Vinoth Ramachandra

“Religious Violence” Sri Lanka-Style

Posted on: March 17, 2018

I sent this article for publication in local newspapers. It is a response to another spate of attacks by “Sinhala-Buddhist” mobs on Muslim communities in villages in the area around Kandy, in central Sri Lanka. I invite readers to consider how what I say about this “religious violence” resonates with their own experiences in their countries.

Organized mob violence against minorities has been a feature of the political landscape in Sri Lanka for several decades. In fact, one could say that it has become part of our political culture.

Thus blaming Facebook and other social media is a way of avoiding facing up to some hard but simple facts.

In all such mob attacks, the idleness or complicity of the Police has been amply documented. Clearly this cannot be due to fear or incompetence alone. The inactivity of the Police is always a consequence of the activity of senior politicians. This was the case in July’83, a state-orchestrated pogrom against Tamils in the south of the country. It has been the same ever since in every instance of so-called “religious violence”.

So, how do we prevent future acts of violence against vulnerable minorities?

(1) Interdict senior police officers in those areas where the violence occurred. Their dereliction of duty is a criminal offence. They should not be transferred to other areas where they can continue repeat such betrayals of public trust, but arraigned before courts of law. In such courts, they should reveal whoever in government ordered them to turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by mobs.

(2) Compensation for affected minorities is insufficient. The President and Prime Minister must take responsibility and apologise publicly to those who have lost limbs, family members, or property. They must personally see that whoever instigated such violence, even if it be senior members of their own political parties, be brought to justice. What we need in Sri Lanka is not more legislation but law enforcement.

(3) The Press Complaints Commission has to be woken up and given some teeth. Who has allowed this body to become moribund? It is not only social media, but mainstream media that have been swamped by “fake news” and fake reporting. In the run-up to the local government elections, the Bond Commission Report’s “findings” were being splashed across front pages of newspapers by journalists who had never read the report themselves. What is called “News’ in Sri Lanka has simply become reporting what some government or opposition politician says, without any attempt to critically question and investigate for oneself. We need not only a free media but a competent and responsible one.

(4) The Sinhala-Buddhist community must realise that the biggest threat to Buddhism in this country lies within themselves. It is those Buddhist monks and Buddhist politicians who embrace violence and corruption who damage the credibility of Buddhism, not non-Buddhists or any “external forces”. The latter have often been a convenient scapegoat for the nation’s ills. As long as Buddhist monks and ruling politicians are treated as being above the law, the cycles of violence will continue. In the interest of protecting Buddhism, Sinhala-Buddhism needs to be demythologized as a nationalist ideology by Buddhists themselves.

(5) Far-reaching educational reforms are needed. Sri Lankan history textbooks used in schools should carry different perspectives on the past and not only that of the majority community. Muslim-only and Buddhist-only schools should be persuaded by the authorities to become more pluralistic. Inter-ethnic and inter-religious associations among teachers and schoolchildren should be formed in every district with a view to dispelling caricatures and stereotypes of other communities.

If the present political culture does not change and a moral compass restored to government, Sri Lanka will remain mired in a chronic state of social backwardness, always “developing” but never developed, with more tall buildings but dysfunctional institutions and morally stunted leaders.

2 Responses to "“Religious Violence” Sri Lanka-Style"

While it is a good analysis it has failed to highlight the main cause underlining to the issue.The supremacy of the Buddhist Clergy in our society.They are the most influential powerful decision makers above the elected representatives.”A defacto executive security council ‘who has vetoe powers.e.g.AmRending the constitution to secular state.Ven Amilas are a rare breed and the majority are convinced by the Mahawanse inaccuracies and working towards a society of pre- 1505

Personal ambition (political, religious, work place power), fear of the ‘other’, pride (deluded in patriotic, religious and racial supremacy) are all manifestations of the self centered self.
We manipulate our differences to our advantage.
In the UK I see how religio-racial sentiment has been used to vilify Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semitic. A helpful distraction to our current growing inequalities in society and those mismanaging it, when Corbyn has made sensible recommendations to overcome the current injustices in British society. How much more must Corbyn do, having publicly denounced Anti-Semitism, apologised to the Jewish community on behalf of a few party members, and those responsible for such have honourably resigned? It is interesting that there has been no voice recently amongst our politicians who has publicly engaged with the issue of Palestinian rights in apartheid Israel other than Corbyn who should not be branded as an Anti-Semitic because of it!
The Buddha tried to debunk ‘self’ in the doctrine of Anatta. But that then raises other issues such as responsibility (if there is no self, then who is culpable, owns property? etc). Our experience is not a reality of ‘non self’ but a perverted self which looks after oneself and turns our backs on the One who creates our moments – God Himself. Such irrationality and ingratitude!
The solution to moral stuntedness is to turn our backs to self centeredness and be grateful to our Creator who in Christ died and rose from the dead (as both dying on our behalf to liberate us from self centeredness to Christ centeredness and vindication of Christ). Unless we do as the Apostle Paul suggests in 2 Corinthians 5:15 “…And He died for us all (including the atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Sinhalese, Hindu, Tamil, Jew, Palestinian, Labour, Tory etc), that those who live will no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and was raised from the dead”, I see only ‘more tall buildings, dysfunctional offices and morally stunted leaders, ever developing but never developed’ in Sri Lanka and gross inequality and dismantling of the just society which was built on the principles of the Christian William Beveridge and Methodist leaders of the Labour party in the aftermath of the Second World War.

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March 2018
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