Peace for the World

Peace for the World
First democratic leader of Justice the Godfather of the Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle: Honourable Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam

Friday, July 7, 2017

A reappraisal of evidence and claims

Emerging Buddhist-Muslim Rivalry in Sri Lanka?

by G. H. Peiris- 

(Continued from yesterday)

3.3. Bhikkus in Parliament: "Crossing a Line"?

What happened in the period leading up to the elections of 2004 was that a plenary meeting of the SU decided to reconstitute the party with a new name (JHS) and a new leadership, and to field Bhikku candidates at the election in alliance with the SLFP. Who had popular appeal and "name recognition" among the ordinary folk – vitally important under the "preferential voting" system in vogue. Note also that, by 2004, the monks who contested in the elections held that year and several others of the JHU had become well known to the public because they had figured at the vanguard of the massive public protests against some of the potentially disastrous reforms mooted by Chandrika and Ranil (referred to above). It was these circumstances, and not what John has portrayed as a posthumous impact of Soma, that prompted the JHU to become a force to be reckoned with in parliamentary politics in 2004. In any event, there was no "crossing the line" from the temple to politics of our country because throughout the ages there was no such line to cross.

3.4. Bodu Bala Sēnā (BBS): What John Holt has missed

Having had the opportunity of observing the BBS in action since its 'post-war' advent to the political limelight of Sri Lanka and of reading some of its Sinhala publications, and having followed as closely as I can the related media coverage, my impressions and speculations on the BBS are as follows:

The BBS’s flock is not numerically significant though it has a spatial scatter of cells consisting of loyal youth – mostly, rebels in search of a cause. Some of its meetings, however, are well attended largely by curious onlookers. Preparatory work for its political rallies entails a great deal of effort and expenditure. There appears to be no shortage in the supply of the required funds.

Ven. Galabodaatte Gnānasāra was in the executive committee of the JHU in 2004. He left the JHU, claiming that it had become subservient to the interests of President Rajapaksa and his party, and hence had lost its purpose. It was probably this loudly proclaimed stance that enabled him to get external sponsorship for his foreign travels. C. A. Chandraprema with his impeccable record in investigative journalism has in fact unearthed evidence indicating that he is likely to have received sponsorship and support from the United States while having clandestine links with the UNP leadership (see, The Island of 22 June 2017). And, the Norwegian government providing funds for his trip to Europe has since been an open secret. Ven. Gnānasāra denies with vehemence and anger this support from external sources, and claims that the overwhelming majority of his flock (including the Sangha) is from the rural poor who make immense material sacrifices to support the BBS cause.

At his public performances Ven. Gnānasāra frequently hurls insults at the Rajapaksas. Going by the dictum that "in politics nothing is what it appears to be" this could be interpreted in various ways. Whatever the interpretation, there could be no denial that in the period leading up to the national elections of 2015, he was a boon to Ranil Wickremasinghe and a bane to the Rajapaksa camp.

This brings me to the elusive question of whether at least some of the outbursts of violence attributed to the BBS have been stage-managed. It is known that this type of destabilization, sponsored by the CIA, did occur in Pakistan, and that it led successively to the eviction of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto from office, his conviction for murder by a kangaroo court, and his being hanged. Bhutto’s real ‘offense’ was that, although he received massive US military assistance in his war against the Balochi tribes in 1974, he thereafter began to lean increasingly towards China in his foreign relations. No less a person than Ramsay Clarke (one time Attorney General of the US) has borne testimony to this fact; and taking into account several writings by Pakistani scholars on this episode as well, and the more recent global experiences with various ‘Springs’, and the hostility of the self-proclaimed "international community" towards Sri Lanka, one cannot rule out the possibility of Sri Lanka being the victim of yet another US-led attempt at "making the world safe for democracy". Disastrous US interventions also occurred in the period leading to the six-year 'People's War' in Nepal. Certain scholars there believe that the 2001 assassination of King Birendra and nine members of the royal family in a palace carnage was a CIA plot and was not, as widely publicised in its aftermath, the product of the broken heart and demented mind of Prince Dipendra, the heir to the throne.

Public activities of the BBS appear to be controlled very largely by Ven. Gnānasāra ̶ a domineering personality who becomes quite frenzied when provoked. Even those who believe that his proclaimed grievances are not entirely devoid of substance are thoroughly embarrassed by his excessive aggression. He is so obviously a megalomaniac. He craves publicity which continues to be provided in abundance by certain private sector TV channels and newspapers that were arrayed against the Rajapaksa government. To these firms, moreover, kalārasa of any form – even pilikulrasa – is essential for enhancing advertising revenue, which also means that the more publicity he gets the more wildly entertaining he becomes, while continuing to perform his ascribed role in current political affairs.

While approaching the end of this essay I came across the article by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka titled 'The issue is incitement: The BBS, Champika & the Gota factor' in The Island of 22 June 2017 which begins with the proposition that it is easier to resolve (legally and morally) whether a given statement (or action) is tantamount to incitement of violence than whether it represents 'extremism' (or 'ultra-nationalism' or 'chauvinism'). This, as most of Dr. Jayatyilleka's ideas, is incisive and thought-provoking, but when thought is provoked, seems tenuous either as a generalization on human experiences or in relation to a specific statement (or action) such as those by Venerable Gnānasāra Thero.

To illustrate, let me begin with a story from the Bible. Jesus Christ after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, according to St. Matthew (21: 12-13), "went into the temple of God and cast out all of them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them who sold doves, and said unto them, it is written, my house shall be called the House of Prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves". Rome might have looked at this episode as a minor affront to its imperial might; but no doubt it infuriated the "Sadducees and Pharisees"to a pitch that found expression in the harrowing mob violence and the crucifixion inflicted on Jesus a few days later. Now, would you say that the 'incitement' part of this story is different from the Prelate Ināmaluwē Sumangala's repeated assertion: "We cannot allow mosques to be built within this shuddhabhoomiya ('sacred area' adjacent to his temple).

To cite a few other random illustrations, was Marc Anthony as dramatized by Shakespeare bemoaning the death of his mentor or inciting violence against powerful senators of the Roman Empire? John Kennedy's grandiloquent declaration, "Violence in pursuit of liberty is not crime"- did it inspire at least some of the ideologues of the 'Civil rights' mob violence like James Baldwin who wrote 'The Fire Next Time'? What about the Bushes – father and son – and their rhetoric aimed at generating mass support for the ruthless bombardment of Iraq, or that of Obama prior to launching 'Operation Neptune Spear' cause an escalation of ISIS retaliatory violence? Closer home, what of the Marxist stalwarts of our own 'Old Left' who advocated extra-parliamentary strategies of capturing State power, and thus contributed to the homicidal and suicidal mindset of the youth who pursued that strategy two decades later. Illustrations are plentiful. You can think carefully and arrive at your own conclusions on whether "incitement" is easily definable, legally and morally, especially in relation to these 'holy wars' – Buddhist or Islamic or any other persuasion.

The problem about getting into the semantics of 'incitement' is that it diverts attention from the essence of the 'post-war' crisis in our country – the product of an externally sponsored, multifaceted 'regime change' project, a prominent facet of which was the alienation of the Muslim community from the Rajapaksa regime. The recent insidious revival of this effort is no doubt intended to protect the puppet regime installed in 2015. There are faint signs of our Muslim community gradually awakening to this fact.

The foregoing comment should not be misinterpreted as a refutation of Dr. Jayatilleka's forthright conclusion. I fully agree that the only possibility of reversing the trend of decay and disintegration of Sri Lanka could be the re-establishment of a regime consisting of a broad coalition of forces to which Mahinda Rajapaksa would provide leadership. I do not know of any duumvirates that have been particularly successful – those I know about like the one in the immediate aftermath of former Yugoslavia in the immediate aftermath of Tito, or the one we have at present here have been disastrous.