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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2640

Role of religion in Peace Building

By Oscar E V Fernando

There has been turmoil in the Sri Lankan nation for decades past: what may be the basic reason; is it that the majority in the country tries to make this a Sinhala Buddhist Nation?

Buddhism came to Sri Lanka from India and some of the then inhabitants took to Buddhism, indeed a pristine philosophy; and now Sinhala Buddhists are a majority in the country!

However, individuals surrender their power of governing themselves to a politician in turn to govern society; where individuals, as in Sri Lanka, are so grouped into diverse ethnic and religious persuasions; wouldn’t the act of bestowing this power to a politician get ruptured if and when politicians look after the interest of the majority only?

This would obviously happen on legislating in a Westminster system of government sans checks and balances like a Senate Chamber to look after the interests of minorities. The Sri Lankan parliament sans the Senate has been going on from the year 1972, giving very little chance for minorities to ventilate their grievances in parliament; thus legislation could be passed rough shod over the minorities.

Why was the Senate abolished in this multi-ethnic and multi religious country?

The consequences seem to be the perplexing problem that is Sri Lanka today!

There are other religions in this country; several Buddhists at one time had turned to Christ, some after Portuguese arrived and some in the year AD 47 according to the world acclaimed archeologist cum historian Senerath Paranavitharne; some Buddhists and other religionists have turned to Sai Baba and some also worship Hindu Gods; there are the Hindus proper, Muslims, Borahs and many others. These voices have to be heard in parliament in order to have a vibrant democracy.

The Senate Chamber is a far cry from a ministry to look after the interests of a religious/ethnic groups as it is tamed by the whip of the ruling party; The Senate on the other hand can resist the passage of legislation unless it conforms to minority aspirations and thus whip up civil society’s attention.

Just as much as the English migrants to America, now a majority, have realized over decades that they cannot ride rough shod over other minorities who also migrated to America one way or the other (hence the usage of the term ‘African American’), so should the Sri Lankan majority realize the folly of mistreating minorities-a deed that is bound to escalate in terrorism and ever increasing waves of violence that will never cease with hatred but by love and maithree!
This wave of dissatisfaction accompanied by a tit for tat attitude will never let the country prosper nor live in peace; killing a leader or a few leaders of a guerilla group will not contribute to ceasing this dissatisfaction-it will surface, if not with weapons, then in another subtle guise, as is very evident in Sri Lanka today.

That minorities had been mistreated and it still continues in some quarters is evident although pious pronouncements are made to the contrary!

With the long drawn out ramifications of the ethnic problem, can a Tamil citizen be heard in a police station in his language; will his statement be recorded in his language; will a verdict against him in courts be heard by him in his language?
Similar problems had cropped up in smaller countries than Sri Lanka, such as Switzerland and Belgium, and bigger countries such as Canada, India and Britain, whatever reasons are given to the historicity of the problem.

Several proposals to this vexed Sri Lankan problem have been stalemated over the years; the most recent faux pas was the pending negotiations for a federal state from the days of Tokyo Declaration on the basis of ‘internal self determination’, suddenly turning into power devolution in a ‘unitary constitution’: the present problems now climaxing into a possibly protracted war started with this turn of events.

In order to avoid war and bring in peace to the country an international summit of religious leaders was held in Sri Lanka on the subject of peace; this meeting was addressed by Mr Yasushi Akashi who referred to the value of religious leadership in peace building.

The gist of their deliberations is high-lighted by this writer with a biblical quote by Saint Augustine; ‘A greater title for glory is to kill war with words, rather than to kill men with the sword, and to get or maintain peace through peace and not through war; certainly the fighters, if they are good, are also seeking peace, but at the cost of shedding blood; you, on the contrary, have been sent to prevent blood being spilt on any side’

This Summit was held in November 2007: what it stressed and the writer’s comments are appended;

Summit

A renewed search for a non-violent solution as violence begets violence and hatred does not cease with hatred but by love.

Civilian protection by way of-non-use of claymore mines, artillery firing and bombings-arresting forced conscription of children and adults into armed groups, abductions, disappearances, extortions and extra-judicial killings, harassment of Tamil people through provisions of law that permit arbitrary arrest and pro-longed detention, forced resettlement of internally displaced persons etc.

Comment; the present situation to a certain extent was spurred by the Mavilaru issue where the LTTE cut off supply of irrigation facilities to Sinhala farmers, reminiscent of the killing of thirteen soldiers in Jaffna to spur the Sinhal/Tamil riots in the eighties-the Mavilaru incident in turn perhaps was spurred by the sudden turn of events from consideration of a federal set up to a unitary set up!

It has to be stated that in both instances the spur to action was a tit for tat climax contributed to by both sides of the divide, borne out by lack of arresting violence with non-violence or hatred with love.

In the face of escalating world terrorism, due to possibly discernable causes, where even the super-powered nations find difficulty in coping, an initial non-violent response to guerilla warfare seems to be the line of prudence, wisdom and least resistance for-less powered nations!

In effect, this goes all the way in conforming to the teachings of Lord Buddha by way of ceasing hatred with love and Christ’s teaching to forgive seventy times seven. In the circumstance even an attempt to live by these statements seems worth it if only;

It is understood that in the case of terrorism that is carving itself into the civilized world(with suicide bombers etc) there seems no civilized alternative-other than discussion with a sense of forgiveness-for, the seed of terror will surface however much it is thwarted; this seems the way of evil, that can only be thwarted with good!

Summit:

To have immediate cessation of hostilities and to consider political proposals by government with contributions from all parties including that of all Tamil political parties-propagate need for power sharing in a structure that enables people to enjoy the political right to develop their communities and keeping to their aspirations-opening of all roads, including A9 and settling displaced persons with their consent-improving internal trade between north east and south.

Comment; all these were enabled with the Ceasefire Agreement now annulled; perhaps it still can be revived or a new CFA ratified, taking into consideration all past mistakes: perhaps also, this time around president may try directing this new CFA proposal to the Parliament or even to a committee such as the APRC for a ruling-both of which will be a case of camel passing the eye of a needle; a surer effort would be to revive the internationally recognized but internally maligned and now annulled CFA with modifications!

Summit:

Stressed on a fresh commitment by the international community to-re-activate donor co-chairs and enhance Japan and Norway’s facilitative roles for negotiations for a peace settlement and to provide increased development assistance

Comment; All these matters were in the offing the last occasion co-chairs met and a past government was negotiating with these facilitators, but which got stalled due to LTTE walking away from the negotiating table to find a more suitable federal arrangement with international research and, the then government being arrested by a presidential fiat.

A better thing would be to go back to these talks in the same way a search for peace is now being made with the 13th amendment to the constitution-which incidentally may be weakened now with ground realities, what with the de-merger of north and east etc; this amendment therefore may have to reviewed by parliament again to give it more muscle. This however will need the two thirds majority vote for re-amendment.

In the circumstances shouldn’t the best course of action for the north and east be to accept provincial councils as it is as an interim measure, although it is a product of a unitary constitution with the hope that this time around the present government will implement the clauses backed by due financial support, not only in letters but in spirit too-with language rights given due prominence?

Northerners and Easterners may press for a more permanent set up once the area is developed with the incoming finances etc, and with the backing of the international community that would give them more support for further infrastructural development, with peace returning to these areas, and also perhaps with their monitoring of the progress of provincial councils!

In the mean while negotiations could be resumed for that permanent solution acceptable to all citizens of the country.

This is reminiscent of the earlier attempt at ‘peace with peace dividends’ that a team in the present government supported to steer in the earlier attempt-they would give of their best support even now-hence is their decision to join the government!!

Summit:

Stressed on a religious community that could bring in peace by way of-valuing peace, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness and repentance-engaging in awareness creation in a monitoring role for renewed peace.

To be inspired by the declaration of the Mahanayakes of the Buddhist Sanga in Tokyo in June 2002 to support the peace process and build a united Sri Lanka; also it stressed the importance of welcoming international religious leaders from countries with a Buddhist tradition to join hands with religious leaders in Sri Lanka.

The summit requested the World Conference of Religions to facilitate a process by which religious leaders directly meet and lobby with parties to the conflict

Comment: This is in contrast to the ‘hands off policy’ stressed by some political leaders over here stating that no foreigners should interfere with internal affairs of Sri Lanka; it reminds one of trying to raise oneself up by tagging at his boot straps-to wallow in the mess we are in-until perhaps the existing society is destroyed!

It also is a reminder that Sri Lankans then should not interfere with the peaceful lives of the donor country taxpayers with that constant begging bowl to solve problems of this country that is evidently not self-sufficient to look after itself economically, as opposed to spiritually-what with the country now paying interest on interest due to the outside world!!

Wallowing in this mess with back-seat destructive criticism at every turn is another ‘non-bloody’ revolutionary way of destroying the existing society, reminiscent of an attempt to destroy it with bloody weapons on an earlier failed attempt!

It is time for democratic forces to get wise to such sordid attempts this time around and also to contend with admonitions of Religious authorities as advised by Mr Yasushi Akashi from Buddhist Japan in the quest for peace building in Sri Lanka !!

- Asian Tribune -

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