By Emil van der Poorten –
It really took a gritting of teeth and a tensing of muscle before I could type out the apostrophized words appearing in the title of this piece! Why? Because it was terminology used extensively by the most hypocritical elements of United States society in an effort to propagate a dogma of irrational behaviour and discrimination against a variety of groups. However, standing alone and sans the baggage, it is probably as good a term as any to describe a large slice of Sri Lanka’s population.
I don’t know whether it can be attributed purely to good fortune, but the Serendipitous Isle that we inhabit, has had the benefit of both Asian and European streams of culture that have, in a larger sense been complementary of each other for several centuries despite the fact that the former had been around for more than a millennium before the latter arrived, carried by those who sought to subjugate the indigenous populations and impose their cultural norms and religion on the “locals.” However, despite the “imperialist impulse,” this country ended up with a broad spectrum of religious beliefs that existed in harmony, seemingly enhancing each other rather than competing in some destructive manner. Whether it was deliberate co-operation or just an exceptional level of tolerance, the four major religions that shared this small land mass, dwelt in amity for many centuries, developing a moral and ethical mix that seemed to serve the country very well indeed in its many endeavours: political, economic and cultural.
It was out of this coming together that a broad coalition emerged of what I have chosen to describe as the moral majority in this piece. They were, generally, from the more conservative elements of each faith group but that conservatism did not preclude them from making common cause across religious boundaries. There was, above all, a demonstrated adherence to a set of principles and ethics and a morality that they all appeared to share in.
What has happened to that unique amalgam and what have we done with the opportunity to build a truly unique country in this region? We seem to have chosen, rather than sup graciously at that table of riches, to look for flaws and opportunities for conflict in either the theory or practice of each and every religion or faith group.
I would submit that, while historical circumstances – particularly a vicious and protracted armed conflict – might have created a climate ripe for the jettisoning of any code of morality, principle or ethics, what has overtaken the country over the last few years has been a process deliberately created to serve the ends of a small and select group of people at the expense of the rest of the population. This elite has a vested interest in the continuance of strife that they can control with repressive measures in order for their grand plan for self-aggrandizement to proceed without let or hindrance.
One needs to remember that all those “airy-fairy” concepts – morality, ethics, principles -that separate us from the lesser inhabitants of this earth also provide the irreplaceable foundation for the very existence of a country like Sri Lanka and for the material well-being of its people. That material well-being however cannot include a tiny elite becoming enormously wealthy and powerful at the expense of the rest of the population!
Why is the moral majority that I believe still exists in this country collectively acting like the three famous monkeys who could not see, speak nor hear evil?
Some have been seduced – the more comfortably-off sections, particularly – by material comforts (to an ever-decreasing number!) Yet others live in abject fear of upsetting “the-powers-that-be,” and with good reason given the fate of many who’ve had the gall to stand up to our 21st century Royalty! Yet others because of the vulnerability that common criminals perennially display, hang on to their patrons and are prepared to do virtually anything to ensure a continuation of the status quo because the alternative – a return to the rule of law – is too terrible to consider and they are going to be, not to put a fine point on it …….d (choose the verb of your choice!)
At the same time as the strife has arisen around religions and their practices – deliberately generated by politicians in or out of robes of one description or another – there has been an accelerating current of unease and nervousness beneath the surface of all the major religions in Sri Lanka. At minimum, there is a growing intolerance typically voiced in terms of one’s faith being superior to one’s neighbour’s, a symptom typical of those suffering from a inferiority complex of serious proportions.
That it only takes a little spark for mobs to launch attacks on places of worship or of religious significance has been only too evident with the Dambulla and other mosque destructions and the attacks on places of worship of some of the Christian denominations. The latter have often been provoked by deliberately-generated hysteria over “unethical conversions,” whatever they are, allegedly conducted by charismatic or fundamentalist Christian groups. However, even the mainline Christian denomination headquartered in the Vatican has not been spared the malicious attentions of those looking for someone “different” to attack on one pretext or another.
That some of the minor Christian or crypto-Christian groups often target people in distress in many countries – be it because of health, financial or other distressing episodes in their lives. In fact it has been true through the ages that even some atheists or agnostics “discover religion” when faced with some calamity to which there does not appear to be a human, earth-generated solution and are thus most vulnerable to the attentions of those looking to grow their flocks! Interestingly, I do recall friends of my generation who “discovered” Buddhism when they had to deal with a crisis and sought to take what they claimed was the intellectual rather than the emotional path to relief. There are also those whose suddenly all-consuming devotion to Buddhism is provoked by the need to obtain a favour of one description or another and resort to vows at particular places of worship. While this emotional rather than intellectual belief in the power of Buddhism to perform miracles of one description or another seems to run counter to the very essence of what is considered by many to be the most “intellectual” of belief systems, it is, nevertheless a reality in this country, much as worship of the Hindu deities plays a very important role in the practice of Buddhism by the larger mass of Buddhists.
But I digress.
In any event, prejudice is primarily triggered by a discomfort with people who are “different” particularly if they practice a faith that the aggressors do not or choose not to understand. The matter of “conversions,” ethical or otherwise is not of any real significance in this or any other country and is more a red herring than anything else in the current Sri Lankan context.
All the circumstantial and anecdotal evidence points in the direction of Sri Lanka’s moral majority having chosen to divest itself of its traditional responsibility as the arbiter of ethical conduct, principle and morality in this country. One can only hope that this is a temporary phenomenon and that they will return to the fray with all those who continue to stand up to those who have no respect for any of those things that add up to civility and decency, honour and honesty in governance.