Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise in Sri Lanka, worsening political divisions
In recent years, Middle Eastern money and Tamil Tiger bullets competed with each other to drive the radicalisation of Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority. This has had both social and political effects and the Muslim question is likely to pop up, like in the subcontinent in 1947, in the endgame of the civil war.
As Morquendi reveals, fundamentalist vigilantes have begun to enforce their own interpretation of the Sharia law: the most perverse example of which was the public punishment of rape victims as adulterers. The traditional syncretic brand of Islam is also being threatened by the more recently imported intolerant version.
Given that the biggest elephant in the room is the age-old civil war between the Sinhala and Tamil communities, Islamic militancy has both been both explained by and covered-up by the larger strife. Even the current ceasefire, which critics claim is skewed in favour of the Tigers, is accused of harming the interests of the Muslims, not least because it inhibits the Government’s ability to protect the Muslim community against LTTE atrocities. Islamic militancy, is thus seen as a legitimate attempt by the community to defend itself.
Tisarane Gunasekara argues that Islamic fundamentalism is a bogey and a silver bullet for a beleaguered LTTE: within Sri Lanka, because it frightens the Tamil community into uniting behind the LTTE and marginalising the ‘rebel’ Karuna faction; as well as internationally, because confronted with radical Islam gaining strength in Sri Lanka, India and the United States would be compelled to back the LTTE.
But what is undeniable is that along with the rise of a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, there have been a growing political calls for Muslims to be treated distinct party to what used to be an ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. Politicians like Rauf Hakeem of the Muslim Congress, and now even Ferial Ashraff, a political ally of the ruling party, have called for the country’s Muslims, majority of who are Tamil-speakers, to have their own seat on the negotiating table. Given the LTTE’s own record of violence against the Muslim community, that is hardly unreasonable.
All in all, the Sri Lankan civil war has taken on a new dimension with Islamic fundamentalism increasingly finding expression in society and a voice in politics. A final settlement will be all the more difficult.