By Piyumi Fonseka/Daily Mirror
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 from Kuliyapitya and Minuwangoda.
In a brutal retaliation over the involvement of Islamic State (IS) terrorists and a group of local extremist Muslims in the Easter attacks, the mobs created havoc in Minuwangoda where around 41 shops were vandalized.
Apart from that, four houses and four vehicles owned by Muslims along with Minuwangoda Jumma Mosque were also destroyed.
According to eyewitnesses, the mobs which arrived on motorbikes were armed with rods and swords. “They have not only vandalized our shops and houses, but also looted money,” villagers complained.
Nothing Done to Disperse Mobs
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.
Intelligence sources at the scene of destruction told the Daily Mirror that the attacks could have been prevented if there was proper coordination among security agencies and if commands were given to take action at the right place at the right time.
Meanwhile, Muslim businessmen claimed that they had informed the police to increase security in Minuwangoda 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 send army commandos to the area.
According to eyewitnesses, what is more distressing and questionable is that the attacks in certain areas had taken place while the armed forces were in the vicinity.
T.I.Isham, co-owner of the most famous all-night eatery in the Minuwangoda town — Fawz Hotel, 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 the villagers heavily criticized 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 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.
What Mobs Couldn’t Destroy
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 Fawz Hotel are the main contributors for the annual Vesak pandals in Minuwangoda town. 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 said.
Shops in Minuwangoda town with Muslim names including Mohideen and Fawz, had turned into ashes.
However, Isham and other employees at the Fawz Hotel were provided shelter in a house belonging to a Sinhala family, showing that the core values of peace-loving Sri Lankans still exist.
“Until the attackers left the scene, a Sinhala family sheltered us, showing how deep relationships between the communities have been over the past so many years,” Isham said.
Chandima is the owner of Ekko – the largest textiles shop in Minuwangoda town. 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 caught fire damaging all the stocks. The fire had spread from the adjourning Muslim-owned shops.
“The attackers are stupid to attack shops when the country’s economy is having problems. The loss to my shop would be more than Rs.20 million. The destruction could have been minimized, but the Fire Brigade came hours later than expected,” Chandima said.
Meanwhile, Islamophobic graffiti were found on the gate of a Muslim-owned pasta factory — Diamonds — which had been reduced to ashes. Some parts of the factory were still on fire even on Tuesday.
Fifty-seven-year-old M.H.J.P.Perera has run 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.
Some Locals Supported Outside Attckers
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 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 recognize a group of men, those who had eaten at our restaurant, leading the mob,” he said.
“The CCTV shows them entering my shop and pulling out the DVR wire which disconnected the CCTV. About Rs. 85, 000 in the cash box and Rs. 200, 000 in the lockers had been stolen. About Rs. 300, 000 in 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 destroyed.
“I had just closed my chicken shop to finish fasting. My wife was serving us food when we heard shouts and noises. Our gates had been cut with swords. We didn’t go outside. My grandchildren stayed tethered to their mother for safety,” he said.
Would This End?
Rev. Fr Dudley Saparamadu from Burulapitiya said that there is nothing logical about condemning innocent Muslims for the actions of a few of their co-religionists.
“Everyone who is responsible for these attacks should stop using people’s lives to get meet 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 a limbo. They have distanced themselves from the April 21 terrorist attacks, while bracing for attacks against their own community.
Since the goal of the terrorists is to divide the country, it is incumbent on Sri Lankans of all faiths to frustrate that objective by standing united in the face of terror.
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.