Communal and religious extremism: Sri Lankans should be vigilant
The greatest challenge Sri Lanka will face in the next decade is the rise of communal and religious extremism, cautioned Professor Rohan Gunaratna.
After 30 years of bloodletting, the idea of promoting narrow ethnic divisions ended in May 2009. If anyone wants to instill racial and religious prejudice, suspicion and hatred and be a future Prabhakaran, the Government should look at that person very seriously, Professor Rohan Gunaratna
An internationally acclaimed terrorism expert , who heads the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore – Professor Rohan Gunaratna suggested to consolidate the stability achieved due to the diligence of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary, the strategist who defeated the LTTE, has the understanding to take Sri Lanka to the next level of harmony and prosperity.
The renowned Sri Lankan Academician pointed out to consolidate the stability achieved and it is time Gotabaya Rajapaksa should spearhead a multidimensional strategy and create platforms to bring Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim community leaders to build one Sri Lanka.
When referring about the National Anthem, Professor pointed out that the Government of Sri Lanka has made a huge mistake by saying that the National Anthem can only be sung in Sinhala and he pooh- poohed that it does not make sense to anyone to prevent a community of its own people from singing the National Anthem in their own language.
The erudite Professor recommended e for one single composite National Anthem in the future where people sing in Sinhala and in Tamil.
He suggested that the most important thing is for the Sri Lankan Government to take measures to prevent the reemergence of the Tamil ethno-nationalism and Sinhala ethno-nationalism and to promote Sri Lankan nationalism ‘As children of mother Lanka, all communities should live in harmony’.
Professor underlined that the Sri Lanka Government should enact a Harmony Act that promotes moderation, toleration and coexistence and also institute a Sedition Act that that would charge anyone who is inciting communal and religious extremism.
Given below the excerpts of the interview Asian Tribune had with Professor Rohan Gunaratna:
Asian Tribune: About rendering of Sri Lanka’s National Anthem – What is your opinion?
Professor Rohan Gunaratna: The National Anthem was being sung in Tamil in the North and in the East before the rise of the LTTE. The Tamils had no problems whatsoever of singing the National Anthem. They did sing the National Anthem in Tamil in schools in Jaffna, in work places and ceremonies.
Even during the height of the LTTE days, when a delegation of Sri Lankan Scouts visited the North, the National Anthem was sung by Scouts in the North in Tamil.
The Government of Sri Lanka made a huge mistake by saying that the National Anthem can only be sung in Sinhala. It does not make sense to anyone to prevent a community of its own people from singing the National Anthem in their own language.
In addition to singing the National Anthem, all government servants and students in all schools should read a national pledge first thing in the morning. They should say they will serve all citizens of Sri Lanka equally and they will work for the prosperity and harmony of Sri Lanka.
I personally believe that the President should appoint a committee that will craft a national pledge, where every Sri Lankan at their work place and Sri Lankan students in their schools will pledge before they start working and their studies that they will serve equally all citizens of this country irrespective of religion or race and also work for the development and for harmony.
Asian Tribune: Kindly elaborate when you mention about singing National Anthem in Tamil? Whether we should have two separate National Anthems, one in Sinhalese, another in Tamil language giving the same meanings or wanted to have one composite National Anthem including Sinhalese and Tamil stanzas incorporated in the lyric?
Professor Rohan Gunaratne: The National Anthem that is being sung in Sinhala as well as National Anthem that is being sung in Tamil is identical with the same music and same meaning.
It does not make sense to prevent one community from not singing the National Anthem in their own language. It is absolutely something that should have never been done. It demonstrates that the Government took a decision without thinking.
Government or the parliamentary opposition should not take any decision that divides people by ethnicity, religion or region. With ethnonationalist ideologies in the north and the south polarizing Sri Lankans, everyone must come together to restore the pride and spirit of being a Sri Lankan. It will not come naturally. By investing in reconciliation and harmony initiatives, the pride of being a Sri Lankan should be inculcated.
Asian Tribune: Instead of two National Anthems in two languages, what about having one composite Anthem by including a Para or two in Tamil too in the same anthem that is presently sung in Sinhala language, so that Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese will all sing one composite National Anthem?
Professor Rohan Gunaratne: Yes, in fact that should be considered. Certainly there can be a composite National Anthem where Sinhalese sing in Sinhalese and Tamil and Tamils sing in Tamil as well as Sinhalese. I don’t think there would be any hiccups.
Since 1951, the Sri Lankan National Flag has a saffron stripe representing the Tamil community and a green stripe representing the Muslim community. It is one flag where the Sinhalese, Tamils and the Muslim communities are represented.
Certainly there can be in the future one single National Anthem where people sing in Sinhala and in Tamil. The most important thing is for the Sri Lankan Government to take measures to prevent the reemergence of the Tamil ethno-nationalism and Sinhala ethno-nationalism and to promote Sri Lankan nationalism. As children of mother Lanka, all communities should live in harmony.
Asia Tribune: What can be done to strengthen future Sri Lanka?
Professor Rohan Gunaratne: The greatest challenge for Sri Lanka today is to promote the Sri Lankan dream. It is not for different communities to claim the right to any single region. Sri Lanka should not be broken up by religion or ethnic group - the Muslims to have the East, the Tamils to have the North and the Sinhalese to have the South. The Sri Lanka dream is for Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims to live everywhere in Sri Lanka wherever they want and as brothers and sisters.
It is also very important for Sri Lankan politicians whether they are Tamils, Sinhalese or Muslims not to campaign based on Tamil identity, Sinhala identity, or Muslim identity. Sinhalese politicians should always speak for the Tamils and Muslims, and Tamil politicians, for Sinhalese and Muslim, and Muslim politicians for the Tamils and Sinhalese.
After 30 years of bloodletting, the idea of promoting narrow ethnic divisions ended in May 2009. If anyone wants to instill racial and religious prejudice, suspicion and hatred and be a future Prabhakaran, the Government should look at that person very seriously.
The Government should enact a Harmony Act that promotes moderation, toleration and coexistence.
The Government should also institute a Sedition Act that would charge anyone who is inciting communal and religious extremism.
The greatest challenge Sri Lanka will face in the next decade is the rise of communal and religious extremism.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the strategist who defeated the LTTE, has the understanding to take Sri Lanka to the next level of harmony and prosperity. To consolidate the stability achieved, he should spearhead a multidimensional strategy and create platforms to bring Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim community leaders to build one Sri Lanka.
Asia Tribune: What is the greatest achievement of the current government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa?
Professor Rohan Gunaratne: It is ending the 30 year war. Other achievement was rehabilitating rather than prosecuting 11,500 of 12,000 LTTE cadres. This demonstrated that the Sri Lankan people do not wish to seek revenge from those who have killed, maimed and injured others.
It is essential for this spirit of forgiveness and compassion to grow as Sri Lanka moves forward and unite different ethnic groups that were divided by extremist ideologies.
Sri Lankans should not take Peace for granted. But it should become the duty of everyone in Government, the parliamentary opposition and all political parties to promote moderation, toleration and co-existence as a way of life.
Asia Tribune:What is the greatest tribute Sri Lankans can pay for those who died in the Sri Lankan conflict?
Professor Rohan Gunaratne: It is never to permit the rise of religious and communal extremism once again in the Island of Sri Lanka. It is to create a norm and an ethic against ethnic and religious entrepreneurs who flame communal and sectarian passions. It is to create the laws to charge and prosecute those who disrupt communal and religious harmony and to ensure that their assets are confiscated.
It should be remembered that every day that this war was ended not only by the Sinhalese, but by many Tamils and Muslims. They contributed towards ending terrorism in Sri Lanka as much as the Sinhalese.
In addition to the monumental contribution of the three time Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, I should single out the names of the founder father of the Special Forces Colonel Fazly Laphir and the Commanding Officer of the Sri Lanka Military Intelligence Corps Lt. Col. Nizam Muthaliff.
There are many other valiant Tamil and Muslim heroes that fought against terrorism and made a supreme sacrifice. To honor their memory, we must be vigilant and not allow anyone, especially politicians to play ethnic and religious politics, and destroy the hard won and costly peace.
Extremist forces may try to creep in under the guise of protecting or advancing community interests and we must never allow this monster of racism or fanaticism to return.
I would remind the quotation of Great Emperor Asoka
The greatest heritage Sri Lanka received was harmony. We lost our peace when ethnic and religious entreprenurers started to exploit them for personal and political gain. I urge the segment of misguided Sri Lankans determined to create a riot between the Sinhalese and Muslims to reflect upon the quote of Emperor Ashoka who gave Sri Lanka the greatest of all gifts, Buddhism, to reflect on his time tested words:
“One should not honour one's own religion and condemn the religions of others, but one should honour other's religions for this or that reason. So doing, one help's one's own religion to grow and render service to the religions of others too. In acting otherwise one digs the grace of one's own religion and does harm to other religions. Whosoever honors his own religion and condemns other religions does so indeed through devotion to his own religion, thinking 'I will glorify my own religion'. But on the contrary, in so he injures his own religion more gravely. So concord is good: Let all listen, and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by others.”
- Asian Tribune -