By Reverend PJ Fernando –
I thank Shyamon Jayasinghe for taking his time to respond to me to my reply to him on the 11th June. I value his comments and remarks. Saddened though as it is his style, cluttering with very personal remarks. Probably to make his column punchy (I give him the benefit of the doubt), so that it will get many hits!! So follows those commenting, plunging themselves to such depths, no surprise there. However, it is frightening, and I would say is even threatening to see ‘good journalism’ licensing, as Shyamon does, quoting from his own handbook! the Media-kangaroo court of delivering justice. Reading through Sayamon’s response, and the comments that followed my reply and his, should in many ways shame us and many who commented. Why has our disagreements and responses should take the form of personal attacks? I would invite Shyamon and those commenting, if I may, to concentrate on beyond insulting people through personal attacks, to enter into a discussion on the concerns we have, and the issues raised. Yes, indeed it is a debate and discussion the whole country should have. Everyone should be comfortable, confident in doing so and be valued for taking time to do so. Not a personal attack, debilitating such a discourse. If you disagree with an opinion someone has expressed or on what some one has done, let us directly address the issue in concern with dignity and respect, and let’s not attempt to vilify the person. Let us keep; as I requested in my reply, to the decency and courtesy. Hold fast to ‘not crossing the line’. Arguing, with insult with a threat of bringing shame, cannot be a valid form of argument or discourse in reason, and in a civilised world. I am sure we are civilised enough to understand it, even if we don’t hold the brains. Often it is a show of defeat, hurt and guilt. But it doesn’t have to be. We need not accuse anyone as a person but let us open up a decent robust discussion with a mutual respect and courtesy. I am sure all of us should be able to rise up to it.
As I said in my earlier reply, I ended offering the reader another view and a take, to what Shyamon had to say. I was not defending the Cardinal; I am sure he would careless, and I don’t think that the cardinal is of the calibre of people who rewards his poodles for standing by him. As far as I know- not much, he is anything but! What I have attempted to do is appreciating the leadership he has shown in a crisis situation and I outlined the reasons for doing so for the reader’s benefit. Why would the cardinal need my defence? What threat is posed on him by whom? Of course, I understand that my Dphil (Phd) is beyond the comprehension of Shyamon or those that commented, indeed, to tell you, a very specialised area, not everyone’s cup of tea and not dared by many. But what has my Dphil or where I am or what I do, should be taken into question. Why a personal attack? Can we rise beyond this vulgar journalism and abuse in the public forum? Could we ask for a bit of civility, but indeed a thorough, robust discussion, as I repeat myself, on issues that have plagued our country, raising its nasty head time and time again in many forms.
It is good to note that Shyaman recognising that no human person, neither is he (to add), beyond ‘the potential to folly, err and act in evil ways’, but it is not simply a potential. No person can claim a moral high ground in everything one says and does. Surely, nor can Shyamon. I don’t think none of us, surely not me, neither the cardinal nor any other could claim the moral high ground. We are all ‘offenders’. I cannot think of anyone who could claim to be a ‘messenger’ – the faultless one! who would be simply pointing the finger at someone and all others, except for oneself. Sitting on a throne of judgement! The test that distinguishes a false messenger, for that matter a false prophet, is exactly one’s intention, honesty, the reasons for doing so without favour or bias, and of course the mannerism. What I wrote wasn’t a cleansing of cardinal’s whole life (it’s not my business nor anyone’s, what right would one have?), nor when the cardinal visited the monk, was it an approval by the cardinal, of all what the monk said and did. Why should it be? I am sure we should be able to understand this. On the other hand, what right do we have to condemn anyone so to say, excuse my jargon, to hell! If as Shyamon says, this monk resort to violence previously, and as illustrated by Shyamon in detail scrutinising the monk’s personal life, then when he took to a nonviolence means to ask for justice from a state that failed, should you have not encouraged it as cardinal did or rather would you have encouraged violence instead? So, if we justify a philosophy that licenses a personal attack, which is a form of violence, then no person in truth could enter into a serious debate and discussion on any issue that matters to the country, the nation or anything else. In fact, it poses the threat of shutting the door for engaging by any decent respectable person into a reasonable, sensible discussion. Which is very much the cry and the need of our times. So, shall we, please!
If the victory is what is sought in this rebuttal, I am happy to award it to Shyamon, no hesitation. You can have it all, but let understanding be mine. If it is the shame and insult you wish upon me, sure, I would be most willing to have it, but let the pleasure be mine. But can we have this discussion sensibly with civility. I accept your invitation, thank you; yes, indeed it is serious business Shaymon, it is your playground and I am a novice, yet I am up to it. But not simply blowing a whistle, pulling down the pants and pointing a finger! There is nothing spectacular, is there?
As I repeat myself, when one says ‘Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country’ it does not imply logically that others do not belong to the country or having secondary status, or giving in Shyamon’s words, ‘primal and host status’, but as I said, it implies rather the contrary. It is a distortion, a wrong understanding that is promoted to achieve one’s own agenda. I stated the principle of logic from the textbook, but Shyamon does not seem to accept it. It is in our own wrong comprehension in our heads and indeed in prejudiced minds that it is. This is the comprehension I would wish to correct and help us understand better, the real issues behind all this, for a better future for our country.
I am pleased, at least that in the next statement he agrees with me; that this claim, does not deny anyone’s rights. But, immediately goes to, belittling my PhD, why? Then he goes on to saying that this however creates a ranking of rights. In other words, a right to discriminate. This is the type of wrong reasoning and understanding that we should strive to correct with discussion, and in turn advocate and mobilise the people’s thought. There is no ‘right as such to discriminate’. To discriminate means to deny some the right which others enjoy. I am sure that is to say, denying the right of some. So, we are in a circular argument. Which is an invalid and false argument, as is done, will lead to a wrong conclusion. This is dangerous Shyamon as we will be misleading the ordinary people with a seemingly sound and appealing reasoning. I am sure Shyamon sees it now and is not intentional, even though he may not be willing to accept it in a public forum. But if he is intentional in misleading, hope it is not, then I would say it is bad.
Every person has absolute and inalienable rights. These rights of a person cannot be denied or compromised in any way. It is all said and sealed in the very words that defines it. It is a distortion to say, as Shyamon says ‘that these others’ rights take second place in a country that belongs primarily to the Sinhala Buddhists’. It is not at all the case. The rights of a person cannot be compromised in any sense. If there is, the fault line is not in defining a Sinhalese Buddhist country, but the governance, the state that has failed to enshrine and protect the rights. In that case not just any other minorities’ right, but the rights of any, and so all and every person’s right is denied. Of course, there will be qualified rights. This could be a qualified right, when the Sinhalese Buddihst country is put to risk. But still not without many checks and balances. So would all others, even the minority communities are protected by such qualified rights. Which I believe they have not hesitated to resort to in the past, even with the promptings of the international community. Which is the right thing. Protection of rights is the duty of the state and of every abiding citizen. If it is violated, they must be held accountable. Not just the state but all others too should be held accountable. As I said in my earlier reply, it is altogether a separate discussion. Where I would settle for now, is to say again, that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese Buddhists country does not follow that it renegades the rights of others. It cannot be, for the previously said logical reasons and as I have explained further in reply to Shyamon’s contention.
To simply reduce it to saying that ‘Sri Lanka is a country where the majority are Sinhala Buddists’, as is said by the honourable minister, and as Shyamon says, has squared the circle, how has it, or any such, be in equal territory. Is it because, then it is a fair game to be the majority? This very unthoughtful statement, which seems depraved of good counsel by the minister, and as some of the commentators say ‘happened to be Sinhala Buddhists’, is to deny and eliminate the very history, culture and native homeland of the people. This as I detailed in my earlier reply, is threatened by, to be specific, the separatist and proselytising agenda. In fact, by saying it and agreeing, we will be most probably unwittingly falling a prey to them. So, let us examine this statement.
Once we deny and remove this native, traditional homeland concept from a country and the nation, then rightly so, it is indeed a numbers game and what ‘happens to be’ or in extension ‘made it to be (looks like happens to be)’. Say for the argument’s sake ‘there was a plague’ and that all Sinhalese women, and no other became barren, then indeed Sri Lanka will no longer be a Sinhalese country, for all of them will be out numbered say in 100 years’ time by some other or others that happen to be not barren, let alone the extinction. And again, say, due to some apocalyptic feature, a great fire ball strikes the Sinhalese people seeing their sudden extinction, then it will surely no longer be the Sinhalese country. Again, for the sake of clarifying my point, say with a sudden enlightenment or the manifestation of Lord Buddha the whole of Buddhist religion is made a folly so there would be a mass conversion to some other religion, then surely this would be a case of numbers. If this then is true, why couldn’t this then be caused by some way or other, if not sudden then prolonged for many many years and generations to come. For it is simply the numbers that matter and so can be caused to happen, planned to happen. This is exactly what the colonial powers did to this country dividing and conquering, playing the numbers game, defining a new the face of the country, seeing a natural extinction, or ‘equal territory’ and then rule the country to their wishes and gain. Sri Lanka probably just survived, but we know many countries that did succumb to it. No longer their cultures, languages and smaller, poorer nations survived. It surely was a curse upon human history, though the colonisation would have brought about its own merits and blessings in some other ways, one could argue. The recent mass migrations from neighbouring countries, and otherwise, have opened our eyes. Not all migrations are for genuine humanitarian reasons. Some are well planned along for many many years to come, and some paid, bought and sponsored by powerful countries, nations and even belief systems. It is even has risen to be an invasion by migrants. Just imagine if it happened to Sri Lanka. It is simply then a game of numbers, getting it right for us! to be whatever a Sri Lanka. So, then we easily reduce it to the law of the jungles, the survival of the fittest or the greatest.
In our case what does the statement ‘Sinhalese Country’ mean. It is not indeed simply a numbers game, not indeed a ‘majority Sinhalese’. It means nothing other than recognising, defining and protecting the traditional homeland of the people. Giving wait to a history and culture of a nation. Protecting form extinction, especially when their extinction is well planned, thought of and willed for. It is indeed the ‘birth right’ of a nation people. It is different to creating a modern state like Singapore. Yes, then probably we can do our numbers game. Sri Lanka is not. It’s not simply happened to be either, not so simplistic. Like you are born a Sinhalese, a Tamil, a white, a black, less able etc. it is your right to be what you are. Not just happened to be and so you can do away with it whenever you or others wanted, No, one and others, may better learn to live with it, and respect each other’s right to exist. It is more than what happened to be. So is with the nation. We cannot colourwash all to some neutral colour that is acceptable to all, so that all are on ‘equal territory’. In fact, it is a gross violation of human rights to deny one’s birth right, so is the birth right of a nation, rights of a native people for their culture, their religion and indeed their language, it is unique and an asset. It cannot simply be bought with a bigger pay-packet from the national income, as Shyamon suggests. The test is; as I said in my previous writeup, is there a Sinhalese country anywhere else in the world, is there a Sinhalese language anywhere else in the world. It is then right to say, that their right must be enshrined.
If one thinks that the Sinhalese are simply a majority, nothing more is so mistaken. In fact, we are just a minority in the region, and indeed not even thought of in the world. As I said nowhere else in world would you find Sinhalese. If one says Tamils are a minority, we should be joking against a population of one of the largest states of India, right next door, which is the traditional homeland of the Tamil people. Sri Lanka is a tiny country which cannot even really govern itself, the more instability that is caused as I said previously, isolating it in the international stage, destroying its economy, destroying its history and culture the better it is to playing the numbers game; so to say ‘let us define it as simply a majority Sinhalese country’ would be to succumb on ones own sword. I am very shocked to hear one of the respectable ministers, as Shyamon says, is saying this, and Shyamon simply agreeing putting his journalistic skills and morals on the line.
Throughout history it is indeed the Buddhist monks that fought tooth and nail for the country long before the colonial powers, throughout the colonial reign and even thereafter to date. They protected the Sinhalese language, culture and indeed the religion. This is undisputed. We as a nation should be indebted to the Buddhist clergy. Though I am a catholic priest, I cannot think of anyone amongst Christians or any other religion in Sri Lanka that has sacrificed so much and taken so much a dedication to protecting the country, the nation, people, its history and culture, other than promoting their own with a justification of their own existence. We should be ashamed of ourselves rather than find fault with them. The Easter Sunday massacre and what followed it seems to me, to have taken further the leadership of the Buddhist monks in the country, at least in some ways, at least among some of them, to rise to protecting their country by way of protecting and defending the rights of the minorities. This might not be perfect as we wish it to be, but doom must be we wish, if it’s not to be recognised. This is why I said previously that I recognise that we have a long journey to make. Of course, like in all cases there are the extremes and extremists. So, has it been with the Buddhists and the clergy. Oh well, let us not whitewash the rest. But that shouldn’t in any way rob the indebtedness we should have to the Buddhist clergy for protecting this country and the nation. I cannot find any justification in tarnishing Buddhism and their monks, as is so easily done nationally and internationally, other than to serve our own agenda; separatist or proselytising. Sinhalese Buddhist country; I might not be a Singhalese, why couldn’t I recognise it. I might not be a Buddhist, but why couldn’t I appreciate it. As I keep on asking, what is it that is stopping us. To do so, how could it mean to subject my rights to them, making me inferior or be of lessor rights. Or as I explained clearly in my previous writeup, give teeth to some Sinhalese chauvinism. This is what I wish to correct in this discussion. It is this wrong comprehension that is instilled in people, especially in the children and younger generation of Sinhalese, Buddhists, non-Sinhalese and non-Buddhists, and very specially amongst the expats, that has guaranteed misery, please God not bloodshed, for generations to come. We probably could pat ourselves saying ‘bravo’! Shame on us! We as parents, religious leaders, politicians and all those that play a part in informing, educating and shaping our people with some responsibility, will be held accountable someday, I hope. I would wish to use stronger words, but I shall restrain.
If it is our agenda to distract the country and the nation from the failed responsibility of the state with the Easter Massacre and the failed political leadership, and so also indeed the corrupt politics of the past, by drawing all attention and focus on two religious figures in depth, in detail and scrutiny, Shyamon, I think you probably have successfully achieved it. For your reply to me had a detail analysis of what the cardinal did and also the life of the monk, finding fault with them beyond belief, surprise surprise nothing much about the politician who makes off-the-cuff remarks picking a fight with a renowned religious leader, and the accountability and the leadership of the state, and the issues in discussion. Well done!
*Reverend Dr PJ Fernando – Currently Priest of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, UK. Besides his priestly studies he obtained his DPhil from University of Cambridge UK, in Computer Vision and Artificial Intelligent Systems in 2004, served as Chaplain to number of universities in UK leading debate and discussions on number of topics such ‘the place of religion in the university’, ‘faith and reason’, ‘science and religion in a secular setting’, ‘religion in the public sphere as a moral compass’ and many other interests.