August is the month of Party Conventions in the United States during election years, when Democrats and Republicans formally announce, amidst great fanfare, the nominations for the Presidency and the Vice Presidency of their respective Parties.
Trump is the assured nominee of the Republican National Committee, and he has confirmed that Vice President Mike Pence would be his running mate for 2020. There were some rumours floating around, as his ratings keep tanking, that Trump may make Pence the scapegoat for his mismanagement of the pandemic and replace him on the ticket. However, now that he has settled on his latest scapegoat – China – to take the blame, the 2020 Trump/Pence ticket seems to be a certainty.
The Convention was to be held in grand style in Jacksonville, but it was decided to change the venue because of a surge in Covid19 cases in Florida, the current US epicenter of the disease. Delegates are now scheduled to meet in Charlottesville, North Carolina on August 24, and formally anoint Trump as the Party’s standard-bearer again.
National Party Conventions are usually media bonanzas, with political parties seeking to spread their messages with the election under three months away. However, the Republicans have decided, citing the continuing Covid19 surge, that Trump will accept the Party Nomination in private, and the event will be closed to the press for the first time in history.
The Democratic National Committee Convention is scheduled to be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on August 18 – 20. The Committee announced, “We are committed to providing seamless access and opportunities for equitable participation for all of our delegates and convention guests…. If you are a member of the media, we’re here to provide you with the resources you need.”
Vice President Biden is the Presumptive Nominee of the Democratic Party, but there has been much speculation about the second half of his ticket. Biden has long indicated that his running mate would be a woman, probably a woman of colour.
It is high time that women, especially black women, who have supported the Party through the ages, are finally being recognized for national leadership. It should be remembered that the Black Lives Matter movement, protesting against systematic police brutality against minorities now gaining momentum in the country, was founded by three black women.
This choice of a Vice President has become of paramount importance to the Party for two reasons. One, Biden is 77-years old, and has unofficially indicated that he probably will be a one-term president. Two, so the selected running mate should be ready and able to take over the presidency seamlessly on Day 1.
The front runners for this important position are:
1. Kamala Harris.
Senator Harris, 55-years-old, is widely considered to be the front runner. She has a diverse background, with an East Indian mother and a Jamaican father. She has served in the US Senate as California’s junior senator since 2017. She is a moderate who endorses single-payer healthcare, the single most important issue facing the country today. She has gained a national profile with her incisive Senate questioning of Trump administration officials, including former Attorney General Sessions and current AG Barr, and Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Senator Harris has already displayed abundant political skills: “strong on the stump, a warm manner with voters and ferocity with the opposition that seemed to spell trouble for Mr. Trump.”
2. Karen Bass, 66-years-old, has recently emerged as a leading contender for the job. A congresswoman from California since 2011, she has also served as the Speaker of the California State Assembly. She is the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and serves on numerous House committees, including the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs. She believes that Climate Change presents one of the greatest challenges facing the country, supports universal health care and campaigns for gun control. She was one of the first members of the Congress to endorse the Green New Deal, the proposed new program popular amongst progressives, which aims to aggressively address climate change and economic inequality.,
3. Susan Rice, 55 years old, is making a comeback in politics. She served in the Obama administration as the US Ambassador to the United Nations and National Security Advisor. She is one of the most accomplished African Americans in the Party, with a long and close relationship with Biden, who, like all potential presidents, values loyalty. However, her role in the Bengazi debacle during the Obama administration, her sometimes abrasive personality and lack of political experience may prove to be insurmountable complications.
4. Gretchen Whitmer, 49-years-old, is presently the governor of Michigan. She is a rising star in the Party, and as Vice Presidential candidate, will almost certainly deliver Michigan, a must-win state for Biden. She recently gained fame when she publicly criticized Trump for his lack of a federal Covid19 strategy. Predictably, this gained the ire of the President, who refused to send help to Michigan “because she wasn’t nice to him”. Her exceptional handling of the pandemic in Michigan has garnered praise, and she has moved to being a viable running mate for Biden. Whitmer and Senator Elizabeth Warren are the two white aspirants for the job.
5. Stacy Abrams, 46-years-old, has made no secret of her desire to run on Biden’s ticket, saying that she is capable of getting a larger slice of the national black vote. A failed gubernatorial candidate in Georgia with limited political experience, it is doubtful that she would be able to take over, if necessary, the responsibility of the presidency on Day 1.
6. Senator Elizabeth Warren, 71-years-old, has been at the forefront of Democratic political leadership since 2014, and was even considered a potential candidate to succeed President Obama in 2016. She has been the senior senator from Massachusetts since 2013 and a candidate for the 2020 presidency, being one of the last to drop out during the primaries. A tenured law professor at Harvard, Senator Warren has been cautioning various administrations since 2000 that the US system works against the middle class and enormously benefits Wall Street, banks and the billionaire class. She was closely associated with one of the most progressive politicians in the Party, Senator Bernie Sanders, who was the last to drop out in the presidential primary contest. With his delegates count in the Primaries, second only to Biden, Sanders commands much leverage in the choice of a Vice President. Though Biden has indicated that his VP choice will likely be a woman of colour, Senator Warren is still believed to be one of the top contenders. She will be an admirable Vice President, whose vast experience in progressive politics makes her ability to assume the presidency seamlessly beyond question.
There may be others. Names like Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Florida Congresswoman Val Demings, are being bandied around. Vice President Biden has promised to announce his choice before Saturday, August 8. You should have the name of the presumptive Democratic VP before you read this article. Maybe he’ll surprise us all.
Of course, this selection will become an exercise in futility if Trump has his way. With Biden leading him by 10-15 points in the polls, Trump is setting the stage for refusing to leave the White House in November, on the grounds that mail-in-voting will be rigged and render the election illegal.
Voting by mail is the sensible alternative to personal voting during this virus, with obvious difficulties in establishing and staffing polling stations, especially in rural areas.
In a recent Fox interview with Hannity, Trump lied: “The USPS (United States Postal Service) is the most corrupt and anti-American way of voting, and has a huge voter fraud rate. Believe me. If I have to shut down the entire mail system in the months leading to the election, I will. It’s the only way this election won’t be rigged by the evil Democrats”.
Trump is demonizing mail-in-voting because such voting will be made easier, especially for Black, Hispanic and poorer voters, who will likely vote for the Democratic candidate.
On July 30, Trump tweeted:
“With Universal Mail-in Voting (
not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
The initial reaction to this preposterous, unconstitutional proposal to delay the election has been hostile. The Federal Election Commissioner, Ellen Weintraub flatly stated that the Executive branch does not have the constitutional power to delay the election, tweeting:
“No, Mr. President. No. You don’t have the power to unilaterally to move the election. Nor should it be moved. States and localities are asking you and Congress for funds so that they can properly run the safe and secure election that all Americans want. Why don’t you work on that?”
Even Republican leaders, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have rejected the idea. McConnell said, “Never in the history of this country, through wars, depressions and a civil war, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time. We will find a way to do that again on November third.”
All official evidence
proves that election fraud by mail voting is so insignificant as to be inconsequential. The conservative Heritage Foundation, found just “14 cases out of roughly 15.5 million votes cast, representing an infinitesimal percentage, in Oregon since that state started conducting elections by mail in 1998”. The Post Office authorities have also confirmed they are fully equipped and able to handle the mailings.
In these circumstances, a real President intent on a valid and legitimate election would summon a bipartisan team, composed of everyone connected with the election – Congress, governors, election authorities, etc. – and demand a Plan for conducting a legitimate, fool-proof election by October 1. That would give him one month to fund and implement consensually agreed recommendations, so that a fair election will be held on the appointed day. But we don’t have a real president.
What we do have is a Justice Department, with Trump toady Attorney General Barr leading it, and a Supreme Court stacked with Trump loyalists sycophantically compliant with even Trump’s most unconstitutional behaviour.
When Chris Wallace asked him at a recent interview whether he will accept an election defeat, Trump said, “I’ll have to see. I won’t say yes. I won’t say no”.
We seem to be rushing headlong towards an autocracy similar to Germany’s Third Reich, with the horrors of White Supremacist tactics and final solutions to the immigration problem. A wannabe Hitler is already firmly in place.
So perhaps it doesn’t matter what 2020 Presidential ticket the Democrats choose. Perhaps the Trump/Putin ticket is here to stay. For life. Or at least till the next US civil war.
Whither the Proposed Elephant Reserve?
Land grabbing in Hambantota
The following is a shortened version of a communiqué sent to us by the author on behalf of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform
2019 marked the worst year for human-elephant relations. With 405 elephant deaths at the hands of humans and 121 human deaths at the hands of elephants, the year saw a surge in a conflict which has dragged on for decades, if not centuries. Among the root causes are the eviction of elephants from their natural habitat, the fragmentation of their territory, and the use of that territory for development work and for illegal activities.
The recent surge in encounters between elephants and humans has been almost purely due to certain interventions by successive governments, in the Hambantota District, that has led to elephants intruding on human territory and humans encroaching on elephant territory. In that sense, we feel the present government ought to be held to account over two decisions taken by the Cabinet before and after the parliamentary election.
Two fateful decisions
As per the provisions of Circular No 05/2001, issued by the then Secretary to the Ministry of Wildlife on August 10, 2001, areas categorised as “residual forests” were taken under the jurisdiction and protection of the Forest Department.
We have learnt from reliable sources that owing to pressures exerted by certain powerful Ministers, moves have been made to amend this Circular and to transfer these areas to Divisional and District Secretariats. This has facilitated the theft and plunder of those lands, among them those demarcated as the site of a Proposed Managed Elephant Rreserve in Hambantota which we will look at below.
Another key decision of this government, after the election, was Gazette Notification No 2192/36, issued by the Land Commissioner General, which sanctions the use of state lands for the purposes of investment and local milk and food production.
Accordingly, applications have been called from interested parties, and once they are received authorities will screen them before giving the green light for the transfer of these lands. We can verify that certain businessmen are, through powerful politicians, lobbying for the transfers of property which belong to the Elephant Reserve.
Some of the affected territories
We have identified four broad areas that these illegal activities have affected. Firstly, 2,000 acres extending from Gonnoruwa to Buruthankanda, encompassing Gal Wewa, Weli Wewa, Kurudana, Katan Wewa, and Galahitiya Wewa, have been marked for bulldozing and will be flattened completely. On the authority of a former Air Commander, moreover, 500 acres in this territory have been cleared to make way for a solar power plant.
Secondly, the Mahaweli Authority released certain lands between the Proposed Elephant Reserve and Madunagala to locals, resulting in the isolation of 18 to 20 elephants. This has considerably heightened the human-elephant conflict in the area.
Thirdly, around 20 elephants are isolated or trapped within a 2,500 acre territory that formed part of a 5,000 acres taken over for the Magampura Port Project. Again, this has led to a heightening of the human-elephant conflict.
Fourthly, the coridoor taken by elephants from Gonnoruwa to the Bundala Wildlife Sanctuary has been wiped off. The path has been obstructed mainly due to deforestation. Once again, it has only contributed to a heightening the human-elephant conflict.
The consequences of not opening the Proposed Preserve
Development projects throughout Hambantota until now has led to the loss of 20,000 acres, to say nothing of a spike in human-elephant encounters that have, in the last three years, caused the deaths of 31 elephants and 15 humans (with eight more villagers disabled for life). It was to remedy these issues that a proposal was made to the Department of Wildlife Conservation to construct a Proposed Managed Elephant Reserve. To date, no progress has been made on this, with the result that forest land ostensibly reserved for the purpose has been flattened to make way for illegal sand, rock, and clay mining.
The vacuum created by the failure to declare the area as belonging to the Reserve has been filled by an unholy trinity of powerful politicians, corporations, and local thugs. The previous regime, moreover, built villages and farms on lands in this area. That speeded the pace at which they were later taken over by various unscrupulous interests.
Authorities have thus far failed to declare the Proposed Reserve and start work on it. That has resulted in a proliferation in illegal transactions and a deterioration in relations between humans and elephants. We shall look at each in turn now.
A snapshot of some of the illegal activities
The ongoing construction of a solar power plant commissioned by various companies has resulted in the clearing of over 600 acres of land in Saddhatissapura and Buruthakanda. The ongoing construction of a “solar village” near Valaspugala and Divulpalassa has affected 300 more acres which elephants used to frequent.
A former Air Force Commander has, through the Mahaweli Authority and by his sanction, reserved around 60 hectares for the construction of the Solar Power Plant. Forty acres have been transferred to a company called Senok, while 20 acres of forest have been cleared. All that, by the way, in violation of the National Environmental Act.
Property developers have managed to transfer to themselves 6,000 acres of prime land encircling Maginkaliyapura,
Gonnoruwa, Katan Wewa, Pahala Andara Wewa, and Kada Idi Wewa. As usual, the most discernible and immediate outcome of this has been a surge in encounters between elephants and humans.
Oil remains a lucrative field, and the localities of Lolugas Wewa, Matigath Wewa, Parenhi Wewa, Lin Wewa, Swarnamali Wewa, and Mayiyan Wewa encompassing some 1,500 acres have been isolated to make way for an oil tank farm. Among other problems, this will affect 90 acres of paddy land adjoining Swarnamali Wewa.
2,000 acres adjoining Hamuduru Wewa, between Sooriya Wewa and Pahala Andara Wewa, have been felled for banana cultivation; eight persons have been identified as running the plantation. The illegal enclosure has been fenced off electrically, disrupting the lives of elephants who used to frequent the area. The villagers of Andara Wewa, Valaspugala, Karuwala Wewa, Tissapura, and Ranamayapura complain of these beasts encroaching into their lands and destroying their livelihoods.
Meanwhile, the waters of Andara Wewa are being rapidly drained, leaving precious little for cultivation by resident farmers: a significant threat to an entire way of life.
Can we lay aside the sand, clay, and rock mining operations these illegal land transactions have led to? By no means. In addition to the unauthorised cultivation of crops, forest land in Veheragala which belonged to the Department of Wildlife Conservation has been allocated for stone mining, in addition to areas such as Mayurapura, Seenikkugala, Katan Wewa, Ihala Andara Wewa, Kuda Idi Wewa, Galahitiya, and Gonnoruwa.
What has caused all this?
Two reasons can be pointed at for what’s happening in Hambantota District: the apathy of relevant authorities, especially the Mahaweli Authority, and the spurt in mega-development projects. We shall look at each briefly now.
Regarding the apathy of relevant institutions and authorities, all that needs to be said is that the silence of the Wildlife Conservation Department, the Central Environmental Authority, the Divisional and District Secretariat of Hambantota, and of course the Mahaweli Authority continues to be deafening. Certainly, it is on their doorstep that we lay the blame for what is happening today, not just to the people but also to the environment.
Take the Mahaweli Authority. Around 40% of the land concerned belongs to this institution. As per Section 3(1) of the Mahaweli Authority Act of 1979 and Gazette Notification No 137 dated April 16, 1981, it took over land in the Walawa Division. At no point was forest land in the vicinity taken over to release them later on for development work.
The continued felling of trees and isolation of elephants are in clear violation of the National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980. According to Gazette Notification No 772/22 of June 24, 1993, clear, unequivocal permission from authorities is needed for deforestation of land in excess of 2.5 acres. Laws are generally more honoured in the breach than they are in the observance, and as far as these laws, gazettes, and circulars are concerned, there has been very little observance, much less enforcement.
Regarding the mega-development work in the region, we have already noted that it has led to the deforestation of more than 20,000 acres. Three projects in particular have aggravated the problem: the Magampura Harbour, the Mattala International Airport, and the Southern Expressway from Matara to Hambantota. No proper Environmental Impact Assessments have been conducted for them. In the absence of an environmental audit, we are forced to conclude that the beneficiaries of these initiatives, in particular certain Chinese firms, have chosen to ignore their impact on wildlife. We need not add that it has served to aggravate not just deforestation, but also human-elephant encounters.
The need to open the Elephant Reserve
A total of 25 reservoirs belonging to the relevant area in Hambantota come under the purview of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, while 17 more come under that of the Mahaweli Authority. The forest area bordering these reservoirs comprise a flourishing ecosystem, preserved for centuries despite the encroachments of colonisers. They contain some of the most diverse hotspots in this part of the world, populated by more than 450 elephants and other birds and beasts. We cannot let them be destroyed at the whims of politicians, corporations, and thugs. They must be preserved.
The road ahead
It is clear that the most immediate solution to these problems is to commence work on the Proposed Managed Elephant Reserve. If not, the illegal transfers of and transactions over land belonging to it will continue, pitting elephants against humans at a level unparalleled in recent history. The protection of natural habitats and areas populated by elephants should thus be our number one priority.
To that end the ongoing transfer of 15,000 acres for the construction of an Investment Zone must stop, at once. We cannot allow development projects to undermine of wildlife conservation. We say this because it is not just the welfare of our generation that we must look to but also that of generations to come. Otherwise, no matter what happens in the short run, in the long run the environmental costs of these projects will outweigh their economic benefits. That obviously does not bode well for anyone.
Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform
Translated by Uditha Devapriya
Smaller, Smarter and More Sustainable
by Dr Sarala Fernando
Former Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinghe recently referred to the need to reshape Sri Lanka’s outward migrant flows to become “smaller, smarter and more sustainable”. From where does this concept derive? Internet sources point to a recent GTZ document on SME Reporting in Global Supply Chains. Whatever its origin, this vision offers a valuable guide for government policy in the new normal that is emerging in the aftermath of Covid 19 and in the background of deglobalization trends. It is in keeping with our Buddhist heritage of proportionality and human development including gender empowerment within a framework of environmental protection and compassion for animals.
Around the world even in the most advanced societies, infrastructure growth seems to have reached a dead end – renting is slumping in hi-rise buildings (as prestigious as the Empire State Building in New York) as workplaces get smaller with social distancing, automation is replacing on site workers, many of whom are being made redundant or asked to work from home. Everywhere, mobility is being reduced with current disincentives on global tourist travel and transportation while new modes of transactions like ecommerce and online sales are booming in place of retail sales in traditional malls. The question is, however, whether our new government which has scored a huge victory at the recent election and amassed a massive majority in the new Parliament, will see that as an endorsement of an opposite vision, more prestige buildings and large scale projects in manufacturing and agriculture, irrespective of their cost to the environment.
It is not only the government but also the private sector which seems to find it difficult to adjust to the “new normal”. Projects for 600 room hotels in fragile environments are being mooted, huge office cum shopping malls and apartment blocks are still coming on stream around Colombo, all of which raise public concerns on the distribution of limited supplies of water, electricity and stress on sewerage and waste disposal capacity. Is it too late to offer a new paradigm that all this new building infrastructure should be ” smaller, smarter and more sustainable” with resort to solar power instead of tapping the national grid, recycling water use instead of just relying on the mains and even handling its own waste disposal on site. This is particularly important in respect of the new Port City which has the technical capacity and is well placed to support municipal assets instead of drawing them down. The Port City enticement of opening park areas to the public is welcome but what price leisure if water pressure is reducing and electricity and telecommunication supply becomes more erratic and more expensive for city residents?
At the same time, there is hope in that many small groups organized and driven by young volunteers are mobilizing entirely on their own, to spruce up railway stations and clean pilgrimage sites and beaches.These scattered efforts are being supported by the security forces especially the Navy under its blue –green programme. It is also good to hear of local companies developing cost effective composting machines for household to industrial waste, networks for collecting and converting plastic waste and a factory for disposing of hospital waste. There is even an ongoing initiative to make a machine to collect plastic and other waste from the river mouths before this goes on to contaminate the ocean.
A concerned citizenry determined to protect the environment and connected through social media can help form a national green movement to put the environment first. Perhaps a start could be made in the debate over the proposed new constitution calling for a clause to be added on the lines of the Indian example: Fundamental Duty: (I) Article 51-A(6) : By Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976. … “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures”.
President Rajapaksa appears to be aware of the challenges as he has shunned extravagance preferring to operate out of his own home and with minimum security and entourage. He would however have access to all the “smart” security infrastructure, data and equipment although it may take time to train a “smarter” human support. In his previous work on urban renewal he has given indications of sensitivity to the need to green the city, restore its heritage assets and keep it clean. He has had to strength so far, to limit the ambitions of the palm oil lobby to cultivate more acreage at the cost of drying up local water resources but has allowed the controversial road to be cut through Sinharaja rain forest opening the way for uncontrolled development which may jeopardize its UNESCO Heritage status.
Today environmentalists are worried whether the government’s financial crisis will lead to the destruction of forests, alienating lands reserved for the environment and for its denizens to make way for example to foreign multinational companies to resort to large scale agriculture using genetically modified (GM) seeds. Already conflicts have arisen on the ground with Mahaweli lands to be given to foreign investors, removing local cultivators from these lands. Can we not learn from across the waters where a different struggle is taking shape to restore traditional farming practices and saving indigenous seed varieties from foreign exploitation? Recent full page press advertisements by a multinational famous for its pineapple products, which entered Sri Lanka in the past by using reserved forest lands for growing a monocrop of Cavendish bananas, hints of the controversies of the “new agriculture” that is coming and the dangers posed to the wealth of indigenous varieties and seeds in this country.
Instead of allowing the destruction of forest lands for commercial exploitation and foreign investment, why does the government not make an assessment of the many buildings and lands currently occupied by government ministries and departments in the major cities, organize all the public services in a few strategic locations, thereby releasing the excess for sale or other uses? Not so long ago the Department of Poor Relief was located in Colombo 7 and even now government staff quarters are located in this same area which commands a high property value. Construction of huge buildings coming up for local assemblies could be discouraged which include those famous imported chairs and other extravagance at public expense. It is said that many school buildings around the island are in need of essential refurbishment and are empty for lack of students or teachers and a monk mentioned to me recently that there are hundreds of temples abandoned for lack of resident monks. How could these be brought back to life for services to the communities near by?
Some rationalization of renting buildings for government departments is required. I had some experience of this in Geneva having overseen bringing back of the consular office from an outside location to the Sri Lanka mission leading to savings of 25% of the mission budget without loss of productivity. In Sri Lanka, a specific example is the Foreign Ministry consular division which has been moving from rented location to rented location in Colombo while,logically it should be housed within the Immigration building for the sake of public convenience. Similarly should not the CEB and Water Board share city offices for the convenience of the public, leaving their headquarters separate for reasons of data and critical infrastructure security? My perspective is based on personal experience, having visited many offices after retirement and rather appalled at these flashy new buildings constructed for revenue generating Ministries like Immigration and Customs where the public entrance is open to the elements while the portico covered entrance is reserved for VIP vehicular traffic. It seems that computers are all networked together in these buildings so that one failure sends the whole system down and customers are forced to wait or return another day. This is definitely not smart. Too late to make “smaller” but certainly opportunity for making more user- friendly and more sustainable.
This vision of “smaller,smarter and more sustainable” is attached to a larger vision of urban renewal but how to bring this about? The lack of organization and neglect of cleanliness is seen by a simple example, the chaos in the rail yards in the south clearly visible when taking the train from Colombo to Jaffna, and from that chaos then like a miracle, entering into to neat fenced areas in the North. Some may argue that this is not a good example because new reconstruction has come to the North and the smaller population makes management easier. Yet, the question arises whether the chaos in the south is symptomatic of a deeper problem, an unconcerned local citizenry or the lack of caring leadership? Driving through Kurunegala town recently I was wondering how this urban mess, dug up roads and pavements, has come to pass, given that this constituency sends some of the most powerful Members to Parliament. The city of Galle sometime ago was another example where the entrance to the city along the coast was cluttered with heaps of garbage, ignoring the importance of the first impression, (a basic lesson in diplomacy). I am remembering also former Foreign Minister Kadirgarmar who told me once that on setting foot inside a mission and seeing its arrangement and upkeep he would know instantly the state of that diplomatic mission.
(Sarala Fernando PhD, retired from the Foreign Ministry as Additional Secretary and last Ambassadorial appointment was as Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva. She writes now on foreign affairs, diplomacy and protection of heritage).
Brainwashing and Freedom of Religion
by Vijaya Chandrasoma
The terms “Freedom of Religion” and Freedom of Worship” are often used as interchangeable concepts. They are not. The difference in the meaning of these concepts is responsible for much of the religious strife and violence in the world today.
Freedom of Worship is practiced where the government and society will protect the rights of all citizens to practice their religions, so long as they confine their worship to the religion of their birth; a nation whose government or society “encourages” its citizens to believe in the dominant religion, and penalizes those who wish to embrace other beliefs and faiths.
The most extreme examples of this practice of Freedom of Worship are the Islamic nations, which stigmatize, persecute and penalize citizens who convert to a faith other than Islam. A custom which prevails, in varying degrees, in many nations in the world.
Freedom of Religion, according to a 2012 study by George Moses, is the “more expansive term. It includes freedom to worship their own religion, but also protects the rights of believers to evangelize, change their religion, have schools and charitable institutions and participate in the public square”.
As President Obama proclaimed on Religious Freedom Day, 2017, “Religious Freedom is a principle based not on shared ancestry, culture, ethnicity or faith but on a shared commitment to liberty. Our nation’s enduring commitment to the inalienable human right of religious freedom extends beyond our borders as we advocate for all the ability to choose and live their faith.”
The words “ability to choose and live their faith” illustrate the difference between Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Worship.
America’s confusing religious history began with the arrival of the English Pilgrims on the Mayflower in 1620, fleeing religious persecution in England. The constitution of the United States, subsequent to the establishment of a sovereign nation in 1776, provided the framework for the government of the Commonwealth of the 13 colonies.
Separation of Church and State is a legal principle in the United States, but the phrase appears nowhere in the constitution, the closest being “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of (any) religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, as part of the First Amendment.
Although Christianity is the dominant religion in the USA, representing 73% of its population, with its motto “In God We Trust” in US currency and the phrase “One Nation Under God” in its Pledge of Allegiance, no one is persecuted or penalized for converting to another faith, or indeed, for practicing no religion at all – which may not be apparent in today’s religious landscape. Politicians of every stripe are outshouting each other as being true, God fearing Christians publicly, while breaking every commandment in the Bible in private. No politician will be elected to the US Presidency today unless he holds a Bible in one hand, an AK 47 in the other, all the while professing enduring support of Israel.
Strangely, American evangelists have also demonstrated their religious hypocrisy in their devotion to a president who has had five children with three wives, been convicted of multiple financial frauds, accused of pedophilia and sexual assault, and broken just about every commandment in the Good Book. They continue to revere such an evil man as “The Chosen One”, in spite of his self-serving dalliance with science and truth, which has cost tens of thousands of American lives through climate change and a global pandemic.
When Russia established a Communist state, Marx’s theory about religion being the opium of the people was embraced. The USSR, in 1922, was the first nation to officially eliminate religion, and to prevent the propagation of religious and spiritual beliefs, with the ultimate goal of establishing an atheist state.
“Atheists waged a 70-year war on religious belief in the Soviet Union. The Communist Party destroyed churches, mosques and temples; it executed religious leaders; it flooded the schools and the media with anti-religious propaganda; and it introduced a belief called ‘scientific atheism’, complete with atheistic rituals, proselytizers, and a promise of worldly salvation”. But, in the end, “a majority of older Soviet citizens retained their religious beliefs and a crop of citizens too young to have experienced pre-Soviet times acquired religious beliefs.” (G. L. Mosse).
Communist China took a different route. The Communist Party of China is officially atheist. Party members are discouraged from publicly participating in religious ceremonies, on the basis that religious beliefs are tantamount to “spiritual anesthesia”. However, China does recognize five religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam and Protestantism. While the practice of religions is prohibited, any offence is honoured more in its breach than its observance. The US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report estimates that there are 650 million religious believers in China, primarily made up of Chinese Buddhists, followed by Christians, Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists. With China’s modernization and economic boom, China’s religious believers are, perhaps ironically, on the increase.
Which goes to prove that there’s no propaganda machine in the world with the capacity to successfully combat infantile and adult brainwashing.
To quote Buddhist scholar and translator, Dr. Alexander Berzin on the Buddhist view of other religions, “Just as there are billions of people in the planet, there are also billions of different dispositions and inclinations. From the Buddhist point of view, a wide choice of religions is needed to suit the varied needs of different people. Buddhism recognizes that all religions share the same aim of working for the well-being of mankind”.
In other words, a person of faith should welcome the world to challenge that faith. Whether the universe was created and designed by a Superior Being, or originated billions of years ago in rapid expansion from a single point of nearly infinite energy density, and evolved to its present state, is a decision to be made by individual faith, reasoning and logic. A free nation, where people are sovereign and encouraged to practice their own religion in all its diversity, is a nation with no official religion at all. Challenging thoughts, beliefs and faith is not meant to be easy or popular. It is meant to make us free.
Just as a newborn child is pure and innocent, with no prejudices of race, caste or creed, it is brainwashed and corrupted from the day it is born. It is a fact that 90% of the world’s population believes in the religion of their parents. If your father is a believer of Islam, you will, almost certainly, adhere to the teachings of the Qur’an. If your mother is a Christian, you will believe in the tenets of the Bible. As the Catholic Church says, “Give us your child till he is seven years old, and we’ll have him for life”, a maxim enshrining infantile brainwashing credited to St. Ignatius Loyola himself. And so with Buddhists, Hindus and every other religion practiced in the world. Not even the sage advice of the Buddha, that every religion should be respected and honoured, has been able to stifle the power of brainwashing, which almost every child in the world has been subjected to, and etched in their subconscious for life. Any doubts that may arise will be overcome by the power of their initial and continuing brainwashing, which is rampant, influencing every age, at every turn; in schools, in places of worship and business, in society at large.
All religions have one goal in common. They have the spiritual well-being of humanity and an orderly, just society at their core; they teach their adherents to follow a path of ethical behaviour, of love, compassion and forgiveness. It is just the reward that awaits you if you follow the path, and the punishment if you don’t, that form the basis of the main differences of all religions.
The need for an afterlife is caused by the denial of the ego to accept the finality of death. The final destination is a testament to the human imagination, and includes a surfeit of virgins, the Pearly Gates, and rebirth. Why is there so much strife, anguish, even violence over a concept that can never be conclusively and logically proved? Science has proved that the light at the end of the tunnel is the figment of one’s own faith. But then, the best minds in the world once thought that the earth was flat, so what do we know?
At least 4.5 billion people in the world identify with one of the four organized religions, and the numbers are rising. Religion remains the most powerful force in society today. And the crimes committed in the name of these religions are also increasing in many countries, democracies and authoritarian regimes alike.
No government has yet been able to quell the human need for faith, a belief in a deity or a spiritual law which has been instilled into the human psyche from birth. As long as people continue to be brainwashed from their infancy, religions will thrive. As will religious wars and crimes in the name of religions.
On the bright side, the concepts of atheism and agnosticism are gaining currency in Scandinavia and Northern European countries, where there is a preponderance of “heathens”. And these countries are known to be the most economically developed and socially just countries in the world. Not coincidentally, they are also recognized as countries where their citizens are happy, healthy and cared for, “from womb to tomb.” The fact that they also have some of the highest substance abuse and suicide rates in the world is another one of those quaint paradoxes of human nature.
Perhaps the evolution of these nations has achieved the “herd immunity” necessary to ward off the twin plagues of brainwashing and organized religion.
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