‘Minority community severely affected by laws’

Print edition : July 05, 2019

A.L.M. Sabeel. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Interview with A.L.M. Sabeel.

For A.L.M. Sabeel, convener, National Front for Good Governance (NFGG), no fight is too small. In January 2018, when he was contesting the elections to the Kattankudy Urban Council, he claimed compensation from President Maithripala Sirisena because supporters of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the political party led by the President, had pasted posters on the compound wall of his house. The NFGG had supported Sirisena in the 2015 presidential election. Sabeel, who is the secretary of the Federation of Mosques in Kattankudy, believes that for Muslims, the Tamil language is just a tool used to communicate; the identity of the community is Muslim, not Tamil.

How is Sri Lanka changing as far as the Muslim community is concerned ?

During the war [before 2009], there was a kind of Sri Lanka. After the war, up to the time of the bomb blasts, there was a kind of Sri Lanka. After the bomb blasts, there is a new kind of Sri Lanka. The changes are because of the promulgation of the emergency laws [before 2009 and after the blasts]. Under these laws, anyone can be arrested, be held for any length of time, and there is a general suspension of rights.

The minority communities are affected severely because of this. After the bomb blasts, things are worse. Even if there is a certain kind of CD in the possession of a person of a minority community, or the photo of someone, say Prabakaran [slain LTTE leader], you can be arrested without any inquiry.

This is a huge problem for the minorities and it is a reason for serious stress. As I see it, the future of persons in the Muslim community is in danger. There is a challenge to the way we dress, the madrasas which impart moral education to our children are under scrutiny, our personal laws are under attack… everything is under attack. People feel suppressed.

The government has to accept responsibility for the Islamic State coming into Sri Lanka. India had alerted; everybody had alerted the government. No action was taken. After the blasts, harassing the Muslim community cannot be accepted. At a personal level, I have informed multiple agencies of the extreme elements here. But the government was merely observing and did nothing.

Is there a feeling that the majoritarian polity is looking for a new enemy after the demise of Prabakaran?

Definitely. This country has to be kept boiling. The politicians here do not want the ethnic problem in this country to be solved. This is because the politicians do not think of the country. They only try to protect their seats; their government. The Muslim community is now silent. But if the subjugation continues, that will change.

Muslim businessmen are being targeted. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that some people are calling for a boycott of Muslim shops and traders. Those who were arrested after the violence against Muslims in Kurunegala [in Central Sri Lanka] have been let off on bail. So what do these actions tell us? Honestly, our community is in deep distress.

Most of the arrests are so arbitrary that it is astonishing. Some six students here were arrested the other day because they were carrying multiple SIM cards. Is that an offence in Sri Lanka? No. Then why were they arrested? The only reason is that they are Muslim. Everyone in the community is upset. It is worth looking back to comprehend how and why Prabakaran’s struggle began. There are many lessons there.

Do you believe that there is a politician or a government that will treat everyone fairly under the law in Sri Lanka?

None of the current lot of politicians—Mahinda [Rajapaksa], Gotabaya [Rajapaksa], Ranil [Wickremesinghe], Maithripala [Sirisena]—should come back. A new generation that is concerned about the people and the nation should emerge. Only then will this country have a future. Each of the current lot of politicians has a personal agenda, and has promoted just one section.

Do Muslim people trust the current leaders from within the community?

All the leaders are only trying to develop themselves. Nothing much has been done for the community. The people also do not trust them any longer. There is a Muslim Minister who came to politics with nothing. Now he is a millionaire. How did he amass so much wealth?

We at NFGG stand for good governance and have been taking up people’s issues. In a short period, we have about 25 elected members across Sri Lanka. We are getting a good response from the people…. Elections are now being fought with huge money power. We are winning in spite of this.

Does not the community come together when there is an attack on itself?

There have been such attempts. But there are always differences because of individual preferences. It has not worked in the past.

Why does the entrance to Kattankudy have so much Arab architecture, writing and even date palms on the road dividers? This is not seen in any other Sri Lankan city…

This was done by the former Governor to impress donors. The donors were Saudis. But some of us had warned him that this might end up sending the wrong message to other communities.

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