By Malinda Seneviratne –
Api venuwen api (all of us for all of us) was a defining slogan as the entire nation stood with the President, the Government and the security forces in the last years of the struggle to rid the country of the terrorist menace. Today, almost four years later, the country faces another test, this time from external sources. A few days from now the UNHRC will take up a US sponsored resolution on (read ‘against’) Sri Lanka. Given realities of global power balance (and imbalance) in all likelihood, the resolution will pass. There is very little that Sri Lanka can do about international busybodies with pernicious agendas backed by bucks and guns, not even if Sri Lanka had the finest diplomats on earth.
As is mentioned in the Dhammapada (Verse 11, Sariputta Thera Vattu), ‘those take untruth for truth; they take truth for untruth, persons can never arrive at the truth, for they hold wrong views’.
The silver lining, paradoxically, in these trying circumstances is the opportunity to separate friend from friend-claimant. India, for example, is said to be negotiating another ‘watered down’ resolution, but this should not fool anyone. India would love to come off as ‘friend’ even as it wrangles a resolution that will keep Tamil Nadu happy and its interests in Sri Lanka safe from usurpation by China (for example).
Come next Sunday, we will know.
Whatever happens, Sri Lankans must reconcile to the fact that in the face of adversity and in times of celebration we are best when we are united, i.e. when we are in api venuven api mode.
Now absolute unity in any polity is a myth. We can only speak of degrees of unity. We can be united against a common enemy, even if we are at odds with one another. Sometimes adversity prompts blaming. When faced with storms beyond our strength we take our frustrations out on lesser ‘enemies’. Sometimes we even conjure enemies where there are none.
It is not possible of course to explain animosities between followers of different faith in terms of what’s happening in Geneva right now. However, regardless of Geneva, it is prudent to reflect on the notion of unity and the attendant virtues of tolerance, compassion and wisdom as we struggle to obtain and experience the full meaning of the term ‘citizenry’ in a post-terrorism Sri Lanka.
There is reality and there is perception. Human beings are frail and this frailty cuts across all identity markers, all faiths, all ethnic groups, all classes, castes and age groups. No community can claim it is blameless in taunting, causing grievous hurt and insulting another. It is this very fact that is used by those persuaded by less than religious motives to make point, exaggerate, raise anxiety level and in these and other ways mobilize the lowest human sentiments for political projects that have nothing to do with the teachings they profess to abide by.
Religious fervor is an easily sharpened sword. Those who use that instrument have an edge over those who are probably closer adherents to fundamental tenets. All the more reason for those who would hesitate to be swayed by religious-politics to stand up and be counted, stand up and stand between executor and would-be executed, literally and metaphorically.
A good Buddhist is a good human being. So too a good Hindu, a good Muslim and a good Christian. All religious texts are made for interpretation and therefore for pernicious misinterpretation. That’s politics. But all texts contain notions of tolerance, compassion, giving and wisdom.
People say we cannot afford another ‘July 1983’. The reasons, it is claims, is the flak Sri Lanka will receive internationally. This is not true. We cannot afford another ‘July 1983’ not because of the exaggerations it will spawn, the distortions and the political instability, but that it will leave us impoverished in terms of how we relate to each other, individually and as collectives.
Extremism is not always produced by extremists. The TULF was ‘moderate’, the LTTE was not. But malice, exaggeration of grievance, inflation of aspiration, provocation, planting of mistrust etc., unleash forces that are beyond the control of the unleashing entity.
A ‘Good Buddhist’ would be a failure if he let anyone in his/her name or the name of ‘Buddhism’ harm anyone of any other faith, whatever wrong he/she may have done. ‘Revenge’ has no place in Buddhism. Neither is it resident in Hinduism, Islam or Christianity. Infringement of the law has to be taken care of law enforcement authorities, not private citizens. If laws are deficient or law enforcement authorities errant, then these flaws have to be corrected. We cannot have unauthorized entities interpreting the law and enforcing it.
Api (us) is not an ethnic-specific term. It is an inclusive one and moreover one that finds resonance in all faiths. If a Muslim does not recognize the humanity of a non-Muslim then he is a lesser Muslim. The same holds for a Buddhist. If a Buddhist sees a lesser creature in a Christian then he/she diminishes him/herself and his/her fellow Buddhists.
We are nothing if we are not all.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com