The Sunday Leader

Use And Abuse Of Religion And Nationalism

The conflict of intertwined forces of nationalism and religion with similar opposing forces has been the cause of many horrendous wars during the last millennium. These unfortunate conflicts keep repeating themselves in varying degrees and last week we witnessed the flaring of one such incident at Dambulla which the government commendably doused out soon.
The conflicts of different nationalisms—quite often intertwined with religion— are of global occurrence and right now the Middle East is a powder keg with devastating potential.
Marxists – now a near extinct variety— will recall nonchalantly the dictum of their prophet, Karl Marx: Religion is the Opium of the People. Others will quote Samuel Johnson on Patriotism being the last refuge of the scoundrel. We know that these observations are not universal in their application. There are billions of religious adherents who are not made insensate by their religious convictions and quite a lot of people who love their country and would not fall into the category of scoundrels of Samuel Johnson.
But it has to be admitted that there are hundreds of exceptions who exploit religion and nationalism for promoting their demagoguery. The potential demagogues lie dormant in our society and the country saw them on TV last week attempting to destroy what they described as a Muslim place of worship that they claimed had come up illegally on land belonging to the historic Dambulu Viharaya.
Certainly any person has a right to protest if an unauthorised structure has come up in a religious site dear to him. But in this day and age there are ways in which protests can be launched and buildings if they are illegal removed from the places that they should not be in.  But the scenario at Dambulla was a mob led by a Buddhist monk demanding that the construction be destroyed. Had the government officials and police not been able to avert the threat and convinced demonstrators that the problem would be resolved after due inquiries there could have been incalculable consequences.
At a time when learning political lessons are in vogue it appeared that some of the bitter lessons learnt  commencing from the communal riots of 1958, the 1983 Black July (the consequences of which we are still suffering)and the resulting terrorist war, we seem to have forgotten.
It is undeniable that Sri Lanka is today in the dock in the court of world opinion for violation of human rights and the ‘patriots’ are aflame on the accusations that are levelled against them by world leaders and the international media. The TV footage from Dambulla with a monk leading the demonstrators would have been manna from heaven to those waiting to sling mud at Sri Lanka.
No doubt this TV coverage will be used to substantiate the allegation of suppression of religious freedom in this country.
Today everybody who is somebody and even nobodies who get on to public platforms breakout into the refrain that Sri Lanka is a multi racial, multilingual, multi religious country. But to the world beyond our shores this seems to be empty rhetoric as seen from what happened at Geneva recently. The majority, the Sinhalese should do their utmost to protect the interests of minorities and minorities too should join and help to build this multiracial society.
Where religious minorities are concerned care should be taken by them not to provide opportunities for rabid communalists to exploit the situation. While the freedom of worship extends to those of all faiths, irritants to other communities should be avoided.
The blasting of loudspeakers to insufferable volumes, the construction of places of worship at sites which would obviously cause resentment and result in protests is not the best way to promote communal amity. It could be argued that such acts would not in the strict sense contravene the law but for peace and harmony in a community the best principle to follow is, to live and let live.
Undesirable situations do arise when such actions which grate on the feelings of the majority community are made. The construction of a mosque— a few blocks away from Ground Zero where the two towering structures of the World Trade Centre stood—created a furore not only in New York but among a widespread section of Americans who were infuriated by Osama bin Laden’s mass orgy of murder and mayhem.
It is a credit to the American political system that the construction of this structure was not stopped upholding the principle of the freedom of worship guaranteed in the American constitution.
Paradoxically, the bellicose acts committed in the name of religions are quite contrary to what the founders of these great religions like the Buddha and Christ taught. The Buddha did not claim that he was a Buddhist nor did Christ call himself a Christian. But to the demagogues, the names of these great founders are cannon fodder for their vile purposes.
It is a sad reflection on the retrogression of Sri Lankan society that Muslims who lived on the coast as traders during Portuguese and Dutch times were persecuted to the extent that they had to flee into the kingdoms of the Kandyan kings. King Senerath and Rajasinghe 11 settled them down in the Eastern Province, which they now claim as their traditional homeland.

11 Comments for “Use And Abuse Of Religion And Nationalism”

  1. Guzban

    Why is there no article on this incident in the Leader this week? This is arguably a turning point in Sri Lankan history, where the seed of future atrocities has been planted. While destroying a mosque belonging to a mere 8% minority would be an easy thing for a monk led mob of 2000, we would do well to remember that the majority buddhist and the muslim community have lived in harmony for over 1000 years and on every occasion, the muslim minority has been with the state and even as late as last week it is at the behest of the representatives of these groups that the Arab world voted with us when even India (where Buddhism was imported from) voted against us.

  2. P.L.J.B.Palipana

    The EDITOR;
    I personally can’t accept the last two paragraphs of this article. there are historical evidence tha the MUSLIMS landed to the EASTERN province before fore thousands years. THANKS!!!

  3. lanka

    We have to be thankful to the muslim community since the muslims have stood by sri lanka no matter what. During all the terrible years of the LTTE war it is due to the muslims, indian tamils, catholics and burghers standing by sri lanka no matter what that the LTTE could not prevail nor the western countries terrible plans not succeed to divide sri lanka. I for one as a sinhalese buddhist is thankful for this. Even very recently at the UNHRC it is due to the muslim countries votes amongst others that sri lanka prevailed when the the western countries tried to do everything possible to harass and demonise sri lanka. So as sinhalese buddhists we should be thankful to the muslims, indian tamils, catholics, burghers for standing by sri lanka no matter what. What does it matter where a mosque is built? If there is a sizable muslim community in Dambulla, they need a mosque to worship. It is very good that the govt has stepped in and said they will build a mosque elsewhere for the muslims to worship. It should happen soon. we sinhalese buddhists should not make mountains out of molehills. Besides buddhists and muslims have lived in harmony in sri lanka forever. It is interesting that the terrible western media as usual has blown this out of all proportion simply to tarnish sri lankas image yet again. Buddhists should live in harmony in brotherhood with the muslims. I personally dont care where this mosque is built whether on so called sacred ground or not. In Kataragama, hindu, buddhist, and islamic places of worship are all built at the same sacred ground, ditto at ambuluwawa and even near dalada maligawa there are hindu, buddhist temples and a church on the same sacred grounds. Anyway if people dont like it the mosque can be built elsewhere but there must and should be a mosque built for the muslims to worship as a matter of urgency.

    Besides I am a sinhalese buddhist realise that muslims are an immportant sector of sri lanka society comprising 10% of the sri lankan population. They are not a mare minority. We should note this fact as sinhalese buddhists and act accordingly.

  4. King Senerath and Rajasinghe 11 settled them down in the Eastern Province, which they now claim as their traditional homeland.

    Please note that these people who were settled by King Senarath were done so after successfully defending the Kandyan kingdom against the invaders without whom there would have been no kingdom at all. The thousands of acres of land in Kandy and around Kandy were given to the muslim valiant fighters for that reason. He also settled them in the east as a buffer to fight for him and protect him and his kingdom and not for joy.They have all the rite to claim what they want as the people who defended the kingdom when others were proven cowards to face the foreign invaders. Your misconception will be corrected soon with a paper I am preparing with facts and figures.

  5. Justiceseeker

    This article is a pathetic attempt at justifying the attack on the Muslim place of worship while halfheartedly throwing some criticism at the perpetrators. There is more subtle and overt disingenuous criticism of local and overseas Muslims of alleged provocative action “which grate on the feelings of the majority community”. To add some embellishment he brings in a historical half truth that has become the mantra of the Sinhala supremacists to belittle any assertion by Muslims of their rights as citizens of this country.

  6. Shaik Anwar Ahamath

    We could do well to take a leaf out of UK books. Despite being the mother of Christianity, religious freedom there is paramount. The extent of Christian involvement in government is a seat in the House of Lords (the 2nd chamber of government) for the head. The influence from here is rather limited. However, if a lowly Buddhist monk has enough influence to lead a mob of 2000 and destroy another religion’s place of worship, it is time to think again of the role of the Buddhist priests in the running of our country.

  7. Malin

    Your last para of the editorial has created a non-existant Traditional HOMELAND for Muslims also?

  8. Use And Abuse Of Religion And Nationalism

    “CHANGES introduced to some of the religious systems and introducing UNIVERSAL religious system” – Book (2009 December -Authorhouse)

    Please read this book. If there is a Tsunamy or a big problem,all will go to some other place. If there is a big problem with “Sun” on 21.12.2012 in World, then what will happen ?. “CHANGES,UNIVERSAL,RELIGIOUS,etc are problems.This is not a JOKE. Some “Politics” people or religious people are good but some are very bad. Please read this book to all “Religious men” in Dambula in Sri Lanka.

  9. vintage voter


  10. Razmi

    Wow, are you writing or twisting the history (settled in the EP in such mass…!):
    “It is a sad reflection on the retrogression of Sri Lankan society that Muslims who lived on the coast as traders during Portuguese and Dutch times were persecuted to the extent that they had to flee into the kingdoms of the Kandyan kings. King Senerath and Rajasinghe 11 settled them down in the Eastern Province, which they now claim as their traditional homeland”.

  11. kudu

    abuse of religion at Elie House park
    clasic example
    Colombo mayor powerless
    CMC workers ignore his orders to stop building temple inside Elie House Park

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