By Reverend PJ Fernando –
The recent article which appeared on Colombo Telegraph under the caption ‘Cardinal Blunders Should Worry The Catholics’ on the 5th June has shown very poor journalistic standers, and must be said, it was right at the gutter. It is nothing but a scathing personal attack on the Cardinal. It in some ways reflects the standard of journalism we have generally in the country, not to mention the comments that appear on the social media. I at times wonder how one could not feel ashamed of oneself, let alone the quality of communication in social media as a nation and country. The renowned journalism, if there is one, should take the lead in restoring the dignity and respect in the media, in reporting and commenting, setting an example and a standard to the easily accessible social media widely used today. The manner we write and comment, must avoid crossing decency and courtesy. We must rise above, as is said in age old Greek logic, argument ad baculum, it is the fallacy committing to arguing by the cane; ridiculing and insulting someone personally or threatening someone. I am sorry to state; I am appalled by the standard of journalism that the Telegraph has promoted through the article of Shyamon Jayasinghe.
I salute Cardinal Malcom Ranjith, on his bold standing taken in public in leading the country at a time of crisis. Since the victory against the Tamil Tigers who sought a bloody discriminating war, the Sri Lankan political leadership is in decadence with their personal, family’s or cronies’ ambitions raising their head reducing the state into a corrupt pariah regime. The lack of leadership in the country today has plunged it into its depths and has made it vulnerable to the fundamentalist, separatists and the extremists’ ideologies, be it religious or otherwise. Not too long ago, the people suffered the failure of leadership in the country when we were faced with the constitutional crisis. It was fortunately the judiciary that took the lead by taking a stand to save the day restoring the country back to near normalcy. I was wondering where were the religious leadership that should have guided and led the people. But unfortunately, the religious leaders too can be so divided succumbing to their political allegiances and so failing to guide the country and its leaders. With the Easter Massacre in the churches the Cardinal, whatever his allegiances have been in the past, fortunately took a firm and bold leadership uniting the country and all religions against violence and hatred. Which was remarkable. Well, very little could be said about the political leadership let alone, as Shyamon does praise, any political leader. Instead they must rightly be accountable to the people not just in mishandling the intelligence, but also how they dealt with the aftermath of the massacre and now, trying to help restore those broken lives, assuring security for normal ordinary people, making sure that such gross negligence is accounted and brought to justice, and guarantee that it shall not be repeated in the future. The least one would expect is creating a debate on some political ideology simply to score for one’s own advantage, and a coverup for one’s own negligence and failure.
I have tried, painstakingly, to read through carefully between the lines what Shyamon writes, to tease out the arguments that he wishes to put forward beyond a very personal attack on the Cardinal and a praising of the minister Mangala – for what?
To the contrary to what Shyamon writes, I find that Cardinal giving bold and courageous leadership, risking his own privileges as Shyamon says he should have enjoyed by keeping to his counsel as a Cardinal, by raising a critical issue with regards the future of our beloved country. It is much easier to say that Sri Lanka is not a Sinhala Buddhist Country appealing to the international community, for cheap popular, personal gain and political victory ransoming the country, the history, the culture and its people. Cardinal has taken the leadership in bringing to debate and discussion which we should have had long ago, soon after the war. As many have commented, yes we have fought a war and won so to say, as there are no winners in a war. But we have not had this debate and discussion defining the country and its future, settling the real score with the real separatists, and so letting us all play again roulette with the separatist movements and now with the new addition to the complex problem, the religious fundamentalism. One asking for a separate Tamil state and the other soon will be asking for an Islamic state. Both will use the same tack ticks; international isolationism – making Sri Lanka vulnerable in the international stage, human rights cases against Sinhalese Buddhist leaders. Targeting the Sinhalese Buddhists and so easily the Buddhist monks. Attacking trade and tourism – so that the countries economy will be at the mercy of foreign nations that could dictate and control the future of the country favouring the separatist’s agenda. Rewriting the historical identity of the country – defining the country as a multireligious, multicultural country. Dismantling any historical proofs – Remove Sinhalese language from being the official language, systematically destroying historical sights, records and books, and even rewriting them and creating their own. I cannot but applaud the Cardinal for his stand.
The gana marga, path of Wisdom as is said in all religions is the path to liberation and to lead others to liberation; be it salvation, nibbana, heaven or enlightenment. And so, it is often our own ignorance is what plunges us to confusion. There is again the famous age-old principle in logic, ‘affirmation of one thing is not the negation of the other’. When the Cardinal said that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese Buddhist Country, it does not mean that the others are denied of their rights and existence. It is a show of lack of understanding and learning to jump into a conclusion otherwise. When you say that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese Buddhist Country it affirms the historical identity of the country, respects and regards the countries culture and history. It also communicates to the country and people that we recognise and uphold its history and culture. It gives the affirmation that we have not come to overtake the country and its culture but respect it with our own ethnic and cultural identity or belief systems.
It is also important to recognise that when we say that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese Buddhist Country, it is not to give teeth to any Sinhalese Buddhist Chauvinism, or place them in any privileged position to discriminate others, but just the contrary, it would be the duty of this Sinhalese Buddhist Country to treat, respect and regard equally every other citizen and religion. The rights of a person pervades any self-identity, which is surely a separate discussion. I would go even further to saying that, it would be the paramount duty of the Sinhalese Buddhists then to protect and serve all other peoples and religions – the country; beyond caste, creed or race, which would be its pride of place. I agree that there is a journey we all must make in this respect. But haven’t cardinal united the Catholics with the Buddhists with such solidarity when he has given the assurance that it is a Sinhalese Buddhist country long before this carnage. Would we not wish such solidarity of the majority with all the minorities of the country. What is it that unlocks it? What is it that is stopping us say that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese Buddhist country, when we know that it is clearly true historically, geographically and morally, if not for our own hidden agenda of dismantling or proselytising the country.
But when the minister as is reported to have said, and Shyamon seems to support it, that Sri Lanka is ‘not a Buddhist Sinhalese Country’ is surely to deny a country and a people of its history and culture. It is simple logic. Sri Lanka is not a modern nation like Singapore, but a country that has a long-standing history and civilization, 8th Centuries before Christ. To deny this, is to be very irresponsible by any standard, let a lone a journalist, minister or a religious leader. There are just two simple tests one could ask; is there a Sinhalese country anywhere else in the world? Is there a Sinhalese language anywhere else in the world? So one could easily see the agenda of the separatists and the extremists, to dismantle these two pillars that uniquely defines the country as a Sinhalese country. Of course, Buddhism goes with it as a part and parcel of the Sinhalese heritage. So will in their own right, all other historical religions of the country.
To be fair by the Cardinal, I remember the Cardinal as a bishop and then soon after his investiture to the Cardinalship saying in public to the media that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country. So clearly cardinal has moved from it, for which I commend. He is not a fanatic or plays his cards as is said to be in the limelight, but it shows that he has over his cardinalship carefully, thought, prayed (which I have no doubt about it), debated and now taken to lead the people and open up an important discussion in the country, which is by all means worth having. Typical quality of a true religious leader, sacrificing his own interest or the self-interest of the Catholics as such, who are a minority of this Country.
Sri Lanka must have this debate and discussion highlighting the concerns for the Tamil, Muslims and all peoples, even those marginalised by cast, creed, gender and less able. Their voices must be heard and so of the majority Sinhalese, and the Buddhists too.
It seems that Shyamon together with others seems to have been affected by the visit Cardinal made to the monk who was protesting with a fast unto death. I am surprised as to how such a nonviolent action is ridiculed as Shyamon does. Even the late Mahatma Gandhi led such nonviolent protests, when justice was denied by the then British rule. As an outcome of it, I gather the Muslim ministers resigned enabling an impartial inquiry for the Easter Sunday massacre. Which is indeed the right thing to do. A discipline all ministers should follow when faced with such a judicial inquiry. I hope all ministers will follow suite in the future. Whatever the background of the monk is, as Shyamon states, what the Cardinal was upholding was his nonviolent means seeking justice to yet another minority religious group in the country. Cardinal’s visit was an act of charity and determination. It was to strengthen the nonviolent resolve in the country to bring justice. It was to unite the country against violence but bring justice to all those who were killed. It was necessary due to the lack of leadership in the country that failed to guarantee a path of justice for the victims. I wish the honourable minister had taken his time and trouble to bringing justice to the victims that were denied of it, rather than pick a fight with the Cardinal in public, even dragging it to the international stage to insult a very respected religious leader of his own country, to divide the people again, and distract the people from the fact that he and his government grossly failed their people. They shall go down in history as leaders who failed the people. I applaud the Cardinal for his courage and feel proud that we have at least had such religious leader in our country, right at this moment.
I was deeply disappointed that Shyamon in his article with such low standard of courtesy catering to some agenda either of his own or sponsored by some other. I wish the readers of his reply will have the opportunity now to see also a different view and a take, to all that he says.
*Reverend Dr PJ Fernando – Currently Priest of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, UK. Besides his priestly studies he obtained his DPhil from University of Cambridge UK, in Computer Vision and Artificial Intelligent Systems in 2004, served as Chaplain to number of universities in UK leading debate and discussions on number of topics such ‘the place of religion in the university’, ‘faith and reason’, ‘science and religion in a secular setting’, ‘religion in the public sphere as a moral compass’ and many other interests.