By Vishwamithra –
“How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them.” ~Benjamin Franklin
Human nature has not changed. It may have embraced new cultures. It may have rejected certain others. It may have progressed from check books to credit cards and e-banking but remains loyal to money and what it does to bring about outwardly pleasures and riches to a tiring businessman and an upstart youth heading for promotion after promotion for doubling and trebling sales in the company he works day in and day out. It continues to indulge in its base instincts and any renunciation of its natural propensities such as avarice, lust, jealousy, enmity and confrontational stoops, more often than not, is rejected. The change of context has not and does not change the fundamentals of human nature. That is why those who have conquered that rudimentary nature of humanness, as did Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha, are being worshipped by millions, if not billions, today as who have made greatest of all conquests – mind and the varied paths it could lead an ordinary human to.
When a so-called Buddhist monk, namely Galagoda Atte Gnanasara, a ruffian garbed in a yellow robe, when photographed in public (what he wears in private is allegedly totally different), continues on his ultra-racist verbiage, drawing ulterior motives of like-minded politicians and their close cohorts towards his, things can get quite out of control when some unintended word, phrase or even an innocent-sounding call is made towards a highly-charged mob. The real consequences of a provocation by a yellow-robed thug accompanied by pseudo patriots who roam the streets with placards of restoring Buddhism and granting its rightful place in a country that is already nearly 70% of the people are Buddhists, could lead to dangerous levels. Violence could break out and subsequent carnage would make the ’83 riots look like a ‘minor’ protest at a village fair in a rural hamlet.
Whitewashing, glossing over or covering up something that is immoral, illegal, or otherwise plain bad is usually done by the surrogates of a criminal. Galagoda Atte Gnanasara, the notorious imposter-Buddhist monk or the thug in saffron, fits right into the narrative of whitewashing a dangerous activist. Not in the sense that he is intrinsically an evil man with evil intentions, but the consequential chain of mayhem, looting and killings that would entail will ultimately set the country back by another couple of decades, not to mention the drastic ill-reputation in the international arena.
Yet such a criticism, either in isolation or otherwise, of the leading political provocateur of nationalist/racist politics would not suffice. In a country in which nearly 70% of the population are Sinhalese-Buddhists, Galagoda Atte Gnanasara’s appeal, whether it’s woefully misplaced or not, cannot be ignored nor could it be regarded as a clarion call to arms. The issues and concerns he raises could have gravely significant national and socio-political consequence if the current government keeps sweeping them under the proverbial carpet. The issues raised by this group of provocateurs go beyond partisan politics. The ethnic group that is being targeted by the Bodu Bala Sena and its supporters led by this rogue-monk, among others, are Muslims. Most of the Muslims in Sri Lanka are concentrated in the Eastern Province. The Provincial Council in Eastern Province is headed by a Muslim Chief Minister. More than one third of the Province is populated by this ethnic group and an overwhelming majority of Sri Lankan workers in the Middle-east hail form the Eastern Province Muslims. That’s a reality. Given the context of even more widely parochial claims from the Muslim community as regards Sharia Law etc. which is usually an anathema for all right-minded people, whether Sinhalese or Tamil, the tendency for a serious break down in law and order cannot be overruled.
In the meantime, the government is dragging its feet about the widely-publicized alleged settlement of Muslims in the middle of Wilpattu Wildlife Sanctuary. No government can wipe its hands off such a fundamental breach of the country’s Land-policy. The brand that the present rulers have created for themselves as ‘gutless and unstrategic’ is becoming a real issue and they simply cannot run away from such serious accusation from the people. Criticizing a Buddhist Monk alias yellow robed-thug would not resolve the issue. It is also extensively rumored and even long-established by some legitimate and valid quarters that the Muslim power behind these alleged settlements is a Minister from a Northern District. A young charismatic figure, this Cabinet Minister is alleged to be heavily immersed in a toxic vessel of corruption. Extremists on both sides won’t do. Two rights don’ make a right. It actually amplifies the undercurrents of the present situation and if it explodes, as I said in one my earlier paragraphs, would shatter all societal constraints. Such an uncontrollable event should not be an option before our decision makers.
At the same time our Sinhalese Buddhists and their extremist leaders realize another unfriendly reality. Almost 35% of the Eastern Province is occupied by Sinhalese Buddhists. Some of our ancient Buddhists artifacts and temples are situated in that province. Any counter onslaught in that province against our Sinhalese Buddhist brethren would be catastrophic. The ’83 carnage of Tamils in Colombo might be countered by a similar vengeance-ridden slaughter and it might be inevitable. It is only advisable that in the interest of peace and détente between the two communities, a more amicable and just resolution is reached. And the first step belongs to the government. The need to be more proactive and take the first steps towards bringing these two parties together.
However, one must also remember the failed Timpu-Talks between the militant Tamils and Sinhalese in the mid-eighties. One cannot expect results from inviting extremists to a peace conference. Prabhakaran’s terrorists and Sinhalese extremists who took part in Timpu-Talks did not generate any tangible results. The enmity and mutual hatred Sinhalese and Tamils bore against each other got further sharpened after these Timpu fiasco. One must realize that a settlement between these Sinhalese and Muslims should be a political one as against an exclusively legal one. Yes, land settlement and physical boundaries between the provinces and districts need to be at the foundation of these proposed talks. But the negotiators must essentially consist of educated and wise men and women whose antennas are tuned and set to the pulse of both communities and daring enough to give and take.
Do we have such men in the active public service? My answer is no. In such a case, one would eventually be pushed to recruit such talent from those public servants who are still among the living but retired. Some may be ‘retired hurt’ but others just retired. I am sure those wise men would come forward if the government extends a warm and hearty invite. For these public servants who had served this country under many a regime – led by either UNP-led or SLFP-led – would volunteer their invaluable service if a sufficiently prudent and extensively calculated Terms of Reference (TOR) is prepared and submitted for national conversation.
The composition of such a Conference/Talks between the leaders of the two communities must essentially do away with diehard extremists of both communities. Law and Order cannot be sustained if two extremist parties meet at such Talks. The political will of the governing coalition will be tested and those who adhere to the fundamentals of the messages of the two communities which would be more religious than social and ethnical are bound to triumph in a perfect world. But the world is far from being prefect. That is why we need to talk within the confines of civic responsibility and religious tolerance. Islam and Buddhism are two religions whose founding sages preached peace and harmony. Dominance of one over the other is not an option.
Am I writing about a utopian dream? Maybe, but if one does not dream about one’s own prospective realities, this world would never have progressed; the first Neanderthal would never have ventured out of his cave.
The government’s active search for a resolution of this malefic condition is a prerequisite. There will never be a solution to problems between two ethnic groups. Such a solution is possible only between two harmonious minds that are completely devoid of hatred, jealousy and distrust etc. Such sublime heights of the mind are yet light-years away from our mundane minds. That is why a resolution instead of a solution of the issues should be our primary and final goal. Many pundits have written many a column and book on this issue of religious tolerance and ethnic harmony. But as I stated at the very outset, human nature has not changed. It will continue in its unending journey of attempting to reach a dynamic equilibrium between right and wrong, just and unjust, plain and nuanced. It could be very exciting and enthralling to a wise man. But at the same time lethal to the unwise and avaricious. Galagoda Atte Gnanasara may have a message. But he should not be made a martyr.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org