By Ameer Ali –
“Civilizations in decline are consistently characterized by a tendency towards standardization and uniformity”, wrote Arnold Toynbee, the foremost historian and philosopher of 20th century. What is happening now in Sri Lanka in the name of one country one law (OCOL) is a sinister exercise to inaugurate a legislative process to destroy the nation’s historic cultural diversity and replace it with a uniformity in the image of a politically deformed Buddhism championed by an ethno-nationalist president supported by his Viyathmaga and sections of the Sangha. At a time when the ruling regime has failed to fulfill even an iota of the promise it made to bring prosperity and splendour to the nation, which failure forced the president to apologize in public, to pushforward the OCOL program is a sign of desperation for the pilot of a sinking ship. He is planning to restore his cascading popularity by reigniting the ethno-nationalist tinderbox in targeting the Muslim community in particular.
It has now come to light that not only the Minister of Justice Ali Sabry was unaware of this men-only task force, but also even the four Muslims included in that group were caught by surprise to read their names in the Gazette notification. It also appears that a member from the Tamil community would be included to make the TF representative of all three communities. However, the most disturbing aspect of this TF is that it is headed by a man whose notoriety in disrespecting the law, ignoring court orders and provoking anti-Muslim riots is plentifully recorded. In a recent media interview, this monk revealed the hidden agenda of the President when he elaborated that the idea behind OCOL is to create ultimately a nation of Sri Lankans and not a nation of Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims, and went a step further and expressed his dissatisfaction over the current system of Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslims schools. He had actually let the cat out of the bag.
Although it is the Muslim personal laws as enshrined in the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act of 1951 (MMDA) that are going to be reviewed, reformed and redrafted immediately, and in a manner that would completely destroy its religious identity, Gnanasara would also be advancing reforms to remove even the existence of Muslim Schools. These government schools and private madrasas are an eyesore to this monk and his Buddhist hardliners. They believe that these educational institutions are hot beds of Islamic fundamentalism and vis a vis Muslim extremism. Already the Minister of Public Security, Sarath Weerasekara had been instrumental in proposing anti-madrasa legislation in the parliament. To Gnanasara those legislations have not gone far enough.
What the future holds for this country and under this regime is the systematic dismantling of the historic scaffolding that protected and strengthened the cultural and religious diversity, which won international fame. It was the attraction of this diversity more than anything else that drew a galaxy of international leaders to Colombo for the NAM Conference in 1976. To allow this heterogeneity to be destroyed by an ethno-nationalist mindset that shamelessly call itself Buddhist is an insult to the founder of Buddhism. These are the villains of Gautama led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The Gnanasara TF is a slap on Minister Ali Sabry’s face, and disrespect to the legal brains of this country as evident from the Bar Association’s published communique. All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) urges the Minister not to resign his position. Won’t his resignation send a strong message to the world community? The ball is in his court. Even if the President wanted a Buddhist prelate to head his TF there plenty of more enlightened Buddhist monks than Gnanasara, who cherish cultural pluralism and consider it as an asset to build unity and not a liability to get rid of.
There are far more urgent tasks at the moment calling for serious attention and action from the President and his cabinet than OCOL. The economy persists in remaining enemy number one. Already, the president’s secretary has sounded that the next budget would be “non-traditional” and that it would focus on the future. That is an excuse to cover the budget’s vacuity about the present. Mr. President, people are fed up with more and more of your promises. They want their basic needs be satisfied. Ethno-nationalism is not going to feed, clothe and shelter the downtrodden, whose number is increasing by the day. One doesn’t need your finance minister to tell them eat manioc if they cannot get rice. They are already doing it. At the least, will the minister reveal in his budget how much of his brother’s previous budget promises been delivered so far?
In short, OCOL is an instrument of deception, and the TF is a means to deflect people’s anger and frustration over the regime’s failure and its preparedness for sacrificing the Muslim community to remain in power. Muslims should be on extra guard to prevent any of its members acting like idiots to start a flare up. This battle has to be fought politically and intellectually and not on the streets as Gnanasara and his boss want.
*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia