Tears in the eyes of the families mourning the loss of Easter Sunday terror victims had not dried up when Sri Lankans heard that another group of citizens- Muslims- had come under attack by angry mobs on Monday (May 13). The mob attacks were reported mainly in Kuliyapitya and Minuwangoda areas. In a brutal retaliation over the involvement of the ISIS terrorists and a group of local extremist Muslims in the Easter attacks, the mobs created havoc in Minuwangoda where around 41 shops were vandalised. Apart from that 4 houses and four vehicles owned by Muslims along with Minuwangoda Jumma Mosque were also destroyed. According to eyewitnesses, the mobs who arrived on motorbikes were armed with rods and swords. “They have not only vandalised our shops and houses, but also looted money,” villagers complained. Police arrested 23 people for inciting violence against Muslims. Yet, the affected people alleged that the authorities were doing little to disperse crowds when the mobs continued with the attacks going from village to village.
Lack of planning by security forces?
Intelligence sources at the scene of destruction told the Dailymirror that the attacks could have been prevented if there was proper security coordination and if the commands were given to take action at the right place at the right time. Meanwhile, Muslim businessmen speaking to the Dailymirror claimed that they had informed the police to increase security in Minuwangoda area in fear of retaliation; which originally started in Chilaw on Sunday (May 12). Their pleas went unheeded as the authorities had allegedly turned a blind eye to their request until the attacks took place in Minuwangoda and Kuliyapitiya which ultimately made the authorities to send army buffels and commandos to the area.
According to eyewitnesses, what is more, distressing and questionable is that the attacks in certain areas had taken place while armed forces were in the vicinity. The co-owner of the most famous all-night eatery in the Minuwangoda town — Fawz Hotel, T. I. Isham, blamed the police for failing to disperse the crowd. “The police were watching. They were doing little to disperse crowds,” he said.
Industry and Commerce Minister, Rishad Bathiudeen who made a visit to the Minuwangoda Jumma Mosque on Tuesday (May 14) and met with the villagers heavily criticised the forces for failing to prevent the attacks and pleaded with the Government to take the security issue seriously.
“Mobs attacked shops and the mosque in the presence of the armed forces and police. All what people expect from the army is the security for their lives. Those who attacked these innocent Muslims are similar to the terrorists who blew themselves up on Easter Day. How ridiculous is it to attack innocent families who survive on the income from their own small businesses in retaliation for the terror attacks carried out by the ISIS? Is this what they call humanity?” Bathiudeen asked.
Minister Rishad Bathiudeen visiting Minuwangoda Jumma Mosque on Tuesday
Those who attacked these innocent Muslims are similar to the terrorists who blew themselves up on Easter Day. Mobs attacked shops and the mosque in the presence of the armed forces and police
– Minister Rishad Bathiudeen
What mobs couldn’t destroy
The Fawz Hotel on Airport Road, dating back to 1970s, is known to be a ‘must visit’ for patrons travelling to and from the airport. The owners of the Fawz Hotel are the main contributors for annual Vesak pandals in Minuwangoda town as well. According to Isham, his shop had come under attack twice.
“After the first group of attackers arrived around 6.15 pm, MP Edward Gunasekara along with the police came to inspect the damages to our shop. It was minutes after they had left that the people who were watching, while the MP was talking to us, suddenly started attacking the shop. We had no option, but to run for our lives,” Isham described the incident. While the shops in Minuwangoda town, with banners of Muslim names including Mohideen and Fawz, had turned into ashes, shops with banners such as Nimalee and Jayanthi were seen unharmed. Among all the negative stories being reported on the communal harmony of Sri Lankans, the incident, where Isham and other employees at the Fawz Hotel were provided with shelter in a house, belonging to a Sinhala family show that however ugly racism raises its head, the core values of peace-loving Sri Lankans still exist.
“Until the attackers left the scene, a Sinhala family sheltered us, showing how deep our relationships between the communities have been over the past,” said Isham.
Flames of racism destroyed Sinhalese shops too
Chandima is the owner of Ekko – the largest textiles shop in Minuwangoda town. Owned by this Sinhala Buddhist lady, the shop employed Muslim workers as well. The mobs attacked the front door of Ekko, but did not set it on fire. Nevertheless, the shop was caught on fire. The fire damaged all the stocks prepared to be sold till August as the adjourning Muslim-owned shops were fuming fire.
“The attackers are so stupid to attack shops and land the country’s economy in problems. The loss of my shop would be more than 20 million. The destruction could have been minimised, but the Fire Brigade came hours later than expected,” said Chandima.
Meanwhile, Islamophobic graffiti was found on the gate of a Muslim-owned pasta factory — Diamonds — which was reduced to ashes. Some parts of the factory were still on fire even when the made a visit to the area on Tuesday.
Fifty-seven-year-old M.H.J.P.Perera has operated a glass shop in Burulapitiya for the past 10 years. His family is Roman Catholic except his daughter who is married to a Muslim; which is why he now thinks their family business – the glass shop – was attacked by the mobs. “About twenty motorcycles were outside my shop. When they started attacking, I shouted saying ‘I am Sinhalese. Please do not attack.’ My pleas went unheeded as the mobs continued destroying my property,” he said.
Outsiders had the support of locals
The affected families firmly believe that the majority of the goons travelled from nearby areas to carry out the attacks, with the support of a few locals. Isham of the Fawz Hotel said that he noticed several familiar faces among the mob that attacked his shop. “Although everyone said the attackers were outsiders, I could recognise a group of men, those who had even eaten from our restaurant, leading the mob,” he said.
Isham has complained to the police regarding a suspected theft of money in the cashier, lockers of the shop and inside his jeep parked nearby.
“The CCTV shows them entering my shop and pulling out the DVR wire which disconnected the CCTV. About Rs. 85, 000 in the cashier and Rs. 200, 000 in the lockers has been stolen. About Rs. 300, 000 of foreign currency kept inside my jeep is missing too,” Isham said.
It was not even a month since Mohomed Nijabdeen from Galloluwa obtained a loan to buy a freezer and opened a meat shop adjoining his house. He is devastated as his only source of income was jeopardized. “I had just closed my chicken shop to finish fasting. My wife was serving us food when we heard shouts and noises. Our gates have been cut with swords. We didn’t go outside. My grandchildren stayed tethered to their mother for safety,” he said.
When would this end? How should we end this?
Rev. Fr Dudley Saparamadu from Burulapitiya stressed that there is nothing logical about condemning innocent Muslims for the actions of a few. “Everyone who is responsible for these attacks should stop using people’s lives to get their own political agendas and purposes fulfilled. All lives matter regardless of faith or race,” he said. Muslims in Sri Lanka are now finding themselves in limbo, distancing themselves from the terrorist attacks, while bracing for attacks against their own communities. Since the goal of terrorists is to divide the country, it is incumbent on Sri Lankans of all faiths and backgrounds to frustrate that objective by standing united in the face of terror.
Everyone who is responsible for these attacks should stop using people’s lives to get their own political agendas and purposes fulfilled. All lives matter regardless of faith or race – Rev. Fr Dudley Saparamadu.
Experts opine that terrible things that have been done in Sri Lanka and many parts of the world in the names of religions or faiths were results of forces like greed, hatred and fear for which religious beliefs are themselves the best remedy. Unfortunately, religion is being used as the perfect immunity to outbreaks of reasonableness in the public discourse. What did we learn from the war that lasted for nearly 30 years? What did we learn from the Gintota, Kandy and Ampara communal clashes? What have we done to bring about policy reforms to these issues?
Our world is fast succumbing to the activities of people who are staking a claim for the future as the next generation while being extremists and racists. Unfortunately for the Sri Lankan Muslim community – less than 10% of the population –, this isn’t the first time they have dealt with such a hostile backlash. In fact, it will likely continue unless immediate action is taken.
A Catholic priest taking photographs of Fawz Hotel, Minuwangoda which was attacked
Pix by Pradeep Pathirana and Lahiru Harshana