The detestable behavior of a minority element within the Buddhist priesthood in Sri Lanka is an extremely worrying phenomenon, in that, if it is allowed to grow unchecked by the authorities will certainly drag the country into another quagmire of ethnic violence and bloodshed. It is an open secret that there are certain political factions in the country that are backing these cowboys in saffron robes. I reminded in an earlier piece which I contributed to this journal that when the former Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala visited the assassinated SWRD Bandaranaike in the hospital Sir John was quoted to have told the dying prime minister that he let loose the dogs that Sir John tied down when he was in power and those dogs had bitten his successor. Whether this incident did actually happen or not is immaterial but the moral of the story should remind the current presidency that by tolerating the evil acts of these unruly monks the country is slowly but surely being dragged into another cauldron of ethnic disharmony, political instability and economic disaster.
Whether it is written down in the constitution or not no saner mind is going to deny the historical fact that Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country with a hitherto unblemished record of utmost tolerance to other religions and their practitioners. From the point of view of my own community I have repeatedly written and spoken the undeniable historical truth that in the annals of Asian history no other nation has extended that enormity of respect and tolerance towards Islam and Muslims as Sri Lanka has done over a millennium. I have also not hidden my frustration and anger when elements in my own community misuse that tolerance and respect by behaving in a manner to disturb the historical tranquillity between Buddhism and Islam zealously built up by previous generations.
However, what is happening now and allowed to happen since 2009 is beyond comprehension. How can a government let unrestrained a tiny contingent of unruly monks to take the law into their own hands and go on attacking mosques, planting statues in the heart of Muslim villages and threatening the traditional occupants with death and destruction? What even more worrying is the fact that they are doing this often in the presence of security officers. The most recent incidents in Irakkamam in the Amapra District, Onagama in the Polonnaruwa District and Panadura and Wellampittiya in the south reflect an evolving pattern in which the trouble makers appear to have gained somewhat of an immunity from the law makers and law enforcers. Is the presidency and his government in collusion with these elements in the interest of short term political gain?
If the presidency is behaving cowardly then the behaviour of the Muslim politicians is nothing short of treachery. Of what public benefit is holding a ministerial and other prestigious positions under a government that is reluctant to enforce the law on elements that are intentionally bent on causing maximum hardship on the very people who elected these ministerial occupants in the first place? Why should public funds be wasted on a bunch of political nincompoops? Isn’t it time for Muslims to show their anger and frustration not on the unruly monks, who would welcome such open remonstration so that the calamity can be widened, but against the ones who are claiming to represent their interests and warming the seats in the parliament in the interest of personal benefits?
There are intellectuals, religious leaders and politicians amongst the Sinhalese and Tamils who are obviously disgusted at the behaviour of the cowboy monks on the none hand and at the impotency of the government on the other. Why not the Muslim victims join these people and make it a national protest against all atrocities and injustices wantonly committed against all minorities?
Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Government, University of Western Australia