By Amrit Muttukumaru –
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo is today in a position where no other political or moral leader has been since 71 years of Sri Lanka’s independence to usher in genuine healing and reconciliation to a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country battered by mistrust and suspicion due to selfish politically induced decisions unleashed by successive administrations since independence in 1948.
The carnage unleashed on Easter Sunday in terms of its sheer ferocity, numbers dead and injured, locations in Christian churches and leading hotels and the global context has created local and international panic which has brought Sri Lanka to the centre of world attention for the wrong reasons.
The tragic death of more than 250 persons many of them children and around 500 injured – the large majority of them Christians attending Easter Sunday Mass has brought Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith to the centre of Sri Lanka’s public attention. His response has been exemplary. It is largely his statesmanlike and moderating influence that has brought some sanity to the dangerous and charged situation in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. It is this that mainly facilitated the robust security operations.
This is in sharp contrast to the utterly disgraceful response of our political leaders – particularly (i) President Sirisena – Minister of Defence and Minister of Law & Order (ii) Ranil Wickremesinghe – Prime Minister (iii) Ruwan Wijewardene – Minister of State for Defence (iv) John Amaratunga – Minister of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs. All of these so called ‘leaders’ brazenly deny any knowledge of intelligence reports and even visible signs that something sinister was brewing for a long time among the miniscule extremist section of the Muslim community.
Root Cause of Mistrust
It is believed that the root cause of tragedies such as what happened on Easter Sunday, the armed conflict with the LTTE, JVP insurrections and other such instances are the result of mistrust and suspicion among communities due mainly to state sponsored acts of omission and commission. Over the years, minority communities in relation to the overwhelming Sinhala Buddhist majority – for the most part Tamils and Muslims have been at the receiving end of discrimination, indignities and violence unleashed with impunity. The long festering ethnic conflict and the resultant armed conflict came to a controversial end in 2009 in the absence of credible accountability. Reconciliation issues continue to fester. In more recent times, Muslims have been at the receiving end of hate speech and violence unleashed with impunity. It must be emphasised that under no circumstances is the horrendous violence unleashed on Easter Sunday or for that matter by the LTTE, JVP or any other entity justified. Nevertheless the discrimination and fear psychosis unleashed on minorities which still continue with impunity must be flagged.
Although increasingly there is an international dimension due to geo-political interests and the increasing presence of social media, I dare say that if only there is genuine national unity and love for the country, instances of violence and hatred can be nipped in the bud and at worse greatly mitigated. I guess that most of our frontline politicians and businessmen and most likely family members have dual citizenships. Is this not because they are aware the country has little future since they know our different communities will never get together as a single family. The irony is that it is people of their ilk who have made a substantial contribution towards what the country has become today. It is absurd to allow people who have even had dual citizenships to be eligible to contest elections. What is the loyalty they have for the country?
An acid test to demonstrate there is a political will to address the root causes for disunity and mistrust is (i) stop giving state patronage to any religion (ii) doing away with having ministries for any religion (iii) forthwith halt the clergy from any religion getting involved in political activities. In brief, the goal is a secular state.
The only person who could today pull it off is Cardinal Ranjith who has the goodwill and respect of almost the entire country virtually eating out of his hand. This is the moment he must seize and not fritter away for any extraneous reasons. This is his moment and the moment for the country to demonstrate the entry path towards true reconciliation. It will be very difficult for even firebrand instigators of hate and dissension to oppose this.
Snapshot of Country
The Easter Sunday carnage apart from badly wounding the national psyche has further debilitated an already weakened economy on the ‘Grey List’ of the ‘Financial Action Task Force’ and subsequent ‘Black List’ of the European Union for money laundering. One suspects that money laundering and Sri Lanka developing into a regional hub for illicit drugs may have also facilitated the Easter Sunday carnage.
Large scale corruption and wrongdoing in several spheres are now on the back burner due to the Easter Sunday massacre. The long overdue ‘forensic audit’ by the Central Bank of the egregious Treasury Bond scam which was a key recommendation of the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry is now almost forgotten. The controversial Hambantota oil refinery project is now a distant memory.
The alternate political dispensation waiting in the wings is also of no consolation. This is a snapshot of what the country is against on several fronts.
The knuckleheads in politics from all hues who are supposed to guide the destiny of this country must understand the limitations of a military response and appreciate that addressing the root cause for the ills in this country is paramount. Without unity and brotherhood in the context of Sri Lanka being a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, any tangible progress is a pipe dream.
The first order of business of the Cardinal is to get national consensus to have Chapter 2 – Article 9 of the Constitution giving “foremost place” to Buddhism repealed.
I doubt even rabble-rousers opposing him today. They are all in a state of shock today. For the sake of the country and future generations, the Cardinal must strike while the iron is hot! The momentum will soon be lost and we will be back to square one with dire consequences.
Irrespective of the Cardinal’s perceived past controversial position on issues of Secular State and Human Rights, he must rise to the occasion in the larger interest of Sri Lanka and ensure that those who so tragically lost their lives on Easter Sunday did not die in vain.