| by Victor Cherubim
( April 27, 2012, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Two of the pervasive issues facing Sri Lanka at present are the preservation and restoration of the Buddhist heritage and cultural diversity. Working with one does not preclude understanding the other. Fostering Buddhism does not necessarily destroy the tolerance of cultural and religious diversity. The extent, to which an understanding of our honoured Buddhist tradition is increasingly recognised as essential to the conservation of other religious freedoms, is what is termed interdependence.
To explore this interdependence, is of course, intellectually engaging and socially compelling. Where better than the preservation of our heritage at Dambulla, to consider the multi-disciplinary issues, which this subject has raised.
To my mind not only can some of the most rewarding ideas emerge during this discussion but we can examine issues as complicated as multicultural diversity.
What is “political correctness?” Many will know during the term of office of Prime Minister Tony Blair in UK, almost everything that was done and professed as “politically correct” and acceptable of the norms of British life. Why? It was generally thought unacceptable to examine issues as complicated as race and religion, because it was not the “done thing.”It was too sensitive to consider what was an individual’s privacy and real life situation, in depth, for fear of offending somebody. The focus was on tolerance at all cost, and in theory imbuing what was the accepted norms of British society. We call it following the “joneses.”
However, in Sri Lanka, we have quite the opposite happening. Sri Lanka is not Britain.
Sri Lanka is a multi religious, multi-ethnic, democratic, socialist republic which allows the practice of all religions. We have allowed the Bible belt to proselytise. We have accepted tourists from around the globe to interact with our people, bringing home to us their own idiosyncrasies and practices. This cross fertilisation has gone even further; we have allowed and exported our labour to seek employment in the Middle East and elsewhere, who have returned to our country enriching the coffers of our foreign earnings, as well importing ways alien to us, all in the name of opening up Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka, Muslims comprise around 7% of our population, the second largest minority. They consist of two large segments, the Moors and the Malays. Recent events have left many Muslims wondering if they have any rights. Inflammatory statements have been broadcast far and wide making Muslims fear that their rights are not protected, that they are persecuted.
Prayer gives essential meaning to our daily lives. Muslims as per their tenets pray five times a day, for inner spiritual life. We, as Pope Benedict XVI states: “run the risk being suffocated by our many cares and concerns of daily existence. Prayer makes us see reality with new eyes and helps us to find our way in the midst of adversity.”
It is more than freedom to be allowed to pray in a mosque, as Muslims see reality with new eyes, with the eyes of their faith and the Almighty. In the silence and serenity of their places of worship they feel rightly united to their brothers and sisters and to Allah.
So what makes the mosque at Dimbulla so special?
Muslims have continuously prayed in this shrine since 1962. Dambulla is as sacred an area to them as it is to the Buddhists. Other examples of this situation are Ayodaya, in India, and Jerusalem in Israel and Palestine, over which much has been written and said. What is evident in all these scenarios is the hand of “divide and rule”.
The Government of Sri Lanka, we are informed is “consistently dedicated to monitor all freedoms, including the freedom of worship.” The Dambulla Sacred Area is to be developed, but no decision has been taken how this has to be done. We are told the Government will consult with all interested parties concerned.
Before any ruling has materialised, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) an ally in Sri Lanka’s ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) has been accused of duplicity in some quarters, for not quitting the coalition. General opinion by persons of all religious persuasions feel, those differences of opinion could and should be aired and resolved amicably in a spirit of friendly cooperation.
Political correctness is one aspect, political dissent is yet another. We are often reminded that political dissent is not countered by “discussion, dialogue or debate, but is confronted by white van abductions and involuntary disappearances.”
The media has its own agenda, whilst the Government has its agenda. There is no denying that the majority of people in Sri Lanka do not want to go back to war again after the 30 odd year conflict of fear.
In Britain today, Rupert Murdock, the media Mogul, is in the dock before the Levinson Inquiry. He has been brought before this tribunal for attempting to pervert the course of governments over time, through wire tapping by his media empire. He was allowed in the traditional British way, a long rope to hang himself, and as he has lost acquiring a controlling share of the BSkyB network, he has fallen foul of the present Cameron Government. Bu he is trying hard to taint it.
But what is at issue at present is that he may have failed in his mission to control the media circus, but he still has his aim in politically dividing and ruling Britain, by breaking up the United Kingdom.
Safeguarding peace in Sri Lanka is, however, more than an obligation of the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is a responsibility of his leadership not to allow, the media hype to divide our country, in any way. The tapestry of our cultural diversity and the restoration of our way of life and religious beliefs can never be compromised. The demands of long term preservation of Buddhism will understandably take precedence over the advantages of short term use.
( The writer is a freelance Journalist. He can be reached at email@example.com)