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Opinion

MWL should separate the wheat from the chaff

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By Rohana R. Wasala

Government MP Dr. Wijedasa Rajapaksa, a former Justice Minister and an ex-president of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, stated over a month ago that the Muslim World League “(owes) families of those who had perished or suffered injuries in the Easter Sunday terror attacks USD 5 mn.” (‘Wijedasa takes it up with Saudi-based outfit’ by Shamindra Ferdinando, The Island, March 25, 2021). This is money that the MWL General Secretary Dr. Sheikh Muhammad Abdul Kareem Al-Issa was said to have promised on behalf of his organization towards the relief of the surviving victims of those attacks at a so-called National Peace Conference held at Nelum Pokuna under the patronage of the then President Maithripala Sirisena on June 30, 2019, a little over two months after the Easter Sunday attacks carried out by eight Islamist suicide bombers in the name of their religion. As claimed by MP Rajapaksa, the Sheikh made the promise in the presence of the then incumbent Sirisena, and former presidents Chandrika Bandaranaike and Mahinda Rajapaksa, among other dignitaries. The same three past presidents dutifully attended the second National Peace Conference on March 5, this year. MP Rajapaksa told The Island that he brought up the issue with the MWL head. This was through a letter of his dated March 22, 2021, where he urged the latter to fulfill what he had promised without further delay. MP Rajapaksa stressed: “Let us hope those who organised the Nelum Pokuna event, too, will take up this matter with the Muslim World League and finalise the transfer of funds before the second anniversary of 2019 Easter Sunday carnage.”

The failure of the MWL was mentioned even at the PCoI, according to the MP, who further said that he had raised the matter with the offices of the previous and present presidents. Dr P.B. Jayasundara (Secretary to the current incumbent) had confirmed that the funds in question had not been received. A letter that the then Western Province Governor A. J. M. Muzammil had received from Muhammad Al-Issa, to which MP Rajapaksa refers, seems to have a hint about the possible reason for the unexplained delay in the payment of the promised financial assistance: it is probably being withheld “pending Sri Lanka providing information relating to the spate of suicide attacks”. Whether the MP’s importunity in the given context is shared by the government is in doubt. What should be of greater concern for the government is the fact that, by contriving to get themselves identified as constituting the  whole Muslim community of the country, the handful of Islamist extremists who are widely believed to have provided tacit or explicit support for the suicide bombers are also foisting themselves on its (the MWL’s) powerful patronage. While being grateful to this organization for offering welcome help at a moment of national distress, Sri Lankan leaders must take care not to allow these Islamist extremists tainted with suspected association with the terrorists who caused that suffering to jeopardise its relations with the traditionally friendly Muslim nations through subterfuge. At the same time, it behoves our leaders to establish the genuineness of the MWL’s intentions and to have a correct understanding of the rationale of its involvement in the post-attack context, before accepting its charity.(Aside: Islamic Jihadists and fanatical Christian proselytizers are minorities that should not for a moment be identified with the traditional Sri Lankan Muslim and Christian communities who have always lived in harmony with the Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus for centuries. Sri Lanka must take special care to prevent the problematic Islamist and Christian extremist sects from pretending to the outside world that they respectively represent the country’s Muslim and Christian mainstreams in order to subvert its foreign relations as certain powerful Muslim politicos who have somehow contrived to ingratiate themselves with the powers that be seem to be doing at the moment.)

According to the Wikipedia, the Muslim World League is a (Saudi) government-funded NGO, which  was founded in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 1962. The name suggests that it is about the pan-Islamic Muslim world, not the world in general, which Muslims share with people of other non-Muslim faiths. It came into existence for the purpose of serving Islam and Muslims. Its founding charter, according to the information currently given in the Wikipedia, is as follows:

“We the members of the Muslim World League, representing it religiously, hereby undertake before God, Almighty to: Discharge our obligation towards God, by conveying and proclaiming His Message all over the world. We also reaffirm our belief that there shall be no peace in the world without the application of the principles of Islam. Invite all communities to vie with one another for the common good and happiness of mankind, establish social justice and a better human society. Call upon God to bear witness that we do not intend to undermine, dominate or practice hegemony over anyone else. Hence, in order to further these goals, we intend to: Unite the ranks of the Muslims, and remove all divisive forces from the midst of the Muslim communities around the world. Remove obstacles in the way of establishing the Muslim world union. Support all advocates of charitable deeds. Utilize our spiritual as well as material and moral potentialities in furthering the aims of this charter. Unify efforts in order to achieve these purposes in a positive and practical way. Reject all the pretenses of ancient as well as contemporary Jahiliyah (attitudes of the pre-Islamic era). Always reaffirm the fact that Islam has no place for either regionalism or racism.”

The organization has thus an extensive global agenda with inevitable, wide ranging, religious, educational, cultural, legal, and political implications, particularly for non-Muslim countries Sri Lanka, given that the organization is committed to foster the fiercely conservative brand of Islam, Wahhabism (or Salafism), which is Saudi Arabia’s state religion. It will, among other things, include laying down plans designed to revive the role of the Mosque in the fields of guidance, education, preaching and provision of social services, conducting a comprehensive survey of the world’s Mosques and publishing the information gathered in book form and in the shape of periodical bulletins, selecting and posting groups of well qualified preachers on guidance missions throughout the Mosques of the world, formation of board of directors to supervise the affairs of each and every Mosque at the national as well as the regional levels, studying the ideas and patterns of behavior that contravene the teachings of Islam, and helping in rehabilitating and training Imams and khateebs for posting to the various Muslim areas to lead Muslims in prayers, deliver sermons and guidance lessons (a khateeb is a person who delivers a sermon during Friday prayers).

As the Wikipedia further informs us, all Saudi Arabian citizens are legally required to be Muslims. They don’t have the right to freedom of religion (as the term is understood in democratic countries); nor do the expatriate workers employed in the Saudi kingdom. The official and dominant form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia is Wahhabism (also called Salafism) which emerged in the 18th century. Its adherents believe that its teachings “purify the practice of Islam of innovations or practices that deviate from the seventh century teachings of Muhammad and his companions”. Saudi Arabia has long been accused of being the principal exporter of Islamist extremism (WikiLeaks cables).  “… Saudi Arabia arguably remains the most prolific sponsor of international Islamist terrorism, allegedly supporting groups as disparate as the Afghanistan Taliban, Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Al-Nusra Front… Saudi Arabia is said to be the world’s largest source of funds and promoter of Salafist jihadism …. which forms the ideological basis of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, Taliban, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and others” (‘State-sponsored terrorism’/Wikipedia/Page last edited 14 April 2021). Saudi Arabia denies these allegations, but the Wikipedia entry mentions the prevalent argument that by its very nature Wahhabism/Salafism “encourages intolerance and promotes terrorism”.  

The MWL, while propagating the religion of Islam, encourages Dawah (lit. issuing summons to/euphemistically, inviting or calling non-Muslims to join, i.e., preaching to them) and conversion of non-Muslims; funds construction of mosques and provides financial relief for Muslims affected by natural disasters; finances distribution of copies of the Quran and political tracts on Muslim minority groups. Though the organization claims that “they reject all acts of violence and promote dialogue with the people of other cultures, within their understanding of Sharia”, they are not free from controversy on that point, having been the subject of several ongoing counter terrorism investigations in the US related to Hamas, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups”

However, since 2016, the Muslim World League has been claiming to be dedicated to combating extremist ideology, and to confronting hatred, disunity and violence closely associated with extremism. The US State Department, in its 2019 Country Reports on Terrorism, stated that the Muslim World League’s Secretary General, Muhammad Abdul Kareem Al-Issa “pressed a message of interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and peaceful coexistence with global religious authorities, including Muslim imams outside the Arab world.” The same document said that he “conducted extensive outreach to prominent U.S. Jewish and Christian leaders”. No doubt, the MWL is on the same pious mission in Sri Lanka. We may be hopeful that the MWL leader will similarly reach out to the non-Muslim 90% of the Sri Lankan population comprising Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists.

But whether the assurances given to the powerful US will hold for a small non-Muslim country like ours is still a moot point. The  MWL’s sponsor Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy without a legislature (Wikipedia), let alone an elected legislature; its state religion Sunni Islam or Wahhabism,  is growing to be the majority Buddhist Sri Lanka’s scourge, unless checked in time with the help of the predominantly Sufi mainstream Muslim minority, who have peacefully coexisted with the majority Buddhist and other non-Muslim minorities for centuries. The MWL’s post-April 21, 2019 interest or involvement in Sri Lanka should be judged according to its uncompromising commitment to “serving Islam and Muslims” everywhere as explained in the foregoing account. The rich and powerful Saudi-funded, Saudi-basedl Wahhabism-inspired NGO outfit’s patronage of Sri Lanka’s approximately 10% Muslim minority is bound to have understandably important repercussions. 

One could argue that the so-called National Conference on Peace, Harmony and Coexistence that introduced the MWL to the country just two months after the April 21 Islamist terror bombings, in effect, both ‘nationalised’ and ‘internationalised’ Sri lanka’s still nascent Islamic fundamentalist problem. Unless sorted out early, this is not going to do any good to the peaceful and harmonious coexistence which all Sri Lankans of different ethnicities and cultures have been enjoying to date mainly thanks to the influence of the country’s extremely accommodating, tolerant Buddhist cultural foundation, something that is today universally accepted and appreciated by all peaceful non-Buddhist minorities. Through its friendly outreach to the non-Muslim majority, the MWL can hope to further strengthen the already existing interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence in our island nation. It is heartening that the Saudis now reject extremist ideology and terrorism. However, unfortunately, this cannot be asserted without reservations.

According to  The Island news report mentioned above, Secretary to former president Sirisena, Samira de Silva, told the paper that the MWL was delaying the payment because the National Peace Conference event organizers had still not responded to the following questions: “(1) the number of dead and wounded (2) their faith (religion) (3) list of the dead and the wounded (4) collateral damage to public property (5) number of widows and orphans (6) other relevant information and (7) account number of the President’s or  Prime Minister’s charitable fund”. 

To my mind, these are not charitable questions that we would expect a genuinely humanitarian organization to ask. Why should they demand specific information about the victims’ religion and their particular identities? The term ‘collateral damage’ refers to unintended, but unavoidable, accidentally caused, damage to civilians’ lives and their property during a military conflict. The NGO also calls for the account number of the President’s or Prime Minister’s charitable fund.  

Why all this cheeseparing for the insultingly derisory sum of 5 mn US Dollars by a rich Saudi government funded NGO? For Saudi Arabia with its relatively small population of 34.2 million (2019 estimate) and its GDP at 1.9 trillion US Dollars and per capita income at 56,817 US Dollars (Wikipedia), it is peanuts. Of course, the 5 mn dollar sum (roughly the equivalent of 1 billion currently debased SL rupees) is not intended to sound like a big amount to Sri Lankans, for that would be an affront to their general knowledge.

The Island report said: “According to a missive received from Dr. Jayasundera, the Muslim World League was to directly get in touch with the Prime Minister’s Office to finalise the matter”. Dr Jayasundera is Secretary to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who seems to have transferred the ‘matter’ to the PM. 



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Opinion

Minister Gamini Lokuge’s damage to people’s health

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Two consecutive editorials, published in The Island on the 7 and 8 May, lambasted the despicable intervention of the Minister of Transport, Gamini Lokuge, for being instrumental in lifting the lockdown, in Piliyandala, against the advice of the health authorities.

A team of health officials, led by the MOH Piliyandala, backed by PHIs, and the DGHS, based on the recommendations of his officers, decided to lock down the Piliyandala town, as it had taken a turn for the worse, due to the rapid spread of the epidemic.

Minister Lokuge is reported to have admitted, at an interview with Hiru News, that he influenced the lifting of the lockdown in Piliyandala, and The Island, of May 10, highlighted the circumstances that led him to influence the lifting of the lockdown. The Minister accepted that he influenced the lifting of the lockdown for the sake of the daily wage earners, a claim which has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Close on the heels of the Minister’s arrogant countermand, a cluster of 138 patients was detected from the Piliyandala market.

A vendor collapsed in the market itself and his post-mortem proved that he was afflicted with the coronavirus.

The female MOH, who deserves to be praised for the adroit manner in which she has been performing duties in Piliyandala, said over the television that the cluster could have been averted, if the lockdown had not been lifted.

Hence, the Minister’s overzealous attempt to look after the livelihood of the daily wage earner, is certainly humbug, which cannot be condoned under any circumstances.

Readers would remember that the High Courts of Madras and Calcutta lambasted the Election Commission of India for their failure to ensure the recommended protocol meant for Covid-19, and openly said the ECI should be put on murder charges.

Could we reasonably expect that the authorities institute murder charges against the Minister, in the resplendent island, so that legislators, with bloated egos, could be reined in this hour of calamity.

Undoubtedly, idiotic action on the part of the Minister has endangered the precious lives of the people living in the Piliyandala area.

The childish manner in which the Minister responded to the questions, as reported by The Island correspondent, raises a number of issues. The foremost issue is whether he, as a senior Minister of the government, is capable of running an important Ministry, as he has messed up a vital epidemic issue, involving his own constituents.

Secondly, he has caused much embarrassment to the Commander of the Army and Head of the Presidential Task Force who has undertaking an arduous operation.

His argument that if the lifting of the lockdown was wrong then it should have been imposed again, is ridiculous.

All in all, what I could say is that the Minister’s high-handed intervention has left a bad taste in many a mouth, and it has caused an irrparable damage to the government at a time when its popularity is plummeting at a rapid pace.

 

RANASINGHE

Septuagenarian, Piliyandala

 

 

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Opinion

Glyphosate Reality:

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Non-science used as science

I have read with interest the article on “Science, Non-science and Nonsense” written by Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva in “The Island” of 11.3.2021. In this article “Dr. Sarath Gamini”, as he is popularly known in the medical circles, refers to me (without mentioning my name) and my research and a lecture given by me to the Sri Lanka Medical Association. This is my response to him, particularly, on the issue of glyphosate pesticide.

I take strong issue with Dr. Sarath Gamini’s erroneous characterisation of my research, related to glyphosates, and the categorization of the government decisions and policies related to the glyphosate pesticide. For clarity, let me reproduce the paragraph on glyphosate in toto from Dr. Sarath Gamini’s article, highlighting the area where he refers to me and my research:

“The campaign conducted blaming the weed killer glyphosate as a cause of the epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown origin in the farming areas, mainly in the North Central province, was one burning issue then. There was no scientific evidence to prove this, despite the efforts of some professors in the medical field to find some. However, the importation of the chemical was banned mostly due to political expediency. One is not aware of any other country in the world doing so. When a visiting Sri Lankan expatriate doctor claiming to be a researcher in the field was asked, he could name only a small country, still contemplating doing so. He was lost for words to answer probing questions on the matter. His research has since been discredited in the USA. How the ban adversely affected the productivity in the agricultural sector in Sri Lanka has never been assessed or discussed.”

I am an American Board-Certified Occupational Medicine physician, and I have worked as a tenured full professor for over 34 years in the California State University, Long Beach, which is one of the largest and most respected university systems in the United States. Second, I have published more than a dozen peer reviewed scientific articles, and have given over 50 public lectures in relation to the toxic effects of glyphosate pesticide. Except for an unsigned petition sent by some disgruntled supporters of pesticides (the contents of which were found to be completely false) my research has never been discredited in the United States, or anywhere else. In fact, I won several awards for my research, including the Research Accomplishment of the Year award from my university, the prestigious “International Award” from the Occupational Health and Safety Section of the American Public Health Association, and the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility (SFR) Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (an award that I shared with Prof. Channa Jayasumana). By the same token. As far as I know, Dr. Sarath Gamini does not have a single publication related to the toxicity of glyphosate pesticide. I raise this issue because one of the conditions that Dr. Sarath Gamini has stipulated, throughout his article, is that one has to be knowledgeable and competent in order to be able to make comments on any issue, within medicine or any other scientific field. Does that apply to Dr. Sarath Gamini, on the issue of Glyphosate as well?

Now, to get on to the content, throughout the paragraph on glyphosate, Dr. Sarath Gamini makes an assertion that the ban on glyphosate pesticide was made without any scientific evidence and “mostly due to political expediency” and he says, “One is not aware of any other country in the world doing so (the ban)”. These statements clearly demonstrate Dr. Sarath Gamin’s ignorance on the subject. Let me state the following facts for his knowledge, as well as that of the general public.

Hundreds of scientific research studies have linked glyphosate not only to Chronic Kidney Disease but also to many other health conditions, including autism, birth defects, inflammatory bowel syndrome and liver diseases. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer reviewed the scientific evidence in a 2015 report and classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate – brand name Roundup – is primarily associated with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL), a cancer in the immune system. Following this determination, in October 2015, the first Roundup (Glyphosate) product liability lawsuit was filed against Monsanto in San Francisco District courts. In August 2018, a jury awarded $289 million in damages to the plaintiff – Dewayne Johnson – who is a former school groundskeeper for a California county school system when he developed NHL after spraying glyphosate regularly for several years. This amount was later reduced, during the appeals process. During this trial, evidence released by lawyers for the plaintiff tells an alarming story of ghostwriting, scientific manipulation, collusion with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and previously undisclosed information about how the human body absorbs glyphosate. These documents provide a deeper understanding of the serious public health consequences of glyphosate, and the false advertising related to Monsanto’s conduct in marketing glyphosate.

In a second case, the jury awarded a staggering $2 billion in damages to a couple – Alva and Alberta Pilliod. In court proceedings, the Pilliods testified to using Roundup regularly, starting in 1982. The couple used the consumer version of the weedkiller, whose label lacked any warnings about covering skin or wearing protective masks. Following these successes in courts, more than 18000 cases have been filed by people who developed cancer after regularly spraying glyphosate. According to some legal reports, Bayer – the German company that bought Monsanto in 2016 – has formally submitted a $8 billion for a global settlement. In March 2020, Monsanto also agreed to pay $39.5 million as a settlement for falsely advertising Roundup is “safe” for people and pets. The settlement, which was filed in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri, resolves allegations brought by several plaintiffs who claimed Monsanto failed to warn consumers about the health risks of glyphosate.

Following the lawsuits and the expert epidemiological evidence that was presented in courts, more than 20 countries have now banned, or restricted, the use of glyphosate. Although Monsanto’s new owner, Bayer, is fighting hard to limit these restrictions, the list is growing day by day. Some of these countries include Belgium, Denmark, France, Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, and Mexico. There are many cities and institutions in the U.S., including, New York, Key West, Los Angeles, the Universities of California and Miami who have now regulations to restrict the use of Glyphosate-based pesticides. (For a complete list of these restrictions please see Where is Glyphosate Banned? | Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman (baumhedlundlaw.com)

In his article, Dr. Sarath Gamini describes the revocation of the ban on glyphosate for the use in tea and coconut cultivation as a “fortunate” one. In my mind, this was one of the most “unfortunate” Cabinet decisions for several reasons: First, this policy decision was taken without much scientific advice. There was an Expert Committee that was appointed to provide advice on this matter. I was invited as an expert to testify. However, two weeks before the hearings were scheduled, the Cabinet paper was approved hastily. The main argument put forward was that there was not enough of a labour force for the removal of weeds, manually. However, many weeds have now developed resistance to glyphosate, so that one has to use manual labour to complete the process of weed removal. Second, there is no tracking and post-marketing monitoring process available in Sri Lanka to ensure that this toxic pesticide does not end up in the hands of fruit and vegetable growers and in our food. Third, the regulatory costs of protective equipment, biomonitoring and the certification of the tea and coconut products to ensure that their glyphosate levels are within acceptable limits is costly – a cost that outweighs the benefits. By now it should be clear to the reader that I have a completely opposing view on glyphosate to that of Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva.

Furthermore, in this article Dr. Sarath Gamini describes how, over the past few years, we have seen many untruths, hypocrisy and myths being propagated by professionals misleading the ignorant public and creating social unrest and even violence. As examples, the author describes, among others, several recent incidents, including the alleged sterilization of women without consent in Kurunegala, the propagation of a questionable local medicine that was touted as a cure for Covid-19, and the issue of compulsory cremation of deaths due to Covid. I will not comment on any of these issues for two reasons: First, I was not present in the country when most of these incidents took place; Second, I have not studied the social and political dynamics, surrounding these incidents, and the policies.

Therefore, in conclusion, I would like to say this to Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva: Now that you have talked about glyphosate, please “walk the walk” and demonstrate that you have the expertise on the subject and that you know what the “established knowledge” is. Dr. Sarath Gemini’s view of the established knowledge on glyphosate is completely antithetical to that of mine. Therefore, I would like to invite Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva to a public debate about the toxicity of glyphosate and the appropriateness of using the pesticide in Sri Lanka agriculture.

Dr. SARATH GUNATILAKE

Professor, California State University, Long Beach, California

Diplomate, American Board of Occupational Medicine

Email – sarath.gunatilake@csulb.edu )

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Opinion

Mindset of Arts Graduates

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Hasini Lecamwasam’s article Why are Arts Graduates Unemployable (The Island of 11 May) is an excellent analysis of the topic.

For decades, our universities have turned out Arts Graduates, very well knowing that with most of the basic subjects offered by them, they become unemployable; but what have the authorities done to rectify this waste of government funds which could have been diverted to other educational areas?

In one way, it boils down to falling values, the objective of just obtaining a degree and being a “Upadhi Dharee” being the main purpose. I have come across this myself and have hands on exposure to this.

About a decade ago, the then Government approached some of the large business organisations (Just before a general election) and made an appeal for them to employ at least two graduates, under a special scheme, at a salary of Rs 6,000/= per month. The company I work for, also agreed to consider this, and informed the Ministry concerned accordingly. The Ministry had short listed 12 graduates for us and they were called for interviews. The company wanted me to interview them to see whether we could select two.

All the applicants were Arts Graduates, and seven were over the age of 35 years. Although all our company work is done in English, I made it a point to interview them in Sinhala, just to make them comfortable. All 12 applicants had some avenue of income and some of them were married. There was one who was looking after their own paddy lands (Govithan), another looking after their plots of tea and rubber, selling green leaf and latex, there were two who ran their family grocery shops and businesses, and one other female who had started a small shop (Kade) initially selling eight loaves of bread a day along with other items, and soon ending up selling over 40 loaves of bread and turning the business into a village grocery shop. The others also were engaged in some vocation.

I had one common question for them, that is; why do they want to give up what they were doing at their villages without improving them, and to come to Colombo and get boarded and work for a salary of Rs 6,000.00 per month? You will be surprised that they all had one common answer, ie “Mama Upaadhi Dhaariyek Ne” (Cos I am a degree holder.) My attempt to tell them that the salary would hardly be sufficient to pay for their boarding and food, and that it would be very much more sensible for them to improve what they were already doing, was like pouring water on a duck’s back. This was their mindset.

SARIPUTHRA

Colombo 05

Chief Financial Officer of a

Leading Group of Companies

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