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Many benefits of teaching a second religion

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by SUSANTHA HEWA

Hobson’s customers had to choose the horse closest to the stable door. Yet, they had the option of leaving it- after all, it’s an option, isn’t it? We are not so lucky, because we don’t have the much underrated option of ‘leaving it’ when it comes to very important matters in life. First, we don’t have the option of not coming into this world. Second, we don’t have the option of refusing the language of our guardians. Third, we don’t have the option of asking for another religion. How unfortunate! It’s a pity that many of us take “Hobson’s choice” to be synonymous with only one choice or none at all. It tends to make us forget that ‘leaving it’ is a valuable option we begin to appreciate only in its absence.

Rarely do we question whether we would have preferred any other language or religion to the ones we had no option but take. All along, we have been entertaining the illusory feeling that we practice the religion we have chosen, but this is not so. To say that you have the freedom to pick your religion is as preposterous as saying “By all means, you are free to choose your first language!” A cynic might say that the first ‘violation’ of children’s rights starts at home, when parents follow the hoary tradition of giving their religion to their clueless children.

Of course, infants vociferously fight for their rights, but only when they feel some form of discomfort i.e. hunger, pain, sleepiness etc. and the more they grow the choosier they become. A child may throw away a toy given him asking for another one, but he never rejects the language or the religion on offer- simply, he has no idea of any other; and they all fall head over heels in love with both the language and the religion at the ‘stable door.’ It’s perhaps this fixation that makes them identify themselves with both, and become unhealthily sensitive about this identification thrust on them.

Since the language comes slightly before the religion, let’s first talk about the former. While all other creatures are confined to a dumb world, humans have a language to communicate with others, which makes all the difference between animals and us. We are said to be light years ahead of other creatures in terms of civilization, thanks to our capacity to use a complex language system. Linguists are so enamoured of language that many of them will tell you that, more than anything else, it is language that makes us human! Nevertheless, many of us are unaware of the unique contribution language has made towards civilizing the human race. The credit, usually, goes to religion. For most of us religion is synonymous with civilization.

Incidentally, how ironical it is that both these civilizing agents have, by unwittingly sticking labels on us, caused so much bloodshed in different eras down the centuries right up to the present! The same child who would be recognized as a Sinhala Buddhist if raised in one family, would grow up bearing any of the following ‘ethnic/religious’ labels, i.e. Sinhala Christian, Tamil Hindu, Tamil Christian etc. if he were to be raised by another family coming under a different ‘ethnic/religious’ category.

Our first language and (first) religion are close allies in that we acquire both in more or less similar ways, but there is another level at which they have become soulmates. Prof. Anthony Campbell says that for almost all children, religion comes wrapped in narratives. This is quite plausible because, it would be impossible to find somebody who hadn’t heard stories at the knees of her parents or grandparents, and, as we can remember, some of these stories used to come from religion. As toddlers, our first routes to knowledge are along these stories, which become part and parcel of our emotional life. This supports the idea that both language and religion continue to have a lifelong hold on us. If these narratives hadn’t facilitated initiating us to our respective religions, we would not have internalized them so easily and unconsciously as children. Narratives form the basis of our strongest connection with religion; the dogma comes later enveloped in them. Unless you were a mathematics or physics prodigy as a child, you would not be able to make head or tail of the abstruse concepts in your religion like, for example, rebirth, creation, samsara, heaven, hell, karma, nirvana etc.- ideas which had continued to elude the grasp of even the most complex of minds.

Of these two primary internalizing processes, which have come down to us from time immemorial, language acquisition is a prerequisite for a person’s optimal community participation, both as a child and an adult. The exceptionally rare cases of children who had been isolated with little or no exposure to a language during the early years, had shown that they were unable acquire it later to be satisfactorily proficient in it; the longer the deprivation, the greater the damage and the lesser the opportunity for reaching the required level of linguistic competency and hence the resultant failures in communication.

If a young child is simultaneously exposed to two or three languages he will pick all of them and use them competently – no fear of him getting his wires crossed. In fact, exposure to more than one language is a blessing. As neuroscientists have shown, bilingualism and multilingualism make a person’s brain work smarter and more efficiently and, what’s more, ward off cognition related ailments among adults. However, with regard to religion, children are not offered this opportunity of plurality for obvious reasons. This is sad because exposure to more than one religion is likely to have salutary effects, especially, both on children and adults. It will make them form a more holistic view of religion.

Quite a few of us are lucky enough to get exposed to more than one language, but many are beneficiaries of second language learning- as teenagers or adults. And, all bilinguals know how a a second language makes them more knowledgeable about the fundamentals of ‘language’ and better groom them to learn another language. Surely, this is in addition to all the benefits that come to them as bilinguals – better job opportunities, better access to knowledge, increased awareness of other civilizations, and the ability to communicate with people across cultures.

As we have mentioned earlier, language deprivation in early childhood can be catastrophic. By the way, how about ‘religion deprivation’ in early childhood? There are no records of children who are barred from religious instruction in early years, growing up to be any more wicked than the rest of us, provided they go through other humanizing processes i.e. being loved by parents and siblings, making friends, play, painting, music etc. and, later, receiving formal education. On the other hand, a child who undergoes religious training sans parental love, and the other humanizing opportunities mentioned above, might not develop wholesome qualities intended to be nurtured by no other than religion itself. It will not be easy for us to draw a line between the ethics that are fashioned by religion and those that come to us from other forms of socialization.

Given the universality of these coupled acquisition processes of language and religion occurring in early childhood, it is surprising that we are quite at home with teaching a second language but hardly think of a second religion, let alone teaching one. second language learning is unreservedly appreciated by all, but a suggestion to teach/learn a ‘second religion’ will be met with a range of responses, beginning from mild cynicism to unconcealed horror. Is teaching a second religion an exception to the rule, “The more things you learn, the better it is?” Can anybody deny that learning a second religion will broaden a person’s understanding of religion in general, which will at least partly compensate for the conditioned partiality we all have towards the religion passed on to us by our parents? Surely, all those who like to promote tolerance, social reconciliation and crosscultural understanding will readily commend the idea of a second religion. However, most people would look askance at such a more relaxed attitude towards a second religion. Why?

The awkwardness one may feel at the mere mention of a second religion may be attributed to the provincial attitude with which we regard all matters pertaining to religion. Is there anything intrinsically sanctified about what each of us may think about the beginning/end of the world or what ‘awaits’ us after death? Why should the different ‘answers’ to some perfectly decent and reasonable questions cause segregation, when our conviction of their ‘truth’ is primarily a matter of conditioning?

Unlike language, it is impossible for a child to acquire more than one religion. That can never happen even if the parents are of two different faiths. The child will be exposed to only one of them. So the only chance of learning a 2nd religion can come later in life.

First language ‘learning’ and second language learning are two different ball games; so are learning your first religion and a second. With regard to language, the first ‘learning’ is an unconscious process, while the second is conscious learning with formal instruction. The structure of your first language leaves a permanent imprint on your brain, and the more you delay the learning of a second language the harder would it be for you – the structures of the first language will be a nagging source of interruption in the second language learning process. However irritating it may be, you have to cope with the nosey intruder for a while with patience, and gradually you will begin to feel comfortable with the new one. The more you use the second language, the less would be the intrusions by the first.

It is true that when an adult learns his 2nd language or second religion, the cognitive tools like reasoning, questioning, looking for relationships, comparison and contrast, relating to the existing body of knowledge, memory – all these come into play to help him to understand what he is learning. For example, when a student learns a second religion at school, at least one of his motives will be to be thoroughly acquainted with the details to get a good grade. However, there is no fear of the student starting to reject the first and believe the second, because he is already hardwired to his first religion. A second doesn’t stand a chance to sabotage it. But a programme to offer a second religion in the school curriculum will certainly benefit society, because it will help students to attain more maturity and be less inward-looking with regard to religion. After all, it will at least partly compensate for the child’s lost opportunity for acquiring another religion with equal claims to being a guide to morality.



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Foreign policy dilemmas increase for the big and small

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‘No responsible American President can remain silent when basic human rights are violated.’ This pronouncement by US President Joe Biden should be interpreted as meaning that the supporting of human rights everywhere will be a fundamental focus of US foreign policy. Accordingly, not only the cause of the Armenians of old but the situation of the Muslim Uyghurs of China will be principal concerns for the Biden administration.

However, the challenge before the US would be take this policy stance to its logical conclusion. For example, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was one of the most heinous crimes to be committed by a state in recent times but what does the Biden administration intend to do by way of ensuring that the criminals and collaborators of the crime are brought to justice? In other words, how tough will the US get with the Saudi rulers?

Likewise, what course of action would the US take to alleviate the alleged repression being meted out to the Uyghurs of China? How does it intend to take the Chinese state to task? Equally importantly, what will the US do to make light the lot of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny? These are among the most urgent posers facing the US in the global human rights context.

Worse dilemmas await the US in Africa. Reports indicate that that the IS and the Taliban have begun to infiltrate West Africa in a major way, since they have been compelled to vacate the Middle East, specially Syria and Iraq. West African countries, such as, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Mauritania are already facing the IS/Taliban blight. The latter or their proxies are in the process heaping horrendous suffering on the civilian populations concerned. How is the US intending to alleviate the cruelties being visited on these population groups. Their rights are of the first importance. If the US intends to project itself as a defender of rights everywhere, what policy program does it have in store for Africa in this connection?

It does not follow from the foregoing that issues of a kindred kind would not be confronting the US in other continents. For example, not all is well in Asia in the rights context. With the possible exception of India, very serious problems relating to democratic development bedevil most Asian states, including, of course, Sri Lanka. The task before any country laying claims to democratic credentials is to further the rights of its citizens while ensuring that they are recipients of equitable growth. As a foremost champion of fundamental rights globally, it would be up to the US to help foster democratic development in the countries concerned. And it would need to do so with an even hand. It cannot be selective in this undertaking of the first importance.

The US would also from now on need to think long and deep before involving itself militarily in a conflict-ridden Southern country. Right now it is up against a policy dilemma in Afghanistan. It is in the process of pulling out of the country after 20 years but it is leaving behind a country with veritably no future. It is leaving Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban once again and the commentator is right in saying that the US did not achieve much by way of bringing relief to the Afghan people.

However, the Biden administration has done somewhat well in other areas of state concern by launching a $1.9 trillion national economic and social resuscitation program, which, if effectively implemented could help the US people in a major way. The administration is also living up to the people’s hopes by getting under way an anti-Covid-19 vaccination program for senior US citizens. These ventures smack of social democracy to a degree.

The smaller countries of South Asia in particular ought to be facing their fair share of foreign policy quandaries in the wake of some of these developments. India, the number one power of the region, is in the throes of a major health crisis deriving from the pandemic but it is expected to rebound economically in an exceptional way and dominate the regional economic landscape sooner rather than later.

For example, the ADB predicts India will recover from an 8% contraction in fiscal 2020 and grow by 11% and 7% this year and next year. South Asia is expected to experience a 9.5% overall economic expansion this year but it is India that will be the chief contributor to this growth. A major factor in India’s economic fortunes will be the US’ stimulus package that will make available to India a major export market.

For the smaller states of South Asia, such as Sri Lanka, the above situation poses major foreign policy implications. While conducting cordial and fruitful relations with China is of major importance for them, they would need to ensure that their relations with India remain unruffled. This is on account of their dependence on India in a number of areas of national importance. Since India is the predominant economic power in the region, these smaller states would do well to ensure that their economic links with India continue without interruption. In fact, they may need to upgrade their economic ties with India, considering the huge economic presence of the latter. A pragmatic foreign policy is called for since our biggest neighbour’s presence just cannot be ignored.

The Sri Lankan state has reiterated its commitment to an ‘independent foreign policy’ and this is the way to go but Sri Lanka would be committing a major policy mistake by tying itself to China too closely in the military field. This would send ‘the wrong signal’ to India which is likely to be highly sensitive to the goings-on in its neighbourhood which, for it, have major security implications. A pragmatic course is best.

In terms of pragmatism, the Maldives are forging ahead, may be, in a more exceptional manner than her neighbours. Recently, she forged closer security cooperation with the US and for the Maldives this was the right way to go because the move served her national interest. And for any state, the national interest ought to be of supreme importance.

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A Sri Lankan centre for infective disease control and prevention

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The need of the hour:

BY Dr B. J. C. Perera

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

On 01st July 1946, the Communicable Disease Center (CDC) of the United States of America opened its doors and occupied one floor of a small building in Atlanta, Georgia. Its primary mission was simple, yet highly challenging. It was to prevent malaria from spreading across the nation. Armed with a budget of only 10 million US dollars, and fewer than 400 employees, the agency’s early tasks included obtaining enough trucks, sprayers, and shovels necessary to wage war on mosquitoes.

It later advanced, slightly changed its name, and transformed itself into the much-acclaimed and reputed Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It became a unique agency with an exceptional mission. They work 24/7 to protect the safety, health and security of America from threats there and around the world. Highest standards of science are maintained in this institution. CDC is the nation’s leading science-based, data-driven, service organization that protects the public’s health. For more than 70 years, they have put science into action to help children stay healthy so they can grow and learn, to help families, businesses, and communities fight disease and stay strong and to protect the health of the general public. Their are a bold promise to the nation, and even the world. With this strategic framework, CDC commits to save American lives by securing global health and America’s preparedness, eliminating disease, and ending epidemics. In a landmark move, the CDC even established a Central Asia regional office at the U.S. Consulate in Kazakhstan in 1995 and have been involved in public health initiatives in that region.

More recently, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), was established. It is an agency of the European Union, aimed at strengthening Europe’s defences against infectious diseases. The core functions cover a wide spectrum of activities such as surveillance, epidemic intelligence, response, scientific advice, microbiology, preparedness, public health training, international relations, health communication, and the scientific journal Eurosurveillance.

Still later on, the African CDC (ACDC) was born. It strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions, as well as partnerships, to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes.

All these organisations are autonomous, independent, and are confidently dedicated to hold science to be sacred. They play a major role in advocacy and work in a committed advisory capacity. With the cataclysmic effects of the current coronavirus pandemic COVID-19, the contributions made by these institutions are priceless. What is quite important is that they are able to provide specific recommendations based on the latest scientific information available for countries and nations in their regions, even taking into account the many considerations that are explicit and even unique to their regions. All these organisations have been provided with optimal facilities and human resources. The real value of their contribution is related to just one phenomenon: AUTONOMY.

Well…, isn’t it the time for us to start a Sri Lankan Centre for Infective Disease Control and Prevention (SLCIDC)? It should be formulated as an agency constantly striving, day in and day out, to safeguard the health of the public. Science and unbending commitment to evaluation of research on a given topic should be their operating mantra. It would work as a completely apolitical organisation and what we can recommend is that it would be directly under the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, unswervingly reporting to and accountable to the President. It would consist of medical doctors, scientists and researchers but no politicians of any sort, no non-medical or non-scientist persons, no hangers on and no business persons. All appointments to the SLCIDC will be made by the President of the country, perhaps in consultation with medical professional organisations.

The prime duty of the SLCIDC would be to assess the on-going situation of any infective issue that has any effect on the health of the public. The organisation will undertake in-depth examination and assessment of a given situation caused by an infective organism. They need to have all relevant data from within the country as well as from outside the country. There will not be any vacillation of the opinions expressed by them and their considered views should not be coloured by any consideration apart from science and research done locally and worldwide. Their considered opinion would be conveyed directly to the President of the country. They are free to issue statements to keep the public informed about the results of their deliberations.

We believe that it would be a step in the right direction; perhaps even a giant step for our nation, not only during the current coronavirus pandemic but also on any major problems of an infective nature that might occur in the future.

 

This writer wishes to acknowledge a colleague, a Consultant Physician, who first mooted this idea during a friendly conversation.

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Kudurai Madiri Pona

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The big jumbo has come from the French land and as the French themselves say it is ‘annus mirabillis’ the miracle year, finally, and finally the wait is over. The world will now see the Big- Bus that we all waited for so long to see. As the years roll by, none would talk of delays regarding the delays on delivery dates and how late the bird flew in. These would be like words written on a blackboard, erased forever. But the aeroplane will grace the sky and, perhaps rewrite all the records of commercial aviation when the mega-miracle A380 dominates the international air-routes.

Singapore Airlines went into the record books as the launch customer. Some of my old friends from SIA would fly the A380. Perhaps, Luke would, too, and this story is about him. Luke of yesteryear and how he first flew as a cadet and how young Luke and I went romping the skies in our own special way, writing a few new lines in the flight training manual.

Luke was from Johor Baru, in Malaysia. His roots were in South India where years ago his grandfather had done a Robinson Crusoe and ended up in the Malayan Peninsula. Luke was named after one of the four Gospel scribes. Luke really isn’t his name. It is a pseudonym, I use just to give him some anonymity. Not much protection, but one is to three are playable odds. Like in Rumple stiltskin the manikin, you are welcome to guess the name.

We first flew to Seoul. He, straight out of flying College, and yours truly, as old as the hills, driving the ‘Jumbo’ classic, the lovable 747. The first thing I noticed about him was his socks, black and white diamond shapes, a mini version of the flags they swing at Grand Prix finals – if Luke swung his feet, a Ferrari would pass underneath. That we sorted out the first day itself. In Seoul,he went shopping and the next day he was Zorro, waist to toe, black as a crow.

His flying credentials were all there, somewhat mixed up between what they teach in modern flying schools and how to apply the ‘ivory tower’ jargon to cope with the big 747. As for raw handling of the aeroplane, all his skills were intact, only they were in bits and pieces and spread in places like an Irida Pola (Sunday Fair). They had to be streamlined, the wet market needed to be modified to a ‘Seven-Eleven’ – that was my job.

The next round we went flying to Europe, his first run to the unknown, like Gagarin in his Sputnik, young Luke flew to Rome. The flying was same as before, a bit mixed up amidst the hundreds of aero dynamical paraphernalia that spelled out from the encyclopaedic collection of books that he had to study.

That’s when I decided to change the tide.

‘Luke my friend,” I said to him in a fatherly fashion.

‘You and I are from similar fields, you from Kerala and me from Sri Lanka. These Min Drag Curves and VFEs and WAT limits and VLEs are too much for us. Just remember when you pull the stick back, the houses will become smaller and when you push the stick down, the houses will become bigger, that’s climbing and descending this monster,” I explained the simple theory of flight.

“As for landing my friend, Kudurai Madiri Pona, just ride it like a horse.”

That was it. We flew, over Europe and he flew like a Trojan, bravely battling the weather and the overcrowded skies. Every time he came in to land it was pure and simple Kudurai Madiri Pona and the big jumbo responded and touched down on the concrete as smooth as a honeymoon lover.

On the way back, we flew via Colombo, that’s my home ground. I requested the radar controller to give Luke a very short ‘four-mile’ final. They know me well here and the controller said “No problem, Captain.”

I was depicting what we did in the Old Hong Kong Airport or what we do in the Canarsi Approach in New York; both, most demanding. A ‘four-mile’ final is a challenge for anyone. I was throwing him in at the deep end and I had no doubt Luke could manage. He came in tight and right, like Hopalong Cassidy and rode the horse straight and beautiful to do a perfect landing. Gone was the Kampong kid and his ‘Irida Pola’ flying, this was Takashimaya and Robinsons rolled into one, everything was in place, nice and shining and professional to the tee.

That was our little story, Luke the ‘jockey’ and me. Sometimes in the field of training, the script needs a little changing. New acts to be introduced to suit the stage. That is the essence of teaching, different hurdles for different horses. It wasn’t for Luke to learn what I knew, more so, it was for me to know who he was and what he could cope with. That part was difficult to find in the flying training manual, and so was Kudurai Madiri Pona.

The world has gotten older and young Luke now wears four stripes and flies in command of Boeing Triple Sevens, fly-by-wire and multiple computers. I met him a few times, flew as his passenger, too, with great pride. “Captain Luke is in command,” the stewardess announced, and silently and gratefully I said, ‘Amen’.

I saw him walking down the aisle, looking for me. Same old Luke in his flat and uncombed Julius Ceaser hairstyle. He came to my seat and grinned and shook my hand and lightly lifted his trouser leg and said,

“Captain, the socks are black and it is still Kudurai Madiri Pona.

I am sure Luke will fly in command of the gigantic A380 one day. That’s a certainty. It would be the zenith for any pilot. Luke is ready, that I know. He is competent, polished and professional and will wear socks as black as midnight. It’s nice that he remembers his beginnings. That’s what flying is all about, that’s what life is all about.

Kudurai Madiri Pona

– ride it like a horse. Some flying lesson.

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