April 27, 2020

Peace and community harmony in Sri Lanka today:

- Dr Rifai  -

           This deadly corona virus has united all Sri Lankan communities. It gives us great pleasure and happiness to see different Sri Lankan communities are sharing and caring in this difficult time. It is lovely to see Buddhist temples are distributing food parcels to all Sri Lankan communities without any discrimination. It is wonderful to see mosques distributing food parcels to all Sri Lankan communities without any social discrimination. Likewise, it is pleasing to see churches are distributing food parcels to all communities without any discrimination.  It is also pleasant to see that Hundi temples are distributing food parcels to all Sri Lankan communities without any discrimination based on religion or caste. It is very much pleasing to see a young Buddhist monk ventures to help many poor tea plantation Tamil families in upcountry areas of Sri Lanka. It is wonderful to see all Sri Lankans come together in this difficult time. Humanism has prevailed over our racial or religious differences in this critical time. Different faith groups and their leaders have come together to work as one community to address the challenges of this deadly virus.

                Moreover, on the eve of Eastern Sunday attack remembrance anniversary, many religious leaders from different faith groups came forward to condemn the brutal Easter Sunday attack on some Sri Lankan churches by some fanatic Muslim radicals. We are very much pleased to see Sri Lankan brotherhood and the national identity among all communities are blossoming in the air in Sri Lankan soil. Many religious leaders are working hard to build a strong unity among all Sri Lankan community. They all acknowledge there is no place for hatred and animosity in this modern world. Although, some media out lets and politicians are trying to sabotage this good initiative by interfaith groups, yet, people are supporting these good initiatives by religious leaders and interfaith groups. 

             Sri Lanka is one of rare countries that has been blessed with multicultural and multi religious communities in the world. This diversity in culture, faith and tradition beautifies our cultural heritage. Moreover, it enhances our regional and international relation with many countries in the world. This diversity gives us more advantages and benefits culturally, politically and economically. Having four different religions in our Island is like having four types of flowers in a bouquet. Each flower gives different fragrances and yet when all are combined in one place it creates more aromatic setting. Likewise, our difference and diversity are an asset for this nation and yet, we do not recognize this due to our ignorance and lack of knowledge in world religions.  We should gauge our cultural diversity from these positive perspectives rather than evaluating from negative perspectives. We should recognize different of cultures and religions are complementary not contradictory.  Yet, each religious group are competing one another rather than mutually cooperating.  There should not be any attempt to convert people from one religion into another religion by force by any groups rather we should develop a sense of mutual understanding and cooperation between all 4 religious people to work for the integrity  and the welfare of this nation. 

             We should see the cultural diversity as one of positive social phenomena. With the diversity in culture, religion and traditions we should build a strong Lankan identity. Look at Singapore or Malaysia.  Different ethnic and religious groups live side by side without any problems and they managed to build up their national Identity. Singaporeans and Malaysians try to build their national identity beyond all their cultural or religious identity. Toady in major world cities like that of London or Washington hundreds of different ethnic and cultural groups live. This is the socio--economic reality of global village of our modern world. This socio-economic and communal interaction is unprecedented in human history. This is the reality today in our modern world and there is no other way to cope with this multicultural environment other than learn to live in peace and social harmony. There is no point in engaging in cross-cultural arguments and debate to widening the gap between communities. Please leave all those dogmatic and theological debates for experts and academics to discuss and debates. That is why we have some of the best universities and religious places in Sri Lanka. Let the experts in religious traditions discuss and debate all those differences in religion and culture. Do not bring those debates into public domains to confuse innocent people. To speak for religion or on behalf of any religion, the speakers must have some solid academic knowledge and religious training and yet, today in Sri Lanka anyone could speak for religion to spread misconception about any religion. This is unavoidable in this modern digital world. Anyone could pick up wrong information from Sheikh google or from any other unauthenticated sources of information. The Sri Lankan government has not yet introduced some strict laws on religious discrimination and hate speech. Outdated rules of law on religious freedom would not be enough today, it is high time that Sri Lankan government introduces some strict laws on this matter. Otherwise, it would be difficult to build a strong Sri Lankan national identity among Sri Lankan communities.  

        This corona virus has taught us that humanity is one. It did not discriminate between royal and poor families; it did not discriminate between rich and poor. It did discriminate between Muslims and Buddhists. It did not discriminate between Muslims and Hindus. All human species suffer today due to this invisible virus. This deadly virus sends a powerful message to humanity. It tells us to share and care one another. It tells us to live as one human family on earth. If we do not do that, we could bring a self-destruction on us. 

               Security and peace are most important elements for the prosperity and development in our modern world.  We do not have to be rocket scientists to know this elementary common sense in this modern world. Whoever sabotage peace and communal harmony should be punished in the greater national interest of Sri Lanka. I do not say this in any communal line rather I am saying this as a Sri Lankan.  It could be a Muslim groups or Buddhist group or any other groups. It is not in the interest of Sri Lanka to promote radicalism or extremism. All kinds of extremisms are detrimental for the long-term stability and development of this nation. So, Sri Lankan government must take actions against all these radical groups. The Sri Lankan government has had experience of dealing with JVP and LTTE so, it should not hesitate to punish any radical group. Yet, the government must do this impartially. 
           Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays, Christians have been living peacefully in Sri Lanka for hundreds of years. There is no point in arguing who came first and who came last to Sri Lanka.  Such arguments would not benefit Sri Lanka at all. It is an undisputable reality today there are more than four different religious groups live in Sri Lanka.  Even before colonial powers invaded Srilanka, different ethnical & cultural ethnic groups were living in Sri Lanka in peace and harmony:  All these communities are closely interacted one another in many ways: in their work places, industries, paddy fields, business places, offices and in other working environments. This is the reality of day to day life of our communities in Sri Lanaka: In all most all cities and townships, we see that all these communities live together side by side: Tamils live next to Sinhalese and Muslims , Sinhalese live to next Muslims and Tamils.  Muslims live next to both communities: each community participate in each other’s social- cultural events such as wedding ceremonies, festivals, birthday parties, funerals and other social events: each community share their happiness and sadness one anther. In festival seasons, foods and sweets are exchanged between Sri Lankan communities.  People in many other countries do not have such close-tied relationship between communities. Look at some African countries people are fighting hundreds of years on tribal and ethnic disputes:  Thanks to God we do not fight like that in Sri Lanka. Fortunately, Sri Lanka does not have any caste-divide as we see in India or some other African countries. 

        Although Sri Lankan communities have different linguistic, cultural and religious entities, socially they all have close interaction one another.  Each community depends on others to meet necessities of day to day life. Muslims in large cities of Kalmunai and Kartharnkudi depend on Tamil builders and carpenters to build their houses and shops: In same way, Muslims in the South depend on Sinhalese builders & carpenters to build their houses: Likewise, Muslims traders depend on Sinhalese to trade their goods: I know many Muslim retailers go to village to village in Sinhalese areas to sell their goods: Similarly, many Sinhalese traders come to Muslims villages to sell their goods. In the same way, In Tamil areas Muslim lands are cultivated by Tamils and Tamils farmers are trading with Muslims.  I recall these events to illustrate close social interaction of our communities in Sri Lanka. This is the social reality of our communities in Srilanka:   To this extent communities are so closely interacted in Sri Lanka. This is one of the uniqueness of Sri Lanka inter-communal relationship.   A Sense of humor, kindness, love and helping mentality is inherent in the mind and heart of majority of our Sri Lankan Communities. During the Tsunami we have seen this unity and sense of humor and humanism. We have seen this feeling brotherhood many times in Sri Lankan history. Communities are ready to share and care in difficult times and yet, some politicians try to make use of divide and rule policy to make some political mileage.  We should think first and foremost as human beings beyond our colour, ethnicity, language and religion. We may have different faith and different ethnic and linguistic back ground but one thing unites all of us that that is first and foremost we are human being and we all belong to human race and humanity and unfortunately we all forget to note this fundamental fact that unites us all. In addition to this we all hail from Sri Lanka and our Lankan identity should unite us all. No way could we live in a water-tight compartment in this modern world. Whether we like or not we all are depended on one another for our material needs today. Jaffna Tamil need Sinhalese in South to sell the agricultural products.
 We do not appreciate the beauty and richness of our multi-ethnic and cultural heritage in Sri Lanka. Each community learns a lot from other community’s culture, custom, tradition and way of life: Having different ethnical and religious groups is not detrimental for social and economic development of any country in modern world: Each community should  help and support socio-economic developments of the country: If we are true patriotic Sri Lankans , we all should first and foremost think as Sri Lankans, beyond our ethnic, cultural and linguistic entity:  The national interest of Sri Lanka should be given preference over ethnical and cultural preference: in another word: We all should think first as Sri Lankan then we should consider our ethnicity and cultural entity:  this does not mean that each community assimilate into one community rather each preserves its own religious identity and yet works for the goodness of Sri Lanka.   Be a true Buddhist or be a true Hindu or be a true a Muslim at the same time we all think as Sri Lankans: We should be proud to be Sri Lankans: We should work hard to develop our country collectively.   Unfortunately, since the independence all our Srilankan communities have been living in water-tight compartments: Each community gave preference to its ethnicity over the national interests: Sinhalese nationalism, Tamil nationalism and Muslim exclusionism began to flourish in Sri Lanka: Even political parties were formed merely on the basis of ethnic interests over national interest. Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese political parties were formed exclusively to work on communal line: This trend has not only damaged national interest and development but indeed, such communal thinking has been a challenge for peace and harmony in Sri Lanka. Moreover, such exclusive mentality and social attitude is detrimental in many ways:  Many times, such social attitudes end up in social prejudice and discrimination. I hope and pray that politicians, civil servants and policy makers think about this carefully when they make policies in this this cultural social environment of Sri Lanka. 

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