By Mass L. Usuf –
On 20.07.2016 TV Derana in their programme Aluth Parlimenthuwa (New Parliament) discussed the subject “Is global terrorism a challenge to co-existence in Sri Lanka?”. The panel featured Mr. Ali Sabry, President’s Counsel, Mr. Mohan Samaranayake, Mr. N.M. Ameen and Mr. M. Dahalan.
The entire panel did a wonderful job analysing the subject under discussion with clarity and precision. There was no ambiguity or vagueness in the position of each of the panellists. Most importantly, they disassociated Islam and Muslims from this murderous, blood thirsty, barbaric terrorist outfit which calls itself ISIS, ISIL, IS. The panel was unequivocal in their condemnation. President’s Counsel Mr. Ali Sabry said that the meanings of the word Islam is ‘Peace’ and ‘Submission’. Therefore, these inhuman terrorists have nothing to do with this religion of ‘Peace’. Mr. Mohan Samaranayake dismissed as nonsensical the exaggerated false claims by some vociferous fringe groups that Sri Lanka was a hub for these terrorists.
In relation to coexistence, the ensuing discussion revealed that the Muslim community is seriously lagging behind in this effort. The proverb that it takes two hands to clap is apt here. It is not enough that the Muslim community keeps whining about being targeted. True, greater responsibility lies on those who are numerically larger but that does not exonerate the numerically lesser folks from taking that extra step to bridge the gap. The incisive, timely and smart questioning by the programme anchor, Mr. Sanka Amarjith should make the Muslim community to sit back and take stock. He even mentioned that nothing much is known to the people about Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him). I had earlier emphasised in these Columns the need for openness and less insulated inclusiveness. See, “The Tide Is Turning, Muslims Cannot Live Cocooned” (CT : 05.11.2015). Below is an excerpt:
“In this milieu, the Muslims, apart from a few activists, have held themselves aloof from the mainstream of almost every activity. Their distinct religious needs compel them to live in community. Historically, they were a contended people with their main focus on business, religion and their community life. The Muslim community is not organized and matured enough to engage in civil activities. Most are indifferent to their civic roles or those who are knowledgeable keep away without attracting trouble to themselves. These factors have contributed to the failure by the Muslim community to demonstrate their presence in society effectively. The Muslims are cocooned within the confines of their community resulting in alienating themselves from inter-communal interaction and on national issues.
The time has come for the Muslims to shift their mind-set to be inclusive and, if they are as some may argue, then to be more inclusive. Little wonder they have been mistreated not only by the majority community but by the Tamil minorities too. Their cocooned disposition has not brought to them any positive yield except disappointment and hopelessness. Come out of your cocoons, the tide is turning, is the call for them”.
This cocoon mentality paves the way for speculation in the minds of others due to uncertainty. Misinformation leads to misconception which in turns leads to misperception. All of these are not helpful for reconciliation and coexistence. They comprise the negative tools that sow the seeds of suspicion from which germinates distrust between two peoples. This fact is very well known to the anti-social forces which continue to deliberately and maliciously indoctrinate the innocent people through misinformation.
Among the different types of biases listed in psychological studies, cognitive bias is considered to be the tendency to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment. The forming of misperception emanates from such bias. This phenomenon when applied to what again in psychology is called the ‘herding behaviour’ – the herd mentality, it disseminates fast. The source of this cognitive bias is extremely relevant. If it is directed via a religious institution or a religious personality or a socially accepted person, then naturally it adds value. Herd mentality works very well in this case. Here is a classic example.
Slaughter Of Cow
Twice, within about three months, I was asked about the killing of cows. Once by a three wheel (tuk tuk) driver and lately by a Barber. The same question from two different places and in two completely different circumstances. This was a very disturbing to me. I was wondering how many more are out there with the same question in their minds. My worry was not the question per se but the wrong perception based on which the question arose. On both occasions I answered each of them.
The question was why are the Muslims killing the cow in violation of the Quran. I was surprised and said that we slaughter strictly according to the Quran. The questioner told me that if you kill according to the Quran you will never be able to kill. He said as per the Quran the person who slaughters can do so only standing on a red hot iron plate. I told him that this is absolutely false and nowhere in the Quran can one find such a statement. Here is an open challenge to prove if there is such a statement in the Quran.
Then he asked why do you eat beef. I responded by asking him what is wrong in eating beef. He said you are killing a life. I said that the answer to this can be given from varying perspectives but that I will stick to some basics. (1) Islam does not say that Muslims must eat beef. Among the thousands of varieties of food beef is just another one. (2) As humans we need to survive and God has created everything in this world to facilitate human existence. (3) If I eat beef today may be I will eat fish or chicken tomorrow. In this case, I should not eat these also because they too have life in them. (4) I have to then only eat vegetables but then plants also have life in it. Then I will not be able to survive. (5) The Arctic Eskimos will die if they do not hunt for Seals, caribou, polar bears, fish etc. for food. Vegetables do not grow there (now they are experimenting on greenhouse gardening).
I asked him do lions eat grass or the cows eat animals? He said, “no”. I told him that is because God has created these two animals in two different ways. The lion is a carnivore and therefore, his dental structure is that of a carnivore (canine teeth) and the cow has a set of teeth befitting a plant eating animal, a herbivore. Both the carnivore and the herbivore also differ in their digestive systems. Humans have teeth for chewing, crushing, and grinding and also canine teeth. The human digestive system can take in meat and vegetables. Humans are omnivores. In addition, I said that the Quran and Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) has taught us to respect the environment, the ecosystem and be kind to all animals not only the cow. Each of them was happy and said, ‘we were not aware of all of this’.
The cascading effect of this misperception was what we witnessed when Mr. Amarjith the anchor of the programme asked for some valuable clarifications. He was sincere when he said that these questions represented the common notions of many people. Very true. Reference was also made to the Friday prayer and the alleged preaching of hatred etc. in the mosque towards other communities which is, of course a blatant lie.
Anyhow, this should be an eye opener to the Muslim community. The Muslim community in fact, should be grateful that explanations for various misunderstandings as above were called for in the Aluth Parlimenthuwa. More questions have to be welcomed and explanations given to create proper understanding and to expose the inveterate liars. Such open dialogue befits the quintessence of a pluralistic society. This is a reminder and an opportunity for the Muslim community to get back to the drawing board and find out where they have lapsed. The Muslims must engage in an exercise of introspection as individuals and look inwardly as a community to determine how best they could enhance their interaction with their coexistence partners.
Mr. Mohan Samaranayake’s excellent exposition of the responsibilities of the media in a pluralistic society and towards harmonious living could not have been more succinctly articulated. I hope like TV Derana has showed the way, the other media too, both the print and electronic will help in creating a society where all the citizens in unison will be proud to call this as, ‘MY COUNTRY’.
“Act well your part, there all honour lies.” – Alexander Pope
Congratulations! TV Derana. Great job!