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96 university teachers demand release of Hejaaz Hizbullah…

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A group of 96 university teachers has called for the release of Hejaaz Hizbullah and Ahnaf Jazeem,. They have, in a statement titled, ‘A call to action against the detention of Hejaaz Hizbullah and Ahnaf Jazeem, anti-Muslim violence, and attacks on democracy’, asked for a ‘halt to undemocratic actions by government actors, a repeal of the PTA and other laws that are contrary to the principles of democracy, and ask that the public demand accountability”.

The full text of the statement: “Decades of majoritarian politics, and the more recent descent towards authoritarianism and militarisation, have eroded the foundations of our democracy. They have numbed us to the violence in our daily lives and desensitised us to how sections of our citizenry are targeted. Over a year has passed since Hejaaz Hizbullah and Ahnaf Jazeem were arrested, and they remain imprisoned to date.

“On April 14, 2020, human rights and constitutional lawyer Hizbullah was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and detained under Section 9 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for over 10 months. At the time of arrest, his alleged crimes were “aiding and abetting” one of the Easter Sunday bombers. It later transpired that he represented the family in two land cases. He is now being charged with speech related offences under Section 2(1)(h) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Section 3(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act. These are based on statements made by minors to the CID, which the children maintain they were coerced and threatened to make.

“On May 16, 2020, the Police Counter Terrorism Investigation Division (CTID) arrested Jazeem, a poet and teacher from Mannar, on allegations that his book Navarasam contained “extremist ideas” and that he taught “extremism” to students. A review of the poems by an “expert panel” of psychiatrists, some with university affiliations, makes vague claims about the potential of the book to incite violence, hatred, and suicidal thoughts. Their report fails to provide the basis or justification for these judgments and even says that there were two discrepant sets of translations (Sinhala and English from the original Tamil)at their disposal, which fact should have called the entire operation into question. Contrary to the allegations of the CTID, recent translations reveal that the poems were deeply critical of violence.

“Hizbullah’s arrest and continued detention is an attack on the rights of lawyers and the rule of law. Jazeem’s arrest and continued detention without charge represents, in addition, an attack on the freedom of expression and pluralism, and a broader war on ideas. As can be seen from the progress of the two cases, the rights of Hizbullah and Jazeem have been clearly violated, and questionable tactics have been and continue to be used to manufacture the cases against them. In custody, their basic needs for health and safety have been neglected.

“The incarceration of Hizbullah and Jazeem occurs in the backdrop of highly organised anti-Muslim mobilisations designed to stigmatise and isolate Muslim communities. Violence and intimidation continue, bolstered by the government’s complicity in these acts in the name of “national security”. In March 2021, the Minister of Public Security announced plans to shut down 1,000 madrasa schools and ban the burqa. A month later, the Cabinet approved the ban on all forms of face veils in public spaces, and, in May, the Deputy Director of Customs announced that any Islamic religious texts brought to the country must be cleared by the Ministry of Defence. These actions further criminalise one for being Muslim and are an assault on our democratic freedoms.

“Anti-Muslim sentiments guide the state COVID-19 response as well. Last year, at the height of the pandemic, the Ministry of Health adopted a mandatory cremation policy for the COVID dead, despite WHO guidelines to the contrary. The policy was backed by “experts”, including those from universities, citing unsubstantiated public health concerns, with crass disregard for the strongly followed religious tradition among Muslims of burying their dead. Today, burials are permitted, but restricted to a Muslim-populated area – Ottamavadi, Batticaloa –signalling that only Muslims must contend with the albeit unlikely threat from their dead. The burial issue was only one of the more flagrant of attempts to weaponise the pandemic against Muslims. The state machinery, through statements and actions of doctors, PHIs, politicians, military personnel, and state-controlled media pushed a narrative of Muslims as super-spreaders.

“These trends are not new. They are a continuation of heightened violence against Muslims that spans a decade. Starting in 2012,organised attacks on mosques and demonstrations against Muslims, including an anti-Halal campaign, culminated in horrific acts of violence, including the Aluthgama and Digana riots. In parallel, highly politicised campaigns have targeted Muslim individuals; for instance, Dr.Shafi Shihabdeen was arrested on false allegations of forced sterilisation, and activist Ramzy Razeek was detained for condemning the anti-Muslim witch-hunt post Easter Sunday bombings. Unlike the zeal with which these cases are pursued, state institutions responsible for ensuring public safety have failed to prevent anti-Muslim violence, and no one has been held accountable so far.

“The targeting of Muslims occurs in a context of increasing authoritarianism and militarisation which have served to weaken democratic institutions. We have witnessed the remanding of former Director, CID, Shani Abeysekera, who had investigated high-ranking officials and politicians, author Shaktika Sathkumara, for purportedly anti-Buddhist writings, and many others. The PTA is wielded as a tool of politicisation and arbitrary power, alongside the Emergency Regulations and the ICCPR Act. They are deployed in majoritarian campaigns against minorities, to attack those opposed to the regime in power, and crush dissent, casting doubt on state institutions and the judicial system.

“Academics are mandated to exercise and safeguard free speech and expected to confront and question the excesses of those in power. As members of public higher educational institutions, we must support and amplify the voices of the marginalised. Having learned from the devastation caused by uneven justice, majoritarian politics, and racist rhetoric, and knowing the insecurity and fear that some of our citizens live with on a daily basis, we must resist these attacks. We believe that allowing these actions to continue with impunity implicates us all.

“We, the undersigned, as members of the academic community, demand the immediate release of both Hizbullah and Jazeem, and call attention to the fact that their arrests have taken place in a context of unrelenting anti-Muslim mobilisations that are tearing our social fabric apart. We are deeply worried about the continuing deterioration of the criminal justice system and the institutional decay it more broadly signals, as these developments are also symptomatic of a gradual hollowing out of the democratic bases of society. We, therefore, call for a halt to undemocratic actions by government actors, a repeal of the PTA and other laws that are contrary to the principles of democracy, and ask that the public demand accountability. Finally, we call on the greater academic community to broaden this struggle to ensure that we fulfil our mandate and exercise our academic freedom in the pursuit of democracy and justice for all.”



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Cabraal says Central Bank will guide markets

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ECONOMYEXT – Sri Lanka’s central bank will guide markets and deploy monetary tools mindful of repercussions, and guide markets in turbulent times, newly appointed Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal said last week.

“The policy measures must be taken,” Cabraal told a forum of senior central bankers and finance officials after taking office as Governor for the second time on September 15.

“There are no short cuts. Sometimes there are tough policy measures to be taken.

“When we take policy measures there are always repercussions from another side. Sometimes if you do not take those policy measures you meander along.”

“When a tool is used, and one area is getting cured, it can emerge as a problem in another area,”

“It is not easy to manage this balance. You have to be conscious of all the outcomes that generally arise when you take certain policy measures.”

Cabraal who was previously central bank chief from 2006 to 2014 said the central bank hoped to guide markets.

“We would need to lead the economy in these measures,” he said. “That means we have to be always one step ahead, two steps ahead sometimes three steps ahead.

“I think we would from now onwards take the lead in providing guidance to markets as well as the economy.

“We have got to take that step clearly and boldly so that the market would be able to read the signs that the central bank is making so that would need to use that guidance particularly in turbulent times like what we having now.

“This is not the time to abrogate that leadership role.”

Cabraal said he expected to seek the views of market participants and also staff.

He said some people wanted advice from outsiders like the International Monetary Fund but there was a lot of knowledge within the bank.

“Once course of action is decided, it has to be steadfastly followed, he said.

Sri Lanka’s gross forex reserves are now down to 3.5 billion US dollars and net reserves depleted after record money printing not seen in the history of the soft-pegged central bank.

Central banks that print large volumes of money and lose reserves become helpless and market participants also become helpless as the newly injected liquidity creates forex shortages, hit the exchange rate and drives up asset prices.

When rate normalization is delayed and net foreign assets turn negative, a central bank itself can rapidly accumulate quasi fiscal losses and lose its ability to carry out policy, analysts say.

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Anagarika Dharmapala: Admirer of ‘Queen Mab’

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by Rohana R. Wasala

It may look unfashionable or even indecent to write about Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) in these days of ‘reconciliation’ politics. But that is due to the deliberate distortion of facts by vested interests. So I beg my readers’ indulgence. The Anagarika has been consistently misrepresented by anti-nationalists as a Sinhala supremacist, a Buddhist fanatic, and a propagator of violent nationalism. But the truth was otherwise; he was none of these.

As anthropologist Gananath Obesekera, professor emeritus, Princeton University, mentions in his ‘The Doomed King’ (2017), “Dharmapala was the most passionate defender of Sri Vikrama in colonial times…”; Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe had been demonised by the British in the interest of their imperial scheme to annex the Kandyan kingdom. To the Anagarika, the last king of Lanka was a noble ruler and human being who was betrayed by traitorous chiefs like Ehelepola disava (as he conceived of them). He “defended Sri Vikrama and implored Sinhala people to model themselves on his life and history….” (ibid.) Gananath says Dharmapala was indulging in ‘hyper-glorification’ of the last king. Perhaps, he was; but that doesn’t invalidate the latter’s assessment of the king, whose non-Sinhala ethnicity did not trouble him. At the same time, I don’t share Gananath’s criticism of Dharmapala’s alleged anti-Christian attitudes.

Dharmapala was, first and foremost, an international Buddhist missionary, and only secondarily, a Sinhala Buddhist national revivalist and social reformer. Sri Lankans (native Ceylonese) were in urgent need of the brave leadership and guidance of such a heroic figure at that time. He excelled in both roles. Anagarika Dharmapala assumed robes as a Buddhist samanera at an advanced age in July 1931, after a very industrious and productive life; he received the upasampada or higher ordination under the name of Ven. Siri Devamitta Dhammapala, hardly four months before his death on April 29, 1933.

As was the standard practice among the well-to-do families in those colonial days, he received a good school education in the English medium. During all of his active life, he mostly used English for communication. More than 75% of his writings were in that language; he spoke English even more frequently in the course of his lifelong missionary work. No religious leader of the time, whether Buddhist or non-Buddhist, devoted so much attention as he did to the need for a good modern education for the young that included mastery of languages and science and technology (practical skills).

Anagarika Dharmapala said that he got an insight into Buddhism after reading Sir Edwin Arnold’s poem about the Buddha “Light of Asia” (1879). He treated the latter as his teacher. Arnold received the Anagarika when he visited London. Dharmapala was not an enemy of English or the English people; he was well disposed towards both. But he was a vehement critic and opponent of British imperialism, which though he didn’t challenge politically, as he thought that it was not yet the time for it; he wanted to have favourable relations with the existing imperial government in order that he could get on with his global missionary work without any obstruction. His national endeavour was to lead his people towards freedom from foreign rule through peaceful means, which motivated his work for stimulating social reform and bringing about the moral edification of the masses.

This year marks the 157th birth anniversary of the revered Anagarika Dharmapala, who made an immense contribution towards the restoration of the national dignity and the religious and cultural regeneration of the oppressed Sinhala Buddhists in the heyday of British imperialism in our country. He was born to a wealthy business family in Colombo exactly 157 years ago, that is, on September 17, 1864. The young Don David Hewavitharne, as he was named at birth, despite his strong dislike of British colonialist rule, had a passionate love of English poetry. He particularly liked the poems of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, both assigned by literary critics and historians to the Romantic tradition of English poetry. Ever since he discovered the latter’s ‘Queen Mab’ in a book in his uncle’s library as a schoolboy, it had remained his favourite English poem.

The basis of his admiration of ‘Queen Mab’ is not difficult to find. He said about the poem: “I never ceased …. .to love its lyric indignation against the tyrannies and injustices that man heaps on himself and its passion for individual freedom” (as quoted in ‘Flame in Darkness – the Life and Sayings of Anagarika Dharmapala’ by the English monk Maha Sthavira Sangharakshita, (1980). There is no doubt that this specimen of Shelly’s juvenilia (i.e. works done in his youth) was nevertheless an important source of inspiration for the Anagarika in his life’s work.

What must have appealed to Don David Hewavitharne in ‘Queen Mab’ was obviously more than just the polemical attack it mounts on “the tyrannies and injustices” that humans inflict on fellow humans. The poem embodies many of the radical ideas that Shelley articulated in his works, and some of these such as his atheism, his criticism of meat eating as a cause of vice, and the implicit advocacy of vegetarianism, his idea of death as something not to be feared, his condemnation of political and religious tyranny, his socialist politics, his scientific attitude to human experience and the external world, his belief in the moral perfectibility of humanity, his nonviolence and antipathy towards war, and his vision of social and political change through intellectual transformation are sure to have struck a chord in the great patriot and Buddhist revivalist that the young David later became.

‘Queen Mab’, a book-length poem in nine parts, was written and privately distributed by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) in 1813. It was the poet’s first work of genuine literary merit. His decision to make it available to a select circle suggests the type of audience he wanted to address: the target readers were of the same patrician (aristocratic) background as himself who had the time and the means to get an education, and the leisure to read and enjoy poetry; the mostly illiterate downtrodden masses whose welfare he actually had in mind and who stood to gain most from the revolutionary changes he envisioned were for the most part outside of this circle; the Anagarika belonged to the same higher social class in this country as Shelley did in England.

Structurally, ‘Queen Mab’ is a fairy tale composed in nine cantos (main divisions). A fairy named Queen Mab comes down in her ethereal car to the sleeping Ianthe, a beautiful young maiden. Leaving the girl in her deep slumber the fairy awakens her Soul or Spirit and invites it onboard and transports it to her celestial abode at the uttermost edge of the universe. From that vantage point the Spirit (Ianthe’s Soul) is given a view of the universe stretching below. The fairy promises the Spirit to reveal the state presumably, of humanity’s past and present and the ‘secrets of the future’:

Critics have called this poem a dream vision allegory, a fairy tale, a utopian daydream, a protest- poem etc. The young David Hewavitharne might have identified ‘Queen Mab’ as a protest-poem. In terms of its substance we may call it a philosophical poem as well. In fact, the 1813 title of the poem was ‘Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem with Notes’. Shelley was a ‘philosopher’ among the Romantics in the sense that while treating the usual ‘Romantic’ themes of beauty, passion, power of the imagination, the natural goodness of humanity, political freedom etc which formed their characteristic subject matter, he discovered and articulated causal connections in them with rare precision and clarity. He was unique in this respect among his contemporaries, with the possible exception of William Wordsworth (1770-1850) as critics have pointed out. Reading ‘Queen Mab’ we feel that it qualifies for all the above labels.

Though it is unselfconsciously melodramatic, coldly polemical, and crudely emotive in much of its versification and though he himself seemed years later to have had second thoughts about its estimation as a poem worthy of publishing for public consumption when he came to know that a pirated edition of the poem had appeared in 1821 (which was just a year before his accidental death by drowning), the ‘philosophy’ that he versifies in it is found to be as mature as it ever got in his case (considering the fact that he died at the young age of 30). The poem has even been described as ‘monumental’ by more sympathetic, and in my opinion more rational-minded and more discerning, readers. Obviously, Anagarika Dharmapala was among this group of readers.

Both Shelley and Dharmapala were revolutionaries, though of different moulds. They agitated for liberty and morality in the political and socio-cultural spheres. They had similar views about how to foster social and political reform (though the political aspect was more subdued in the case of Dharmapala than in the case of Shelley, a difference between the two that points to the Anagarika’s realistic, pragmatic approach as opposed to the dream-visionary impracticality of Shelley’s): Shelley believed in the possibility of perfecting humanity by moral means, which forms the nuclear theme of ‘Queen Mab’; the revolution he envisaged appears to be something to be achieved in this way, but not through armed struggle (despite his probable allusion to the French Revolution in his sonnet ‘England in 1819’ suggested.

As socially conscious young men in their different places and times Shelley and Dharmapala had much in common. They shared the same reformist ambitions. Both, born into wealth and privilege, showed an unusual concern for the welfare of the poor and were totally committed to the social uplift and moral refinement of the society including particularly the traditionally oppressed. Shelley’s relentless criticism of authoritarian institutions in his country is explicitly articulated in his sonnet ‘England in 1819’: The state of Shelley’s England is such that the king is “old, mad, blind, despised, and dying”; the princes are “the dregs of their dull race”; the rulers who are unable to see, feel or know, cling like leeches to their country until they “drop, blind in blood, without a blow”; the ordinary English people are “starved and stabbed in the untilled fields”; the army is corrupt and inept; the laws “tempt and slay”; religion is “Christless – Godless – a book sealed”. (Won’t this sound familiar to readers in many countries of the world even today?)

All these (agents of tyrannous evil) “Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may – Burst to illumine our tempestuous day” (This could be interpreted as an allusion to the French Revolution, in which a crucial event was the storming of the ancient fortress of the Bastille and the releasing of the wretched prisoners there in 1789, just three years before his birth). Shelley’s diatribes like these preceded, by about three quarters of a century, the Anagarika’s vehement denunciation of the demoralizing British imperialism in our country. Just as Shelley rebelled (ideologically) against what he condemned as the tyranny of the king, priests and statesmen (‘statesmen’ not in its current dignified sense, but in the sense of mere ‘politicians’), Dharmapala adopted a defiant stance towards the occupying foreigners, errant Buddhist monks, and the Westernized local elite that so slavishly pandered to the interests of the colonial rulers.

But he was not an irrational hater of everything Western. He admired the positive aspects of European culture. He possessed a very good knowledge of the English language, which he used to write and edit many English publications in the pursuance of his Buddhist revivalist propaganda. His love of English poetry was consistent with the cosmopolitan Buddhist attitude towards what is admirable in other cultures. He criticized the tyranny and injustice of European colonialism, but he obviously had a high regard for the Western nations’ scientific and inventive genius. In return, he acted in compassion towards them according to his own religious convictions. He wrote in his “My Life Story” already referred to:

It is time that Buddhists of Asia should give the Dhamma to the people of Europe and America. Buddhism is for the scientifically cultured. The discoveries of modern sciences are a help to understand the sublime Dhamma. The mediaeval theology of ecclesiastical tussle may have satisfied the half-civilized consciousness of pre-scientific Europe and the paganized tribes of Europe of a barbarous age. Today the cultured races of Europe require a scientific psychology showing the greatness of human consciousness. The sublime doctrine of the Lord Buddha is a perfect science based on transcendental wisdom. This Dhamma should be freely given to the European races.

The unacceptable reality of our current domestic and international predicament is exactly what the farsighted Anagarika acted to forestall, against many odds, which limited his success. Paradoxically and quite unfairly, leaders like him are held responsible for our present ethnic problems by some individuals. My opinion is that had Anagarika Dharmapala and other patriots that he inspired not been there in that era and after, our plight today would have been worse.

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“Asian elephant conservation: the long road ahead”

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by Nilanga Jayasinghe

Asian elephants once ranged from West Asia, through the Indian subcontinent, and all the way north to the Yangtze River in China. Today, there are less than 50,000 wild elephants found in only 13 countries across Asia. Living on the most populous continent on the planet means that Asian elephants face the common threats of habitat loss and resulting human-elephant conflict across their entire range. To prevent further declines, addressing these and other threats are of paramount importance. To further elephant conservation, WWF works in 11 range countries to support human-elephant conflict management, community engagement, elephant population assessments, radio collaring to understand elephant movement, and reducing impacts to elephants from linear infrastructure, among others. Join WWF’s Nilanga Jayasinghe to learn more about the various efforts to support Asian elephant conservation.

Nilanga Jayasinghe is a Manager on the Wildlife Conservation team at WWF, focusing on Asian species, particularly elephants, rhinos, tigers, and snow leopards, among others. She has nearly 20 years of extensive experience in international species conservation and has worked on conservation issues across the board in Asia, Africa, and North America. Her areas of expertise include human-wildlife conflict, Asian elephants, strategic planning, connectivity conservation, protected area management, capacity building, and technological applications for wildlife conservation. She is a member of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group (AsESG) and the Asian Rhino Specialist Group (AsRSG) under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Species Survival Commission (SSC), and a member of the Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group under the IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. In her role, Nilanga works with WWF field teams and partners in more than 15 countries in Asia to further conservation efforts on the ground for WWF’s priority flagship species. She provides technical support for species conservation and management efforts and mobilizes resources to accomplish conservation activities. In addition, she works with global partners to develop and implement initiatives that harmonize species conservation with broader conservation goals.

NTB WNPS Public Lecture is presented in association with Nations Trust Bank and open to all. Please sign up here https://forms.gle/WoHurA2n2465k6Y76

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