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Calm, caution and statesmanship

| by Feizal Samath

( January 27, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Government should be commended for deciding to set up a Special Parliamentary Select Committee to tackle a worrying resurgence of religious fundamentalism, racism and intolerance.

Parliamentary Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva, announcing the move on Friday in the legislature, urged support from all sides and parties concerned for the move. He was quoted in newspapers as saying this is a national issue which is above paty lines and requested the cooperation of all sides concerned.

Extremism, fundamentalism, racism and intolerance have no place in modern society particularly societies including Sri Lanka where religious freedom, multi-ethnic values and multi-cultural integration is encouraged and practised over the years. Every man, woman and child, whichever religion or race she or he belongs to, have a right to these basic needs; this is enshrined in the country’s Constitution.

It’s unclear how and why there has been a resurgence in racial and religious tensions but the recent developments over the Law College examination could be a pointer in that direction. It is hoped that these issues are resolved by a committee that was appointed to investigate any irregularities in the marking scheme.

A further trigger may have been the recent population census and the ratios in Colombo which show the majority Sinhalese outnumbered by all other communities put together.

This should not be an issue and one good example how developments like these are well managed is in some West Asian countries and Dubai in particular where some 80 per cent of the population (of Dubai) are foreigners or non-Arabs flourishing along with the locals.
The near-30 years of conflict from the early 1980s to 2009 which drew bloodshed, hatred, bitterness and communal clashes, is a blot on the country and should never, ever be repeated.

Sri Lanka was a pariah to the world and came under the scrutiny of the international community over large-scale human rights violations.

There were also occasional outbursts of racist intolerance during this period between the majority and minorities which were nipped in the bud, particularly during Chandrika Kumaratunga’s tenure as President when religious places of worship belonging to the Moslems and the Christians came under attack which saw the Government move in to curb the unrest.

Another flash point last year was the dispute over the presence of a mosque on Buddhist temple land in Dambulla which included a violent mob attack led by some Buddhist monks on the mosque in the presence of the security forces.

While credit is due to the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa for ending the secessionist campaign by the LTTE in mid-2009, the process to reach a peace settlement through an all-party process has been slow.

Both sides – the Government and opposition parties like the TNA – have been trading all kinds of accusations stalling efforts to putting back on track this process to a conclusion.

Hate leaflets are being distributed in villages to promote discord against religious minority communities which should be stopped swiftly by the state. Now that the Government has firmly denied any alleged truck with these extremist forces, it is incumbent on the authorities to move fast to avoid any unnecessary clashes or bloodshed and arrest the perpetrators whoever they may be.

Ordinary peace-loving Sri Lankans have suffered enough from three decades of conflict. The crisis has created a society where age-old values, discipline, tolerance, accommodation and love for one other have disappeared.

The rule of law has collapsed; rather the law applies only to the ordinary citizens of the country while a privileged class gets to do whatever they want.

This (and the new slur on religious freedom) is bad for the economy, bad for business and further alienates Sri Lanka from the international community whose help is needed to transform the country in the post-war era to another Asian powerhouse.

Strong sentiments are being expressed by all sides in the (religious) equation but this is the time for calm, caution, understanding and statesmanship. The President can and must give the lead in ensuring the country doesn’t fall into the depths of communalism and intolerance.


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