by Arjuna Hulugalle
Man, living in community will invariably have social and political problems. This applies to a tribal society, a nomadic society, a settled rural society or a highly structured civilization, whether Greek, Roman, European or Asian.
President Rajapaksa at at Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, Jan 2010-Pic by Sudath Silva-courtesy: InfoLanka
Minimizing problems and tensions depends on leadership and how well the leaders are able to keep the population on the path of reason. Wisdom is therefore all important in leadership
In any society there will be those who create trouble because of a personality defect. They are others who are insecure and revel in seeing their compatriots quarrel. Their role is to stir the two antagonistic parties and watch the unfolding events. There are still others who want their bête noirs falling into deep trouble; the more harm done to them the better. This is called in German Schaden Freude. That is joy in the woes of others.
Then some consider “bad news” as “good news” because it makes good copy for the newspapers. When 20 million Sri Lankans are leading a productive and decent life and one maniac behaves badly, that is what some of the international media waits for.
Some groups in Sri Lanka have a strange satisfaction to wait for opportunities to circulate appeals stating that there is religious intolerance in Sri Lanka and send these appeals worldwide. That is sometimes a part of singing for their supper because there is a lot of money as a reward for such actions.
How much damage all this has on the reputation of the country one cannot estimate. Many who know Sri Lanka ignore this malicious representation. However, those who are prejudiced want to keep Sri Lanka in the news as a failed state.
The truth is that if one goes to Christian Churches on Sunday, they are packed with hundreds of worshipers. Hindus celebrate their festivals with leaders and the common citizenry from all the communities and religions paying respect, homage and obeisance while they witness and partake in the ceremonies. Muslims go peacefully to Friday prayers and at Ramazan break fast in the company of friends from other religions. Naturally, tens of thousands of Buddhists worship at Temples on Poya Days.
I cannot think of any country in the world where there is so much interaction between the religions and their celebrations as in Sri Lanka. Every major religion is respected by the government and enjoys public holidays to celebrate them.
Let us invite those who are so critical of us to visit the island and see for themselves. We have had flak from some Indian leaders about the incident in Dambulla. Probably this is more to do with their local politics than with Sri Lanka per se. India itself has seen Muslims denigrated for decades.
They can hardly give us advice on religious intolerance. Muslim countries themselves have strict rules on religious practices in their own lands. We understand their sensitivities and respect them and we have the best relations with them.
In the West, Islam phobia is rampant. Considering their own record in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Libya need we take the West seriously in respect of their sanctimonious strictures relating to human rights issues on Sri Lanka. At best let us be indulgent with a benign and amused demeanor and keep our thoughts to ourselves but at the same time focus on correcting our own shortcomings.
Sri Lankan religious leaders have to ceaselessly strive towards understanding and practising the essence of their religions. Tolerance and wisdom certainly apply to all the great religions that are practiced in Sri Lanka. We are fortunate that this country is blessed with a President who is a Buddhist who is married to a Catholic. He has always been a friend of the Muslims from the time he took to politics so much so that a street is named after him in Palestine.
He also worships at Hindu shrines and is able to converse with the religious dignitaries in Tamil. Isn’t that something we have to be proud of as Sri Lankans? The President represents the vast majority of the people who aspire to live in harmony with all the religions and communities. If united they can through dialogue and patience come to a satisfactory common understanding.
The alternative will play into the hands of those who mainly because of ignorance and misinformation have turned against this country. They may not be many but they can be as disturbing as a screech in an otherwise efficient motor car.
How the mischievous will love to see religious harmony disrupted in this country. We have to be mindful and not fall into a trap and at the same time acquire the equanimity to distance ourselves from those who want to harm us. We have all to focus on what is important namely to improve the lot of the entire population, especially the poor and strive for Social Justice. Let us not be distracted from this path