Vesak, celebrated by the Buddhist world and marked by the United Nations due to the efforts of a Sri Lankan Christian Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, is being observed in this country in a sombre way this year. The reverberations from the Easter Sunday multiple bombings on churches and hotels still resonate throughout the country; the [...]


Metta in a violent world


Vesak, celebrated by the Buddhist world and marked by the United Nations due to the efforts of a Sri Lankan Christian Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, is being observed in this country in a sombre way this year.

The reverberations from the Easter Sunday multiple bombings on churches and hotels still resonate throughout the country; the Government trying desperately to avoid more mayhem by those responsible for the April 21 attacks. Compounding matters is the ensuing ethno-religious tension that has taken a different turn.

Life, in general, has been re-calibrated from one of peace and tranquility to the bad old days of not so long ago when terrorism of a different kind prevailed. What was meant to be a joyous occasion for the Christian and Catholic population last month turned into a horrific bloodbath. The natural fury and emotion running through many that could have set off a violent reaction was checked by the intervention of the ‘men of the cloth’. It was not a ‘tooth for a tooth’ response that was needed, they said, it was to ‘forgive them for they know not what they do’.

Over the past three weeks, the simmering anger has taken twists and turns. Rascals using social media, transmitting messages that even the best of the citizenry was lapping up, was fuel to the embers of the Easter incidents. Elements who take advantage of such situations, no different to what happened in 1983, were out on the streets again.

Sporadic cases of arson, instilling fear among a minority community, painting them with one brush and turning them against the majority are not just the anti-thesis of what the Buddha and Christ taught, but bear the fingerprints of deep-rooted, more complicated schisms of domestic and international forces at play.

There are the fake nationalists, who want to profit from the carnage and are ready to wade through slaughter to achieve their objectives. Then there are the international vultures waiting to pick on the remains, exploiting sectarian and religious differences.

If the West was the midwife to the birth of the religious radicalisation in West Asia, it is an irony that it is this same West that is needed now to keep track of that very radicalisation that has taken root in countries outside West Asia. It has become Hobson’s choice for countries like Sri Lanka that have got enveloped in the process.

Even former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa conceded that during his time, he had sent senior military intelligence officers to the United States to be trained in information gathering on this radicalisation process, including monitoring their activities in cyberspace.  A former US envoy to Sri Lanka who has been blamed for spearheading the US sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in Geneva — which accuses the Sri Lankan Armed Forces of violating International Human Rights laws during the Rajapaksa era for the way it crushed LTTE terrorism — now praises the same Rajapaksa administration for having had technocrats who kept tabs on terrorists from West Asia.

Probably, he does not know that troops asked to flush out the ‘radicalised terrorists’ and the cop on the street maintaining law and order against marauding mobs are muttering under their breath that they may have to “Go to Geneva”, a reference to the UNHRC resolution against them for acting against terrorists.

Horror stories have been reported from Europe that records found among ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria as their ‘Caliphate’ falls apart, refer to the “killing of infidel venture capitalists, hacking banks, robberies” etc., to fund their “special operations” and the setting up of a “bureau of foreign relations” for attacks abroad. These chilling documents speak both of “lone wolf” hits as well as coordinated ones following the atrocities in a concert hall in Paris in 2015, and the mowing down of pedestrians along the Hudson River in Manhattan, New York in 2017.

These records say ISIS ‘soldiers’ will send fighters across borders however much they are policed by intelligence agencies. All this raises the question of who is ahead of whom in the cowardly war perpetrated by both sides – the West dropping bombs from drones against the “radicalised” terrorists with severe collateral damage on innocent civilians, or the manic suicide bombers who target places of worship of ‘non-believers’ with similar devastating effect on innocent civilians.

As much as the Government’s security and intelligence agencies let the whole country down on Easter Sunday, and the politicians, typically, indulged in the blame game (at least the Prime Minister eventually accepted a share of the responsibility, but it may have been to further embarrass the President), it is a fact that a vast majority of Sri Lankans abhor violence.

Yet, it is a fact that deep-seated mistrust, suspicion, bad mouthing in private circles and under-currents persist amidst the façade of apparent normalcy.

This is not necessarily exclusive to Sri Lanka. It exists in countries that love to preach to others, often through NGOs funded by their Treasuries. Amnesty International won this week’s prize for calling upon Sri Lankans to behave after some shops and a mosque were cindered and ‘transitional justice’ while the West was indulging in “Hellfire’ attacks on the ‘Caliphate’.

The Cardinal got it right. He said that after Wor War II, the arms industry that nourishes the West brought the wars away from Europe to our parts of the world. (ISIS is taking it back to Europe now). How seriously will what His Eminence says be taken by the arms merchants and the Governments of the West is the question when the Pope who echoes the same sentiments is not.

At least Sri Lanka’s clergy have banded together. And it is good that minority political parties are doing some introspection. Notwithstanding the inherent contradiction of a Minister from the south saying that Sri Lanka is not a Buddhist country, when the Cardinal himself says it is, it was heartening to see the high priests (Mahanayakes) of the Buddhist clergy asking politicians not to throw straw to existing fires, and reiterating that though the ‘Sinhala Buddhist nation’ is divided on caste, language and religious lines, it has been influenced over the centuries by the teachings of the Buddha to co-exist peacefully with all.

Emperor Ashoka who re-introduced Buddhism to India, despite the horrors committed at Nalanda, the world’s oldest residential university, ensured his empire was eventually ruled by social and moral codes based on the Buddha’s teachings. It was not a theological realm, but one that respected all religions and all living beings – even birds and animals. That is a thought on this Vesak day.


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