By Mohamed Harees –
It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves
honored by the humiliation of their fellow beings. —Mahatma Gandhi
The Rohingyans in recent times are fleeing a campaign of indiscriminate violence by Myanmar’s military, whose tactics are being widely condemned the world over as a form of ethnic cleansing. Entire villages have been burned to the ground, indiscriminately killed, tortured ,women raped leading to mass exodus to other countries seeking safety and security. Addressing the UN Security Council, UN Secretary General António Guterres quoted bone chilling accounts from those who had fled — mainly women, children and the elderly, and summed up the Rohingya Crisis saying: ‘this humanitarian crisis has spiralled into the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare’. It is rightly being said that ‘of the scars which Rohingya refugees carry, the most difficult ones to heal will be those that violence has caused to their hearts & minds’. Despite this humane catastrophe, rogue monks and hate peddlers in Sri Lanka are attempting to mislead the peaceful Sinhala Buddhist people by painting the unfortunate victims as terrorists and perpetrators of violence against the Myanmar Buddhists.
It was in this context that the brutality of the attacks on Rohingya refugees in Sri Lanka should be viewed. What happened in Colombo on the 26th September was both inhumane and sickening and totally incompatible with all norms of humanity and Buddhist principles. The government and even the Police knew that these refugees are under UNCHR custody and no plans were afoot to grant them asylum in Sri Lanka. In a repeat enactment of the unofficial policing drama seen during MR times, saffron clad hooligans and anti-Muslim hate peddler thugs (which included the ‘cardboard Sando’ Dan Prasad as well) led a mob that stormed a UN safe house broke down gates, shouted profanities and threats, pelted stones and entered the walled multi-storied compound as frightened refugees huddled together in upstairs rooms.
One of the ‘monks’ who stormed the building posted a provocative video on the social networking site filmed by his radical group as he urged others to join him and smash the premises. “These are Rohingya terrorists who killed Buddhist monks in Myanmar,” the monk said in his live commentary, pointing to Rohingya mothers with small children in their arms. The lawyer looking after the interests of these refugees told at a press interview that refugees have told him that a monk who came to the Police Station has threatened them with hand gestures that their throats will be slit and heads chopped off,which shows the lowest depth of barbarity, these so-called Buddhist monks who are expected to carry the peace epistle of the Buddha, have stooped to.
Police officers merely stood mum despite already knowing the background, thus giving the perpetrators the leeway to operate without fear or sanction. Perhaps the refugees would have begun to relive their agony which they faced in Myanmar under Wirathu, the so-called ‘The Face of Buddhist Terror‘ (called as such by the ‘Time’ magazine). Government too dragged their feet in keeping the country informed about the correct position, although Ministers Rajitha and Mangala more in their personal capacity condemned this barbaric act by these saffron clad thugs calling them ‘animals’ and the apathy of the law enforcement authorities. Complaints have already been lodged against these culprits and also against the Police for their inaction, failure to arrest those responsible as well as their usual double standards in dealing with complaints made by Muslim victims.
As we have seen in the past, the failure of the nation to take timely effective action against these anti- patriotic elements in the garb of Buddhist monks and raising emotional Sinhala Buddhist slogans has led Sri Lanka to 1983 style situations and it will lead to repeats if this trend is not arrested. Thus, it is imperative that we need to at least look beyond this Refugee episode and send a strong message to these thugs in robes that this type of thuggish behaviour will no longer be tolerated.
Wirathu incidentally not only carried out a well-orchestrated anti-Muslim hate campaign which led to killings, burning of villages and ethnic cleansing through 969 movement in Myanmar, but also exported his campaign to Sri Lanka during the MR regime time, creating a Sri Lankan Wirathu class in the process. His sermons were so toxic that even the Sangha Council in Maynmar banned him for a stated period, although his movement carried on their campaign regardless at the grass-root levels. Wirathu become the God father of the BBS in all aspects, who partnered with the Wirathu of Sri Lanka- Gnanassara ( I apologize for omitting the prefix like Ven and suffix like Thero when referring to these thugs in saffron clothing as I believe they do not deserve them),who under patronage from the higher ups in the MR government (which promoted Sinhala Buddhist supremacism and majoritarian attitudes), polluted the prospects of peace and unity in the Post –war period by systematically and strategically targeting Muslims branding them as the next enemy. Wirathu was ironically the guest speaker at the BBS convention in October 2014. Other diehard Islamophobes such as Akmeemana Dayarathana of Sinhala Ravaya and Ithekande Saddhatissa of Ravana Balakaya become his partners in crime, both on the streets and anywhere they thought fit. All this drama made Post war Sri Lanka a hell on earth for the minorities – not just Muslims and Tamils, but even Sinhala Christians too.
Under the Yahapalana government too, despite getting the greater slice of the minority votes at 2015 elections, the same circus continued in an increased tempo ,now with more organizations under pseudo-names like Mahason Balakaya, Sinhaley and Sinhala Balamandalaya and even individuals like the three Anti-Muslim musketeers- Dan Priyasad, Saliya and Amitha who parasitically live out of Sinhala expat contributions specially in South Korea and ME. Comically, in-spite of many court cases, one of which was on contempt of court, recently how Gnanasara went into hiding and then emerged on his own ,despite many Police contingents being employed to track down the fugitive and how he was released in style, undoubtedly made the judicial process in Sri Lanka, a laughing stock of the world. Gananasara ideology was even condoned by the Asgiriya Chapter as well when even his ideologue Wirathu was banned in Myanmar by their Sangha Sabha.
Be it as it may, how MR and Gota played around with fire by using Sinhala Buddhism to politically forge ahead during the Post war period, used rogue elements and groups such as BBS and their sister groups to achieve their ulterior ends and how they bite the dust at the elections in 2015 as a result, was history. However, with many bitter lessons learnt, how this Yahapalana government too allows the same vicious, poisonous saffron clad thuggery class and their goons to operate freely to engage in similar type of hate speech and attacks against the Muslims, thereby espousing the usual Sinhala Buddhist supremacist causes presumably for their political survival , may indeed be a mystery to the world although it may hardly surprise the social and political analysts. Post Independence history bears testimony to the violent propensity of the Sinhala Buddhism and the radical monks as Jayadeva Uyangoda says.
The brand of Sinhala Buddhism practiced in Sri Lanka and the violent and self-seeking political monks have been the bane of Sri Lankan politics. Active involvement of monks in politics and taking the lead in hate attacks against the minority communities specially the Muslims exploiting the emotions of the peaceful Sinhala population leads to a highly combustible situation that can ultimately consume all of Sri Lanka. This firebrand strain of Buddhism is however not new in Sri Lanka. A key Buddhist revivalist figure of the early 20th Century, Anagarika Dharmapala, was less than complimentary about non-Sinhalese people. He held that the “Aryan Sinhalese” had made the island into Paradise which was then destroyed by Christianity and polytheism. He targeted Muslims saying they had “by Shylockian methods” thrived at the expense of the “sons of the soil”. Donald L Horowitz in his book on Sri Lanka(1980) observed;’ Buddhist monks became frequent visitors in the corridors of power. The position of the ethnic and religious minorities in the government became tenuous’. And later, in 1959 a Buddhist monk conspired and another carried out the assassination of the then Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike. In 2004 nine monks were elected to parliament from the monks’ main party SU/JHU on a nationalist platform. And it was from this party, that Gnanasara later broke away, in time forming the BBS.
In the aftermath of the military defeat of the Tigers, the nation saw how the Buddhist monks behaved during the protests organized by the Ven Inamaluwee Sumangala against the mosque in Dambulla. One of the monks infact disrobed in front of the mosque too. Then, the BBS emerged. At the height of the BBS campaign, journalist Chandraprema called the BBS-phenomenon a “mad-monk phenomenon” aimed at destroying Buddhism. However, in another article to the ‘Island’ in 2004, Kalana Senaratne said ‘the BBS, far from destroying Sinhala-Buddhism, is giving expression to the very causes espoused by Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists. Thus, BBS is the underside of Sinhala-Buddhism. He opined, that the BBS is the natural end product of unchecked and unrestrained Sinhala-Buddhist fervor; especially in a post-war context where the political victory and spread of Sinhala-Buddhist ideology is the principal and determining goal of a government. This is why the government rushes to ban Tamil diaspora groups (some of which promote separatism), but not groups such as the BBS. This is why a government would not see groups such as the BBS as a serious threat. If the BBS was out to destroy Sinhala-Buddhism, the government would have been banned.
Seniviratna correctly concluded; ‘the BBS needs to be stopped, not primarily because it is destroying the Sinhala-Buddhists but because it is a menace to the Sri Lankan polity and its constituent peoples. The BBS and such groups need to be stopped because they are generating such hatred that people will come to view violence as the only practical option available in the face of the marauding monks approaching them’. Aluthgama communal violence instigated by the BBS which eventually led to the downfall of the MR regime, proved this point. This same logic applied to all these saffron clad thugs and hooligans too.
The people of all faiths see the Bhikkus and Maha Sangha as the living symbols of Buddhism and the 2500 year old Sinhala Buddhist culture. However, when thugs and hooligans masquerading as Buddhist monks run amok with impunity causing chaos, spewing venom at the ‘other’ as we witness today, the public serene image of the Buddhist Bhikku is shattered leading to loss of their charisma in the public mind. It is a worrying phenomenon. It is upto the Mahanayakes to rectify this shattered public image of the Buddhist Bhikku. Dr E W Adhikaram used to say “If only we could convert some of our monks to Buddhism…” which was much more than a witty rebuke; it is by implication a very serious statement.
Besides, this Yahapalana government is clearly committing a betrayal, the worst so far by also succumbing to Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism, in subtler forms than by the MR regime. Increasingly, they continue to tolerate the most toxic purveyors of Sinhala-Buddhist racism which bodes ill for the aspiration of a pluralist and tolerant Post-war Sri Lanka. Their lackadaisical response to renewed anti-Muslim violence by these rogue saffron brigades in various forms amounts to moral cowardice and political opportunism. Signs are clear that these saffron goons are used as political tools to achieve ulterior political ends which is highly toxic to the country’s integrity and national interests. Allowing these street Wirathus to provide anti-Muslim sparks to a volcano ready to blow up will be suicidal to the government, the country and all its’ people. The earlier the government realizes the need to control and bring these culprits to book, the better for all. In this exercise, the moderate intellectuals and religious leaders of all communities have a pivotal role to play to avoid Sri Lanka becoming another killing field.
We must well remember what Martin Luther King said “It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”