By Amrit Muttukumaru –
Even ‘The Island’ newspaper widely perceived to have a strong dislike for a SECULAR state has now been so RATTLED like the rest of the country on learning of the frightful global link to the Easter Sunday carnage that it has uncharacteristically spluttered what was previously thought unthinkable and that too in its editorial of 11 May 2019 – “Theocracy is an anachronism”. ‘Theocracy’ is generally defined as a system of government in which the clergy rule in the name of the religion, God or deity they espouse. To the best of this writer’s knowledge none of the mainline media in Sri Lanka print or otherwise strongly opposed clerics being involved in politics to the extent of (i) contesting elections (ii) being on election platforms (iii) participating in street demonstrations. Unequivocally stating in an Editorial that “Theocracy is an anachronism” goes a long way towards endorsing a secular state. Is this a harbinger of hope for the country?
This writer in his article ‘Cardinal Ranjith Must Seize The Moment For Genuine Reconciliation’ published in the ‘Colombo Telegraph’ on 5 May 2019 inter alia stated:
“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 Island’ Editorial of 11 May 2019 not only endorsed this view by stating that the Cardinal is “undoubtedly, the most popular Sri Lankan, at present” but even went to the extent of holding him out as deserving nomination not only for the “Nobel Peace Prize” but also “to lead this country as the head of government”. With due respect to the Cardinal it is this writer’s view that much more has to be done for him to deserve such recognition.
After the Cardinal’s intemperate outburst in the first flush of the Easter Sunday massacre exhorting the government to “punish them mercilessly”, his subsequent actions were statesmanlike and EXEMPLARY. The massacre led to the tragic death of more than 250 persons many of them children and around 500 injured – the majority of them Catholics attending Easter Sunday Mass. It is largely his moderating influence that 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.
At the end of the day what he did was HIS DUTY. What makes him STAND OUT is the DISGRACEFUL dereliction of duty by our political leadership – 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.
To place matters in perspective a South China Morning Post report dated 25 April 2019 states:
“Bruce Hoffman, a senior fellow for counterterrorism at the Council on Foreign Relations, said as far back as 22 years ago on his first visit to Sri Lanka there were Muslims who were concerned about people being radicalised.”
This takes us to 1997 and beyond to the Presidencies of Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Maithripala Sirisena and the Prime Ministers and governments under them. Be that as it may, President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and Minister of State for Defence, Ruwan Wijewardene take the cake for incompetence and being economical with the truth by claiming to be unaware of repeated intelligence reports.
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.
The Cardinal is spot on by attributing the main cause for global Islamic terrorism at the doorstep of successive US administrations. He has rightly pointed out that it is due to its furtherance of the commercial interests of the country’s powerful military–industrial complex (MIC) and geo-political interests in which Israel figures prominently. It is widely believed that the US is the main reason for the birth of the radical Islamic Taliban, Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The MIC is defined to be an ‘informal alliance between a nation’s military and defense industry’.
Sri Lanka can be considered to be either blessed or cursed in being at the cross-roads of big-power rivalry in the major sea lanes of the Indian Ocean. If we were smart (which we are not) this could have been a blessing. Sadly it appears that those at the political helm of successive administrations who are for the most part mediocre and corrupt with little understanding of geo-political realities are contributing to making it a curse. The Easter Sunday carnage is an example. The widely perceived involvement of foreign personnel based in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday tragedy could prove to be problematic. The mutual sharing of intelligence is another matter entirely.
Sri Lanka although a tiny country is today due to our collective STUPIDITY caught up in the maelstrom of global geo-politics and terror. Successive administrations in pursuance of political power have manipulated the country’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious fabric to set us up against each other by distorting history and appealing to humanity’s lurking base instincts. Such an environment is conducive for the birth and nurturing of a fifth column. The results have come home to roost over the years culminating in what we witnessed on Easter Sunday.
A major cause that keeps this country down in terms of economic and social development apart from widespread corruption is the absence of national unity which can only come if no section of its population feels subservient and disabled. This is particularly so in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country such as Sri Lanka where each of these formations have a rich and proud history second to none. We have gone against the flow of nature and committed hara-kiri by giving “foremost place” to Buddhism in the Constitution. We have even gone well beyond this by those wielding political, bureaucratic, law enforcement and media powers dinning this into the subconscious of the majority and minority communities with disastrous consequences.
Ponder for a moment, what has been the action taken on those of the minuscule section of the majority community who over the years have and still harass, humiliate, discriminate and cause violence of different degrees to minority communities?
In the current political scenario it is only Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera who has been a lone voice of sanity. He has had the courage to state that Sri Lanka is NOT a Sinhala-Buddhist country in the sense that it belongs to ALL communities. He is taking immense flak politically and otherwise for this. In this connection, what can we make of the criticism of Samaraweera by Mano Ganesan – Minister of National Integration, Official Languages and Hindu Religious Affairs who has affirmed that Sri Lanka is indeed a “Sinhala Buddhist country”. Given that his constituency mainly consists of ethnic Tamils, this is confusing. Is it out of FEAR that he has said this?
It is said that a nation’s greatness and civility is measured by how it treats its weaker members. By this yardstick Sri Lanka is uncivilized and a bully.
At this point I flag my strong reservations on the management of the economy by Finance Minister Samaraweera. It includes the Central Bank which falls under his purview. 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 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.
Despite the Cardinal’s known controversial position on issues of Secular State and Human Rights, it was hoped that the wake-up call (if indeed one was needed) given by the Easter Sunday carnage where the majority of those tragically losing their lives and injured were Catholics, would motivate the Cardinal to change track. Sadly this does not appear to have happened. The country must ensure that those who so tragically lost their lives many of them children did not die in vain.
It is disappointing to learn from the media:
i) That the Cardinal has “rejected” the view expressed by TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran that it was “the failure on the part of successive governments to address the grievances of minorities over the past several decades had led to the Easter Sunday carnage”.
ii) The Cardinal attributing the Easter Sunday carnage MERELY to “some misguided local youth had been used by an international group to carry out multiple attacks in Sri Lanka”
iii) The Cardinal and the Most Ven. Ittapane Dhammalankara Nayaka Thera being on the same page in opposition to the view expressed by Mangala Samaraweera. They both are of the view
“it could not be disputed that Sri Lanka was a Buddhist country”
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 in the context of Sri Lanka being a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, any tangible progress is a pipe dream.
The only person who could TODAY pull off the goal of a SECULAR state is Malcolm 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.
Most Ven. Ittapane Dhammalankara Nayaka Thera has quoted the Cardinal as having said:
“a person could become the President and Prime Minister of this country, no matter what religious or ethnic group one belongs to,”
This is excellent news. Clarification from the Cardinal as having said this will be appreciated.
If the Cardinal is able to pull off the goal of a SECULAR state which means (i) Religion and Politics will have no connection (ii) No constitutional provision for any religion (iii) Clergy of all religions will be barred from political activities – he will deserve more than the “Nobel Peace Prize”!