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Posts Tagged ‘Religious Intolerance’

Speak Up Before It Is Too Late

November 19, 2012 1 comment

I wrote an article the other day about religious intolerance around Asia and it prompted discussion both online and among friends. 

One of the interesting comments, which can also be seen on the article, was that I had been making “a mountain out of a mole-hill”. Now obviously I do not agree with this otherwise I would not have written the article in the first place. 

But I will admit that while religious violence in Sri Lanka is not a grave issue it certainly is something that is unfortunately sprouting up from time to time. Furthermore for those who live in the country would no doubt be aware of the growing sense that a section of the Buddhist population are looking to overshadow the other religions. 

Last Tuesday was Deepavali and when I was driving around the city in the morning I was treated to a sight of a temple hosting a Perahera. Now these are usually held back for Buddhist religious occasions  so I was a little confused as to why this priest decided to hold one on this day of all days. 

The fireworks and colourful celebrations seen in the Kovils was my answer celebrating Deepavali.

This is of course not the first time I have seen this. Last year on Christmas the temple near my house decided to hold a Perahera. Earlier this year before Easter, a section of Mount Lavinia was decorated with Buddhist flags.

So while religious violence is thankfully not a major issue in Sri Lanka, all signs are pointing towards a growing degree of dominance by the majority. I am not saying that all Buddhists in the country support this, or even the majority of them, I am saying that a section does. This needs to be countered and quickly otherwise we could open ourselves to situations as is seen in Pakistan and other such countries. 

The complaint of me making a mountain of a mole-hill reminded me of a quote by Martin Niemoller, a Pastor who opposed Adolf Hitler.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

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Intolerance towards religious intolerance

A few Friday’s back the media and activists in Sri Lanka was caught up in the “Dambulla Mosque” incident. For those who do not know, it basically saw a group of near a thousand, headed by the head priest of the Golden Temple, storm a mosque and demand its demolition. They claim it was built on sacred land, the Muslims claim it has been there for over 60 years and have deeds to prove their ownership.

I have seen the deeds and honestly they leave a few doubts over their legitimacy. On the other hand I do know that this “Mosque” has been in existence since 1960 odd and so I am left wondering after all these years why they have caused a stir now.  

Sri Lanka is supposedly a predominantly Buddhist country, one of the few in the world, so I think as a Buddhist we have plenty of land. Just let them keep this, they have done so all these years without inconveniencing anyone. Of course the Buddhist monk claims that there had been plans to turn this in to a proper mosque, it is now only a prayer hall. He says that as it is built on Temple Land his approval was needed, something which had not been sought after. 

Of course, he did not say this straight away. Instead he embarrassed himself, the religion and Sri Lanka as a whole by leading a mob reminiscent of the 1983 riots. He spoke with no class, abused a woman and threatened to tear the mosque down himself if it was down by Monday. 

The Muslim community in Sri Lanka, who I believe have suffered in silence, were finally awoken in anger. Protests spread with Ampara being shut down the next week due to a silent strike, the Muslim leaders finally united in a common cause (this was short-lived). Sri Lanka was urged internationally by our Muslim allies to settle the dispute quickly and peacefully. 

The dispute rages on and no solution seems in sight, with neither side budging on the topic. But what we now have is an issue of a growing “Buddhist Fanaticism”. The Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka are crawling out from the woodwork, demanding that “Buddhists in Sri Lanka remain protected”. I do not understand how Buddhists have been targeted, but according to these groups they have been.

On Monday a “protest” was held in Kalutara by the Buddhist Protection Foundation, no more than 50 people turned up. For a country that seems to enjoy protesting, this was a flop and a bad one at that. But what it did show, to my mind, is that people are sick of intolerance and disputes fought on religious or racial grounds. 

People from all sides of society have shown disgust towards the priest’s behavior in Dambulla, they do not seem to care that the Mosque is on temple land. In fact when the “Dambulla Mosque” incident is referred to, it seems most people know only of the priest’s behavior. 

With politicians looking to capitalize on this so-called Nationalistic sentiment, it is heartening to see fewer and fewer people being drawn in. A sign perhaps of changing times?

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