The region is deeply engrossed in events around Iraq and the implication of a wider scale sectarian conflict that may spill across several borders. Lost in the quagmire of such a troubling issue is the conflict against minorities, and particularly Muslim minorities, in several countries.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) a body of 45 Muslim member countries was formed some 45 years ago to deal with such issues. Although its founding members agreed on the charter that principally ‘aims to preserve Islamic social and economic values; promote solidarity amongst member states; increase cooperation in social, economic, cultural, scientific, and political areas; etc,’ there have been several revisions and the recent scope of OIC activities has gone beyond the boundaries of just Muslim states.
In the recently convened 41st Session of OIC Foreign Ministers in Jeddah, the current secretary general of the organisation stated in his opening speech that ‘One of the primary concerns of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is to address the phenomenon of terrorism, religious and sectarian extremism, the rights of Muslim minorities outside the Muslim world, and concepts of human rights, and rights of women and children and religious practice as all of these concepts have been codified in major international conventions and declarations on whose basis countries are judged, condemned, classified and sanctioned.’
He went on to highlight the organisation’s efforts and concern in countries such as Palestine, Syria, Mali, Myanmar and areas such as Kashmir. What I failed to read in his speech before the foreign ministers from the member states was a condemnation against the Sri Lankan government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa for allowing Buddhist Sinhalese clergy terrorists operating under the banner of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) to intensify their ethnic-cleansing motivated hate crimes against the island’s minorities and particularly the Muslims living on that island who have been part of the population since the 7th century.
A recent such act prompted a reader to write to me for the services of my pen saying that, ‘Sri Lanka Muslims are being massacred by Sinhalese mobs led by Bodu Bala Sena clergy members. Muslims properties are being looted and destroyed. Mahinda Rajapakse’s government has failed to protect Muslims. Muslim ministers and MPs are not in a position to press the government. Situation is deteriorating fast. Please give this message to Muslim world… A desperate Sri Lankan.’
In the past week alone, a mob of some 7,000 Sinhalese spurred on by their bloodthirsty Buddhist clergy stormed Aluthgama, a town less than 75 kms south of the capital of Colombo. One of the mob’s leaders said that there would be no more Dharga Town once they finished with their attack on Muslims and Muslim-owned businesses and property.
They razed a number of Muslim-owned homes and businesses in the popular tourist town. “Three deaths have occurred,” Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem told reporters in Aluthgama, blaming hard-line Buddhist mobs for the violence. With his eyes filling with tears, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader said “I am ashamed. I am ashamed that I could not protect my people”, his voice breaking with emotion as he surveyed the site of death and destruction.
Many others blamed the government for allowing the Buddhist mob to rally in a Muslim-dominated district considering recent events elsewhere which had seen similar scenes of death and destruction against the Muslim minorities, and all at the hands of the Bodu Bala Sena.
The government’s lack of forceful action in recent times against this band has encouraged these wild Buddhist thugs to perpetuate their acts of terrorism against the island’s minorities. Their declared aim is simple. Get rid of all other races on the island.
Mainstream Sri Lankan media muzzled the events as they unfolded, claiming a series of excuses for their failure to live up to the journalistic code. A popular website claimed that ‘during the violence, there was radio silence across all mainstream media,’ and most of the island’s leading publications did not carry a single report on the escalating violence.
One Sinhalese editor said that there was a desire to ‘not spread tension’ in the country by reporting on the events; all this while lives were lost and mob savagery was in full force less than an hour’s drive from the capital. While we sit in the safety and comfort of our homes, others are not so fortunate, and particularly the minorities on the island.
So what should the OIC session with the foreign ministers in attendance have included in their agenda? There should have been a clear warning to President Mahinda Rajapaksa that such terrorist activity will not be tolerated and that all Muslim member states will act within their capacity to ensure justice to the island’s minorities.
One way would be a blanket ban on all Sri Lankan imports including non-Muslim workforce. Another would be to apply premiums on oil exports to the island to get the message to the Sri Lankan government that enough is enough! Tourism to the conflict-ravaged country should be banned altogether.
The majority of Sinhalese Sri Lankans are generally peace-loving and have long established good communal relations with the island’s minorities. However, their solidarity with their neighbours is in danger of being swept away by the ugly face of Buddhist terrorism.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena