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More on SL Muslims and Pakistan Cricket

" The problem is that the absorption has not been entire. From before the time of our Independence many Muslims have come into Sri Lanka from different parts of India, mostly from South India. Many Moors regard them as Coast Moors while many others see them as recent immigrants who have not been absorbed into any ethnic group."
by Izeth Hussain

(March 30, Colombo,Sri Lanka Guardian) I would like to add some observations to my article in  Sri Lanka Guardian of March 16. Since it dealt with the greatest problem confronting Sri Lanka today, the problem of nation-building in which we have been failing dismally, no stone as they say should be left unturned. So let me add some information I have gathered since writing my article, and also make some clarifications.

A clarification I want to make is that when SL Muslims such as me write of Pakistan cricketers as the greatest exponents of the art of match-fixing and spot-fixing, the unchallenged leader in casino cricket, we are merely being factual. It was the great Shane Warne – himself a Borstal boy, a juvenile delinquent I believe – who was the first to shrewdly note that Pakistan kept on producing phenomenally gifted cricketers but the Pakistan team hardly ever performed up to expectations. His solution to the riddle: match-fixing. The point about being phenomenally gifted had been noted over a long time as shown by Kipling writing in the late nineteenth century that every Punjabi male child was born with a little cricket bat in its hands. Warne’s observation was followed by an international rumpus over match-fixing that led to stern punitive action being taken against the delinquents in some countries.

But in Pakistan the punitive action was of a nominal order, so much so that it caused shock in the rest of the cricketing world. An image of Pakistan as an irredeemably, and in every way, a corrupt country was projected. Imran Khan recently observed that the present parlous state of Pakistan cricket was due to the fact that the Pakistan cricket authorities had failed to take action against the match-fixers. He referred to suspicions that Omar Akmal had pretended to have an injured finger for certain reasons, and added that if proven to be true Omar should be kept out of Pakistan cricket for ever. Imran with his expertise in cricket certainly knows that Omar, together with Darren Bravo among other newcomers, is known to be of superlative quality as a batsman. The fact that Imran would be willing to jettison Omar from the Pakistan side for ever suggested that the Pakistan authorities could be becoming really serious about stopping casino cricket. At the same time there was a newspaper report that the Pakistan Sports Minister would be coming to Sri Lanka to watch the Pakistani encounter with Australia.

I took all that as possibly signifying that Pakistan would do its best against Australia, and so it turned out. The only suspicious occurrence was that Afridi threw away his wicket, but then he has been long famous for his bouts of utterly irresponsible batting. Fortunately at the wicket were the superlative Omar Akmal and Pakistan’s steadiest batsman, Razzak, to see Pakistan through in a comfortable and stunning victory. I was reminded of the observations of Shane Warne and of Rudyard Kipling. My guess is that if the Pakistan side abandons casino cricket for the time being, it is quite capable of winning the World Cup.

So, if Sri Lankan Muslims like me give the impression of being overly censorious about Pakistan cricket, in truth we are being no more than severely factual. Nothing is implied about SL relations with Pakistan. Here I must make a clarification in connection with statements made by Sidath Wettimuny and several others while reminiscing about our Lahore World Cup victory in 1996. I myself was not aware of the overwhelming Pakistani support for Sri Lanka against Australia until I read the recent reminiscences. I will mention just one detail: Pakistani shopkeepers refused to accept payment for goods supplied to our cricketers. I recently read a republished article by the well-known cricket writer Scyld Berry, in which he stated that while Pakistanis overwhelmingly supported Sri Lanka there was no malice against Australia. So, what is the explanation?

We must first of all take into account a background factor. Kautilya in his Arthasastra defined your enemy as the country which is on your frontier, and your friend as the country which is on the frontier of your neighbor. It is certainly not an invariant law in international relations that your neighbor is your enemy and your friend is your neighbor’s neighbor, but there is much truth in Kautilya’s observation. Accordingly, there has been much friendliness and sympathy between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. But another factor has been far more important, one that has been forgotten in Sri Lanka though not in Pakistan.

In 1971 when Pakistan was struggling to avoid getting broken up, the then SL Government allowed Pakistani troops to transit through our airport dressed in civvies. It happened that the Pakistani troops fighting against the Indian troops in East Pakistan quickly collapsed. In the alternative, if the fighting continued and the Indian position in East Pakistan became difficult, there can be little or no doubt that India would have invaded Sri Lanka and taken temporary control of the airport to stop Pakistani troops transiting through it. Sri Lanka therefore showed itself as prepared to go to the furthest limit – even risking a considerable measure of self-sacrifice – to preserve Pakistan’s unity. It is understandable that during the most troubled periods of our civil war Pakistan showed itself to be our truest and greatest friend. In 2000, after the fighting at Elephant Pass our troops were in a perilous position and disaster could have followed had not Pakistan rushed to our help with the appropriate weapons to turn the tide of war. Otherwise the demoralization of our side would have been so great that it could even have led to the de facto break up of Sri Lanka.

It is in that context that we must see the extraordinary, indeed stunning, support of the Pakistani people for our cricketers in 1996. I see it as the expression of a continuing gratitude for what we did for Pakistan in 1971. Clearly we must cherish our relationship with Pakistan, particularly at this time when Sri Lanka is facing threats from the New Imperialism. But all that does not provide the slightest excuse for the SL Muslims, even an infinitesimal fraction of them, supporting Pakistan against Sri Lanka at cricket.

I must now provide some information I have gathered since writing my earlier article. I believe that the information is important for a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between the SL Muslims and the Sinhalese. I must first of all clarify that the term "SL Muslims" covers several distinct ethnic groups: the Moors, the Coast Moors, the Malays, the Borahs, and the Memens. All of them want to live in peace, amity, and co-operation with the other ethnic groups, and none would recognize anything positive to be gained by provoking the Sinhalese. I know best the Moors since I am one myself, and I can attest that the salient characteristic of the Moor is fear, fear of the alien, and of everything else except his own shadow. The idea that Moors would light crackers and roister late into the night in celebration of a Pakistani victory over Sri Lanka would strike most Moors as too bizarre to be credible.

The charge that Muslims cheer for the Pakistan side has been made intermittently for the last quarter century and more. It should not be surprising in the context of what I have stated in the preceding para that our Muslims have held that those cheering for Pakistan were really migrant Pakistanis who were temporarily here for business and other purposes. I have made further enquiries and suspect that the truth is somewhat more complicated than I used to think. To achieve a precise understanding of what has been going on we have to take into account the complexities of Muslim demography in Sri Lanka. The important point is the relation between the Moors and the so-called Coast Moors. The former claim to be the descendants of Arab traders who came to Sri Lanka even from pre-Islamic times, while the latter are of recent South Indian origin. I won’t go into details but merely assert here that there is not much difference between the two, and it is therefore understandable that the Coast Moors have for the most part been absorbed into the Moor ethnic group.

The problem is that the absorption has not been entire. From before the time of our Independence many Muslims have come into Sri Lanka from different parts of India, mostly from South India. Many Moors regard them as Coast Moors while many others see them as recent immigrants who have not been absorbed into any ethnic group. For instance, there are close family connections of the former Indian President Abul Kalam in Sri Lanka, who are not seen as Coast Moors. I am told that these comparatively recent immigrants are concentrated in Dematagoda and other places, and they are the ones who engage in aberrant behavior that is not normal with the average Moor. The aberrant behavior includes – on the part of a minuscule number of them – siding with Pakistan against Sri Lanka.

If the data provided to me is correct, it would mean that some Muslims who feel marginalized to a very exceptional degree could be causing problems. The question of the extent to which the marginalized can cause or aggravate ethnic problems has not been given sufficient weight in ethnic studies. For instance, it has not been understood that the anti-Muslim riots of 1915 would not have taken place if not for the ultra-Islamic enthusiasm shown by the marginalized Coast Moors of that time. On the Sinhalese side the initiative was taken by low-country traders – also a marginalized group? – who were in rivalry with Muslim traders. From the late nineteenth century onwards it was the three low-country castes – most of whom came into Sri Lanka after 1505 – who were the most ultra-Buddhist and ultra-Sinhala nationalist. At present, it is the marginalized diaspora Tamils who tend to be ultras, not the Tamils within Sri Lanka. And, I am sorry to say, that it seems probable that the diaspora Sinhalese have done much to project the image of the Sinhalese as being incorrigibly racist.

I must make a couple of clarifications in conclusion. Our need, our desperate need I must say, at the present hour is ethnic reconciliation and to start building a multi-ethnic nation, a task that we have never taken seriously in all the long years since our Independence. It should be axiomatic that to build a multi-ethnic nation each ethnic group should learn to respect the feelings of the other ethnic groups. Therefore, celebrating Pakistan victories against Sri Lanka is not the best way of building a multi-ethnic nation. A politician who points that out should not be accused of racism.. Nor is it to the point to say that our politicians should not try to dictate which country we should support at cricket. My second clarification is that what is done by a minuscule fraction of an ethic group should not be held against that ethnic group as whole. The place for anyone who believes the contrary is the lunatic asylum, where he should be kept locked up firmly, firmly, firmly, for the rest of his life. We cannot allow racist jokers to go on wrecking this country.
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