20 July, 2017

Looking At Realities Beyond The ‘BBS’ Illusion!

By Lukman Harees

Lukman Harees

Illusion is needed to disguise the emptiness within’-Arthur Erickson

Ratana Thero, who took time off his earlier strong nationalist (anti-Muslim) stance during the last presidential campaign, has woken up once again from his deep slumber while Champika has re-started talking about ‘hidden threats’ Meanwhile, BBS appear to have found new patrons in the MS-RW government with GST gone into sham hiding, with hypocritical official statements being made about the need for communal harmony and taking ‘stern’ action against the perpetrators. Groups such as Mahason Balakaya, Sinha-ley and other mini groups are exposing each other while dubiously living off the earnings of the Diaspora by relating pack of proven lies and woven tales about the ‘threat from the Muslims’. Not just Muslims, even the voice of Christians are being suppressed under Yahapalanaya preventing activists like Lakshan Dias for example from highlighting harassment of Christians.   

In a recent TV interview, Ratana Thero lamented that Islamic Extremism is being forgotten while Sinhala Buddhist extremism is being  repeatedly stressed in public discourses. He was in fact comparing the incomparable by equating fundamentalism but non-violent (per his own version) seen among the Muslims to the violent Islamophobic Sinhala Buddhist nationalism of these fringe groups. BBS ironically in a recent interview blamed Ratana Thero for Gnanasara Thero (GST)’s violent actions and for egging him towards prachandathwaya (violence). According to Vithanage , ‘Upasaka Mahaththaya’ Champika apparently used GST as ‘his personal hitman. GST further  claimed that Ratana Thero even tried to use him for some ‘illegal’ un-Buddhist assignments during CBK days too.

True! The majority community has voiced concerns about some recent practices and attire of the Muslim community for good reasons, which has led to an engaged discourse among the Muslim intelligentsia whether the community is becoming divorced from the traditional Sri Lankan Muslim culture, their predecessors adopted. It is however clear that Muslims have generally been peaceful and in fact showing an admirable level of restraint and patience especially in recent times amidst high levels of provocation.

In the light of these Post-war anti-Muslim developments, the question arises : is there more to what meets the eye, are they mere flashes in the pan or are we as a nation missing the wood for the trees? In Buddhism Betrayed, Stanley J. Tambiah argues that the political activities of the bhikkus promoted a narrow and exclusive ethno religious, nationalist ideology. Nineteenth and twentieth century Buddhist nationalists deftly used the Mahawamsa and Duthagamani myths to institute Sinhalese Buddhist domination. Political leaders, Maha Sangha and their acolytes regurgitate these accounts to justify policy prescriptions, including ethnocentric practices, and legitimize their standing as good and valiant Sinhalese Buddhists. Myths clearly have been used, especially since the nineteenth century, for politicking purposes and have been deleterious to the fashioning of a peaceful poly-ethnic society with a common Sri Lankan identity.

Social scientist Jayadeva Uyangoda too says ‘the involvement of Buddhist monks in politics following independence in 1948, in effect, transformed Buddhism into a highly politicised religion. Since independence, Buddhist interest lobbies have been active in politics’ and that “Sinhalese Buddhism has made no significant contribution to the evolution of a non-violent social ideology. On the contrary, the Sinhalese Buddhist historiographical tradition and ideology inherent in it supports ethnic political violence”. Events that transpired in post-independence Sri Lanka when Buddhist leaders and Buddhist monks campaigned for policies that exacerbated ethnoreligious violence highlight Uyangoda’s argument.

Roshan de Silva Wijeyeratne in  ‘Nation, Constitutionalism and Buddhism in Sri Lanka’ argues that Sinhalese nationalists have invoked a centralizing cosmic order which with  many of its’ metaphors emanate from a deep sense of faith and belief, and not as a consequence of any scientific inquiry as such. What this implies is that no amount of historical analysis or critical re-interpretation of historical evidence can challenge or change a belief; for beliefs defy any such attempt at ‘rationalizing’ the debate.

Further,  as Kalana Senaratna says in an ‘Island’ article (2014):  the more fundamental reason for the emergence of Sinhala-Buddhism, as well as groups such as BBS, has to do with the inadequacy of the true Buddha-teaching for contemporary political engagement, especially in an identity-seeking, identity-promoting multi-ethnic and pluri-national political setting. The Buddha-teaching is unhelpful in political struggle. Thus, there is a yawning and enduring gap between precept and practice. And it is this vacuum of a solid political ideology which is sought to be filled through the adoption of a culturally-constructed form of Buddhism. In Sri Lanka, this comes to be called Sinhala-Buddhism.

BBS reflects the movement which will literally and forcefully execute the project of Sinhala-Buddhism. What some Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists think, the BBS will do. And that’s what’s happening today. The broader necessity of a BBS-type movement is more acute in a post-war context wherein the promotion of Sinhala-Buddhism and establishing the dominance of the Sinhala-Buddhist ideology appears to be the fundamental and defining political goal of a government. The BBS-phenomenon derives moral and ideological support, therefore not only from the Buddhist monks, but also from political entities and the state apparatus. In any case the promotion and protection of (Sinhala) Buddhism along with the nurturing of political leaders to take up that task, has been one of the defining historical roles of the Sangha community in Sri Lanka.

It is not the case that the BBS is determined to destroy the Sinhala-Buddhists. Rather, the BBS is the natural end product of unchecked and unrestrained Sinhala-Buddhist fervour; This is why the government is not too keen to ban groups such as the BBS and why a government would not see groups such as the BBS as a serious threat.  BBS is therefore just the ugly underside of Sinhala-Buddhism . CA Chandraprema called the BBS-phenomenon a “mad-monk phenomenon”; and he considered the monks involved in this movement to be “mad monks”. Majority of Sinhala Buddhists believe that GST is undoubtedly the biggest disaster to befall on the Sinhala Buddhist community since Buddharakitha or Somarama . But, although it is customary to lock up those who have gone mad, this has not happened or can this be  expected to happen in the light of the above.

According to a leading journalist CA Chandraprema, GST is a political pawn earlier used by Rajapaksa and now  being used by Sirisena/ Champika combine. It transpired that GST has political plans to contest the next presidential elections in 2020, to split the Sinhala Buddhist vote at a future Presidential election. Both Champika and Maithripala Sirisena are in this together . He says that it is an illusion to assume that any minister can provide cover to GST without the President’s patronage which makes sense. When GST comes out of his hiding and be remanded , then he will be a martyr which will gain him Sinhala Buddhist votes while the Yahapalana government is likely to retain the allegiance of the Muslim community. Thus GST is only a performing gorilla in this game being played by the ambitious politicians. GST will never perform  unless his political puppet masters will want him to. 

As Senaratna said, ‘The marauding Buddhist monks, who appear to be tied to a long political leash, have run out of control. They need to be stopped. But it is equally necessary to take a cold look at the complexity of the phenomenon that groups such as Bodu Bala Sena have come to represent. This is no freak show, and is hardly an aberration in post-war Sri Lanka; also because we know now that critics who then predicted that the BBS was bound to dissipate in a matter of months were hopelessly wrong. How right he was! The mainstream Sinhala Buddhists in general and their intelligentsia in particular should take note of the diabolical plans of these rogue elements and conspirators among the Maha Sangha and their political masters without allowing them to instigate another 1983 style communal violence or a long drawn communal war.

Anti –Muslim however did not start from recent times. According to ‘Communalisation of Muslims in Sri Lanka: An Historical Perspective’ by F. Zackariya and N. Shanmugaratnam, Muslims have been the target of attack by early Sinhala Buddhist revivalists, and the anti-Muslim propaganda culminated in the riots of 1915. A major causal factor in this conflict was the resentment of the Sinhala nationalist petty bourgeoisie against trading interests of the Moors. In this phase Muslim identity consciousness became highly conditioned by the rising majoritarian Sinhala Buddhism and its intolerance towards the non-Sinhala Buddhists of Sri Lanka. Sinhala Buddhist cultural nationalism thus displayed a dual political character – it was more compromising towards British colonialism while displaying a growing intolerance towards the Lankan minorities. Certain elements of Buddhist revivalism served the growth of anti-minority sentiments. The Moors became one of the first targets of Sinhala Buddhist intolerance. Dharmapala who portrayed Muslim traders as unethical exploiters of Sinhala Buddhists quoted. “… What the German is to the Britisher that the Muhammedan is to the Sinhalese”. In the period prior to 1915 these campaigns were so actively pursued. This kind of hostility was also extended towards the Christian churches.

Whatever its’ origins were, at the same time, Muslims should also be conscious of the fact that the present pool of anti-Muslim sentiments is very real and goes far beyond the BBS, in the light of what is happening around the world, especially Trump- Alt-right’ climate in the US and the Europe. Local groups borrow their messages from a highly profitable global Islamophobia industry. As CA Chandraprema points out, ‘It is only the Muslim community and especially the Muslim leaders that can deprive the BBS of its’ base by changing their ways. Present Muslim political leaders unlike the leaders of yesteryear, have already lost their credibility not just among the other communities, but among the Muslims too. They have been switching parties at every election to serve their personal interests leaving community interests behind. It is time overdue for the Muslim intelligentsia to take the initiative and impress upon the political leadership to mend their ways to re-build credibility and confidence. 

During the independence struggle, the Muslim leaders then put national interest over the community interests while working with the national leaders to win much needed rights for the community. Can this mutually beneficial model be re-enacted? Further, the religious and community leadership together should look at some of the religious practices of community in the light of the flexibility provided by the Shariah such as the suitability of the Niqab/ Burqa ( full covering) as well as the black attire or adopting an Arab culture within Sri Lanka such as the men wearing the Arab dress or making the East look like little Arabia planting date trees or naming streets in Arabic style. These are areas which has been building walls between communities which is counter-productive. There is still enough goodwill between the Sinhala majority and Muslims in the South and therefore it is still not too late to take counter-measures and deny the oxygen hate groups like BBS are seeking to support their political masters by taking proactive measures.

Perhaps, joint initiatives by the intellectuals of all communities – Sinhala, Tamil and Muslims to expose these anti-patriotic plans to divide them as well as to build a Sri-Lankan identity will help. The good news is that many such drives are underway, like the recent initiatives taken by MCSL, Shoora Council as well Puravesi Balavegaya. Hatred should not move from fringe to mainstream status at any cost.         

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  • 7
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    Quran teading muslims who know only about the Middle eastern barberic cultures, Talk about Mahavamsa and dutugemunu. Muslims are killing each other all over the world. It is not instigated by buddhists. Wahabis are destroying other muslim mosques in Kathankudi. You talk about dividing muslims. Tamils are 100 million but there are so many castes. Even in buddhism dominated sinhale, Tamils can not work without castes. That is why every where, when they do something about caste comes forward and lot of problems. This article is all about propaganda. I think, irrespective of the govt affiliations, Sinhala buddhists should affiliate with the Israel and try to think of some means to get rid of Wahabis. Muslims are excellent liars when it comes to the promotion of their religion. This article is a typical example. There is a gang of christians – Evangelicals working side by side working with the muslim and show aggression in Asia towards buddhists. They are very active and dominating in some Asian (South Korea, Vietnam and Mongolia) countries. the media is dominated by christians, so they publish anti-buddhist propaganda. Anyway, I am pretty sure, one day Wahabis lose in the world. They have peaked. Now they only can go down.

    • 8
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      “Sinhala buddhists should affiliate with the Israel and try to think of some means to get rid of Wahabis” – On the other hand, now Wahabis and Israelis are allies too, and this will continue for sometime until Iran/ISIS get weaker. It is like trying to get rid of geckos and getting caught to crocks :-(

      • 1
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        yes get rid of whabis and spread shiaism?

    • 6
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      Jimsofty, as usual with full of stupid ideas. SL govt will never go for that option losing especially Iran and Pakistan among other few (who are not already in bed with Israel). All I see is that it is you who have problems co-existing with other religions here. I guess regardless of what community he/she belongs to, people with your sort of mentality should be deported to places where there cannibals live (But don’t worry, cannibals know what is poisonous)

  • 7
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    Jim Softy

    “Sinhala buddhists should affiliate with the Israel and try to think of some means to get rid of Wahabis.”

    How little you know. The Wahhabis are ALREADY hand in glove with the Israelis The latest proof is, when Trump visited Saudi Arabia recently, they NEVER made even a passing mention of the Palestine problem, not even about East Jerusalem, ILLEGALLY ANNEXED by Israel, which Trump wants to Recognise by shifting the American Embassy from Tel Aviv. Just like Israel, the Saudis want Uncle Sam to attack Iran and cancel the Multi National Nuclear deal with Iran.

    If you think Israel is good for the Sinhala buddhists, then you are putting the Sinhala buddhists on the SAME side as the Wahhabis you hate so much! .

    • 6
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      Israelis are smart guys, not like dumb Arabs. They know how to keep one foot in one side and the other foot on the other side. They did that in dealing with Sri Lanka. They were with LTTE as well as with the Sri Lankan Government and when they thought it is good to get rid of LTTE, they took the Government’s side and fked LTTE.

  • 8
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    I do not believe that Gnanasara is fighting for Sinhala Buddhists. From what he has done so far he has tarnished the image of Sinhala Buddhists in the world stage. Count the number of articles appeared in CT about Gnanasara. Probably, that could be what he is trying to achieve. Who knows, he might be working for these NGOs funded by Evangelical Christian Church who are working to tarnish the image of Buddhists, not only in Sri Lanka but even in other Buddhists countries. In this world, Christians have committed heinous crimes against humanity than people belong to any other religion. If you look at the history, Christian Europeans when around the world with the Bible in one hand and a gun in the other hand and massacred millions of people in America, Africa and in Asia and yet they want to appear clean and tarnish the image of other religions. If you watch ‘Rajiv Malhotra speaks at Conference on Foreign Funded NGOs’ in youtube you can get a very good idea on how these rascals are carrying out the smear campaign against Hinduism and Buddhism. Although we get the impression that Qatar is funding the Wahabi extremists, in reality an invisible entity could be channeling funds through Qatar to Muslim extremists. Same invisible entity could be funding Gnanasara through another channel. You two groups fight, we will reap the harvest!

  • 4
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    Muslims have problms in Sri lanka, thailand, burma and China. If you are interested learn why burma is fighting for 70 years. Why malay muslims in Thailand wants a separate region. In Srilanka, they are still building the separate regions. If the govt can not and do not want to handle it is a different reason. Muslims have only one objective. they are good at it. christians ared dominating and playing havoc in Mongolia and South Korea. they are doing in well in vietnam, China etc. I say again, muslims are taught to lie in the name of Religion.

    • 8
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      Jimsofty, you seem to be an individual who is lost in today’s modern world. You seem to invest your high energy to just find reasons to hate other people of any other faith except Sinhala Buddhism. I guess it is a psychological condition created by phobia and sometimes along with loneliness. If Muslims, Tamils and Christians are threat to Buddhism in SL, why don’t other professional and highly educated Sinhalese don’t see it that way?

      • 1
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        Rishad: Why muslims and Christins do not talk the while aspects of the problem, and instead, choose only to blame BBS. what about the world wide problem of Muslim aggression ? Muslims are silent only in a few countries because they are highly controlled by ingenious stratigies of those christian Deep states of those govts just the way majority muslim countries maintain their dominence

        • 2
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          There is no Muslim agression. It is Muslim extremism turned into terrorism, and it is not the entire Muslims. So now, what is the difference between you/BBS and those Muslim terrorists? Why are you trying to become a problem to sort out something that you think could become a problem in the future? Every worldwide problem has its roots. But why are you seeding a new problem in SL, and giving its roots?

  • 0
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  • 0
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  • 0
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  • 1
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    The 08 January 2015 election did not have the language/religion-divide as an issue. Lankans are frustrated that corruption, nepotism, culture of impunity are endemic as ever. The Executive Presidency governance is still there. More people want the cash-cow job – Gota, Champika amongst others. The language/religion-divide currency will be revived – it is cheap and proven success. Some Lankans will grow filthy rich but the average Lankan will have to slave in MidEast to feed the family back home. Lots of Lankans share the concerns listed here by Lukman Harees.

  • 3
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    “what about the world wide problem of Muslim aggression ?”

    Jim Softy, you keep displaying your one track mind. When did this so-called “world wide problem of Muslim aggression” begin? Was there any such problem BEFORE the ILLEGAL INVASION of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2001?

    Would Egypt have become ungovernable if NOT for the ouster of the democratically elected govt. of Morsi by a military coup sponsored by foreign hands?

    Would Libya be in Chaos if NOT for another Rebellion supported by the West which intervened militarily, albeit, with the UN support which saw the brutal lynching of Libyan Leader Gaddafi?

    Would Syria be experiencing a Blood bath if NOT for Foreign sponsorship with the backing of the West? The UN could NOT be involved as in Libya ONLY because the Russians came to the aid of the Syrian President.

  • 0
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    Why saudi arabia does not allow other religions to be practiced in their country. can anybody who blem our buddhists reply to this. why why saudi does not allow other religions in their soil. even worker does not allow to receive greeting card with their religious leaders photo on it. why can somebody who talk lots on coexistence reply to it. otherwise do not talk on BBS or any buddhist organizations if you can not answer this.

    • 1
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      Because 100% of the citizens of the country are Muslims and the constitution was rightfully was written for the citizenry and not the world.

      Even if your joining a company you got to abide by its rules and if you don’t like you should not join. I hope your familiar with the term “Beggars cant be choosers”

      Hope this answers your question.

    • 1
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      A simple web query would have answered your question.

      “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic state with Islam as its religion; God’s Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet, God’s prayers and peace be upon him, are its constitution”

  • 0
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    Mr. Haris

    if you are a real gentlemen can you answer this question please. can any other religion except islam be practiced in saudi soil. if yes no issue if no why. please answer this as pious muslim man.

  • 1
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    please don’t go by one country ( saudi arabia ) and think islam is a bad religion
    in quran several times it repeats to respect other religion and other faiths
    never argue or compare other religion with your religion. my dear sinhala brothers
    and sisters there are 1.6 billion muslims in the world. the terrorists are only 16 thousands. it is 0.000000016 %. rest of us 99.999999 % are innocent.

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