The Existential Fears of Buddhists in Sri Lanka must be given high priority and addressed without delay
– by Shenali D Waduge –
A specter is haunting Sri Lanka. The specter of the country being overrun by Muslims. That something so unpleasant might happen in Sri Lanka virtually unopposed and unresisted by those who have been elected to power exclusively by the urban and rural Buddhist vote explains to a great extent the despair and sense of betrayal of Buddhism and the national interest by the powers that be which in turn is manifesting in the forms of suspicion and distancing between the two communities i.e. Buddhist and Islamic, in this country.
Thanks to Muslim obduracy and incursions into traditional Buddhist space through increasing construction of Mosques in sacred Buddhist citadels such as Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Mihintale, Mahiyangana and in numbers totally disproportionate to the actual numbers of believers in Islam, use of loudspeakers at Mosques in every nook and corner of the country blaring shrieking sounds in Arabic five times a day totally oblivious to the violation of the fundamental right to silence of every citizen, and the nuisance and disturbance it is causing to the vast majority of the people who wish to live in peace amidst a quiet and serene environment, brutal killing of cattle and other animals and display of slaughtered animal carcasses on main and side roads, irrespective of the disgust it is causing to the majority of the public weaned on principles of non – killing and compassion towards animals, animal sacrifice a practice repugnant to Buddhists and condemned by the Buddha, opposition to the continuation of the historic identity of Sri Lanka as a Buddhist country, and promotion of the alien Arabic culture through unacceptable dress codes, food habits, arrogant behaviour and flaunting of wealth by members of this minority group in pre-dominant and traditional Buddhist areas of the country, have awakened the sleeping Sinhala Buddhists to the threat posed to their very survival in the country both in the short and the long term. This fear is also spreading right across Buddhist Asia in varying degrees.
Validity of Existential fears of Buddhists
One thousand years ago Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Kashmir, Indonesia and Maldives were all Buddhist. It is no more now. The very forces that have taken over these countries are now threatening the survival of Buddhism in Myanmar (Burma), and posing a challenge to the dominance of Buddhism in both Sri Lanka and Thailand. The existential fears are what the current Buddhist world is concerned about.
To understand the crux of the argument the following lines by the Indonesian Christian priest Father Daniel Byantoro is relevant:
“For thousands of years my country (Indonesia) was a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom. The last Hindu king was kind enough to give a tax exempt property for the first Muslim missionary to live and to preach his religion. Slowly the followers of the new religion were growing, and after they became so strong the kingdom was attacked, those who refused to become Muslims had to flee for their life to the neighboring island of Bali or to a high mountain of Tengger, where they have been able to keep their religion until now. Slowly from the Hindu Buddhist Kingdom, Indonesia became the largest Islamic country in the world. If there is any lesson to be learnt by Americans at all, the history of my country is worth pondering upon. We are not hate mongering, bigoted people; rather, we are freedom loving, democracy loving and human loving people. We just don’t want this freedom and democracy to be taken away from us by our ignorance and misguided ‘political correctness’, and the pretension of tolerance.”
Betrayal of Buddhism
This is the threat that all the current Buddhist nations fear especially the Buddhist populations who do not wish to experience what Buddhists in all the nations that had Buddhist populations experienced when they were wiped out or converted to ensure ONLY Islam prevailed. Buddhists have not gone to any country by force or taken over countries – the countries where Buddhists prevail are only trying to preserve their culture and identity. Leaders should not betray that for their personal and political benefit.
Media snubs on Buddhists, the tagging of Buddhists as extremists, fascists and racists are mere attempts to psychologically corner and dampen the Buddhists. The Buddhists refuse to be cornered into shunning their past – Buddhists wish to remain proud of their country, their heritage, their culture and religion and it should remind leaders that they need to be nationalists and not multiculturalists and secularists. Today, Hindus in India are a lost and abandoned group for it has become fashionable to not be proud of the once glorious Hindu heritage in India and the present lot of Indian leaders are totally to blame for this state of affairs.
Elsewhere the natives have awoken too. The British are now echoing the same sentiments, Australians are likewise echoing similar sentiments to their Governments while Governments like in Sri Lanka having resorted to bartering the space of the indigenous culture and their religion for the carrot of petro dollars from Arabia has created the current predicament whereas countries like Russia have said a firm no despite the carrot of a rich arms deals for giving up President Assad of Syria.
Contrary to the intolerance that is being conveniently projected let us not forget that the country’s tolerance and unprecedented religious accommodation has enabled 48 mosques to be built in a small township i.e. Katankudy, with less than 40,000 Muslims, some of these areas have been turned into “only Muslim zones” no different to the “Shariah zones” now prevalent in the UK to which the English Defense League is coming forward to object against – these zones obviously came about because British authorities allowed them and now social groups have to come forward to make the objections on behalf of the British majority. When UK issues statements against Sri Lanka citing the Bodu Bala Sena, we can in turn seek UK’s response to the EDL and the attacks on Muslims following the killing of a British soldier in broad daylight resulting in scores of mosques being attacked and burnt through arson.
Buddhist citadels under threat
Over a period of time there has been a deliberate and planned effort to increase the number of mosques and prepare the ground for Islamisation of Sri Lanka. When non-Muslims cannot even place a foot in Mecca, Muslims claim a takaran shed is a mosque or Muslim shrine in the hallowed Mahamegha Uyana, the former royal park to the south of the Buddhist holy city of Anuradhapura, which was gifted by King Devanampiyatissa to the Buddha Sasana after embracing Buddhism upon the arrival of Arahant Mahinda in 300 B. C.
In other sacred Buddhist sites or in their vicinity shops and makeshift prayer centers eventually become “mosques” and Muslim extremists end up plugging a fictitious historical element to stake claim while Government appointed Ministers and officials have even been tweaking with the country’s history text books while fraud in law entrance exams eventually end up expanding the batches without nullifying the fraudulent examination results enabling a disproportionate number of Muslims to probably push for Sharia law as a parallel law of the country. This is the next likely threat.
Buddha Gaya subject to continuous disturbance by Azan calls
Even Buddha Gaya the holiest place of all Buddhists has been disturbed by a new mosque that is playing azan 5 times a day disturbing the meditation of the priests and the daily worshippers. That the mosque was non-existent until of late and was strategically placed to disturb the Buddhists in prayer speaks louder than words – because calls to close the mosque is met with accusations that Buddhists are discriminating the Muslims ignoring that the incursion and provocation is what should matter. These incursions have been not exclusive to Sri Lanka but Sri Lanka has been far more alert than other countries as was seen by the manner that the halal issue forced the Government into action. Nevertheless, the Government cannot afford to be taking action on case by case basis and only when the masses begin to turn the heat on them because their eyes begin to open when they realize their block vote base is unhappy. This is not how the country can be run. This is why monk Wirathu of Mynamar has come forward.
It must be remembered that it was the deep sense of injustice and destruction of Buddhist Universities, and killing of innocent Tibetan Monks at Nalanda and other heritage sites in India by Islamic hordes ( Tibetans share the same DNA with Mongols and Burmese) that provoked the Mongols led by Genghis Khan and followed by his grandson Hulagu who went all the way from Mongolia to Iraq and destroyed the Islamic Caliphate and the Islamic library at Baghdad as sweet revenge for the destruction of Buddhist universities and libraries like Nalanda in India.
In Burma the monks are alert and they are taking control of the situation and they are not allowing their country to be usurped by later cultures.
Moratorium on building of new Mosques
The West with all its laws in place is under similar threats elevated by the fact that foreign politicians turn to immigrant vote bases to secure electoral wins. But now, US, UK, most of the EU nations are all calling for moratoriums on new mosques and stricter laws to govern Muslim incursions.
It is time that Sri Lanka’s Government does the same. France has gone a step further by banning the burka and niqab and even Human Rights Watch has not disagreed that the dress is not part of Islam but one that is associated with Arabic culture. Arabic culture is however not Islam. People in Sri Lanka certainly do not mind the Muslim women covering their head but they do not like to see black clothes which was not prevalent decades ago and questions what type of new Islam is being promoted with even the men now changing their attire to resemble tribal dress? It is also noteworthy that none of the elite Muslims adorn these garments and questions whether a monetary component is involved with lower middle class and poor only dressing in black given that billions are been thrown to spread this type of new culture throughout non-Muslim nations.
We must also wonder how far Raymond Ibrahim’s theory is also part of the problem: “What if an entire civilization developed an inferiority complex? What ramifications would that have on the rest of the world? How would such paranoia play itself out in the interaction of civilizations? Translating “The Broder Dilemma and Inferiority Complex,” written by Muslim intellectual Khaled Montaser, :
“We Muslims have an inferiority complex and are terribly sensitive to the world, feeling that our Islamic religion needs constant, practically daily, confirmation by way of Europeans and Americans converting to Islam. What rapturous joy takes us when a European or American announces [their conversion to] Islam—proof that we are in a constant state of fear, alarm, and chronic anticipation for Western validation or American confirmation that our religion is “okay.” We are hostages of this anticipation, as if our victory hinges on it—forgetting that true victory is for us to create or to accomplish something, such as those [civilizations] that these converts to our faith abandon….. “
Denial of religious freedoms in West Asia
Can Muslims demand what they do not wish to concede to non-Muslims?
Is the Islam being practiced by nations of the Muslim world tolerant of other religions?
Can non-Muslims put up a place of religious worship in the Arabian peninsula?
Did the Muslims not recently declare that Arabia should be ONLY for Muslims and all others should be chased out?
The territory and space of Islam is non-negotiable and if Islam is non-negotiable what is wrong with others saying the same?
Muslims clearly draw the line on what they tolerate and what they will not – whether we like it or not we have no choice but to accept. No one challenges the non-negotiable nature of religious space in majority Muslim nations and not a single international entity including NGOs or UN would even demand that their laws be changed to give equality to all faiths. Yet, the Muslims make these demands that they do not give in their lands. Buddhism is not a religion of the Book i.e. Quran. Therefore it is not recognized as a religion in Arabian countries. It is banned in Kuwait, Egypt, Iran and all other gulf and Arabian countries.
Dialogue of civilization impossible without mutual recognition
What dialogue can be had with those who do not recognize your existence as a legitimate world religion?
Whether we should believe in God or not is our religious choice. We expect Muslims to respect our choice and allow us to practice what we believe in. Unfortunately Buddhists in the whole of the Middle East are denied the fundamental religious freedoms that Muslims enjoy in almost every Buddhist majority country. The possession of citizenship is specious argument brought in to defend the denial of a basic human right.
We must also not forget that non-Muslims cannot even take a statue of the Buddha or book on Buddhism to Arabia and despite giving 300,000 Maldivians to work, live and study in Sri Lanka, Maldives will not allow Sri Lankans to carry a Buddha statue to Maldives – what a humiliation and slap on the face for Sri Lanka and does the Foreign Minister and other diplomats even object to such harassment of our people by people of a little country i.e. Maldives, that is eternally relying on Sri Lanka for most of their needs. Why is there no question of reciprocity as a basis of diplomatic relations between these two countries?
When is the Ministry of External Affairs going to stand up for the rights of our Sri Lankan people in the international arena?
The increasing friction between ethnic and religious communities is largely due to the failure of the Government to draw a clear line.
The Government must immediately address the following:
· Moratorium on mosques: In proportion to the Muslim population there are far too many mosques
· No Loud Speakers: It continues to violate the fundamental right to silence of our people and made clear in the judgment of the Supreme Court on noise pollution and grant of an interim order placing limits on use of loudspeakers at Mosques.
· No Cattle slaughter: There was no animal slaughter until the legalizing of such by the British after 1815. Majority of Buddhists are sensitive to killing animals and eating beef – why are these sensitivities not respected when Buddhists respect the Muslim abhorrence for pork?
· No halal logo and no Shariah laws – while most believe the halal issue is resolved, there continues to be halal logos on food items on the excuse that the batch quantities are not over.
· Issue of conversions : Anti-Conversion bill is lying in limbo
Immediate Enactment of the Animal Welfare Bill prepared by the Law Commission. It is a national shame that fear of minorities i.e. Muslims, is preventing the Buddhists of this country from giving legislative and state protection to animals which every king and ruler since King Devanampiyatissa piously gave following the noble example set by Emperor Dharmasoka of India and taught by the Buddha. What a come down for the Buddhist heritage and unique animal friendly civilizational values of this country when our current politicians do not care for them!
In going behind the minority votes the politicians have bartered the space of the Buddhists and when these minorities are now beginning to demand their pound of flesh the majority realizes what the politicians have done and the reactions are what has taken place in the Grandpass area (how valid is a permit letter dated 10th August 2013 after building a mosque on the pretext of a “warehouse”).
We again question whether the Ministry of Buddha Sasana is functioning on behalf of the Buddhists or to preserve and promote every religion other than Buddhism for we have not forgotten that the Ministry did not issue a statement on the attacks on Buddhists and ancient Buddhist Temples in Bangladesh but was quick to issue a statement on a film trailer that most had not even seen but sparked riots across the Muslim world.
Status of Buddhism in Myanmar; Non – Negotiable
In Burma, the status of Buddhism is non-negotiable and in spite of Article 9 alongside a rich historical civilization the country’s politicians are bartering away Buddhism when all the while history is evidence of what happens to nations that gives up their identity whether willingly or by force. Every nation that Muslims have set foot upon has eventually turned into a Muslim nation unless proper laws are set in place. It is now time that the Sri Lankan Government also lays down its laws because the majority of Muslims in Sri Lanka have been living with the Buddhists adapting to the Sinhalese culture and customs and even dress as historical evidence will show. Many of these Muslims too do not like the present wave of new radical Islam sweeping across the nation but are too afraid to boldly come out and say so though silently they too wish that the Government puts these incursions to a halt.
If the Government is able to stop all these new incursions taking place on the ground that what exists more than suffices for the 9% Muslims, everyone in the country will be able to go on with their lives without fear. The Government cannot dither and needs to draw the lines safeguarding predominately Buddhist Sri Lanka and media needs to learn to relay the facts not according to their agendas.