate, we hate ourselves.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

There is lot of hate out there simmering, waiting for the social volcano to burst. With the corona pandemic, in parallel, racist pandemic has burst open a can of bigotry worms. There is lot of ill feelings and mutual suspicions among communities for various reasons, mostly thanks to Media sensationalism and State sanctioned racism. There appears to be politics being played over dead bodies too. Presently, Tamils are going to Courts to remember their dead; Muslims to bury their dead and Christian community asking for justice for their dead. No justice in sight to redress these grievances. An increasing tempo of targeting of the Muslim community has been in progress, while very interesting revelations are coming out at the Commission hearings pointing at some political scheming behind the perpetrators’ senseless massacre of innocents and the apathy of the State in preventing it. Hate groups emboldened after the successful election of an ultra- nationalist government in August 2020, have been at their game of demonization of minority communities in both public and private space, leading to mainstreaming of hate. The ultimate tragedy is an entire generation of young people, are being caught up in this national quagmire, with Sri Lanka fast losing hope to be an inclusive nation. Is this Nation’s blind-spot?

 

The cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand has shown how environmental shocks can cause societies to become “tighter” – meaning the tendency to be loyal to the “in-group” gets stronger. Such societies are more likely to elect authoritarian leaders and to show prejudice towards outsiders. This has been observed under past ecological threats such as resource scarcity and disease outbreaks. Under most climate change scenarios, we expect these threats, in particular extreme weather events and food insecurity, to only get worse. The same goes for the coronavirus pandemic. While many hope such outbreaks can lead to a better world, this pandemic appears to have done exactly the opposite.

This enhanced loyalty to one’s local tribe is a defence mechanism that helped past human groups pull together and overcome hardship. But it is not beneficial in a globalised world, where ecological issues and our economies transcend national boundaries. In response to global issues, becoming bigoted, and xenophobic and reducing cooperation with each other will only make the impact on our own nation worse as seen in Corona stricken-Sri Lanka. Making matters worse, the State building in Sri Lanka has been riddled with paradoxes. The curious notion of numerically dominant ethnic group, Sinhala manifesting a “minority complex” or anxieties about minority groups, Tamil and Muslims, has been evident in the rise of State sanctioned ultra- nationalism not just during the 19th and the 20th centuries, but also in this decade of the 21st century too. In this context, many canards, misconceptions and fake news are being circulated about the minority people among the majority population, which also affects the thinking patterns of those young minds, designed to take over the leadership of the Nation in the not too distant future.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said it eloquently in his “I Have a Dream” speech, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” But we have heard similar sentiments even in our country through the ages, by one national or intellectual leader to another. The belief that our children’s generation will be less racist gets repeated by teachers, parents, politicians and activists. And understandably so. Much of our culture is predicated on the idea that we can create a better future for our progeny, instilling in them values that we as a nation have often failed to uphold.

However, are the new generation less racist than their parents or grandparents? Sadly, present day IT savvy kids, with most of their time being spent on social media, don’t give us any reason to believe that the new generation of leaders will naturally or inevitably hold more open-minded and tolerant viewpoints on race or religious co-existence than previous generations. Any observer about the developments and biased media coverages specially in Post-war Sri Lanka, will vouch that warped beliefs based on racial superiority, xenophobia and hate towards the ‘Other’ are being promoted both consciously or unconsciously in our society, and families and being passed from generation to generation. Thus, there is scepticism about racism fading away when old bigots die? Thus, dismantling racism therefore will require more than just passive hope.

Looking at the picture as a whole, unfortunately there appears to be far too much evidence of politicians only looking ahead as far as the next election, rather than thinking about the next generation. Be it as it may, when politicians fail to look beyond the next election, they are neglecting the rights and future of the next generation. Thus, if they are a generation apart, this is less to do with apathy, and more to do with their well-orchestrated strategy to meet ulterior political ambitions in Sri Lanka. The Media too is in hand in gloves with those in the government in promoting a warped disjointed culture which does not augurs well with the much needed nation building exercise, which will be both inclusive and also conducive to the well-being of the younger generation who will take over the mantles of leadership in the future.

According to a Report ‘Next Generation Sri Lanka’ by British Council Sri Lanka(2019), ‘Most Sri Lankan youth feel cultural and religious biases have been taught to the younger generation by the older generation, and most young people also see themselves and their generation as different from the older generation. However, an overwhelming number of youth still identify parents as the most influential adults, with teachers and adult relatives coming in next…. Sri Lankan youth believe the communal issues facing society were created by the older generation. Focus group participants perceive cultural and religious biases as having been taught to the younger generation by the older generation.

 

‘They see themselves as different to previous generations, whom they characterise as holding cultural and religious biases, and are willing to play an active role in their own communities – if they had improved direction and support… young Sri Lankans are ready to play an active role in the peace and reconciliation process, but need avenues to be opened up by the government, relevant ministries, policymakers and civil society. The diversity of aspirations regarding reconciliation should be factored into the reconciliation mechanisms that are currently being designed and implemented’.

‘The majority of young people stated they have a close, trusted friend from a different religion, ethnic group and/or from a different part of the country, there remain many who are not familiar with the cultures of different ethnic and religious groups, due to language difference and segregated education systems’. ‘Eighty-five per cent of young Sri Lankans think their generation is ready to play an active role in peace and reconciliation, but they don’t yet know how to fit into the current process. .. Looking ahead, nearly three-quarters of young Sri Lankans, both male and female, do not believe the country is heading in the right direction’.

‘They identify a number of problems for themselves: the inability to complete education due to economic hardships, unemployment, discrimination in the government job sector, the high cost of higher education, and corruption in public institutions, as well as poor governance and political instability’. The Report says ‘Need to enable the voices of Sri Lankan youth from all communities to be heard within the wider society… [and] ultimately contribute to policies that address their needs’.

In a day and age where teens are sending Snapchats instead of passing handwritten notes and “selfie” has become a regular part of our vocabulary, there’s no denying that social media is impacting the way teenagers view themselves. It has been a tragedy that that apart from many benefits, social media also acts as an amplifying echo chamber for much hateful rhetoric and racist views. Even the racist mass media like Hiru and Derana are using the social media in this regard. Their racist videos are going viral among their teen audience. In the social media, the main user group are those who are young and the millennials. And it reinforces how they see the internet as a place where it’s acceptable to post comments with racially motivated language, often with the caveat that they are not racist but simply hate an ideology. It’s important to recognise that these comments on social media reflect wider attitudes that are endemic in the offline world. Social media can appear to act as a megaphone for racists, but these opinions are much more mainstream than we think. As a society we need to grapple with how these ideas have become normalised, and challenge and expose them.

It need to be recognized what is defined as ambient racism by experts, in everyday articulations on social media. Ambient racism occurs at the micro-level of Internet communication, in user comments, tweets and affective responses circulating between users. In open-networked publics such as Facebook groups, racism is connected with and produced at both the micro and the macro level. Through the constant articulation and circulation of messages between ‘ordinary’ users and racist and bigoted political actors, mundane forms of racial and racist expressions and far-right content become conflated. Social media publics facilitate a seamless flow of communication that does not distinguish between the intentional strategies of hate peddlers and the affective responses of everyday users. Their strategy builds on the idea that racist views become acceptable when mainstream discourses increasingly target minorities in various ways. Reciprocally, the increase of racist ideas from the fringe has an equivalent effect on mainstream discourses.

By taking advantage of commercial social media, hate peddlers gradually normalize previously unacceptable attitudes and utterances, and as recent research suggests, ‘radical right-wing sentiments on social media may instigate and/or facilitate violent (anti-minority) political action’ This also suggests that racist discourses on social media do not exist in a vacuum; they are manifested as part of a greater political scheming and majoritarianism. This process of brainwashing and indoctrination through the social media particularly affects and impacts upon young people. If the blind-spot is not identified and young generation not rescued from the clutches of the impending disaster of “Hate towards the ‘Other’” without delay, it will be too late to stop the sudden descent of the entire nation down the cliff and be another failed State.

It therefore behoves on government to keep a close eye on the social media, instead of playing dirty games with the rogue sections of the media to promote hate for cheap political gains. It is important for the intellectual and religious leaders to impress upon the political leadership not only to inspire action to tackle racism in the society and to support people to work together in new ways to tackle racism and create lasting solutions to racial injustice, but also to set an example to the next generation to enable them to live in a fair, just and equal society. People should be encouraged to pledge to take action too and support everyone working together on solutions we know to be effective, sharing ideas and strengthening this message. A business might pledge to work harder to ensure its employees reflect the make up of the population at all levels of the business, including the boardroom. A school or university should introduce lessons on peaceful co-existence and inclusivity in their curricula and inter faith activities as well as declare that it will take action in ensuring equality of educational experience for its minority students. Voluntary sector organisations could pledge to highlight how its work reduces racial inequality. And the government too should be compelled to put into action what were proposed in the constitution and laws to ensure inclusivity and pledge in a similar manner in respect of government jobs too. There is also a huge responsibility cast on the majority community as well and see through the vote winning short term tactics of political leaders. Otherwise this polarizing strategy will eventually affect the majority too.

Yes! as A. Sivanandan, British Sri Lankan Tamil novelist, activist and writer, emeritus director of the Institute of Race Relations UK explaining the roots of ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka in a speech to ‘Marxism 2009’ echoed, ‘What, in sum, we are faced with in my country today, is a brainwashed people, brought up on lies and myths, their intelligentsia told what to think, their journalists forbidden to speak the truth on pain of death, the militarising of civil society and the silencing of all opposition. A nation bound together by the effete ties of language, race and religion has arrived at the cross-roads between parliamentary dictatorship and fascism. It is for the Sinhalese people I fear now – for if they come for me in the morning, they’ll come for you that night.’. Well! this reminds of the poem of Martin Niemöller, a German theologian and Lutheran pastor, which ended: ‘Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me’. Men build too many walls and not enough bridges and then do not see the blind-spot until it is too late! Aren’t they?

https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/time-to-stem-the-rot-next-generation-growing-up-hating-the-other/

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