23 April, 2024


Rationalism, Liberalism & Marxism Are In Global Retreat; Whither Aggressive Buddhist Politics?

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

“Methinks the world is oddly made and everything’s amiss” 

It’s a very strange decade, globally. All manner of religious extremisms, racial and nationalist excesses, and political irrationalities have taken control of the human drama. First on the scene this Century was Islamist terrorism’s infamous 9/11 carnage. Then Al Qaeda festered into IS, Boko Haram and a host of avatars; demons of torture, beheading, abductions, enslavement of women, and intolerance on a scale not seen for centuries. Early 20-th Century movements to cast off colonialism reached a highpoint in India in the 1940s and shifted gear to national-liberation and anti-imperialist struggles in the next 50 years. But by the turn of the Century conflict metastasized into ethnic, racial, tribal and religious civil wars, sometimes of unspeakable horror. More recently it was Alt-right obscenities such as Trump, right-extremism in France and Austria and proto-fascism in Hungary. A variant is Brexit madness in England dragging along a horrified Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Even lawful Hong Kong is afflicted by temporary insanity as anarchistic young people spearhead a drive to disrupt law and order and compel the Chinese central government to intervene militarily. They evoke the madness-of-crowds syndrome that psychologists talk about.

Hard-line monks call for Buddhist Sinhalese government

The scene at home has followed suit. Subjugation and alienation of Upcountry Tamils after independence was followed by discriminatory treatment of Ceylon Tamils. The 1983 butchery ignited a civil-war and the birth of LTTE terrorism. The Sinhala State used terrorism earlier from before JR’s time and followed it up in the Mahinda-Gota chapter. The total defeat of the LTTE closed that saga. Thereafter Sinhala-Buddhist (SB) chauvinism took a different turn; Muslims were the new target and the offensive was spearheaded by sections of the Buddhist clergy. This is the point at which we have now arrived and prospects are disturbing partly because in the view of many and much to my chagrin, Gota is thought to be the front runner in the Dec-Jan presidential race.

Let me say a few words about the importance hegemonic ideologies or belief systems such as religions in stabilising society. During, for example, the early-medieval period in Europe the bedrock material foundation of society was feudal-agrarian production and medieval social class stratification. Catholicism was the ideological construct that permeated men’s minds and stabilised this order. In the usual inversion of reality and imagination, folks thought God organised the universe and put bread on the table. In earlier times, say ancient Egypt, agriculture and the bounty of the Nile was the foundation without which life would have been impossible but myths about godlike Pharaohs, the afterlife and a load of mumbo-jumbo in men’s minds did ensure order, stability and continuity of state and society.

Two examples, nearer home in more ways than one from antiquity are the Maurya Emperor Asoka (reigned 274-232 BC) and the Empress Wu Zetian (reigned supreme 690-705 BC and consort 655-683) the only female Empress of China. Both reigns are renowned for material prosperity and peace most of the time. Ideological harmony in both was grounded in the spread and acceptance of Buddhism. I need to say no more about Asoka, but many readers may not be aware that Empress Wu, deemed a great ruler, bonded with her people by identifying with and supporting Buddhism which was then gaining ground. Her reign was the golden age of Buddhism in China before the Confusion elite fought back and restored the older hegemony.

Sadly, now is not a prosperous or peaceful time in Lanka. The slice of the clergy that this essay reflects upon invokes no esteem. Though nominally Buddhists, name is all it has in common with Asoka and Wu Zetian.  Nevertheless, it is a reminder that in all societies ancient or modern, Pharaonic Egypt, Medieval Europe, Maurya India or Tsang Dynasty China, society is defined by both its stomach and its sometimes-dysfunctional brain. At times what’s good for the stomach and what goes on in the brain are at odds. To stop being infuriatingly roundabout for fear of offending the faithful, I will be forthright: Politically aggressive Buddhism is at this time a regressive and socially divisive force. A thuggish monk caged for contempt of court was pardoned by Sirisena who thought the monk may be useful in advancing his political ambitions. A large convocation of monks in Kandy pressed for the formation of a “Sinhala Parliament”; it was not clear if the plan was to terminate the current one which contains heretics, non-believers and filthy vermin of other races. And so on.

In a perversion of democracy such strategies are paying dividends. An extremist monk fasted demanding the removal of a Muslim cabinet minister. Had he conked Buddhist mobs would have massacred Muslims up and down the country. For fear of rabble rousers all Muslim ministers in government resigned. The country slid one more step towards a Sinhala-Buddhist state. Don’t get me wrong; I expect nothing different from these champions of aggressive race and faith; my issue is that neither President nor Prime Minister nor any political party called out and condemned aggressive political-Buddhism. No one will dare do it, not only for fear of a political backlash which is certain, but also for fear of physical harm. What I underline is this: Religious extremism has gone far and gained strength and it is the most powerful ideological narrative in Lanka today. This state of mind is what Antonio Gramsci well described as the ‘hegemonic ideology of society’. All societies have one or more hegemonic myths and bogus chronicles but when one becomes dominant, aggressive and its supremacy dare not be challenged, it becomes the starting point of neo-fascism.   

The older narrative that the intellect had become accustomed to post-Enlightenment, reason, rationalism, liberalism, socialism and Marxism are in retreat in the face of this assault. Liberals, socialists and the secular-minded basked in the glory of reason, science and the pluralist state for a long time. Quite suddenly and within two decades it has inverted. Out of dark recesses of the human soul a new mass hysteria has erupted. For long it was thought that unreason had been banished. Not so, the battle has to be joined again if humanity is not to pass into another Dark Age.

Old fashioned atheism and materialism said that religion and ideology (presumed irrational as opposed to theory, knowledge and science) were false and deceptive. They did not examine the deeper psychological and neurological well-springs of individuals and of social collectives. Voltaire acidly remarked that if God did not exist it would have been necessary to invent him. At one level it is true that ‘religion is the opium of masses’ and persuades men to acquiesce to oppression, exploitation and domination by the state. But it is also true that it can do so only because it stirs emotional wells and provides solace from fear of the unknown and the afterlife. To rephrase the class (opium) argument in conventional terms: A shared ideology or common faith bonds together a society and promotes cohesion. For example, shared veneration of the nation is only as old as capitalism; it was needed for unification of the market and to fuse schemes of modern production and circulation. Nationalism had healthy origins, but only post capitalism, the bourgeoisie’s spiritual supplement to material ordering. The ruling ideology of cohesion in the old world was different – kings, popes, gods (Indra, Ra, Odin in Norse mythology), high priests and castes.

But it is also true that globalisation and the contradictions that modernism has laid bare, have perverted this nationalist project. If you had let the Sinhalese and the Tamils, or the blacks and the whites, inhabit different spaces with cross-boundary interaction for commerce alone, they may not have been at each other’s throats in the way that inhabiting a common space and nation state has done. But history has an arrow, you cannot wind time back. The plain truth is that the first two decades of the 21-st Century ideology has brought out the worst, the most intolerant, extreme and violent in communities be it Trump’s racist Base, European Alt-Right movements, and in our neck of the woods, aggressive political Buddhism. 

We have to get accustomed to this new normal not in the sense of accepting it but recognising it as a condition that must be confronted. We must realise that we need new and appropriate tools to fight this cancer. Two things come to mind; appropriate economic strategies to address the anxieties that are deriving masses of young and even older people into the arms extremists and nationalist malcontents and secondly alliances and strategies to confront it. The first is not a subject that I can take up in the remaining portion of today’s column, but I need to say a few words about the latter. 

My subtitle lamented that liberals, rationalists and leftists were in retreat all over the world in the face of extremism, racism and intolerance. There you have it; this is the alliance has to be forged if the barbarians are to be turned back at the gate. Narrow partisan differences, adherence to this or that creed, social distinction and differences of colour and tongue cannot be allowed to stand in the way of a common alliance to restore civility and civilisation. To neglect to enlist in one, or in several of these alliances as they gel for this purpose, is perilous. Agnes Heller’s remark in her outspoken hostility to hard-right elected “tyrant” Victor Oban: “The most potent poison is substantive nationalism. Whether Hungary will escape with sufficient sanity and clarity for a new start remains to be seen” is surely too pessimistic. Heller, a distinguished scholar, prominent philosopher and outspoken dissident passed away aged 90 on 19 July 2019.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    Not a word about Wahabi Suicide Bombs in Kochikade, Batti and Negambo where the highest number, in fact 115 of innocent Catholics were blasted off the face of the Planet Earth and many more hundreds were maimed.-

    But Dr Kumar has taken the Sledge Hammer to our Sinhala Buddhists and their Monks for trying to protect their rights in their own Birth Place, which have been taken away gradually since 1505 and with increasing Tempo from 2015..

    Dr Ranil and his mates destroyed the Military Intelligence which not only eliminated the Tamil Terrorists who massacred tens of Thousand Innocent Sinhala Buddhist, including their Monks but also could have prevented those 300 Innocent Catholic Deaths and 500 Maimed Catholics at the hands of the Wahabi Terrorists.

    Instead of protecting the general populace and keeping their hard won peace, Dr Ranil and his mates worked their Yahapalana Police over time to not only harass good Sinhala Buddhists but also put their good monks behind bars.

    Ranil and his mates drove the Economy to the ground putting hundreds of thousands of the great majority on the Samurdhi Dole.

    Dr Ranil and his mates increased the Nations Debt to 85 % of the GDP of the Country ,to provide LKR 34 Million Car Permits to UNP Politikkas in Kotte,
    11 Billion LKR Santhosam to his mates Family and a Pent House to Galleon Ravi who is Dr Ranil’s close mate and the world.s Best Finance Minster..

    Dr Ranil and his mates have signed off on 120,000 Acres of Prime Land to a US Corporation with total autonomy in everything including immunity to US Citizens and Forces…

    The ultimate Dr Ranil plan of enforcing his New Constitution which would have Terminated Buddhism and divided the Nation permanently could not be carried out because Dr Ranil’s Partner in Crime from Polonnaruwa either got a Brain Wave or got scared of not having a Monk to give him Pansakula..

    • 7

      KASmaalam K.A. Sumanasekera

      “But Dr Kumar has taken the Sledge Hammer to our Sinhala Buddhists and their Monks for trying to protect their rights in their own Birth Place, which have been taken away gradually since 1505 and with increasing Tempo from 2015..”

      Are you sure Buddha the awakened (not the public racist bogus Anagarika Homeless Dharmapala) is a Sinhala? You make us or you want us to believe he carried a Sinhala/Buddhist Sri Lankan passport and a birth certificate.

      If anything Rajapaksa family had served themselves well hence its time for them to renounce this mundane world and possessions and convert to Buddhism as taught by the Awakened one, resigning to a resort/hut/cave in the deep jungle. The Child psychologist and beauty queen could start her own bhikkhuni brigade to serve the local people in and around the jungles where the Sri Lankan forces killed many Sinhala speaking innocent men.

      Have a word with them.

      • 0

        KD: Its the Economy Stupid!
        EUro-American capitalism in decline with the rise of Asian economies has meant that US has weaponized ethno-religious-racial Identity politics with a veangance and Special Operations Forces (SOF) operating ISIS in Asia and Africa to distract from US-EU Economic Terrorism as happened on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.

        Ethno-religious Identity politics is a distraction and smoke screen from the fact that Euro-American Capitalism’s rise is fundamentally related to the US-EU war machine, massive Human rights and Economic Justice violations, and the export of Economic terrorism and Drug Wars like the Opium War to destroy China in the 1850s when China was the biggest Economy in the world. History has come a full cycle from the days of European Colonialism
        US-EU play identity politics, ethnic-relgious, gender, LGBTQ to distract from the continued looting of Asia and Africa and Indian Ocean

  • 2

    Wahhabis killed 320 innocents up to today. Zaharan says it is the Hidden Handler who asked them to blow up. Yesterday also they shot at the mosque and killed one muslim woman. That is the second after the first muslim who they killed after first one who died during the color revolution which they tried to begin. Buddhists are wrong and Wahhabis are wrong. What a way to present it.

  • 9

    If goata come to power, what will happen next. he will make his family rule in Sri Lanka for ever.. Sri Lanka will become monarch soon: Mahinda will be made as a king soon..His statue will erected all over the coutnry. Goata will pass on his power to his son. Mahinda wife will become second lady in Sri Lanka. One more time Mahinda family will loot all public money with or without immunity. All journalists will go out of the country except his cohorts and stooges.. Academic freedom will be wiped out,, Drug kings will mushroom once again… Military and army officials will be posted into diplomatic posts.. All his cohorts and friends will earn PHDs from national universities as they like.. Judges and lawyers will take their table over up and down. Because, they will not be able to do legal reasoning… Their heads and brains will be bought and sold by Mahinda families.. yet, Sri Lanka will be turned in to little China.. More parts of Sri Lanka will be sold to China.. wait and see more of this. If you are happy for this vote for him.. otherwise, vote for someone else but not for Ranil..

  • 4

    True, true,true: all the intolerances are in the ascendancy, globally, and here locally. Both the rabid Buddhists and the Zaharan Hashim legatees are preparing for their next big showstopper. They have to impress their followers in order to keep their show on the road. The burning question for us all is will the new lion tamer be strong enough to bring them to heel?

    • 3

      Spring Koha

      “Both the rabid Buddhists and the Zaharan Hashim legatees are preparing for their next big showstopper.”

      Are you are secret admirer/supporter of Hinduttva or a born again?

  • 4

    Rajitha Senarathna , Champika Ranawaka , Rathana Thero , Maduluwave
    Sobitha Thero , Ranil Wickramasinha ,Chandrika Kumaratunga , Sarath
    Fonseka and NGOs , all went in front of the vote holders and vouched for
    the suitability of Sirisena’s candidacy . Let us forget Sobitha Thero as he
    is no more among us . The promise was not only bread and butter but also ,
    bringing the losers to books ! After a horrible Zahran exhibition , the
    country , I mean the whole nation was back on its feet within weeks , such
    was the power exhibited , well done but where was this resolve against
    the looting of our economy ? All those above mentioned leaders of the
    nation blasted off on platforms that Rajapakshas are thieves and will be in
    prison for their crimes against the nation ! These leaders are dead sure of
    the power of their voters’ brain !! The “thieves” were systematically let free
    to dust off and get back to business with more enthusiasm . HOW ON EARTH
    THING THAT IS ON THE STEADY RISE , it is racism . Let us wait and see what’s
    going to happen to racism .

  • 1

    With respect to Militant Buddhism, I heard Venerable Ghanasara saying ” Ah, I know how it happened” probably he is remembering how the Secret Handler’s briefed him. So, he became the Role model that they wanted – A Militatn Monk and buddhist violence, cold war Monks etc., et., Eventhe Oxford University is doing PhD thesesabout Sri lankan, Myanmar and thailand Violent buddhism. HE was jailed for completely a different matter. Now, suddenly, the Secret Handler has become Buddhist. Who went asking from Mahanayke Theros TITLES for the suspended Presidential Candidate Karu Jayasuriya. Recently, they celebrated even the great work of Chief PRelates (Mahanayakeas). I think, how do they spend for their new WALPOLA RAHULA institute. Is it MCC money ?
    This same handler bombed LAOS and Cambodia. They say Polpot killed Cambodians. But, I heard Cambodians say they were bombed because they did not go against (Terrorism) China, and pol pot there man. I think, when OBAMA went their to receive him was not a military ceremonial guard. It was some SAMANERA (Novice) monks.

  • 2

    Gota’s nomination and the pathetic squabbling among potential opponents is a symptom of our disease.
    The nomination is an outcome rather than the problem itself.
    Time to think of a voting strategy that will not hand the presidency to anyone on a platter.

  • 1

    The great set back of Marxism and Leninism now working towards all sorts of evil ideologies that an advocated by theologies of Judaism, Christianity , Islam or Muslims and Hinduism are base on “God” who created that Universe for the Human kind! Which theory and believes are that against law of Nature .

    Well, myths of believers of billions of people are dominated world by religion leaders joint collaboration with political classes of monopolies of who control globe Economy. Hence majority population subject to slaves of billions under by that vested interest of monopolist CAPITAL of Imperialist. Well known Key role played by USA headed monopolies .
    This is simple truth of that “Monopolies Democracy” of the world ongoing governance in many numbers of countries under the United Nation Organizations ! (UNO) Result of that we are moving for DARK Age.
    That is how World become DARK AGE ? Until USA led monopolies classes defeated or overthrown by People of Globe this ongoing Dark age will NOT disappear in ours Universe …to for some times.

  • 0

    The above picture demonstrate the height of hypocrisy in our leaders.

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