The actions of a few can decide the future of a nation. This is the reality that Sri Lanka is facing, and it is time that citizens stepped up to ensure that their future is not decided by the narrow, the few, the bigoted, the extreme, and the selfish. The idea of racism is a complex one, and breaking it down will take long-term commitment from every single person who feels they make up the ranks of the moderates.
For no one can deny that it is time for the moderates to step into the limelight. This is an issue that has a stranglehold on every aspect of Sri Lankan life, especially the economic well-being of Sri Lanka. It is not by chance that these attacks, whether it was Aluthgama and Beruwala, or Minuwangoda and Kurunegala, were specifically focused on reducing the economic capacity of the respective Muslim communities in these areas. Livelihoods are central to every individual, family and community. It is their economic strength that in turn gives them prominence, and the ability to be stronger stakeholders of a society. The stronger a community becomes economically, the more their power will grow within the political and social spheres.
But economic capacity is not just about representation. It is also about integration. The stronger the economic relationship between different communities, the closer they become. This is why in the aftermath of the attacks this week, the Sinhala and Catholic people of Minuwangoda were seen commiserating with their Muslim neighbours. An economy is more than the sum of its parts. Producers, suppliers, transporters, sellers, and buyers make up complex supply chains that plug into every community in Sri Lanka.
These ties are particularly strong among the middle-class and upper middle class social strata. The Diamond pasta factory, for example, that manufactured the “Rosa” brand, drew their employees from the Sinhala Buddhist majority. In many communities, professionals, including teachers, drivers, doctors, IT executives, lawyers, accountants, and more, are part of a complex web that is broadly defined as the Sri Lankan economy. In fact, these connections extend beyond Sri Lanka. An estimated one million Sri Lankan migrant workers are sprinkled across the globe; many of them work in the Middle East and send their hard-earned money back home. Remittances by housemaids, usually from poor backgrounds, are still Sri Lanka’s highest foreign exchange earner; nearly half of Ceylon Tea is exported to countries where the majority population is Muslim; and all Sri Lanka’s fuel is imported from the same source.
So how is it possible for a group of bigots to call for the boycott of Muslim businesses, and say that is not racist? How is it that groups, which unfortunately include even Buddhist priests, encourage these calls, but are not held responsible for what is essentially hate speech? How is it they are allowed to call for the boycott of local Muslim businesses, but can sanctimoniously argue they did not call for anti-communal violence? If the economic rights of a community are undermined, then how can Sri Lanka credibly move towards inter-communal harmony? These are grave problems that need to be addressed urgently.
All Sri Lankans have rights, which includes their economic freedom. Every community has the right to explore their economic potential, as long as it is done legally, and in encouraging their success all of Sri Lanka stands a chance to remove itself from the middle-income trap and prosper. A country that has peace is rich in every sense of the word.