By Indika Sri Aravinda
The Kandy Asgiriya Chapter has put the Bodu Bala Sena monks on notice saying they will take action if there are complaints lodged against them.
The registrar of the Asgiriya Chapter, the Ven. Anamaduwe Dhammadassa Thero said that they do not accept some of the actions of the Bodu Bala Sena.
He said if the Bodu Bala Sena monks are acting in place of the law enforcement authorities then they must have the consent of the government.
The Ven. Anamaduwe Dhammadassa Thero says if the public have concerns over some of the actions of the monks then they should raise the issue with the ‘Sanga Sabhawa’ which has the authority to take action against any monk.
Courtesy: Sunday Leader
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BY DARISHA BASTIAN
Hard-line Sinhala groups like the Bodu Bala Sena essentially have a singular objective. They aim to spread fear and suspicion about communities and people whose customs and way of life are alien to most. Once upon a time, before a separatist struggle tore the country apart, it was the Tamils. Post-war, their rage has been directed at the Muslim community.
The Bodu Bala Sena now has a Special Investigations Unit and two emergency hotlines for the public to call in order to spur the unit into action.
Less than one month after the Sinhala hardline group commandeered a ‘civilian’ police force at a major rally in Maharagama, at least two major raids have taken place under its watch.
Both times, the country’s lawful police have followed meekly in the wake of the monks leading the charge against a Colombo Municipal Council run abattoir in Dematagoda and then a citizen’s arrested of an allegedly rogue Buddhist priest at the Maligawatte flats. Both times, the group conducted the raids with media personnel and television crews in tow, as if eager to showcase the impunity with which they operate.
Raiding the ‘abattoir’
In Dematagoda, the Bodu Bala Sena ‘officers’ led by the group’s General Secretary Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thero shut the gates to the slaughter-house –– and prevented meat trucks from entering. They interrogated drivers and CMC officials on site, demanded to see receipts and licenses and inspected storage facilities. The Dematagoda Police, summoned to the site at a few minutes’ notice, indulged and facilitated the BBS “raid” despite admitting later that the monks appeared to have been misguided about the activities at the premises.
While the building that dates back to 1865 is known as the Dematagoda Slaughter House, the premises actually serve as a meat distribution point. Cattle slaughter is prohibited within the Colombo city limits. The meat is transported to the site from other areas of the island, for approvals by the CMC Veterinary unit that declares it fit for consumption before it is distributed to meat markets and hotels and restaurants throughout the city.
The Bodu Bala Sena troops initially stormed the premises under the erroneous assumption that calf-slaughter was taking place inside. They changed tack upon realisation that they had been misinformed. Suddenly, the raid became about improperly stored meat products that were reaching the urban consumer. A CMC Veterinarian quipped that in 25 years of service with the Council, he was yet to receive a complaint of rotten meat traced back to the Dematagoda distribution site. The official also said that while the BBS monks were quizzing the mostly Muslim meat truck drivers, what had perhaps escaped their notice was that ironically most of the meat was arriving in Dematagoda from Sinhalese cattle farmers in Anuradhapura and elsewhere.
But in the Bodu Bala Sena world, such considerations are immaterial. The fact that meat truck drivers were mostly Muslims and the CMC is run by a Muslim Mayor would be proof enough that something ominous was happening at the Dematagoda premises. The group’s post-raid posters show images of a Muslim man juxtaposed with an Arabic script and pictures of the Dematagoda premises.
The very next day, television crews were provided front seat viewing for the Bodu Bala Sena led invasion into a home at the Maligawatte flats. The televised raid involved an interrogation by the group and the monk being handed over to the Maligawatte Police on allegations that he had committed financial fraud and sexual abuse. The priest has since been released on bail since, but the BBS is threatening similar action against marauding monks in the name of protecting Buddhism.
The group is mobilising frantically, with rallies in major cities across the country, the setting up of task forces and membership drives. Last week an anti-Halal demonstration took place in Weeraketiya, in Hambantota, the heartland of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s support. Colombo Mayor A.J.M. Muzammil reacted angrily to news of the protest, saying it effectively provided the green lights for anti-Muslim protests all over the country.
BBS goes door-to-door
A promised door-to-door campaign appears to have already begun, with a group of clergy and laymen, claiming to be from the Bodu Bala Sena, visiting homes in the Mount Lavinia area last weekend, to inform Sinhalese residents that it was their duty to have as many children as possible to counter the explosion of the Muslim population in the country.
The group walked around with what appeared to be a Grama Sevaka list, residents said, using which they were able to identify Sinhalese homes. In one such residence, having realised the family was Sinhalese Christian, the BBS team still urged the homeowner to have more children. The bizarre request left some residents stumbling for answers, having to explain to the strangers in their home that it was not economically feasible for them to have more children.
Amidst the noise and fury of BBS antics, more incidents against Muslim businesses and places of worship were reported last week. A mosque in Kegalle was stoned in the wee hours of the morning last Friday (1). The 60-year-old Mahara mosque was defaced with images of pigs and distasteful slogans. The Asian Tribune website contains a list of incidents against members of the Muslim community and mosques and enterprises since the beginning of the year. In cases where individuals have been assaulted, the website claims the victims have chosen not to report the incidents for fear of reprisal.
And even as the BBS madness crescendos and speculation grows about the group operating with at least tacit State sanction, the announcement came by the group’s senior officials that Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa would declare open the new Buddhist Leadership Academy in Galle on Saturday (9). The Academy will be run under the twin auspices of the Buddhist Cultural Centre run by Bodu Bala Sena President Kirama Wimalajothi Thero and the Bodu Bala Sena. The academy aims to provide ‘leadership’ training to Buddhist clergy, laymen and youth activists and inculcate knowledge of history and Buddhism through its curriculum.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry last week announced the ban on the LRT contraceptive method and vasectomies for men – the former being agenda item seven on the Bodu Bala Sena’s Maharagama Declaration unveiled on 17 February.
Following discussions with the Government and senior Defence officials, the All Ceylon Jamaiythul Ulama has offered not one but two compromises in the past two weeks, on the Halal issue, all the while claiming that they were not doing so under duress from the Government but to ensure harmony between religions. Tomorrow, the ACJU will meet private sector stakeholders to attempt to reach a compromise on the Halal certification issue. Despite a request by the ACJU that the Government take over the Halal certification process, the Administration has so far declined the offer, perhaps in the knowledge that the wrath of the BBS and its splinter groups will turn on the regime in such an eventuality. All the while, the BBS’ 31 March deadline for a total ban on the Halal certification draws closer.
As the Halal debate wears on, the ACJU is finding itself in a remarkably isolated place, politically. Having backed the Rajapaksa regime unreservedly in the past, it is now finding that because of the ethno-religious dimensions of this crisis, the Government’s sympathies must remain with the Bodu Bala Sena, which shares a support base with the regime. An ACJU delegation accompanied Government officials to Geneva last year, when the first US-backed resolution against Sri Lanka was adopted and repeatedly affirmed the Rajapaksa regime’s commitment to peace, reconciliation and minority rights at various side events during the UN Human Rights Council session.
This year, the UNHRC Session unfolds even as a very different scenario plays out in Sri Lanka.
Lack of progress
One year after the Council adopted a resolution against Sri Lanka, the international community is making it clear that the country has shown an appalling lack of progress in addressing lingering reconciliation and rights abuses issues in the aftermath of the war. Reports by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights watch repeatedly critique Sri Lanka for a lack of progress in investigating alleged war crimes allegations and continued minority and opposition suppression in the country.
The US has called Sri Lanka out at the Council this year, as showing a lack of genuine action on issues highlighted last year by the international community, even as the Sri Lankan delegation took pains to repeat to the Council many of the statistics and action plans it had heard before.
To make matters worse, the Sri Lankan Head of Delegation Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe was also the only speaker at the UNHRC 22’s High Level Segment to launch such a brutal tirade on High Commissioner Pillay’s credentials, alleging that she was biased against Sri Lanka and had fallen prey to LTTE propagandists. The Sri Lankan Minister’s remark drew immediate sympathy for the High Commissioner from the German Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, who felt Pillay required a defence against “unjustified and personal” criticism from certain quarters, and called out Minister Samarasinghe by name.
It was nothing if not a testament to the diplomacy Sri Lanka has grown accustomed to practice of late, in which vilification and belligerence constantly triumphs reason and common sense. One has come to expect a certain comprehension on the part of officials of Samarasinghe’s ilk, who must realise that Navi Pillay is not merely an individual that must be taken on, but the present holder of high office within the UN system. Denigration of Pillay only singles Sri Lanka out for further criticism, as a country that consistently and vehemently lashes out at its critics instead of seeking to silence them with quiet and affirmative action.
And so it is in this muddled backdrop in Geneva, with Channel 4 and the Tamil lobby charging, that the Sri Lankan State continues to suppress and discriminate against the Tamil people, that the Leader of the Muslim Tamil National Alliance Azath Sally on Tuesday (5) wrote to UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, in attempt to draw the UN Chief’s attention to the present plight of Muslims in Sri Lanka.
UN Chief alerted about Muslim situation
In his letter, copied to High Commissioner Pillay, Sally tells the UN Secretary General that the Sri Lankan Government was “pushing the country towards another holocaust”. Alleging that the violation of the rights of Muslims living in Sri Lanka were tantamount to a violation of the UN Charter, Sally said that radical members of the Buddhist clergy were being allowed to take the law into their hands, with the enforcers of the law watching from the sidelines, and publicity given to these events by organs of the State.
The MTNA Leader cites the 1992 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities that requires states to “take measures were required to ensure that persons belonging to minorities may exercise fully and effectively all their human rights and fundamental freedoms without discrimination and in full equality before the law”.
The impunity with which the BBS operates and the climate of insecurity it is creating for the Muslim community has not gone unnoticed by the diplomatic community. That the Government is permitting the BBS antics to go unchecked, especially when it is under serious international scrutiny at the UNHRC session in Geneva, is if anything, ample proof that it is no longer concerned about censure from that forum.
This notion was further reinforced when 11 busloads of civilians from the north, families of the disappeared who were travelling to Colombo to attend a rally yesterday to highlight their cases during the UNHRC sessions, were detained in Vavuniya by the Police. The Police warned the civilians that the buses may come under attack on the way to Colombo, Tamil politician and Democratic People’s Front Leader, Mano Ganesan said.
Strong US reaction
The detention drew a sharp response from the US Government last night.
Issuing a statement, the US Embassy in Colombo charged that Sri Lanka has been “backsliding” on important areas of fundamental democratic rights, since the adoption of the UNHRC resolution last year.
“The LLRC recommends thorough investigations into disappearances as well an establishment of a mechanism to address cases of the missing and detained. Since last year’s UNHRC resolution the United States has grown increasingly concerned by the lack of progress on these issues,” the Embassy said in a hard-hitting statement that urged the Government to allow freedom of movement to the protestors from the north. The US expressed “alarm” at the detention of the peaceful protestors and said “the right to freely express opinions is universal and protected under Sri Lankan and international law”.
The statement comes in the wake of New Delhi and other ‘friends’ of Sri Lanka urging the Government to engage diplomatically to soften the language of the second US-backed resolution due to be tabled at the UNHRC in the next few days. With the Government intent to regress and show its hand even while the sessions are in play, the prospect of that dilution is beginning to look very remote.
Looking away from Geneva
Determinedly looking away from Geneva, the Rajapaksa administration is instead focusing all its energies on ensuring that the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting goes through in Colombo in November. The summit has been cast into shadow due the Government’s vehement decision to impeach Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake in violation of international standards for the removal of judges and rulings by its two highest courts and its apparent lack of progress in improving its human rights situation.
Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris told Parliament on Tuesday that it was ‘crystal clear’ that the summit would go ahead in Colombo come November and asserted that there was no grounds for Sri Lanka to be inserted into the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group.
The core grouping is mandated to determine whether Commonwealth member states are adhering to the organisation’s core principles and has the power to suspend states seen to be in violation. An international drive is underway to have Sri Lanka placed on the agenda for the group’s meeting in April that comes soon after the UNHRC 22nd Session closes at the end of March. If Sri Lanka enters the agenda, the skies will darken ominously over the prospect of the major summit being held in Colombo as scheduled, Minister Peiris’ proclamations in Parliament notwithstanding.
Unnoticed by its citizenry, Sri Lanka has taken a dangerous turn towards autocracy and ethno-religious fascism that places the country precariously on the edge of international pariah status. Neither phenomenon screams to announce its presence, but creeps up slowly on a politically naive and disengaged populace. The citizens of post-war Sri Lanka, intoxicated with its hyper-development drive and superficial stability, are sufficiently apathetic to the real dangers posed by the BBS and its powerful sponsors. Blinded by rage against the ‘other,’ the Bodu Bala Sena and its affiliate groups are engaged in a campaign to spread fear and mistrust about the Muslims of Sri Lanka. The trajectory of fear is abundantly clear and its seeds are already sown. Unless arrested now, political apathy and patronage could allow an already disturbing situation to spiral swiftly – and violently – out of control.
Courtesy : DailyFT
March 7, 2013
Muslims in Sri Lanka have written to the United Nations over the threats faced by them as a result of the recent campaign carried out by the Bodu Bala Sena.
The Muslim Tamil National Alliance, in a letter sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, said that what’s disturbing is that radical members of the Buddhist clergy are allowed to take the law into their hands, with the enforcers of the law watching from the sidelines.
“After the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam, the Muslims of Sri Lanka have been looking at every opportunity to bring about national unity at a time when the country is in transition. We fail to understand the failure of the government of Sri Lanka in arresting the current trend which if left to go its course ,would spell disaster for the country we call our home,” the letter said.
The Muslim Tamil National Alliance, led by Muslim politician Azath Salley, urged the UN to draw the attention of the Government of Sri Lanka to international standards relevant to the protection and promotion of the rights of minorities.
He says the Government of Sri Lanka has failed to honor, article 2 (1) of the 1981 Declaration of the General Assembly which states that no one shall be subject to discrimination by any State, institution, group of persons, or person on the grounds of religion or other belief.
The letter, a copy of which has also been sent to the UN Human Rights Council, says the government of Sri Lanka is failing to uphold and is pushing the country towards another holocaust.
“We urge your Excellency to take all necessary measures to guarantee that the rights and the freedom of religion or belief of the various religious communities living in Sri Lanka are respected and protected and ask of the government of Sri Lanka to adopt effective measures to prevent the recurrence of these acts,” the letter sent to the UN Chief said.
Courtesy: Colombo Gazette
Young Sri Lankans Particularly Sinhala Buddhists are Uniting to Prevent Their Voices Being Hijacked by Racist Elements
2 March 2013
By Thulasi Muttulingam
It is an internationally accepted charter that citizens of any country ‘belong’ to that country, even if they happen to be first-generation citizens of that country. In Sri Lanka however, citizens who are several generations old in the country are facing simmering tensions that are nothing new yet troubling in its increasing intensity.
“Thambiya, go back home to where you came from.” More than a few bewildered Muslims have heard this in recent times. But where did they come from? Most have been settled here for so many generations that they do not even know which part of the world their ancestors came from. Having intrinsically blended into the Sri Lankan culture and landscape for generations, they identify themselves with pride as Sri Lankans. They were born in Sri Lanka and are Sri Lankan citizens. So where do they belong if not here?
“When they tell me to go back to where I belong, I don’t know what they mean. Do they think I belong in a Muslim country like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Those countries would never accept me. I am not a Pakistani or Arab. I am a Sri Lankan just like my father and grandfather before me,” says Sameer (24), a management trainee.
Hate and paranoia
For many young Muslims who were born during the war, the country was less than paradise because of the rift between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, but at least, they were mostly spared. No community was happy about the war but the Muslim community apparently had their apprehensions even then.
“I always wondered if and when the hostility against the Tamils ceased, would it then turn to us,” says Nazla (19), a psychology student. “I went to a Sinhalese school and had many Sinhalese friends. I still do and still remain committed to a Sri Lankan identity. It’s just that we are often told, ‘You are a minority, keep to your place.’ What is that place? Do we not have equal rights? When they keep saying Sinhala-Buddhist country, it automatically makes us outsiders. This is a multicultural, multi-ethnic country, but when that is not accepted, we automatically get sidelined and so do our perceived rights.”
Her Sinhala friend, Malini (21), concurs with her. On her thoughts on the current tension against Muslims, she says, “It’s a war waiting to happen. Actually it’s a war that started a long time ago but got sidetracked due to the Tamils.”According to her, the tension could be traced to the ingrained fear-psychosis of her people, due to the fact that Sri Lanka has a long history of being invaded. They are afraid of colonization or subversion in any form. “Even my father was saying recently, the Muslims seem to be everywhere and in everything. The repeated negative images of Muslims as intolerant extremists prone to violence do not help. Many people have learnt to distrust and dislike Muslims based on these portrayals.”
Yet the Muslims of Sri Lanka do not have a reputation of being violent extremists. How then did they become the bogeyman to nationalist masses? Kasun (23), software engineer, says, “Post-war, there is no economic boom for the common man as promised. People are finally waking up to smell the roses. Those not having the promised smell need to be distracted fast. Through traditional and new media, we see messages such as, ‘Muslim businesses are prospering at the cost of Sinhala industries’, ‘The reason for high prices is all due to the Halal food certificate’, ‘Some Muslims support Pakistan during cricket matches. They are against us’, ‘They are working together and buying up all the land belonging to the Sinhalese’ and ‘The government has hidden the census data because there’s been a Muslim population boom’ being broadcasted repeatedly.
With this kind of paranoia being broadcast mainstream, the angry masses now have a scapegoat. Dinner table conversations invariably touch on topics of Halal certification and ‘Muslims these days’. This to me is just the powers-that-be cunningly using the Jews (traditionally mistrusted) to take the blame for everything.”
Amali (33), lawyer, has a different view: “Minorities anywhere generally tend to be driven to prove themselves in a way that the majority is not.
This, while making them successful, also draws the attention of jealous elements in the majority, which is what the turmoil in this country has always been about. Tamils tend to excel academically.
After the prolonged war, that has largely been taken away from them. In the meantime, the Muslims, always good businessmen have suddenly become big players industry-wide in Sri Lanka. So it looks like they are going to be shaken up too.”
The question however is whether the current trend is something that is being blown out of proportion or something to be worried about. Many young people, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims say that they do not want another war and that they hope this current tension can be contained.
Says Nuwan (27), marketing executive, “In any multi-ethnic democracy, you get racist elements voicing their radical, extremist opinions, usually shared by an insignificant minority. It’s when this minority becomes a majority that things start to get out of hand.” He adds that he doesn’t think the current tension is anywhere near that level yet but urges the authorities to act soon. “Those in power and in a position to educate the masses have to step forward to do their part. I don’t think anybody wants another war, but this kind of racial abuse needs to be checked before it gets out of hand.”
Preventing another conflict
Adilah (23), an undergraduate studying abroad, says she has never encountered racism personally. Thus the current scenario back in her country is something both new and troubling to her. “There are two possibilities concerning the events that have taken place. The first is that this could be vitriol and noise spewed by an isolated group of extremists and is now a mountain-molehill situation. The second is that this could snowball into something bigger and take on larger proportions of hate, racism and violence. I fervently hope it’s the former. I do hope that the concerned parties reach a reasonable solution rationally and that the dissemination of information to the public is done in a coherent, responsible manner. I’ve grown up reading accounts of the Indian Partition, the Holocaust and our own riots and know that fear and hate can prove to be a lethal combination. As a Muslim, I’d be afraid for the safety of my family back at home if tensions were to escalate.”
Shifani (23), a fellow Sri Lankan colleague of hers, adds, “I couldn’t believe it at first, because I’d always prided myself over the fact that Muslims who were ostracized in other countries post-9/11 enjoyed a lot of religious and cultural freedom in Sri Lanka. I know the animosity between different communities in Sri Lanka is nothing new but this is the first time it has affected me personally. Friends of mine tell me their friends are updating ‘racist’ statuses on Facebook and are going to secret ‘meetings’ that discuss how ‘Muslims are taking over Sri Lanka and must be stopped’.
“I know that if this movement is allowed to grow, it could very well turn into a sequel to the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora, who have had to flee their homes. I think firm government intervention is needed to nip this in the bud right now. I’d also like to believe that most Sri Lankans are not racists and will not stand for this – every Sinhalese friend of mine has expressed their revulsion towards this movement.”
Neither her worry nor her optimism is without foundation. Those on social networking sites would be used to this by now; posts both for and against the Muslim issue. The question is, who is the majority? For a while it looked like the negativity (at least online), was overwhelming, but now several sites have been formed to confront that negativity heads-on. Many young people from different communities, especially the Sinhala-Buddhist community, are uniting to make it clear that their voices can’t be hijacked.
There is hope yet in the new generation. They were born into and lived through one ethnic strife. They absolutely do not want another.
Let’s Unite Against Fascism in our paradise!
In shades reminiscent of Nazi fascism of yesteryear, Buddhist militancy in Sri Lanka has lately begun to rear its ugly head of intolerance towards the island’s minorities. A massive rally was held in the capital city of Colombo last week by the belligerent Sinhalese Buddhist group, the Bodu Bala Sena, and the message was very explicit.
‘This is a Government created by Sinhala Buddhists and it must remain Sinhala Buddhist.This is a Sinhala country, Sinhala Government. Democratic and pluralistic values are killing the Sinhala race.”
In speeches charged with provocative rhetoric, the group’s party leaders demanded that President Mahinda Rajapaksa ensures the protection of the ‘sacred Sinhala franchise’ that swept him into power. Extremist monks denounced Muslim practices, such as their use of conservative clothing referring to it as ‘gorilla’ outfits, and have called for a total ban on halal products for the community. Clad in white or t-shirts bearing a ‘No-Halal’ slogan, the supporters carried Buddhist flags and cheered enthusiastically when extremist Bodu Bala Sena monks denounced particular Muslim practices.
The word ‘halal’ means permitted or lawful. Halal foods are foods that are allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines. According to these guidelines extracted from the Quran, Muslim followers cannot consume certain foods that include pork, animals that were dead prior to slaughtering, carnivorous animals and birds of prey. The rulings also include animals not slaughtered properly or humanely.
Whipping the mob into frenzy during the demonstration in the capital, the mob leaders exhorted the crowds to become a vigilante Sinhalese self-appointed civilian police force against Muslim practices and businesses.“From today onwards, each of you must become an unofficial civilian police force against Muslim mannerism. These so-called democrats are destroying the Sinhala race,” Gnanasara Thero, one of the mob leaders exhorted at the frenzied crowds. He also vented anger against evangelical Christians who, he claimed, were attempting to perpetuate Christian extremism in the country.
Another leading Bodu Bala Sena monk said that pluralistic values had robbed the Sinhala people of money, jobs and enterprise. “This is a Sinhala country; there is a global principle that minorities must reside in a country in a manner that does not threaten the majority race and its identity.”
Issuing a direct challenge to the government, the Bodu Bala Sena general secretary said the organisation would give the administration until March 31 to ban the halal certification.
“Don’t make us take the law into our own hands,” the monk announced in his ultimatum, pledging to commence a relentless anti-halal campaign until the government announced the ban halal products by March 31.
The Buddhist extremist group has been leading the charge on virulent anti-Muslim sentiment spreading in Sri Lanka that has led to several incidents against members of the Muslim community in recent weeks. Last week, Muslim shop owners in Narammala in the Kurunegala district received letters threatening them with death if they fail to vacate their places of business by March 31.
In January at another rally, orchestrated demonstrations against ‘halal’ labelled foods, Muslim owned businesses and Muslim places of worship were targeted by organised groups of Buddhist militants in the northwestern province of Wayamba.
Those protesters were more ominous in their intentions. Taunting and cheering, they carried highly provocative effigies. The demonstrators who went in procession with these offensive placards and effigy attempted to taunt and provoke the Muslims of the town. The police would not take action against such highly provocative taunts, assuming that it was sanctioned by high levels of the government.
If left unchecked, the actions of such fringe group of fanatics trying to inflame the existing peaceful relations between the island’s Sinhalese and Muslim population could only lead to violence. Although the Muslims in the north watched, muted and restrained, it is only a matter of time before these fanatic radicals go berserk with their pent up resentment and hatred towards Muslims, and lead the island into an ethnic war.
While the majority of Sinhalese Buddhists is indeed peace-loving and has been living in harmony with other minorities over the centuries, the plague of militant Buddhists in recent days is gaining a strong foothold throughout the country. These are dangerous times. History so often tells us of how the good conscience of a silent majority has been swept away by the vicious rhetoric and actions of a militant minority.
In sharing a common religion with the island’s minority Muslims, Gulf Cooperation Council countries have a vested interest in ensuring their safety and security. The persecutions that have begun to form against them can in no certain terms be tolerated. The benign tolerance exhibited by the Sri Lankan government towards these militant groups must be viewed with alarm.
Sri Lanka is a recipient of a sizable mass of its national budget from the remittances of its workers in GCC countries. The GCC also provides most of the island’s energy needs. Many in the Gulf have been frequent visitors for tourism and business. So far relations have been harmonious.
But Gulf leaders must get the message across to the Sri Lankan government: The island must not embark on the perilous road of violent racial and ethnic divisions that could lead to unrestrained violence against not only the Muslims, but the other minorities on the island as well. Failure to heed that message must be compensated by strong action.
This is not an issue of sovereignty, but one of humanity.
Gulf News : Tariq A. Al Maeena
I read the article by Shenali Waduge and was greatly perturbed. Why is she stirring up hatred against the Muslims of our country? Are they not human beings and didn’t the Buddha ask his followers to show compassion to all living beings? Don’t we all have friends among Muslims? But I don’t want to preach for if 2000 years of Buddhist teaching has not succeeded how can I make any impact. I only wish to sound the dangers of this course of action.
Today the world is going through a fundamental change brought about by the revolution in Information Technology and the Social media networks. These changes have brought the people of the world to a much closer interaction than ever before. Isolation is no longer an option for either Buddhists or Muslims. In the past the Buddhists minded their own business and allowed the Muslims to live their lives according to their own cultural and religious life. There was little interaction which also meant little room for any clash of the cultural and religious practices. But we are living today in an increasingly globalized world. With the increased mobility of people there is a mix of people in all countries. There are significant Muslim minorities in much of Europe and in USA. It is no longer possible for each religious community to isolate itself and pursue its traditional religious and cultural practices ignoring their impact on other communities. In such interactions there will have to be give and take with mutual accommodation.
Samuel Huntingdon gave a twist to this phenomenon of the globalization of people, through his treatise on the Clash of Civilizations. By doing so he stressed conflict rather peaceful interaction through dialogue and understanding among the different religions and culture. Are human beings of different cultures and religions incapable of interacting peacefully? To think so is a way of imperialist thinking based on the assumption of the superiority of western cultures. But unfortunately many Muslim Fundamentalists have accepted this theory and look upon the present world situation as a conflict between Islam and the West. Unfortunately it is also cast as a conflict between Islam and Christianity. But Christianity is no longer a force in the West which has instead embraced a totally secular culture where even same-sex marriages have become legalized along with the taking of the life of the infant in the mother’s womb. But the USA seems to be at last realizing the futility of intervening militarily in Muslim countries even in the name of protecting humanitarian values and democracy. This has left those who take to the sword to perish with the sword in countries like Libya and now Syria.
But where will any conflicts or clashes between religions lead to. Several countries like India, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea now have nuclear weapons and the West no longer has a monopoly of them. Terrorism is not easy to control as several countries including our own have experienced. So any clash of religious communities will only lead to the emergence of fundamentalists like the Al Qaeda who will resort to terrorism.
Due to the increased mobility and migration among people there are today no mono-ethnic or mono-religious nations. There are significant Muslim minorities in most European countries and in USA. They have their traditions and cultures just like the Jews. For two thousand years the Jews lived in the West preserving their own cultural and religious practices. But they did have to give up the practice of stoning adulterous women to death and also modifying some moral and ethical codes contained in the Old Testament (the Torah). A more acceptable form of co-existence between the Muslims and the secular Westerners will also be necessary. Some practices like stoning to death or cutting off hands will have to be given up and the Sharia re-interpreted or given a more liberal interpretation. The alternative is terrorism through mass killings, kidnappings and general mayhem with bombs exploding and killing of innocent men, women and children. The whole world has to deal with the problem of co-existence among different religious and ethnic communities. Those countries that failed to coexist peacefully have perished and over five hundred nations have disappeared in history.
In our own country it is no longer possible for Muslims and Buddhists to live in isolation. Where there are interactions and such interactions are leading to disputes they can and should be resolved through peaceful dialogue. Buddhists should not cast themselves in the same imperialist cast of mind enunciated by Huntingdon. By doing so and stereotyping the Muslims as enemies, the Buddhist extremists are seeking to pre-empt dialogue and instead promote conflict. But conflict is no longer an option. Instead, dialogue and genuine attempts at mutual understanding are required without any pre-conceived prejudices. Stereotyping is a common way of thinking and is practiced freely in our society. Tamils are such and such and Muslims are such and such, are common ways of stereotyping. But we know that there are wide variations in the values and ways of thinking of different individuals although they may be demarcated under the collective label as Muslims or Buddhists. There are good people and bad people among all communities and it is unfair to stereotype. Good people of all religions must get together and condemn the fanatical extremists whichever religion they belong to. It is also necessary to ban hate speech and enforce such speech vigorously.
Unfortunately we don’ have a State that is neutral between religious communities. I think that in a plural Sate the State should not have a state religion. But ours is not a secular state but is required to promote Buddhism. But what is involved in the promotion or protection of Buddhism? If we define religion as a body of teaching then no protection is required for whatever is ethically good and wholesome will live forever. It is only the evil doctrines that have disappeared in history. In my opinion there is an evolution of moral teaching where love or ‘maitirya’ to all beings will be regarded as the highest moral and ethical good. Such a value means there can be no hatred or ill-feeling among people.
Shenali Waduge has made very fallacious arguments about the threat from Muslims. True that the Muslim population has increased. But the Muslims don’t practice birth control or resort to abortion. The argument about polygamy among Muslims is hardly relevant since only a minority of Muslims marry more than one wife. On the other hand other religionists are not confining themselves to their legal wives but often have other women too. Anyway birth control and abortion are the cause of a lower rate of increase among the Sinhala Buddhists and surely that is not the fault of the Muslims.
With the mobility of people there are Muslims and Christians now living in areas where they were not known. Since they believe in congregational worship rather than individual worship they do need to meet in a church or mosque and it is natural that they want to build such common edifices. Does a Mosque lead to an increase in the number of Muslims in that neighborhood? What then is the objection if as a religious community spreads itself they want to build a mosque.
The world is facing a grim choice. Either the people will have to learn to live peacefully interacting with each other through dialogue or they will all perish separately. Meanwhile those people of goodwill should get together and demand a law to ban hate speech and the incitement of hatred and disaffection among ethnic or religious communities.
We want a dialogue of different religions so as to establish a humane and peaceful world order ruled by democracy and justice. There is no room for dictators or mob leaders.
Courtesy : Colombo Telegraph