By Althaf Marsoof
On 30 July 2020, the Daily Mirror published an alarming report to the following effect:
“In 2015, the State Intelligence Service (SIS) had reported that there was an unusual increase in Muslim students at the Law College in 2012, former SIS Director SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena yesterday informed the PCoI probing Easter Sunday attacks.
Referring to a report made on July 20, 2015, Jayawardena said that out of 203 students, there were only five Muslim students at the Law college in 2003. However, in 2012, 78 Muslim students were admitted to Law College and as a percentage it was 25.24% of the overall students.
Explaining his opinion Jayawardena said that this was part of an attempt to invade key positions by minorities.”
Analysis of this sort by a former Head of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) casts serious doubt about the “intelligence” of the SIS.
What is problematic in the statement of the former SIS official is his “opinion” and perception that Muslims are engaging in a campaign to “invade” key positions, presumably in society and the Government.
In this regard, it must be first pointed out that gaining a legal qualification does not enable a person to “invade” key positions in society or governance. Lawyers, just as doctors, engineers and accountants, are professionals. A professional qualification in itself does not qualify anyone to hold key positions in society or governance. In fact, if Parliament is regarded as a key institution (which is no doubt the case, at least, theoretically), then it should become easily and patently apparent that neither education nor professional qualifications are needed to hold key positions in the country including those in Parliament. So, if the SIS is claiming that Muslims are on a secret campaign to hold crucial positions within the Government and in society, going by stats of Muslim students entering the Sri Lanka Law College, then, it is high time we stop relying on the “intelligence” of the SIS. The analysis is flawed, absurd, irrational and downright racist.
Secondly, and importantly, the Constitution of the country guarantees to every citizen “the freedom to engage by himself or in association with others in any lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise” (Art.14(1)(g)). Access to education and professional training is a prerequisite to enter most professions, and the legal profession is no exception. Thus, any statement by a former government official that seeks to undermine the right of Muslims to access legal education also undermines the constitutionally guaranteed right.
Thirdly, the SIS has failed to look at stats between 2003 and 2012. I was a student of the Sri Lanka Law College between 2003 and 2008 and during that period there was a gradual increase in the number of Tamil Medium students entering the College, which included Muslim students (as I remember). This was because during that time there was an increase in Tamil Medium law entrance classes and also a significant improvement in the quality of those classes, resulting in more entry to Law College in the Tamil Medium stream. This fact is conveniently ignored by the SIS official who has made this claim.
Fourthly, why specifically focus on 2012? Is it because the Minister of Justice then was Mr Rauf Hakeem, a senior Muslim politician? This begs a further question: why bring this up now? After all, neither the Chief Justice (as Head of the Incorporated Council of Legal Education) nor other members of the ICLE disputed the integrity or fairness in the manner in which the Law Entrance examinations were conducted in 2012. Had there been a question, the ICLE would have no doubt intervened. The absence of any intervention suggests that there was no dispute or issue as regards the manner in which the 2012 exams were held. Perhaps the SIS official’s sole intent is to create a sense of anti-Muslim/minority feeling in the community in the wake of a parliamentary election.
Lastly, if minorities acquiring an education and securing professional qualifications is seen as a threat to national security, I think the country is going down a dangerous path, and perhaps has passed the point of no return. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, in June, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, the well known Buddhist monk of the Bodu Bala Sena, gave a press conference on 4 June 2020 alleging that Muslims are engaging in a form of “intellectual jihad” attempting to hold important positions within the Government and other institutions. This claim is false and undermines the right to education and employment of Muslims in Sri Lanka. Such claims are intended specifically to incite racial hatred and intolerance, and to deprive Muslims of living in Sri Lanka with dignity. Previously, the BBS and other extremist groups have targeted Muslim businesses by actively attacking them and going on boycott campaigns. Now, the target has shifted towards Muslim professionals and intellectuals. This is a serious threat to the rights, livelihoods and life of Sri Lankan Muslims.
2. Press Conference of Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero: https://youtu.be/hFmMdulYwXg
– The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect PRG’s stance –
Althaf Marsoof is an Assistant Professor of Law at the Nanyang Business School, Nanayang Technological University in Singapore. He is also an Attorney-at-Law in Sri Lanka, and prior to moving into full-time academia, worked for the Attorney General’s Department.