Continuing the cycle of hate
Neville Uditha Weerasinghe
Until the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009, the Tamil population in the country were the ‘other’ or the enemy, a notion created by the Sinhala extremists within the Sinhalese society. However, with the end of the long-drawn conflict, the Sinhala extremists no longer could point at this group of ‘other’ created by them and call them an existential threat. As a result, several years after the end of the war in 2009, these Sinhala extremists began creating a new group of enemies. Even a cursory glimpse would tell us that the Sinhala extremists thought that the Muslim community in the country would make an excellent ‘other.’
In 2012, Sinhala Buddhist extremist groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena began propagating hate speech against Muslims on social media forums and at various societal events (BBC, 2014). We can identify three major turning points in recent history regarding the racial tensions that have been created against the Muslim people of Sri Lanka. The significant anti-Muslim violence that took place on June 15, 2014 in Aluthgama, anti-Muslim riots in the Kandy district in 2018 and anti-Muslim riots in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attack on April 21, 2019 can be identified as these major turning points.
Through the conduct of the Presidential Commission appointed to probe into the Easter Sunday bombings and the occasional cropping of incidents involving Rishad Bathiudeen and various others; it can be observed that various forces are trying their best to ensure that the majority of Sri Lankans continue to wield anti-Muslim sentiments that were created in the aftermath of the Easter bombings.
Here I will attempt to point out how some mainstream media outlets have tried to ensure that people remain anti-Muslim through the manner, in which they cover events.
Publishing a photograph of Minister Chamal Rajapaksa shaking hands with MP Bathiudeen, the Divaina newspaper on October 18, 2020 carried the headline “Releasing the suspect of the Easter attack that wreaked havoc in the country and shaking his hand in Vavuniya” along with the photograph. On October 8, 2020, Ada Derana reported in its nightly news broadcast, “Help given to Zahran by Rishad’s brother revealed again”. The news broadcast only featured a statement made by the former Army Commander in this regard. However, it has not been established before the law that Bathiudeen’s brother had in fact helped Zahran.
In a press release in April 2020, Bathiudeen stated that following the Easter Sunday attacks in 2019, many politicians, the mainstream media and social media carried out racist propaganda against him, claiming that he was behind the attack. However, according to him, the Acting Inspector General of Police had informed the Secretary-General of Parliament that investigations had confirmed Bathiudeen was not involved in the attack or any other terrorist activity. Bathiudeen further stated that the arrow was now aimed at his brother to destroy his image (TSM WEB DESK).
On May 28, 2020, a news item in the Aruna newspaper under the headline “Hejaaz Hezbullah withdraws petitions” stated that Hezbullah’s father and brother had withdrawn two habeas corpus petitions filed on behalf of Hezbollah, a lawyer detained by the CID on suspicion of involvement in the Easter attack. However, it was reported in newspapers including the May 19, 2020 Divaina and May 23. 2020 Lankadeepa that a fundamental rights petitions had been filed on behalf of Hezbullah. The motion to withdraw the petitions had mentioned that they were being withdrawn as fundamental rights petitions had been filed in this regard.
However, the report in the Aruna newspaper did not mention that fundamental rights petitions that had been filed. It also failed to mention that the habeas corpus petitions had been withdrawn because of the fundamental rights petitions had been filed (ETHICS EYE).
Testifying before the Presidential Commission appointed to probe the Easter bombings in December 2020, former DIG of Kurunegala Jayalath stated that he had received intelligence information that Dr. Shafi Shihabdeen of the Kurunegala Hospital, who was accused of forcibly sterilizing women, had received funding from the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ). However, the CID informed the court that there was no evidence against Dr. Shafi, who was taken into custody in May 2019 (BBC, 2019).
Through the various incidents discussed above, we can observe that various media institutions are feeding information in a biased way, so that the majority of the people remain suspicious of Muslims, thus completing the process of ‘othering’.