06 June 2019

The politics of alienation and isolation

And they resigned in solidarity with people accused of Jihaadist association! 

Ajith Fernando, an old friend and an incredibly good and humble human being, got it right when he said, ‘Terrorist don’t win when they manage to kill 200, 300 innocent people. They win when they manage to alienate and isolate the entire Muslim population.’

Now, broadly speaking, there are two ways in which a community can become alienated and isolated. First, if the rest of the population, out of fear, prejudice or for some other reason, conflates that community with the terrorists, in this case the National Thawheed Jamaath (NTJ) or the ISIS or in general terms, the ‘Jihaadists’ (of whom there can be and are many variants), all acting in the name of Allah, the greater Islamic community and as per their reading of the Quran. Secondly, the community can for reasons of security (closing of the ranks so to speak, operating on the notion ‘me against my brother, but my brother and I against others’) or conviction alienate and isolate itself.  Where alienation and isolation do occur we tend to see one of the above two or both in varying degrees of intensity.  

Strangely, in Sri Lanka, at least in views expressed in English, the dominant view is that a) there IS alienation and isolation of Muslims, and b) it is a condition imposed on the Muslims, one in which they have not played any role.  

These views have gained a lot of credence thanks to some very tangential and even pernicious statements. Today we have the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs expressing concerns about ‘the demonizing of Muslims in Sri Lanka’. That’s rich, coming from one of the world’s most racist countries where Muslim-demonization is almost an article of faith. 

We also have Mangala Samaraweera’s multiple tweets: a) ‘Hatred is never appeased by hatred. By non-hatred alone is hatred appease. This is a law eternal.’ Today it was left to our Muslim Ministers to exhibit this sacred teaching of Lord Buddha while imposters in robes incited hatred in his name. A shameful day for our beloved #lka; and b) #Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith fanning the flames of hatred and communalism by visiting fasting robed MP Rathana. #Vatican TAKE NOTE! Perhaps he is feigning ignorance (unlikely) but this is quintessential Mangala: he can’t help attacking the Buddhist Order and the Buddhist community while at the same time sweeping under the carpet the context. One notes that he has never once tweeted about ‘imposters in the clothing worn by Islamic clerics,’ when referring to the NTJ. 

So we have, all of a sudden, a ‘situation’ where the Cardinal is ‘fanning the flames of communalism and racism.’ We have the ‘Muslims being demonized’. Perhaps we should talk of all demonizations and delve into the real demonizers.  

The New York Times quotes Rauff Hakeem, leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress: ‘our people fear a blood bath.’ Existential fears are not the preserve of the Muslim community though: if people are terrified in ways they have not been for 10 years, it is because of the Easter Sunday attacks, carried out, let us repeat, in the name of Allah, with the expressed affirmation of a reading of the Quran and of course the Islamic faith. THAT was a bloodbath (and not FEAR of a bloodbath) Wariness can make people imagine all kinds of doom’s day scenarios. Given the affirmed religious identity of the terrorists, it is not unnatural for people to be wary of that community. 

That said, to use words such as ‘demonization’ and to vilify efforts that seek justice as a means to a quick resolution and thereby the creation of a situation where mutual respect, trust etc., can take root, does not help. In fact it can have the opposite effect. The Buddhist community did not carry out or sanction a terrorist attack. Neither did the Muslim community as a whole. There was an attack that killed hundreds of people; it was not done in the name of the Buddha. If people don’t want a sense of proportion, if they want to play the margins, make mountains out of molehills etc., they are not helping. They are fanning the flames of discontent, they are feeding extremisms.  

The New York Times news report (‘All 9 of Sri Lanka’s Muslim Ministers Resign as Bombing Backlash Intensifies’) carried the following bylines: Dharisha Bastians and Mujib Mashal. The second, going by name, seems to be a Muslim. The first is the Editor of a state-owned newspaper. Well, no one asked ‘All 9’ to resign. They were not made to resign. They did so of their own accord. That’s not backlash. That’s choice. The NYT has not uttered a word about the tendentious comments made by the three whose eviction was sought nor Bathiudeen’s association with the NTJ. No, but the NYT feels fit to use the title ‘Mr’ when referring to Bikkhus. Bastians, even when she takes issue with him, says Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and not Mr Malcolm Ranjith. It is disrespectful and odious. It is quite antithetical to the rhetoric of coexistence and reconciliation indulged in by the Government that hand-picked her for a state-sector job.  

What’s the truth here? Here are the facts. First. The call was for the removal of three persons. The resignation of six persons whose removal was not sought in solidarity with three persons who are under a cloud (on account of statements made and close association with terrorist suspects) raises a simple question: identification with that very same ‘cloud’? A wit quipped, ‘if a Parliamentarian is accused of raping a woman and called on to resign or it sought to be removed, should all men resign in solidarity?’ 

They’ve offered an explanation of sorts: it was because they felt that Rathana Thero’s hunger strike had raised fears among their community regarding imminent violence, an explanation which of course helps the ever-ready vilifiers of the majority community.  

This notion has got a bit of carry due to a statement made by Rev Gnanasara Thero of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) about serious action to be taken in the event the President did not accede to Rathana Thero’s demands. Gnanasara Thero and the BBS, however, were hardly part of the agitation. Moreover, Salley and Hizbullah are known to have pleased with Maithripala Sirisena to obtain the release of the thero through a presidential pardon. Interestingly, Gnanasara Thero has since castigated Rathana Thero for causing a distraction in the struggle against the struggle to overcome the threat of Islamic extremism!  In any event, translating a peripheral fact into fear-mongering is playing politics, nothing less. Probably, one surmises, in order to congeal a Muslim vote bloc in a future election. 

Second. Rathana Thero’s efforts, as mentioned above, drew the support of all communities, Muslims included. Sure, there were a lot of snide comments about Rathana Thero joining Muslims in their fast with hardly any comments on his demands or the context in which they were made, but there were many who were in complete agreement with the Thero’s position.  There was absolutely no conflation of Muslims and the Jihaadists. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith in supporting the Thero put the full weight of the Catholic Church behind the effort. Tamil politicians joined the fast. In short there was solidarity of the kind rarely seen in recent times for protests of this kind.

Third. There is a strange reluctance to address the real and terrible threat to all Sri Lankans: jihaadist terrorism. Nothing has threatened to tear this country apart and rendered the entire citizenry vulnerable in the last ten years as the Jihaadist attacks. That threat is real. The entire drama about some kind of Sinhala Buddhist ‘backlash’ is in this context a distraction. It plays into the hands of the Jihaadists. 

What can one expect to happen when the terrorists are spoken of in tokenist terms or ignored altogether and at the same time those who have not conflated terrorists and the community they belong to are vilified, just because they happen to belong to a majority community? Is that not pernicious conflation? Does it not alienate Sinhalese and Buddhists? And if and when that happens, would you expect Sinhalese and Buddhists to pretend to be asleep or unconscious? 

Well, that’s what one can call the ‘Mangala Sutra’, ‘Mangala’ as a symbol and representative of all those whose passion has been to vilify the Sinhala Buddhists. Well, now it seems that this phenomenon can be trumped by what one may call the ‘Rathana Sutra’ but only if Ven Athureliye Rathana Thero says a lot of things, which need to be prefaced as follows: 

‘The greatest threat to unity, reconciliation, co-existence and peace among all communities, at this particular moment is Islamic extremism. The people must unite to fight this threat. However, we must not forget that if we do not do our utmost now and always to make sure that everyone feels safe, if we do not protect one another, if we directly or indirectly feed other extremisms, this task will only become that much more difficult.’  

Yes, Ajith Fernando has raised a pertinent point. Isolation and alienation never helps. Let us not push anyone or let anyone push us to such dreadful places.


30 May 2019

Reconciliation does not grow in the Valley of Lies

Negombo. May 5, 2019. Two weeks after the Jihadist attacks. Who attacked Muslims, who boycotted Muslim shops?   

Half a truth here, half a truth there
armed with half-truths onward
all in the Valley of Lies
rode the six hundred.
‘Forward the Lie Brigade!
Charge for the monks!’ he said.
Into the Valley of Lies
rode the six hundred.

Sorry, Alfie. Couldn’t resist. These are tense times and a half-chuckle here and there you would pardon, I am sure. I was reminded of the verse by a number: 300. Half, yes, but this is only half the story. Read on.

In June 2014, 300 Sri Lankans petitioned the then Government to ‘take urgent action to stop attacks on Muslims’. This was in the aftermath of incidents in Aluthgama, Beruwala, Welipenna and Dharga Town, and pointed out to inflammatory speech by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS).

Aluthgama, Beruwala, Welipenna etc was followed a few years later by Theldeniya and Digana as names associated with violence. Anti-Muslim violence. Violence perpetrated by those who affirmed the Buddhist faith, as per their convictions and understanding. 

In both instances, the Buddhists are made out to have clapped with a single hand, the statements would have us believe. We could quibble about who cast the first stone or who cast more stones, but there are few who are blameless. Well, no one need cast stones and even if ‘the other’ did so, it does not justify retaliation (if indeed that was what it was) of the kind we saw. That said, the popular narrative among the English twitterati is that stone-throwing or rather the casting of the first stone is a Sinhala Buddhist preserve, a ‘fact’ that even  absolves suicide bombers. 

Today, however, it seems that stones have been gathered a long time before ‘Aluthgama’ with or without the knowledge of people living in these areas. ‘Without’ let’s assume. No, let’s say ‘Without!’ with conviction, for grand generalization is a curse.   

What happened to the ‘300’  worthies (and their ilk, numbering well over 600) after the Easter Sunday attack by Muslims who claim to be affirming to the letter their faith? Not all such petitioners are in the practice of issuing statements at every turn, although the Easter Sunday attack was not exactly something trivial. Still, typically, there are signature-solicitors in such exercises. What happened to them? Why was Aluthgama, Theldeniya etc., ‘hot’ and ‘Easter Sunday’ cold? How did the anti-Muslim violence in Negombo following the attack and the boycotting of Muslim business  establishments go unnoticed? Was it noticed but ignored because the perpetrators did not belong to the community such people love to hate, namely the Sinhala Buddhists? Only D.B.S. Jeyaraj talked of what happened in Poruthota, Periyamulla and Dalupotha on May 5, 2019. Is it that our anti-Buddhist anti-Sinhala mobs didn’t find a mouth-watering story to tell? 

Anyway, all of a sudden, in the name of inter-communal amity, we are told to desist from naming the religion of the terrorists, the religion in whose name they killed. So we have a nameless commentator in the state media talking about ‘the hidden hands behind the anti-Muslim riots’. This print warrior will hopefully, even belatedly, tell us about all the hidden hands behind the terrorists affirming their Islamic faith, i.e. the terrorist-spawning educational institutions, mosques and most importantly the teachings, which sadly amount to a perversion of Islam (according to Islamic scholars) but nevertheless taken to be that doctrine in its purest form.  

Jehan Perera, writing in late April believes that Sri Lanka was dragged into a global conflict with Islamic extremism. His biggest worry was that the present government would lost the Catholic vote!  As has always been the case, and evidenced by subsequent missives, Perera is upset by the inconvenience of security measures. Happily he is not in charge of the subject. Again, in a piece about engagement being the price of reconciliation, he expresses his greatest worry — the ouster of this regime. More pertinent is the this human rights warrior’s marked reluctance to engage with the reality of religion-based extremism, how religious freedom was and is being abused to churn out terrorists, and how the problem is deeper than a bunch of people itching to blow themselves up. 

Thisaranee Gunasekara, who loves to chew out Sinhala Buddhists, writing in April unequivocally lays the blame on that community for anti-Muslim violence. It was the BBS that gave birth to Wahhabism, the ISIS and the NTJ, doctrines and outfits that pre-date ‘Aluthgama,’ she would have us believe. Sinhala Buddhists created the hell that is Syria, she might even conclude one day. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is a bit cuter than Gunasekara: ‘The violence, the animosity, Sinhala Buddhist versus Muslim, certainly could have led to these people becoming much more radicalized.’ 

They haven’t gone as far as Taylor Dibbert of www.foreignpolicy.com to say ‘Buddhist anger could tear Sri Lanka apart’, but that’s exactly where they are heading.  Susan Ormiston of CBC news who interviewed Saravanamuttu and others interjects, casually, ‘Buddhism is the majority religion and has seen the rise of ultra-nationalist groups.’  Interestingly and tellingly, the CBC news item covering an inter-faith event following the terrorist attack huffs and puffs before mentioning the ISIS and even then only in relation to some uniforms being found. Until then it’s about ‘bombings’ and ‘the Easter Sunday attack’. However, CBC is determined to ‘explain how this network of homegrown terrorism grew’. 

There you have it — homegrown. Home. Sri Lankan, exclusively. So it has to be something here. And then we have ‘the experts’ who are either non-Buddhists, anti-Buddhists or feel compelled to be on the bahu jaathika - bahu aagamika (multi religious, multi ethnic) bandwagon, never mind percentages. They relate the ‘Buddhists are to blame’ story.  Terrorists have no religion, we are told, but those who attack Muslims are Buddhist extremists (if they are not Buddhists, as mentioned above, such stories are killed). 

A more sophisticated (but as pernicious) analysis has been offered by Anuk Arudpragasam (‘A state of disorientation: dispatch from Sri Lanka after the Easter Bombings’), who mentions the ‘global factors’ but insists that it is all about ‘the country’s unwillingness to see how it has inflicted wounds on minorities.’ He speaks of deeply engrained racism and unexamined history of violence. All of a sudden, we have the old, tired and pernicious text, ‘the Sinhala Buddhist are to blame!’ And the unsaid but racist, ostrich-like  corollary, ‘minorities are blameless’.  He is right, however, when he says, ‘it is easier sometimes to follow a script, after all, even when it comes at the cost of peace.’ He’s a proponent, and he’s not alone.

All this makes it impossible to address ALL THE FACTORS because few in this drama are blameless.  ‘We are all guilty therefore we are all innocent’ is also a cover, we must insist. However, a preference for half-truths or downright lies (for laudable or vile reasons) takes us to the Vale of Deceit and that is where mistrust, anxiety and hatred are spawned. Looking for root-causes is one thing, but to say, for example, that the LTTE, BBS or NTJ (and no, they are not equals for multiple reasons) gave birth to the other two (or different ‘others’) or, alternatively, they all fell from the sky, is to pass the buck (that was always with all of us) to one another.  

So we get to a point where we cannot entertain any doubts whatsoever about any non-Sinhala non-Buddhist doing wrong. That would be racist. That would be intolerant. That’s what we are being told about Dr Shafi Shihabdeen, the man accused of performing forced sterilization following Caesarian surgery.

One must wonder what happened to the women’s rights outfits that are constantly looking for a protest-op. We all know that ‘innocent until proven guilty’ has not stopped them before. 

Are Sinhala Buddhist women ‘untouchables’ if they suspect someone from another community abusing professional trust (to put it mildly)? Why can’t they ask all women ‘Caesared’ by Shihabdeen and who gave birth subsequently as well to come forward, so we can get an identity-related breakdown of the numbers and thereby get to the truth of the matter? 

The tireless efforts to hang the Sinhala Buddhist as the one and only villain in this drama cannot help reconciliation. Indeed, it allows those who in the name of identity plan and execute violence of one kind or another on religious or other minorities the perfect cover. They would be, simply, just a bunch of villains in a villainous majority community. 

On the flip side, it allows (as it has allowed) the quiet rise of racist and bigoted ideologies and attendant violence. They have the cover of the classic justification: ‘in self defense!’   

The bottom line: identity should not be a cover or an excuse for infringement of the law or abuse of constitutional safeguards such as religious freedoms. The ‘600’ (or more) are not helping. Well, they are helping all extremists, one could add. Half-truths do that. 


23 May 2019

And here comes the Equivalency Circus

M.S. Fouzul Ameen should have been alive today. The furniture shop owner from Kottaramulla, Nattandiya was killed by a mob on May 13, 2019. Many shops owned by Muslims should still be standing. They are not. No one should have or should show any apprehension of any Muslim, regardless of attire or appearance. Non-Muslims are wary and Muslims are apprehensive of one another. Should not be that way, but that’s what things have come to. 

After Fouzul Ameen was killed, a Facebook post with a picture of his ID card tagged to it, raised a question.  "මේ මනුස්සයා ගේ දරුවන් අන්තවාදීන් නොවී සිටීමට අපට කළ හැකි දේ මොකක්ද? -ඔව් අර ලේ ඉල්ලපු අයගෙන් තමයි අහන්නේ?-“ (what can we do to stop the children of this man from becoming extremists — yes, the questions is for those who were demanding blood).  

Legit. As legit as this response to the post: ‘තව්වො මරපු මිනිස්සුන්ගෙ ID හොයාගන්න බැරිවෙන්න ඇති නේද? බී කොන්සිස්ටන්ට් බී සයිලෙන්ට් කිව්වලු.’ (Perhaps you couldn’t find IDs of those who the NTJ killed? Be consistent or be silent, they say). 

Perhaps as response to the observation, a clarification followed: බෝම්බ ප්‍රහාර වලින් මිය ගිය ජනයා ගැන මෙසේ ලීවෙමි "මම ආරක්ෂාවෙන් පසු නොවෙමි, මියගියේ මගේ මිනිසුන් . මා සයිලන්ට් නොවෙන අතර කන්සිස්ටන්ට් බව සහතිකය’ (This is what I wrote about those who died in the bomb attacks, ‘I am not safe, those who died are my people.’ I am not silent and I am convinced of my consistency.’ And here’s the response: ‘හරිම ලයාන්විතයි බෝම්බකරුව්න් විශයෙහි. ඔබ කොන්සිස්ටන්ට් නැත.’ (Very tender are you with respect to the suicide bombers; consistent you are not.’

The violence in the North Western Province is unlike what we saw on Easter Sunday in that the latter was a product of long-term strategizing including the setting up of terrorist training camps, stockpiling arms and ammunition, and systematic indoctrination. But we can and should talk about the equivalencies.

The law enforcement authorities were clearly complicit in the case of the Easter Sunday attacks and in the mob violence led by people outside the particular areas that erupted three weeks later that took the life of Fouzul Ameen. Politicians offered support, direct or indirect, or were silently complicit. Theoretically, both could have been prevented provided warning signs noted, warnings heeded and relevant measures put in place.

Issues of identity marked both. In the one, terrorism for the purpose of faith-affirmation. In the other, the targeting of a community. In the one, some argue, the rise of a movement as response to existentialist angst. In the other, although the same people will not acknowledge, a similar angst, at least in the outward expression, never mind the clear hand of bankrupt politicians.    

The equivalency has been given credence by many commentators, mostly from Colombo’s Twitterati (aka Kolombians and Colombots) made up of Born Again Democrats and Funded Voices. The Easter Sunday bombs shocked them, naturally. So did the violence in the North Western Province. In the first case, they were quick to say ‘Terrorism has no religion’ (never mind that the terrorists were affirming a faith and not forgetting, following that logic, the fact that we have many religion-less mosques and Islamic educational institutes! In the latter case, the perpetrators were labeled: ‘Sinhala Buddhists’ (with or without the ‘extremist’ tag).

Some, correctly, pointed out the long history of patriotism affirmed by Muslims. The names of officers who laid down their lives in the war against terror were mentioned. And yet, interestingly, the very same people who make this point also claim that ‘Sinhala Buddhist majoritarianism’ caused the war which, again they say, was fought by Sinhala Buddhists against Tamils! Strange. 

Dr Harsha De Silva went an extra mile, claiming that the Kuliyapitiya violence cost the economy more than the Easter Sunday attacks. Yes, ‘Doctor’ Harsha De Silva. Economist. Someone called Taylor Dibbert was more specific. He penned a piece for www.foreignpolicy.com titled ‘Buddhist anger could tear Sri Lanka apart’. At least he’s said out loud what the aforementioned twitterati only whispers in private. Yep. Buddhists are the villains of the piece. They are who could tear Sri Lanka apart. What that to-be-torn country is, of course, is up for debate.

For a long time, we have had this anti-Buddhist sentiment finding expression in various ways. It takes the form of advocating a secular state without mentioning history, without talking about all the privileges enjoyed by non-Buddhist religious fraternities (compared, for example, to what religious minorities enjoy in Muslim or Christian nations). Mangala Samaraweera and his ilk say ‘We are Sri Lankans’. Correct. But then again, why don’t this One Sri Lanka folk work tirelessly to advocate and constitutionally concretize the ‘One Nation, One Law’ thesis? Why not scream for the abrogation of customary laws? 

But we are in a season of equivalency here and that calls for a vilification of Buddhists and of course Sinhala Buddhists. In the long history, we have had villainy. Magha of Kalinga: was he a Buddhist? The Portuguese who destroyed temples: were they Buddhists? The British who perpetrated genocide (a word oft mis-used by its users), ethnic cleansing and whose rule was marked by religious persecution and, again, the vandalizing of temples and kovils: Buddhists? Then there is the recent history. Velupillai Prabhakaran, goaded by Tamil racists: a Buddhist? The NTJ/ISIS: products of Buddhist extremism? 

Back to equivalency. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). They were quiet for three whole weeks and were quite shy about explaining off the fact that they entered the name of a top rung NTJ operative in their national list. Then, Kuliyapitiya happened. Then came the poster, condemning all extremisms. Correct. But late. And selective, strangely. 

And now we have both the United National Party (UNP) and the JVP in navel-gazing mode regarding the vote of no confidence on Rishard Bathiudeen. We know the charges. We know that the near and dear, blood-wise, faith-wise and political loyalty wise, were right up there among the bigwigs of the NTJ terrorists. Sure, we can and should ask why a similar vote is not taken on Dayasiri Jayasekera for some actions that were similar to the lesser charges against Bathiudeen. That aside, it is nothing less than scandalous for Navin Dissanayake to say that the move on Bathiudeen is racist. That’s almost saying ‘if you are not a Sinhalese or a Buddhist and you engage in any kind of hanky panky, you get a wide berth because, well, you belong to a minority and therefore any action against you has to be racist.’

There’s equivalency of other kinds. Recent history. Tamil racists persuaded  hotheaded Tamil youth to take up arms. They introduced a kind of vulnerability that the Tamil community had not hitherto experienced. Look what the NTJ did. The same. And yet, behind the shield called ‘religious freedom’ we saw the rise of a doctrine among whose key tenets are elements that are in contravention of basic democratic norms and seek to bend the penal code. Yep. Wahhabism. That’s a religion. It fathered the NTJ. But we are not allowed to say it, are we? Oops, I just did! So sue me!  

Equivalency is the word here. I think I might have got it wrong. It might be better to talk about wild extrapolation. As another social media commentator observed, ‘Those very same losers who were silent when 250 plus people were killed by some nutters, are now so vociferous about some politically staged crap about the majority of the country being racists; if that were so, this place should be worse than Syria.’

Last weekend we saw Muslims and Christians in their thousands celebrating Vesak. That’s not going to deliver reconciliation, but it will not hurt it either. Indeed, even though the gesture was warm and warmly received, I don’t think anyone should feel compelled to celebrate some other faith on account of penitence (on behalf of ‘nutters’ professing the same faith) or fear. I say this knowing well that many among them did it for reasons more wholesome than fear and which went beyond ‘penitence’.  What is more important, and I believe it is happening in the Muslim community in a big way, is determined objection to all forms of teaching that buttress extremism of the kind we saw on Easter Sunday. 

At a recent media conference, some Muslim leaders were outspoken about the need for the Muslim community to indulge in introspection. Ali Saby observed that a historic opportunity has arisen to reform Muslim Law and customs in Sri Lanka. I offer that this opportunity can be squandered by the equivalency hordes referred to above.  

There are two ways to trip. One is to sweep the truth under the carpet. The other is to spin a web of lies or half-truths. Such things are not the preserve of any single community, religious or otherwise, of course, but the Equivalency Clowns are certainly doing it full time. Doesn’t help. If indeed we get to reconciliation and civilization it will not be because of them but in spite of them. We owe it to every single victim of the Easter Sunday attack and to the good furniture shop owner, the late M.S. Fouzul Ameen.


19 May 2019

Sriyan Cooray and the Bradby of 1983

Every Royalist and Trinitian who goes for the Bradby Shield on a regular basis will have special memories. The players of course see things from a different angle. Their recollections are qualitatively different. Naturally, the nail-biters and the victories by large margins stand out as do the exploits of friends. 

My first Bradby Shield experience was in Bogambara, Kandy. It was the second leg in 1976. Royal had beaten Trinity by a record margin (at the time) of 36-0. Back then it was a 60 minute game, as opposed to the current 80 minute format. Tries gave you 4 points then, not 5. Anyway, Manik Weerakumar’s team won 25-6, after Trinity woke up the Royalists drawing first blood. 

Since then there’s been Sampath Agalawatte's Invincible Team of 1984, the juggernaut led by Lasitha ‘Bonsa’ Gunaratne in 1988, the 2002 team of Zulki Hamid that still holds the record for the highest aggregate (83-0). There have been other memorable teams, matches and moments of individual brilliance, all of which make for a lot of pride. The greatest lesson that I, a mere fan, obtained from the Bradby, however, was not from any of these games. Indeed it was from something that happened after the game.

The year was 1983. Royal was led by Sriyan Cooray. The first leg was in Kandy. A good, hard fought match. The records show that Trinity won 14-6. The record don’t show that no less than four tries scored by Royal were disallowed. I remember Royal’s Centre, Ajith Gunasekera in tears after the referee refused to acknowledge that he had touched down. At one point, the boys had wanted to leave the field. Sriyan and perhaps a few other seniors had prevailed on them to understand that ‘The Bradby’ is not only about each of them as individuals, but was bigger than all that.  

Such conversations, I did not hear from the sidelines. What I did hear is what makes that Bradby special for me.  

The Royal camp was devastated, naturally. We had been robbed, we were convinced. We could do nothing about it. But then again, the Kandy Leg is also about revelry, and Royalists seldom dwell too long on defeats. Indeed, they don’t seem to go overboard even in victory. I was ready to put the match behind me. 

Just then Sriyan led his team out of the dressing room. They all seemed a bit down in the mouth. Then he spoke to his team. 

‘We are Royalists. We don’t complain about what happened. Now let’s join our boys and the college band.’  

He may have said other things, but I don’t remember. I do remember a great roar of support and the usual cheer, R-O-Y-A-L….ROYAL! 

Years later, recalling the match, Sriyan, smiling as he always does, said that the Trinitians had been quite apologetic about what had happened. 

Royal won the second leg in Colombo, but Trinity retained the Bradby because of the greater margin in Kandy.  

Clearly, that is not the only match marked by poor refereeing.  Referees err. Some have bad days and some have outrageously bad days. The record stands. No one disputes or calls for re-matches or a nulling of the result. Sriyan and his boys left it all in Bogambara. I took something away. We move on.  An out-of-class lesson taught by a student, just one year senior to me. Thank you, Sriyan Cooray.


16 May 2019

The prerogatives of humanity and citizenship

It will take more than a pretty picture, sure. But let us not arrogate upon ourselves the tasks of the Police and security forces. Let us be vigilant but resist all urges to become vigilantes. Let not fear, anxiety and suspicion immobilize us into doing nothing to alleviate the fear, anxiety and suspicion of our fellow citizens. 

This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the historic defeat of the LTTE. It coincides with Vesak. It comes just four weeks after a deadly attack by the National Thawfeek Jamaath (NTJ), an attack for which the ISIS has also claimed responsibility. 

There are many things to talk about at this moment. We can talk about the utter incompetence of the Government in terms of the subversion of national security. We can talk of the government’s complicity, first on account criminal negligence, but also in casting a blind eye for reasons of political expedience and an insane fixation on the principle of religious freedom that allowed for worry-free growth of extremism. We can talk about the complicity of previous regimes in similar terms. These are articles for another day. 

We can talk about the popular idea being floated by the Colombo Twitterati, aka Kolombians aka  Colombots that terrorism has no religion. We can discuss whether or not the Easter Sunday attacks were carried out by people affirming a particular faith, namely Islam. We can ask, ‘if that is the case, should we not conclude that there are “religion-free” mosques?’ We can ask, ‘If terrorism has no religion, does it mean that the ISIS and NTJ do not exist?’ We can ask, ‘can they be wished away?’ We can ask, ‘if we cannot use the words “Islam” and “Muslim” when we talk about the Easter Sunday attacks, how is it that those who hold these position talk about “Buddhist” extremists?’ Articles for another day.  

We can talk about customary law. We can question the logic of a legal system where sex with a minor is considered statutory rape but where such things are sanctioned by other laws. We can ask how it is that certain citizens could be punished for having more than one wife but others are not. We can ask how reconciliation is served by dress codes that essentially say ‘I can see you, but you cannot see me; do not communicate with me, I do not trust you but you better trust me, for this is my way and if you don’t like it, take the highway!’ We can talk about such walls. In other articles. Another day.

We can talk about many other things, but I will not. I will talk about and to the citizens of this country. 

There are things beyond our control, and things we can and should do. We can read the signs, read the movement of signs and draw conclusions. We can thereafter design plans of action and execute them to secure our preferred outcomes. Do that. I have no problem with it.  

Today, I want to talk about fear. About anxiety. Suspicion. 

There are crimes of omission and commission that all communities, religious and ethnic, are guilty of. This is not to say that we should disregard history and the magnitude of error and crime of course, but that’s also for another day.

Today the entire country is in confusion. We cannot trust either the Government or the Opposition. Leaders of all communities are suspect. There’s a gap between word and deed. The problem and the uncomfortable truth is that we have been forced to be hesitant even about things that are within our control. For there’s suspicion among us. There’s fear of each other. There is anxiety. 

I remember a similar time of anxiety, fear and suspicion. July 1983. We lived at the time down a lane where there were families of all communities, ethnic and religious. Indian Tamils, Sri Lankan Tamils, Sinhala Buddhists, Sinhala Christians, Tamil Hindus, Tamil Christians, families of mixed faiths and ethnic identities, Muslims. The mobs looted the Tamil houses and set fire to one. The fire was put out by three teenagers and an old man, all Sinhalese. Our neighbors and other family friends and friends of friends took refuge in our house.  

That evening, I overheard my mother telling my father, ‘They say that houses where Tamils have taken refuge will be attacked.’  My father responded, ‘They are our neighbors and friends, such questions do not arise.’ 

I’ve heard people talk about July 1983, not wanting another such tragedy, partly for the monstrous affront to humanity and partly out of fear that it would push Muslims into the arms of extremists and thereby produce another protracted armed confrontation, partly for the ‘economic fallout’ and partly for the ire of the ‘international community’.  Be that as it may, what is crucial about all of it is that such an incident would mean that we have compromised everything that is good and wholesome embedded in the notions of ‘neighbor’ and ‘citizen’.  That is the first and foremost concern, for now. And that alone should spur us to do what needs to be done.  

Rev Mawarale Baddiya Thero, speaking at an event titled ‘Jathika Maga’ (‘National Path’) recently referred to all this, after speaking of the political factors that produced the Easter Sunday attacks. Let me paraphrase and transliterate.

‘This is the month of Vesak. It should be fragranced by incense sticks and flowers. Let not this month be polluted by the stench of blood. There are karmic consequences to what we do.’ 

Of course it is not something that should be limited to Vesak, but the reverend was obviously obtaining from the religious significance of the month to make the point. 

Who are we if we cannot take care of each other, especially in a time of anxiety, fear and suspicion? Isn’t this the moment when we can best affirm our humanity, neighborliness, friendship and citizenship?  The call is not for a dropping of the guard of course. Be circumspect by all means, but let not fear, suspicion and anxiety move us to displacing frustrations and picking easy targets as proxies for ‘The Enemy’. Let us not presume. Let us not judge. Above us, let us not arrogate upon ourselves the tasks of the Police and security forces. Let us be vigilant but resist all urges to become vigilantes. Let not fear, anxiety and suspicion immobilize us into doing nothing to alleviate the fear, anxiety and suspicion of our fellow citizens. 

Let me repeat. Let us not retire our sensitivity, our humanity and the basic responsibilities of citizenship when we are called upon to affirm these things in the service of one another. 

Shihara Farook, a doctor currently resident in the United Kingdom, wants to send a message calling all mosques to ask Muslims to step out and light a Vesak lantern outside their homes. It would be a sign and a positive sign.  There can be other things that the Muslim community can do, but let me not be presumptuous enough to prescribe.  The same goes for other religious communities. Rev Baddiya Thero spoke to Buddhists. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith speaks to the Catholics. Members of the clergy belonging to other faiths no doubt will speak to their respective flocks.  

My schoolmate and friend Mujib Alavi, when concerns were raised about issues of safety, thanked his friends but insisted that he will take care of his family to the best of his ability. My response was this: ‘Muji, we are part of your family.’  He would take care of me and I would take care of him, I didn’t have to elaborate.  I can speak only for myself, but each one of us can and perhaps should consider speaking for themselves and hopefully in ways that heal and bring people together rather than drive them apart, even as we fight in all ways necessary, the threat at hand: terrorism. It would be a fitting tribute to those who laid down their lives to rid this country of the terrorist menace one decade ago.  

tenderness will not hurt

malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com

11 May 2019

අනතුර, ආරක්ෂාව සහ පුරවැසි වගකීම

මේක පරණ කතාවක්.  ඒ කියන්නේ 80 දශකයේ අග භාගයේ. මතක හැටියට 1988 සැප්තැම්බර් මාසයේ. පේරාදෙණිය විශ්වවිද්‍යාලය මාස ගානකට පස්සේ වුවෘත  වුනා. එදා පන්ති වර්ජනය කරන්න පේරාදෙණිය ශිෂ්‍ය ක්‍රියාකාරී කමිටුව තීරණය කරලා තිබුනා. අපට වෛද්‍ය පීඨයට එන්න කියල තිබුනත්, රැස්වීම පැවැත්වූනේ ජිම් එකේ. ඒ කාලේ එම කමිටුවේ කැඳවුම්කරු නිෂ්මි. නිෂ්මි පැය දෙකක් විතර කතා කෙරුවා. බොහෝ දෙනෙකුට අවශ්‍ය වෙලා තිබුනේ කොහොම හරි විභාග කරලා උපාධිය ඇරගෙන විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයෙන් පිට වෙන්න. එහෙමයි මට හිතුනේ. ඒත් නිෂ්මි ගේ කතාව අහලා සෑහෙන පිරිසක් ශිෂ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරයේ ස්ථාවරය අනුමත කෙරුව. නිෂ්මිගේ කතාවෙන් පස්සේ තවත් ශිෂ්‍ය නායකයෙක් මොකද්දෝ වැඩ පිළිවෙලකට එකඟතාවය ඵල කරන්න කියල ඉල්ලුවා. හැමෝම වගේ අත ඉස්සුවා. මතක හැටියට ඇත ඉස්සුවේ නැත්තේ මමයි  ධම්මික අමරකෝනනුයි විතරයි. 

ඒ කාලයේ අපේ ෆැකල්ටියේ දෙවන වසරේ කිහිප දෙනෙකුට ශිෂ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරයේ වැඩ ගැන කිසිම පැහැදීමක් තිබුනේ නැහැ.  ශිෂ්‍ය නායකයෝ අපට සරසවිය තුල දේශපාලනය තහනම් කරලා තිබුනා.  පන්ති වර්ජන නිසා දේශනා තිබුනෙත් නැහැ. මාස ගානක් ගෙදර හිටිය නිසා යාලුවෝ එක්ක ඉන්න එක හොඳයි කියල හිතුන. අපේ කණ්ඩායමේ හැමෝම වගේ වැඩි කාලයක් ගත කෙරුවේ මාක්ස් ප්‍රනාන්දු ශාලාවේ. භීෂණය කියන වචනේ දේශපාලන ව්‍යවහාරයට ඒ වෙනකොට එකතු වෙලා තිබුනේ නැහැ. කාලය ගෙවුනේ පොත් කියවමින්, යාලුවෝ එක්ක වල්පල් කතා කරමින් සහ මේස පන්දු සෙල්ලම් කරමින්. 

'උඹලට ප්‍රශ්න තේරෙන්නේ නැද්ද?' ජවිපෙ ක්‍රියාධරයෙක් දවසක් ඇහුවා මතකයි.

'තේරෙනවා. අඬන්නද කියන්නේ?' මම ඇහුවා. 

මට තේරුණා විදිහට එජාප ආණ්ඩුවත්, ජවිපෙත් ඒ වෙනකොට රට මහා විපතකට කැඳවාගෙන යන තත්ත්වයක් තිබුනේ. ඒ ක්‍රියාවලිය නවත්තන්න මට ශක්තියක් තිබුනේ නැහැ. ඒකට සම්මාදම් වෙන්න අවශ්‍ය වුනෙත් නැහැ. 

'උඹලා ඔය සෙල්ලම නවත්තලා වරෙන් කතා කරන්න.'

මේස පන්දු සෙල්ලම් කරමින් හිටපු ප්‍රියන්ත වික්‍රමසිංහටයි මටයි ආරාධනා කෙරුවේ 'ජෙප්පෙක්' නෙවෙයි.  අපේ කණ්ඩායමේ නිල නොලත් නායකයා ලෙස කටයුතු කරපු ප්‍රේමසිරි. අපි කිව්වේ 'අලියා' කියල.

'මොනවා කතා කරන්නද? හැම දේම පැහැදිලියි නේ. මුන් (ඒ කිව්වේ ජවිපෙ සහ එජාපය) පිස්සු කෙලිනවා. අපට කරන්න දෙයක් ඉතුරු වෙලා නැහැනේ.' මම එහෙමයි උත්තර දුන්නේ.

'ඒකට කමක් නැහැ. වරෙන්කො.'

ඉතින් කතා කරන්න මාර්කස් ශාලාවේ අංක 3 කාමරයට අපි ගියා. සෙට් එකම හිටියා. කතා කෙරුවා. ටික වෙලාවක් යනකොට මට තේරුනේ හැමෝම වගේ ඒ වෙනකොට ජවිපෙට ඍජුව නැත්තම් වක්‍රව එකඟයි කියන එක.  ජවිපෙ වැරදියි කියන මතය තහවුරු කරන්න විවිධ කරුණු කාරණා ඉදිරිපත් කෙරුවා. ජවිපෙ දේශපාලනය මාර්ක්ස්වාදී නොවන බවට තර්ක කෙරුවා. පේරාදෙණියේ ජෙප්පන්ගේ තක්කඩිකම් මතක් කරලා දුන්නා. ඒත් ඒ වෙනකොට එක්කෙනෙක්ගෙන් සමන්විත සුළුතරයක් බවට මම පත්වෙලයි තිබුනේ. ඒක මට ප්‍රශ්නයක් වුනේ නැහැ.

'උඹලා හැමෝම ජවිපෙ හරි කිව්වත් මම එකඟ වෙන්නේ නැහැ,' කියල කිව්වා.

එදා රෑ අලියා 19 කාමරයට ඇවිත් මට මෙහෙම කිව්වා: 'ජවිපෙ හරි කියල කියනවා නෙවෙයි. ජවිපෙ හොඳයි කියනවත් නෙවෙයි. මෙහෙ ජෙප්පෝ කරන දේවල් අනුමත කරනවත් නෙවෙයි. එත් මචං අපේ ගම්වල තත්ත්වය වෙනස්. උඹ වරෙන්කෝ. උඹට තේරෙයි.'

පහුවදා අලියා එක්ක මම අම්පාරට ගියා. අම්පාර කිව්වට, අම්පාරම නෙවෙයි. අම්පාරට මෙහා උහනින් හැරිලා කිලෝමීටර තුන හතරක් විතර ගිහින් වමට හැරිලා තවත් කිලෝමීටර් දෙකක් විතර ගිහාට පස්සේ හමුවෙන කුමාරිගම තමයි අලියලාගේ ගෙදර තිබුනේ. 

දවස් දෙක තුනක් හිටියා. විවිධ අය මුණගැහුනා. විජේවික්‍රම ඉස්කෝලේ මහත්තයා රටේ ඇතිව තිබුන තත්ත්වය ගැන ගැඹුරු විග්‍රහයක් කෙරුවා. එතුමා පරණ 'ශ්‍රීලංකාකාරයෙක්'. විවිධ මට්ටම් වලින් ක්‍රියා කරන ජවිපෙ සාමාජිකයින්, නායකයින් හමු වුනා. කව්රු කිව්වද කියල හරියටම මතක නැහැ එත් කව්රු හරි මෙහෙම කිව්වා: 'අපිට ශක්තියක් තියෙන තැනකට යන්න වෙලයි තියෙන්නේ.' 

පහුවදා දේශප්‍රේමී ජනතා ව්‍යාපාරය සංවිධානය කරපු රැස්වීමකට අපි ගියා. සෑහෙන පිරිසක් ආවා. ශ්‍රී ලංකා නිදහස් පක්ෂයේ අපේක්ෂකවරුත් ඇවිත් හිටියා. විවිධ අය කතා පැවැත්වුවා. හමුදාවේ පිරිසක් ශබ්ද විකාශන සපයලා දුන්නා. ජවිපෙට හිතවත් සරසවි ශිෂ්‍ය පිරිසක් ඇවිත් මෙහෙම අපෙන් ඇහුවා 'අන්තරේ නියෝජනය කරලා කතාවක් කරන්න ඕන...ප්‍රේමසිරි කතා කරනවද?'

ප්‍රේමසිරිව ඒ වෙනකොට ශිෂ්‍ය ක්‍රියාකාරී කමිටුවෙන් ඉවත් කරලා.

'මම කතා කරන්න ද?' ප්‍රේමසිරි මගෙන් ඇහුවා. 'පොදුවේ සරසවි ශිෂ්‍යයින් නිජෝජනය කරන කතාවකට මම අකමැති නැහැ,' කියලා මම කිව්වා. අලියා කතා කෙරුවා. ආණ්ඩුව සැරට විවේචනය කෙරුවා. කතාව මගක් යනකොට හමුදා නිලධාරියෙක් කතාවට බාධා කෙරුවා.

'අපේ ලවුඩ්ස්පීකර් පාවිච්චි කරලා ආණ්ඩුවට බනින එක හරි නැහැ නේද?' නිලධාරියා එහෙම කිව්වා. අලියා කතාව නැවැත්තුවා.

'උඹල දැන්මම පලයන්,' කව්රු කිව්වද කියල හරියටම මතක නැහැ, ඒත් අපේ යාලුවෙක් එහෙම කිව්වා.

අලියාගේ ගෙදර ගිහින් අපේ ඇඳුම් බෑග් අරගෙන ආයෙත් අම්පාරට ඇවිත් නුවර බස් එකකට නැග්ගා. එදා රෑ අලියව හොයාගෙන කට්ටියක් ගෙදර ඇවිත් තියෙනවා. රැස්වීමේ කතා කරපු හැමෝම භීෂණය කාලේ මරල දාල තිබුනා. අලියා ආයේ ගමට ගියේ භීෂණය අවසන් වුනාට පස්සේ.

ඒ පරණ කතාව මතක් වුනේ අද පවතින තත්ත්වය ගැන කල්පනා කරද්දී. මුස්ලිම් අන්තවාදී කොටස් මේ රටේ ඉන්න බව පාස්කු ඉරිදා ප්‍රහාරයට කලිනුත් රහසක් වෙලා තිබුනේ නැහැ. දැන් 'ආගමික නිදහස,' 'සිංහල බෞද්ධ අන්තවාදය' වගේ කතා වලින් ඒ ත්‍රස්තවාදය සාධාරණය කරන්න බැහැ. එහෙම අන්තවාදී කොටස් නැහැයි කියල කියන්නත් බහ. දැන් මේක රටේ ආරක්ෂාව පිලිබඳ ප්‍රශ්නයක්. පුරවැසියාගේ ආරක්ෂාව පිලිබඳ ප්‍රශ්නයක්. රජයට ජාතික ආරක්ෂාව සලසා දෙන්න බැරිනම් පුරවැසියන්ට ආරක්ෂාව සලසා ගන්න වෙනවා. රජය අවංකව ඒ වෙනුවෙන් කැප වුනත් පුරවැසියන්ට්ත් වගකීමේ කොටසක් පැවරෙනවා. එහි ප්‍රධාන කාර්යය වෙන්නේ විමසිල්ලෙන් සිටීමයි.

අනතුරේ, තර්ජනයේ දිග පළල මේ වෙනවිට කාට කාටත් පැහැදිලි යි. අදක්ෂ, අදූරදර්ශී, අමන සහ දූෂිත යහපාලන ආණ්ඩුව සම්පූර්ණ ආරක්ෂක ව්‍යුහයම අකර්මන්‍ය කර ඇති බවත් පැහැදිලියි. දේශපාලනඥයින් ඡන්ද කුට්ටි ගැන සිතා පාස්කු ඉරිදා ප්‍රහාරයටද මුස්ලිම් අන්තවාදයේ වර්ධනයටද පාර කැපූ බවත් පැහැදිලියි. වම්මු, (ගල්)ලිබ්බෝ, හෙජමනියෝ යනාදීන් මෙන්ම සිංහල බෞද්ධ විරෝධීන් ඇතුළු ඇරියස්කාරයින් ආගමික නිදහස, නිරාගමිකභාවය, සංහිඳියාව යනාදී වචන පිටුපස සැඟවී මේ සියලු අනතුරුවලට තර්ජන වලට උඩගෙඩි දුන් බවද පැහැදිලියි.  මුස්ලිම් පක්ෂ, පල්ලි, ආගමික සංවිධාන සහ මුස්ලිම් ප්‍රජාවේ ඇතැම් කොටස් අනතුර දැන දැනත් ප්‍රධාන කාරණය වසන් කරන ආකාරයට කටයුතු කල බවත් පැහැදිලියි.  අනතුර දැක්ක නිසා නැත්තම් සිංහල බෞද්ධකම් ගැන අන්තවාදී අදහස් දරන නිසා හෝ සිංහල බෞද්ධ කොටස් ආගම්වාදීව ජාතිවාදීව හැසිරීමද මේ තත්ත්වය නිර්මාණය කරන්න දායක වින බවත් පැහැදිලියි. කෙසේ වෙතත්, වහාබිවාදයේ වර්ධනය ගැන කිසිම සතුටක් නැති බොහෝ අයද මුල්සිම් ප්‍රජාව තුල වෙසෙන බවත් පැහැදිලියි. අසරණකම හෝ වෙන කුමන හෝ හේතුවක් නිසා හෝ ත්‍රස්ත ප්‍රහාරයට පෙර වහාබිවාදයට මේ බොහොමයක් එරෙහි නොවූ බවත් පැහැදිලියි. 

ඒ කෙසේ වෙතත්, මේ මොහොතේ සියලු මුස්ලිම් ජාතිකයින් ත්‍රස්තවාදීන් ට පක්ෂ යැයි සිතීම බරපතල වරදක් හැටියටයි මට පෙනෙන්නේ.  සියලු මුස්ලිම් ජාතිකයින් ගැන සැකයක් ඇති වීම අසාධාරණ වුවත් ඇති වී ඇති තත්ත්වය හමුවේ එසේ සැක කිරීම තේරුම් ගන්න පුළුවන්, මන්ද මෙය ආත්මාරක්ෂාව පිලිබඳ කාරණයක් බවට පත්ව ඇති නිසා. මේ වැනි අවස්ථාවලදී බිය සහ සැකය සාමාන්‍ය දෙයකි. ත්‍රස්තවාදියාට අවශ්‍ය පුංචිම පුංචි ඉඩක් බවත් ඇත්ත.  ආවේගයටත් පුංචිම පුංචි ඉඩක් වුවත් ප්‍රමාණවත් වුනත්, නොඉවසීම, අවිනය සහ විශේෂයෙන්ම ආරක්ෂක අංශ වල වගකීම් තමා වෙත පවරා ගැනීම විශාල ඛේදවාචකයන් ට ඉඩ සලස්වාදීමක් ද විය හැක. 

80 දශකයේ ජවිපෙට එකතු පිරිස් ජවිපෙට එකතුවුනේ මතවාදී කාරනා ඔස්සේම වුන නෙවෙයි. 60 දශකයේ නැත්තම් 70 දශකයේ මුල් භාගයේ ඉපදුනු පවට කෙනෙක් ජවිපෙ සාමාජිකයෙක් ලෙස සැකකර අතුරුදහන් කිරීමේ දැවැන්ත තර්ජනයක් ඇති බැවින් බොහෝ දෙනා 'ශක්තියක් ඇති තැනකට' තල්ලු වුනා. 80 දශකයේ දමිළ තරුණයි එල්.ටී.ටී.ඊ. සංවිධානයට නතු කර ගැනීමට ප්‍රභාකරන්ට හැකි වීමට ලොකුම හේතුවක් වුනෙත් එවැනිම බියක් ඒ අය තුල නිර්මාණය වීම මිස ඊලාම්වාදය වැළඳගත් නිසාම නෙවෙයි. 

එවැනි තත්ත්වයක් නිර්මාණය වෙන්න පුළුවන් නිසා දැන් දැන් ත්‍රස්තවාදියා අමතක කරලා, තර්ජනය අමතක කරලා ඇති විය හැකි මුස්ලිම් විරෝධී ප්‍රහාරයක් පදනම් කරගෙන සිංහල බෞද්ධයින් ප්‍රධාන හතුරා කරලා අවලාද නගන තත්ත්වයක් ඇතිවෙලා තියෙනවා. මේක හොඳ දෙයක් නෙවෙයි. ඒ ඔල්මාදයේ ප්‍රතිඵලයක් හැටියට සිංහල බෞද්ධයාද 'ශක්තිය' හොයාගෙන යන්න ඉඩ තියෙනවා. ආත්මාරක්ෂාව ගැන හිතන්න එයාලටත් සිද්ද වෙනවා. මුස්ලිම් දේශපාලකයින් වගේම පූජකයින් කඩු කිණිසි ගැන විකාර කතා කියද්දී, ආගමික නිදහසේ නාමයෙන් විකාර භාවිත් සාධාරණය කරද්දී වෙන ජන කොට්ටාශ වලට 'ඉවසන්න,' 'හික්මෙන්න,' වගේ දේවල් කියන එක විහිළුවක් වෙනවා.  ඔය විදිහට  සිංහල බෞද්ධයා බිත්තියට හේත්තු කරලා ව්‍යසනයකට අවශ්‍ය වාස්තවික තත්ත්වයන් නිර්මාණය කරන්න බැරි නැහැ.  ඒ නිසාත් සිංහල බෞද්ධයා තව තවත් පරිස්සම් වෙන්න ඕන.

පරණ කතාව ලියද්දි ඊටත් වැඩිය පරණ කතාවක් මතක් වුනා. කතාව මුලින් දැනගන්න ලැබුනේ ශේක්ස්පියර් ගේ 'ජුලියස් සීසර්' කියන නාට්‍යයෙන්. සීරර්ගේ ඝාතනයට අනතුරුව මාක් ඇන්ටනි විසින් ඝාතකයින්ට එරෙහිව පුරවැසියන් උසි ගැන්නුවා. කුපිත වූ පුරවැසියන් ඝාතකයින් සෙව්වේ එයාලව මරා දාන්න. එක් පිරිසකට සින්නා කියල කවියෙක් හමු වෙනවා. කවියා ගේ සම්පූර්ණ නම ගයියස් හෙල්වියස් සින්නා. සීසර්ට එරෙහි කුමන්ත්‍රණකරුවන් අතර ලුශියස් කොර්නේලියස් සින්නා කියල කෙනෙකුත් හිටියා. පිරිසයි සින්නායි අතර ඇති වූ කතාබහ ශේක්ස්පියර් නාට්‍යයේ ඉදිරිපත් කෙරුවේ මෙහෙමයි.

'තමාගේ නම?'


'මූව කෑලි වලට ඉරා දමාපල්ලා. මූ කුමන්ත්‍රනකරුවෙක්!'

'මම සින්නා නම් වූ කවියා! මම සින්නා නම් වූ කවියා!'

'මුගෙ දුර්වල කවි නිසා කෑලි වලට ඉරා දමාපල්ලා!

'සින්නා කියන කුමන්ත්‍රනකරුවා මම නෙවෙයි!'

'ඒක අදාළ නැහැ. මුගේ නම සින්නා. ඒ නම උගේ පපුවෙන් ගලවලා දාපල්ලා.'
බිය කියන දේ භීතිකාවට පෙරලෙන්න වැඩි දෙයක් අවශ්‍ය නැහැ. වේදනාව ආවේගයට පහසුවෙන් පෙරළෙනවා. ආවේගය ට බ්‍රේක් නැහැ. ඉතාම සූක්ෂමව, සෑහෙන්න කාලයක් සැලසුම්කරලා ප්‍රහාර දියත් කරන ත්‍රස්තවාදීන් එහෙම මට්ටු කරන්න බැහැ. වෙන්නේ මිතුරන් දුරස්වන එක. දුරස්වන මිතුරෝ හතුරෝ බවට පත් වෙන එක. අවුල වියවුලක් වෙන එක. 

මතවාදී තලයේ පරාජය කල යුතු හතුරන් පරාජය කල යුතුයි. ඒකට කඩු කිණිසි බෝම්බ අවශ්‍ය නැහැ. මතවාදී සටන ට එන්නේ නැතුව ත්‍රස්තවාදය තෝරාගත් අයව තර්කයෙන් පරාජය කරන්න බැහැ. සැලසුමක් තියෙන්න ඕන. කැපවීමක් තියෙන්න ඕන. ආවේගය පැත්තකට දාන්න ඕන. ප්‍රඥාව ට මුල් තැන දෙන්න ඕන. හැම වෙලාවෙම අවදියෙන් ඉන්න ඕන. ආරක්ෂක අංශ වලට උදව් කරන්න ඕන. ආත්මාරක්ෂාව සඳහා අවි ගන්න සිදුවෙන අවස්ථා නැතුව නෙවෙයි. ඒ අවසාන ඔප්ෂන් එක. ඒක මුලින් තොර ගන්න එක වැරදියි. මෝඩයි. මුග්දයි. ව්‍යසනයක පරණ කතා අලුත් කරවයි. එවිට ජයග්‍රහණ ලබාගන්න සිද්ද වෙන්නේ ලොකු වන්දියක් ගෙවලා. තිස් වසරක යුද්ධයේ පාඩම මෙයයි. 

09 May 2019

Easter Sunday Attacks: Naming the enemy is a game now!

The terrorists can't be named, 'they have no religion'
so let's name someone else, huh?

Make no mistake, it would be a massive travesty of justice to see the Muslim community as a monolith and to conflate it with the NTJ and other such extremists groups claiming to be affirming the same faith.  All communities must stand with the Muslims of this country. Talk has to be walked. Extra miles have to be walked. By all. But let us be clear that when we speak about Muslims (or Christians or Buddhists or Hindus), we are speaking of religious cultures, where, for good or for bad, religion is the operative word. 

‘Terrorist has no religion’. That’s a poster-line. Appropriate given the context of the Easter Sunday attack. It is moreover a statement that clearly disassociates the religious from the terrorists, especially those of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.  Simultaneously a Facebook group calling itself ‘Sri Lanka Unites (a young movement, they say, for hope and reconciliation), has announced that it is ‘looking for 1000 volunteers to counter hate speech on Facebook and WhatsApp.’  

These organized responses to the attacks and the fears they engendered have been accompanied by numerous articles in the English press echoing the same sentiments. Letheef Farook, writing for the Colombo Telegraph headlines it thus: ‘Easter Sunday carnage brought global islamophobia to Sri Lanka.’  It’s almost as though there was no islamophobia before Easter Sunday. It’s almost as though the only phobia around is that associated with Islam. It’s as though he has missed the obvious — the fact that global terrorism had set up office in Sri Lanka. He’s upset about consequences but is dismissive, almost, of cause.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, speaking at a ‘Vigil for a United Sri Lanka’ asks, ‘How did we create young men and women capable of such hate? What did we do or not do to make them receptive to hate mongering and delusion?’ ‘We’ she says.  Who are ‘we’ here, pray? It’s an interesting acknowledgment of complicity simply because she obviously doesn’t mean herself and because, all of a sudden, it’s not Zahran or the NTJ who is to blame, but ‘us’!  Neat!

The subtext however is inescapable and indeed at times it is quite ‘The Surface’.  The finger that is pointed is directed to the Sinhala Buddhists. There can be a couple of legitimate reasons for this. First of all the Sinhala Buddhists comprise the largest community in the island and any collective response from them can have serious repercussions, far more than the acts of omission and commission of other ethnic or religious communities. Secondly, we had the acts of aggression from the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and political fellow travelers. 

Interestingly, however, those who weren’t averse to whitewashing the LTTE by urging people to look for root causes, forgot roots and causes when it came to the BBS. Indeed, those who are now urging people not to conflate Muslim with the NTJ were not that insistent when it came to the BBS and the rest of the Buddhist community. Vilification of the collective came without saying and therefore was taken as ‘goes without saying’.  

What is forgotten or sidelined in the entire exercise is the shy-making when it comes to naming the perpetrator. In another time, similarly heart-wrench-exhibitors refused to name the LTTE as a terrorist organization. Indeed, they echoed the LTTE claim of being the sole representatives of the Tamils and even called for parity of status vis-a-vis the Government of Sri Lanka. Today, they wouldn’t dare call the NTJ anything but terrorists, but instead, cutely, refuses to talk about the organization outside of the unavoidable tokenism of alluding to the attack. Yes, the attack. They talk of the attack but do not delve into the attacker, the doctrine that prompted the attack and the religious faith in whose name they were carried out. That’s not on, apparently, perhaps because we need to have ‘hope’ and ‘reconciliation’.

Hope is a word that is generally apolitical although what is aspired is naturally colored by political preferences. So too reconciliation. Just like ‘peace’ in that other time of suicide attacks. For some, it was about concessions to the LTTE, just like anything less than wide-scale devolution would not add up to ‘reconciliation’.  Interestingly, there’s very little talk about devolution these days. No Provincial Council elections, no sweat. 

For the record, let’s re-post a pertinent observation by Dayan Jayatilleka: ‘Do you realize that if the “New Constitution” project had gone through, we'd have had a self-governing Eastern Province, with an all-powerful Chief Minister, a powerless Governor, no Executive President and a Government in Colombo which had to ask for permission before deploying troops in Kalmunai, or setting up military camps in the East, because law and order would be vested in that Council. Neat, huh? Remember all those who wanted that outcome and pushed hard for it.’

All of a sudden, to get back to the matter at hand, it’s as though the greatest obstacle to hope and reconciliation is posed by Sinhala Buddhists. M.A. Sumanthiran of the TNA, for example, tells the New York Times, ‘We have a new enemy but the same hate’. No prizes for guessing where he believes this hate emanates from. Again a ‘goes without saying’ that came without saying. 

So far, only S.I. Keetaponcalan (‘Understanding Zahran: Sri Lanka’s ultra-terrorist’ in the Colombo Telegraph, has mentioned that the man’s original focus was his jihad against Buddhists. For the rest, it’s the soft target which helps vent frustration and inter alia helps divert people from the real enemy here. It’s not ‘hate’. It’s an existentialist angst and that’s not the preserve of the Buddhists either. It is an error to think that the greatest threat is Sinhala Buddhist extremism just as it is an error to think that ‘religion’ had nothing to do with the situation we are in. 

So let’s go back to this notion of terrorism having no religion. The religious who abhor groups that unleash violence in the name of the very same faith are quick to point out, ‘that’s not who we are or what our faith is about’.  Correct. This does not mean that the terrorists are religion-free. The NTJ killed in the name of Islam. They were affirming their faith. They were terrorists. And, as someone quipped, it appears that there are many religion-less mosques in the country. This too we need to think about. 

And yet, again as Dayan points out, a lot of commentary has been irrelevant or diversionary. Referring to a statement issued by South Asian activists, academics and journalists urging Sri Lanka not to violate fundamental rights in the name of combating terror, Dayan observe, ‘All references to “terror" ( sometimes within inverts!) are to a possible governmental/state ideology or policy response; not to the massacre, or the character of its perpetrators. These people should read or re-read Sartre or Camus to learn or be reminded how engaged/committed intellectuals respond to fascistic terror threatening their countries, societies and citizens. Start with “The Roads to Freedom”.’

It is high time that we had a long and serious discussion about religious freedom, not to curb it but to figure out what faiths or bodies can come under that label, especially if there’s an avowal to affirm faith by drawing literally from texts (i.e. disregarding context or interpretive necessity) those sections that advocate violence. The bible (both old and new testaments) contains calls for violence against non-believers, but we haven’t seen any Christian sects in Sri Lanka (and there are many, including those who have registered themselves as companies!) taking these literally, out of context, and advocating exclusively for application to the letter.  

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has a line about religious freedom which offers a pertinent rider: ‘Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.’  

Where does Wahhabism stand on this? It is a question for everyone in Sri Lanka, not just the Muslims, although that community given its greater fragility at this moment cannot afford to brush it under the carpet as the hope-and-reconciliation ladies and gentlemen seem to have. 

Those who want to police social media by tossing out ads for trolls would do well to understand that it’s a pretty short distance from where they are to the problem at hand and that complicities, when they are tossed out (seemingly) randomly, have a way of dropping on one’s own lap.

Dayan is absolutely right when he says, ‘The “intellectuals” are divided between those who suffer from Sinhala-phobia and those who suffer from Sinhala-philia. The ISIS doesn't give a s**t about either, because they believe in absolute ethnic equality: they'll blow up anyone of any ethnicity, any opinion about ethnicity, any gender and any age. Only dangerously stupid people don't get it.’ 

Wishing away the enemy does not help, as seems to be trendy in these days of ignoring the abuse of the notion of religious freedom enshrined in the constitution and the need to call a spade and spade.