A nationwide state of emergency has been declared in Sri Lanka following the outbreak of violence targeting Muslims and their businesses. The immediate trigger to the current conflagration was an incident of road rage in Teledeniya, a town near Kandy in the central highlands, where a Sinhalese truck driver got into an argument with a group of Muslims. This quickly escalated into violence and the Sinhalese man ended up being beaten to death by the Muslims. Before long, Sinhalese mobs went on a rampage, attacking Muslims and setting alight and destroying their shops and vehicles. Fearing that the violence would spread, the government decided to impose a state of emergency. It has taken scores of goons and extremists who engaged in the violence into custody and has blocked several social media sites to quell the spread of rumours that are fuelling the violence. Many Muslim homes have been destroyed and the government must take steps to provide them shelter and enhance their sense of security.
The state of emergency has been imposed for 10 days. Any extension of the emergency requires endorsement by Parliament. Sri Lankans are not new to living under emergency rule. The country was under a state of emergency for decades and it was only in 2011 that it was lifted. The government must resist the temptation to extend the emergency. Imposing a state of emergency should be in response to a crisis situation and once that crisis eases somewhat, it should be lifted. Only recently, the regime in Maldives declared a state of emergency that is being used to crush the opposition. Sri Lanka must avoid going down that perilous path.
Almost nine years after the end of the civil war, little has been done to make Sri Lanka a more inclusive country. Inter-ethnic group violence is a familiar problem. If in previous decades, Sri Lanka's Sinhala-Buddhist extremists targeted Tamils, in more recent years, the island's Muslims are being attacked. There is a danger of Sri Lankan Muslim youth picking up arms to secure themselves. It would be tragic if Muslims are driven to follow the path taken earlier by the Tamils. Outfits like the extremist Bodu Bala Sena need to be reined in immediately. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe do not seem to be on the same page with regard to handling the anti-Muslim violence. Sirisena has not heeded the latter's advice on appointing a new law and order minister. This is a time for Sri Lanka's leaders to join hands against extremists. Playing politics at a crucial time like this could prove costly for Sri Lanka.