The Citizens' Commission investigation processes so far have been very useful and very successful.People have been eager and willing to talk to us and have been generous with their time.But there is one theme that emerges time and time again. And it is a question about the relevance and usefulness of this project at this particular time. People have asked us, "why are you doing this now, after twenty years? We have given this information to so many people so many times, what have they done with this information? What is the use of giving information like this when nothing comes out of it and nothing changes?" We were also told that other people who have got this information have made careers out of this for themselves and nothing has happened to the Northern Muslims. This is a difficult question for which the answer is also somewhat complicated. First, it is true that many people have come to speak with you and some have written things that you approve of and some have written things that you did not like. In some cases you are not aware of what has been done with the information because no one has bothered to come back and inform you of what they have done. The commissioners and the staff are sympathetic to your position and this brief note will attempt to address your concerns. To answer the question as to why the issue is still not sufficiently known among the international community, it is due to the simple reason that there is not sufficient information in general about Muslims in Sri Lanka and within that, there is even less information about the Northern Muslims. It is only in the last seven or eight years, mostly after the failed ceasefire agreement that the writing on the Muslim community has started to emerge. Among this work there is some that is about the Northern Muslims as well. Dr. Hasbullah's books must be especially mentioned. He pioneered the writing on Northern Muslims (long before the ceasefire) and his books provide the basic information that will be included in this commission report as well. In addition, more recent work, done by Dr. Catherine Brun, a University lecturer in Norway, and one of our commissioners, is also a very important contribution. But this is still not enough. Even today there are only five or six books on the Muslims of Sri Lanka. But if you go to a library you will see that there are hundreds of books on Sri Lankan history, politics, culture, economy, and geography. In most of these books Muslims appear only as two or three paragraphs. And this is changing only very slowly. A principle in advertising is that it is only a message that is repeated again and again that gets
the consciousness of persons. The same is true for other kinds of information. There needs to be much more research and many more publications on the Muslims to raise public awareness about the Muslims of Sri Lanka and their concerns. The Commission Process is also very different from many of the earlier investigations that have been done about the Northern Muslims. There are some similarities as many of you have noticed. We come and we ask you to tell us your story. But there are many differences and it is these that are more important. This is the first time that a group of ten eminent persons—who are already of outstanding stature within Sri Lanka and abroad—and who are from outside the Northern Muslim community, are committing their time and energy to understanding the plight of the Northern Muslims. They will write a report and make recommendations to the state and other relevant institutions regarding what issues need to be addressed to provide some relief for the problems of the community. In addition, the Law and Society Trust is partnering with local organizations that have a long history of work with the community and know the local context and the problems that you face very well. In addition, in our advisory group, we have the support and direction of a group of persons from the Northern Muslim community located elsewhere. All of these persons have been included and this process has been put in motion to make sure that the information generated from this project takes the community's perspective seriously and produce a report that recognizes and is sympathetic to the concerns of the community. It is expected that these ten persons themselves will contribute immensely towards publicizing the issue of Northern Muslims. There is one other important reason why this Commission is different from other investigations conducted so far. The issues that concern the Muslim community in Sri Lanka have received the most minimal attention of the state, of civil society groups working at the national level, and the international community. This is a fact well known to all of us. However, because of this, we (affected persons of the Muslim community and Muslim activists) have a tendency of viewing the problems of Muslims as the most serious problems, and sometimes, as the only problems that this country is faced with. When viewed from the perspective
of the country as a whole and given that we as a country have suffered thirty years of war, we must have a broader perspective. For instance, one of our fellow Sri Lankan communities can be said to have virtually destroyed itself due to the conflict. Both of the larger communities lost tens of thousands of its youth as a consequence of it. Muslims must recognize this and be sympathetic to the feelings that are generated as a consequence. It is also our responsibility to find it in our hearts to be sympathetic to the suffering of our fellow Sri Lankan communities. The country itself lost much during the past decades of conflict and we need to have an understanding of this loss that is not confined to one community and one geographical location alone. It is only then that we will find a way of talking about our problems that earns us the sympathy and respect of members of other communities and does not alienate those that have faced similar problems or worked on related issues. Many of the issues that Muslims face are common to most Sri Lankan citizens affected by the conflict. For instance, the fact that the ration amount has not been increased in two decades affects not just the Northern Muslims but other IDPs as well.
Additionally the language difficulties that are faced by IDPs when accessing health care facilities like the hospital, or when visiting the Police or the Kachcheri, are those that are faced by Tamil speaking people all over the country. Muslims to date, have unfortunately not been able to articulate their concerns as part of the concerns of the larger Sri Lankan community. (This is probably due to the fact that Muslims were reluctant to identify too closely with the Tamil cause, and by extension with the LTTE, who were responsible for driving away the Muslims in the first place.) Muslims as a community have not been very strategic when looking for solutions to our problems. There are many other groups that support language rights work and we should have formulated linkages with them long ago. It is hoped that the Commissioners who represent different segments of the Sri Lankan community and have a vast amount of experience between them of dealing with issues the country has faced, will help us to better situate Muslims' specific problems. We have to learn to articulate Muslim grievances and aspirations in a more strategic and sympathetic manner and learn to build alliances when possible. It is hoped that all of those involved with this Commission will contribute to the process of doing so.