30 March 2016

Blessed are those who do not look the other way

Things don't change easily, do they?  This was published on November 9, 2009.  Then, as before, and as now, the tendency is to point finger and if a 'comrade' is wrong, to go silent, to look the other way.  

Have you ever paused to think how much we human beings insult the Ostrich, ladies and gentlemen? We laugh at the Ostrich so much; we use the descriptive ‘Ostrich-like’ to humiliate those who close their eyes (metaphorically of course) and try to convince themselves that things are ok. We are bad with ‘inconvenient truths’. Sure, every now and then someone like Al Gore turns up with a documentary by that name, gets a couple of Academy Award for his trouble and a Nobel Prize to boot. Whether that’s purchasing of silence or reward, I cannot tell. It is clear to me however that these blips apart the human species does great disservice to the noble bird.

Life, I’ve come to realize, can be defined as the relentless search for convenience. Human beings are comfort-seekers. If there’s something we can’t stand, we get rid of it or buy it off; and if that’s not possible we go around it, pretend it does not exist and sometimes even dress it up so badly that it is unrecognizable. Reality sucks, doesn’t it? It has a way of wrong-footing us, stripping us naked. Not something mind of course, as long as no one else sees.

William Bowles in an excellent article titled ‘The nerve of these guys!’ tells us how the BBC does it. He compares how the BBC reported the Iranian elections with their coverage of the Afghan one. The BBC just couldn’t get enough of the protests. Bowles quotes, “Millions of Iranians simply did not believe the result. The main demand of the protesters has been an annulment of the result and an election re-run.” (‘Q&A: Iran election aftermath’, BBC News, 22 June, 2009).

There was no wall-to-wall coverage of Afghan outrage over a stolen election by the BBC, he notes. Instead they gave us the following: “There was no further reference to fraud. It was pointed out that the figures were more or less in line with the opinion polls”. (BBC News, 2 November, 2009).

So, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election was ‘fixed’, according to the BBC, but in Hamid Karzai’s case, the ‘election’ reflected ‘more or less’ the will of the Afghan voter. Sometimes we see what we want to see and look the other way when the sight is not that pleasing. And sometimes we lie through our teeth, don’t we? It’s all about whether its our guy or whether it is not, isn’t it folks?

But why go as far as Iran or even Afghanistan? Just the other day, some evangelical group operating as though they were given medical degrees by the Almighty carried out a faith-healing operation. Two persons died. This is not the first time that self-appointed (sorry, God-appointed, they would have us believe) quacks prescribed ‘faith’ and convinced the credulous that no medicine or medical treatment could cure their ills. This is not the first time that the ‘faithful’ died of curable diseases as a result.

In this case, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) protested, as is their right. The JHU stormed the ‘church’ of this evangelical group in Koswatte, broke in and damaged property, quite in violation of the law. One might add, demonstrating behaviour quite antithetical to what Lord Buddha advocated.

There is nothing illegal about someone telling someone else not to go to a doctor. No one is legally bound to seek medical attention if feeling sick. If such a choice results in death, that’s his/her funeral, sad to say. There is, however something unethical about it if the advocate him/herself is happy to spend millions of rupees to get heart-surgery while at the same time saying ‘have faith, Jesus will take care of you, Amen!’

There is justification for feeling outraged by such callous twisting of the notion ‘faith’. One can’t get away with the argument ‘I can’t be blamed if someone believed the crap I was spouting’. Not illegal, true, but certainly not right either.

The JHU, with its justifiable political stance of protecting Buddhism and Buddhists from those who think it’s ‘politics’ to engage in Buddhist-bashing, smashing Buddha statues (again, no law against someone buying a Buddha statue and smashing it) and other things that are insulting of religious sentiment, can call to question these kinds of quack operations. Indeed, not just the JHU but all decent citizens ought to take issue with such outfits. However, when the JHU goes overboard, it is incumbent on all its supporters as well as all Buddhists (in whose name the JHU speaks, without 100% approval of course) must stand up and say ‘this is wrong’.

The ‘evangelists’ concerned are clearly sowing the seeds of religious discord (legally of course), but the answer cannot be seeding other and perhaps equally or more potent seeds of religious discord. That gets no one anywhere.

The point is, while Buddhists (or anyone else) can justifiably point an accusing finger at the ‘evangelists’ (Jesus Never Fails Good News Centre), they cannot look the other way and pretend that some Buddhist monks weren’t breaking the law as well as the vinaya rules.
While the JHU has by this act relinquished whatever moral edge they may have had, so too do Buddhists in general lose the right to take issue with these evangelical zealots if and when they choose to be silent when people who style themselves as representatives of Buddhists engage in vandalism.

By the same token, it is equally disturbing that those who (although belonging to different denominations) consider Jesus Christ their saviour are largely silent about the blatant abuse of this saviour’s name, the Holy Bible and the Holy Cross by organizations that are going around advocating life-threatening behaviour and insulting the sensibilities of those of different religious conviction. It smacks of a political position of the following kind: ‘Well, they are attacking the heathens; our enemy’s enemy is our friend and therefore let’s look the other way’.

What’s the difference in this kind of looking-away behaviour and that other looking-away a few days ago when a mentally ill man was beaten to death in broad daylight in Bambalapitiya?

We cannot pick and choose when to leave our comfort zone and at the same time advocate for social change, tolerance, harmony and peace. I am not saying that all those who object to something should immediately drop whatever they happen to be doing and put up a poster or organize a protest march. No.   All I am saying is that ‘doing nothing’ cannot be a legitimate option, especially not for those who whine that things are bad and should change, those who offer blue-print for Utopia and draw road-maps showing how to get there.

If we can’t do all this, then let’s resolve to do one thing, shall we ladies and gentlemen; let us stop talking and agree to replace the entire constitution with the law of the jungle, let survival of the fittest. Civilisation would be a good thing of course, but maybe we just don’t deserve it.

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