IFJ BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE
Posted on September 5th, 2018

By Rohana R. Wasala

(This document which embodies the author’s personal opinions is completely based on information gathered from internet sources. It is a marginally revised version of the same article published in The Island on September 5, 2018.)

The news item under the headline: Religious extremists, politicians meddle with artistic freedom in Sri Lanka – IFJ” published in The Island/August 31, 2018 is a cynical expression of extreme anti-Buddhist prejudice. The report begins thus:

A novel, a radio drama and a stage play all came under attack in Sri Lanka for allegedly containing anti-Buddhist or offensive language. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Free Media Movement (FMM) Sri Lanka in expressing concerns over the potential political censorship and control of freedom of expression of the three works”.

The alleged artistic works referred to here are: Budunge Rasthiyaduwa”, a novel written by K.K. Srinath, Kanepahara”,  a serial radio drama made by Malaka Devapriya, and Mama Kelin Minihek”, a stage play directed by Asanka Sayakkara.  It is true that some Buddhist monks and organizations have protested against the titles of three episodes of Kanepahara” (A Box on the Ears), and that of the novel Budunge Rasthiyaduwa” (Buddha’s Time Killing/Buddha the Time Killer) as being disrespectful to Buddhism and offensive to Buddhist sensitivities. The names of three of the plays which had been scheduled to be serially broadcast over the government owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, but are currently in abeyance due to ministerial intervention are as follows: Tharuwan Saranai” (May Film Stars Protect You), Nihon Saepa Laebewa” (Happiness of Japan Be Yours) and Nirwastram Paramam Sukhang” (Nudity Is the Highest Happiness). These are irreverential parodies, respectively, of: Theruwan Saranai” (May the Triple Gem Protect You), Nivan Saepa Laebewa” (May You Attain Nibbana), and Nibbanam Paramam Sukhang” (Nibbana Is the Supreme Bliss). The three titles which are disrespectful imitations of the three clauses (given in brackets immediately above) are charged with profound spiritual meaning for Buddhists. Such profane treatment of something they consider sacred is bound to be hurtful to their feelings. The monks only took umbrage at the titles of these plays and the novel. It must be emphasized that their objections were only to the titles, but not to them as works of art or to their content, except  in the case of the stage play Mama Kelin Minihek” (I am a Straight Man), in which they found certain dialogues to be anti-Buddhist and wanted them changed. (The arbitrary English translations given here are mine.)

According to the IFJ report, …. the author claimed that there was no religious contents (sic) in their work…”. The plural possessive pronoun their” suggests that novelist K.K. Srinath was speaking for the authors of the rest of the works in question as well; but that defence is irrelevant, because the monks’ complaint was almost entirely about the insulting language used in the titles, not about what was in the plays or the novel.

Actually, Minister of Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Wiiayadasa Rajapksa’s intervention (with his decision to investigate the complaints and prosecute the novelist and the publisher, and his probable share in forcing the suspension of the radio drama has the potential of turning the whole episode into a tragicomic sham confrontation between two organs of the same Yahapalanaya government: that is, between the said ministry and the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) led by a former president (namely, Chandrika Bandaranaike) that sponsored the plays with those objectionable titles and possibly similar content. Both are maintained by people’s tax money, the major part of it comes from Sinhalese Buddhists, whom they want to morally reform! The IFJ’s claim that (unnamed) bookstores have received threatening calls and demands not to sell copies of the book seems to be a malicious addition. A young reviewer of the novel known by the pen name ‘Vidu’ suggests that the controversy raised about its title could be  a strategy to advertise the book, a spot of ‘negative marketing’ as he calls it.

It could be a deliberate fabrication meant to add to the sensationalism of the news report, while casually helping the sale of the book, whose publisher Sannasgala is a politician associated with the  installation of the yahapalanaya regime. Apparently,  the novel Budunge Rasthiyaduwa” (Buddha’s Time Killing/Buddha the Time Killer) is also intended to contribute to the same project as the radio drama Kanepahara” (A Box on the Ears): both are expected to be an affront to, or a slap in the face of, the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, who, the Yahapalanaya’s self-appointed national unity and reconciliation promoters led by Chandrika Bandaranaike wrongly believe, obstruct their aims.

The perennially repeated charge of Sinhalese Buddhist extremism which has become an article of  faith among misinformed or ill informed Sri Lanka watchers in the West is nothing more than a fabrication. But it forms the main plank of relentless anti-Buddhist propaganda that is necessary for the powers that be to destabilize the Sri Lankan state in pursuance of their own ends in the region. Pretending to bring in reconciliation where communities live in peace already only serves to create suspicion and spread hatred among them. The exaggerated media reports of alleged Buddhist extremism  filed in association with the ONUR project seem to have already led to some Face Book postings that are grossly insulting to Buddhism. According to the online lankacnews (August 31, 2018, the same day that the IFJ news report that provided the cue for this piece appeared in The Island newspaper) Ratnapura District MP Susantha Punchi Nilame made a written complaint to the IGP about an unprintably obscene FB post in Sinhala which was an obvious allusion to the Tooth Relic, an object of the deepest veneration in the whole Buddhist world. (Only the empty ‘Karanduwa’ or the casket, without the Relic, is carried on the back of the Maligawa Tusker during  the annual Kandy Esala Perahera. This year’s perahera had concluded a few days before the insulting post appeared in the FB. I myself didn’t see it, though).

Sri Lanka being a predominantly Buddhist country enjoys the highest level of freedom of religion. None respects and safeguards that freedom better than Buddhists. The followers of all religions in Sri Lanka have a right to protest against something that is deliberately insulting to the doctrine or to the founder of their particular religion. Buddhism is a universally acceptable moral philosophy which feels strong and secure enough to invite rational debate. It has no blasphemy laws. Insulting is not the same as rational criticism. It is absurd to describe Buddhist monks and organizations as extremist, fanatical, fundamentalist, etc when they raise objections to what are clearly insulting to Buddhism. Attacking, or conniving at attacks on, the Buddhist cultural roots of the country seems to be the done thing these days. The track records of the three political figures who directly or indirectly feature in this episode are not unknown to ordinary Sri Lankans, though the same could be a secret to the filers of the IFJ news report under discussion. All of them enjoy little credibility among the masses now.

So, the allegation that there is violent Buddhist extremism in Sri Lanka that threatens religious minorities is a complete lie that a plethora of certain very small fundamentalist Christian and Muslim extremist sects (richly funded from abroad) exploit to make disruptive inroads into the traditional religious space in the country, where the typically accommodating, non-violent Buddhist majority community (70% of the population) live in the greatest harmony with the mainstream Hindu (13%), Muslim (10%), and Christian (7%) minorities. So, if there is any religious extremism in Sri Lanka, it is due to the activities of these fanatical non-Buddhist minority sects (which are marginal to the mainstream Hindu, Muslim, and Christian religious entities). These groups are a threat to the Tamil Hindus, and mainstream Muslims and Christians as well. While I was writing this on August 31 itself after reading The Island Online, a piece of news reached me here in Australia, that would go towards supporting my observation that certain non-Buddhist extremist religious groups are active in Sri Lanka. An online ABC news channel (Riley Stuart and police reporter Mark Reddie) reported that a young Sri Lankan by the name of Mohamed Nizamdeen, aged 25, an employee (a contractor) of the University of New South Wales, was arrested by the officers of the NSW’s Joint Counter Terrorism Team (JCTT) at Kensington, in Sydney’s south-east and charged on Friday (August 31)” with possessing a blueprint to target several ‘symbolic’ Sydney locations”. Sensationally, his targets included former Liberal Party prime minister (2015-18) Malcolm Turnbull, and former minister of foreign affairs (2013-18) Julie Bishop from the same party. According to this source, Nizamdeen appeared in Waverly local Court where he was refused bail and the case was adjourned to October 24. It has now been revealed (Monday September 3) by the Australian authorities that the young suspected ISIS affiliate is a nephew of a cabinet minister of the Sri Lankan government.

This is a clear indication to the outside world that there could be other young supporters of Islamic terror groups in Sri Lanka. To ordinary Sri Lankans themselves this is not likely to be news. It is an incontrovertible fact that the majority Buddhists and the largest minority Hindus, together with the traditionally peaceful mainstream Christian and Muslim minorities, feel jittery in common about the activities of these fundamentalist sectarian groups. The Sri Lankan government security forces may be taking the necessary steps to control their activities if any, though they may be keeping things under wraps in the interest of their reconciliation drive. It is in reaction to the questionable activities of such fanatical groups that Buddhist monks and organizations, and corresponding Hindu priests and organizations (the latter as allies of the former, but less conspicuous due to the distraction caused by meaningless separatist politics) are raising concerns. Sinhalese politicians of the two main national parties (UNP and SLFP) have so far been vying with each other to win the votes of the minorities by trying to curry favour with them, often ignoring the legitimate concerns of the majority Sinhalese. It is the inaction of the successive governments in the face of the monks’ genuine concerns and protests that has exposed them to unfair charges of racism, fanaticism, chauvinism, etc.

Due to the machinations of the opportunistic minority politicians, minorities have now become largely anti-majority voter blocs. Since the SLFP has been totally assimilated into the UNP now, henceforth the central rivalry for power will be between the UNP and the SLPP (Pohottuwa). If politicos of these two major parties continue to pretend, as those of the UNP and the SLFP did in the past, to be more concerned about serving only the minorities, taking the majority community for granted despite their genuine grievances, Tamil and Muslim voters will, as usual, be intelligent enough to understand that politicians who ignore their own race cannot be genuinely interested in serving them, and choose to vote for their own ones, be they what they are, good or bad, sincere or dishonest. For once the Sinhalese electorate are going to vote to ensure their own survival at future elections. Since they are not racists, minorities don’t have to fear. They will choose to make common cause with the Sinhalese.

All fair minded Sri Lankans are waiting for a leader who is able to convince them, without resorting to the hypocritical policy of political correctness,  of their (i.e., his/her) commitment to serve them evenhandedly. The forces that want to destabilize the country for their own benefit will not like the emergence of such a leader. Most media channels also serve them through anti-Buddhist propaganda of the sort that the IFJ news report represents. Patriotic multiethnic Sri Lankans fervently hope that truth will finally prevail.

One Response to “IFJ BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE”

  1. Christie Says:

    The problem we Sinhalese have is we are not united.

    The other problem is we are poor compared to Indian parasites.

    India and Indian parasites managed to get hold of Banda in 1951 and destroy the Sinhalese.

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