By Vishwamithra1984 –
“Once you’ve built the big machinery of political power, remember you won’t always be the one to run it.” ~P. J. O’Rourke
Galagodaaththe Gnanasara, who is alleged to have been indicted in the past on four cases of DUI (driving under the influence), whose regular vocabulary is sometimes more disgusting than that of an uneducated petty thug in a street corner and whose fiery speeches have engulfed a naïve and susceptible ethnic group into violent, virulent and vituperative politicking has single-handedly managed to inflame hatred, jealousy and vengeance, three human qualities the Great Teacher, Gautama Buddha asked his devotees to discard as venomous human qualities from their day-to-day lives. The emergence of Gnanasara is directly correlated to the meteoric ascendance of the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS), somewhat similar to that of the Taliban or Al Qaida of the Arab/Muslim world. As much as these Muslim fundamentalist organizations operate- desecrating the teachings of Islam and selling the Quran to suit their political goals, BBS and their propagandists garbed in saffron robes, too are engaged in that dishonorable and despicable act of debasing the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama and painting an ominous picture for the susceptible consumer, Sinhalese Buddhists, of a declining trend in Buddhism due to the imaginary vagaries of Islam.
To date, more than two hundred (200) incidents of vandalism, murder, manhandling, intimidation and public humiliation have been caused to those who claim another faith other than Buddhism as their religion. The fundamental premise of Buddhism, free thinking, has been denied to the very followers of that religion and some petty thugs are marauding the streets as Buddhist Monks, apparently charged with the responsibility of protecting some vested interests of diabolical politicians, quasi-patriotic political parties and political charlatans. Whatever they are pretending to be safeguarding, it is quite sure, is not Buddhism nor its pure teachings nor the devoted followers scattered throughout the island. Yet their appeal is very magnetic and its message, although very cynical in execution, is lending an identity to a segment that is in search of an identity. This much I have already written about in my last week’s column. But the effects of organizations such as BBS on the societal evolution and the direction it takes a community in a frenzied ride could be enormously catastrophic. What flared up in Aluthgama was merely a manifestation of that phenomenon at a fairly controllable level.
The infamous ‘83 riots are now more than a quarter century old. The images of innocent men, women and children whose lives were forever altered, some of whose last breath was taken among burning tires and kerosene pyres, properties and businesses vandalized and destroyed and some people garbed in Saffron robes leading the mob pointing their holy fingers at the boutiques and abodes to be burned in that frenzy of killing orgy may now have been swept away into a indistinct and faint memory by the winds of time. Only the ravages of racial enmity and religious antagonisms were left behind as a dishonorable legacy of a generation driven by jealousies, hatred and suspicions of their fellow men and women. The Sinhalese mobs attacked their Tamil brethren with such a ferocious mindset, a mindset conditioned and shaped by myths and legends of the Great Chronicle, Mahawansa, and in such an unprecedented scale, the pogroms engineered by Hitler’s ‘Brown Shirts’ in the late nineteen twenties in Germany looked only a shade or two crueler and more ghastly.
These are the indelible scars of civil wars; a permanent line of division and disparity between two national entities carved out for Sri Lankans to grapple with in the following decades and centuries. When engrossed in the flight of mayhem and violent riots, one loses all sense of reasonability and self-constraint; one loses all sense of wisdom and far-sightedness; one simply reacts to mob mentality which overtakes rational thinking and balanced decision-making. Instead of making deliberate decisions in favor of this or that, one begins to act on momentum, a momentum that is ever corrupt and corrupting in its each stride with an acute desire to avenge based on a centuries-old racial hatred that is veneered by a phony sense of patriotism. That was the sad saga written in blood, sweat and tears in ‘Black July’ of 1983. No accomplishment that any civilized people could be proud of.
The ‘83 July riots did not give rise to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) but it certainly accelerated the process of recruitment for the militant Tamil organizations and in fact, acted as a tremendous recruitment tool for the up and coming Tigers at the time. What a waste of ‘grand old patriotism’?
But what happened thirty years ago and during that period is all history now. The triumphant Sinhalese majority and their political leaders who claim victory in that violent conflict, are resorting to naked triumphalism at every corner of the socio-political landscape and calibrating those very base emotions of a voting population which in turn have been ushering in the Taliban-type violent and fundamentalist quasi-religious organizations such as BBS. And with their irresponsible and uncouth leaders clothed in the very robes that the Founder of that religion asked his Maha Sangha to wear in order to identify the serenity and solemnity of the philosophy that he preached at the foot of the Himalayas, these organizations are being manipulated to gain undue advantage at the polling booth for interested parties when elections come.
Now the true characters and subtle features of the real disease appear, ever so slowly but ever so violently too. The present regime’s dogged philosophy of treating all ethnic groups in Sri Lanka other than the majority Sinhalese as second–class citizens is not going to hold in a closely-integrated world that exists in the Twenty First century. When taken in the context of other violent manifestations of the dictatorial manner in which the current rulers have been governing Sri Lanka- the killings that included Lasantha Wickrematunga, impeachment of the Chief Justice, instigation of violence against independent journalists, ‘White Van’ syndrome and the ‘fear psychosis’ that has been engendered in the psyche of the people in general- rise and growth of extra-social organizations such as BBS could be easily comprehended and ways and means of averting such extreme elements in our society too could be more easily understood.
In other words, fanning the flames of patriotism and love for ‘Sinhalese-Buddhistness’ is a winning issue for the ruling coalition. That is why at each election, their propagandists resort to the same hackneyed slogans of ‘war-victory’, Halal protest, Muslim invasions, religious conversions etc. Therein lies the disease, therein lies the malady. A socio-political disorder is being portrayed as a beneficial, patriotic and nationalistic notion. This notion is sometimes giving a much-needed ‘identity’ to a generation without roots, to a people without purpose; as Pundit Nehru described in the “Discovery of India”: “a generation that neither understood the inner content of a developing liberal society which is ever more amenable to modern-day discoveries of science nor that could relate to the age-old traditions that sustained man and kept him above the fray”. A listless band of wanderers caught up in the winds of change yet absorbing all the evils of that change and discarding the universal appeal of hard work, honest disposition and intellectual inquiry.
The shortsightedness of organizations and their cruel backers is further exposed when one takes this argument in the context of the enormous ‘job market’ that has been opened to Sri Lankans in the Middle-East, which has been one hundred percent (100%) Muslim in their adopted faith for centuries and extremely volatile in the face of perceived wrongs done unto them and exceedingly cruel and inhuman when extracting vengeance. It is not a clever ploy on the part of election strategists in Sri Lanka to antagonize such a universally-recognized force of extreme fundamentalism that take the form of Taliban, Al Qaida etc. Making our own adjustments, compromises and concessions is not appeasement; it is clever and wise politics and courageous statesmanship.
The disease has invaded the body-politic of Sri Lanka. Its control over the entire frame, the flesh, blood, veins and marrow is total. Manifestations of symptoms such Gnanasara, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and BBS are being treated with kid’s glove and more often than not, with extravagant veneration. When a surgical operation is the answer, Band-Aid solutions are suggested and executed. No one dares touch a Saffron Robe; Gnanasara is protected from such corrective measures and instead, the helpless victims are being paraded as villains and wrong-doers. Merchants of political cynicism and religious distrust remain untouched and untouchable. These politico-religious untouchables are taking a vulnerable public and unsuspecting devotees inexorably towards certain chaos, at the end of which is ‘total power and total control’. That is what remains at the end of that road- chaos and disorder. That is what Hitler achieved in the late Nineteen Thirties with ruthless efficiency and that is what’s happening in Sri Lanka in the second decade of the third millennium. Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich” lasted just twelve years. Our leaders also must realize that their power too has much shorter a run than they would like to anticipate.