JVP presents proposal to combat extremism; political leaders bored without war, says AKD
Sri Lanka’s political establishment couldn’t ensure even 10 years of peace after a three-decade-long war because leaders on both sides of the political divide are bored without war, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said.
In a hard-hitting speech, Dissanayake said communalism and extremism are useful tools that successive leaders have used to varying degrees of success over the years to ensure their political longevity.
“All of them have failed. Can Mahinda Rajapaka, or Ranil Wickremesinghe, or Maithripala Sirisena offer a better economic plan tomorrow? Can they put forward a blueprint for governance? Can they talk openly about efficiency? About civility? No, they cannot. They have failed in every conceivable area, so their last refuge has become communalism and religious division,” he charged.
The JVP leader made these remarks speaking at a ceremony held in Colombo to publicise a set of proposals to combat both religious extremism and communalism in order to ensure national unity and security in the country.
“The war ended in 2009. Ten years later, a series of explosions rocked the country. How did this happen? It’s because our leaders are bored without war. That is why the same bank account pays the salaries of two opposing extremist groups. Why pay two at once? To feed them both, because they’re bored without conflict,” he said.
At a time when racism and extremism have become tools of survival at the hands of political leaders, said Dissayanake, the people should resolutely opt for peaceful coexistence.
“Not a single MP’s son died in the war. As far as I know, not even a relative of a politician died in the Easter attacks,” he said.
Scoffing at the proposed motion of no confidence against MP Rishad Bathiudeen, Dissanayake said had the now-controversial Muslim parliamentarian crossed over to support the short-lived Rajapaksa Government of late last year, he would today be hailed as a patriot.
“Wimal Weerawansa and Bathiudeen can go to Galle Face right now and fight it out, but they won’t. They governed together once. Who was in the Rajapaksa cabinet? Bathiudeen, Rauf Hakeem, Champika Ranawaka, Wimal Weerawansa, Thondaman – communalists of different shades were present in that cabinet, and many of them are in today’s cabinet too. They have no quarrel with each other,” he said.
“Who became the victims in the end? The people of this country,” he added.
If people took the leadership’s tool of racism into their own hands, he warned, it would result in their destruction.
“The people’s tool of survival can only ever be peaceful coexistence. Do the Muslims they can bomb the Sinhalese out of existence? Do the Sinhalese think the entire Muslim community can be chased out of the country? No. All communities living here today will still be here tomorrow. Our country’s future lies only in the coexistence of all of these groups,” he said.
The JVP leader also lamented the popularity that communal politics has gained over the years.
“Racism is the most evil and destructive form of politics there is. Unfortunately, it’s also the most popular right now. As a party, the JVP is prepared to change that,” he said, to applause from party supporters in attendance.
Advocating a three-pronged approach to combating Islamic terrorism, Dissanayake said geopolitical factors such as American expansionism that led to the genesis of terrorism in the Middle East must be taken into account when analysing the local terror threat, along with any kind of extremist ideology of whatever religion present in the country that enables and feeds that terrorism. Secondly, extremism from all sides need to be combated institutionally at both micro and macro levels, and, third, ensuring national and public security as a high priority.
“The fetus of the problem that is Islamic extremism began in the Muslim community. They have to rethink their approach to handling it, too. The community should abort the baby without hurting the mother that is society,” said Dissanayake.
“Similarly, there are external factors too, such as the incidents in Aluthgama and Digana that the larger populace didn’t approve of. We have an uphill task ahead of us. The camp against the efforts to reconcile is powerful, complex and gaining popularity and is becoming very organised,” he warned, calling for sound restructuring in religious, educational and other institutions to accommodate the coexistence agenda.
The status quo is a powder keg, with a conflict just waiting to happen, the JVP leader said, adding: If a Muslim on a motorbike hits a guy in a Sinhalese village or vice versa, it’s no longer one of the 30,000 accidents a year. It could very lead to a national conflict.”
National and public security also needs strengthening, he said, but not even the most advanced weaponry on the planet could save the country from extremism if the culture of fear and suspicion was eradicated from the national psyche.
“The only thing that will ensure our security is the peaceful coexistence of the various communities that live here,” he said.
The proposals made by the JVP to combat extremism include, inter alia:
Both criminal and civil law should apply equally to Sri Lankans of all ethnicities, religions and genders. Any law that currently applies differently to different groups should be made secondary to the law of the land.
Introduce laws against the establishment of political parties formed along lines of ethnicity, religion or region of origin.
Set up a truth and reconciliation and commission immediately, along with a commission against discrimination, as well as a discrimination monitoring centre at every divisional secretariat.
Draft an anti-hate speech act.
When signing agreements with foreign nations or security organisations such as NATO, it should be done without compromising national security interests and with two-thirds approval of Parliament.
The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure that powers the country’s finance and power sectors must strictly come under the purview of state institutes.
A Foreign Fighter Act or similar to prevent the arrival of foreigners linked to international terror networks.
Establish a commission to inquire into allegations of national intelligence agencies propping up certain extremist organisations.
Draft a whistleblower act to encourage public servants to complain against being pressured to disturb the peace or engage in any activity harmful to peaceful coexistence.
A single marriage-law for all communities that overrides the present MMDA, Thesavalami and Kandyan laws.
Ensure that minimum age for marriage is 18 across all communities.
Remove the legal provisions that allow polygamy.
Remove laws that discriminate against women regarding property issues.
Establish a single Ministry for all religions.
Abolish all educational institutes, from preschool to university, established along lines of ethnicity or religion.
Ensure that children from all ethinic and religious backgrounds are given equal admission opportunities at all schools.
Take measures to conduct curricular activities in both Sinhala and Tamil mediums, in all state run schools.
As an initial step, conduct primary-level classes in all schools as mixed classrooms teaching students of all faiths and ethnicities.
Teach the essence of all religions to all students.
Introduce an education of history and other subjects with an emphasis on the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural character of Sri Lanka’s plural society.
Allow increased opportunities to study the arts for students whose religions may prohibit the study of arts.
Discontinue the practice of putting up religious iconography on public streets, etc, without the express permission of the authorities.
When relocating people or establishing housing projects, do it in a way that encourages integration between various communities.
Establish a community integration unit in every province.
Prohibit face covering and other garments that conceal a person’s identity leading to a climate of fear.
Display all signage in all three languages wherever possible.
The media should avoid highlighting people’s religious or ethnic identities when reporting unless relevant. For example, when reporting about a religious festival.
Take immediate steps to prevent any organisation or individual from using electronic, print or social media to spread hate and fear.