UNP MP S.M.Marikkar
United National Party Parliamentarian S.M.Marikkar in an interview with our Sinhala language sister paper Daily Lankadeepa dealt with a range of current issues including the Easter Sunday attack,
madrasas, social and cultural changes of Muslims, extremism and the no-confidence motion against the Minister Rishad Bathiudeen. Here are excerpts.
Q: The country which was shattered through the Easter Sunday attacks has not reached normalcy since then. Did the country face such things due to the negligence of the Government?
We all have to accept the responsibility irrespective of Government or Opposition. The reason is downgrading the information given to the security sections of the country. The poison of terrorists who started the connection during the year of 2011 with ISIS organisation appearing in the name of Muslims could have been wiped out at the beginning. The Government and the Opposition are responsible for prolonging it and not wiping it out.
Q: Why couldn’t the Muslims identify these extremists who emerged from the same society?
It is not so easy to identify these extremists. They have maintained their connections very secretly while being a terrorist organisation which had connection with the international terrorist organisation. The intelligence service has identified such things. The All Ceylon Muslim Theologian Society says that this organisation had informed this matter to security sections and necessary institutions since 2014. I am not aware of such things, how far they are true or not. Anyhow, something has happened. Moreover, at present necessary information has been given to identify them. That we were unable to prevent such a thing is the missing point in this catastrophe. At least now we have reached the level to correct such shortcomings and crush this terrorism from our motherland. Decisions should be taken honestly, irrespective of political differences and not leaning towards voting factors.
Q: Could we expect such decisions when no action was taken though the relevant information was informed to the local security service through the foreign intelligence service?
Eyes have opened only now. There is a suspicion on various people that they would have helped and abetted them. Those who helped them simply waiting to see until it turns into gangrene. We all were happy after the war. We enjoyed the freedom. We were happy after Prabhakaran’s death with the expectation that the Tiger movement had lost its power and did not address matters of international terrorism. Now we all understand its result. Now this has entered the flesh, blood and veins of politicians irrespective of whether they belong to the Government or Opposition. Therefore, the President, Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader should take straightforward action to eradicate the pest completely from Sri Lanka.
Q: A chain of incidents occurred in Kuliyapitiya, Minuwangoda and other places after the 21 April attack. Does it prove that the Government is unable to manage the situation?
There are two points engulfed in this matter. There is always counter attack, once the attack was claimed by an international terrorist organisation. These type of things can be seen in countries where such things have happened. Our forces are capable of preventing such counter attacks. We are happy in regard to that. Anybody can understand that counter attacks can be projected where a multi-ethnic society lives in an East Asian country like Sri Lanka. It is unable to control to some extent. The Government was able to control this problem at this level before it got further rootedbut the Government has to accept responsibility for these incidents.
Q: Can the Government take this problem easily by accepting in such manner?
We have to understand one thing. It is not a solution to accept responsibility by one group and bring another dictatorship group into power. Various changes have occurred in the last 15 years within the Muslim community which has been living in Sri Lanka for more than 1,000 years. We have to start with the place where we have erred. One aspect is to control terrorism by engaging forces but there is also a good opportunity to correct the various cultural changes that are not suitable to our cultural background. Those cultural changes should be accepted. This terrorism could be uprooted with these changes.
Q: What are the changes that you think should be made in the Muslim community?
Sri Lankan Muslims are not Middle East Muslims. There are Muslim governments in the Asian region. A majority of Muslims live in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia. They are not resembled as Middle East Muslims. Malaysians Muslims are living as Malaysian Muslims. Other countries also practice the same. A number of cultural changes have taken place in the Muslim community due to some reason. There are many problems in regard to the dress code, food, travelling and the way the Muslims transact with other people. It is important when you look into the education sector. I studied at Matara Rahula Vidyalaya which is a Sinhala Buddhist school. Many changes have occurred during the last two decades which cannot be understood compared to our period of schooling. We have to reverse this situation and restart it from the place where we made the mistake.
Q: Is it your opinion that everybody should come under one law?
There should be one law for every person born and bred in Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese Buddhists can have their identity. Muslims and Tamils also can have their respective identities. Prioritisation should be given to a Sri Lankan identity than to all the other factors. All the others should come under this Sri Lankan identity. The identity can be maintained without obstructing wellness of the societies and each other’s faith but a general law should prevail for all.
Q: It is said that everything is carried out in the vicinity of the mosques though the cultural changes take place gradually in the Muslim community. Were you not sensitive to identify these changes?
This occurred as a result of the commencement of religious political parties without the contribution of a multi-party political system. Ashroff started the Muslim Congress. He understood that it was not successful. Therefore, the United Front was formed in 1994 but unfortunately he passed away. How many parties are there based on religions at present? This is the reason for the destruction. These groups make a vote bank for them. They bargain with others for these votes. This is the root cause for many changes. The extremist organisations increased their powers and created the surroundings which motivated such activities through these methods.
Q: There are madrasas established in the island which promote extremism. Was the Muslim community not aware of this?
There are two types of madrasas. There are madrasas which teach the school-going children religion and the Quran. These are similar to daham pasal. These are known as Ahadiyyah schools. There is no problem in this education. There are some other schools which teach moulavis in Arabic language. This is not a problem of teaching in Arabic. Pali language should be taught to the monks who study in pirivenas. However, the curriculum of madrasa education, the method of teaching and the teachers should be regulated and monitored. It should be carried out under the management of the Ministry of Education. I have made a proposal to the Prime Minister that these activities should be carried out under the regulations of the Cabinet.
There will be no problem if the madrasa religious teachers are appointed by the Ministry of Education and this is operated locally. If the teachers are brought from another country there will be no regulations to control the education. We will not be aware of what they are teaching so there will be suspicion. Therefore, the Ministry of Education should take these schools under their control and regulate them. It is not necessary to keep them under the Ministry of Muslim Cultural Affairs. They should be maintained similar to the pirivena education level, then there will be no problem. All foreigners who come to these schools should be banned.
School education should be made mixed education. If the Sinhala schools teach in Tamil medium where Muslim people are located, the Muslim children can also learn there. Royal College Colombo is a mixed school. Some do not like mixed schools. When there is no opportunity to learn in Tamil medium in Sinhala schools, then Muslim schools emerge in those places. There is a fault in such a situation. When such things happen, they get entangled in one side of the society. It moves to single-culture practice. There will be no such problems if Sinhalese and Muslims study together in one school. A good understanding can be obtained in respect of respecting the other religions, Sinhalese culture and the manner of adapting it. This mentality should be adopted since childhood. It should run through the blood. I say these things having understood them from my experience. I supported Sri Lanka when I watched the Sri Lanka Pakistan cricket match as I studied in the mixed school. I listen to Sinhala songs but not Tamil songs. I was influenced in this manner as I studied in a mixed school.
Q: In addition to madrasas, a Sharia school has been started. It has become a controversial subject now. Is it necessary to have a Sharia school?
A Sharia university is not necessary for Sri Lanka. The University Grants Commission has not granted permission for such a university. Only the buildings have been constructed. It is not necessary to allow it to form a Sharia university. There is no need of operating a Sharia university in the land of Sri Lanka. I am not against private education. They should be operated under regulations and standards. Those who protested against SAITM on a daily basis did not utter a single word against this. There were noprotests conducted against this.
Q: The Governor of the Eastern Province has expressed that this university cannot be taken over by the Government. How can a decision be made in this background?
Cabinet has to decide whether this university can be acquired or not. The Governor cannot decide these matters. Permission should not be granted to a certain governor general to operate universities in a manner he wishes to establish in line with the connection he has with others. The education of the university can be conducted under the permission of the University Grants Commission, but Sharia is not necessary. This can be operated as an affiliated university like other private universities. The Sinhalese and Tamil students can be enrolled as students in this university if it is not a Sharia university.
Q: Why hasn’t the Government taken any action against Rishad Bathiudeen despite there being serious allegations against him?
He came to this Government four years ago. Previously, he was in the Rajapaksa Government for 10 years. There were allegations against him during that period. Now they are making allegations against him. I am not trying to appear on behalf of him. When he was with them he was good but when he is with others he seems to be a bad person for them. The vagabond political culture should be wiped out from Sri Lanka.
Q: There is a no-confidence motion against Minister Rishad Bathiudeen; you can come to a conclusion in regard to this.
I will be with the party and with the decision of the party. I reject terrorism as a member of the United National Party. I will stand with the party’s decisions. The party’s policy is my policy.
Q: What you can say with regard to the allegation against the Government that it did not intervene sufficiently to solve this problem?
I do not agree with your opinion. The damage of the attack could have been reduced or minimised as the information had been received earlier. The Government cannot escape from the responsibility of this attack. All those who are at fault should be punished. This Government has contributed towards a lot of achievements. We must not fall into a trap where a dictator can rise out of this situation. Society should understand this. This situation should be used to clean up the political arena of Sri Lanka.