By Laksiri Fernando –
There is a slang term in Australia, some people calling others ‘going troppo’ to mean going crazy. The origin of this slang is supposed to be the tropical heat in the northern parts of Australia driving people crazy.
I am not sure where Mr Tilak Samaranayaka exactly lives in Australia, but when I was reading through his article, “Understanding the Causes of Sinhala-Tamil Conflict in Sri Lanka,” it was this saying that came to my mind instantly. If he were living in Sri Lanka, I would not have said this, although I feel he is in fact affected by the Sri Lankan heat more than the Australian one.
Issues of Buddhism
His very first sentence itself is misconstrued to say that there is an “on-going conflict between the Sinhalese Buddhist organizations and Muslims over a number of issues.” On the part of the Muslims, the whole community is accused but on the part of the ‘Sinhala Buddhists’ there is a clear admission that only ‘organizations’ are involved. To be more precise, only two three organizations are involved directly and even indirectly.
The so-called ‘conflict’ is obviously a created one with some political backing and for political objectives. Although there are prejudices, fears and apprehensions being created, so far it is more correct to characterize the situation as ‘thuggery, intimidation and hate speech’ against the Muslims, rather than a conflict. It has overwhelmingly been one sided except some exposure of intimidation of the BBS by people like Azath Salley. Now the victims are persecuted instead of perpetrators being brought before the law.
The language, the tone and the pretended and concocted facts presented by Samaranayaka are more dangerous than the hate speech carried out by the BBS in the recent past. He appears to counter the arguments of those who rejected the ‘hate speech’ and denounced the violent attacks against religious and business premises of the Muslim community, also correctly pointing out that these were against the Buddhist principles. The last matter was highlighted by many because all these injustices were done in the name of Buddhism.
But Samaranayaka unashamedly says that “the argument that we should follow Buddhist principles and live accordingly has no relevance when there are two sides to a problem.” Why? The following is his strange explanation.
In fact, we are dealing with real people and real issues, and these issues involve two cultures, two religions, two languages, and two different life styles. Religion, cultural practices, and social values of Muslims are poles apart when compared with the Sinhalese. It is an absurd assumption to accept that by living according to Buddhist principles, these problems can be automatically solved.
I am not sure whether he is a Buddhist to talk like that, but frankly I am not a Buddhist by birth although I have all respect, fair knowledge and considerable influence from Buddhism. But to him Buddhism has no relevance here because we are dealing with “real people and real issues” as if Buddhism applies to ‘imaginary people and imaginary issues.’ Then he says “religion, cultural practices, and social values of Muslims are poles apart when compared with the Sinhalese.” Has he discovered this only now? How come that the two communities managed to live peacefully in the past? Poles apart undoubtedly are not correct as there is so much rapport between the two communities.
No one would argue that ‘living according to Buddhist principles would solve any social problem automatically.’ There are other ways of dealing with our social problems through democratic means (not majoritarianism), nonviolence and most importantly respecting human rights of each other. But Buddhism is a profound philosophy which enunciates the Middle Path when exactly there are two sides or extremes to a problem. But artificially creating an antagonism or conflict when there is none, is not the way to practice the Middle Path. It is unfortunate if the Buddhists openly reject practicing Buddhism and criticize Muslims for practicing their religion, only on the pretext that they are poles apart from us. I think Samaranayaka should re-read what he has written.
Samaranayaka talks about rights issues a lot. But his perceptions are completely misplaced. He creates victimhood to the Sinhalese as if Sinhalese are colonized by a Muslim empire. He says, “It is very unfair to suggest that only the Sinhalese should sacrifice their rights and values and provide a solution to this problem. Since the Sinhalese are beginning to take action to protect their culture, religion, and fundamental rights, they are branded as ‘extremists.”
See the words “very unfair.” No one has suggested that anyone should sacrifice ‘their rights’ unless those are privileges or ‘rights’ against the others. Since 1948, this country Sri Lanka has been governed by the Sinhalese and quite discriminately against the other communities, both ethnic and religious. We should have the rationality and modesty to accept that. The colonial period was a different story and it ended 65 years ago. What are the actions that the Sinhalese need to protect their culture, religion and fundamental rights when there is a Sinhala supremacist as the President with two thirds majority in Parliament? Why the religious and business places of the Muslims community are attacked to protect the rights of the Sinhalese? Samaranyaka should answer these questions.
Samaranayaka pretends to be fair for both sides and claims that since the Muslim side is presented that he wants to present the Sinhala side. The following is what he presents.
Muslims live everywhere in the country. In some regions, there are more Muslims than the Sinhalese. They not only live with the Sinhalese, but also carry out most of their economic activities with the Sinhalese and supported by them. Furthermore, they practice their religion the way they want despite the inconvenience caused by their religious practices to others living in the area. Evidence that the Sinhalese are a tolerant community is that they allow Muslims in their neighbourhoods, contribute to their economic base, and allow their religion to practice. This does not mean, however, that there is no limit to their tolerance. Can the Muslims be considered a tolerant community, if they are placed in the same context?
Muslims living everywhere in the country (which is not completely correct) is a grievance for Samaranyaka. He does not even casually mention that the Muslims were evicted from the North and the East by the LTTE. Then it is a grievance for him that in some areas they are concentrated and more than the Sinhalese. The genuine ire perhaps is that ‘they not only live with the Sinhalese but carry out their economic activities with the Sinhalese and supported by them.’ This is not a Sinhala grievance but a grievance on the part of some Sinhala business groups.
He further says that “they practice their religion the way they want” as if they should practice their religion according to what Samaranayaka wants. Of course if there are inconveniences to others those could be placed before the legal and judicial authorities and there are courts and mediation boards to deal with them. But no one has any right to interfere with their religious dress or any other practice. Samaranayka claims that Sinhalese are a tolerant community, which is largely correct, not because that they ‘allow’ but they live in the same neighborhoods and engage in common economic activities. The tolerance is also mutual because Muslims are not aliens to have special permission to live among the others, the Sinhalese or the Tamils. This is a wrong conception in anyone’s part.
Then the real attitude or the motive of Samaranayaka comes out when he says, “This does not mean, however, that there is no limit to their tolerance.” This is in fact a threat which he repeats at the very end of the article again. I don’t know who this Samaranayake is and what connections that he has with extremists organizations in Sri Lanka. We should ask the question from him, however, when and at what point that this limit would reach? At the last paragraph he says “The Sinhalese feel that they have been pushed beyond the tolerant level by the activities of the Muslims,” but does not explain what activities, except the population growth and non-participation in sports!
There are so many prejudices that Samaranayka has propagated in the article although he started by pretending to be an unbiased observer and objective analyst of the causes of the conflict. Even he uses the term ‘root causes.’ Even if there is any serious conflict then what he highlights cannot be the roots causes at all but some superficial subjective reasons on the part of some Sinhalese at most. It is ridiculous for him to accuse that Muslims are not participating in national sports or social activities, which is not correct, and even if it is correct, it is not a reason for a conflict other than for a for prejudicial mind.
Perhaps with an economics background Samaranayaka has some ability to manipulate population statistics. There is no question that the population growth rate of the Muslim community is higher than the other communities as at present. But some of the figures given by him are not correct at all. He says, “During the thirty-year period from 1981 to 2011, the average growth rate of the Sinhalese has been 0.94% compared with 1.8% growth rate of Muslims.” The average growth rate of the Sinhalese for the period was 1.04% and not 0.94%.
Although I have no intention to go into details of his figures or calculations, if he has made his population projections on the above basis, those are then simply incorrect and exaggerated. It is a known fact even in Australia that population growth of the Muslim community is higher than the other communities. This is the case in Sri Lanka. What he does however is scaremongering without understanding the reasons. Before my retirement from the University of Colombo in 2010, I recollect that the issue came up during a seminar and a prominent demographer explained that further studies into the matter reveals a downward trend already among the Muslim community in certain areas where women acquire education and participate in the work force in addition to urban migration. As Dasun Edirisinghe reported to The Island on 18 March 2013, a senior officer from the Census Department, Mrs Bandara, had expressed a similar view.
Samaranayaka pretends to be a friend of the Tamil community. He on the one hand says, “There is no animosity between an average Sinhalese and an average Tamil. The two communities share long standing social and cultural links, and have common cultural and social customs.” On the other hand he says, “The ongoing conflicts throughout the world are either directly or indirectly related to Muslims whose ideologies are based on the rigid form of Islam.”
But he is clueless in explaining the drastic population decrease within the Sri Lankan Tamil community between 1981 and 2011. The percentage position has dropped from 12.7 to 11.2 between the two years. Hill Country Tamil percentage also has dropped from 5.5 to 4.2 between the two years. I am saying these to show that the superficial statistical explanations are misleading. But he believes “that the growth of population of the Sri Lankan Tamils is quite comparable with the Sinhalese.” This is hilarious and the explanation given is the following.
Although an increase of 1.7 million has been recorded under Sri Lankan Tamils in the 2011 Census, it cannot be considered as a net gain because the coverage of the 1981 census was limited to few parts of the Northern Province due to the ethnic conflict that was emerging in the North at that time.
In the first instance, if the coverage of the census was limited in the North then it should be an ‘underestimate’ in 1981 and then 2011 census should show a higher growth. Secondly as far as I am aware, the 1981 census was not limited to few parts of the Northern Province as he claims. That happened at the 2001 census but not at the 1981 census.
My conclusion remains, and even reinforced, that Samaranayaka has gone ‘troppo’ by trying to defend the Bodu Bala Sena.