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Attacks on Cardinal outrageous and unacceptable

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In strong defence of Cardinal

By ROHANA R. WASALA

As evident in social media, His Eminence Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit is taking heavy flak from certain quarters for urging the authorities to bring to justice the culprits behind the suicide bomb attacks on three churches and four hotels on Easter Sunday last year (April 21, 2019), on the findings of the presidential commission, which is about to close its proceedings. It is not clear whether the critics are supporters or opponents of the government or the Opposition; but they are definitely not lovers of the country/nation. The criticism of the Cardinal is no doubt politically motivated, though he himself is absolutely above partisan politics. He is an ideal Shepherd not only for his Flock, but also for all Sri Lankans, in both spiritual and secular (mundane) senses; he is performing this role most sincerely, with the greatest courage, and ascetic selflessness, without expecting any personal reward. It is with some reluctance and hesitation that I am broaching this subject, because I don’t want to even remotely link his name to mundane politics. Globally, the Cardinal is a great asset for our crisis-ridden country.

In response to Opposition queries regarding the progress of the presidential probe into the Easter Sunday (April 21, 2019) suicide bombings, the newly appointed Minister of Public Security, Rear Admiral (Retd) Dr Sarath Weerasekera, told Parliament (December 5) that 257 persons (suspected of involvement) have been remanded and that 86 are being held under detention orders, and that he would meet the Attorney General on Monday (December 7) to talk about expediting legal proceedings on the basis of the commission’s findings. The government has indicated that the presidential commission is about to finalise its work. The minister’s statement came amidst exchanges between Opposition and government benchers, centering on certain misgivings previously expressed by His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit about the imminent winding up of the presidential commission of inquiry and the follow-up process. Asked about the same subject by the media the next day (December 6), Minister Weerasekera said he could understand the prelate’s concerns, and that although the Cardinal didn’t know about it, almost 90% of what should be done through the government has already been done by the police: 37 have been charged with manslaughter and others with aiding and abetting terrorism.

The 2019 April 21 Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks were a bolt from the blue. The bombers targeted three Catholic/Christian churches situated in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa and four hotels, three of them luxury class hotels in Colombo and another hotel at Dehiwala, near the zoo. An eighth bomber blew himself up in a residential part of Dematagoda. These near simultaneous coordinated attacks by Islamist terrorists left at least 277 dead, including the eight bombers, and more than 500 injured, according to different but generally compatible media accounts. The dead and injured men, women and children in the church attacks had been participating in Sunday mass. Among hotel attacks casualties, there were 38 foreigners. It has now been revealed that there had been a plan to attack the Kandy Esala Perahera as the next target, but that plan was not carried out. The attacks were absolutely unprovoked and pointless from the point of view of the normal civilized world.

Of course, the eight bombers and the individuals who sponsored them wouldn’t have looked at the bombings that negative way. The choice of targets, including the Kandy Esala Perahera that they were planning to attack but later spared, suggests that they were aiming to destabilise Sri Lanka both internally and externally. Isolating Catholic/Christian churches and tourist hotels for the attack was most probably meant to create as powerful an adverse impression as possible among nations across the world, about the country that justifies foreign intervention in its domestic affairs; had a few Buddhist temples been targeted instead, the international impact would not have been so much. Hollow expressions of solidarity trumpeted from an unexpected direction with what looked like a gush of indecent haste, even before the reverberations of the bombings had properly died down, did little to allay the public’s growing suspicions of a foreign conspiracy behind the attacks. (Incidentally, the Cardinal mentioned the apparent possibility of such a conspiracy, earlier than most speakers.) In fact, SLMC MP Rauff Hakeem revealed to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Easter Sunday attacks, in camera, what he knew about alleged foreign involvement in the heinous crime; former president and SLFP MP Sirisena, who appeared before the same commission, also said that a foreign power was involved, though he did not name it.

The bombers and their sponsors must have been quite clear about their respective aims. For the terror sponsors the whole operation must have been nothing but a political project for destabilizing Sri Lanka. For the eight suicide attackers, it was purely a pious religious mission with a direct heavenly reward, and the additional advantage of serving the cause they believed in by instilling fear into infidels (that is, all non-Muslims including atheists, agnostics and others like people of no religion), as an internet post by an ex-Muslim argued (an argument that the majority of ordinary Sri Lankans are sure to dismiss as false).

Testifying before the presidential commission of inquiry former Eastern Province Governor M. L. A. M. Hizbullah said, according to the media (November 27), that he hoped to open the Batticaloa University after talks with the government, when the corona spread crisis is over. He claimed that he built it to teach the poor children of the Eastern province and that, when completed, it will be the biggest university in Asia; it had been planned to be built on 100 acres of land. He had received, it was reported, some 3.6 billion rupees in funds from donors in Saudi Arabia. No doubt, after what transpired at the presidential inquiry that cast doubt on the sincerity of Hizbullah et al, his nonchalance shocked and dismayed most of us; because it gave rise to fears among the concerned public that the unlawfully established Sharia college project will go ahead, without related issues being settled beforehand.

Islamic instruction conducted by fundamentalists even in the Islamic ‘madrasas’ in the 95% Muslim Pakistan, has been found to be problematic. About a year and a half ago, the Pakistan government under PM Imran Khan, moved to take over some 30,000 madrasas across the country with a view to ‘mainstreaming’ them, in response to international pressure, following many complaints that they radicalised the youngsters. Islamic terror attacks carried out in India and Afghanistan, were blamed on young Pakistanis who had learned in these madrasas. If that is the situation in the religiously near homogeneous Pakistan (pop. 212 m), is it unnatural for the much smaller, multi-religious Sri Lanka (pop. hardly 22 m) to be concerned about a Sharia University on its territory, that too potentially the biggest one in Asia?

Hakeem falsely complained to an Indian newspaper that Muslims faced communally institigated retaliatory violence after the Easter attacks. He was basing himself on reports of a few incidents in some unrelated places far from where the bombings took place. Muslims and other religionists and their shops and houses were indiscriminately targeted in these instances, allegedly caused by paid agent provocateurs employed by supporters of the yahapalana regime of the time; these are described in the Wikipedia (obviously, as fed in by an anti-Buddhist editor) as “anti-Muslim riots in retaliation to the bombings that were organized by the Sri Lankan Buddhist Extremist Group on Vesak Day…” (Actually, the monks of the BBS, which is meant here, played a big role in the rescue operations after the blasts, including blood donations; some blood donors had to be turned away because enough blood had been collected. Buddhists, let alone Buddhist monks, never indulge in violence, except under extreme provocation; they are least likely to do that on the day of Vesak, the holiest day in the Buddhist calendar.)

It is inconceivable how the Sharia and the madrasas problem could be effectively addressed without the cooperation of mainstream Muslims, who form 9.7% of the population. But such cooperation cannot be expected from the likes of Hizbullah and Hakeem. Not long before the Easter Sunday attacks, Hizbullah was reported as warning that Muslim youth in the Eastern Province might take up arms unless their grievances were answered (by the then government). What these grievances were only he knew. But before the time he was thus falsely complaining, there were internecine clashes among Muslims in the area, between jihadists and traditionalists, which resulted in murderous violence and property destruction. The travails of the persecuted traditional Muslims did not seem to move Hizbullah to identify with them or speak up on their behalf. Some of these persecuted Muslims made secret contact with the monks of the BBS in Colombo to plead with them to intervene, and even provided them with documentary evidence of what they were undergoing in the east at the hands of extremists.

In the aftermath of the Easter attacks, the victim Catholics were wisely and ably restrained by the Cardinal from thoughts of committing any retaliatory violence against ordinary Muslims. He rose to the occasion, as a beacon of hope, a symbol of compassion, forgiveness, and forbearance, and a great provider of emotional comfort for all Sri Lankans at that moment of universal sorrow and shock. This resonated with the characteristic patience and resilience of the general Sri Lankan populace.

Returning to criticisms of the Cardinal over remarks he made about the progress of the Easter Sunday attacks probe, this is not the first time that the prelate has articulated such sentiments regarding the performance of politicians, whether they happen to be in the government or in the Opposition, without himself playing politics. He always expresses his opinions candidly, without any malice or bias towards anyone. He says that though the church has forgiven the attackers, their sponsors must still be brought to justice, as the BBC once reported. At an audience he gave to SJB MP Kavinda Jayawardane of the Opposition, who called on him on December 3, Cardinal Ranjit expressed his sincere hope and adamant demand that the findings of the presidential inquiry be not swept under the carpet under any circumstances or be subjected to any kind of political horse trading; he also wanted the real movers and shakers behind the Easter bombing savagery be firmly dealt with according to the law. To emphasize his point, he added that if the present government fails to mete out justice to the victims by punishing those responsible, then the job will have to be given to another group of people who can do it. The Cardinal implied, however, that he has not lost his trust in the assurances already given by the president that justice will be done under his watch.

People who believed that the Cardinal is universally admired for all that he is doing for the country and for the ideals that he is bravely standing up for, were in for a rude shock. Hizbullah’s oddly defiant, affected cool that smacked of calculated dissembling (at the presidential commission) went almost unnoticed and hardly commented on, whereas the sincere, well-meant remarks made by the Cardinal about the progress of the presidential inquiry caused a flurry of adverse reactions in the media. He has been described as guilty of ‘hate speech’ for saying what he said! He’s also been made guilty of treason, for he, as one critic pointed out, has threatened to ‘overthrow the government’ by talking about handing over the business of punishing the persons involved in organizing the terror attacks to another party, even though he leads only 7.4% of the population.

I find such attacks on the Cardinal simply outrageous, indecent, and unacceptable. We know Sri Lanka has a history of appointing commissions of inquiry as a strategy to consign vital problems to oblivion. It is not wrong to invoke that reality at the present time, when we have enough reason to believe that there’s going to be a change in that unhallowed tradition, particularly, under our new president. The Cardinal has been for years stressing the need to preserve the Buddhist cultural identity and heritage of Sri Lanka, and striving to unite people following different religions as children of Mother Lanka into a peaceful, harmonious and virtuous society. He is often seen participating in Buddhist events. It is not difficult to understand that his unconventional behaviour does not go down well with some conservative Catholics. Perhaps, his severest critics are Catholics who are upset at what they probably dislike as his too accommodating attitude towards Buddhism and Buddhist monks. Buddhists have no reason to attack him when he is seen to be giving just a timely fillip to boost the confidence of the authorities who are set to move in the right direction, under arguably the least realpolitik-driven executive we have got since independence.

I would like to wind up with this tentative proposal, respectfully offered, for the attention of the President: What about inviting representatives of the clergy of the three minority religions – they should be of the same stature as the Nayake monks within their respective hierarchies – to be participating guest members of the Buddhist Advisory Council that the president consults every month? The possible advantages of such a move are self-evident.



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Opinion

In favour of ‘thoughtfulness’

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As KT has enunciated, all human progress is indebted to people who observed, experimented, invented, created and above all used their imagination with hardly any guidance from mindfulness gurus. Billions of people have lived and contributed to shape the world to what it is today – of course, with all its beauty as well as ugliness- the latter resulting from dogma, stultified mindsets and navel-gazing. What it takes to enhance the beautiful side of the world is to rely on more thought, more reasoning and more judgment.

by Susantha Hewa

Prof. Kirthi Tennakone’s (KT) article, “Thoughtfulness or mindfulness?”, which appeared in The Island of June 5, 2024, would surely appeal to those who are more “thoughtful” than “mindful”, the former indicating a mind functioning naturally with all cognitive faculties fully awake and the latter indicating a mind being turned inwards and focusing on one’s thoughts, sensations and feelings in a nonjudgmental mode. As KT claims, “Almost all human accomplishments are consequences of thoughtfulness”, thoughtfulness indicating the quality of a sharp mind registering all relevant facts and assessing them for their worth and relevance.

His article itself is a fine demonstration of thoughtfulness rather than of mindfulness, as all discerning minds may agree. Even the gurus of mindfulness have to deal with many thoughts simultaneously as they write or speak, if they wish to make sense, and that is more of an exercise of “thoughtfulness” requiring several skills including organising, reason, elaboration, clarity, critical thinking, analysis, judgment, etc., than one of “mindfulness”, which is said to be focusing on one’s feelings and thoughts without judgment, from moment to moment.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, thoughtfulness is 1) the state of thinking carefully about something, 2) the quality of being kind and thinking about other people’s needs, and 3) the quality of thinking carefully about how to do something so that it is effective. All these three meanings are to do with using one’s mind to its fullest capacity. And, as the second one indicates, it also includes being considerate towards others, which is directing your mind outwards- which is not involved in mindfulness in the sense in which it is popularly used to describe “the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm” (Cambridge Dictionary).

The products of thoughtfulness are there for everybody to see, as KT has clearly explained and enumerated in his essay. On the other hand, mindfulness seems to thrive on a state of mind that is turned inwards, which is often explained as paying attention to your present thoughts, feelings and sensations nonjudgmentally.

It looks as if we have to wait for centuries to see the wonders of this rather solitary and obscure exercise. The one thing that is clear is that even those who have practiced mindfulness for years on end have to be thoughtful rather than mindful, when they choose to communicate with others with any clarity, either in speech or writing, for the simple reason that the audiences are thoughtful, critical and judgmental, rather than uncritical, meditative and nonjudgmental.

Surely, you have to open your mind to what others are saying – rather than shut it, for any human communication to be meaningful, effective and useful. If mindfulness happened to be the natural mode of the mind, we would be living in a dull and dreary world where everybody would “be ‘mindful’ of their own business”.

A community of people may practice ‘mindfulness’ for a while everyday but it can only be an intermission and not the basic mode of a productive life, which is anchored on what you may call “thoughtfulness”. It would be redundant to illustrate this because KT has done it adequately in his article, which is a product of – no prizes for guessing- thoughtfulness. Just take any activity in our day-to-day life and you will see that thoughtfulness is the indispensable operative mechanism behind each of them. As KT asserts, “Thought could have sinister motives and the only way to eliminate them is through thought itself”. We are yet to know whether mindfulness has played any role in this.

In almost any important or urgent situation, a ‘thoughtful mind’ will score higher than a ‘mindful mind’, if you know what I mean. In the classroom, you are sure to immediately pay the price if you suddenly shift from ‘thoughtfulness’ to ‘mindfulness’. As many of us would remember, our teachers wanted us to have all our faculties functioning when they told us “Sihikalpanawen hitiyoth hondai” (you had better be alert), alertness to be understood as being attentive to what is being discussed- not focusing on your own feelings and thoughts in a nonjudgmental mode.

Sometimes people talk excitedly about ‘practicing mindful driving’ but what they unwittingly mean is exactly ‘thoughtful driving’, if you understand safe driving as heeding the following instructions: “avoid your own distractions, stay vigilant, scan the road for surprises, check the body language of other vehicles, try to anticipate how a situation might evolve, and be ready to react”. This can only remind us of those good teachers’ admonition to be sharp-eyed when in the classroom.

If mindfulness is to be alert to what is going on around you, taking in ‘things’, assessing, judging, etc. exactly as in ‘thoughtfulness’, we wouldn’t need experts telling us that ‘mindfulness’ is a different or a superior game. And, as is obvious, whenever people study, work, play, read, write, research, or do anything requiring cognition and judgement, they would surely be in the ‘thoughtful mode’ rather than in the ‘mindful mode’.

As KT has enunciated, all human progress is indebted to people who observed, experimented, invented, created and above all used their imagination with hardly any guidance from mindfulness gurus. Billions of people have lived and contributed to shape the world to what it is today – of course, with all its beauty as well as ugliness- the latter resulting from dogma, stultified mindsets and navel-gazing. What it takes to enhance the beautiful side of the world is to rely on more thought, more reasoning and more judgment. Indulging in nonjudgmental observation may at best bring temporary calmness to individuals; so would art and music, with even more demonstrable benefits. And, for thought and reason to be functional, minds should be directed outwards rather than inwards.

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Opinion

Change is good: Provided it is for better and not for worse

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Aragalaya

by Jayasri Priyalal

Many Sri Lankans may have joined in commemorating the 2568 years of Buddha Parinirvana with much discourse about the fundamental truth, the core teaching of Buddhism about impermanence, last week. As we all realise the fact, that there is nothing permanent in this world; everything is subject to change. Change is the only permanent constant in the universe. This essay focuses on change from socio, political and economic angle.

Sri Lanka is undergoing its worst ever economic crisis without any hope of getting it into a recovery track soon. There is a clarion call from the masses aspiring for a system change as a springboard towards chalking out a recovery path to overcome the crisis. Yet, no one knows or discusses what that system should be to put in place.

One fact remains as an acceptable analogy. Those who cannot cope with change will never be able to initiate change in any circumstances. This applies to all stakeholders including those who caused and contributed to the current crisis. Fair share of responsibilities falls on the electorate who got carried away with populism engineered by a few; with an ultimate aim of state and regulatory capture for their advantage leaving the country into a dire state grappling with debt. Therefore, capacity and capability to initiate that essential change is absent in the DNA of politicians who deceived their constituents.

This year 2024, is remarkable for those countries where representative democracy functions. Over 2 billion voters are expected to cast their votes at polls. As per predictions in 70% of the elections a change in government is anticipated. Some elections are already over and results are known. In Sri Lanka there are two main elections in the pipeline namely the Presidential and parliamentary polls.  The UK gets ready for polls on 4th July 2024. Change is the campaign theme of the Labour Party led by Sir. Keir Starmer. Chase or change dilemma will be an option for the electorate in the USA to test in upcoming presidential elections in November 2024.

Change and the Chase Countercyclical in Sri Lanka

In the last presidential election in 2019 Sri Lankan electorate rallied with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa giving him an absolute mandate with 6.9 million votes, anticipating a change for the better. It was too late for Sri Lankans to realise that their bet was on the wrong horse.  That change triggered the public to rally towards a chase. People’s power proved greater than those who come and hold political power.

The so-called people’s movement Aragalaya forced the Prime Minister to resign with the ipso facto resignation of the cabinet of ministers. Amongst many wrong doings President Gotabaya Rajapaksa nominated an unelected PM to lead the cabinet without dissolving the parliament with the reluctance to test the pulse of the people to secure the right mandate to govern. Rest is history, and finally the people’s power chased out President Gotabya Rajapaksa culminating the grand achievement of the GoHomeGota campaign. Thereafter, people’s aspiration and hope for a change short lived and shortchanged, widening the mistrust between policy makers and electorate further.

Have we learnt from similar power struggles from the past?

Our present has direct links in many ways to the past. The island nation has been deceived by many egocentric figureheads -as they cannot be named as true patriotic leaders- misjudged the public sentiments and aspirations and surrendered the sovereignty of the country to Colonial Masters. Does history repeat itself? Have we forgotten the bitter lessons learnt from history is what is discussed in the next few paragraphs?

This writer is enthusiastically influenced by the historical knowledge shared by Prof. Raj Somadeva via Neth FM radio and the YouTube programme. Due credit should be given to the Professor for all his extensive historical studies and the efforts to share them with the rest of the Sri Lankans in and outside the country. Prof. Somadeva narrates the stories very well with an appeal to draw parallels to the contemporary political power struggles with a warning not to repeat the past mistakes.

Coronation of Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, last King of Kandyan Kingdom   1798

Having defeated the British Army battalion sent by the Governor Frederick North badly in 1803, the powerful Kandyan Kingdom fell to the British by 1815. Internal power struggles between the Kandyan elites to capture the throne from the Nayakkar clan paved the way for colonials to step in effortlessly to end the 2300 of historical royal lineage, to govern. Finally, Ceylon became a colony of the British Empire under King Gorge III.

Maha Adikaram Pilimatalawe engineered the coronation of Kannasamy Naidu a nephew of Sri Rajadhi Rajasinghe over the legitimate claimant to the throne Muttusamy. Pilimatalawwe was ambitious of becoming the Kandyan King, worked closely with the British and installed Kannasamy in the throne assuming he can control the King to meet his egoistic goals.

The change he anticipated never happened. Then he conspired to kill the King. Pilimatalawwe and the conspiring gang were beheaded by the King. Pilimatalawwe engineered the change and had to work on a chase and he got eliminated by the person whom he elevated to power.

Power crazy Maha Adikaram installed a weaker character in the throne so that he could overthrow him with the help of the British. The whole strategy backfired ultimately sacrificing the nation on a platter to the British ending a royal lineage of over two millennia.  The miscalculations of those close to political power to serve their selfish needs have ruined many countries bringing in misery, hardship and colossal loss of lives and property to its citizens. The island nation has many such cases throughout its history.

Putting a Wrong Guy in a Critical Position – Are we repeating the same mistake?

Throughout history we Sri Lankans have repeated the same mistake and disrupted the nation’s progress leaving the plight in the hands of outsiders.  Although there aren’t any competing empires in the current context, there are clear indications that the local political expectations are gravitating towards the emerging geo-economic-political centres.

The current political leadership or the conventional thought processes are not spurred with an organic strategic growth trajectory with originality backed thought process. None of the political parties have identified the right causes that led to the current crisis.

Moreover, they are getting ready to deceive the electorate to secure the mandate to govern to continue to repeat ill-conceived policy tools without coming up with viable policy options to break the vicious debt trap. Adage goes on to remind that – right diagnosis is half of the solution. Instead, many are getting ready to prescribe the failed remedies with a strong dosage as prescribed by the defunct cold war institutions. It appears that the healer itself is the disease leaving the patient bewildered and leaving the disease into an uncontrolled debt pandemic. We Sri Lankans need to think locally and act globally and not the other way around. In the absence of original ideas and remedies, local politicians are happy to swallow the bitter medicines prescribed on the basis of diagnoses.

Since Independence the ideology of various political parties were developed based on systems and discourses practiced in other countries introducing a welfarist socio economic system. Now, it has turned towards the aspirations of the emerging geo-economic centres. Sri Lankans need to forge a unique turnaround strategy to serve the best interest of its people, and not to become subjects of other countries.  Therefore, the Sri Lankan electorate needs to collate its political mandate in the hands of a leadership who will change the destiny of the country for the better and not for the worst.

Prisoner’s Dilemma

Colonial masters connived with the power crazy Kandyan elites and captured the last King of Ceylon, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, dethroned, imprisoned and deported to India. Once you fast track the historical events, we can extrapolate the current situation drawing many parallels. Unlike in the past, the leaders who mislead and mismanage the future of the nation without any original thinking and being subservient to foreign advice will never be deported. They will be facing a prisoner’s dilemma remaining on the island, having given away ports, harbours, airports and other critical infrastructure to foreigners to manage and own.

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Opinion

A poser to Sajith and Anura

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Sajith and Anura

Just one question to both of you. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to the country if both of you set aside your political ambitions and personal differences and make a bold decision to join hands to face the forthcoming presidential elections as an alliance?

You are aware that the present government will leave no stone unturned to introduce controversial legislation, irrespective of the fact whether they are constitutional or not. It engages in controversial projects, on the pretext of privatisation, detrimental to the interests of the country. It suppresses protests through high-handed undemocratic actions. It abuses democratic practices to further its interests.

Politically your views may differ but your goals are the same. As things stand, both of you enjoy popular support. You have talented intellectuals in your parties. Most of the current corrupt politicians are in the process of forming either with or in support of the incumbent government with a view to hoodwinking the masses.

Your unity will certainly be advantageous to the country but divided you both could fail in achieving your ultimate goal.

Let’s hope that wisdom will prevail over their political ambitions.

WILLIAM PHILLIPSZ 

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