The allegation about Lankan Muslims supporting Pakistan against Sri Lanka in World Cup cricket
By Izeth Hussain
After quite some time allegations have once again surfaced that some Muslims have supported the Pakistan side against all others, including the Sri Lankan one at the recent World Cup match. I have been sent newspaper material quoting Government MP Thilanga Sumathipala in that connection. I have made my own careful enquiries, and I believe that I am now in a position to write responsibly on this matter which needs to be cleared up in the national interest.
First of all I must acknowledge that it is a fact that some Muslims did celebrate Pakistan’s recent victory against Sri Lanka. Apart from what I have been told, there is also the statement issued by the Jamiyyathul Ulama – which is something like a supreme council of theologians – asking the Muslims to put aside religion and support the SL side against all others, which amounts to an acknowledgement of that fact. Secondly I must state that from what is known of him MP Sumathipala has been exceptionally sympathetic towards Muslims, so that what he is reflecting is not anti-Muslim bias but a national concern over the behaviour of some Muslims.
That really is the crucial point: it is "some" Muslims, not all of them, not a majority of them, not even a substantial proportion of them, who display behaviour that is clearly unacceptable from a nationalist point of view. I will cite myself as an example. During the 1999 World Cup tournament I wrote an article in the Weekend Express stating that when the Pakistan team played a match my Islamic sentiments flew out of the window, and all I wanted was to see that the Pakistan team was given a proper good bashing. The reason was that it had become apparent to practically everyone by then that Pakistani cricketers had been cheating the cricket-loving public by their outrageous match-fixing over many years. I resolved then not to spend a cent to watch the Pakistan team playing, and I tune in to the TV to watch its spectacular performances mainly for comic relief.
An example was the recent match against New Zealand. Pakistan were 23 for 1, and suddenly they were 23 for 4. I switched off and learnt from the next day’s newspapers that New Zealand had most improbably scored over a hundred runs in the last few overs. I am not saying that spot-fixing had been going on because the ICC has not said anything about it. What I do know is that the glorious uncertainties of cricket are part of the game, but when Pakistan is playing the inglorious uncertainties of Pakistan cricket are a certainty. The place where people find much stimulus through uncertainty is the casino. I suggest therefore that the ICC move its headquarters from London to Las Vegas.
I have gone into the above details because I believe that my reactions are not eccentric, not peculiar to myself. A Muslim friend whom I contacted for information over the telephone burst out that for many years the Pakistani cricket teams have been a disgrace to cricket, a disgrace to Pakistan, and a disgrace to Islam. I am told that such indignation over the inglorious uncertainties of Pakistan cricket is quite widespread among our Muslims. It means that the behaviour of the Muslims who celebrated the Pakistan victory against Sri Lanka is eccentric, not at all representative of the average SL Muslim.
I come now to the facts, the hard facts, on which my case rests. I am told that there are no instances of our Muslims celebrating Pakistan victories over Sri Lanka in the rural areas or in the provincial towns. It has been a phenomenon peculiar to Colombo and, what is more, peculiar to certain areas in Colombo: Maradana, Dematagoda, Maligakanda, Hulftsdorp, and Aluthkade. If that is correct, two conclusions can be drawn.
One is that to apply what is true of Muslims in a small part of the island to all our Muslims, or even to a substantial proportion of them, would amount to racism, revealing a stereotyping process that is typical of racist strategy. The other conclusion is that we need to understand what makes Muslims in that small area of the island tick in that peculiar way. They are poor Muslims who may be subject to pressures that are not applicable elsewhere, such as the threat of displacement. I don’t want to go into details about that problem in this brief article. They may feel peculiarly marginalized because of the Muslim problem of representation: Muslim politicians have been failing so dismally in articulating the concerns of their fellow-Muslims that I have held for more than ten years – quite seriously – that our Muslims would be best represented by Sinhalese politicians.
The problem of why those Muslims tick in so peculiar a way should be approached from the perspective of nation-building, in which there has been a comprehensive failure in Sri Lanka. It is known that while the Burghers had a substantial presence in Sri Lanka their preference was for the Australian team above all others, and it is known that the Tamils have a preference for the Indian team, but neither ethnic group has made its preference known in an overt and obtrusive way. The case is different with the Muslim preference for the Pakistan team when it goes to the extent of celebrating a Pakistan victory over Sri Lanka.
True, that applies only to a small group of Muslims, but it could point to a broader sense of Muslim alienation. The truth seems to be that all our ethnic groups including the Sinhalese have a sense of alienation in Sri Lanka today. We cannot ignore the fact that Defense Secretary Gotabaya has dual citizenship, Sarath Fonseka was qualifying for it, and Palitha Kohona also has dual citizenship. The important point is that we should approach the problem posed by some Muslims not from a racist but a nation-building perspective.