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Opinion

Problems in Geneva: Facts that brought us here

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Dr. SARATH GAMINI De SILVA

The annual patriotic taunts and the laments of the majority are heard as the day of reckoning approaches in Geneva. We are shouting ourselves hoarse, complaining that the whole world is ganging up against the brave Sri Lankans, to punish them for eliminating the most brutal terrorist outfit the world has ever seen. It is true that what was achieved in 2009 is something that no other country could do in eliminating terrorism. But does that guarantee peace when the basic grievances that led to civil unrest over the years have not been addressed?

This article is not an attempt to justify violence, untruth or deplorable and unprincipled activities of other countries. Nor is it to devalue the achievements up to 2009. The intention is to open the eyes of my own countrymen to the reality of the hopeless situation facing the nation.

As was mentioned in earlier articles, seeds for racial disharmony were laid during the British colonial period. With their divide-and-rule method, they pitted the majority community against the minorities. This was done by establishing proportionately more schools in the North to ensure a better education, and thereby giving them superior positions in government service. Thus, with the country gaining Independence in 1948, and the Sinhalese gaining the upper hand, the minorities, mainly Northern Tamils, felt disadvantaged. They tried negotiations with the Southern politicians. Naturally, their demands like Ponnambalam’s 50-50 were unjust, but we could have negotiated that. With the watershed political upheaval in 1956, the situation became very volatile. With the Sinhala chauvinists becoming very influential and vociferous, taking politicians virtual hostage to achieve their aims, the minorities were getting increasingly marginalised. The Bandaranaike- Chelvanayakam Pact and later the Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact were not honoured, without working on them to solve the ongoing disputes. There were several episodes of violence against unarmed members of the minorities during that period.

With the overwhelming electoral victory of the UNP in 1977 (followed immediately by another bout of violence), the majority assumed that whatever grievances of the minorities could be stepped over. Eventually, the Tamils were expelled from Parliament blaming their non-allegiance to the Constitution, leaving them with no forum to air their grievances. The terrorist outfits were taking shape in the North, claiming to be the sole representatives of the oppressed. The Southern leaders ignored the political sensitivities of India, which strengthened the terrorists calling them “Freedom Fighters”.

The pogrom of 1983 is the darkest patch in the recent history of our paradise. The unarmed Tamils in Colombo were killed, even burnt alive and their property looted. With the government not making any efforts to curtail the violence for several days, there was a worrying suspicion of state patronage. Many Tamils, who worried about their lives, escaped to Western countries. Naturally, they were warmly welcomed as refugees in those countries as their embassies here were witnesses to what happened in Colombo and elsewhere. From then on, the Eelam war escalated, and it is not necessary to detail here the damage done in both human and material terms over thirty years. Many subsequent peace overtures of the government were rejected by the terrorists, who were determined to establish their own Elam.

After eliminating terrorism in 2009, what actions have we taken to restore lasting peace? Have we had at least belatedly, an ongoing dialogue sans political rhetoric with the Tamil leaders to see what their grievances are and taken steps to address them? Instead, our politicians kept on boasting of their “victory”, further arousing separatist tendencies with communal rhetoric, purely to ensure that their success in winning the battles will keep them in power for generations. They were fighting with each other claiming credit for what was achieved.

The Tamil refugees who settled down in Western countries were establishing themselves. Well educated and employed, they are working according to a plan. With their natural energy, determination and ambition, characteristics we used to admire in our Northern countrymen for ages, they are flourishing making the best use of the opportunities provided there. The diaspora is making use of their increasing numbers to influence the local politicians, who are interested in winning their votes, to speak up for them at influential fora. They themselves have taken to politics and entered legislatures.

One can imagine the grudge they must be harbouring against us. They will tell the generations to come about barbaric violence they suffered. That generation, about everyone under 40 years of age at present, will not be informed of terrorism, suicide bombers, child soldiers, killing of innocent villagers, massacre of Samanera monks or bombing of Buddhist holy sites. They will be taught only about the 1983 pogrom and unsubstantiated allegations of civilian killings and the elimination of their “freedom fighters” in 2009. In fact, there is a campaign in Toronto schools to have a week declared every year to commemorate the so called “Tamil Genocide”. This and subsequent generations in the diaspora will be increasingly hostile to us. Though the LTTE remains proscribed in many countries, they have managed to operate freely with political patronage.

There is no use in shouting ourselves hoarse about the unforgivable crimes committed by the rebels during the war years if future security and peace is the concern of Sri Lankans. We will be facing this formidable force of the diaspora at every international forum in the future. Our diplomats, who are mostly the kinsmen or other acolytes of those in power and grossly unqualified to represent the country, have failed miserably to give the correct picture to those that matter. The whole world is well aware of the atrocities committed by the Tigers. Yet, successive governments have failed to exploit that knowledge to turn the world opinion favourable to us.

Despite all this, many educated members of the diaspora still love this country. Many of my colleagues there are still dreaming of the day they might be able to return after retirement. They keep visiting us regularly, having bought property here. Some have put up hospitals, churches and indulge in other public service ventures to help especially those in the North. So many doctors having achieved high positions in the health services overseas, help the country train our postgraduate doctors.

Sri Lankan politicians are still fighting among themselves without any concrete plans to counteract the allegations being made. Enough ammunition is being provided to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, UNHCR, to work against the country. After agreeing to various conditions imposed over the years, but dishonouring them immediately afterwards, the country has become one of the most untrustworthy to deal with. Those in power keep blaming the previous governments for the international agreements reached, without working for a common stance to face the imminent threat. Guarantees are being given repeatedly to the international community about an impartial judiciary to deal with various allegations emanating from the ethnic war. At the same time, new legislation is enacted to ensure that the opponents of the government are punished by a judiciary handpicked by the rulers. While saying that minority rights are being respected, the Muslims are denied their fundamental right to bury their dead.

It is meaningless to claim that other countries should not interfere with the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, which is a sovereign state. Having signed many international conventions and agreements, we cannot seek self-isolation when the situation suits us. We have allowed our internal matters to be discussed at international fora by failing miserably to solve them ourselves, often due to political expediency. This has forced our own citizens to seek relief from international organisations. If not for the influence and intervention of external sources, by now many countries in the world would have become ruthless dictatorships torturing their own citizens.

If the gravity of the issue was realised, a permanent secretariat should have been established in the foreign ministry long ago, with experienced diplomats purely to conduct an international campaign against the misinformation, and give the correct picture to foreign countries and various organisations that matter.

Our politicians know that they can fool most Sri Lankan voters all the time. But if they believe they can continue to fool the international community in the same way, they are sadly mistaken. Unfortunately, the whole nation will suffer paying for their folly.



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Opinion

Why cry for Djokovic – a reply

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I strongly object to the remark Dr Upul Wijayawardhana (Dr U W) made in the first paragraph of his Opinion, in The Island of Saturday 22 January, titled  ’Why Cry for Djokovic?’ critiquing Cassandra in her Friday 21 Cassandra Cry.

Dr U W writes: “Cassandra uses her column liberally to criticise our politicians for giving special treatment to their kith and kin.” I, Cassandra, have two reasons to object to this damning statement. I have never criticised politicians for “giving special treatment to their kith and kin”. I have criticised politicians on various other issues such as what they have done, but not on this particular accusation. Hence Dr UW deliberately, or carried away by his writing eloquence, placed me in danger of reprisal. Such is not done.

Please read me in Cassandra Cry on Friday January 28, where this matter, and some others  the doctor has written regards Cassandra will be refuted,

CASSANDRA

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Opinion

Ethics and religion

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The recent article. ‘Let ethics precede religion’ by Susantha Hewa was of interest. The para which drew my attention was: “There may be some who feel that religion and conditioning are inseparable and the former would lose all its meaning without the latter. However, this view begs the question of what constitutes religiosity. Of course, the programming of children will continue to be the best method if its objective is to make them devoted to the teachings of the respective religion as they grow up, regardless of the possibility of such action unwittingly driving some of them to fanaticism as history would bear witness. So long as we use conditioning as the primary method of teaching religion, it is unrealistic to expect a different outcome.”

It is true when a child is born, he or she takes or is forced to take to the religion of the parents, and indoctrinated at the young age of that religion he or she has been born into, and invariably, one does not change even in adulthood, and bear the name of the religion as an identification for official purposes and mentioned in the Birth Certificate.

There are four main religions in this country–Buddhism with breakaway branches with minor alterations and rites and rituals, Christianity. Hinduism, Islam [Mohammedism]. Though Buddhism is considered a religion; it is basically a philosophy. The difference between religion and philosophy is briefly explained by Ven. Master Chin Kung in his book ‘Buddhism, The Wisdom of Compassion and Awakening’ thus: “Buddhism is an education of the wisdom of Life and Universe; it is not a religion.”

The difference between Religion and Philosophy is that Religion in which God and His or Her disciples do not have a teacher-student relationship, but rather a parent-child relationship. In Buddhism, however, it is clearly stated that the Buddha is a teacher, and we are students.

In short, in religion there is no questioning but to obey and follow, but in Buddhism, a philosophy, one could argue and come to one’s own conclusion and abide by it. It should also be mentioned that the word ‘Buddha’ is not exclusive to Buddha Gauthama, it is a common title for any person who has attained the perfect, complete enlightenment. It is a title or a qualification, as much as a doctorate awarded by a university.

As stated earlier, from infancy spiritual beliefs are etched deeply in our minds by those we love and trust most, parents, teachers and our religious leaders. When reaching adulthood, the education one gets, and exposure to the vast advancement of science and technology, the young turn away from religion, mainly because fictitious beliefs, rites and rituals created by man to adore and praise the founder.

The core belief in all religions and in the philosophy of Buddha, is the existence of Hell and Heaven. This, I believe, is to frighten people into believe that those who do evil, are sent to Hell, and those who do meritorious acts go to Heaven to live a contented life or a lazy, uneventful, cowardly life. There is no place called HELL or HEAVEN. They are not locations, but refer to the inner realm of consciousness. That is the esoteric meaning of these two words.

What has religion done to the world and humanity? Here is what Sam Harris in his book ‘Letter to the Christian Nation’ says – ‘Competing religious doctrines have shattered our world into separate moral communities, and these divisions have become a continual source of human conflicts’. Isn’t that true seeing the carnage carried out by fanatics who believe, dying for the religion takes them to heaven, pleasing God the Creator.”

Being interested in this subject, I have noted down some interesting writings from books, magazines and newspapers and here they are –

‘Revolt in the Temple’ – ‘Subordinate position, as has happened to the magical element in the past, God, equally with gods, angels, demons, spirits and other small spiritual fry, is a human product, arising inevitably from certain kind of ignorance and a certain degree of helplessness with regard to man’s external environment. With the substitution of knowledge for ignorance in this field, and the growth of control both actually achieved and realised by thought as possible ….

Bertrand Russel had this to say about religion: ‘Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines’.

Erskine May, the foremost authority on democracy, has said: ‘From a secular point of view, religion is a hindrance to democracy, as it enforces a set of legal and social principles. Separation of religions and the state is required to protect freedom and ensure equality. From a legal point of view, democracy can never enjoy general acceptance in a religious society. Anything outside of rigid interpretation text is rejected and God rather than the people is sovereign.’

A writer to the press, recently, has written in a letter titled, ‘Religion to fight pandemic; he says ‘At times of personal and collective tragedy, people find solace in religion, some seek divine blessings, others ponder in the impermanence of life, many others do both, invocation of religion could be just symbolic for more earthly folk, but it could also be cathartic to some others. Now a God is defying a pandemic that is redefining the relationship between religion and masses and the disease itself, while intensive social distancing measures and distancing worshippers from temples, churches and mosques. And before such restrictions came into effect, religion seemed to have done much to the spread if the virus’

In conclusion, materialism and spiritualism should go hand in hand. Enjoying to the full the material benefits what nature has endowed us with and spiritually conditions oneself to live a righteous life.

This is my simple religion. No need for religious institutions. No need for complicated philosophies; my mind and my heart is the sacred place, and my philosophy is simple kindness towards all living beings. At the end when time comes, sing – Que Sera Sera – Whatever will be will be.

G. A. D. SIRIMAL

Boralesgamuwa

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Opinion

Why cry for Djokovic?

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

Cassandra, who uses her column liberally to criticise our politicians for giving special treatment to their kith and kin, is shedding tears for Novak Djokovic, who was denied special treatment in Australia! She opines that he should have been segregated and allowed to play in the Australian Open and states in her column, in The Island of 21 January:

“Now, the Aussie Open has lost its glamour and even interest to this ole soul – Cassandra. She hoped Nadal and others would withdraw from the OA. But since it was not their deportation, they go along. Hopefully they will publicly comment in support of their co-sportsman. Nadal already spoke out.”

She may have lost interest in the Australian Open as her favourite was deported but it has not lost its glamour as plenty more talented players are left to display their prowess in Tennis. If at all, the Australian Open has lost its glamour, it is due to the misdeeds of Australia Tennis. More than anything else, what I find ludicrous is her suggestion that Nadal and others should have withdrawn from the tournament in support of Djokovic! Nadal has already spoken out and, as mentioned in my piece which she refers to (Australian antics and Djokovic’s disgrace; The Island, 18 January), was very clear that if Djokovic makes a stand, he should be prepared to face the consequences. Djokovic has not had Covid vaccination and was well aware that it was a requirement for entering Australia.

Going even further, Cassandra faults our editor by stating; “The Editor of this paper commented on it and seemed to stand for ‘the Law holds for all’. He made no mention of the health waiver the world’s Number One tennis wizard received which he traded on to go to Melbourne in the first place.” It is a pity she has completely disregarded the fact that this waiver was on false premises as Djokovic could not substantiate that he had any medical contraindications to vaccination. In fact, another player stated that it is hardly conceivable for players who play competitive tennis to have contraindications for Covid vaccination!

Interestingly, Tennis Australia is evasive about the circumstances leading to the waiver; it has now been revealed that the Federal Government had informed them well in advance that dual vaccination was the criterion for entry. The State Government of Victoria has claimed that Tennis Australia kept them in the dark about this.

The position of the Federal Government has been vindicated by the unanimous verdict of the three-judge Bench of the Federal Court of Australia, which confirmed not only the legality but also the reason for cancelling the visa. In giving reasons for their judgement the judges state:

“The minister’s justifications for revoking the visa were not “irrational or illogical or not based on relevant material,”

Commenting on the minister’s argument that Mr. Djokovic’s position as a role model who chose to remain unvaccinated against Covid-19 could “foster anti-vaccination sentiment”, they found that he has exercised his disctionary powers lawfully and go on to state:

“An iconic world tennis star may influence people of all ages, young or old, but perhaps especially the young and the impressionable, to emulate him. This is not fanciful; it does not need evidence.”

Cassandra’s cry too illustrates how influential sport stars can be! Perhaps, she should reserve her tears for what may happen in the future. Unless rules are changed, Djokovic would not be able to play in the French Open. Protests, even in Serbia, have died down but it is reported that his sponsors are in talks with Djokovic.

There is yet another interesting twist to the story. According to a post “Mail Online” website , titled “Novak Djokovic’s astonishing Covid-19 decision before coming to Australia is finally revealed”(https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10420013/Novak-Djokovics-astonishing-Covid-19-decision-coming-Australia-finally-revealed.html):

“Novak Djokovic’s hesitancy to get vaccinated is well known – but it can also now be revealed the tennis superstar reportedly purchased a majority stake in a Danish biotech company looking to develop a treatment against Covid-19 in June last year.”

Reuters

has reported that the world number one holds an 80 per cent stake in QuantBioRes, who are currently developing a peptide which prevents the virus from infecting human cells. Djokovic, 34, is said to own 40.8 per cent of the company – while his wife Jelena owns 39.2 per cent.”

Djokovic’s vaccine hesitancy may be for totally different reasons!

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