An Australian Journalist’s attack on the Sinhalese Buddhists
By Dr D.Chandraratna
As peace loving Sri Lankans we are dismayed by the surreptitious accusations and innuendos cast on the majority Sinhala Buddhist community by Waleed Ali, an Australian TV presenter in his Column in the Daily telegraph, on the recent tragic events in Sri Lanka. This terrorist activity in Easter Sunday was directed at the Christians, but not limited to Christian churches is obvious as bombings have been carried out in 5 and 6 star hotels in Colombo where the majority of the patrons are Sinhalese and Europeans as the numbers of dead and the injured reveal. The terror extended to the North and the East of Sri Lanka is indicative that the North and the East where the majority are Muslims have become a fertile ground for insurgent activity. Waleed Ali’s reference to Sinhala Buddhists is an unnecessary digression, populist, irresponsible racial backsliding to distract the Islamic terror and mitigate the blame that should squarely fall on the radical Muslims.
Generally the Western media has been for decades noted for their historic partisanship. There assertions implicating the Sinhala Buddhists were tantamount to encouragement of Tamil separatist terrorism in Sri Lanka. The scant sympathy they extended to the Sinhalese victims is still reverberating in our memory for which we have forgiven. Yet some have seen in the recent events a golden opportunity yet again to cast aspersions and accusations on the majority Sinhala Buddhist community in Sri Lanka.
Let us respond to this man in detail. He writes, ‘ (E) very terrorist attack in which innocent people are killed is devastatingly tragic. Every one of them is heinous. But what we’ve seen in Sri Lanka this week exists on a rarefied level of depravity.
Of course, there’s the supreme violation of slaughtering people in worship – now an established feature of terrorism and particularly Islamic State’s violence’. We are in total agreement with Ali and might we also add that we extend our sympathy to the dead, both innocent and the misguided guilty, for it is a wanton waste of a precious human life as Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said at the Easter mass in Colombo. As Sinhalese Buddhists we cultivate no hatred towards other religions for we have no concept of ‘infidels’ and we seek no revenge for not being Buddhists. As intelligent people we must use our words carefully. There is certainly no hatred between the Buddhists and the Christians, just like between Muslims and Christians that Ali is proud of. Moreover the Sinhalese and Christians are frequently consanguineal blood relatives, in the thousands. We have no religious, dogmatic taboos about marrying non-Buddhists and that is how we have been for centuries. The link between Christians and Buddhists is from time immemorial. The previous President is married to a Catholic family and the current Prime Minister hails from a Christian family.
Waleed Ali described the 30-year terrorist war as between Sinhalese Buddhists and Hindu minority is absurd nonsense. He does not know that it was an insurrection against the state. Was there a Hindu temple in Colombo ever attacked, did a single Buddhist ever murder a Hindu, we ask. To keep a 20 odd million agitated Sinhalese subdued when bombs were flying all around them, prevent attacking a single Tamil in the 30-year war is a tribute to the culture of the Sinhalese Buddhists. Yet, in disturbing contrast are his references to the extremism, muted, cagey and sheepish, showing double standards? A Sri Lankan commentator added, quite rightly, that in the Sunday Massacre ‘we haven’t seen outpouring of outrage from Muslim ‘civil society’ of the kind witnessed when the comparatively baby-like acts of violence perpetrated against Muslims by extremist Buddhists in Digana and Teldeniya last year or when similar violence was unleashed in Aluthgama a few years before. One has to ask if it is because Buddhists constitute a soft and preferred target as far as ‘civil society’ outfits are concerned’
This uninformed man must understand the nature of violence, which happens sporadically in a multiracial, politically active society where people are scrambling for the limited resources, in a competitive economy. No society is ever immune to such sporadic episodes for humans are emotionally charged being. Race riots they are but terrorism they are not. Reality has to be grasped properly. Mob violence is round the corner in any multicultural, multi religious society when there is an immediate event that arouses the sensibilities of people. The rational beings control their impulses but the same does not hold with the under educated and irrational subjects. The Sinhalese – Muslim skirmishes that he so loudly proclaims to mitigate the depravity of the terror must be examined in its proper light. The Aluthgama riots were allegedly over the incident involving Muslim youth desecrating a temple by throwing a severed head of a cow and the Digana Kandy riots were due to the killing of a Sinhalese lorry driver by Muslim youth. These are not terrorist activities in any definition or there were no caches of weapons discovered to indicate they were intent on massacring innocent people. How many lives were lost, perhaps none. But to call something terrorism against a racial group needs a confluence of many things. It cannot happen in a day or two. It is organized as in a war situation by bringing weapons in large quantities. Illegal weapons, explosives, detonators, communication equipment, forged passports, National Identity Cards and vehicles. There must be hundreds and thousands of agents to carry out the mass violence. That is terrorism. The Thowheed Jama’th speaks of 200,000 followers according to Muslim sources. To write that in Digana, houses are set on fire, reminiscent of the old gruesome story of death inside their own home as in 1983, is over the top.
Take the case of the Sinhalese attacks on mushrooming Christian sects. Waleed Ali and others like Amanda Hodge must be factual in what they write. The truth of the matter is that Sinhalese Christians were annoyed as much as the Buddhists owing to the numerous evangelical sects mushrooming in the island after the tsunami. Converting poor Sinhalese was a past time on the pretext of assisting them materially out of the funds collected on the pretext of the disaster in Western countries was an irritant to the established Christian religions as much as to the Sinhalese. For conversion of their brethren the Sinhalese killed none. Unlike in the Muslim community these incidents do not end in blood letting and in a multi religious society these are events the state has to control through legislation. That silence gave the spark to the radical elements in the events after the Tsunami and they were a passing phase. No traditional churches were ever attacked by the rioters. Freedom of religion also has limits for you do not live in isolation.
These uninformed characters should note what Muslim intellectuals have to say. A respected scholar domiciled in Australia says that in a multi racial society that is Sri Lanka, there was a self-inflicted alienation which was widening the gap between some Muslims and other communities, primarily the Sinhala Buddhist community, arousing suspicion. Dr Ameer Ali is emphatic that the vast majority of Buddhists are not fanatics and a vast majority of Sinhalese are not racists either. He said a minority, who is very vocal and is trying to grab attention should not be allowed to take the country in the wrong direction. The small radical element among the Sinhalese are legally punished and put in jail. At elections these elements are bundled out but the Muslims still go by ethnicity in all-political matters and make democracy really unworkable.
As far as the Muslims are concerned, it must be understood that the new doctrine promotes a vicious cycle
of self-alienation that leads to exclusivism to extremism ending in radicalization and terrorism. Self-alienation starts in many ways. To give a few examples, the Muslim schools operate on a different calendar. It prevents the Muslims children from interacting with other communities. Muslims do not hoist the national flag in front of our mosques and schools and other institutions on the day of Independence, a symbolic meeting point for everyone. Kaththankudy, the newly discovered hot bed of terror was spending millions of rupees to make it look like Arabia? The planned Arab University premises present an Arabic desert environment with date palms. The other vexatious issue was with halal and cattle slaughter, another reason for the skirmishes. Even moderate Muslims urged anyone with any humaneness to see the way the cows were being slaughtered; the way cows were dragged into the slaughterhouse in a Buddhist country where the slaughter of the cow is abhorrent to the Buddhists. Sri Lankans in general will not tolerate such a practice. A call for a ban on cattle slaughter has to be seen in this context.
The other issue of differentiation is the black dress the Burka that is covering the whole female body, except the eyes, which is alien to Sri Lanka. This attire is only misconstruing Islam.
While Muslim women in the 70s wore sarees, the radical women of today are making a political statement, a misreading of Islamic scriptures that had led to the current situation. Such extremism should be countered through education, which should be done by Muslims themselves. Surely the Peradeniya campus where not one wore the Burka in days gone by is now over strewn with it. Wahabism from Saudi Arabia and the rising Islamic militant rhetoric in the East has had an impact in places like Kattankudy where allegedly, large scale overseas funding from Middle Eastern countries was fuelling a foreign brand of toxic Islamic revival, Building mosques surplus to requirements is unwarranted when the existing mosques are empty.
The brand of Islam imported from Saudi Arabia is intolerant in its teachings and it is increasingly becoming intolerant of others. This new brand is a misrepresentation of Islam and its scriptures. The present Director of the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs, recently disclosed more than 500 unregistered mosques in the country? It would be pertinent to raise the question, how many of these 500 mosques are involved in “preaching and practicing religious intolerance’. The teachers from abroad are purveyors of the radical ideology contamination the young” Does the government have the political will and the Peace Loving Moderate Muslims the commitment to shut down these 500 illegal mosques and deport the imams for good?
It is a known fact some mosques and madrassas are used by extremists for their destructive activities the world over. While religious freedom is guaranteed in our constitution, it is the state’s prerogative to monitor what goes on inside the religious places of every denomination. By mobilizing the Peace Loving Moderate Muslims membership (PLMM) in actively supporting government efforts to contain and prevent further extremist activities, the moderates can now make a worthwhile contribution.
Silence is complicity. All those who are speaking of inter-faith peace and unity now, irresponsibly ignored extremist Islamic thought on social media for years. They dismissed it as rants of some mad men. An exasperated Muslim journalist remarked that although there were many opportunities to nip such thoughts in the bud, they did not do so. ‘Now that the knife is at your throat you are crying hoarse that terrorism must be defeated and there is no room for violence in Islam’. Now it does not cut with the rest. ‘When more and more religious schools were established, abayas and other masks took root as default symbols of our superior ‘culture’’. Stop bashing the Sinhala Buddhists. Speak the truth and not degrade the vocation of journalism.