Appeal for tolerance

Thursday, 12 June 2014 00:19 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

More than a,300 years ago in the deep jungles of Anuradhapura, Buddhism came to Sri Lanka on the wind with Arahat Mahinda and bringing with it civilisation, a culture of non-violence and tolerance that was to shape the nation’s soul. Among the teachings of the Buddha, tolerance and loving-kindness are perhaps the most fundamental. Five years down the road to recovery from a brutal three decade long conflict, those two teachings have the greatest relevance in Sri Lankan society today. Pause a moment, to reflect on Sri Lanka’s post-war trajectory, its treatment and tolerance of the ‘other’ this Poson Full Moon Poya Day. On Monday night, violent incidents of eerie familiarity unfolded in the heart of Badulla town. The narrative followed a similar pattern. A Muslim-owned shop. The allegation of sexual harassment. The 500 strong mob that laid siege to the shop. Passivity and blatantly prejudicial conduct by police personnel. The offending sales boy mercilessly beaten by the mob, now hospitalised, his condition serious. Unsurprisingly, the incident went unreported. Over the past 18 months, the insidious spiral of violence against the Muslim community has been unfolding under a veil of secrecy. On 8 May, the same story unfolded in Aluthgama, where a Muslim-owned enterprise was set on fire, after allegations were made against the owner’s brother, never proven and dismissed by a court of law, that he had molested a young child inside the shop. Often this violence is sparked by long-standing rivalry in a particular village or town, where Muslim and Sinhala communities live cheek-by-jowl, and traders from both communities vie for sales supremacy. Each time hardliners have mobilised relentlessly against Muslim places of worship and trade, the Muslim community has been forced to capitulate. The incidents go unreported until final compromises are made, usually after the intervention of a senior Government Minister or official. With the Government failing in every instance to instruct law enforcement agencies to act with decision against lawlessness and unruly, violent mobs taking issue with prayer centres, mosques and Muslim-owned enterprises, the Muslim community is finding itself helpless, increasingly frustrated and politically isolated. There are unfounded fears that the reporting of such incidents, with their racially charged flavour, will spark further unrest. Perhaps these fears are motivated in part by a degree of sympathy with the cause of hard-line groups that have been permitted a free rein across the island, if not with their tactics. There was a belief, in the lead up to the 1983 ethnic riots too, that to report on the ongoing tension and violence against Tamil businesses and homes, the subtle persecutions that could be put down to no more than ‘isolated incidents’, would only fan communal flames. But monstrous things have a tendency to grow in the dark. See no evil, hear no evil approaches, to raging ethno-religious tensions have a history of exacerbating the problem. A community of people in Sri Lanka is under siege. It is only if the general public are made aware of the tragedies and their devastating consequences that sanity can prevail, moderate forces can rally and extremism can be defeated. As Sri Lanka embarks on a journey of healing after conflict, let the peace and wisdom imparted on Mihintale rock be guidance. Let tolerance win over extremism. ‘May all beings be peaceful; may all beings be happy’.