ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s latest anti-Muslim riots took place three weeks after Easter Sunday suicide bombings showing that it was an organized group was behind hit, Parliamentary speaker Karu Jayasuriya said.
"These incidents did not take place in the first horror of terrorist attacks, when people were hurting and grieving," Jayasuriya said in a statement.
"Instead the fact that they are taking place three weeks after the attacks makes it evident that there is an organized group seeking to fulfil narrow agendas through this unrest.
"All I have to say to them is this. “You are laying the groundwork for your country to burn for a few more generations. I urge all citizens to bear in mind that these are the futures of your children that you are setting ablaze."
At least one person was killed by rampaging nationalists, who destroyed Muslim businesses, homes and mosques.
In the days after the Easter Sunday bombings, nationalists were seen stoking racism on social media, with commentators of at least one television station joining the fray. On facebook.com groups were formed for Nazi-style boycotts of Muslim businesses.
Police have said organized groups were behind the attacks. Witnesses have spoken of groups coming in motorcycles to smash Muslim shops, moving from township to township, which was then joined by local nationalists.
Speaker Jayasuriya recalled the 1983 riots when Sinhalese nationalists attacked the Tamil community leaving many dead, helping swell the ranks of Tamil Tigers.
"My own eyes have witnessed the devastation wrought by the fires of racism and youth insurrections that have led to a breakdown of relations between communities of people," Jayasuriya said.
"For 30 years, our country was devoured by those flames. We lost our place in the world.
"The same fires destroyed the futures of innocent children, even the children of those who set the country alight.
"Vengeance and hatred nurtured and nourished terrorism."
The full statement is reproduced below:
I address you today as the Speaker of Parliament and as a responsible elderly person who loves this country, not as a politician.
My own eyes have witnessed the devastation wrought by the fires of racism and youth insurrections that have led to a breakdown of relations between communities of people.
The day the 1983 Black July riots began, I was on my way to the Kelaniya Temple with my wife and children. I was not involved in politics at the time. At the Elphinstone Junction, a crowd of more than 100 people blocked my path and made a request.
“Sir,” they said, “buy us some petrol so we can save the Sinhalese race”. I was shocked by the request. I replied:
“You are not trying to save the race. You are trying to set fire to our future.” I told them it would be future generations that would have to pay for all this.
For 30 years, our country was devoured by those flames. We lost our place in the world. The same fires destroyed the futures of innocent children, even the children of those who set the country alight. Vengeance and hatred nurtured and nourished terrorism.
Following the Easter Sunday attacks, the ordinary people of this country conducted themselves in a far more civilized, intelligent and patient way. As I express these sentiments, I extend my respect and gratitude to all religious leaders who offered guidance to their followers about how to respond to the tragedy.
I believe that you have all understood how much every sector has suffered from paralysis and inefficiency in the three weeks that followed.
It is deeply unfortunate that rather than overcome these challenges and begin to rebuild, incidents that cause hatred to spread have been reported.
These incidents did not take place in the first horror of terrorist attacks, when people were hurting and grieving. Instead the fact that they are taking place three weeks after the attacks makes it evident that there is an organized group seeking to fulfil narrow agendas through this unrest.
All I have to say to them is this. “You are laying the groundwork for your country to burn for a few more generations. I urge all citizens to bear in mind that these are the futures of your children that you are setting ablaze.
The way our people conducted themselves when confronted by terrorism, drew the respect of the world. But that these acts of violence will earn us the disgust of the world at large, and especially those friendly Middle Eastern and Islamic nations is no longer preventable.
It must be emphasized that anyone helping to spread the fires of religious and racial hatred is a stakeholder in the destruction of the lives of our children, to whom the future truly belongs.
If I may recall the words of our Teacher Lord Buddha, who taught that hatred does not cease by hatred, and urge everyone to act with patience and restraint at this time. I humbly request the religious leadership to come forward in this moment to quell these fires. I urge the political leadership to appeal to the people to remain calm.
I reiterate my request to HE the President and the Prime Minister to speak in one voice and communicate with the people. The Defence Secretary, IGP and armed forces chiefs should brief the people daily on the security situation. Only then will the people feel confident. Only then will the rumours that are spreading like wildfire be stopped in their tracks. So far, every rumour that has been spread has been proved to be untrue.
As the Speaker of Parliament, my appeal to all citizens is that we do not allow the country to be plunged into darkness once more, the way it was in 1983.
Reflecting on yesterday’s incidents creates a deep sense of sadness for me. The attacks on mosques, the burning of houses and shops, the attacks on innocent people cannot be condoned in any way.
These actions push Sri Lanka further into the abyss. I do not believe that any person who has a semblance of feeling about this country, could resort to such actions.
We must act intelligently now. The Muslim Affairs Minister is striving to resolve these issues patiently, with the full blessings of the Muslim community. The Ministers of Justice, Education and Higher Education are involved in consultations with relevant sectors to draft new laws and regulations.
Agreements have been reached on several controversial areas, including traditional Muslim women’s dress, madrasas and higher education institutes.
I myself participated in some of these discussions. In the next few weeks, some of these issues that have given rise to debate and controversy will be resolved I believe. The majority of Muslims have no desire to turn this country into a fundamentalist nation.
Let us not be cursed for our actions by future generations. I urge all Sri Lankans to awaken the collective strength of our peace-loving people against these acts of racial and religious hatred.
May the triple gem bless you. God bless you.