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Politics as usual no remedy for Islamic extremism

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By Rohana R. Wasala

A heated exchange took place in Parliament a couple of days ago (November 26 or 27) about the so-called Batticaloa Sharia University, between Opposition MP Kavinda Jayawardane of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and Minister of Education Prof. G.L. Peiris MP (SLPP), as reported on Hiru TV. Following is a rough and ready verbatim translation of the dialogue with essential clarifications in parentheses (It is subject to the usual limitations of a translation, though):

 KJ:- 

The Easter (Sunday) attacks killed more than 350 of our Catholic people and left more than  

 500 physically disabled to this day. Terrorist Saharan carried out those attacks. 

 Former (Eastern Provincial) Governor Hizbullah had direct relations with this terrorist. Even  the Chairman of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (on the Easter attacks) said, in relation to this governor, that the legal process initiated concerning this university was unlawful. You, as the then Opposition, said before the presidential election, that this Sharia University will be taken   over by the government.

GL:- 

There’s no final decision on that (subject). We will not let it exist as a private institution. I say   this to the Hon. Member very emphatically.

KJ:-  

This university’s curriculum includes Sharia Law as a course component. Unless it is brought under government control, this country’s innocent children will be taught the Sharia with extremist ideologies.

GL:- 

Before 2015, Hon. Member, there was a clear strategy to handle the problem. We did not  allow the Sharia law to sow dissension, hatred on the pretext of teaching various courses.  After 2015, they (the Yahapalana administration) even let foreign lecturers come into the country without checking on their  past; they were given ‘visa on arrival’ (facility) at the airport. We didn’t do so in our time. The Yahapalana government gave carte blanche to anyone (any Tom, Dick or Harry) to come and teach any course, at  any place, at any time. We are reaping what you sowed.

KJ:-  

Please tell the House whether this government is going to allow the teaching of the Sharia Law in this country or not? 

GL:- 

Sharia or anything else, we’ll see whether it is in conformity with the Constitution. 

We will find out who created this. It is a problem that you passed on to us.

KJ:- 

Don’t try to pass the buck. You are in power now. During the presidential election, you said 

clearly that you will not allow extremism to raise its head; that you will not allow Sharia to 

be taught; that those who caused abortions will be taken to court; that Dr Shihabdeen will 

be hanged. But now you’ve forgotten about Shafi Shihabdeen; you’ve forgotten about 

Sharia; you’ve forgotten about the Batticaloa Campus. In regard to the Easter Sunday 

attacks, officials are being hunted; but the persons who taught the bombers the terrorist 

ideology and induced the terrorist mindset (that drove them) are left alone.

GL:- 

All these things were done to obtain the support of certain extremist groups for achieving narrow ends. That is the truth. It is now that the evil consequences (of those actions) are becoming obvious.

(End of the translation)

First of all, I beg that Professor Peiris and Dr Jayawardane please bear with me for taking the liberty of subjecting your Parliamentary conversation to a kind of dispassionate critical analysis, that, I hope, will contribute what little it may to the emerging trend of constructive, though usually hostile, criticism in the social media directed at the speeches and actions of our MPs both inside and outside the House. Personally, I have great respect for both: the senior one is reaching the summit of an illustrious career as a celebrated legal studies academic and as an experienced parliamentarian; the junior one, professionally a medical practitioner like his late father the then UNP’s  nationalist-leaning Dr Jayalath Jayawardane, is just starting what is invariably going to be a distinguished political career, given the potential he has already shown. No personal disrespect, humiliation, or offence towards either is intended by the following opinion, offered for what it is worth.

MP Jayawardane may be exaggerating things on the spur of the moment when he says that more than 350 Catholics were killed in the EasterSunday bombings (Of course, there’s no gainsaying the fact even one killed is too many) and when he talks about somebody’s alleged past threat to hang someone. Be that as it may, as a concerned Sri Lankan, I found the exchange between the two Honourable Members in the august Assembly very depressing in these critical times. My impression was that both speakers were ignorant of, or indifferent to, the crucial matter they were, somewhat implicitly, arguing about: how to deal with the emerging Islamist threat to Sri Lanka, which is behind the simmering controversies, including the Batticaloa Sharia University issue, Hizbulah’s connection with it, and complaints that Dr Shafi Shihabdeen had performed non-consensual tubal sterilisations on Sinhalese mothers during a flaunted record number of caesarean section operations.

To MP Jayawardane’s question whether the government was going to bring the Batticaloa Sharia University under government control, Minister Peiris assured him that though no decision had been arrived at regarding that, it will not be allowed to exist as a private institution. This could mean that the college will not be allowed to continue at all (which is unlikely) or it will be assigned to the state university system. However, this is part of the unimaginably thorny issue of what to do about the madrasas that have mushroomed around the country. Neither speaker seems to have the faintest idea about the bigger picture. Obviously, Peiris is bluffing and Jayawardane is trying to call his bluff, though both of them are equally ignorant of the real problem.

Jayawardane is asking whether the government is going to allow the teaching of the Sharia Law. Actually, it is a non-question. There is no question of allowing or not allowing the teaching of Sharia for it is an essential part of Islam. The Arabic word sharia means the ‘way’. Google says Sharia ‘is more accurately understood as referring to wide-ranging moral and broad ethical principles drawn from the Quran and the practices and sayings (hadith) of Prophet Muhammad’. In my opinion, it parallels the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism. Of course, the two things are like chalk and cheese or apples and oranges. The issue is whether certain aspects of Sharia law (such as death for blasphemy, apostacy, and amputation for stealing) can be implemented in a democratically governed non-Muslim majority country like Sri Lanka. 

Minister Peiris maintains that, before 2015, extremist Islamic was kept under control, and that the present troubles are the result of the wrong attitude of the Yahapalanaya to the problem. I’m afraid this is not totally true. Rishard, Hakeem, Hizbullah, Salley, etc., pursued their careers in those halcyon days, as ‘powerful allies’ of president Mahinda Rajapaksa while underground Islamic extremist activities were going on, despite the vocal agitations of the monks, which fell on deaf ears. The above-named Muslim politicians cannot be described as terrorists or terrorist backers; but it is quite possible, going by what is being revealed during investigations, that they were abused as a protective phalanx by the Jihadists including suicide bomber Zahran Hashim unbeknown to those popular personages. Unfortunately, it looks like the same thing is happening today, despite the availability of young Muslim leaders, both in parliament and outside, who think out of the box as president Gotabaya Rajapaksa correctly insists on doing. MP Jayawardane, probably unknowingly, forced Minister Peiris to admit what is most likely to be the truth, which applies to politicians of both the main parties/their new manifestations: ‘All these things were done to obtain the support of certain extremist groups for achieving narrow ends. That is the truth. It is now that the evil consequences (of those actions) are becoming obvious.’ 

Trying to please veiled opportunists is no way to tackle the Islamist problem because they, like the few mentally unhinged terrorists, are actually in a really insignificant minority. Such a policy can easily demoralize the educated young Muslim leaders who are braving the few lawless terrorists who may be ruling the roost within the community evading detection under the radar of the security agencies. Jihadist extremists use fear as a weapon. Despite this, increasing numbers of young Muslim women are now publicly speaking up against unwarranted impositions on them regarding their dress, choice of marriage partners, socialization with members of the opposite sex, and so on in the name of religion as decided by a few conservative Muslim males. It is a fact that growing numbers of young Muslims and Tamils of both sexes are establishing close political links with their Sinhalese counterparts. 

Incidentally, the spat between state minister of wildlife protection Wimalaweera Dissanayake, SLFP MP, and some officials of the wildlife department, no doubt, brought an unpleasant sense of deja vu to most of us who were familiar with the escapades of a now discredited and defeated former MP from Kelaniya. Whatever the truth at the centre of the episode, Dissanayake clearly failed to behave as he should have. There appears to be some nefarious activity indulged in by some crooks in that locality who may have won the misplaced confidence of the deputy minister. This impression was reinforced by some well-known young activist monks who symbolically pulled down an unauthorised shed built to shelter cows in the forest reserve; the monks complained that criminal elements were continuing their activities in that place rich with ancient archaeological remains in spite of the relevant authorities having been warned about the matter before. Adding insult to injury, MP Roshan Ranasinghe of the SLFP has also castigated the wildlife officers.  This cannot be approved of either. There may be a few of them who are guilty of various offences, but indiscriminately condemning government functionaries is a bad thing. We know how dedicatedly our doctors, nurses, police and army officers execute their duties in trying to control the Covid-19 pandemic situation; they are doing that in the name of the country, most of them inspired by the example of the new president, expecting no public plaudits unlike most politicians. Had Gotabaya not been there, some of these politicians would not have been elected to parliament. They are obstructing the president’s action plan. It is clearly a crime for a politician to demoralize even a single dutiful public servant.    

The Parliament or the House of Representatives is traditionally described as ‘august’ and the elected members who meet there to legislate as honourable. These are formal words that are ceremonially used, but they are not devoid of serious meaning. The augustness of the Parliament as the supreme legislature of the country and the honourableness of the Members of Parliament as the elected legislators are inviolable, though the persons who man the institution from time to time may or may not be really worthy of those epithet Honourable. ‘August’ in this context means dignified, distinguished, imposing, stately, solemn, etc; the opposite qualities include frivolous, silly, undignified, and so on. ‘Honourable’ has the sense of bringing or deserving respect, honest, moral, ethical, principled, righteous, etc.  Antonyms of the word are dishonourable, despicable, crooked, deplorable, and similar negatives. Having said this, I would like to finally add that it is a reason for consolation for us that our MPs do preserve their personal dignity and the solemness of the institution that they man up, with a few exceptions, that too, under pressure of circumstances. Occasional unparliamentary behaviour among members is what prevails in most democracies around the world, and it is due to fallible human nature.



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Opinion

Effort by All Ceylon Buddhist Congress to help govt. of Sri Lanka escape from dollar trap

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By DR L M K Tillekeratne

Chairman of the National Development Committee of the ACBC

It is a well-known fact that one the problems faced by Sri Lanka today is caused mainly by shortage of electricity for domestic purposes and industries. Three decades ago, only 20 % of houses had electricity for lighting. But, today over 95 % of houses in the whole country have electricity. Total electric power the country needs is about 2,750 MW a day. In order to generate 65% of it by using diesel and coal, the cost involved now is tremendous and that is the main reason for the creation of dollar shortage in the country. Besides, when Russia’s invasion in Ukraine six months ago equally attributed to the fuel shortage in the whole world thus creating enormous social and economic impacts, and petroleum prices in the Sri Lankan market increased by over 300%, which is bound to increase further at an alarming pace.However, while having enough bright sunlight all over Sri Lanka throughout the year to generate solar power and enough wind power particularly in areas like Mannar and Puttlam districts, only 40% of our electricity requirements are supplied by non-conventional renewable energy, while 65% of the balance need is produced by burning imported fuel oil and coal at a cost of Rs 80 to 100 per unit, thereby subjecting the environment of the country to a great threat by increasing the level of Green House gases to our atmosphere. Further, this conversion of generating electricity by burning oil and coal thereby lowering the liberation of Green House gases to the atmosphere will enable Sri Lanka to earn huge amount of Dollars by trading Carbon.

According to energy experts, it is expected to reduce this 65% of the energy requirement by burning fuel oil and coal down to 40% thus using more renewable energy by year 2030, thereby lowering the cost of producing a unit of electricity to about Rs 35.00.

Surprisingly, according to hydro power generating experts, there are over 400 streams and small waterfalls distributed all over the country without exploiting yet for setting up of mini hydro power generators. If these over 400 water sources are converted to hydro power generators producing not less than 1000 mega Watts of power are started, and by converting the wind power and solar power available in unlimited quantities, Sri Lankans can earn more foreign exchange by selling the extra electric power available to neighboring countries.

Hence, at present most of the dollars available are spent for importing diesel and coal to the tune of USD 6,000 million per annum. It should be mentioned here that out of this USD 6000 million, about 4,500 million is used for transport leaving a balance of USD 1,500 million to import fuel oil for power generation. According to energy experts, USD 1,500 million could easily be saved here for the other priority areas of the country, if mini hydro power generators are set up in those streams which are idling now. However, sadly no payments have been made for the power generated and supplied to the national grid by the few existing mini hydro power plants; they have supplied power to the tune of over Rs 20 billion for several months and hence some of them have been compelled to close their power plants.

Based on this objective, the ACBC, the premier Buddhist and Social organization in the country realized the need to create awareness of the options available and organized an exhibition of inventions last week on generating power utilizing those three natural sources and to display the public as to how they could conserve scarcely available electricity thereby saving extra money spent for generating power wasted due to lack of knowledge.

This event was not merely organized as an exhibition but to showcase the new inventions to the public, but as a workshop for the interested water source owners to select the appropriate invention suit to them best according to the conditions available in his source of water/ solar power/ or wind. Once the prospective investor identifies the suitable invention ideally needed to his needs, the power expert committee of the ACBC is planning to provide them with every technical support they need to do the feasibility study and even to the level of selecting machines etc. up to the level of setting up the complete power station. Further, the Bank of Ceylon has already agreed to provide them with a soft loan of Rs 3 million at 16% interest rate for setting up of the power unit.

It should be mentioned here with appreciation that the Ministry of Power and Energy has already decided to pay Rs 35 per unit of renewable energy produced from the 17.39 paid previously and also to pay all the back accumulated payments due to power generators. ACBC takes an innocent pride to place on record that the power generation project designed and launched by the expert panel members of the ACBC consists of renowned scientists and engineers who have earned distinctive reputation in their respective disciplines. This particular project perhaps is one of the key projects engineered by the ACBC in its proudest history of over 100 years with a view to finding solutions to the macro-economic issues whilst enhancing income generation at the peripheral level so that it would provide a helping hand to reduce the poverty level of the country.

With these important decisions taken by the government to encourage renewable energy production in all unexploited natural energy sources, it is not a difficult task to generate nearly 1000 MW of power within the next two to three years. Minimizing energy wastes by households and industries through the educational campaign initiate by the ACBC recently, another sizable saving of electrical energy saving could be achieved. Hence, the Development committee of the ACBC is optimistic in saving substantial portion of the dollars spent on Oil and Coal imports thereby making savings available in the country to help Sri Lanka to be the Wonder of Asia by year 2050.

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Opinion

Are Murunga and Katurumuringa leaves toxic?

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Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha

In an article titled ‘Throw more light on green foods’ that appeared in the Island of the 20th instant, Mr Gamini Peiris reports about an eminent doctor’s warning to his friend, who told the doctor that he regularly ate Katurumuringa or Sesbania grandiflora (Sg) leaves thrice a week, to stop eating it as it is toxic and so are Murunga(Drumstick) leaves! My family also eat Sg leaves once or twice a week, and hence sought information on the ‘toxicities’ of both species.

Both leaves and flowers of Sg are very commonly eaten. It is a common leguminous tree that grows to a height of about 6-8 meters, fixes nitrogen and native to South East Asia and Northern Australia. The leaves are commonly eaten in all growing countries and are reported to contain 25 to 30% crude protein. For this reason it is also widely used as a fodder for both cattle and goats, especially in India. Goat milk yield is reported to have increased by 25% with Sg leaf feeding. There is no evidence of leaf or flower material being toxic to humans and animals.

Muringa indica or Drumstick is native to parts of Africa and Asia. It is also cultivated in Central and South America, the Caribbean and South East Asia. India is reported to produce 1.2 million tons of pods per year from an area of 380 square kilometers. There are no reports of pods or leaves being toxic. Toxicity to humans being limited to certain compounds ( extracts) from the bark and roots, which are used in Aurvedic and other native medicines in addition to leaves and flowers. Both the pods and foliage are widely consumed in all countries where the crop is grown. For long term storage, dried leaves are powdered for preservation and are commonly added to sups sauces and smoothies. The leaves are rich in Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5 , B6 and C. In Sri Lanka, the crop thrives in the dry and semi-arid areas, and Jaffna Peninsula is the largest producer of the crop.

The good specialist doctor should do well to know that in general there are toxic compounds in most fruits and vegetables we eat! For example, all solanacious plants such as tomatoes, brinjals and potatoes contain natural toxins, solanines and chaconines which are glycol-alkaloids but in low concentrations. These toxins are usually produced in response to stresses such as bruising, UV light, insect and other pest attacks. Wild mushrooms which are widely eaten especially by inhabitants in the growing regions, contain several toxins such as muscimol and muscarine which are reported to cause vomiting diarrhea, visual disturbances and hallucinations. Kernels within the pits of some stone fruits such as apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, plums and cherries contain cynogenic glucoside which can be converted to hydrogen cyanide, when consumed, which is highly poisonous. This toxin is also found in cassava(manioc) root and fresh bamboo shoots, necessitating that they are cooked before consumption.

The good specialist doctor should do well to remember the wise words of Bombastus Paracelsus(1591 – 1643), the father of the science of pharmacology, that ‘all substances are poisonous, there is none which is not and it is the dosage that differentiates poison and remedy’. Even water can be potentially fatal if too much is drunk (hyperhydration). So eat or drink anything in moderation!

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Opinion

PERFECTION…their keyword

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Apple Green-DYNASTY: Active in Southern California

The name Apple Green would certainly ring a bell to those music lovers who were very much active in the local music scene, in the eighties.

Their music was appreciated and they were true professionals in whatever they did…always looking for perfection.

Apple Green, led by Rohan Mendis, was there in a big way, at The Island Music Awards 1987, held at the Bougainvillea ballroom, of the Le Galadari Meriden Hotel, in Colombo, and they won the prestigious award for ‘Outstanding Music Group.’

I remember how the members of Apple Green leapt up from their chairs, that particular night, when the band’s name was announced!

Yes, those were the days, but the good news is that two of the band members, Rohan Mendis and his brother, Jehan, are still very much into music and are performing, on a regular basis, in the States – Southern California – where they now reside.

They operate as a four-piece band, along with Shehan Jayah and Mithuru Cabral, under the banner Apple Green-DYNASTY – keeping the name Apple Green alive in that part of the world, as well.

Says Rohan: “In 2019, an elite quartet of musicians, bringing experience and raw talent, came together, in Southern California, to bring a perfect blend of music, covering all genres.

“This was, initially, to fill the void that was missing in our circles of music loving fans, and partygoers, and, since then, our popularity has soared at a rate that exceeded our expectations!

“Our music loving fans, with a penchant for finer points in quality music, and repertoire, have made us our own critics, pushing us to perfection, leaving nothing for chance. Our goal is to go above and beyond for ourselves and our fans.”

And the lineup is as follows:

Rohan Mendis: Was at the helm of Apple Green

Rohan Mendis (Roh)-

A pro-musician for over 30 years, Rohan was the leader of the famed band Apple Green, before migrating to Los Angeles. A bass player, composer, solo performer and vocalist, and plays all instruments, he is also an accomplished recording tech, with the ability to perfectly balance the “old and the new,” through all music ages and genres.

Jehan Mendis (Rob)

– Another pro-musician, who, along with his brother Rohan, was a founder member of Apple Green. A versatile drummer/singer, he also handles the audio/sound responsibilities for the band.

Shehan (Shay) Jayah

– A very talented guitar player, with an amazing singing ability, his range is seemingly endless, says Rohan, adding that Shehan has loads of energy and the ability to keep all “laughing” – a fun guy to be around. He is the son of Sherwin Jayah, who was a frontline singer in Sri Lanka, and in the USA, as well.

Mithuru (Mitt) Cabral

– Super, cool as a cucumber guy, says Rohan, describing him as an excellent keyboard player, gifted in every sense. Reliable and “oozing” with talent, he is another multi-instrumentalist, blessed with perfect pitch! He is, by the way, the son of popular musician Mano Cabral.

Apple Green-DYNASTY will be performing at the prestigious St. Peter’s College Centinnial Ball, in New Jersey, on December 3rd, 2022.

“We are looking forward to this event and would love to see all our East Coast fans and Peterites in attendance,’ says Rohan Mendis, adding that he would keep music lovers posted “on our developments and projects on the new VLOG that I will launch soon.”

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