Opinion | Fighting for the Soul of Islam in Sri Lanka

“In this New York Times column, Ameena Hussein, a Sri Lankan novelist and a Muslim woman, struggles to understand and explain how Islamist evil has wrought havoc in her native country.

Ameena Hussein’s heartache and explanation goes quite far in explaining how the rot inside Saudi Arabia and the larger Middle East bearing the Arab version of Islam, as Wahhabism-Salafism, has been exported over the past half-century across the Muslim world and into the West.

Petrodollars gave Saudi Wahhabism the wherewithal with which to export their rotten ideology of Islamism, a most primitive version of Islam that was held in contempt and marginalized since its inception in the 18th century by the Muslim majority under the Ottoman rule. I wrote about this in my book, The Qur’an Problem and Islamism.

But the defeat of the Ottoman rule in the Middle East in WWI, and the passage of the Middle East into the control of Western powers ironically gave new life to the primitivism of Saudi Wahhabism. Then came the Cold War and the Saudis were recruited to be an arsenal of the West’s long struggle with the Soviet Union and Communism.

So Cold War and petrodollars provided the context for the rise in influence of Wahhabism-Salafism. This is a tortured history that is now mostly left to those knowledgeable to speak and write about how Islam turned into Islamism, how a religious tradition born of the Abrahamic monotheism became weaponized into an ideology in the early 20th century, which then spread and has now become a plague for Muslims and non-Muslims around the world.

The West cannot shirk its responsibility in breeding this rotten homicidal ideology, and continued appeasement by the West of Islamism only further deepens the West’s opportunistic complicity with this plague that spread out from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

Anti-Islamist Muslims alone cannot purge this plague from the world. The West has to do its share in purging the world of Islamism.

In Canada it must begin by un-electing Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party.

I cannot be more emphatic than stating what I have been stating here and in endless number of columns, essays, research papers, interviews on radio and television, and books.

The challenge is ultimately whether we, as a civilized and cultured people, have within us the resolve to defeat Islamism and rid the world of this monstrosity.

We did once when the West defeated Nazism and then Bolshevism/Stalinism/Communism; but now it seems the West has turned soft within, lost its will to defend its civilizational inheritance in the face of threats from its foes, and has gone down the path of appeasement that represents an internal decay of values that once made the West a beacon of freedom and enlightenment.”

In this New York Times column, Ameena Hussein, a Sri Lankan novelist and a Muslim woman, struggles to understand and explain how Islamist evil has wrought havoc in her native country.




Opinion | Fighting for the Soul of Islam in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Two days after the Easter Sunday bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, I met my greengrocer at the Colpetty market, a symbol of the cosmopolitan city that I call home. I have known Ashraff virtually all my life. He did not have his usual half-smile on his face, and when I went up to him to say goodbye, I could see he was troubled.

Eventually, shaking his head in sorrow, with tears in his eyes, he told me that the day before, someone he had known for 35 years, a man from Sri Lanka’s Sinhala majority, had said he could no longer be his friend. I understood his sorrow. The attacks on Easter Sunday have left everyone in Sri Lanka confused and bewildered. Those of us who are Muslim are also trying to understand how this violence could have come from our own community.

In the hours and days after the attacks, I sent text messages to my Christian friends, apologizing for what the attackers had done. Even though these terrorists were as far away from me in ideology as anyone could be, I felt shame. My friends responded, in true Christian spirit, that I had no need to apologize, and sent messages of concern for my safety.

Part of my dismay comes from realizing how far removed parts of the Muslim community have become from the rest of our country. Sri Lankan Muslims trace our roots back to the Arab traders and Sufi mystics who brought Islam to Sri Lanka in the seventh century. The traders brought commerce and married local women; the Sufis came on pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak, which they believe is marked by Adam’s footprint.


Mine is a typical Muslim family: we mix with everyone in this multiethnic, multilingual country. And I wear both Western and Sri Lankan clothes, as do my mother, sister and extended family. None of us choose to wear the hijab; we believe that our faith is in our hearts rather than in our clothing.

Over the past 30-odd years, an insidious change occurred in our community. It’s hard to pinpoint when. It might have been when Sri Lanka began sending droves of housemaids to the Middle East in the early 1980s, among them many Muslim women. Many of these women had adopted the abaya and hijab in their countries of employment and, on their return, continued wearing them in Sri Lanka. Initially, they were the most vociferous that Sri Lankan Muslims were practicing a diluted version of Islam, that their prayers were not said in the correct Arabic accent, that they should stop praising the Prophet Muhammad and saints, and that they were not dressed properly according to Islamic guidelines — especially the women.

This strict interpretation of Islam began to take hold. I noticed it the first time a Muslim man refused to shake my hand, and when Muslims began to sprinkle their conversations with religious Arabic phrases. Young Muslim men I knew from the city began going to rural areas to preach on how to practice their faith better. Muslim weddings began to be held in male-only mosques, without the presence of the bride, instead of at home or in hotels. The most visible change was that Muslim women stopped wearing their traditional sari or shalwar kameez in favor of the hijab, abaya or niqab. Muslim men soon followed suit. Robes replaced sarongs or trousers, and more of them sported beards.

Today, Sufism has gone underground, while radical Wahhabis and Salafis have taken over many of Sri Lanka’s mosques. Saudi-funded religious schools with puritanical preachers have persuaded many in our community that Sufism is a threat to the practice of a “pure,” original Islam. While some families still cling to their Sufi roots, others have found it easier to accept the Wahhabi-enforced norms, which have affected Muslims regardless of class, city or sect.

Being a conservative Muslim, of course, does not mean being a violent extremist. But for a few Sri Lankan Muslims, it was a small step from conservatism to the hate-filled ideology of the Islamic State. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that at least one of the bombers had trained with the group in Syria. Earlier reports about the suspected bombers indicate some came from wealthy families and were educated in England or Australia.

Ironically, as conservative Muslims became more insular, moderate and liberal Muslims like me are left at the front line of confrontations. My own friends have asked me to explain how our previously well-integrated Muslim community seems to have transformed overnight into an alien population.

And as Muslims became more visible in Sri Lanka, they have become targets of violence. Over the last several years, an extremist Buddhist group, the Bodhu Bala Sena (or Buddhist Power Army), has begun to preach against the Muslim community, exhorting followers to boycott Muslim businesses and spreading virulent lies about Muslims on social media. These groups and their followers have been linked to violence against Muslims in the south and center of Sri Lanka last year.

Amid all these warning signs, successive governments in Sri Lanka have done nothing. The government’s floundering and incompetence in handling the recent alerts about the Easter attacks have been widely reported. The planning, scale and precision of the attacks reflect months, if not years, of preparation and a slow, deep process of radicalization that Sri Lanka has ignored.

Before the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009, radicalization on the east coast of Sri Lanka may even have been encouraged by governments that believed they could use it to their advantage in the much larger push to defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. They gave visas to extremist foreign preachers to spread their ideology, and allowed religious schools to be built without adequate oversight of the curriculum. The governments seemed unaware they had caught another tiger by the tail. And some Muslim leaders have used this radicalization to ensure they would stay in power.

A few people committed an act of treachery that left our country in shreds and our community in limbo, and in the end, the blame lies with them. But too many of us were unaware of how deeply the rot had set in. How did a community that was part of the fabric of the country tear itself away?

Ameena Hussein, a novelist, is the author of a forthcoming nonfiction book about Ibn Battuta in Sri Lanka.

The dangers of anti-populism

It isn’t populists who threaten life, liberty and democracy in Europe – it’s anti-populists.

Arwen~Highly recommend this article….read and share.


On Thursday 2 May, spiked editor Brendan O’Neill spoke in a debate about populism at the Leeds Salon. These were his opening remarks.

I always find it perplexing when people claim that the new national populism is a threat to life, liberty and democracy in Europe.

Because there is indeed a threat to life, liberty and democracy in Europe today. But it isn’t coming from populists. It’s coming from anti-populists.

It isn’t populists who have been beating, shooting and maiming protesters in France for the past six months, causing scores of them to lose eyes and limbs. It’s anti-populists who are doing that.

It is the anti-populists’ hero, in fact – Emmanuel Macron – who is overseeing this extreme state violence and brutal clampdown on French liberty.

It isn’t populists who are seeking to overthrow the largest democratic vote in UK history – the vote for Brexit – and in the process threatening to undermine the very idea of the right to vote. It is anti-populists who are doing that.

It is anti-populists who, exactly as we have been celebrating the 100th anniversary of women and working-class men getting the vote, have tried to block the enactment of something that eight million women and millions of working-class men voted for: Brexit.

It isn’t populists who are marching through the streets in their thousands waving placards mocking the stupidity of ordinary people and demanding that the state unilaterally override these people’s democratic wishes. It’s anti-populists.

It is the decidedly anti-populist, pro-EU cheerleaders of the ‘People’s Vote’ lobby who have taken to the streets with banners insulting ordinary people for not being able to spell, for being insufficiently educated, for being duped by an advert on a bus, and who think these stupid people need to be governed by a cleverer race of people. It is anti-populists who have resuscitated these ugly Victorian ideas about the plebs not knowing what is in their own best interests.

It isn’t populists who immiserated the Greek working classes in order to shore up the reserves of the European Central Bank – it’s anti-populists who did that. It isn’t populists who interfered in the programmes of democratically elected governments in Hungary and Italy – it’s anti-populists who did that. It isn’t populists who enforced the ideology of Fortress Europe and even paid African mercenaries to imprison and torture African migrants in order to prevent them from getting to Europe – it’s anti-populists who did that. You want to see real, life-threatening racism in Europe today? Look to the technocrats, not the populists.

The real danger in Europe today, in political terms, isn’t populism – it’s anti-populism. The real danger is the shrill, often violent backlash of the technocratic elites against the rise of national populist sentiment.

The reason I’m pointing out the violent, illiberal and anti-democratic nature of the ideology of anti-populism is not just to say, ‘Your political creed is worse than mine’ – even though I believe it is!

It is to get to the root of the populist revolt itself, by asking this question: why has the response to populism from the powers-that-be been so unhinged and so destructive? Why have states used reckless violence against the populist upsurge? Most strikingly, why do the political and cultural elites, most notably in the UK, seem willing to trash democracy itself in order to crush populist sentiment?

The reaction is important because it reveals how radical and important the populist moment is.

The populist upsurge, from the vote for Brexit to the gilets jaunes to the rise of new, anti-elitist parties across Europe, is often presented as a far-right phenomenon, even a return of the politics of the 1930s.

This is nonsense. In truth, this populist moment consists primarily of ordinary people demanding a reckoning with the political system; confronting the technocratic style of politics; seeking out new forms of solidarity and new opportunities to have their voices heard.

To some people, especially those who inhabit the political bubble or the academic sphere, any politics that comes from below looks frightening. To these people who think decision-making should be done in seminar rooms and committee rooms, any politics that is formed in working-class areas or even in the street, as is the case in France, looks scary and unpredictable. They have a tendency to view any politics that is popular – and let’s remember that ‘populism’ means political positions that are popular – as inherently dangerous and prejudiced.

But the current populist moment is not dangerous. On the contrary, it is enlivening and exciting and radical. What it fundamentally represents is a challenge to the process of the past few decades whereby political decision-making has become more and more insulated from the public, from ‘the plebs’, from us and our pesky opinions.

In the postwar era, politics increasingly became the preserve of so-called experts, and judges, and bureaucrats. We can see this in the rise of the EU; in the spread of quangos; in the growing intervention of judges into the kind of decision-making that would once have been a democratic concern; in the outsourcing of more and more issues of political import to people and institutions that are beyond the reach of mere mortals like us.

Huge questions about politics, economics and morality were removed from the democratic realm and unilaterally handed over to those who are supposedly cleverer and more cool-headed than the little people, and thus better placed to decide on serious affairs of state.

And if anyone complained about this draining of the democratic ideal, this replacement of the openness and equality of democracy with the deadening and dictatorial nature of technocracy, he or she would be denounced as prejudiced or phobic. ‘Europhobic’ for criticising the EU, ‘xenophobic’ for supporting the ideal of national sovereignty, ‘Islamophobic’ for wanting to stand up for Western values, and so on. Not content with riding roughshod over our democratic power, the new elites also limited our ability to protest against this process by demonising and isolating critical voices.

Then came the populist revolt. In an era in which the mantra of the powers-that-be is ‘You can’t say that!’, the populist revolt declares: ‘We can say that, and we will.’ At a time when the decision-making elites are insulated from public pressure, the populist revolt rips away their insulation and says: ‘This is what we think.’ In a period in which neoliberalism and technocracy have atomised huge swathes of Europe, encouraging people to be obsessed with themselves and their identities, the populist revolt calls for a return to solidarity, for a sense of human communion, for a connection among people who feel they have far more in common with each other than they do with the political elites.

This is a wonderful development. Is it messy and unpredictable and complicated? Of course. That will always be the case when people are rediscovering their voices. But it is unquestionably positive. We are living through an era in which masses of people are demanding the re-energisation of democracy, the return of political decision-making to the people, and the breakdown of the suffocating checks, balances and controls that have been imposed on the democratic process in recent decades. People are saying something truly democratic: ‘My voice matters as much as yours, and I demand you listen to it.’

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy