France’s Shameful and Absurd Burkini Ban


A woman is confronted by state officials in a public place and forced to change her clothing, while another is fined for failing to wear “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.” Unbelievable in a country like France? No, it happened on French Riviera beaches just this week.

These incidents follow a series of municipal decrees de facto banning burkinis, and, apparently, any other skin concealing beach outfits worn by Muslim women, in about 30 French towns.

The bans were adopted in the aftermath of two horrific terror attacks: the truck attack in Nice and the church killing in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.

Although the actual burkini was designed to allow observant Muslim women in Australia to go to the beach and work as lifeguards, in France it is now seen by some as a threat to public security, and a form of “enslavement” in the words of the Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who supports the bans.

The Council of State, France’s highest administrative court, is considering an appeal against the bans by the French Human Rights League. Previous efforts to challenge the bans in court have so far failed. In Nice, the administrative court rejected the appeals brought before it by the French Human Rights League and the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, and instead confirmed a previous decision, taken on August 13. The judges ruled that banning the burkini is “necessary, appropriate and proportionate to the aim pursued in terms of the protection of public order and security” in the context of terrorist threats.

But what in fact these bans serve to do is create a dangerous and absurd confusion between how some Muslim women choose to dress and the despicable terrorist attacks that French people, of all religions, have suffered.

Absurd because under the pretext of defending France’s republican principles and women’s rights, the burkini ban actually amounts to banning women from the beach, in the middle of the summer, just because they wish to cover their bodies in public. It’s almost a form of collective punishment against Muslim women for the actions of others.

Instead of encouraging all French people to live together peacefully and promoting equality and fundamental freedoms, which is the responsibility of the public authorities, the burkini ban and the revival of the endless controversy on religious symbols linked to Islam merely stigmatize practicing Muslim women, exclude them from public spaces – and sharing those spaces with their families and friends – and deprive them of their rights to autonomy, to leisure activities, to wear what they chose, and of course to practice their faith.

Not to mention the ridiculous argument about hygiene: how can one seriously think that burkinis are less hygienic than wet suits, or long-sleeve T-shirts worn by kids to protect them from the sun?

But the burkini bans are more than just unfair and discriminatory, they are also dangerous. Because linking a bathing suit to terrorist threats, without any facts to justify such a statement, endorses false and harmful narratives about Muslim communities and risks increasing tensions between communities, while hardening the feeling of injustice felt by some Muslims in France.

When the Nice administrative court argues that police cannot “in the context of the state of emergency (…) protect the expression of religious belief” – particularly, it seems, when it relates to the Muslim community. The burkini ban is also a concrete example of the very real dangers an extended state of emergency poses to basic rights and equality: a risk about which Human Rights Watch has repeatedly warned.

As it’s dominated the French political and media landscape for the past few weeks, the burkini ban has gone from a laughing-stock to a source of deep shame. During a time of national emergency, surely French police have better things to do than humiliate women on the country’s beaches.

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Top UN Committee Says Tamil, Muslim And Christian Minorities Continue To Be Discriminated In Sri Lanka

Just days ahead of the visit by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Sri Lanka, a top United Nations Committee has highlighted that discrimination against Tamil, Muslim and Cristian minorities persisted despite the coalition government’s commitment to promote and protect human rights in the country.

This was highlighted by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) recently in Geneva which concluded the examination of the combined tenth to seventeenth periodic report of Sri Lanka on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

During the discussion, Experts welcomed the new Government’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights in Sri Lanka, but noted that despite efforts, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities persisted, referring particularly to discrimination against Muslims and against plantation communities.

Presenting the report, Ravinatha Aryasinha, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the new Government of Sri Lanka was committed to provide stability, protect human rights and strengthen democracy. He listed a number of measures aimed at strengthening human rights protection and the rule of law, particularly the introduction of the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution, the recent establishment of an Office on the Missing Persons, and current consultations relating to the National Human Rights Action Plan 2017-2021. He referred to past abuses by separatist terrorist groups and said that several issues had remained unaddressed since the end of the conflict in 2009, including violations of human rights and humanitarian law by both sides.

Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Sri Lanka said that discrimination against Tamil, Muslim and Christian minorities persisted, and that antagonist attitudes continued to take place. He regretted that Sri Lanka’s periodic report failed to address the complexity of the situation on the ground.

Cali Tzay however noted with satisfaction the adoption of the nineteenth Constitutional Amendment as well as the Government’s commitment toward reconciliation, but noted that progress was needed to consolidate the national human rights commission, protect witnesses and abolish capital punishment. “It was regrettable that the report did not contain data on human rights violations and prosecutions. The shadow report presented by civil society organizations, together with United Nations resolutions and reports by United Nations human rights mechanisms, offered a very different image of that presented by the Government. These discrepancies were very concerning. The starting point to achieve reconciliation was to recognise errors of the past and address current challenges. Continuing to deny problems would not solve the problems,” he said.

Continuing, he noted that the Tamil population continued to suffer discrimination, and to lack access to public services in their own language. The police agents in the north of the country for the most part did not speak the Tamil language. What measures had been taken to protect Tamil women from multiple discrimination that they continued to face?, he asked.

“Communities continued to live in fear, the Rapporteur said, particularly of the continued presence of the military in the area. Furthermore, he underlined the importance that the Tamil population had access to public places to bury and commemorate their dead, and regretted discrimination against them in that regard, which could constitute an obstacle to lasting peace and reconciliation.

He asked what measures had been taken to resettle internally displaced persons, Tamil refugees and members of the Muslim minority? What was being done to prevent sexual harassment against these persons?

Continuing, the Rapporteur asked whether human rights training was provided to law enforcement personnel, and if so what the effects of such training had been on the protection of minorities from discrimination and abuse.

The delegation said that initiatives had been taken to promote tolerance and harmony and to combat hate speech, including intercultural and interfaith dialogues. Steps had been taken to prosecute cases of violence against places of worship. “The Government did not condone any form of hate speech or intolerance,” the delegation said.

Another Expert asked for detailed figures regarding the ethnicity of those detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. She noted that this legislation belonged to a particular era, and asked whether the Government was considering repealing it.

In response, Aryasinha said that all were equal under the law, and there was no discrimination against any particular group with regard to detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Meanwhile, the UN Secretary-General will visit Sri Lanka from August 31 to September 2. While in Sri Lanka, the Secretary-General will also visit a resettlement site in Jaffna in the North, and participate in an event on the role of youth in reconciliation and coexistence in Galle, in the South.

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Prime Minister Calls For Report On “Sinhale” Group

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has ordered Minister of Law and Order Sagala Rathnayake to look into the “Sinhale Jathika Balamuluwa” which attacked a protest organized by a civil group under the theme “Ekama Le” (same blood).

The incident took place a few days ago at Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo.

Wickremesinghe has ordered the Minister to file a report on the actions taken regarding the incident by the police.

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Blood, blood and more blood!

By Prof. Susirith Mendis

I have been intrigued by the reactions to the slogan “Sinha-Le” used by some group or other. Gradually, it has become a point of intensive debate and controversy. I write this piece today because I saw a clip on TV News about a fracas that occurred between two groups. One group who claimed no political affiliations had a peaceful demonstration on the theme ‘Different yet Equal’ – “Ekama Le” recently. This group was led by the controversial politician Azad Sally who thrives on controversy and publicity. He is otherwise politically bankrupt. However controversial or bankrupt the group-leader is, he and his group had every democratic right to express their views to the public.

I believe that Azad Sally’s underlying motives were successfully realized. I believe that they were two-pronged: (i) to gain as much attention and publicity to himself as he is usually in search of; and (ii) to rile the ‘Sinha-Le’ group or any other Sinhala nationalist group who could be baited into a provoked reaction. Both were realized. There were others in that group who, I am sure, had altruistic and bona fide motives for a better Sri Lanka.They were demonstrating peacefully and that is to be admired and appreciated.

A group purportedly called the ‘Sinha Le Jathika Balamuluwa’ led by some monks, and also claiming no political affiliations, descended on the peaceful demonstration and created an unruly disturbance. Any discerning observer would have seen that Azad Sally’s group retained the moral high-ground. They were disciplined and kept their emotions under better control. And the message was further enhanced by a red shirted and bearded young man who was repeating loudly and with great solemnity – “Siyalusathwayo niduk wewa” to telling effect.In a previous avatar, he would have been definitively identified as a JVPer. But he is probably not, since today, true JVPers wear white long-sleeved tunics and most have no beards! And they recite a Sanskrit/Vedic Sloka or two once in a way in parliament and outside.The red shirted young man had his ‘few minutes upon the stage’ before he was ‘heard no more’. The police were rightly on the ‘right’-side. They tried to shut the disrupters and get them to move away. Ultimately, the disrupters took the fallback option that seemed to boil down to a copyright infringement. The disrupters insisted that some of Sally’s group carried posters with “Sinha-Le” on them which is their ‘trade mark’ (I am not sure whether they have registered it or not) and therefore those posters should be removed. An agreement was reached on that point and I presume that the whole thing ended there and peace reigned thereafter.

The above, was just a preamble to set the tone for what I really want to say. It is this whole thing about this relatively recent trend in the connotation of ‘blood’ in our political lexicon. Prior to this recent trend, ‘blood’ meant “30-years of a bloody war”. And we saw so much blood daily in our news programmes for so long, that it no longer elicited the expected reactions in us to see blood and body parts strewn on the roads.Blood in the battlefield, blood on streets and city centres and busy intersections, blood in buses and trains. It was blood, blood and more blood. This gradually developed in us an insensitivity to blood.

Then there was ‘blood’ that was shed in a more organized manner. And depending whether you were a proxy group for the LTTE like the TNA et al, or of the Sri Lanka Armed forces in their fight against fascistic terrorism, you would be deeply concerned by the ‘blood’ shed by “our” young men (and even children) in the battlefields of the North and East.

This brings me to the concept of blood that was shed in battlefields the world over. Whether it was blood that was shed in tribal wars to save one’s tribe from annihilation and slavery by other tribes from the earliest days of human civilization; or blood shed by people to save their societies and their culture and their life styles in the face of foreign colonial invasions; or internecine conflicts within nations, more often than not, manipulatively created by a global policy of ‘divide and rule’, it was still blood that was shed.

Blood legends are created to make them not just ordinary blood. The blood that was shed in those circumstances becomes ‘heroic blood’. They are great stories. Myths are built around them and legends told and retold. From the mythologies of the Iliad to the Ramayana, throughout the ages to the two World Wars (38 million casualties in WW I and 60 million dead in WW II – that is a lot of blood!), to our present times, we have had ‘heroic blood’ shed. All the battles in Europe and the Far East during WW II shed ‘heroic blood’. So was the blood that was shed in the ‘Great Patriotic War’ of the Soviet Union and the Battle of Stalingrad. Today, in Sri Lanka, we have ‘Rana Viruwo’ who fought a Long War and shed their ‘heroic’ blood for their country and we have also a ‘Suriya Thevan’ and his men who shed their ‘heroic’ blood for an ever receding mirage of Tamil nationhood.

Hollywood has made a ‘killing’ (pun intended). See this small sample of the movie titles: “Blood”, “Captain Blood”, “Flesh and Blood”, “First Blood”, “The Blood of Heroes” and all those “heroic” war movies that Hollywood churned out, ad nauseum. All had one thing in common – shedding of blood and more blood. Blood is a compulsion-driven common human fetish. Dracula and other vampire tales tell us that. Blood is money too! As I said Hollywood makes billions out of spilling celluloid blood. The more blood spilt, the more billions you can make. If you are a small-timer, you can sell a pint for cash – and that, not only in Blood Banks. You can buy it too for the right price.

The Old Testament of the Bible has this, among so many others, to say about blood: “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission – Hebrews 9:22). So blood, we must shed. That seems to be part of our common human destiny. I came across this in the internet: “Blood is life, and music is life, so songs about blood just make sense.” Bloody songs are endless. Here is a sample: “Let it Bleed” and “Too Much Blood” (Rolling Stones); “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (U2); “Blood on Blood” (Bon Jovi); “If You Want Blood” (AC/DC); “Raining Blood” (Slayer); “Power in Blood” (Dolly Parton) and “Pay in Blood” (Bob Dylan). So as you can see, there is blood everywhere there is human endeavour. Obvious, you might say. If so, is it that unexpected that we have a political organisation that calls themselves the ‘Sinha Le Jathika Balamuluwa’?

It is in the context of ‘heroic’ blood that ‘Sinha-Le’ as a slogan and political movement was born. In the context of ‘heroic’ blood shed for country. It has its obvious implications of ethnicity, language and religion. It was said to be an ‘ethnic war’, after all. And therefore, it is not surprising that derogatory epithets of chauvinism and majoritarian hegemony have been cast upon it.

It was even said that “Sinha-Le” movement was the “newest threat to the island’s integrity”. Contrary to this opinion, others argue that the “Sinha-Le” movement is an understandable response to a tangible threat to the national identity and thereby, national integration.

While the erudite will debate the connotation of the word “Sinhale” as against “Sinha-le” with its regional implications, and whether the reference is to ‘Sinhala blood’ or whether it emanates from a legendary sense of pride of being of ‘Lion blood’, some aspects of it is taking a turn for the ludicrous. I found this in the peaceful demonstration that I mentioned at the outset. There was a poster stating “B+ Le”. The political is turning into the biological. This “B+ Le” slogan was in direct contradiction to their theme – “Ekama Le”. If one claims, “B+ Le” then there is no “Ekama Le”. Others may be of a different ‘Le’ – A, AB or O and Rhesus positive or negative – giving rise to a minimum of 8 different types. Thereby, the “Ekama Le” slogan falls flat on its face by its own internal contradiction. We are so different in our “Le”s that if by accident we get somebody else’s incompatible “Le”, we could die of it! So by that count, we are certainly not “Ekama Le” at all.

Therefore, its best that we all take this ‘blood’ business for what it really is – a metaphor for a developing political divergence than going into hysterics of being ‘Sinhla-Le’ or ‘Ekama le’ or “B+ le’.Or being misled by our general dread or love of blood. Underlying this superficial, sloganized ‘blood battle’, a real crisis is in the making. Pasting labels on people or groups as being “jathiwadi” is not going to resolve issues. Having ‘anti-blood’ demonstrations is a waste of time, however good might be the intention. Actually, if the demonstrators wanted to be more biologically correct, they could have carried a poster saying “We are ‘anti-Sinha Le’ antibodies”! That would have been appropriate both politically and biologically.

We need to take, not what they are sloganizing, but what they are really trying to say. Take them on issue by issue and see whether a reasonable approach to resolve atavistic fears of a minority of 16 million people living in a small island with a language and a culture and a written history that makes them an infinitesimal % of the world’s people, is available. It has to be available. Theirs is a cry for survival in the massive wilderness of macro-scale global cultures. Their atavistic fears have been there for over 2000 years where the legend has it that Gamani of Magama lay in foetal position on the crumpled sheets of his Royal bed and exclaiming that he has no space to extend his legs in comfort.

But all that time ago, he said he was being restrained only from the North by the Indian invaders and in the South by the great ocean. But today, it seems worse. Sri Lanka is hemmed in geographically and politically due to its strategic location from all sides: The Indian behemoth on the one hand, and Chinese global interests and the urgency of US desires for the strategic extension of its 7th fleet in the face of Chinese expansionism on the other. Then, from another flank, there is the Islamic revival and resurgence and its rapid spread (which includes, unfortunately, its wing of horrific murderous extremism)with a global reach through the massive funds generated from Middle East oil resources at their disposal for expansion and influence. These are reflected in the increasing belligerence on the global stage and also of their fringe politicians in Sri Lanka. These are the local and global realities. Therefore, it should not be surprising that this miniscule global % of 16 million people who claim to be of “Sinha-Le” are seriously concerned and disturbed.

Our current government,for political expediency or other less known reasons, is playing in a big game of high stakes in which they are mere pawns and one that they don’t seem to fully understand. They are playing Russian roulette with our nation’s future with such utter disregard for informed, rational and consensual decision-making,that they indeed leave us with good enough reasons for doubt, uncertainty, misgivings, distrust and suspicion about their ulterior motives.

So let us leave different kinds of blood aside. It is time to stop quibbling with bloody slogans that, as Fanon said, are just “glutinous words that stick in our teeth”. Let us shed no more blood.

Let us leave BLOOD alone. Let us get real and get to the GUTS of it!

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Muslims recall fire on nation’s “beating heart”


As 47 years have elapsed, prominent Palestinian leaders and religious figures gathered in Jerusalem’s eastern town of al-Tour on Sunday to mark the anniversary of the arson attack on the holy al-Aqsa Mosque.

Palestinians commemorated the 47th anniversary of the notorious arson attack on the al-Aqsa Mosque, as Palestinian officials highlighted that the Muslim holy site was still under threat today.

In a press conference, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Muhammad Hussein said that Israeli violations, which include detaining and killing Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa compound, allowing Israeli extremists to storm al-Aqsa, and demolishing Palestinian homes in Occupied Jerusalem were “another type of fire which has kept burning the al-Aqsa Mosque and the city of Jerusalem for 47 years.”
Palestinian Governor of Occupied Jerusalem Adnan al-Husseini also said that “the inability to solve the Palestinian issue until now hints at the dereliction towards the Palestinian cause and the lack of awareness of the dangers faced by the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

“We can still smell the fumes of the fire which burst out 47 years ago in the excavations, break-ins, secret tunnels, arbitrary abductions, and abrupt confiscations perpetrated by the Israeli occupation authorities,” al-Husseini stated. “The al-Aqsa is not just made of walls and domes. It is part and parcel of the Islamic faith.

It’s worth goes far beyond its stones to reach the nation’s heart. Al-Aqsa is Muslims’ source of dignity and the nation’s beating heart,” he added.

Head of the al-Aqsa Academy for Science and Heritage, Sheikh Najeh Bkeirat, urged Arabs and Muslims to combine forces and work on liberating Occupied Jerusalem and al-Aqsa. Forty-seven years ago, the Jewish Australian tourist Denis Michael Rohan set fire to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Occupied Jerusalem.

The arson attack was one of several assaults on the site since Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

In April 1982, an Israeli soldier indiscriminately opened fire on Muslim worshipers inside the Mosque, killing two and wounding six others.

In October of 1990, Israeli police killed 21 Palestinians and injured scores during clashes that erupted when Israeli extremists tried to place the foundation stone of an alleged Jewish temple inside the Mosque’s compound.

The Israeli occupation authorities, meanwhile, have carried out excavations in the vicinity of the Mosque without disclosing the exact nature or details of these underground works.

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PM stops bid to ban Muslim veil

Believe it or not! The National Security Council (NSC) recently considered a proposal by a top Defence Ministry official to impose a ban on Muslim women in Sri Lanka wearing the burqa or niqab. The burqa is the full body dress, usually black, with a mesh cover over the eyes. This is worn by some more traditionally minded Muslim women. The niqab is similar with only an opening over the eye area.

The MoD official’s proposal, a well informed source said, was based on the recommendations by a controversial top sleuth running one of the country’s intelligence agencies of a service arm. The person has been serving in that top position under the previous Government, too.

The top sleuth had made the recommendation in the belief that radicalisation in the Muslim community has gone beyond control — a point he has been articulating at different security meetings. The MoD official’s proposal to the NSC came thereafter.

Though there is an element of truth — that Islamic radicalisation has its presence in Sri Lanka, just as much as elsewhere in the world – it is far from going out of control. Many believe that a vast majority of Sri Lankan Muslims have assimilated well with local mores and lived in harmony with others. Well placed intelligence sources said, however, that the radicalisation process was confined mostly to the Colombo District and parts of the Eastern Province. According to these sources the move for an immediate ban is “not only alarmist but also a measure that would discredit the Government in the eyes of the Muslims and enrage Muslim countries in West Asia.”

It was Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who frowned on the proposal and pointed out that it would be highly damaging to the Government. He was of the view that Muslims supported the United National Front (UNF) alliance both at the presidential and parliamentary elections last year. The proposal was thereafter dropped.

The MoD official’s proposal at the NSC came soon after the Army, Navy and the Air Force commanders made presentations on the current security situation. There are no records at different security forces headquarters or with the police that women wearing burqa or niqab have been involved or been identified engaging in terrorism related acts in Sri Lanka. The only exception had been a man wearing a burqa attempting to rob a bank. He was found out and the man’s true identity was never made public.

Among the countries that have banned women wearing full body covering is Switzerland where a fine of 10,000 euros is imposed on violators. France, the first country to ban Niqab in 2004 with school students in state run schools later in 2011 extended it with a public ban countrywide.

The Netherlands has imposed a partial ban where women cannot have their faces covered in schools, hospitals and on public transport. It does not outlaw the veil in public but has laid down essential areas where persons have to be seen due to security reasons. In Chad, in parts of Diffa, where the radicalised Boko Haram is in control, the full cover garb is banned for fear of attacks. Germany is at present considering a limited ban.

Even in the United States and Britain, which are facing serious threats from the ISIS, there has so far been no ban on women wearing the burqa or the niqab.

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OIC Secretary General visits Islamabad

Date: 20/08/2016

During his one-day official visit to Islamabad, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, on 20 August 2016, the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Iyad Ameen Madani met with H.E. Mr. Sartaj Aziz, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs.

During the meeting, the Secretary General was briefed on the latest alarming situation in the Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) including the grave human rights violation of the Kashmiri people and excessive violence used against them. Both sides also reviewed the additional actions that the OIC needs to adopt in order to further help the Kashmiri people.

Mr. Sartaj Aziz and the Secretary General also discussed some regional issues in addition to the major items on the agenda of the upcoming Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) to be held in Tashkent, Republic of Uzbekistan in October 2016.

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Date: 21/08/2016

These days mark the forty-seventh painful anniversary of the heinous attempts to burn the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, the first qibla of Islam and its third holiest mosque. The occasion is being remembered amid escalating aggression, attacks and repeated crimes against the blessed Mosque by the extremist Israeli settlers under the protection of the Israeli occupation. It is being marked amid growing calls for the division and destruction of the Mosque in order to build the purported temple on its ruins and amid the intensification of the Israeli policies of Judaization and ethnic cleansing of the occupied holy city, its people and sanctuaries, in flagrant violation of international law and relevant internationally legitimate resolutions.

On this painful occasion, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation reiterates the special status of the City of Al-Quds Ash-Shareef in the conscience of the Muslim ummah and that the safety and sacredness of its holy sites are closely linked to security and peace in the entire region. Therefore Israel, the occupying power, shall assume full responsibility for the safety of all holy sites under its unjust occupation. This is more so because international treaties and conventions, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibit an occupying state from violating places of worship, guarantee freedom of access to them, and prohibit the occupying power from taking any measures that would change the geographic and demographic landmarks or from attacking their historical sites.

The OIC, whose direct raison d’être is the cause of Palestine and Al-Quds and in the face of continued Israeli aggressions against the city of Al-Quds Ash-Shareef, calls on the international community to compel Israel, the occupying power to abide by the principles of international law and internationally legitimate resolutions, to end its occupation of all the territories of the State of Palestine recognized by the United Nations on 29 November 2012 on the 1967 borders, including the city of Al-Quds Ash-Shareef, and to cease all its recurrent attacks and judaizationschemes, particularly the attempts to undermine its Islamic and Christian holy sites, notably the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The OIC also emphasizes the constant position of the Muslim ummah on Al-Quds Ash-Shareef and support of the inalienable Palestinian rights to it as the capital of the State of Palestine. It also emphasizes its commitments to work for the protection of its Arab and Islamic identity. It renews its call to Member States to continue to provide all forms of support and backing for the city of Al-Quds and its steadfast people.

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S/DIG Latheef Saga; Litmus Test For The Independent Commissions

By Granville Perera –

The grapevine says “Daham, the son of President Maithripala Sirisena is learning fast the tricks of the trade his fathers predecessors mastered. He has quickly learnt that protecting the corrupt and underworld is probably the best business in town”, but the truth probably is somewhat different

The Independent Police Commission headed by Prof. Siri Hettige (Chairman) and comprising members Mrs. Savithree Wijesekara, Mr. Y.L,M. Zawahir, Mr. Anton Jeyanadan, Mr. Tilak Collure and Mr. Frande Silva appointed Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (S/DIG) M R Latheef as the Cormorant of the Special Task Force (STF) on 4th August 2016. Up to date, he has not been released from his former responsibilities by the IGP to assume duties as the commandant of the STF. The delay leads to suspicion that there are political conspiracies to reject the decision made by the Police Commission. Does the constitution provide for the President or any other to over rule a decision by any one of the independent commissions? Legal opinion is that the President, the cabinet or the Prime Minister has no such powers once the National Police Commission (NPC) or any other independent commission makes an appointment.

Did we hear Mahinda Rajapaksa saying “Kawda meaka Thambiyakuta Dunne?” (Who gave this to a Thambiya?). Oh sorry, I forgot that Mahinda Rajapaksa left his palace on the 9th of January 2015, just over 20 months ago. So, from where did this voice descend? Was it the ghost of the Rajapaksas or did it come from the new tenant?

The widespread belief is that Latheef will clean up the corrupt Special Task Force that has protected the corrupt, underworld, provides favours to political thugs, provided unofficially, vehicles to the current politicians etc. It is also alleged that the former head of STF is worried that Latheef will open up the rotten can of worms that would expose the widespread corruption within STF. He was a top crime buster who was also responsible for busting up the illegal trade and transport of Ganja in the Moneragala district. Earlier, an attempt was made to tarnish his image and throw him out of his job as the top cop of Moneragala for busting up the illegal sand mining, ganja trade and treasure hunting undertaken by well connected political smugglers. He was a real thorn for the politically connected crooks. The former IGP and the police department stood by him.

This time, some heavyweights sitting in the presidential secretariat are accused of using Daham Sirisena and are trying to chew something they may not be able to swallow, because the man they are attempting to munch is a globally acclaimed bold policeman, a proud product of Royal College (my alma mater), a thorough gentleman and an officer par excellence,. Latheef or Latta as commonly known amongst royalists and friends is not a pushover. He provided security for VIPs at the peak of the ethnic war with top professionalism against the threats of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. He is also considered one of the best defense strategists in the country. He came in to international limelight when he presented his strategy to protect athletes and very important persons (VIPs) who could be targets of international terrorists at the Olympic games. Since then, there has been an attempt to get him in to one of the top United Nations positions that could assist in global security.

Latheef is a veteran special task force officer who hunted criminals and the underworld who had absolute political patronage. He brought them to justice and ensured that law and order prevailed wherever he served. His reluctance to dance to the tunes of the politicians has made his police life miserable, but he is a real street fighter who took on the high and mighty and will continue to do so with out fear or fervor.

With the controversial flux in the appointment of Senior DIG Latheef as the commandant of the Special Task Force, the police commission is scheduled to meet on the 18th of August 2016. Will the Police commission reconfirm the STF Commandant’s appointment and stand its ground or bow down to political pressure of the Presidential Secretariat. Will it discipline the Inspector General of Police for not respecting and implement its decision. More importantly, will this be another broken promise of the Yahapalanaya made during the presidential elections. The average man might tighten his belts, but will not tolerate the same song sung by the Mahinda Rajapaksa clan. It is also rumored that Minister in charge of the Police, Sagala Ratnayake is working overtime to get Latheef an appointment with the United Nations, so that he can please the President.

There has also been widespread condemnation by the Muslim community as well. They see this as a purely racial issue and the government is succumbing to the pressures of Buddhist extremists. There could be a huge protest after Friday prayers on the 19th if the Police commission doesn’t act. It is reliably understood that S/DIG persuaded the Muslims not to take any action with regard to his appointment last Friday; The Muslims may not comply this Friday. The Muslims see the non appointment as an attempt to deprive the community of any senior public service positions. A Muslim public servant told me, despite having 21 Muslim members in parliament, there is only one Muslim Secretary to a ministry; there are no Governors, Divisional Secretaries or any other senior public servant. Non-appointment of Police Commandant Latheef would be seen as succumbing to the growing racism of extremist Buddhists who continue to be led by saffron clad men assumed to be Buddhist priests. During this month alone, Buddhist extremist had attacked two places of religious worship. Two days ago, A peace vigil organized by a mixed ethnic civil society was violently disrupted by vigilante monks and thugs right in front of senior police officers. Women were abused and the posters they were carrying were snatched and torn. The same group raided a Jovah’s witness church yesterday (16/8/16) and intimidated two innocent teenage girls and the resident priest. They abused their religious practice.

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Different yet Equal: On effectively battling hatred

The corner of Bauddhaloka mawatha near Independence Arcade was relatively quiet at 4:30 pm, apart from a small group holding white umbrellas.

These were participants of “Different Yet Equal” an online-led campaign aiming to hold a peaceful vigil to advocate for a pluralist Sri Lanka, united against hatred and divisiveness.

As the crowd slowly grew, vigil participants eventually lined themselves up along the pavement, holding placards proclaiming “We all have the same blood” and condemning racism.

The underlying message was pushback against the distinctive stickers which now adorn many trishaws and vehicles across the country – all bearing the word “Sinha-Le”. While there has been no violence as yet from this group, Muslim houses were spray-painted with this slogan earlier this year.

As vigil-goers began to speak about why they had gathered, a sudden disruption occurred, when a group of counter-protesters, including Buddhist monks, gathered, purporting to be from the Sinha Le movement. The monks said they objected to the appropriation of the term “Sinha Le”, which they felt was ‘their’ word. “This is a Sinhala Buddhist country” was chanted repeatedly. The group was also carrying a distorted version of the Sri Lankan flag, notably missing the stripes denoting the minorities.

Initially, tensions ran high, with some of the participants, including former Deputy Mayor of Colombo Azath Salley, attempting to take on some of the counter-protesters verbally. The situation escalated into a shouting match.

It was telling that most of the counter-protesters brought up Sri Lanka’s population and the fear that the Sinhala Buddhist population was, somehow, being overrun by minority communities. Upon being asked to leave, they refused saying, “Let them leave! This is our country!”

Police inaction

As the chaos in the video unfolded above – the police had to be prodded into action. Though there was a policeman standing just feet away, directing traffic, the participants in the vigil had to request him to intervene in the unfolding situation. Even then, their priorities appeared to be to ensure that traffic remain unobstructed. While this is indeed important, no attention was given to the group flying the distorted Sri Lankan flag.

When vigil participants pointed out that the flag was distorted and asked if this was the true national flag, the Sinhale faction sneered, “Yes, check your history books.”

However, Article 6 of Sri Lanka’s constitution clearly depicts the national flag, making this distortion an offence. Yet the police made no move to make any arrests, even when this was pointed out to them by the crowd.

Eventually, the police made an attempt to alleviate tensions by asking the participants to sit down on the pavement and stop disrupting traffic. This the participants promptly did. However, the group of counter-protesters continued trying to agitate the crowd- and it was only then that one of the police officers pushed him away from the scene. The group stubbornly remained until the vigil ended.

Yesterday’s vigil highlighted that the insecurity felt by some Sinhala Buddhists continues to persist, despite the fact that they remain the majority community. It was equally clear, however, that the disruption was both organised and deliberate – and sadly, it worked, to some extent. The media turned instantly to the clashes and the raised voices, and away from the participants who were peacefully holding signboards. They captured the ugly statements – the continued insistence “This is a Sinhala Buddhist country.” It was this message – one of hatred and divisiveness spouted from the mouths of a few – that was also communicated in reportage of the event.

This is something that should perhaps have been foreseen and better prepared for, given that a candlelight vigil organised in front of the Buddhist Cultural Centre on Sambuddatva Jayantha Mawatha in 2013, was disrupted in a similar manner, which was also covered extensively by Groundviews.

Responding to the virulent and xenophobic rhetoric being spewed by this small group, some participants could not resist engaging in verbal shouting matches – which seemed to be exactly what the smaller group had bargained for, as it gave them the chance to grab the spotlight. Apart from the appearance of the distinctive ‘Le’ stickers as well as the formation of parties like the Sinhale Jathika Balamuluwa, these hardline extremists had been relatively silent until yesterday. It was clear, therefore, that their presence at the Different Yet Equal vigil was a blatant attempt to generate publicity towards their own cause.

It was only when some of the more canny participants asked the others to sit down on the pavement and continue peacefully with the vigil, that the wind was taken out of the counter-faction’s sails.

This is not to say that there were not some high points – as the pro Sinhale faction continued to spew venom, the participants decided to sing “Lowe Sama” to drown them out:

This proved far more effective than raised voices – the opposing faction now looked nonplussed, and for the time being, stopped their chanting.

It is a shame, however, that an event with a largely positive message was disrupted with hatred and divisiveness, allowing for a small group of extremists to grab the spotlight, even if only briefly.

Below are audio clips from those who attended the vigil, on why they decided to do so:

In reflecting on the events of August 15, the words of Tissaranee Gunasekara come to mind,

“[Sinha Le] needs to be countered… We have a battle to wage, but it must be waged in the terrain of ideas. We must meet their insanity with logic, their ravings with facts, their incitement to violence with appeals to reason. This is also a struggle which moderates of other ethnic and religious communities must wage against their own extremists. Not doing so would be a deadly mistake.”

[Readers who found this article illuminating should read Tissaranee Gunasekara’s article “Sinha Le Politics and Socio Cultural Persecution” and Lukman Harees’ article on the need for inclusive reconciliation].

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