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The Shukra effect on unity

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By simply being herself, the remarkable young lady who won the Quiz conducted by Sirasa TV, has demonstrated to the Muslim community exactly what is needed to neutralise and nullify the anti-Muslim sentiments that have gripped Sri Lankan society since 2012–sentiments that have brought out the bigotry at various levels of society – among the educated and the not-so-educated, the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy, those who-should-know-better and those who don’t, and among professionals at every level.

What made it easy for the masses to rally around her during the competition, and heap praises and accolades after her victory, was the fact that the lady successfully projected herself spontaneously as just another young SRI LANKAN teenager, bubbling with excitement as she drew closer to the prize. Her facial expressions reflected the happiness many if not most viewers would have felt at that time.

She was perceived strongly as a Sri Lankan – the unifying attribute of our national identity. Dressed modestly as most young Sri Lankan females, and speaking the language of the masses fluently and confidently, she came across as yet another daughter of Mother Lanka quite easily. Would the young lady have received the same amount of praise and adulation if she was dressed in a full face covered nikab like an Arab Muslim?

This is exactly what the Muslim community has to do if it is to counteract the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in our Motherland. They need to strengthen their image as (Muslim) Sri Lankans and not as (Sri Lankan) Muslims. This is not merely a matter of semantics, it is by far the most important first step that the community should take, towards establishing a harmonious and mutually-respectful relationship with the majority community.

In any name-label, the (stronger) noun is an identifying and unifying term, while the (weaker) adjective is a descriptive and differentiating term. If we are really concerned about strengthening our National Identity, then it is imperative that in all our verbal and written communications we refer to ourselves as ‘Sri Lankans’ first. Our identity as ‘a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious tolerant society’ will be reinforced and strengthened around the common national attribute.

When we refer to ourselves as ‘Sri Lankan Muslims’, we are only calling attention to what differentiates us from the other communities and sustains the divisions in society. We are sending the message that we are ‘Muslims’ (noun) first and then ‘Sri Lankan’ (adjective).

If the Muslims find it difficult to give pride of place to their nationality by identifying themselves as ‘Muslim Sri Lankans’, but choose to give their nationality secondary importance by identifying themselves as ‘Sri Lankan Muslims’, can you then blame the majority community for perceiving Muslims as ‘second-class citizens’ when the Muslims themselves are guilty of doing so?

Is the moment opportune for the members of the Islamic faith to de-Arabize the Muslim community in our Motherland? Or, should we wait until we are compelled to do so like the Muslims in France, when Emmanuel Macron recently announced a law against religious “separatism” aimed at freeing Islam in France from “foreign influences”?

Seize the moment, my brothers and sisters, exemplified by the ‘Shukra Effect’ on our Sri Lankan Community.

 

BISTHAN BATCHA



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Opinion

A drive of great memories

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Pic.  – THE CAR: “We bought this car in London mid-1974. A few days later, four of us set out to drive for nearly six months to Sri Lanka.  This photo was provided by the present owner, whom I tracked down in 2019.”

Some errors had crept into this letter (published yesterday) in the process of being typeset. This is the correct version.

 

Sanjeewa Jayaweera’s recent recollections (The Island 25/2) of advantages of coming from Ceylon/SL – or rather ‘benefits’ accruing from Mrs B’s permitting Pakistan to use Ceylon/SL airspace in 1971 -– when he was living in Pakistan, remind me of similar experiences in 1974.

 Four of us drove overland (well, only one of us could drive then) in a Beetle from London to Sri Lanka, taking nearly six months.  At the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, neither side checked our heavily laden car. 

 We had got used to cooking for ourselves in many countries, and camping up to Turkey, so always carried basic food stuffs. In Pakistan, however, many things were rationed and towards the end of our stay we needed to stock up. 

 Just before leaving Lahore to head for India we went in search of rice and sugar (rationed).  One chap we happened to ask, got into the car (with four already in it) and said he would get us what we needed. He insisted on giving it free –– “You are my brothers!” Very strange – it was only later that we discovered the reason for this.  

 He jumped out near a shop and disappeared, presumably to queue somewhere. Returning with about 8 lbs of rice and 3 lbs of sugar, he absolutely refused to accept any money.  Instead, he insisted that we visit the Shalimar Gardens and wouldn’t let us pay there either.  We took a photograph with him which we promised to send him.  He was an Assistant Store-keeper at Pakistan Oxygen. 

 However, things were slightly different at the border. The Pakistan side wouldn’t let S, our Ugandan-Asian friend, cross.  No Hindu from any part of the world was allowed to cross into India.  Fortunately, our group was pretty mixed (with a Sri Lankan Buddhist, Sri Lankan Muslim and an Anglo-Asian atheist! – though fortunately, that wasn’t on the passport).  S’s “companion” insisted she’d become a Muslim by marriage, and signed a declaration form to that effect.  Problem solved! But a moment of anxiety at Indian customs when a cursory search was made of the car.  Officials were offended by the fact that we’d brought rice with us –– “We have rice in India!”

 Manel Fonseka

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Opinion

Muir Woods in San Francisco and deforestation in SL

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Pic:Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at a recent media briefing on protecting the Muthurajawela wetlands from a multi-use development project.

“Any fool can destroy trees. They can run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed – chased and hunted down as long as fun or dollar could be got out of their hides. branching horns, or magnificent bole back backbones. Few that fell trees plant them, nor would planting avail much toward getting back anything like the novel primeval forests. It took more than 3000 years to make some of the trees in the woods –  trees that are standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing …. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries since Christ’s time – and long before that – God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease avalanches, tempests, and floods; but he cannot save them from fools – only Uncle Sam can do that.

John Muir, letter to William Kent , 1909

Muir Woods is a forest reservation in San Francisco – California named after John Muir as John of the mountains or father of the national parks. He was a Scottish American April 1838 to December 24th 1924.

William Kent was a member of the US House of Representatives representing California 

The Island of (2/3/2021 ) has several articles on deforestation being carried out for agriculture and commercial projects such as commercial cultivation of Aloe Vera or building of hotels. The government’s initial popularity is gradually on the decline and permitting deforestation is one reason. I wrote to The Island on 11 January this year, pointing out that it was not necessary to clear forests to increase agriculture output. Increasing productivity by modern methods is the way out.

Muir Woods is a National monument, which protects the only large, intact stand of ancient redwoods in San Francisco Bay area which, I and my wife were fortunate to visit, thanks to my daughter and son-in-law. All elements of old-growth forests are there: mature redwoods, young seedlings, standing snags, logs and a diverse community of animals and understory plants. The magnificent red – barked trees, California coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). A few hundred years ago over two million acres of redwood grew in California. Today, 150,000 acres of old growth redwoods remain, only about half of which are protected in national and state parks.

Redwood creek applies a spectrum of watery habitats fish need their life cycle. If you spot a fish in Redwood Creek, it’s a coho salmon or steelhead trout. Both are anadromous; born in fresh water homes, as juveniles they migrate to the ocean, and then return to their freshwater homes as adults to spawn. Spawning fish can be seen in the creek between mid December and March, and young fish populate quiet pools during summer months.

On the contrary, in Sri Lanka, deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate and the forest cover is likely to disappear completely in a few decades. In 1990, the total forest cover was 2990 ha and in the year 2020 it decreased to 1946 ha. The forest cover has been reduced by 1044 ha.

A tree called Sri Lanka legume was discovered in 1868. Eventually it was declared extinct 2012.

It was discovered in 2019 that only one Sri Lankan legume tree, eight meters high, was found in the north of Colombo  near Gampaha  

 This rare species tree that was in danger of felling was put on an orange cloth by Buddhist priests. That courageous forest officer Devanee Jayatillake also rose to the occasion again objecting to the removal of the legume tee. There were arguments that that there are similar trees planted in Gampaha Botanical gardens and also that the tree could be translocated safely. Ultimately sanity prevailed and the expressway will be diverted to save the tree. One should realise the tree would have survived thousand years or more, no one knows, but it’s certain that the tree is one of oldest trees. America’s redwood trees it is said, had taken more than 3000 years to make.

His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith expressed his displeasure at the government’s failure to protect the Muthurajawela wetland.

He said in a statement that the Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera, State Minister for Wildlife Wimalaweera Dissanayake and the Chairman of the Central Environmental Authority Siripala Amarasinghe had promised not to carry out any project or destructive activities in Muthurajawela during the discussion held at the Archbishop’s residence on January 21st.

However, it has been officially announced that Muthurajawela and the surrounding villages will be taken over by the Urban Development Authority. Therefore, the Cardinal has requested the government to remove the signs stating that the area is already owned by a private company and rename it as a Wildlife Conservation Zone in Muthurajawela National Park. The Cardinal has now court intervention on this matter.

The Diyawanna wetland close to which I live is being developed. It is not Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte which is said to be the administrative capital. it’s the reclaimed wetlands of Battaramulla. The land on which Sethsiripaya stands was a marsh.

 

 Upali Cooray 

 

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Opinion

Where are the Maha Nayakes?

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Coincidentally, February 26th was Navam Full Moon day, when after 20 years of attaining enlightenment, the Buddha preached the “Vinaya Pitakaya” or the code of conduct for Buddhist monks. It is sad that that the majority of them hardly heed the principles laid down there.

I was anyway, contemplating writing a piece on the conduct of Malcom Cardinal Ranjith on national issues when Dr Upul Wijayawardhana beat me to it with an excellent piece in today’s (26.02.21) The Island!

The Cardinal has been very discreetly and without undue emotions addressing the national issues at stake with substance and authority, and the appropriate actions the government should take. By contrast our Buddhist priests often deviate on political riffraff, praising the political leadership or criticizing it, rather than confining themselves to the matters at stake! Often their utterances over electronic media are disdainful, full of emotion and very unbecoming of monkhood! They are unaware that the moment one becomes emotional, one loses self-control and make a mess of things! They should take a ‘leaf from the ‘Cardinal’s Bible’, as it were!

There is no argument that priests, Buddhist or otherwise should take evidence-based stands on national issues and endeavour to move the political authority in the right direction. They should not go to praise the President or other politicians unduly, but confine themselves to facts of the matter as the Cardinal always does.

What is most disdainful is the manner in which Buddhist monks conduct themselves in protest rallies, often shouting slogans, forcefully breaking through security defenses, and even climbing windows! Very often the leaders of mass demonstrations, especially of universities, are priests. Of course, they do so, knowing that the police will handle them gently, with dignity and respect!

It is noteworthy that other religious leaders hardly participate in protest demonstrations. Even if they do so it is done in a peaceful manner. Our Buddhist priests should follow suit.

The question is where the leading monks who should discipline the juniors are. Many of them are, sadly, the culprits themselves! Have they at least read the “Vinayapitakaya”? Moreover, I am not aware of any instances of Mahanayakas endeavouring to discipline monks. Should they not at least ensure their conduct is on the key principles of “Vinaya Pitakaya”? It is time the Mahanayakas and other leading Buddhist monks addressed this vital issue of discipline of monks as matter of highest priority.

 

Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha

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