By Jehan Perera –
The most likely point of new inter-community conflict at the present time is between those who espouse nationalist Buddhism and the Muslim community. Although not widely reported, the attacks against Muslim places of worship and Muslim owned businesses are continuing. In a six month period from January to June this year, at least 155 anti-Muslim incidents were reported by the Secretariat for Muslims. The attitude on the part of those who are aggressors is that they can with impunity disrupt the activities of others even in violation of the freedom of association and freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution. These rights need to be upheld in a practical manner to prevent the fomenting of religious and ethnic tensions in post-war Sri Lanka. However, the attitude of the police and other law enforcement agencies to permit those who break the law and get away without legal sanction undermines the credibility of the government as a secular one.
Speaking at a public forum on the Role of Religion in Reconciliation organized by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies, the Ven. Galkande Dhammananda, who lectures at the University of Kelaniya, made some very pertinent observations. He noted that “the theme of the conference itself suggests that we are yet to achieve reconciliation, although some four years have slipped away without much notice of that historical responsibility. Tragically, today, whether you may accept it or not, we are on the verge of another social crisis or conflict.” He added that even if we are able to attribute responsibility for the past years of conflict on the previous generations, this time around it would be the present generation that would be held responsible for any return to conflict.
Unfortunately the law enforcement agencies have been generally inactive in taking deterrent action against those who attack Muslim establishments and defile their places of worship. The function of the police is to act under the Criminal Procedure Code and the Police Ordinance and uphold the Rule of Law. However, the general ethos in cases where Buddhist religious clergy are involved is to let the perpetrators off without legal action, leaving space for them to act again with impunity. At this time, when the country is preparing for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka, and also for the Commonwealth People’s Summit it is important that the government should take the necessary steps to protect the space for religious and civic groups to function freely, without fear and harassment.
Although the government is making great efforts to ensure that the Commonwealth events are successful, the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate. It must be understood that governance is not about creating positive images for foreigners to see as they pass through, but about improving the lives of the populace through adherence to basic values of justice and freedom. Governance is not about a theatrical performance where the props are in place and everything is on cue. It is also not a one-act play where the actors are applauded, but is a continuing commitment to a discipline in which the Rule of Law and time-tested systems of checks and balances and institutional integrity prevail. But the evidence at present is to the contrary. This observation is born of my experience recently as a member of the National Peace Council (NPC).
As part of its post-war peace building initiatives the National Peace Council (NPC) has been conducting an educational programme on the LRRC report in different parts of the country, including Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Colombo, Matara, Galle, Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar, Puttalam, Ampara, Kurunegala, Batticaloa and Trincomalee. These LLRC workshops have been very popular with community leaders and local level government officials of all ethnicities. However, on Saturday July 27, 2013 a workshop discussion between community leaders and experts on land law and policy conducted by NPC in Batticaloa was forcibly disrupted. The workshop that was disrupted was part of NPC’s follow-up activities, done at the request of the participants themselves, who consisted mostly of community leaders from areas of resettlement. Its purpose was to educate them on the government’s rules and regulations and provide a legal point of view on land issues.
Those who disrupted the meeting consisted of a Buddhist monk from Batticaloa and several of his followers believed to be from the neigbouring Ampara District. They accused NPC and those at the workshop of having a hidden agenda of foreign powers and having the motivation of discrediting the country in Geneva. On his arrival, the monk and a few of his followers (on account of the limited space) were accommodated at the workshop in a polite and respectful manner. They were given an introduction to the objectives of the event in the Sinhala language, and at the request of the monk he was given time to express his views to the participants. He said that the event was to make biased decisions on land issues in favour of Tamil people although the organisers explained this was only an educational programme and not one at which decisions on land would be made. The organisers of the event were thereafter physically assaulted and even kicked by the monk and his followers.
The police who came on the scene did well to control the situation and prevent the crisis from escalating. However, in an ironic twist, when the organisers went to the police station to make their statement, the police requested them to make peace with the monk, even to the extent of asking him for pardon, presumably for organizing the event and not inviting him. This is not first occasion on which the police have chosen to be unofficial mediators in the case of aggressive actions by some Buddhist religious clergy. The disruption of the NPC event is similar to that experienced by other civil society groups who have faced similar obstructions. There too the police have adopted a passive stance, which furthers the sense of impunity and strengthens the impression that political constraints prevent the police from carrying out their duties impartially.
The assertive role played by sections of the Buddhist clergy in the country’s political affairs is not a new phenomenon. There are many references in the historical chronicles of efforts of the clergy to safeguard both the people and the land. This provides a powerful justification for the continuing interventions that are being encouraged by sections within the polity. However, the present day reality of Sri Lanka as a country in which there is a substantial multi-ethnic and multi-religious population does not harmonise with the assertiveness of those who have a vision of a Sinhala Buddhist polity. This creates the possibility of new forms of conflict which take the centre stage after the ending of the three decade long war that pitted the state against separatist Tamil nationalism.
Unless the government takes deterrent action against those who are fomenting anti-Muslim sentiment, this trend is likely to continue and grow. The pattern of incidents that have taken place in the recent past is an indication of the threat to pluralism, multi-culturalism and religious tolerance in the country.
So far the anti-Muslim campaign being currently undertaken by extremist groups is not being challenged publicly by any significant section of the polity. The current trend of growing religious polarization is contributing to disharmony, violence and disintegration of social relations in a context where the government’s preoccupation is on infrastructure development than an effective process of reconciliation ensuring human and political rights. There is a need to be concerned that the use of politicized religion for electoral gain could turn out to be double edged if it takes on a life of its own and expands to new areas of contestation.
In his presentation at the public forum on the Role of Religion in Reconciliation, the Ven. Galkande Dhammananda (who was a student of the great Buddhist scholar monk, Ven. Dr Walpola Rahula) recommended that “an apex body of dedicated representatives of all the religions who can work to eradicate suspicions and work to build trust and understanding will be the solution to address this issue.” Encouraging religious clergy to demonstrate universal values and loving kindness in their thought, speech and behavior is the primary responsibility of religious clergy. It is also important that the political leaders of the country resist the temptation to secure their vote banks by adopting divisive stances that can attract the votes of the ethnic and religious majority. The mobilization of nationalist Buddhism will lead to a diminished space for the government to make the necessary political compromises necessary for consensual governance in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.
“If you ask me to point out the most important message that I can derive from Buddhism for reconciliation in our society, I would like to remind you of this verse from the Dhammapada…Victory breeds hatred; the defeated sleeps in sorrow; the peaceful sleeps happily, abandoning victory and defeat.” Accordingly I can say any sort of victory celebrations certainly affect negatively on the idea of reconciliation. As long as we keep the “victorious and the defeated” dichotomy in society, we are keeping alive the “hatred and anger.” If we want to have reconciliation and a peaceful country we need our people to get away from “victory and defeat” mentality. It is not my word. It is the word of the Buddha.” These words of the Ven. Dhammananda give a hint of the treasure this country has in the Buddhist religion, which the ancient Sinhala historical chronicle, the Mahavama, said will finally be protected in Sri Lanka.
dodo / August 5, 2013
JP, the Muslims and their cowardly leaders have to blame themselves for the increased impunity with which they are being attacked by the BALU SENA..
If the Muslim leaders had taken legal action against the leader of Balu Sena – and had him locked up they would be less threatened and frightened today..
And by the way Jehan, you too have evidence of the Balu Sena’s attack on your outfit so why don’t you go to court – rather than write these pathetically silly articles?
whywhy / August 5, 2013
“And by the way Jehan……why don’t you go to court
rather than write these pathetically silly articles?”
You see dodo,we are a country of PREACHERS and not
FOLLOWERS.Preachers of all religions in Srilanka are
exposing themselves of their own commitments to what
they are preaching to others.It is high time,the general
public or the followers of all religions to wake up
from their centuries long traditional sleep intoxicated
by all these preachers.Believe me,they put you to sleep
and block you from seeing facts because they can not
face facts and don’t want you to understand facts
because you will turn away from them and they will lose
their livelihood.Now,as layman’s life is changing day by
day,priests,especially most Buddhist monks also want to
be part of these changes.Not towards more sufferings as
led by Lord Buddha but towards more and more comforts
never seen anywhere in Buddha’s teachings.The whole
Buddhist community knows this and doing nothing to stop
the trend and instead keep following them blindly and
blasting them behind their back.This is the case with
politics too.They know things going wrong but they don’t
think they must reverse it within their rights.IF THE
MAJORITY DOESN’T WAKE UP AGAINST WHAT’S HAPPENING TO THE
MUSLIMS,THIS WON’T TAKE LONG TO TURN AGAINST THEM.
WELIVERIYA A STRIKING EXAMPLE.
patriot / August 6, 2013
This man whywhy writes to tell us that the essence of Buddha’s teaching is not towards comfort but towards suffering. Whywhy thinks the Buddha led Buddhists towards suffering through his Dhamma.
I can visualize whywhy and his fellow Muhammadans standpoint from the basis of their Koran: I say Koran contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule. If he deny it, I am ready to list them. Needles to say then, war and subjugating non-believers is their happiness.
Needless to say then, values of whywhy and his fellow Muhammadans are different to that of Buddhists for Buddhist scriptures do not have any war like verses. But nowhere in Buddhist scriptures had Buddha Buddha preached suffering is a must for his followers. Nowhere in Buddhist scriptures had Buddha asked his followers to to give into aggression. It seems whywhy wants to teach us new set of Buddhist values. Muhammadans should learn that Buddhists know that the Buddha had rejected suffering and followed the middle path as a way to learn the truth.
Today most people act as if they live to eat. Muhammadans and their fellow theists thinks God had created animals for them to eat. They think God gave life to animals to keep them afresh until they eat them. They think not eating meat is a kind of suffering. Budddhists do not live to eat.
Everyone knows Westerners follow double standards. Westerner do one thing in their own countries and tell their paid puppets like Jehan to do another thing in countries like Sri Lanka. NGO puppets like Jehan propagate that Islam is a peaceful religion and most Muslims live peacefully and only a “tiny minority of extremists” practice violence.
I see Jahan and co has a mission. That is the unfinished business of the colonial: to reduce Sinhala Buddhists to a minority in Sri Lanka.
whywhy / August 6, 2013
This Buddhism specialist has got up to my call
from the wrong end of the bed.Patriots have now
started to learn Koran and teach Muslims about
“Mohammadanism.”Why panic at the truth?Did Gouthama
Buddha start his hermitage from Sheraton?He left the
palace for woods or the other way round?I don’t have
to say anything else man.The essence of Buddhism is
suffering.Kill humans and call it patriotism and
what Buddhism is that man?Do you know in Buddhist
Thailand,they even eat cockroaches?And in Vietnam
they eat mice?And your new friends Chinese eat
snakes,dogs,cats and monkeys?Mohammadans eat what
the wole world eat.If you don’t want to eat meat,
well eat cockroach from Buddhist Thailand!
patriot / August 6, 2013
We do not intend to teach Muslims the Koran. We just read it to note the satanic verses. From what I can see, Islam is a political ideology disguised as a religion.
No Buddhist scripture ask its followers to kill but Koran clearly commands its followers to kill unbelievers. So, don’t be daft and get it right. Sin for killing in Buddhism is much more complicated than you think. However to say it all in simple terms, if a Buddhist kills for patriotism or to eat rats or whatever, it is his business and not the business of Buddhism.
whywhy / August 7, 2013
If you do not intend to teach Muslims the Koran,
good for you.And if it’s satanic verses that you
are interested in,then that’s what you will get.
But if what you see in Islam is,only political
ideology disguised as a religion,then you are
right to say that you had been looking only for
satanic verses and you got it.Bernard Lewis,a
Cambridge University lecturer and an expert on
the Middle East says,Islam is not only a religion
it’s a culture,civilization and politics.You
picked up only what’s convenient for your purpose.
Back to your last three lines,you yourself have
separated Buddhism from Buddhist and that’s what
I have done in my first post which you took out
of context like you did with the Koran.
Thiru / August 5, 2013
Lack of courage?
Don Stanley / August 5, 2013
It is not only the Muslims who are being targeted by the Balu Sena with Gota the goon’s patronage and support.
The BBS is now trying to divide the Weliveriya protest over lack of clean drinking water and turning it into an anti-Christian rampage..
Divide, distract, loot and rule Lanka is the ONLY Rajapassa policy that exists in this Debacle of Asia..
patriot / August 6, 2013
Crocodile tears for Sinhala Buddhists?
Jim softy / August 5, 2013
Wow, christians are preaching.
Jim softy / August 5, 2013
Wow, christians are preaching.
Who is funding the NPC.
Jim softy / August 5, 2013
Why there are over 38000 denominations of Christianity. Why, In Ireland, Protestants and Catholic are arch enemies ?
Where do your get money and what is your objective ?
Amarasiri / August 6, 2013
It is the war between the Myth holders, that started with Martin Luther around 1521.
They have not sorted the Myths yet.
Dev / August 6, 2013
When NPC is funded by the Church movement to convert people – JP can hardly talk
When Muslims celebrate converting people to their religion but banish those who convert from Islam to other religions that is hypocrisy
So long as the conversion issue with Christians, Catholics and Muslims being guilty are not addressed …. you lot cannot talk and point fingers at either Hindus or Buddhists… because they do not convert people …. whatever long harangues you write this is the simple truth.
salmaj / August 6, 2013
Whats happening to NPC and Jehan. He NEVER NEVER speaks for the Muslims, It is a rare instance or may be the 1st instance after Dambulla. He was an LTTE sympathiser till the war ended. At that time his columns spoke of Tamils, he never wanted to tell the world about the LTTE oppression and ethnic cleansing of Muslims, lest his funding stops. For him minority was always Tamils. May be he is running short of funds, now he is trying to tag on to the Muslim issue. May be funds are available . He is one of the educated hypocrite looking like a saadu, but having a hidden agenda. Muslims please be aware of him. He may want to put the Muslim and the Tamils together to fight for Eealam.
patriot / August 6, 2013
salmaj, I salute you for your’s is the most truthful and the honest comment that I read by a Muslim so far.
Leelage Bappa / August 7, 2013
Do you think the readers are dumb as you and your master Gota and your bedmate GnanaSatan? Salmaj and Patriot is the same Gewal Hora Leela or rather Camel Unire famed Asanka Lester Jimsofty Saroini John Patriot etc etc.
K.A Sumana sekera / August 7, 2013
Is this the same Jehan who was trying to stirr up the poor inhabitants in Batti,who have been doing okay in recent times?