Un-holy happenings

Just when the people of this country thought the era of blood-letting was over with the defeat of the LTTE, last week's 'Holy War' in Beruwala among sections of Islam's followers came as a jolt. That it should be of grave concern to both, the followers of Islam and Government authorities cannot be under-stated. The immediate reason for the sectarian violence is chronicled in the opposite page by our reporters who visited the area.

The issue has been on the boil for sometime, but intelligence agencies -- focused on the Northern insurgency and southern anti-Government elements -- failed to spot this crisis coming. Equal culpability rests on the shoulders of politicians who claim to represent the Muslims of Sri Lanka, community elders, law enforcement authorities and the like for their inability to monitor the intra-religious tensions that eventually erupted in mayhem.

Usually, southern towns from Beruwala to Galle and even beyond where the Muslim and Sinhala people have lived side-by-side for generations have witnessed sporadic clashes, but these were few and far-between and were quickly brought under control. Last week's incident, however, seems far more deep-rooted, and both factions have sworn revenge, unofficially to our reporters.

It is a new phenomenon that has emerged; part of a global malaise between traditional religion and adventists - not only in Islam but other religions as well. Most Sri Lankan Muslims have assimilated into the mores of the multi-ethnic people of this country. These could be called Sri Lankan customs and traditions. Giving alms to the poor is one of them that cuts across religious divides where many Christians like Buddhists and Hindus engage in.

Muslims in non-Islamic nations have adapted themselves to the social fabric of such populations without having to make any demands on their religious beliefs. Sri Lanka deserves an era of peace and religious and racial tolerance after the gruelling encounter with separatists. Tolerance and sensibility must be the order of the day. This extends to all religions as the constant push and pull towards traditionalism and modernity -- the interpretation of the teachings in the 'Holy Book' in a puritan way - is likely to continue. It is when one tries to be over-bearing or self-righteous that things become difficult.
Despite the cockeyed accusations about Sri Lanka discriminating against the minorities deliberately, its pluralist and secular record is far better than many of its accusers.

Proselytization or unethical conversion by inducement is a real issue in this country, and the influence of foreign funding has not spared the old traditional religions. Sri Lanka must watch out that this fragile island-nation is not over-whelmed and turned into a bloody playground for the big bucks and bigotry as we see happening in many other countries around the world.

May all beings be happy!
With the conclusion of the three-decade-long Northern insurgency, questions are being raised as to what the media will focus on now. The recent exposure of the spiriting away of two baby elephants from their mothers and being taken to the holiest of Buddhist places of worship by those with influential connections, and backed by a Cabinet decision is, arguably not a bad start.

Not that the media ignored these issues previously. Last year, it was the media that exposed a surreptitious move by the minister to send a poor elephant to an ill-equipped zoo in freezing Armenia and the Supreme Court intervened and stopped the exercise thereafter. The latest move -- to remove these weaning baby elephants to the custody of the Dalada Maligawa and have them presented by the President to this hallowed temple after the conclusion of the historic Esala Pageant in Kandy -- is particularly repulsive due to the sheer inhumanity of the exercise.

It was announced that the move had Cabinet sanction. Cabinet sanction means very little these days. For one thing, ask any Cabinet minister and he or she will tell you that they don't know half the things they sanction - so many Cabinet Papers -- from extensions of terms of public servants to tender documents -- are put up. Then, however unkindly it may sound, there is a 'you scratch my back, I scratch yours' practice adopted. Thirdly, the Cabinet is so big that a minister at the far end sometimes doesn't even hear what's going on amidst the din of chatter when such 'routine' papers are passed. One would expect at least one minister to stand up and be counted, but these are rarities. Just the other day, there were reports of a non-Cabinet minister exchanging some prize birds from a zoo. Zoo authorities cried it was not a fair exchange, but these matters are swept under the carpet.

However, the Cabinet must take 'collective responsibility' for what has happened to these two baby-elephants, while the minister in charge, who has not learnt his lesson from the failed Armenia fiasco, must take direct responsibility.
The Diyawadana Nilame of the Sri Dalada Maligawa enters the scene officially -- after the media exposure -- to defend what has happened while the Most Venerable Mahanayake Theras of the Malwatta and the Asgiriya chapters are quick to issue a statement defending the whole exercise.

Statements issued by successive Mahanayake Theras have been the subject of public debate over the years. In their good natured way, they are well known to sign whatever statement is put before them by trusted aides, often contradicting themselves and thereby lowering the high esteem they are held in by the people.

Recently, it was a most venerable Mahanayake Thera who complained that the golden Buddha statues gifted by Thailand to the Temple of the Tooth were taken away (stolen) under the watch of the Diyawadana Nilame, only to withdraw the complaint later, and say all was well. To-date no proper inventory of the statues has been made available to the public.

The taking away of these baby-elephants has been roundly condemned by the public and one will have to rubbish feeble attempts to say that this is being done by anti-Buddhist elements. One of the most significant attributes of Buddhism has been the equating of animals to humans; "May All Beings be Happy" is what the Buddha said, which includes animals..
And, if we profess to be the Dhammadvipa we wish to pride ourselves in being, at least that one sublime teaching of the Great Teacher must be learnt, and practised.

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