Don’t kindle communal hatred
Posted on November 2nd, 2014

By Rohana R. Wasala

Like many ordinary Sri Lankan citizens who feel genuinely concerned about the future of the country, I have been apprehensively watching a steady flow of potentially inflammatory talk about so-called Sinhala Buddhist extremism against Muslims, as well as actual incidence of violence particularly over the past few months. It is implied that Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism is chronic in our island nation’s politics, and that all minorities are threatened by it, and further that, at the moment, it is being directed at innocent Muslims. Of course, biased criticism of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority is nothing new.

There may have been a few isolated instances of disagreement between certain Buddhist and Muslim groups recently. But these are most probably due to conflicts of interest; they are not due to religious extremism on the part of the ordinary Sinhalese Buddhists. Verbal attacks on the Sinhalese Buddhist majority demonstrate much spleen but little sense. It is usually not made clear in such criticism what special privileges Sinhalese Buddhists enjoy that minorities are denied as a result of their racism, or what the latter’s complaints or grievances are against the majority. Instead, we hear a hateful denunciation of alleged Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinism, fanaticism, extremism, intolerance, exclusivity, and so on.

The special place guaranteed to Buddhism in the constitution is usually cavilled at as evidence of the existence of Sinhalese Buddhist extremism. But the truth is that among the Sinhalese Buddhists themselves there are those who think that such constitutional guarantees to protect Buddhism are not necessary now as they were under foreign occupation, though they acquiesce in the democratic wish of the majority. Such legislation should be condemned if it implies the automatic denial of the rights of adherents of other faiths.

The situation in this respect in other secular democracies is not different. Christianity enjoys a far more conspicuously privileged position in the UK and the US. The supposedly exemplary Americans even print the words IN GOD WE TRUST” in their currency notes though they  violate the principles that that faith demands observance of, through their abominable behaviour in many places in the world; no one objects to such shameless exhibition of religious bigotry; only poor Sinhalese Buddhists are reviled for insisting on the inclusion in the republican constitution of  a clause that even the British imperialists incorporated in the 1815 treaty at the request of the Kandyan chieftains. (The subsequent betrayal of trust by the British is a different matter).

Meaningless anti-Sinhalese Buddhist criticism has been plaguing our country at least for the past one hundred years. Getting denounced for no reason is not an enviable experience for any individual or group, as everyone knows. But there appears to be no prospect of any respite for the majority community from that predicament. In fact, it looks likely that unfounded verbal attacks on imaginary Sinhala Buddhist racism will continue to blight our nation for at least the next one hundred years unless all constituent communities overcome their self-defeating attitudes of mutual suspicion, fear, and alienation, superiority or inferiority complexes and reach out to each other as members of one nation sharing a single homeland in view of our common history, chequered though it certainly has been.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that racist aggression such as by separatist elements is blamed on alleged pre-existent Sinhalese Buddhist extremism. Those who miss no opportunity to remember and condemn the various acts of engineered violence committed by Sinhalese mobs against Tamils between 1958 and 1983 intentionally or unintentionally hide the truth that the overwhelming majority of the Sinhalese Buddhist community never approve of such acts. They ignore the history of the discriminatory treatment of their own (majority) community by foreign imperialists that eventually led to post-independence communal violence. The usual Sinhalese-Buddhist bashers, have always expressed little or no sympathy for the innocent victims of similar or worse atrocities from the other side over many years. International human rights campaigners didn’t care either. It appeared as if they were content to justify prolonged anti-Sinhalese violence by implicitly referring to alleged Sinhalese Buddhist extremism.

The vast majority of Sinhalese Buddhists are tolerant, peaceful, and compassionate despite being always portrayed  as fanatical racists by separatist propagandists and the minority of the Lankan population whose ancestors enjoyed special privileges as the lackeys of foreign imperialists. Some members of the second category, the self-important, so-called westernized elite” wrongly believe that the native past of Sri Lankans was one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them”, to borrow some words from an essay by Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe who said he intended his novels to demonstrate to his (compatriot) readers that they did have a civilized past before the imperialist Europeans arrived (i.e., Achebe said that the past of his people was not one long night of savagery…..”).

To my mind, Sinhalese Buddhists are especially prone to charges of this nature because historically they bore the brunt of numerous colonial assaults on this country’s independence and sovereignty. It has implications for our situation in the country that cannot be ignored. But it doesn’t mean at all that, because of this, the Sinhalese have a right to lord it over the minorities. These implications do not by any means constitute a barrier to the goal of forging a united nation. Pan-Sri Lankan unity will cease to be a mere daydream if our political and civic leaders representing the different communities make peace among themselves, appreciate and accommodate each other’s concerns in a spirit of humanity and generosity which is our common cultural heritage. That is the way that these trivial issues can be resolved in time before they kindle a major communal conflagration.

12 Responses to “Don’t kindle communal hatred”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    Take a look at the BANNED TERRORIST LIST of USA. It was NOT done by Sinhala Buddhists!!

    In that over 40 terror groups are ISLAM.
    4 of them are TAMIL.

    Does that say VOLUMES about who the terrorists are from an INDEPENDENT source?

    This is NOT a problem unique to SL. This is a GLOBAL problem. In this DIVIDE, SL and Sinhala Buddhists are on the CORRECT SIDE.

    BAN COMMUNAL PARTIES to have peace. Have ONE LAW for all. If we continue to have VESAWALAMI for Tamils are SHARIA for Muslims, there won’t be any peace.

  2. Dilrook Says:

    It should be emphasised that the violent events of 1915, 1939, 1958 and 1983 were all instigated by migrant minority groups. 1915 events were created by Muslims who obstructed a world heritage Buddhist procession. 1939 riot was sparked by racially abusive comments and conduct of a prominent Tamil politician. The 1958 riot was started by the “tar-bucket campaign” of prominent Tamil politicians and Tamil attacks on Sinhalas in the north and the east. The 1983 riot was also started by the Amirthaligam-Prabakaran axis that attacked and genocide Sinhala civilians in the lead up to it.

    The number of victims on each side doesn’t correspond to culpability. In some cases the culprits end up with most casualties. Using these events to generate hatred is another offence of these minority groups. For reconciliation, these events must be buried in the past and move on.

  3. Christie Says:

    The problem is and are the Indian Union, Indians and Indian colonial parasites. It is a problem for most of the Indian colonies be it Fiji or Mauritius or Ceylon. These people still has the same mind set the had when they arrived here on the back of the British.

  4. Raj Says:

    Rohana, I agree with your analysis. Unfortunately this forum has too many Sinhala Buddhist extremists. You will get a lot of negative comments when UK and USA wake up. Probably Chamipka is a regular visitor and also Gandassara, under pseudonyms of course.

  5. Marco Says:

    I’m in agreement with certain aspects of the above article but the author has failed to address the lack of action by the Govt and law enforcement authorities to control inter-religious tensions.

    For a nation still convalescing from the horrors of a 30-year war provoked by racial disharmany to complacently accept in its stride the potential birth of another war, this time based on religious acrimony, borders on criminal negligence.

  6. Nimal Says:

    During my 3 months stay in SL I noticed that there was no Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism among the ordinary Sinhalese but it was very much practised or preached by the conniving politicians and some clergy. Humble people are struggling to make a living daily while our leaders and authorities misuse the religion and our heritage to control and supress people. Building permits are denied or obstructed to land owners to build a hotel for instance while the same land is bought for lower price by a crony and a hotel is built. Houses of architectural value is taken over by eviction for the benefit of the cronies, siting some nonsense to heritage etc. In one case an innocent party worker was the victim of a such a scheme, where the people he helped to put them to power has distanced themselves from the people.Politicians have no mechanism for the voter to ever meet the elected by way of a surgery like in the Western countries.MP for particular town avoid the people by not visiting his house but use a 5 star hotel for his break, just to avoid the people. So they exploit the religion and so called heritage for their gain and it’s big business. Religion is a great obstacle to people in many ways.

  7. Nanda Says:

    Nimal,
    You are using the word “Religion” instead of Buddhism. You too are a politician in that sense. I agree that your Religion is a great obstacle to people in may ways. Take Rayappu Goebbels Joseph for example. He uses religion to empower terrorist. It is the same with Mossies who keeps on building mosques and keeps on breeding to bite people with the venom of Koran.
    But tell me just one example where Four Noble Truth or Nobel Eight fold Path has become a “little bit” of an obstacle to a living being. Just one is enough to for me to embrace your religion and give up mine.

    When you say “extremism” of Islam it is the correct and true following of Mohamed and Koran.
    Similarly “extreme Buddhisst” are Arahants to do no harm to any one even if that any one cuts of his limbs one by one. That is called Buddhist Extremism.

  8. Lorenzo Says:

    SL is plagued by Tamil racism and Islamic extremism.

    Buddhist reactions are only a response to them.

    Though SL won the war, it UNFORTUNATELY SPARED peaceful Tamil racists. The war should have expended to include them.

  9. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Sri Lankan Buddhist nationalism is a fact of life. It is growing for many reasons. chief among them is the after effects of the 30 year long war by the Sri Lankan Tamil minority in supporting a brutal attempt to form a separate land called Elam. An ongoing issue is the conversion of Buddhists to other faiths such as Islam and Christianity. It does not help to know that in Tamil Nadu pro LTTE non government organizations (NGO) are being fully supported and are growing in power due to Chennai’s political leaders.
    It is worse to know that New Delhi will not do anything about it. That is but a few social issues.
    In today’s Times of India (11/3/14). India has increased her rhetoric against Colombo about Chinese Submarines in Colombo siting the dead amendment 13 as part of it and her national security as another.
    Nowhere is there any refection when New Delhi make policies she sees best to her and her neighbors do not that India ever takes that into account. When it comes to India’s own interests her neighbors could take a long walk off a short peer far as she is concerned. This is yet another reason for the need and the rise of the Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalist movement. Eventually this movement will produce a leader that may even rival Rajapakse and Modi in standing up to the Buddhist values and the integrity of Sri Lanka

  10. Nanda Says:

    We need a leader who will burn 13A and India will back off.

  11. Nanda Says:

    “The vast majority of Sinhalese Buddhists are tolerant, peaceful, and compassionate despite being always portrayed as fanatical racists by separatist propagandists and the minority of the Lankan population whose ancestors enjoyed special privileges as the lackeys of foreign imperialists.” – very true. Raj is one of them.

  12. Senevirath Says:

    GA- RAJ BAAS HATE SINHALA BUDDHISTS. IF HE WAS BORN IN INDIA OR IN JAFFNA AS A PARAYAR OR IN A MUSLIM COUNTRY AS A NON MUSLIM HE WILL REALISE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEM AND SINHALA BUDDHISTS

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