By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
“A good journalist should take no one for granted and should not be prepared to absolve anyone from possible wrongdoing on the presupposition that by virtue of position such a person can do no wrong. A journalist would invade areas that others may regard as being too sacred to touch.”
Why I haven’t Insulted
Revd Dr PJ Fernando (Revd. PJF), Archdiocese of Birmingham, has come to the aid of the besieged Most Eminent Cardinal of Sri Lanka, Malcolm Ranjith. Fair enough, since team members must fight for their leader. However, it surprises me to be charged by him for ‘insulting’ His Eminence. Insult is never in my armoury.
The source of such an allegation is a serious misconception of the role of a journalist. I must point out here that although Revd PJF refers to me as a ‘journalist,’ I am not a journalist but a columnist or opinion writer. However, I follow the fearless focus of a good journalist. A good journalist should take no one for granted and should not be prepared to absolve anyone from possible wrongdoing on the presupposition that by virtue of position he holds such a person can do no wrong. A journalist would invade areas that others may regard as being too sacred to touch.
The reality of human behaviour tells us that every human has the potential to folly, to err and to act evil inasmuch as to do immense good.
Revd. PJF seems to think otherwise; hence his perception that I have insulted the Cardinal. I have acted according to that philosophy-not resorting to any insult while not treating the Cardinal as a touch-me-not.
It is significant that PJF is unable to illustrate his allegation by citing just one of my expressions that could be reckoned as being insulting. What has happened is that I have made factual statements and inferences with regard to the Cardinal’s recent judgment and conduct and if such facts do not put the Cardinal in a good light then I am not the offender; only a messenger.
I would like to add that I have in the process acted unwittingly as a whistleblower to the devout catholic following in our country who must steadfastly step in to prevent the same corrupt politicisation that is ruining Buddhism, from taking place within their fold. I am in serious business, Revd PJF.
Visiting the Fasting Monk
The occasion for this time’s critique of the Cardinal was the scene of his rushing to show solidarity to Revd Athuralye’s cause. That cause was a demand from government that the two Muslim governors and one Muslim minister be removed forthwith. There was no other issue as far as the monk was concerned. However, Revd PJF, along with the Archdiocese of Colombo, have deliberately tried to camouflage the cause of the monk by attributing nobler intentions. I have criticised the Archdiocese of Colombo for this move in my article as an attempt at magician’s trickery.
I do the same for Revd PJF, now. Just take a look at this: PJF states, “What the Cardinal was upholding was his nonviolent means seeking justice to yet another minority religious group in the country. Cardinal’s visit was an act of charity and determination. It was to strengthen the nonviolent resolve in the country to bring justice. It was to unite the country against violence but bring justice to all those who were killed.” Can anybody with any ethics in him attribute any of these elements to the fasting model of Athuraliye? To be fair by the monk, he does not claim any such thing at all. The issues he raised were simply about the removal of the three Muslim leaders. What is the charity embedded in that?
As a matter of fact, it was unjust and uncharitable on the part of the monk to assume sans investigation that the three Muslim leaders had done serious wrong. Parliament was going to debate a no confidence motion against the minister Rishard Bathiudeen – anyway. The monk should have at least waited for that. I have no love for either of the two governors who, I think, were bad appointments by the president. Hizbullah, in particular, needs careful examination. That is another matter since the fact here is that no enquiry had been demanded by the monk as a prerequisite.
What the monk was doing was to try and get the sunshine on him for a misplaced heroism. Athuraliye, the Cardinal should know, has a high ego and this act of fasting was a mere ego exercise. The Cardinal also should know by now that no monk who fasts unto death will take the risk of dying.
As I had pointed out in my article, it is very important to appraise the socio-political context in which this fast took place. In the background, was a build up of Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinistic jingoism that could have gone haywire. The jailbird monk was associated closely with Athuraliye. That itself should have put off the Cardinal from soiling his soul by going to show solidarity to the fasting monk. The fasting monk was merely a link in a whole chain of potential backlash against all Muslims. I am surprised the Cardinal did not sense all this.
The jailbird monk had threatened the day before, that if the demands of Athuraliye aren’t met he will show “fireworks” all over the island. This implies a security threat to the government and people.
Against such a violent background why on earth did the Cardinal go? Why did he not realise that by lending his status it would help the racist build up?Why can’t Revd PJF see this contextual inappropriateness? He cannot see because his objective in writing was to defend at any cost and not to make an independent assessment of what I have stated.
Poor Response to Fast
The poor response to the fast in influential high quarters and among the public at large clearly confirms my position that this wasn’t an event that the Cardinal should have graced. It was all bad protocol. Mahinda Rajapaksa was, expectedly, there but that is politics. All chapters of Asgiriya and Malwatte openly criticised the event. In what was like a stab in the back, the jailbird monk also later came out rubbishing the move of Athuraliye. Gnanasara said what we have said, namely, that foolish acts like this only served to push the large majority of ordinary and law-abiding Muslims into the side of extremists. The other Mahanayakes of the rest of the Nikayas also criticised what looked like a quixotic adventure.
The premises of the fast, which is the sacred Maligawa, was desecrated right and left when mobs who gathered round the monk shouted filth and abuse at disagreeable VIPs who had the gall to come over to speak to the monk and try and prevent escalation. Athuraliye hadn’t the courtesy to obtain permission from the Mahanayakes to use the premises.
Hence, I ask Revd. PJF and all others defending the cardinal’s judgment, that “where do their justification stand?”
Political Statements by Cardinal
Matters could not have turned worse for the cardinal when the latter made a public political statement on site before the media. The cardinal stated that “a country belongs to the people and not to the ruling elite.” I have commented that this statement was, government impliedly, an attack on the current government. What is wrong is that the criticism isn’t valid at all of this government, whatever other deficiencies the government may have. This government has never shown a tendency to outlive its mandated ruling period. It has freely permitted protests to take place without resort to Orwellian tactics of hit squads and white vans.
What means even more, the Cardinal who has shown his intention to intervene in national moments never uttered a word of protest when gruesome murders and disappearance took place under the watch of the Rajapakse government. In fact, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith had at the time shot into the limelight by making an astoundingly untruthful statement namely that “there is nothing called human rights.”
Can’t revd PJF see what can be obviously seen: there is something not quite right in the Cardinal.
Revd PJF reaches a ridiculous logical moment in his presentation when he makes a vain attempt to defend the Cardinal’s previous controversial statement that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist country. Says Revd PJF, “When the Cardinal said that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese Buddhist Country, it does not mean that the others are denied of their rights and existence. It is a show of lack of understanding and learning to jump into a conclusion otherwise. When you say that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese Buddhist Country it affirms the historical identity of the country, respects and regards the countries culture and history.”
Of course, the claim that the country is a “Sinhala-Buddhist country,” implies logically that Sinhala-Buddhists have primal and host status and that others enjoy secondary status. You cannot get away from that implication. Revd PJF argues that it does not mean that others are “denied their rights.” True. But it does not require a PhD to arrive at the conclusion that these others’ rights take second place in a country that belongs primarily to the Sinhala Buddhists.
Minister Mangala Samaraweera was more sensible. The latter clarified that Sri Lanka is a country “where the majority are Sinhala-Buddhists.” That puts all ethnic and religious groups in equal territory. Sinhala-Buddhists being demographically a majority would, naturally, receive the greater part of national income. That isn’t due to any ethnic superiority but sheerly due to numbers.