Time to act | Daily News

Time to act

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe means business. He has read the riot act on those attempting to fan communal flames.There is certainly an undercurrent of ethno-religious tensions sweeping the southern parts of the country that, if not tackled immediately and firmly, could lead to another eruption of volcanic proportions.

Speaking to journalists at Temple Trees on Wednesday the Premier, in no uncertain terms, warned those bent on creating ethnic strife that the might of the law would be brought to bear in full force against them. He especially singled out those given to hate speech and incitement to violence targeting a particular race or religious community. He said, if necessary, the prevailing laws would be amended to deal with the troublemakers. The Cabinet he said had directed the police to deal strictly against anyone responsible for causing ethnic or religious disharmony. The Premier said no mercy will be shown to extremist elements who whip up racial hatred and communal passions. The government of President Maithripala Sirisena, he said, is committed to uphold the rule of law and would not permit the revival of ethnic strife of the type witnessed in 2014 that brought international condemnation on the country.

The Prime Minister's remarks no doubt would have been prompted by the recent incidents where some mosques and Muslim businesses had come under attack in certain parts of the country. The finger, no doubt, was directly pointed at the controversial Ven. Galagodatte Gnanasara who is presently in hiding, though in connection with an unrelated matter. The Bodu Bala Sena may have received only 27,000 votes at the last General Election but Ven Galagodatte certainly is creating waves bolstered by the wide media coverage.

We are here not advocating any media censorship, but the proposed new laws against hate speech should contain provision that places a check on the media in giving full play to racist attacks by the likes of Ven.Galagodatte. Today, it is not just the lunatic fringe among the monks but also certain media appear to be promoting division along communal lines in their reportage of events connected to the recent attacks. At least one TV anchor is given to making comments that are clearly meant to show the majority community as the aggrieved party, which, needless to say, can sway the opinion of viewers too see things differently. Such tacit promotion of communal or religious hatred too can contribute to exacerbate tensions.

Be that as it may, any move towards creating racial hatred overtly or by innuendo by whomsoever should be nipped in the bud. Enough blood has been spilled in the name of race. The country cannot afford to be dragged into the vortex of a religious conflagration that would result in dire consequences. Today, in addition to the saffron brigade, there are also elements in political garb who are trying their utmost to whip up communal tensions. Their speeches are loaded with poisonous rhetoric that is meant to sway the majority masses to view minority communities with suspicion. There are others too who openly support this brand of politics. The worst culprits are the so called nationalist organisations and movements, including Bikkhu Fronts that have sprung up recently. Leaders of these organisations often make incendiary statements that are sometime akin to a call to arms (against others races). Such organisations too should be kept in check lest their rhetoric make an impact on the impressionable folk among the majority community.

The PM's avowal to introduce new laws to deal with those inciting racial hatred bears relevance in this context. Of course there will be those who will bring in hair splitting arguments as to what constitutes hate speech. Politicians of the calibre of Udaya Gammanpila and Wimal Weerawansa will no doubt claim their right to free speech and would consider these laws as an infringement against their strident nationalist rhetoric.

Be that as it may, the time has come to call a halt to extremist elements having a free run to do as they please. It is clear that a political hand is at work manipulating the mischief makers to run amok. Mobilising the majority community by showing a clear threat to their existence from alien elements has been a good political strategy put into effect in the past. Apparently the same forces are at work again. The government should not make the same mistake as its predecessor in allowing anti-Muslim hatred to take a turn for the worst, resulting in the unfortunate incidents in Aluthgama, that turned the entire Muslim community against Rajapaksa. Things have not yet deteriorated to such stage where brazen attacks are been carried out against Muslim establishments by mobs led by saffron clad elements. The government should not wait for things to reach such a stage. It should act now instead of confining its warnings to mere words. Any procrastination could only embolden the racist elements to goad them into more drastic deeds. Intelligence should be beefed up to identify the miscreants who should be dealt with firmly. 


 

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