The recent event in New Zealand, where a Sri Lankan Muslim was shot dead after he stabbed six persons in an Auckland supermarket has naturally made news back home -– but this one is for even more wrong reasons. Sinhala-Buddhist militant Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) chief Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thero has now asked the Muslim community and their civil society organisations to condemn Wahhabism and Salafism – and listed out 22 of Islamic organisations in this regard.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has been tough on terrorism, said ‘it was despicable, it was hateful, it was wrong’. She clarified that the attack was ‘carried out by an individual, not a faith’ and added, ‘He alone carries the responsibility for these acts.’
Available reports very clearly indicate that Ahmed Adil Mohamed Samsudeen, now known as Ahmed Adil Mohamed Samsudeen, had left Sri Lanka full ten years back and has been living in New Zealand all through, for anyone to still brand him as a ‘Sri Lankan Muslim’ in that sense of the term in these months and years after the Easter serial blasts nearer home in April 2019. If anything, he was under New Zealand’s intelligence watch. Possibly that was why the police picked him within a minute of his commencing the stabbing-spree and shot him.
Significantly and without any loss of time, the Muslim community in Sri Lanka has condemned the Auckland attack. In a joint statement signed by 22 community organisations have express shock and sadness at what they too branded as ‘terrorist attack’ in Auckland. “On behalf of all Sri Lankans, and Sri Lankan Muslim community in particular, we unequivocally condemn this senseless and terrible act of violence,” their joint statement said.
The statement concurred with Prime Minister Arden that ‘hate-crimes and acts of violent extremism are not, and must not be associated with any nationality, ethnicity, culture or religion’. The signatory organisations also expressed ‘solidarity with the people of New Zealand at this moment of grief. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families’.
In context, the statement quoted the Holy Koran, “Whoever kills an innocent life it is as if he has killed all of humanity… And whoever saves a life it is as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.”
It is this statement that BBS’ Gnanasara Thero has sought to contest in a way, by picking up what is not in the Muslim community statement, and asking the signatory organisations to to repudiate. He wants them to issue a similar joint statement, rejecting Wahhabism and Salafism, the two fundamentalist practices within Islam.
Referring to the Easter serial attacks, the Thero, in a statement, said: “The question before us today is whether a lesson has been learned from the said attack as a nation. The politicisation and oscillation of the Easter attack (probe) carried out by Zaharan and his gang in the name of religion is further endangering our country.”
He went on to ask: “Can those trying to take advantage of the Can ‘hunting the mastermind of the Easter attack’ scenario adopted in Sri Lanka be used to find the mastermind of the Auckland attacker? Absolutely not. This is not because of any other reason but because there is no need to direct terrorism by someone else since Its based on religious principles.”
According to Gnanasara Thero, “A believer who is confused by a religious teaching has the opportunity to become a terrorist at any time and carry out isolated attacks. Hundreds of such ‘Wahhabi attacks’ have taken place around the world.” On the Auckland attack, he pointed to how the Samsudeen was on the nation’s intelligence watch-list and yet could carry out the attack. “If such a situation arises in Sri Lanka, opportunistic politicians will point the finger at the self-sacrificing security forces.
Narrating the background to Auckland attack, the Thero further said that Samsudeen was arrested in 2017 by New Zealand police. Cases have been filed in Auckland High Court on few counts for promoting Islamic terrorism through two Facebook accounts. But human rights activists and others advocated for the freedom of speech for Samsudeen. For that reason, the New Zealand security forces were limited only to follow the terrorist and wait until the terrorist attack to take action.
“This is a situation that our country needs to pay close attention to. Following the arrest of the promoters of Islamic extremism, local and foreign human rights groups have been exerting intense pressure on the Sri Lankan government,” Ven Gananasara said. “In particular, lawyer Hijaz Hezbollah and Hanaf Jassim, also known as a poet (arrested in connection with Easter attacks, were pressured to be released. We urge the government to be vigilant in deciding on the arrests and future arrests of extremist terrorist threats and to act solely on the progress of investigations by the security forces without being influenced by any outside forces.”
True and not wholly true. That is how the Thero’s statement has to be described. His prescription for the nation’s Muslim community is mostly true, especially when it comes to his prognosis and diagnosis. It is only a repetition of what the nation and the world have known. It is what the nation and the world have also diagnosed very long ago.
It is thus Gnanasara’s prescription stands out. It is also here that his ords and actions stinks of Sinhala-Buddhist hegemonical, supremacist pride. It stands out as a sore thumb. There is universal agreement, even from within the Islamic umma the world over, about the unsuitability of Wahhabism and Salafism in the contemporary context – not that it would have suited the community and the world in any time past.
Wahhabism was a political weapon in Saudi Arabia where it originated –and in a different time. It was the kind of linkage that the Saud royalty established between the king and religion, as in Christian Europe in centuries past. Later-day attempts at universalising Wahhabism may owe for the need to keep those clergy engaged in projects that would not interfere much more than already in internal affairs.
The same in a way can be said about Sinhala-Buddhist clergy’s role in this country. It is applicable even more to groups like BBS that Theors like Gnanasara head. Not stopping with preaching their ‘faith’ and condemning the rest, they indulge in indiscriminate violence against ‘em all. And their Buddhism is a ‘religion of peace’. In India, where Lord Buddha preached his faith, Buddhism is still a religion of peace, adhering to his principles of ‘Ahimsa’ and vegetarianism.
It is not known how many Buddhists, including Theros like Gananasara in this country, are adherents to vegetarianism, as taught by the founding seer. Certainly, they are not non-violent, in word, deed or action. Are they still Buddhists as the Lord desired them to be, or are using the religion only as a political weapon to run down the non-Buddhist minority communities in the country. The list includes Muslims, and more so after the extinction of the LTTE vis a vis the Sri Lankan Tamil community.
Of course, it is true also of ‘Saiva Sidhdhantham’, or ‘Saiviite philosophy’, as practised by Hindus among the minority Tamil community in the country. They too relate their brand of Saiviism to India, the southern districts of southern Tamil Nadu, but strict vegetarianism is the creed there – but not among Saiviites in Sri Lanka’s North and East.
But then, the Tamils are not known to impose their religion and religion-centric culture on those around them. Post-Independence Tamil political awareness had spread its roots across the linguistic grouping, once covering the Hindu, Christian and Muslim communities under that common umbrella. Even when the LTTE forcefully and shamefully threw out Muslims from the North and massacred them in the East, it had more to do with its own brand of politics, not ethnicity or religion in the strict sense of the term.
It is thus time for Gnanasara and those like him in the Buddhist clergy and larger clan, to look inwards, and look up their face in the mirror – before passing value-judgments and prescriptions for others, based on and deriving from such judgments. It is not as if those prescriptions are wholly untrue or irrelevant – but then the physician suffering from the same disease has to treat himself and cure himself first before asking others to do it. Rather, he should test his own bitter pill, if it is bitter, on himself, before making others to take it, forcibly often!
(The writer is Distinguished Fellow and Head-Chennai Initiative, Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email: firstname.lastname@example.org)