Being blatantly oblivious to history has brought many catastrophic consequences to our motherland. Here people are seen viewing a damaged shop after a mob attack in Minuwangoda on May 14, 2019. (AFP)
George Santayana’s philosophical adage “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” still holds true to its proclamation. As history keeps repeating itself, the lessons are many, but in Sri Lanka’s context, I would like to chronicle a couple of historical blunders where our leaders failed to study history and learn lessons from the mistakes and failures of the past. Being blatantly oblivious to history has brought many catastrophic consequences to our motherland.
Lesson number one: On September 4, 1951, delegates from over fifty countries gathered at San Francisco to discuss the making of a peace treaty with Japan and other allied powers. It marked the end of hostilities between signatories, provided for the termination of the occupation, and specified details of the settlement of war-related issues.
J.R. Jayewardene, then Finance Minister, who represented Ceylon at the San Francisco Conference displayed his oratorical skill and captivated the assembly with an impassionate speech in which he articulated that Japan should be allowed to live as a free and independent country without imposing any payment of reparations. He quoted the Dhammapada stanza, ‘hatred ceases not by hatred but by love’. He ended the same speech by saying “This treaty is as magnanimous as it is just, to a defeated foe”.
What is even more surprising is the manner in which a group of goons went berserk and were able to torch and desecrate six mosques at the Kurunegala district during an active police curfew time
For the beleaguered Japanese nation, Jayewardene who advocated tolerance and requested the allied powers to show mercy towards them was like manna from the heaven because most countries wanted to break the spirit of the Japanese nation. The rest is history.
Lesson number two: Fast-forward to July 23, 1983 which saw the anti-Tamil pogrom and riots by Sinhalese marauding mobs who took revenge, killing over 350 innocent Tamils around the country and triggering a civil war that lasted 26 years. This “Black July” riots began as a response to a deadly ambush on July 23, 1983 by the LTTE against 13 soldiers in the Jaffna.
After three decades, the same JR Jayewardene who underscored those lofty words at the conference in San Francisco with religious zeal, became a mere spectator when his country was engulfed in communal conflagration and contributed in making Sri Lanka a “pariah state” in the eyes of the international community.
The word “peace” that he enunciated at the august assembly in San Francisco was dramatically broken down into “pieces” by the same Jayewardene due to his inaction in curbing the violence which was unleashed against innocent Tamils despite the fact that he held power, being the President as well as commander-in chief at the time.
Only five days after the riots, on 27 July 1983, did J.R.Jayewardene make his first speech on the events, offering no sympathy to the minority who were victimized by the carnage. On the very first day per se, had he taken control and zealously put into practice what he preached those immortal words of Buddha “Na hi verena Verani” (‘hatred ceases not by hatred but by love’) at the San Francisco peace conference in 1951, the bloodbath and carnage could have been averted.
Be that as it may, hatred does not cease by hatred, only by love; this is the eternal rule. Hatred can always be conquered by love. On the other hand, if you meet hatred with hatred, not only it will intensify but also add fuel to the flames already kindled and will destroy everything in its wake with evil force. By stretching a hand of love, we can not only neutralize pent-up emotion but even douse the simmering fire of hatred. The power of love has such ability to transmute even an archenemy into a friend.
The power of love was manifested in its intrinsic form recently in Sri Lanka by the timely interventions of Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith to diffuse communal tension and prevent a violent backlash on April 21 Easter Sunday carnage against innocent worshippers at churches by hardcore National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ) suicide bombers. The exemplary manner in which he conducted himself with calmness and composure in the aftermath of the Easter bombings earned widespread commendation and appreciation among Sri Lankans and the global community.
Had it not been for the Cardinal’s foresightedness and graciousness, Sri Lanka would have plunged into a state of anarchy and bloodbath much like the infamous Black July 83 where innocent Tamils were rounded and hounded out indiscriminately by uncontrolled mobs during their reign of terror. To date, the memory of Black July is deeply embedded in the Tamil psyche.
After the Easter Sunday massacre, thousands of innocent Muslims are living in fear and uncertainty. The senseless carnage perpetrated by a group of misguided fanatics cannot be blamed on the entire community or them to be made accountable. They not only caused unspeakable embarrassment but also tarnished the image of the entire Muslim community. Due to their vile actions, even their dead bodies were not allowed into Muslim graveyards. This is a clear example of how the Muslim community treats the terrorists.
Muslims have been peacefully co-existing with other communities for hundreds of years without any recriminations. The vital information provided by the Muslim community to law enforcement agencies enabled the authorities to round up the hideouts of National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ) at Sainthamaruthu.
The vital information provided by the Muslim community to law enforcement agencies enabled the authorities to round up the hideouts of National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ) at Sainthamaruthu
At the moment, the beleaguered Muslim community is undergoing severe stress and mental agony. Sensationalizing an issue will not only further aggravate but also have a detrimental effect in society. For instance, Puwakpitiya Tamil Maha Vidyalaya’s School Development Society debarred 13 Hijab clad Muslim teachers to enter school unless they wear saris. They blatantly alleged that that those who don the hijab are supporters of the IS terrorists. Harassment from supermarkets and hospitals have been reported as well. There were many videos that went viral targeting Muslims women.
There are also media channels disseminating fake and distorted news totally against the media ethic which states that, “whoever enjoys a special measure of freedom, like a professional journalist, has an obligation to society to use their freedom and powers responsibly.”
What is even more surprising is the manner in which a group of goons went berserk and were able to torch and desecrate six mosques at the Kurunegala district during an active police curfew time.
For all intents and purposes, it appears that the law enforcement authorities are not sincere enough to safe guard the interest of traumatized Muslims. This is nothing new, it happened at Aluthgama, Gintotoa and Digana as well. It is the fundamental duty of the state security agencies to safeguard the life of their dependents, in this case the Muslim community against any threat and harassments. It is morally wrong to suspect every Muslim and turn a blind eye when their life becomes endangered. Fundamentally, it is against the spirit of humanity.
Unless the government rigidly enforces the Penal Code and The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) under Article 20 (2) against the offenders irrespective of ethnicities, that prohibits any advocacy of racial or religious hatred that results in hostility and unrest, hate speech and hate -fueled violence cannot be obliterated from the social fabric of Sri Lanka.
In this hour of distress and national concern, let every son and daughter of Mother Lanka emulate the exemplary manner of Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and work towards peaceful co-existence, ethnic reconciliation and national harmony. Hate cannot be driven out by hate; only love can help us overcome.
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it “