By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand this?” Ariel Dorfman (The Washington post – 24.9.2006)
Finally, in a cauldron of insanity, a few grains of sense!
The willingness to compromise displayed by the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) has opened a path away from a new war. We can now discard the bogus ‘Halal issue’, and focus on real problems, such as the ricochet-effect of fuel price increases; or Sri Lanka’s tumbling international reputation.
Faced with an incendiary campaign aimed at provoking a new conflagration, the ACJU has acted with mature good sense. Its proposal enables Muslims to have halal-meat and non-Muslims to have ordinary meat. It also opens the door to the introduction of humane methods of slaughter in most Lankan abattoirs.
Do Sinhala-Buddhist fanatics possess the sense to be appeased by the ACJU’s moderation? Or will they continue to insist on their maximalist agenda?
The initial signs are not hopeful. The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) is maintaining a stony silence while Minister Champika Ranawaka has declared himself dissatisfied with the ACJU’s moderate proposal. According to this Christian-basher of yesteryear, the ACJU’s position of differentiating between halal and non-halal meat smacks of ‘separation’.
The JHU-BBS types believe that Tamils, in order to be deemed anti-separatist, must oppose not just the Tigers and Eelam but also devolution. In their maximalist-eyes even limited devolution is akin to separation.
The same fundamentalist criteria are now being applied to Muslims. Muslims can be anti-separatist only if they abandon those parts of religio-cultural identity which Sinhala-Buddhist fanatics deem objectionable. Thus it is not enough to create a separation between halal and non-halal; halal must go.
Minister Ranawaka not only rejects the ACJU’s compromise; he is single-handedly striving to open a new frontier in the ‘war of the religions’. Marking a new inane-low (even for the JHU) he has stated that his ministry and the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress are discussing with the Sri Lanka Standards Institute to introduce “a new food quality certificate for non-Alcoholic food and beverages” (Daily Mirror – 23.2.2012). Granted, that his recent demotion from the important portfolio of Power and Energy to the inconsequential one of Technology, Research and Atomic Energy (there is already a Minister of Technology and Research) would have left Minister Ranawaka with eons of free-time. Hopefully he can find other, less deadly, alternatives to twiddling his thumbs than fanning the flames of religious disharmony.
The silence of moderate Buddhist organisations and leaders is distressing. If the moderates can speak out, step forward and accept the ACJU compromise, the hardliners can be consigned to the margins and prevented from imposing their deranged agenda on the country.
The silence of the regime about the ACJU proposal is equally puzzling. Will the Rajapaksas step forward to end the spurious ‘halal controversy’? Or will the Siblings permit their JHU-BBS-SR acolytes to feed the embers of religious-disharmony with more malevolent rhetoric and other spurious issues? Is this a way to make the Sinhala masses forget the bleak economic outlook?
The Human Rights Watch is to issue a new report claiming that Lankan forces raped/sexually abused Tamil detainees not only during the war but even afterwards. The HRW Report is said to “chronicles 75 cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse which occurred from 2006 to 2012 in Sri Lanka” (One India News – 22.2.2013). If true, this should be of paramount concern to the Sinhalese, not only for moral-ethical reasons but also in self-interest. If, as the HRW claims, “politically motivated sexual violence by the military and police continues to the present”, it can victimise Sinhala opponents of the regime too, ere long.
Do the Rajapaksas think that a new religious enemy will enable them to sweep even this outrage out of international-sight? And be welcomed at the White House, Downing Street and Élysée Palace, as leaders of the new frontier nation in the war against ‘Islamic Terrorism’?
Pro-Sri Lankan ACJU and Anti-Sri Lankan BBS-JHU
In the spurious ‘Halal controversy’, the ACJU represents the moderate centre while the JHU-BBS-SR combine occupies the destructive/self-destructive extreme.
The spirit of moderation displayed by the ACJU on the ‘Halal issue’ and about the impending removal of the ancient Sufi shrine at Kuragala exemplifies the politico-psychological attitude necessary for the creation of a Sri Lankan nation.
Because, a Lankan nation, though a good idea and a necessary idea, is still an idea. Sri Lanka is a politico-geographical reality, with a surfeit of Sinhalese, Buddhists, Tamils, Christians, Hindus and Muslims. Conspicuous by their dearth are citizens or leaders who can transcend their primordial identities and their particularist concerns to think and act as Lankans.
The Tigers were enemies of the idea of a Lankan nation; they regarded it as undesirable and impossible. The BBS-JHU-SR combine share this belief. The Tigers said Sri Lanka was a Sinhala/Sinhala-Buddhist country; that was their main rationale for a state of Eelam. The BBS-JHU-SR combine also believes that this is the country of Sinhala-Buddhists and that the minorities are here because of the generosity and the hospitableness of Sinhala-Buddhists; the minorities can either accept this subordinate place and take care not to cause ‘stress and concern’ for Sinhala-Buddhists – or get out.
According to this ‘Hosts and Guests concept’, Sinhala-Buddhists are the sole owners of Sri Lanka; the minorities are guests here on sufferance, rather than co-owners. This particularlist definition of ‘nation’ as the sole-property of the majority community is not a Sinhala-Buddhist invention. It is a belief common to all racial and religious fanatics. The counterparts of the BBS-JHU-SR combine range from Republican right-wingers (who hate Barack Obama because, in their racially jaundiced eyes, he is a ‘foreigner’) to European Neo-Nazis, from Hindu fanatics to Taliban and its many offshoots. These extremist elements are united in their hatred of variety and in their belief that a nation should be a homogenous entity which takes it hue solely from the majority community.
This vision is dangerously out of place in today’s world. Attempts to impose it, through discriminatory laws or violence, can lead a country along self-destructive paths, as we have witnessed in Sri Lanka.
Whatever we, Sinhalese/Buddhists, feel about the pluralist nature of Sri Lanka, the only realistic choice is to accept it, because that is the really existing reality. Whether we celebrate the plurality and the diversity of Sri Lanka or whether we fear and bemoan it makes no difference to its existence. The sensible thing to do is to accept the Tamils, the Muslims, the Christians and the Hindus of Sri Lanka as equal citizens and owners of this country. They are not guests living here on our grace; they belong; this is their country as much as it is ours.
A lasting peace can come only on that basis.
Sinhala supremacist politicians, monks and ideologues never tire of repeating that Sri Lanka is the greatest land in the world. Perhaps Sri Lanka has the potential to become one of the best, but only if it succeeds in creating a peaceful, compassionate and prosperous nation. A truly Lankan nation, which manages to achieve an imperfect but viable and dynamic unity of its many differences.