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Opinion

We are tired of politicians’ sick jokes

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By Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva

The country is in dire straits. The economy is almost bankrupt, the pandemic is still on a deadly rampage, children have been denied schooling for nearly two years, and starvation of the populace is imminent. The politicians appear to be on a mission to enrich themselves, planning to make the best use of the opportunity, making hay while the sun shines. All systems are in place for those who fleeced the country over the years to prosper further.

Many businessmen, mostly cronies of those in power, are exploiting the misery of the people and profiteering from the pandemic. Some in tourism and related-travel industry, hoteliers, importers of pandemic-related material like testing equipment and drugs, others in private healthcare and importers and wholesale dealers of essential food items seem to be making more money than during normal times. This is when large sections of the populace are struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis. How in a predominantly Buddhist country, mostly Buddhist businessmen, let alone equally errant non-Buddhists, do not appear to believe in Kamma and keep on accumulating wealth, exploiting the misery of the people, with a ‘we shall never die’ attitude, is really depressing. In the apparent absence of legal provisions or lack of willingness of the authorities to apprehend the culprits, the masses are just hoping and praying that the effects of Ditta Dhamma Vedaniya Kamma will catch up to them sooner than later.

In the middle of all this, many politicians of all hues compete among themselves to amuse people with miserable jokes. Several ministers habitually give hilarious evasive answers to questions raised about important matters, thus exposing their gross ignorance of the subject. A suggestion was offered that mass scale deaths of fish, turtles and other marine life along the coastline after the recent fire in a sinking ship was just an expected seasonal phenomenon. Yet another minister talking of the same ship thought that rather than attempting to douse the fire, it would be far more profitable to let it burn out fully so that millions of dollars could be collected as compensation. Another, a medically qualified minister, claimed that the price of drugs was raised to prevent patients from hoarding drugs at home. He also blamed the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA), the authority responsible, for delaying the vaccination programme by wasting too much time examining the documents without summarily approving the vaccines. Yet another parliamentarian, a lawyer by profession, suggested that the disorderly vaccine rollout was probably as instructed by the ‘donor’ country. A politician thought it was a good idea to bring in tourists from a country ravaged by COVID-19 to test how the disease would spread in our country. Another famously questioned why we need atmospheric oxygen at all while defending the wanton denudation of the land of vegetation. A former parliamentarian boasted of the leader of his party being accepted worldwide as a great man soon after he was totally rejected and reduced to a non-entity by the local electorate.

Another classic example is the recent gazette notification of over 600-strong list of items that will be discouraged from being imported. There are many items listed therein, a shortage of which could seriously affect the economy and could bring many industries to a standstill. However, the politicians have given full attention to lingerie. Even the Minister of Trade hurriedly summoned a press conference along with some garment manufacturers to reassure that the country is self-sufficient in underwear. The Opposition too probably fell into the trap laid by the government to divert attention from more important items therein and started making fun out of the lingerie issue totally ignoring the much more serious aspects of import restrictions. There seems to be a bunch of designated official jesters on both sides fully entrusted with entertaining the people with sick jokes. They turn every important discussion into a huge laughing matter, insulting the intelligence of the people. Even social media are full of such meaningless banter with hardly any serious discussion on matters of vital importance.

Thus in many instances being academically qualified does not seem to dampen their penchant for speaking falsehoods with ridiculous humour. The glaring lack of common sense among the representatives of the people is alarming. The general assumption seems to be that people are fools who will believe anything uttered by self-serving politicians. Unfortunately, this notion appears to be true for a significant segment of the electorate. At present, politicians are not accountable for their deeds and words. Ideally, party leaders or party whips should have some control over their utterances.

It is the general impression that the incumbent government elected, with an overwhelming mandate, is falling short in fulfilling many promises given. Hence it is high time that those offering themselves to the people as a viable alternative got their act together to convince the electors that they are a different lot capable of performing better than what has been happening for over 70 years. For those who had been in power earlier with nothing much achieved to boast about, this is going to be an arduous task. The people have lost faith totally in politicians, including the so-called educated ones (viyathun) who have proved to be mere treasure hunters no better than the rest, or even worse as they have no experience in governance. Perhaps the civil society activist groups should come to the forefront, to save us all from impending disaster.

Ideally, all parties or groups aspiring to gain power should have a long-term development plan. There should be designated spokesmen already academically qualified or have developed an in-depth knowledge in individual subjects like economy, finance, trade, healthcare, agriculture, industries and foreign affairs. Being a practising democracy, at least in name, all should be knowledgeable and free to express their views on various issues to some extent. However, those designated as above should take over when a crisis develops in a particular field so that the electorate can take part in a learned discussion and arrive at sensible conclusions. It is worth considering whether the concept of a shadow Cabinet as seen in advanced democracies could be adopted here so that if and when they come to power, they know exactly what their mandate and targets would be.

Politicians trying to surpass each other as jesters entertaining people with meaningless rhetoric will reduce the intensity, urgency and importance of the issues, making a mockery of the discussion. Concerted action is essential for a course correction the nation urgently needs to stall its rapid descent into oblivion.



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Opinion

Another mother and son to be admired

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It was with a sense of awe, admiration and joy that I read the piece by Capt. Elmo Jayawardene in The Island of 25 Oct. 2021, on the achievements of Dr Pahalagedera Jayathilaka, a handicapped youth from almost the wilderness in a village called Dandu Bendi Ruppa in Nuwara Kalaviya who had achieved almost the impossible, gaining a super First Class from the University of Moratuwa and a PhD in Fluid Dynamics from the National University of Singapore. Thereafter he has been attached to the University of Oxford as a Research Scientist. All credit for his achievements has to go to his mother, Pahalagedera Dingiriamma who did everything within her means to enable her son to achieve the almost impossible, by cultivating vegetables to feed, educate and raise eight offspring.

Dr. Jayathilaka is a person we Sri Lankans have to be proud of and also get children to emulate his achievements. The most important thing about this patriotic son of the soil is that he wants to return to Sri Lanka and give something back to his motherland in return for the free education he has had. This is when most of the youth are clamouring to go abroad.

There is another mother and a handicapped son who have to be admired. The boy is Brian Eaton who had just received his Ordinary Level examination results and he has got A grades for all nine subjects. He was featured in the Sirasa TV programme Lakshapathi, which is the local equivalent of Who wants to be a millionaire. He lives with his mother, who is a seamstress, in Mattakkuliya. He is blind. He has read over 200 books in braille. The mother had to take him by bus to the Blind School in Ratmalana. It used to take about two hours to get to the school and another two hours to return home. As the mother had to wait till school is over, she used to take the material and cut same while waiting for her son. She does the sewing after returning home.

Though they are Christians, Brian had wanted to study Buddhism and seemed to know more about Buddhism than most Buddhist youth.

Brian was accommodated as a special case on the Lakshapathi programme without his having to face the “fastest finger first” selection process. His knowledge of all subjects was such that he was able to answer many questions without any assistance. He came up to the Rs. 2.0 million penultimate question without much difficulty and answered it correctly. Then it was the final question for the jackpot prize of Rs. 3.0 million. Brian decided to withdraw from the programme without attempting to answer the final question as he was not very sure. He withdrew securing Rs.2.0 million. Before he stepped down from the hot seat, the quiz master asked him what would have been his answer. And to everybody’s dismay the answer he gave was correct and he missed out on another Rs. one million.

Brian is an exceptional child who has successfully overcome all disabilities, with the untiring efforts of his mother, to reach the top of the programme which had evaded many of the normal children who had participated in this programme. We wish him success in all his future endeavours.

MH Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Warnapura: A colourful cricketing giant

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Bandula Warnapura secured his name in the annals of Sri Lankan cricket as the country’s first Test Cricket Captain. As Sri Lanka’s opening batter, he faced the first delivery bowled by Bob Willis during the inaugural test match played between Sri Lanka and England on the historic day of 17 Feb. 1982, at the P Sara Stadium (previously known as Colombo Oval), in Borella. Further, he scored the first test run for his country. Records are usually meant to be broken as it happens regularly in the sports arena world over. But Warnapura’s feats will never be disintegrated. What a privileged position to be in! It is an exceedingly rare combination of persistent commitment, endurance, and of course, luck, over a long period of time.

My happy memories of Bandula Warnapura were linked with our school days about 12 years prior to the country’s first test match.

I vividly remember his exceptional achievements during his school career at Nalanda College between 1968 and 1972. Towards the latter part of this period he rose to fame of an exceptional degree. His name became a common household one; in fact, no other school cricketer at the time received such media attention. Two other contemporary school cricketers who came close to him were Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias; a wonderful triumvirate who dominated school cricket in the early 1970’s.

In 1971, Warnapura everyone expected the batting machine to break the existing batting record of the Ananda – Nalanda annual cricket encounter (popularly known as “Battle of Maroons”) when he captained the Nalanda cricket team. However, he only managed to score half a century (53), which brought much disappointment to many cricket fans.

As a grade 9 student of Ananda College at the time, I still treasure fond memories of his record-breaking epic innings of 118 not out in 1972 at the big match. He broke the 44-year-old batting record (111) held by another Nalandian P M Jayatilaka in 1928. I was in the Ananda (rival) pavilion; the overwhelming expectation of the other boys of the Ananda pavilion was against him reaching a glorious century. However, I was quietly feeling happy for him and honestly wanted him to achieve the century and surpass the existing record. After breaking the then batting record, the Nalanda pavilion was ecstatic and Bandula Warnapura became a school cricketing legend. I remember well, the legendary cricket commentator Premasara Epasinghe staunchly supporting Warnapura throughout his career.

W arnapura’s subsequent cricketing career was remarkable and by accident in 1979 he captained SriLanka and won a World Cup match against the star-studded Indian team (Gavaskar, Kapil Dev et al.). Most believe that as an ICC associate member, beating an ICC full member was the precursor state for the elevation of the Island nation to the test status in 1981. It was a dream come true for all cricket fans in Sri Lanka. However, at this time around, Warnapura’s cricketing career was on the decline and ended abruptly after the ill-advised rebel South Africa tour in 1984.

Bandula Warnapura’s sad demise at a relatively young age is indeed extremely sorrowful news.

Thank you Bandula for giving us fond memories with great nostalgia during our school days. May you have a fruitful journey of sansara and finally attain the supreme bliss of nibbana!

Prof Ananda Jayasinghe

University of Peradeniya

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Opinion

Ali Sabry’s equation

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by Rohana R. Wasala

Justice Minister Ali Sabry is reported to have said the traditional brand of Islamism which has been practised by Muslims in Sri Lanka for centuries has to be preserved while the religion should not be practised according to the likes of one group. He reportedly made this remark after taking part in a religious ceremony at the Dewatagaha Mosque, Colombo. (This architecturally impressive place of Islamic worship is a proud national monument situated at the heart of the commercial capital; it is a symbol of the peaceful coexistence of Muslims with Sri Lankans of other faiths.) The Minister is reported to have added that unity among Muslims in Sri Lanka should also be preserved just like preserving unity among various religious and ethnic groups.

Sri Lankans of all beliefs interested in the early restoration of the externally disturbed customary religious and communal harmony subscribe to that laudable view with the necessary alterations. But will his equation of Islam with Islamism work in the current context.

(CAVEAT: There is no way to check the authenticity of the news report in question unless Minister Ali Sabry confirms or denies what is claimed in it about him. It has not been indicated in which language he expressed these ideas. Did he actually use the words Islam and Islamism speaking in English or their equivalents speaking in another language, or has the media arbitrarily translated into English, using those two terms, what the speaker said in another language?)

But for the purpose of this essay, I assume that the Minister’s words have been reported accurately. I don’t know whether Muslims in Sri Lanka have started using the words Islam and Islamism interchangeably, which, of course, I’d have thought, is a near impossibility, given the universally recognised difference in meaning between the two terms. Google.com defines Islam as ‘the religion of the Muslims, a monotheistic faith regarded as revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah’. Islamism on the other hand, is generally taken to mean Islamist fundamentalism associated with violent militancy, which is purely a religiopolitical movement. The Wikipedia defines Islamism thus: “Islamism (also often called political Islam or Islamic fundamentalism) is a political ideology which posits that modern states and regions should be reconstituted in constitutional, economic and judicial terms, in accordance with what is conceived as a revival or a return to authentic Islamic practice in its totality”.

(By the way, the Wikipedia is no longer regarded as an easily available smart tool for the amateur researcher for the reason that the entries are made by voluntary editors at various levels of scholarship and academic authority and authenticity. The Wikipedia user must be sufficiently educated and well informed to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. In this case, the definition given is sound enough.) Explaining the relation between Islam and Islamism, the Wikipedia says:

“The relationship between the notions of Islam and Islamism has been subject to disagreement. Hayri Abaza argues that the failure to distinguish between Islam and Islamism leads many in the West to support illiberal Islamic regimes, to the detriment of progressive moderates who seek to separate religion from politics. A writer for the International Crisis Group maintains that “the conception of ‘political Islam’” is a creation of Americans to explain the Iranian Islamic Revolution and (that) apolitical Islam was a historical fluke of the “short-lived era of the heyday of secular Arab nationalism between 1945 and 1970”, and it is quietist-political Islam, not Islamism, that requires explanation.

“Another source distinguishes Islamist from Islamic “by the fact that the latter refers to a religion and culture in existence over a millennium, whereas the first is a political/religious phenomenon linked to the great events of the 20th century”. Islamists have, at least at times, defined themselves as “Islamiyyoun/Islamists” to differentiate themselves from Muslimun/Muslims. Daniel Pipes describes Islamism as a modern ideology that owes more to European utopian ideologies and “isms” than to traditional Islamic religion.”

When Ali Sabry reportedly made the particular remark, he probably had in mind what the Wiki quote refers to as ‘quietist or political Islam’ (which, in common parlance, is called ‘moderate Islam’). Moderate Islam is not regarded as a problem, but Islamism definitely is. It need not be reiterated that the problem of Islamism affects the whole world. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, Islamic/Islamist fundamentalism came to prominence relatively recently, although it has been smoldering since the mid-20th century as some commentators have pointed out. Given this background, responsible speakers do not use the two words (Islam and Islamism) as alternatives. I believe that minister Ali Sabry speaks as a responsible person. That is why I am sceptical about what has been reported of his speech. But these are strange times. Anything is possible.

However, it is somewhat inconceivable that Ali Sabry, who has been entrusted by the President with such a great responsibility or an array of responsibilities as he bears in a government that sought election on the main platform of “One Law, One Country” and that is poised to bring in a new constitution, made this thoughtless identification of Islam with Islamism.

The President wanted to assure the Muslim community that they were safe and would not be subjected to discrimination under his rule, particularly in the face of incursions into Sri Lanka of rampant Islamist extremism, although most Muslims did not vote for him at the presidential election in November 2019. It is conceivable that the President’s more important aim in appointing Ali Sabry to that key post was to enlist the participation of the Muslim community in governance despite their implicit initial refusal of his goodwill. It is unlikely that Ali Sabry has forgotten this.

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