By Malinda Seneviratne –
This refers to Dayan Jayatilleka’s response (Anti-BBS Vigil: A critique of the critique) to something I wrote on the subject of a candle light vigil organized by a group that named the event ‘Buddhists Question Bodu Bala Sena’. I called my comment ‘The “Vigil” I saw’. Colombo Telegraph re-posted with what I consider to be a mischievous re-titling, “The BBS ‘Buddhists’, ‘Nightclub Buddhists’ and The ‘Vigil’ that I saw”. Dayan, sadly, seems to have let that title guide his rant and has missed out all the caveats inserted. That’s an old trick. You deliberately take a black-white picture and then rant and rave. That’s something I would expect from a high school debater, not from a man who has a doctorate, and one in political science to boot!
Dayan, true to form, throws his CV at the readers. That’s fine if only he was not so selective. His description of MIRJE is eye-wash, but that again is Dayan. I will let that pass and get to his ‘critique’.
Dayan wants to know ‘how on earth’ I determined the following: ‘But there were non-Buddhists in proportions that were a fair distance away from national ratios’.
Dayan, by his own admission is not one to attend such vigils. He will only stand with ‘The Left’ (he thinks the JVP and FSP are ‘Left’, but that’s another story for another laugh). In my case, I have made it a point to keep myself informed about who does what and why, especially I/NGO operatives and their cheering squad, in the media, at Lipton’s Circus, I/NGO forums and the workshop rounds. That’s how I know. The only people not speaking in English were those who were talking with the Police. This was no cross-section, as I pointed out. Not that it had to be, but I was only making an observation.
What I found most hilarious about this man who charges me of jumping to conclusions about composition, is that he sees fit to indulge in caricature of a magnitude that would make my error seem utterly trivial. He calls the BBS Bay-Badu Bala Sena, picking on a drunk-drive-without-license transgression of its main political figure 13 years ago. So based on that incident each and everyone in the BBS is a drunkard. Wonderful logic! Dayan asks me how I made a call on ‘cross-section’. I live in this country. I move around. I keep my eyes and ears open. Can tell. Dayan can’t, but that’s his problem. I challenge anyone who took part in the vigil to say that the group was a cross-section of Buddhists in this country.
No, demonstrations need not necessarily ‘accord with national, ethnic and religious ratios’, but it is strange to me that one which claimed it was a by-Buddhists event ended up having such a non-Buddhist preponderance. Add the other rider, there being a significant number of people with definite political agenda, and the picture is not as rosy as Dayan might think it is. The implication is that it was either not organized by ‘innocents’ or else some with suspect agenda had hijacked it or else were piggybacking on the innocents. Dismissing issues of class and category in politics by alluding to the Dhamma, as Dayan has done, is once again silly. One cannot be innocent in politics and Dayan certainly has not been. He has not subjected himself to the rigor he seems to demand from others.
Typical of Dayan, he took my ‘facebooking’ comment out of context. It is linked to my observation regarding composition. Dayan, true to form, deliberately misses the point and goes off at a tangent about who is on facebook and what being-on-facebook means and does not mean.
He does the same with the word ‘violent’. It’s easy. Pick a word and spit at it. Maybe it gives a thrill, but that’s not intelligent, engaging debate, but sophomoric word-play. I don’t have to answer for those Sinhalese and Buddhists who have been violent in one way or another against Tamils, Muslims or anyone else. Never been part of any of that. But Dayan does have a violent past and I find it strange that he didn’t pick some stuff from his own story to buttress his argument.
At no point have I condoned the Bodu Bala Sena. This does not mean that I have to agree with everything that those opposed to the Bodu Bala Sena say and do. Only someone who cannot extricate himself from flawed Cartesian logic would expect me to do so. In this instance, I went to oppose the BBS. In retrospect, I found that I was ill-informed. But I informed myself quickly enough. I did not stand with the BBS but I went to stand with people opposed to the BBS and the way I do politics, criticism and self-criticism are part of the story.
I said the policeman cannot be faulted for wondering how a ‘Buddhists against BBS event’ could have so many non-Buddhists. It’s enough for Dayan to go off at another tangent. If you mark an event as organized by X, Y or Z and realize that there’s more of P, Q and R in it, you can’t blame anyone for wondering what is what! That comes from bad organizing or too many people being taken for a ride.
This is what I wrote: ‘The Police Officer can’t be faulted if he wondered how a ‘Buddhists against BBS’ event had so many non-Buddhists. It was a sweeping generalization nevertheless and the ethno-religious composition is anyway not relevant to the matter of peaceful, democratic action, even if there was nothing innocent in intent and design.’ Dayan has either not read the second sentence or has deliberately kept it out of his rant. That’s cheap. Sophomoric. Typical.
Dayan ends his piece with a confession: ‘This hardly seems a fair or rational critique’. I agree, wholeheartedly; he has neither been fair or rational. Why he pressed ‘send’ after writing it for the Colombo Telegraph, I really cannot fathom.
NOTE 1: Dayan’s article in Colombo Telegraph has prompted a lot of comments. Many have saluted Dayan and showered me with invective. There is very little reason and very little sobriety in these comments. If they were at the vigil or supported the vigil then I can safely say that they are totally unsuited to question the BBS from a Buddhist perspective.
NOTE 2: I learned that spokespersons for the BBS have quoted my article. They, like my detractors, have misquoted me, leaving out important caveats. In my next article I will explain why I am opposed to the BBS.
NOTE 3: Most of those who cheered Dayan and most of those who’ve cheered the BBS, I noticed, did so during the nonagathaya and on Aluth Avurudda (April 14th) and into the festivities. Made me smile.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com