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Work towards ethnic harmony and reconciliation - Faiszer Musthapha

Deputy Investment Promotion Minister Faiszer Musthapha said that Sri Lanka was a resilient nation that was not in favour of foreign elements interfering in domestic issues. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said whatever different views we hold, above all we are Sri Lankans. I am proud to be a Sri Lankan. Unfortunately, some people want to make use of the recent incidents in Aluthgama and Beruwala to further their political agendas. All of us should collectively work towards ethnic harmony and reconciliation. Moderate politicians irrespective of political differences have to rally round to bring communities together.

The Deputy Minister said those who propagate religious hatred not only distance themselves from other communities but also isolate the country internationally. ďToday we live in a global village. If people think that by attacking a race and religion and that they could propagate their political credo, it is without a doubt detrimental to the country and to national reconciliation. The Buddhists are compassionate. Love and compassion is something which other religions can learn from Buddhism. Unfortunately, hate speech by some extremist organisations are against Buddhism. The rule of law should operate to prevent religious hatred or religious violence in the larger interest of the country.

Q: Since communal clashes are a common phenomenon in multi-ethnic societies specially in a country just liberated from LTTE terrorism, politicians fishing in trouble waters at the risk of national harmony, is regrettable. Your comments?

A: During the war on terrorism, we collectively worked towards defeating terrorism. Unfortunately, race and religion is the best platform for a politician to market himself. Specially if you are not a politician who looks at development, youth or skills development and if you donít want do anything tangible for the uplift of the people, the best marketing tool is to go on race, religion and ask for your share or say somebody is disrupting your rights. This has become a tool used by certain politicians to promote themselves. This is a dangerous phenomenon for the reason that dividends of peace should be used towards national reconciliation and national harmony. Because this is creating a sense that the country is more racist than it was during the 30 years of the war on terrorism. This is visible on social media and is trickling down to the villages.

Q: From what appears in newspapers, certain invisible forces are at work interfering with domestic affairs possibly aiming at a regime change. Could the country afford another killing spree?

A: We are talking about international forces. Some people being party to international agendas, knowingly or unknowingly are contributing towards propagating racism. Those who propagate racism are playing into the hands of those who want us to move away from secularism. For example, at present, the Muslim countries are the only block left to support us internationally. The end result would be, the Muslim world would distance themselves due to attempts by those who propagate hatred against the Muslims. We should collectively work towards ethnic harmony and reconciliation. We should stop this hate campaign to prevent Sri Lanka being isolated internationally. Today you can see how religious hatred is propagated via television and radio. As a Muslim, I practise Islam and would not like it being attacked. Similarly, the Sinhalese or Buddhism should not be attacked. What we have to do is to prevent extremist elements from getting this opportunity. The rule of law should prevail propagating religious hatred or religious violence should be prevented in the interest of the nation. Those who propagate religious hatred not only distance themselves from other communities but also isolate our country internationally. We are not frogs in the well. Today we live in a global village. If people think by attacking one race and religion, they could propagate themselves politically, it is no doubt detrimental to the country and to national reconciliation.

Q: Some politicians try to make political capital out of the recent incidents in Aluthgama and Beruwala for personal prestige and cause a permanent rift between the two communities. What will be the impact on the country?

A: A day before this incident, I wrote to the Police requesting them not to grant permission for this procession. This incident relates to some individual clash or some stone-throwing incident between two parties. The rule of law must be applied. But the blame-game faction is giving it a communal twist. We are Sri Lankans. I am proud to be a Sri Lankan. Unfortunately, some people like to use this kind of situation to further their political agendas and goals. I was there on the ground when my vehicle came under mob attack. I went there for the genuine reason of national reconciliation. I went to reduce the ill feeling and to see how I could reconcile the situation and bring peace and harmony. That was my objective. The objective of certain quarters was to propagate themselves politically if you look at their statements. But obviously there are people who feel hurt. We have to move from that point onwards.

Q: Since President Mahinda Rajapaksa has issued clear instructions to the Police to strictly deal with scare-mongers, hate speech and those spreading religious hatred, it is not for politicians to add fuel to the fire at this juncture. Your views?

A: Some politicians are doing just that. Because religious hatred is an offence. Sections of the media too propagate their views on religious hatred. The rule of law should operate against them. Any organisation which propagates religious hatred should be banned. The media should not provide an opportunity for these individuals or organisations to carry out these actions. One thing is that every action has a reaction. When one quarter propagates religious hatred, there are extremists in every community and they rise up. The response is that another form of extremism follows and there is a hurt factor as well. None of us fought against the LTTE and peace was brought to this country not for certain quarters to attack any community. That is not what is expected by tangible peace. President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave clear instructions, that anybody who propagates religious hatred should not be given an opportunity to project their views either in the media, public meeting or at any other place. If law and order is strictly implemented against those who propagate religious hatred, the country will achieve a lot. If you look at the Aluthgama and Beruwala incidents, there was a certain amount of incitement by certain quarters. Incitement is an offence and the law should strictly deal with it.

Q: Could Sri Lanka hope for transparency, objectivity and justice from Pillayís investigation panel when one cannot forget how the Darusman Committee acted on mere hearsay evidence and unnamed sources which will remain classified for many years. Would you like to add your views on this?

A: Its objective is something else . This is not done with the genuine purpose of a fact finding or investigation. There are hidden hands behind this for a sinister purpose. Like the Darusman report when an inquiry is being held on mere hearsay, violating the course of natural justice would lead to a similar occurrence. The Darusman report violates every single legal principle in eliciting evidence.

Q: Reconciliation is a long process and cannot be accomplished overnight specially in Sri Lanka where LTTE terrorism caused a blood-bath for 30 long years. Cannot the human rights crusaders understand this reality when they repeat the mantram of reconciliation day in and day out?

A: Reconciliation is a long process. What happened in Aluthgama and Beruwala will turn the reconciliation clock backwards. I clearly state that after July 1983, the Aluthgama and Beruwala incidents were the saddest period of my life. While we talk about reconciliation and human rights crusaders , our reconciliation clock was turned backward because of the recent incidents. We have to do something. My view is that moderate politicians irrespective of political differences have to rally round to bring communities together. We have to face reality. After these incidents both communities are distanced to an extent. I was in Beruwala during this time. I went there almost every day. I didnít only go to mosques. I went to Buddhist temples as well. I am proud to say that there was a venerable chief priest who single handedly protected the Muslim community in that village. That is the voice that should go in the media, not the voice of those who propagate religious hatred. I believe the venerable priest of that nature should be given the spotlight in the media. Because that is the story people want and that will bring national reconciliation. I would say Buddhists are the most compassionate community that you can find. Love and compassion is something which all other religions can learn from Buddhism. Unfortunately, hate speech by some extremist organisations are contrary to Buddhism.

Q: UNP politico Mangala Samaraweera is trying to re-enact another Millennium City drama after divulging the names of three top state intelligence personnel. What will be the repercussions on national security and the lives of such officers?

A: If there are state intelligence officers, their names should not be disclosed in the interest of the nation. This is unfortunate.

Q: What made the UNP and DNA to forfeit national responsibility in abstaining from voting at the debate on the UNHRC investigation panel?

A: The UNP, DNA and some the UPFA constituent partners also abstained from voting. I voted because it is a national duty that we have to fulfill. There are issues. We are a resilient nation and we donít need foreign elements interfering with our domestic issues. Whatever the differences and views we have, above all we are Sri Lankans. We donít need any foreign intervention. Some of those Muslim parties were hurt over the recent incidents, that is why they abstained from voting. But my view is whatever hurt you have, we donít need any international intervention. Parliament is the forum where we could protest that we are not in favour of foreign intervention. I appeal to the UNP and the JVP that we are Sri Lankans first and politics is a secondary factor.

Q: The UNP counts on the Uva Provincial Council Election as a test case to judge their strength to face any future election. What are the UPFAís credentials to win Uva?

A: We have launched a mega development drive countrywide. We have won every election so far. History shows that the UPFA has been successful at every election. The Opposition also has to say something. Their rhetoric is that they are continuously winning. But they have continuously been defeated in 18 elections and the UPFA has won 21 elections in a row. We will continuously win future elections. If the Opposition fields a Common candidate or not for the next Presidential Election, yet the majority of the people believe President Mahinda Rajapaksa is the best Leader for this country. The people have faith and confidence in him. Whatever issues are there, no Government is hundred percent perfect. I am confident the President will find a solution to the hate speech that is doing the rounds and the issues which have cropped up. As the President has given strict instructions , what everybody expects is the strict enforcement of the rule of law. If the rule of law is strictly adhered to then hate speech, hate campaigns and violence against another community will not arise. At present what is requested is the strict enforcement of the law to prevent religious hatred or hate campaign against any religion or any community.

Q: After the eradication of LTTE terrorism, FDI inflows into the country have registered a marked increase. Your comments?

A: Statistics from 1978 shows a nearly 67 percent of FDI inflows have been attracted to the country during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. This is a clear reflection of the confidence placed on Sri Lanka internationally and we are moving in the right direction.

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