Do we put Religion or Country first? The answer will show who is a true Sri Lankan

Sri Lanka Dharga Town clash

Post-independent Sri Lanka has given little time for Sri Lanka to enjoy meaningful peace. All politicians are friends in private but foes in public. Some party or the other is fighting for a piece of a country as small as Sri Lanka. We have failed to carve out an identity for ourselves devoid of and separated from clinging to 500 years of colonial brainwashing. Our leaders have failed to instill in the young even older generation a sense of national pride that should have been incorporated vigorously into the Education curriculum whether it is in public schools, private schools or international. The people must essentially decolonize their minds to feel they are part of a sovereign Sri Lanka and not have to be told they are part of Sri Lanka or pretending to be part of Sri Lanka while attempting to divide Sri Lanka. No one, who feels a part of Sri Lanka, will attempt to create tensions as currently happening even if they are influenced from foreign quarters. The importance is for people to realize that no one can take one’s religion away unless one gives it up, but there are many ways to take away one’s country. We have seen countries divided and we are seeing live versions of countries being officially divided and torn up leaving people divided and devastated. The people of Sri Lanka now need to ask is this where they want Sri Lanka to end up too?

Let us approach the topic by looking at the religions in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka we have the Buddhists, the Hindus, Islam, Christians, Catholics, Atheists and even Agnostics (those who don’t believe in anything). There is little to question and historical evidence proves the Kings that ruled Sri Lanka, over 180 of them followed Buddhist principles/teachings in what is known as the dasa raja dharma (ten royal virtues) and the country’s civilization was built upon these principles. Buddhism was brought by royal invitation from India to Sri Lanka and that sets Buddhism’s place in Sri Lanka.

The religions of Islam and Christianity were foreign to Sri Lanka and came accompanied by traders. Hinduism too came through various means. Hinduism and Buddhism belong to the Dharmic religions and thus Buddhists and Hindus have always had no issues in relation to religion.

The Yonas (Arab traders) arrived in Ceylon far before the existence of Islam as a religion. This aspect is very important because people tend to confuse the Arabs that became Islam after Islam became a religion and equate that with the early Arab traders who were not following Islam, to claim they were Muslims/Islam. Islam became a religion only in the 6th century and started spreading globally after mid 6th century. There’s more than 1000 years apart between Buddhism and Islam. Though Muslims came as traders some were allowed to settle but they were not permitted to own land. Muslims were given ownership of land only after 1815 by the British.

Islam makes up 23% of the world Islamic adherents – 1.57billion. Over 1billion of these live in South/South-East Asia. There are 49 majority-Muslim countries. Indonesia has the largest Muslims. Incidentally, Indonesia was once a Buddhist nation.

Christianity formally arrived in Ceylon only after the arrival of the Portuguese in 1505. Christians make up 2.3billion of the 7billion world population. 25 countries have majority Christian populations.

Given the foreign nature of the 2 Abrahamic religions of Islam and Christianity the global nature of the calls made upon adherent’s plays a key role in how they function within a country especially so when what they publicly vocalize amongst their own differs to what they vocalize publicly among non-Abrahamic communities.

To explain this it would be good to know why the Vatican asks its envoys to promote the notion of multiculturalism and equal status to all religions in countries where Catholics are the minority while the Vatican encourages the maintenance of the supremacy of the Catholic faith and Christian identity in majority-Catholic nations. While in March 1997 Cardinal Ratzinger predicted that Buddhism would, over the coming century, replace Marxism as the main “enemy” of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict himself said Christian values “that represent the soul of the continent must remain” part of Europe if it wants to be an example to the rest of the world. The Pope in Spain 2011 advised the Spanish people to retain its Christian identity rather than become secular and multi-cultural. He also opposed Turkey joining the EU on the grounds that 68 million Muslims would dilute Western Europe.

Religious founders did not propagate violence – Religious leaders do

The Catholic Church sanctioned African slave trade caused millions of deaths, Taiping Rebellion in China caused 20m deaths, 1700 years of Inquisition, women and children were sold as sex slaves to increase funding for the Church (Pope Damasus), Pope Urban II had ordered slaughter of 10million Heretics, Pope Pius XII is said to have given Hitler details instructions of how to exterminate non-Catholic minorities across Europe as well as how to construct death camps, Goa Inquisition massacred Hindus, Muslims, Indian Jews and all non-Catholics. Colonial invaders were all Christians promoting trade and converting masses whilst as a policy exterminating non-Christian religious sites.

Killing in the name of Islam is historical. Jihad destroyed a Christian Middle East and Christian North Africa. 60million Christians perished as a result. 80million Hindus were killed. Jihad destroyed all of Buddhism along the silk route – 10million Buddhists perished. Approximately 270 million nonbelievers died over the last 1400 years for the glory of political Islam. Obviously, no religious texts say to kill but Abrahamic religions have killed in the name of religion and that fact cannot be denied. Then there is the case of Muslims killings Muslims which is the newest phenomena taking place globally instigated of course by Western interests. Muslims have failed to understand how sectarian differences and killing their own can be better than allowing the enemy to dictate annihilating one’s own. 11,000,000 Muslims are said to have been killed by their own since 1948.

Violence in Sri Lanka

What needs to be categorically said is that whoever inflicted damage to lives and property in Aluthgama and surrounding areas were not Buddhists, even if they were born Buddhists and neither did they protect Buddhism by their actions. Buddhism is the only religion that reveres life of all sentient beings including animals and thus the calls against animal sacrifice. Which is why it is important to investigate how far these supposed Buddhists are perhaps funded by foreign elements or advised by foreign elements and working to their instructions? If so, the Buddhists must immediately disassociate themselves from such elements. We do not want to or should allow foreign funded elements (possibly inciting the other side simultaneously) to be protecting Buddhism or the Buddhist identity of Sri Lanka, for their actions are in reality designed to do the exact opposite as post-Aluthgama has shown.

This does not however remove the elements that compose Buddhist grievances which mainstream media ignores and politicians delay solving because mathematics of political survival means more to them than protecting the heritage and identity of the country. Minorities are aware that politicians will sacrifice anything to remain in power and the minorities have succeeded in using politicians to fulfill their agendas and minorities have always ended up the winner ceding nothing but getting more than what they asked or expected (on track towards little now more later)

What also needs to be said is just because someone wears a robe and by so doing projects that he/she is a representative of that religion that does not make him a real representative unless he practices what he is meant to preach. This is applicable to Buddhists, Hindus, Catholic priests, Christian priests, Islamic priests as well.

State within a State

Part of the argument rests on the claim and disparity in vocalizing the desire for peaceful co-existence while creating ghettos of areas mirroring a new culture, new behaviors and new dress codes that did not exist decade ago that are visibly seen now. Halal labeling did not exist, the current increase in Muslim ladies in black did not exist, fully-covered school going children did not exist, men in tribal wear did not exist, open animal slaughter did not exist, shariah banking, demands for shariah laws, loud speakers, madrassas all did not exist – these have all become conflict items questioning how far peaceful coexistence can prevail when by behavior a visibly total new culture is unfolding before everyone’s eyes self-separating them from the country’s majority culture. In short, the desire to live in co-existence is not translated into practice. Some areas of Sri Lanka clearly reveal a state within a state (ex ‘Shariah’ zones in the UK). This is a direct display to show a separate identity from the rest.

What people are always aware of is that Islam is not just a religion but an entire political system wherein the state is inseparable from religious rule. Islamic law, or Sharia is complete and not designed to coexist with or be subordinate to other legal systems, in such a system Muslims are not meant to be ruled by non-Muslims. Quran itself very clearly states that Muslims are to resist unbelievers until they submit to Muslim rule. This is why the process of visible change that people see in Sri Lanka advanced from how Muslims were living earlier shows an interim period of passing time until the stage where supremacy can dictate. This is why people question how far the Government is aware of these ground realities because the Muslim people in all fairness to them are powerless against the orders that come to them on how they should live. As we can see the moderate Muslims are being overwhelmed and are not in control as fundamentalists have taken over dictating how Muslims should function – the sufferings of the Sufis have never been highlighted enough. A lot of Muslims do not concur with this new scenario but they are powerless to do anything about it.

Disparity in Front office ‘Unite” Back office ‘Convert’

The conversion factor plays a key role and strikes a key impediment to ‘co-existence’. When there are calls by the Pope to ‘harvest souls’ and both Islam and Christianity not only encourages but has institutions tasked to propagate the faith and increase their numbers and these are funded through their religious organizations and even States what defence do non-Muslims and non-Christians have against this when even legislation is blocked using influence and arm-twisting diplomacy. Hindus and Buddhists share a common grievance in this.

Buddhist grievances never heard

One thousand years ago Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Kashmir, Indonesia and Maldives were all Buddhist. It is no more now. Buddhists have not gone to any country by force or taken over countries. The countries where Buddhists prevail as a majority are only trying to preserve their culture and identity. The scary aspect of the remaining majority Buddhist nations ending up losing their Buddhist identity, heritage and even being forcibly converted is frightening the Buddhist people. People need to be sensitive of this fear which is historical and nothing made up.

Making this worse is how ‘political correctness’ ‘secular’ ‘multicultural’ slogans are eating into Buddhist space with politicians doing nothing about it. The ground reality of this has created opportunities for elements entering the picture claiming to be the savior when the chances of doing more damage than good end up the final outcome. What worries Buddhists is that their ‘non-violent’ religion is always taken for granted.

The other reality is – religions that seek peaceful co-existence when they are in the minority cannot deny that when they are in the majority they prohibit others from even entering their sacred sites. Non-Muslims are not allowed in Mecca, Vatican will not allow a single non-Catholic religious site inside Vatican City but in Sri Lanka whatever ridicules the country is being subject to there is no denying that churches and mosques, Christian/Catholic/Muslim prayer centers are increasing far more than Buddhist or Hindu temples.

As far as grievances are concerned, it is unfortunate that mainstream media has purposely blocked out view points of the Buddhists. The English media in Sri Lanka enjoy a pet hate with journalists paid to compete among each other on who is best at denigrating Buddhists and Buddhism. Little space is given to even voice issues or question why Muslims are attempting to put up mosques close to Buddhist temples and thereafter play the azan over loudspeakers 5 times a day despite a Supreme Court interim order when the Government has given an exclusive radio channel for Muslims and with mobiles/phones/wrist watches there is no requirement to call anyone for prayer in this day and age. When the West is also bringing moratoriums on mosques why do politicians not wish to even consider this? The issues of halal labels, sharia laws (parallel law to Sri Lanka) and sharia banking, cattle slaughter have not found any response or solution. The new dress code poses great national security concerns as even robbers can dress in same attire, should authorities not look at bringing in rules such as in France where the court ruling was clear – Arabic culture is not Islam.

It is unfair to question Buddhist tolerance when historically Abrahamic religions have shown intolerance through killings. Non-Muslims cannot practice their religions in the Arabian peninsula and the territory and space of Islam is declared non-negotiable and no moderate Muslims have stood against this to make demands on behalf of non-Muslims but Muslims in non-Muslim nations enjoy far more than non-Muslims do in Muslim nations.

How can there be dialogue on peaceful co-existence when non-Abrahamic religions are not officially recognized? Are these not verbal slogans meant to fool the masses and project a wrong notion globally?

While we cannot solve the world’s ills, what we need to do in respect of Sri Lanka is to realize that whatever religion we are born into, we are all citizens of Sri Lanka. It is unfortunate that the very powers that are responsible for global discord are using religion to divide and create chaos. We see how it has successfully managed to leave a trail of death in Africa, Arabian peninsula and now Asia. It should not be a surprise that Sri Lanka would become the next target with LTTE terror at least militarily dealt with.

We were all well aware what the next tension hot spot would be, warnings were given to the Government, politicians however did not heed those warnings in fact they gave permission and waived visa requirements that allowed elements to enter and introduce dissent while the same parties would have encouraged the other side to oppose. This is the same game that has been played for centuries.

Why have we fallen? We have fallen because we have not put the country first. We have to as citizens put aside all other emotions and save our country from being dragged into another unnecessary playing field that the ordinary people will end up victims. People need to realize that religious leaders are not necessarily functioning to nurture any religion except to use the people as tools for a larger agenda.

The challenge today is to bring good morals, good values and ethics into our daily lives and the rest will fall into place.

– by Shenali D Waduge