31 March 2013

A nation on the edge

The nation is on edge.  There is a sense of foreboding.  There are fears of a July 1983 repeat.  Indeed there are even those who are eagerly waiting for such an eventuality.  And there is no shortage of people and organizations that feed these fears, knowingly or unknowingly contributing to tensions. 

In the aftermath of the violent incident in Pepiliyana where a Muslim-owned business, Fashion Bug, was attacked by mobs, the Bodu Bala Sena categorically denied involvement and condemned the attack. Indeed, the organization went as far as to state, a) that the Police should arrest all those responsible, even if they happened to be bikkhus, b) that the organization has neither called for a Buddhist boycott of Muslim shops nor threatened with physical harm those who patronized them. 
This is a welcome move, especially since the rhetoric of the organization has not exactly championed co-existence and tolerance.  It appears that the rhetoric has given rise to forces that the organization cannot control and which, ironically, operate in the name of the Bodu Bala Sena, setting up Twitter, Facebook and other accounts in the domain of social media.   Bodu Bala Sena cannot claim innocence in the groundwork that has been laid for intolerance and violence to prosper. 

On the other hand, vilifying the Bodu Bala Sena has led to a blanket dismissal and vilification of Buddhists.  This too does nothing to ease tensions.  The Bodu Bala Sena statement, in this context, must be applauded, but with a certain degree of caution. The organization could do more if it clearly stated that as per the teachings of the Buddha, it will support authorities responsible for law and order to ensure that Muslims and Muslim businesses and other properties are protected. 
It is also heartening that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has announced that he is not the President of the Sinhalese and Buddhists but is the President of all communities and people of all religious faiths.  He has clearly signaled that the Government will not turn a blind eye to religious intolerance in whatever form.  It is a good sign that three persons have already been arrested over the incident, but peace requires swift and decisive action to prevent incidents as much as bringing to book those who violate the law. 

If things get better from now on, much of the accolades should go to the Muslim community which has shown remarkable restraint and good sense.  This should not be reason for complacency or for assumption of ‘weakness’ or ‘impotence’, though.  All it takes is for one individual to lose control for an entire nation to be engulfed in flames we can very well do without.  The only way that the Bodu Bala Sena can stop this from happening is by actively reaching out to their Muslim brethren, to take whatever grievances they may have to the relevant authorities and these authorities dealing with issues as per constitutional provision. 
Any attack on any Muslim individual (or any individual for that matter, regardless of religious persuasion) is not in keeping with Buddhism.  Indeed any attack is a blemish on the overall cultural ethos of Sri Lanka which undoubtedly has been wrought of Buddhism more than any other doctrine, religious or otherwise.  If a Muslim is attacked, then, it is an affront to Buddhism and the attacker can at best claim to be Buddhist only by name. 

Buddhists have not given any organization the authority to speak on their behalf. Only the bikkhus of their respective temples and the Mahanayakas of the three nikayas have that authority.  These authorities have not endorsed the Bodu Bala Sena.  Neither have they actively intervened to urge Buddhists to adhere to the teachings of the Buddha, especially those tenets pertaining to compassion and tolerance.  Clearly, a lot more needs to be done. 
The Government has a responsibility.  Religious leaders too.   The general citizenry needs to be alert and exercise utmost caution and tolerance. Anyone taking the law into his/her hands is not affirming his/her faith but in fact denouncing it by that very act. 

The nation is on the edge.  It is a moment of truth.  A political chasm beckons.  All the more reason to take a step back. 
[The Nation 'Editorial', March 31, 2013]


Shaik Ahamath said...

Thank you for your thoughts. From the outset, I knew nothing good can come out of monks meddling with politics. I'd welcome people entering politics but the monks should first disrobe because firstly, their utterences are revered and not fair on the other politicians and secondly most importantly, they are undermining all Buddhist teachings and sadly tarnishing its image around the world. In many quarters, Sri Lanka is considered the motherland of Buddhism and all Sri Lankans, whatever the faith, must safeguard its reputation.

Anonymous said...

There is no point reading hollow words from the government, or the Buddhist leaders, stating they will not tolerate violence and bigotry against a minority, who so far has not done anything to provoke such hatred. Actions should be louder than words, and so far the impotent leaders have shown no strong action to put a halt on these criminal activities. By now any government with so much information would have got the country on notice, and put out the armed forces to stop Sri Lankan citizens from being attacked, and their properties attacked. So far ignorant monks have the platform, and mobs rule. Rumors of toffees and a minority taking over the country are laughable, but seems to dominate. What does it say about the Sri Lankan intellect?

Thrishantha Nanayakkara said...

After voting in 2005, I have noticed that President Rajapaksa's deeds often contradict what he says. Very often, his official statements are well calculated, politically correct statements. But he turns round and does the opposite. Let me give one proof of his stand about Bodu Bala Sena. He says, he is the president of all. But this monk says that the President is fully behind Bodu Bala Sena. Please watch from 18.30 for this specific information: http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=relmfu&v=inZa_HEbD8Q

Moreover, can we know if that monk who was caught up in the camera in the Papiliyana incident was arrested? evidence here: http://groundviews.org/2013/03/31/helping-the-police-arrest-brutish-monks-in-sri-lanka/

gaya fernando said...

I must say that one good thing that has come out of the BBS bullshit is that a number of good common sense positions have been uttered. Also kudos to the Sinhala Buddhists who oppose the BBS. They have been remarkably vocal on the social media when obviously all of em have better things to do and occupy their lives. While all that MALINDA is doing and saying makes sense cos his objective is clear and laudable ie preventing unnec escalation of conflict, there is one glaring omission: The videos on Colombo Telegraph of the Monk's Incitement to Violence which i listened to word for word is enough to arrest him for racist hatred. The fact that he calls on the Sinhalese race to rise up and assert themselves against the Muslim enemy and moves the mob with a tone of a Sakkhili johnny about to raise his sarong and take his Machete out is just INTOLERABLE. No nice balanced wording can suffice now. 83 is here. Let's get serious in our rhetoric and not avoid the issue

sajic said...

I've said this before and I say it again. Why aren't translations of these articles put out in the sinhala and tamil media as well?
People at grassroots level need to know and understand.

Ramzeen said...

As Gaya Fernando says BBS antics have earned the disgust of many Sinhala Buddhists. However, there are others that say "we can't be peaceful bystanders all the time" as a result of the utter demonic lies that these monks utter. An example is the "spit 3 times into the food for non-Muslims" statement. This is a diabolic lie and when a monk states it in public many will swallow it (pun aside). The hordes came from the pirivena close by after summoning them by ringing the bell. The back-hoe story is simply a red herring. However, on a lighter note, the young left handed monk who smashed the CCTV camera TWICE (admiring Police at hand) with unerring aim should be offered a place n our cricket team!

sahic said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again. These articles should be translated and published in sinhala and tamil as well. They should reach readers at grassroot level.

sanjeewa karunaratne said...

As always, very well written but I disagree with the notion that the situation is as bad as 1983. Plus there is absolutely no state interest, unlike 83, to have a ethnic backlash. The stupidity over 13 deaths in 1983 never repeated though thousands killed after that. Something LTTE desperately wanted south to repeat, we never did. Sri Lankans forgetful but it is still too early to forget LTTE carnage. And they have more problems to worry, like rising cost of living. The actions of a few extremists do not suggest widespread problem or imminent danger of a backlash.

MNZ said...

There is clearly a patent fallacy in your comment ".... vilifying the Bodu Bala Sena has led to a blanket dismissal and vilification of Buddhists".

From where did you derive such logic or perception?

It is an absurd and silly conclusion which only goes further to establish your nexus with that rabid organisation. By such unsabstantiated comments you continue to pursue division of the communities.

As an MR lackey, you take your cues from him, and hence your sudden "born again" (perhaps dishonest) conversion vis-a-vis the minorities, which followed the President's recent comments denouncing racism and such extremism.

Journalism is your job, but that requires freedom of conscience.

However, In your case you simply follow your Master's Voice.

Malinda, you can't fool all the people all the time.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

MNZ: I've checked what some non-Buddhists say about the BBS and noted what they've not said about the work of extremists belonging to different religions. As for your other comments....sorry MNZ, toilet-wash doesn't require response. :)

MNZ said...

Malinda, what SOME non-Buddhists say does not become a "blanket" dismissal and vilification..etc.

That was my point, and I disagree with your blanket statement!

As for toilet wash, I agree with you. Nothing further need be said.

However, you must be complimented for publishing my comment without censorship.

Thanks, and strength to your editorial elbow!

Ra said...

I would LOVE to be informed about "extremists from other religions". Where are they,where do they meet, what are their agendas, who is keeping tabs on them, why aren't they arrested, what do they do when they are not being extremists???? Last but not least how do they affect the lives of all of us? It's rather funny that what the man-on-the-street (and certain loud-mouthed monks) knows about extremists is unknown to those like NIB, CID, CBI.