Dambulla incident; President Rajapaksa being undermined by his own supporters?
Nationalism is one thing, Sinhala nationalism is another thing, and Sinhala chauvinism is yet another thing. When Buddha’s name and his Dhamma are misused by some who are a disgrace to the Buddha and his very teachings, and when such individuals mix their chauvinism and their brand of Buddhism, the resulting cocktail of hatred and violence could well become the straw that will break the reconciliation Camel’s back in Sri Lanka.
Some have stated that the Prime Minister of the country had an indirect or unwitting hand in escalating the despicable event that took place in Dambulla.
Others have written on this topic, so it is not the writer’s intention to revisit the incident. Suffice to say that several reports have given readers an impression that some elements within the ruling party had a direct or indirect hand in either creating or escalating this incident potentially explosive incident.
It is well to remember that in 1983, it took just one incident, the funeral of 13 slain soldiers, to ignite a despicable and horrendous bout of violence against the Tamils of Sri Lanka, an incident from which Sri Lanka is yet to recover.
It is also known that the violence of 1983 was not a spontaneous event, and that elements within the then government of President J R Jayewardene were responsible for directly or indirectly causing it. On that occasion, very sadly and unfortunately, President Jayewardene was virtually in hiding for 3 days, and failed to appeal to the perpetrators of that violence to stop their mayhem.
It took him 3 days to appear on TV, and when he did, it was not an appeal for calm that everyone expected. It was an excuse offered on behalf of those who were “angered” by what the LTTE had done to 13 soldiers. An understandable reaction, if not a legitimate reaction was what the leader told his people. President Jayewardene’s behavior on that occasion was as despicable as the mayhem he shielded.
If there is a lesson to be learnt from that event, it is that the leader of the country has to lead, and not be led by others. The leader is not for the Sinhalese or the Tamils or the Muslims. He/she is not there just for Buddhists or Islamists or Christians. He/She is there for everybody and has to do the right thing by everyone, not what is convenient for some.
On this occasion, while not wishing to blow this incident out of proportion, this wrier agrees with what Dr Laksiri Fernando has stated in his Asian Tribune article titled “The government must apologise to the Muslim community” (AT 30th April).
In this article he states “The violent mob attack on the Dambulla Muslim Mosque in the presence of the Police on 20 April is a serious event that can ignite communal disharmony in the country, including open violence, if the government fails to apologise to the Muslim community and take appropriate action to thwart the efforts by communal elements among its own ranks to create rift and mischief”.
President Rajapaksa has since met the SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem, and assured the Muslim community through the SLMC leader that he will not allow this incident to go out of hand, and a mutually acceptable solution will be found for the core issue that allegedly sparked this incident.
As far as this writer is concerned, this is not enough.
President Rajapaksa must assert himself as the leader of all Sri Lankans, and put a decisive stop to this high handed activity on behalf some political leaders, Buddhist priests, and other thugs who are undermining the Presidents efforts to build a just society where all communities can live as equals and in dignity.
If his own Prime Minister is even remotely associated with this incident, and this writer is not saying he is, he should be brave enough to remove the Prime Minister from office as reconciliation will be dealt a serious blow if any government element, and one holding as high an office as the Prime Minister, is allowed to continue unscathed for failing to stop the ugly incident.
President Rajapaksa must learn a lesson from the follies of J R Jayewardene, and what that single incident did to the entire country. The mayhem of 1983 has distanced many Tamils and their children from what used to be their country.
While one may argue about the rights and wrongs that various Tamil Diaspora groups are engaged in, it cannot be denied that more than any other incident, 1983 caused many Tamils to adopt the stand they have taken since.
The Sinhala Buddhist community in Sri Lanka may have issues to take up with the Muslim community and their leaders. However, they cannot be taken up or resolved in the manner that some elements did in Dambulla. Sri Lanka simply cannot have another 1983.
Besides ruining all efforts being taken by President Rajapaksa to promote reconciliation between all communities, a Muslim backlash against Sri Lanka will have far reaching implications that will make the Tamil backlash look something like a Kindergarten play.
Those stupid elements, some suspected to be from the ruling coalition, and some, supposedly “enlightened” Buddhist clergy, should consider the plight of the country if more than 1 million Sri Lankans employed in the Middle East are expelled from oil rich Middle Eastern countries and asked to return to Sri Lanka.
Reports of the increasing deterioration of law and order in Sri Lanka where the rich and powerful interpret what law means, and the impotency of the political leadership and the law enforcement authorities to arrest this decline, appear to be placing the common man, as ordinary citizens who are neither rich nor powerful are referred to, in a helpless situation.
If that common man happens to be from a minority community, that helplessness is probably further aggravated leaving many to contemplate how they could safeguard their rights as human beings equal to all other human beings in the country.
The current situation may not be as dire as this. It can however get to that unless racially or religion based issues are not nipped even before they come to the bud stage.
The pre 1983 and post 1983 situation is a good example of not nipping situations in the bud, and what happens when leaders do not lead and become pawns in the hands of extreme elements.
If Sri Lanka wishes to be what the President wants it to be, it cannot have room for extreme elements from within any community. This includes such elements from within the Sinhala Buddhist community, even if they are either part of the ruling coalition or supporters of the ruling coalition.
The Dambulla issue has to be resolved peacefully and in dignity. There is probably more to this than what meets the eye. However, whatever the history of this issue is and the politics of it is, there is no doubt that Lord Buddha would have had a benevolent and a happy smile on his face if he were able to witness communities from different religious persuasions having their places of worship in the same compound and each place of worship spreading the message of loving kindness to all human beings.
- Asian Tribune -