11 August, 2020

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Stirring A Dangerous Cauldron Of Religious Hatred

By Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena –

Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena

Religious fundamentalists of all faiths have just one attribute in common. The beliefs that they profess are a mere cloak, hiding maggots crawling around in their minds feasting on hate, bigotry and ignorance.

Insanities of religious fundamentalists

These are not new tales but rather the lessons taught by humankind’s devastation through millennia as a result of religious bigotry. Umberto Eco captured the devious fight of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages to keep all knowledge and wisdom contained in ancient writings to itself, most inimitably in his classic book, the Name of the Rose (Vintage, Random House, 2004). This must surely be compulsory reading for all those who recognize the terrible value of history in our lives. That fight for knowledge still captivates us as it is the common fight of the enlightened, regardless of what age we live in.

Later, the splintering of the Church was propelled by this same craving for power and riches on the part of its spiritual leaders, leading to reformation movements which took their own historical turns in the different focal points of Europe as we know it now. In modern day times, we continue to see million dollar evangelical missions around the world led by men and women, whose lifestyles are the very opposite of what Christ preached. Yet these missions continue to dupe people, depriving even pensioners of their savings and converting others through material gain rather than spiritual transformation.

We see the hate filled actions of the Muslim fundamentalists whose calls to jihad against those contemptuously termed as ‘unbelievers’ refute all that the Prophet’s life stood for. Not surprisingly, hate filled chants of Hindutva believers echo the very same insanities of the Muslim radicalists whom they profess to despise. And we see too, the actions of Buddhist priests in Sri Lanka, whose dabbling in profit making ventures and political interests have almost irredeemably corrupted the great message that the Gautama taught.

The shocking nature of the Dambulla incidents

In many countries across the world, these extremists are in the minority and their views are not subscribed to by decent ordinary people. This was the case in Sri Lanka even during the height of the war but now question marks are emerging as to whether the degeneration of this multi-ethnic and multi-religious society has reached the nadir. Most recently, this extremism was seen shockingly in Dambulla where a mob led by Buddhist priests virtually stormed a mosque, with (as irrefutably televised) one monk throwing apart his robes at the gateway to the mosque and a head priest of the area behaving more in the manner of a common street ruffian when reacting to a local woman who approached him with pleas to let the local Muslims continue to worship at the mosque. Photographs of the damage done and the desecration of religious books were being circulated even weeks after the incident. Inflammatory statements issued by the incumbent in the office of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister together with the inaction of law enforcement officers while clear breaches of the criminal law took place, shows us the extent to which the Rule of Law has been tossed to the winds.

In gentler times, the Sinhalese people were quite sharply distinguishable from their politicians who, to misapply Hobbes perhaps un-forgivingly, were nasty, brutish and lamentably short in their political vision. But now one of the main aims of the late Velupillai Prabhakaran’s historical project (quite apart from Tamil Eelam), namely the destruction of Sri Lanka as a pluralistic, liberal society and the degeneration of its people appear to be well on its way to full fruition, ironically enough in the post war years. To those who point to the Dambulla incident as just one stray aberration are only blinding themselves to the signs all around them of increased xenophobia and religious intolerance.

Open impunity in front of television cameras

Moreover, the impunity with which the instigators of the mob permitted themselves to be televised on local media was equally shocking. These scenes were shown on pro-government television stations, with their authenticity belying later claims that the footage had been ‘manipulated.’ The footage clearly showed facial expressions in full consonance with the emitting of abusive words.

The injunction meanwhile by mob leaders in robes that, what they are doing now in Dambulla will soon be the pattern all over Sri Lanka was a disturbing forerunner to the season of Vesak, that most serene religious festival which Buddhists observe. A greater contrast could not be seen between the ugliness of the April 2012 Dambulla incident and the peace that Vesak symbolizes. Meanwhile, the silence of the disciplinary councils of the Sangha continues to be most disheartening.

The absence of justice and the law

Yet, the Dambulla incident should not be surprising given the fundamentalist ethos that now drives Sri Lanka’s political process. Moreover politicians and corrupt priests are not the only ones responsible for hijacking religion in order to satisfy their maggot ridden craving for money and power. This caution needs to be made in the context of some who believe that recourse to the law is an automatic solution to the ills of religious extremism.

Not so long ago we had a Chief Justice who, as the International Bar Association rightly characterized, was a ‘person of influence’ in Sri Lanka’s ‘judicial, political and religious’ sectors (see Justice in Retreat, a Report on the Independence of the legal profession and the rule of law in Sri Lanka, May 2009). This was a reference to the unprecedented linking up of the judiciary with political and religious interests, as openly manifested.

During this period, if one recalls, the University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR- Jaffna) documented a similar dispute over unauthorised religious structures. Its description of the events at that time was telling. In that instance, a Trincomalee magistrate had ordered the removal of unauthorised religious structures in the city, including a Buddha statute as well as four Kovils. The advice of the former Attorney General had been sought and action filed on that basis. This move was opposed by a Buddhist priest who went before the Supreme Court alleging that the magisterial order had been issued on the advice of the former Attorney General who was a Hindu and a Tamil, and was also a former resident of Trincomalee. (see UTHR, From Welikade to Mutur and Pottuvil: A Generation of Moral Denudation and the Rise of Heroes with Feet of Clay,’ Special Report, No. 25, 2007.

The UTHR observed rightly that this petition “amounted to a personal attack on the Attorney General citing his minority affiliation, when in fact he was carrying out a task assigned by the Government. As such, the Supreme Court might simply have refused leave to proceed. Instead, former Chief Justice Sarath Silva advised the Attorney General to withdraw the case in the Trincomalee District Court in return for the Buddhist priest to withdraw his petition.’

In a further fit reminder of the times, the UTHR remarks that ‘The Attorney General, who struck observers as having been shaken, gave in. The exchange was done on 18 July 2005. Legal sources read this as the Attorney General being arm-twisted with the threat of giving the petitioner leave to proceed. Then the Attorney General is likely to have been left isolated with the hounds baying for his blood.’

Powerful public opinion needed against this madness

Then as now, the corruption of the justice machinery when powerful political interests are at play, hidden as they are beneath a veneer of nauseatingly unctuous religious sanctimony, should not be underestimated.

Calls therefore for the law to be observed in dealing with the disputed legitimacy of religious structures rather than resorting to mob rule, are well and good. They certainly need to be made. However, an appropriate caution must be struck. Given the ravages that Sri Lanka’s legal and judicial institutions have been subjected to during the recent decade, the safety that the law affords cannot automatically be presumed to bring justice in its wake. This is a fundamental misapprehension that must be guarded against. In what may be the only effective pressure tactic left to us, Sri Lankans who have not lapsed into bigotry and comprising the silent majority, need to speak out against the atrocities that are being committed in the name of religion and patriotism. Powerful public opinion must be heard against this veritable madness.

That said, it is certainly a dangerous cauldron of religious hatred that is simmering now. Its eruption may well be disastrous not only for secular liberalism in Sri Lanka with its back pressed anyway against the wall but also for political leaders who encouraged the emergence of religious fundamentalism in the first place for the political gains that it may (and in fact, did) bring. Let this warning be taken well to heart.

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    Well said Kishali! I am specially struck by the apt description ‘…a head priest of the area behaving more in the manner of a common street ruffian when reacting to a local woman who approached him with pleas to let the local Muslims continue to worship at the mosque.’ COMMON STREET RUFFIAN ARE THE OPERATIVE WORDS!

    As a Buddhist who reject this Sumangala thug and others like him, I applaud these sentiments. But the point that is made is true – the government bears its share of responsibility but what indeed are the Sangha councils doing?

    Writings by analysts like you and Kalana, both of whom use well crafted and thoughtfully reasoned language keep the flame of sanity burning brightly in our midst.

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    Good stuff Kishali! keep it up! Under the guise of “protecting Buddhism” (what a joke) Sri Lanka’s Rajapakse regime, its JHU partner and the un-Buddhist monks have patented Buddhist fascism! They are destroying a peaceful relgion and militarizing it. Just look at how the murderous Defense Secretary Gotabaya who is responsible for white vanning people and accused of war crimes is constantly doing Bodhi pujas, pirith ceremonies and running behind monks!
    Buddhists in the rest of the world should protest this distortion and militarization of the a peaceful which has non-violence as a core principle. The World Buddhist congress should ban Sri Lankan OFFICIAL Buddhism practiced by the Rajapakse regime!

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    This is not Buddhism that the Rajapaksas practice. All right thinking Buddhists need to stand up and condemn these outrages.

    True, Prabhakaran achieved his aim – Sri Lanka is no longer a country which we can be proud of in the world.

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      What Buddhism do you practise? Is it exactly what Buddha preached or slightly deviated version like the most buddhists? Anyway, were you proud when there was carnage caused by piggish terrorists for 30 years? Or when JR kicked the decency in the balls and made his mockery of a constitution..when he gave a week off to the police so that his gang could go rampage in their political enemies…when he turned a blind eye on the black July making the next 30 years a blood shed?? You are now retired and those days you were an obedient public servent. The problem was people like you, who voted for and supported the party who your father chose and became your family’s party, regardless their policies. You still advice the people to follow your dream, which is to bring your government back. Uncle,listen to me that doesn’t work. The other party is as bankrupt in ideology and policies as the next party. But most kids today are educated and intelligent. They hardly follow their family politics but their morals. So don’t advice, just learn from the crowd and relax. I agree with you, Prabhakaran did achieve his aim, he thought he was invincible and beyond this world, he is now.

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        @Vanderkone – are you confusing me with someone else? I am genuinely puzzled. What is this ‘party that your father chose?’ and ‘your dream which is to bring your government back?’

        Are these references meant obliquely to refer to the UNP? Let me inform you that my father’s party of choice was the SLFP coming from his hobnobbing with the old ginger greats such as as AM Jinadasa and old Ratnayake from Deniyaya (have these young cubs ever heard of them??) but that I constantly spoiled my vote as I had no faith in any political party – except in 1994 when I voted again for the SLFP but that too for Chandrika Kumaratunga – only to bitterly wash my hands of her in later years when she brought the country to the precipice of bad governance.

        So much for the part of my choice. I have always disliked the UNP, coming from JRJ’s totally power hungry introduction of the Executive Presidency. Your trigger happy assumptions should be dispensed with and more caution observed if you want to be taken as a serious interventionist.

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          Rupert vanderkoon is none other than Max Silva.

          The Cornered rat trying to re bounce.

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        @ Rupert Vanderkoon, Son, your words of attrition reference Mr. Chandra Goonawardene’s comment clearly shows your immaturity and lack of understanding of events, let alone sitting in judgement, even to make a proper assesment. Yours is another ‘cry’ of those unable to sift fact from fiction. As for the present practice of the labeled Buddhists as I have often maintained that there are no groups or individuals who can claim so as Buddhists, as Lord Buddha never left a register for any to include their name, nor left any Custodians to be in charge of his Philosophy, althogh there are numbers fulfilling that void today.

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    Kishali, Not sure whether you have sufficient material presented to claim such a broad title. Apart from Evangelical aggression that caused a few minor incidents, Dambulla is not a typical case. It was very much a case in isolation, and this monk is famous for such hyperactivties. There are muslim MPs/ministers within the government to counter any wrong doing or absence of justice. But it has nothing to do with any boiling Sinhala-Buddhist extremist emergence. What happened under Sarath Silva is a different story, no point in wasting time on talking about the guy. What we need is a trully democratic constitution that will safeguard the rights of the people. Until then, there will be individuals who will make use of the situation for their benefit, like Sarath Silva and Inamaluwe, but glorifying incidents making them look like the general situation of the country isn’t fair on the general public.

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    The majority of the people in Sri Lanka are too engrossed in their daily life working hard to earn a decent living. These are the true patriots life and blood of Sri Lanka.

    The other lot is the politicians and monks the parasites and maggots of society. If the General public can be aware of these facts then Sri Lanka can be peaceful country still. Otherwise this country is finished Prabakarans dream will be full filled.

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    suz never belive no god in any religion to be a real human.follow me you all are sick.

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    I am not sure that I agree with you Vanderkoon that these are just isolated incidents. There are two concrete signs to prove you wrong. First, the numerical issue – such incidents are increasing month by month – see last year’s attack on a mosque in Anuradhapura by similar fanatics and the almost monthly attacks on churches.

    Secondly, there is also the fact that the the impunity has increased with neither the top leadership of the clergy or the government taking any action. This is ‘Open Sesame’ for these fanatics.

    By the way, the impact of Sarath Silva was certainly not limited to this time. The current poliicisation of the judiciary is a direct result of what happened then. There is no independent Sri Lankan Supreme Court now – and any issue taken to these cravely and cowardly judges (including any mosque dispute issue) will be determined by a phone call from the Presidential Secretariat. It is as simple as that

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    The future of Sri Lanka will be very bleak if thugs and bigots set the political agenda.

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    Another load of rubbish from Pinto….

    The problem in dambulla is actually a land dispute. From where does this woman get religious fundamentalism? Just because a Buddhist monk protested in an unruly manner it becomes fundamentalism? There is no such thing called fundamentalism in buddhism,If you don’t know you should learn before writing rubbish.Go back to school.
    Also do not introduce lies to justify your claims.
    Inamaluwe sumangala thero never said “this pattern soon will be all over the country” what but he said was “this time we came with Buddhist flags but next visit it will not be flags”

    In the Trincomalee case,four Kovils were also spared along with the Buddhist temple but you ignore that fact.

    As buddhists many do not approve of the behaviour of this monk. He had many ways to resolve his problem if that is what he wanted. Isn’t it apparent that he has another agenda in doing all this?

    So,before rushing in to condemn the buddhists and Buddhism,do some ground work to find the truth.

    Buddhists of this country will never obstruct any other religion being practised in this country but that must not be confused with any action taken to protect buddhist way of life.

    The truth is,The PM immediately intervened to prevent the situation from escalating and resolved the problem then and there with the agreement of all concerned. For once the police also acted wisely.
    It was the Muslim politicians from Colombo who rejected all that the very next day and made it a religious issue. But you don’t seem to know anything about it.

    Also why is it that we don’t see your writings condemning the activities of the evengelicals and others who are very busy converting Hindus and Buddhists with money and material inducements?

    Today there more Johns and Josephs in the estates than Arumugams and krishnas. Why,people like you who are so concered about Buddhism not uttering a word about it. Religious freedom! is it? So,we do have it afterall.

    Those who parrot the line multi-religious and multi-racial, like a manthra,seems to be hoping that recited 1001 times will become a reality. The reality however is different. To be a really multi-religious and multi-racial society,the propotions has to match.Just because 5% or 10% of the population being other faiths or races does not make it multi-ethnic or multi-religious and one can not enforce it by force or law, it has to come naturally. That does not mean that the 5% or the 10% should be subjugated or illtreated. It is up to them to realize their streangth. As the saying goes “a finger must swell according to its size”

    You seem to think to have achieved Nirvana! to address Lord Buddha in first name basis. And you talk about ignorance of other people!!!

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    NAK, learn to read English properly and to appreciate language properly. Pinto Jayawardena has in faxt condemned the actvitis of the evanegelicals… that is there in the very early part of the article. Don’t you have a functioning brain?

    Get over your outrage at having militant Sinhala Buddhists very correctly castigated. It is you who are writing ‘loads of rubbish’ and without the guts in the minimum to put your name!

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      Thank for your advice. I admit I am not an English scholar. My knowledge of the language may be limited, It is a foreign language to me any way, but is it the issue here?
      True Pinto has inserted two lines to justify her barrage on Buddhists.
      What I questioned her was, why not write articles on evangelical activities, not just the two lines.
      One should check one’s own functioning of the brain before trying to diagnose others.
      I have no outrage,except disgust,at these attempts to castigate Buddhists and Buddhism.
      In your haste to castigate, you have forgotten that you don’t even know I am Sinhalese or Tamil.
      Pandu is not exactly writing in your own name, is it?

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        I do not need to know whether you are Sinhalese or Tamil since your comments clearly show that you are not of the enlightened in either ethnicity!

        I am assuming but fairly logically that probably Pinto will write not two articles but many more of evangelicals if they are accused of running riot and entering into other places of relgious worship, behaving like louts and generally sullying the name of their religious order. What I an’t understand is why typical outrages such as these on the part of corruot Buddhist priests are always met by howls of protest on the basis that ‘But what about the evangelicals’…?? Why don’t we look to our own house first?

        And a thousand apologies…I refer to myself ordinarily as Pandukabaya de Silva in these forums but lately the abbreviated form of ‘Pandu’ has been coming onto the automatic entry. I will correct that immediately. In similar spirit, why don’t you tell us what NAK stands for?

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    when I read a an opinion that says that all religion have the same common goal or same hatered then I know for sure it has been writen by an christian or an other monotheist thinker.

    the So called Buddhist-nationalism or Buddhist funtalism is not get its power out of the same source as christians doing.

    a Christian is doing in the name of his/her god (thinking that it is good)
    a buddhist-nationalist is doing for buddhism (knowing that it is wrong but doing because he or she see no other way to protect buddhism)

    do not compair Buddhism with other religions!

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    @janaka, if you write in English, at least use the automatic spell check in your computer, man!Its painful to read virtually illiterate comments like this.

    CT – don’t you have a basic standard of writing for your postings?? For heavens sake, apply a basic standard of rejecting illiterate posts.

    What the heck does Buddhist ‘funtalism’ and ‘not get its power out of the same source as christians doing’ mean, as a simple grammatically constructed word or sentence?

    What a laugh!Nuts like these are the primary defenders of Sinhalese Budddhism! And we are surprised at the mess this country is in.

    As a practicing Buddhist, I am in fact, glad when Buddhism is compared to other religions. That is – the true precepts of Buddhism and not what these disgusting Sinhala Buddhist priests drone on about.

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    BTW NAK,I saw your comment now and felt I MUST respond about your lying denial that those thuggist monks who led the Dambulla protest said that ‘what we are doing now will soon be done all over Sri Lanka’.

    What a liar you are! Of course, those leading the protest said this. I heard it myself in the television broadcasts that were also on YouTube. And the PM did not act wisely – he was one of the first to say that the mosque is illegal and would be relocated. Liar again! Do you take us to be fools?

    You and others are very eager to limit this to one thuggist monk. But there were scores other monks with him. What about them? And what about the silence of the monks heading the Sangha chapters? Does their silence say that they condone these actions?

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      I quoted what was said by Inamaluwe Sumangala thero. But you don’t know who said what you claim to have heard. Whatever PM did was with the agreement of the people on the ground. So there was no conflict then. In fact the people at the prayer house admitted that they expanded the shelter temporarily with colour boned sheets, expecting to dismantle and move.
      You are either being selective or ignorant. The Muslims in the area themselves said that the people and the monks who came to protest were not from the area and some may not even be real monks. And of course the student monks will follow their chief monk.
      If you want to consider yourself a fool, I have no objection, but, please, keep me out of it and don’t exhibit it.
      The silence of the other Sanga chiefs on this matter should not be construed as condoning the behavior of the Chief priest of Dambulla temple, but rather as disapproval and isolation of him.

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        I heard clearly what one of the ringleaders in robes was saying while your precious Sumangala was standing nearbye nodding his head sagely. What makes you think that anyone said that only Sumangala had said this? This comes of not reading the written word more carefully. Le that be a lesson to you not to get confused.

        What a stupid comment in other ways! So if the ‘people on the ground’ say commit murder, does it stand to reason that a PM of a country must approve and/or direct the committing of murder?

        Who are you to say that the silence of the Sangha is to construed as disapproval? Are you their head Mahanayake?? What are Sanghal councils for except to address renegade monks?

        This is a lame apology by a obvious fanatic who has been touched on the raw by well aimed barbs at what Sinhala-Buddhosm has been reduced to today.

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    And by the way, I read this article carefully again – it is not a question of ‘four kovils being spared’ in the earlier incident cited, which NAK says that the writer did not focus on. This is rubbish.

    The question is not four kovils or one mosque being ‘spared’ but to show the politicisation of the judicial process that this past incident has been cited, ffrom what I can see.

    NAK, learn to limit yourself to writings that you can understand and to language that you can comprehend.

    Some people need to go back to kindergarten, not school!

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      What you can see is your interpretation. If you read more carefully you’ll see its not four Kovils and one Mosque but One Buddhist Statue and four Kovils. See, you have to read more carefully to fully comprehend what other say.
      While the monks grounds that attorney general is a Hindu is not appropriate and not valid since there were four Kovils involved as well. Whatever the short comings of the former chief justice, here I believe, he acted with foresight avoiding an unnecessary religious conflict. Those who are waiting to castigate Sri Lanka and Buddhists would have had a field day with four Kovils demolished.
      If it is the justice system where the fault is, I don’t see any need to quarrel with Buddhism. And what are the lawyers like pinto doing in courts if there is no justice? Plucking money?
      You don’t seem to have any problem comprehending my English, though I admit is not the perfect Queens stuff. But there seems to be some problem in understanding it may be, try removing your coloured glasses.
      Anyway thank you for reading my comment and responding.

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        Its all the same, mosques, kovils or temples. The problem is that of justice meted out equally to all.

        And again, you miss the point, it is not only the justice system which is at fault (though you may like to think so) but the militancy of a certain section of Sinhala Buddhism which is as big a problem.

        What gives you the right to assume what Pinto or anyone else of any conscience is doing in courts today? For all you know, they may be appearing without money at all to defend people who are in the gutter? I do not know myself but I do not try to assume or judge actions of other people to make my own poor argument better.

        Please stop wearing blinkers. stop trying to engage in personal attacks and acknowledge that we have a serious problem today, that of attitude of some militant ignorant thuggish Sinhala Buddhists (see the interview of this Sumangala in the Sunday Leader this week) who are tarnishing the name of all Buddhists.

        This is what makes me feel very, very angry.

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    Kishali, thanks! You lawyers must join hands and should file a case against the Dambulla monk with the Dambulla Muslims. Let the law take its course. The monk should be found guilty and jailed and a precedent set in the country against hate mongering. Set and example!
    Rauf Hakeem is a power-hungry coward who is trying to make a back room deal with the racist Rajapakse in order to keep his miserable ministerial post as Minister of Justice no less! MR has the horrible racist Jathik Hela Urumaya at his side.
    Muslims of Lanka must now rise up, stop being cowards and fight for their right legally. The Tamils tried to do that but were hi-jacked by that megalomaniac Prabakaran. Now its the turn of the Muslim brothers brothers and sisters to confront the racism of the Rajapakse regime. Lanka.

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      die

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      @Jude – as Pinto Jayawardene herself points out, is there any point going to the courts on this? Why do we look at the judges as our saviours? When has the court intervened directly against the monks or the President in any way during the past two or three years?

      Give me just one example and I will then applaud anyone who wants to go to court!

      A far better option is to picket the courts every day calling the judges to be politically manipulated and be ready to go to jail for contempt. If we do this en masse, even the judges will get scared. This is what would happen in India or even Pakistan.

      But do we do that? No!

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    @Pandu
    It seems that you have nothing to say on my post comment.
    so you engaged your attack on my language skills.
    do you understand that people do not need to be master in english language to become intelectual?
    you do not only speak in english but you become as arogant as well as britisch imperialists.

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    @janaka, I am perfectly happy in your talking and writing in Sinhala but if you make howlers in that language as well, you set yourself up for ridicule. Either use a language properly – whatever it is, Sinhala, English or Swahili – or don’t use it at all.

    It has nothing to do with imperialism or with intellectualism. Only to do with basic good sense. And by the way, you spell it as British, not as ‘britisch’ which sould more like a cake or a biscuit rather than anything else.

    Good luck with your learning curves!

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    ps – don’t blame me for not engaging on the substance of your comment since your atrocious language makes no sense and makes it impossible for anyone to actually understand what you were trying to say!

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    Again our SL readers and their comments.

    The most comments come from people who do not read the article properly, pick up some words or sentences and their comments have nothing to do with the content of the articles

    Or they don´t understand these ways of thinking. I don´t mean your language proficiency

    The discussion afterwards goes always in a complete different direction, independent from the content of the article.

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    Vasu, I cannot agree with you more!

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    Chrissy, it is not because of your comment, you come from a different catagory

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      Thanks for saying so! I am very glad that I belong in a different category…

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    Hats off to Kishali, I appreciate all comments above enjoyed reading, as Law abiding civilized people we should avert another civil war erupting due to radical monk like Sumangala & Hela Karmaya (JHU).

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    I’m so pleased to read this lotopyeer. This is the kind of manual that needs to become offered and never the random misinformation that’s in the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this best doc.

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