Sri Lanka announces burqa ban, to shut 1,000 madrasas

Dark Sorrow

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Prevention of Terrorism law will be invoked to deal with religious extremism, says Minister

Sri Lanka will soon ban the burqa or face veil, a Cabinet Minister said on Saturday, as he announced the Rajapaksa administration’s latest policy decision impacting the minority Muslim community.
Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara said authorities would henceforth use the controversial Prevention of Terrorism (PTA) law — that human rights defenders have termed ‘draconian’— to deal with religious extremism, with wide-ranging powers to detain suspects for up to two years, to ‘deradicalise’ them.
At a media conference, Mr. Weerasekara said: “The burqa is something that directly affects our national security…this [dress] came into Sri Lanka only recently. It is a symbol of their religious extremism.” While the Minister said he had signed the documents outlawing the burqa, the move awaits Cabinet approval. Over 1,000 madrasas would be shut, he said.
Following the IS-inspired Easter terror bombings in Sri Lanka in April 2019, attributed to a local Islamist radical network, the government temporarily banned the face veil using emergency laws. A small section of Sri Lankan Muslim women wears the burqa, and some of them reported harassment in public spaces at that time, when they were barred entry into banks and commercial establishments. Some sections criticised the move then for ‘targeting’ the women of the community that had not only condemned the attacks but also provided evidence that investigators said was crucial to their probe.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected to office in November 2019, following his campaign on the plank of enhancing security, promising a crackdown on extremism.

The announcement on the burqa ban comes after a year-long controversy over the government’s policy of mandatory cremation of COVID-19 victims, based on unsubstantiated claims that the bodies would contaminate ground water. The government reversed its decision recently, amid persistent calls for burial rights from Muslims, who make up about 10% of the 21-million population, as well as international bodies including the U.N.

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Dark Sorrow

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Sri Lanka’s government says it will ban the wearing of the burqa, a full-body veil that covers the face as well, and close more than 1,000 Islamic schools, the latest actions affecting the country’s minority Muslim population.


Separately, the government on Saturday announced using a controversial anti-terror law to deal with religious “extremism” and gave itself sweeping powers to detain suspects for up to two years for “deradicalisation”.



Minister for Public Security Sarath Weerasekera told a news conference he had signed a paper on Friday for cabinet approval to ban the burqa – an outer garment that covers the entire body and the face and is worn by some Muslim women – on “national security” grounds.


“In our early days, Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa,” he said. “It is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We are definitely going to ban it.”


The minister said he signed documents outlawing the burqa, but they need to be approved by the cabinet of ministers and Parliament where the government has a two-thirds majority to see its bills through.



Weerasekera also said the government plans to ban more than 1,000 Islamic schools that he said were flouting national education policy.


“Nobody can open a school and teach whatever you want to the children,” he said.


The government’s moves on burqas and schools follow an order last year mandating the cremation of COVID-19 victims – against the wishes of Muslims, who bury their dead.


This ban was lifted earlier this year after criticism from the United States and international rights groups.


Shreen Saroor, a Sri Lankan peace and women’s rights activist, said the moves come “at a time when the Muslim community has been constantly targeted”.


“It’s part of the Islamophobic reaction in Sri Lanka,” Saroor told Al Jazeera from the capital, Colombo.



“The compulsory cremation policy was revised, and now we hear so many other measures to some form of punishing the Muslim community,” she added, noting that Muslims in the country were not consulted in advance.


Citing the fact that the wearing of the mask has been made compulsory in the country during the coronavirus pandemic, Saroor said the burqa “looks [like] a very political revenge move”.


The wearing of the burqa in the majority-Buddhist nation was temporarily banned in 2019 after the Easter Sunday bombing of churches and hotels by armed fighters that killed more than 250 people.


The move drew a mixed response, with activists saying it “violated Muslim women’s right to practise their religion freely”.



Prevention of Terrorism Act

Meanwhile, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was elected president in 2019, after promising a crackdown on “extremism” promulgated regulations allowing the detention of anyone suspected of causing “acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill will or hostility between different communities”.


The rules, effective on Friday, have been set up under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which local and international rights groups have repeatedly asked Colombo to repeal.


“Anybody can be arrested for saying anything,” said Saroor, calling PTA “very problematic”.


Sri Lanka’s previous government, which was defeated by Rajapaksa at the 2019 elections, had pledged to repeal the PTA after admitting it seriously undermined individual freedoms, but failed to do so.


Muslims make up about 9 percent of the 22 million people in Sri Lanka, where Sinhalese Buddhists account for some 75 percent of the population.


A former defence secretary, Rajapaksa is immensely popular among the Sinhala Buddhist majority, who credit him with ending the island nation’s 26-year civil war in 2009.


Critics, however, say during the war he crushed the dissident Tamil Tigers with little regard for human rights, allowed abductions and gave consent to extrajudicial killings. He has rejected all the allegations.

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afako

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I hope India too take cues from tiny country & ban the mediaeval practices of sand cult on its soil. Let us see how a kom born as "Olaha की देन" will react to this, they must collectively take avenge from Buddhist now.
The older me had similar views but based on personal anecdotes and years of cyber warrioring has changed my views.

I would suggest otherwise, we need the Abrahamics to wear their identity by sleeve and remind Dharmics of the danger lurking around.

A clean shaven Muslim or a crypto Christian with Hindu name behaving normally and mixing in Hindu crowds is far more dangerous than a bearded salwar kameez wearing Mullah or a Bible carrying cross wearing convert.

There is less chance of Love Jihad with a Hindu girl by a bearded mullah than a clean shaven chikna who would pass on for any random Hindu guy and would make the Hindu girl more comfortable with him.

We need more and more Islamic signs and identity on Muslims.
 

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