Books

Sri Lankan Muslims

Original_mg244-buk-nobody
Book: Nobody's People - the forgotten plight of Sri Lanka’s Muslims
Author: Latheef Farook
PUblisher: South Asia News Agency, Colomobo, Sri Lanka
sanagency@yahoo.com
Pages:495
Year: 2009
ISBN: 978-955-99502-1-9
 
The defeat of Tamil Tigers has opened a rare historic opportunity, perhaps a last one, to make or break this island state, Sri Lanka. The wound and suspicion among the communities remain too deep. However, healing and reconciliation measures and the need to right past wrongs are indispensable to bring communal harmony on the principles of pluralism, equality, mutual understanding and accommodation if the country is to move ahead and ensure a better future for its people.

Inevitably, the need of the hour is for a political solution for permanent peace as almost three decades of bloodshed and destruction have brought to the gross realization that the destinies of all communities share common goals and are inextricably interwoven. The earnest desire of every community, Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others, is to live together in harmony. Thus peace, though still a distant dream, remains the cherished goal of all. In this context, “Nobody's People - The Forgotten Plight of Sri Lanka's Muslims” by well known journalist Latheef Farook has become timely as it highlights the plethora of problems, sufferings and grievances of Sri Lankan Muslims and their pathetic predicament owing to discriminatory policies of successive governments, Tamil militant movements and the callous indifference and the failure of the community itself to resolve its burning issues.

As rightly pointed out by the former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, “Muslims have been a peaceful ethnic group interacting with other religious and ethnic groups, cordially interlinking those cultures with their own culture. They never organized themselves for armed insurrection or destruction”.

Contrary to the common belief that Muslims are a wealthy community, the reality is that around 70 percent of the community lives below the poverty line. More than 100,000 northern Muslims, forcibly and mercilessly driven out from their homes and lands on pain of death by the LTTE, still languish in refugee camps in appalling conditions for almost 19 years. Around one percent of the community perished in the tsunami and, adding insult to injury, Muslim survivors were discriminated even in the disbursement of aid which flowed from donor countries.

Muslims were discarded by the now defunct 2002 February Ceasefire Agreement between the government and the LTTE and taken for a ride in the P-TOMS agreement that died a natural death. It is a tragedy that the entire population of Muthur and Thoppur who were 95 percent literate and self-employed were reduced to paupers and made refugees in their homes when the LTTE and the Government fought their battle there.

In the East, they face numerous obstacles in trading, farming, paddy cultivation, fishing and livestock breeding activities jeopardizing their very means of livelihood while island-wide poverty, unemployment, educational and several other problems have raised their ugly heads in this gloomy scenario.

Despite frustration and privation, Muslims always sought peaceful solutions to their grievances for co-existence with the other communities, notwithstanding diabolical efforts to sideline them. Nor were the Muslims party to the ethnic crisis. They vehemently opposed calls for the division of the country and firmly stood for territorial integrity and unity. They never yielded to the LTTE's intense pressure to join their separatist ranks. Nevertheless, they were entangled into this unfortunate and unwanted ethnic conflict only to face death, devastation, loss of properties, livelihood and displacement with no appreciation from the authorities.

In spite of their miserable plight, it is a travesty of justice that peacemakers, columnists and commentators, both in Sri Lanka and abroad, call for solutions to the grievances of the Tamils, and conveniently ignore the plight of Muslims - the third largest community in the island - as if they are non-existent. In the midst of this calamitous situation, there is a growing feeling among the community that Muslim parliamentarians have abandoned them for power and benefits and do not represent them any more. Thus this book, with malice to none, seeks redress for the numerous grievances of this downtrodden community, particularly in any initiative to solve the ethnic conflict in the larger interests of the country.

In their drive to win elections or retain power the ruling elite from all shades of political opinion indulged in communal politics and brought the country to what it is today with moral degradation and deterioration of human values.

It is only by considering each and every group as stakeholders in any future settlement that we could ensure lasting peace to the country so that all its citizens could live with dignity.
The author may be  contacted at  sanagency@yahoo.com

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 March 2010 on page no. 27

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