Viewpoint by Somar Wijayadasa*
NEW YORK (IDN) – One week after the heinous bomb blasts that shattered the calm of an Easter Sunday, the Sri Lankan Sunday Times carried an editorial titled ‘Let’s resurrect ourselves from this catastrophe’. This was a timely advice since only crude opportunists would attempt to hijack “the dastardly attacks by crazed religious bigots condemned by their own community” to advance their goals.
The Sunday Times editorial on April 28 was on target that “this is a terror outfit that can still be tackled with a fingernail before we need a machete”, and is factually correct considering the fact that it took many years for Sri Lanka’s government to eliminate the barbaric acts of JVP (the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna or People’s Liberation Front) in the 1970’s and 80’s, and to end the gruesome 30-year civil war of the Tamil Tigers who perfected the deadly art of suicide bombings.
JVP is a communist and Marxist-Leninist party and political movement in Sri Lanka. The movement was involved in two armed uprisings against the ruling governments in 1971 and 1987-89. The movement entered democratic politics by participating in the 1994 parliamentary election as a political party, and has been a third party in Sinhalese Sri Lankan politics since then.
Sri Lanka now has the necessary military expertise to swiftly eradicate this hitherto unknown Islamic terror group.
The editor had the foresight to mention that “The banning of the burqa is a minor issue”, compared with the need to act decisively on intelligence reports and monitor the mushrooming madrasas in the country, which are funded from abroad and have foreign teachers.
The next morning, we learned that President Sirisena has banned “all forms of clothing that cover a person’s face and prevents them from being identified” – obviously directed at burqas and niqabs.
It is a knee-jerk reaction to his unpardonable failure to act on explicit intelligence warnings about an imminent terrorist attack against churches and tourist destinations in the country – complete with names and addresses of potential suspects, several of whom turned out to be the real attackers. But the bigwigs did nothing.
Why target burqa and niqab?
Burqa is an outer garment that leaves a semi-transparent mesh in front of the woman’s eyes and niqab minus the mesh.
Muslim scholars opine that face covering veil is not required by Islamic law. The Quran requires Muslim women to wear a hijab – a headscarf that covers the hair, ears and throat, but not cover the face. Headscarves are seen as a sign of modesty by people who wear them, and a symbol of religious faith.
In the 1960’s to 1980’s, when I often traversed across Europe and Central Asia – including Muslim republics (Azerbaijan Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) of the former Soviet Union, I hardly noticed women in burqas or niqabs.
For example, in 1953, Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser was told by the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood that they wanted to enforce the wearing of the hijab, to which Nasser responded: “Sir, I know you have a daughter in college – and she doesn’t wear a headscarf or anything! Why don’t you make her wear the headscarf? So you can’t make one girl, your own daughter, wear it, and yet you want me to go and make ten million women wear it?”.
However, the burqa became a global phenomenon – perhaps a political or religious weapon – after the war in Afghanistan and further escalating after 1970’s, beginning with the Iranian Islamic Revolution, and the Arab Spring in 2011 that led to the devastation of several Middle Eastern countries by the West that caused mass migration of Muslims to Western Europe.
Today, when you visit countries where the burqa is not banned, you see a few Muslim women wearing burqas – in public places – to the resentment of many Westerners who see it as a sign of “political Islam”, “radicalism” or “fundamentalism” against secular governments giving rise to Islamophobia.
The situation has been further exacerbated by high-profile terrorist attacks in Europe carried out by Muslim extremists, and the inescapable fear that men could be dressed in burqas to carry out terrorist attacks.
Consequently, several countries including Austria, Denmark, France, Belgium, Tajikistan, Latvia, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Netherlands, China, and Morocco have banned the burqa (not to be confused with the hijab).
However, people in many countries with issues of terrorism and security concerns demand that both burqa and niqab should be banned because they can be used as a disguise for criminal and terrorist purposes.
Following the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, Sri Lankan media reported that “burqa-dressed men created panic at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) arrival lounge, and in Wattala”.
Therefore, it is no surprise that following the recent carnage, Sri Lanka’s parliamentarian Prof. Ashu Marasinghe has – citing security reasons – submitted a motion calling for a ban of the burqa across the country.
Saying that “Our Muslim leaders have also accepted that Burqa is not traditional Muslim attire and some places even have notices [requiring visitors] to remove the Burka before entering”, Marasinghe said that the face-covering burqa is used around the world by men to hide behind and carry out acts of terrorism.
A Muslim parliamentarian, Mujibur Rahman also opined that the burqa and niqab were never part of the traditional attire of Muslim women in Sri Lanka.
If burqa is alien to Sri Lankan Muslim religion and culture, it is evident that this is a garb influenced by radical Arab teachings in foreign funded madrassas that have mushroomed in Sri Lanka.
Unfortunately, our vicious world demands that we make sacrifices (religious or otherwise) when it comes to our personal choices and preferences.
Political blunders: Galore
Sri Lankan politicians have always been problem creators and not solvers.
Historically, we know that feuding in multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious Sri Lanka began in 1956 with the Sinhala Only Act – that gave birth to the bitter enmity among the Sinhalese and the Tamils leading to a 30 year civil war.
Since English was widely used for official and commercial purposes, this myopic Act gravely impeded the Sinhala-medium educated rural youth of 1960’s to find gainful employment. That caused youth to embrace JVP insurgency leading to tens of thousands of deaths.
Our politicians also ignored intelligence reports about the clandestine activities of the JVP and LTTE until death and destruction ruined the country.
Another moronic act of political expediency was declaring 12 Poya (full moon day) as public holiday – never realizing the adverse impact on our economy. Sri Lanka is the only country with 25 public holidays.
Now, once again, our politicians have caused an unpardonable blunder costing 253 lives and injuring over 500 innocent civilians by not acting on the precision intelligence report they had 10 days prior to the Easter Sunday massacre.
This proves our corrupt, self-absorbed politician’s incompetence to run this country.
In any democratic country, civilized politicians responsible for blunders of this magnitude would have resigned.
Since that never happens in our country, it is crucial for the leaders of all religions, media, and the righteous leaders of civil organizations to work together – to live in peace – without condemning, or denigrating others, especially the Muslims who have for generations exhibited a friendly and peaceful attitude towards the Sinhalese and the Tamils.
*Somar Wijayadasa, an international lawyer, worked in the UN system (IAEA, FAO, UNESCO, and WHO/UNAIDS) from 1973 –2000. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 May 2019]
Photo: Sri Lanka bans burqa to ensure public safety. Source: India Blooms.
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