PLEASE GIVE PEACE A CHANCE
Where the mind is without fear and the head held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth …..
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my county awake.
- Rabindranath Tagore
lmost a month has passed since a few benighted individuals calling themselves Muslims decided to explode bombs in churches and five star hotels making nearly 300 innocent men women and children lose their lives and a large number of others injured and maimed for life. No right- thinking person will condone this type of barbaric act no matter what quarter it comes from. No religion practised in the civilized world will endorse or encourage the taking of another human’s life. In Islam, a person who even intends taking another person’s life promptly ceases to be a Muslim.
As an educationist and more so humanist, my heart still bleeds for my brothers and sisters who lost their precious lives in this most highly detestable human calamity. My heart also bleeds for those engaged in their prayers in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand who were massacred by a gunman who considered himself a white supremacist. My heart still bleeds for the young girls abducted and killed by a terrorist organization called ‘Boko Haram’ in Nigeria. I was on a tour of duties for the UN at this time and was able to witness this carnage at close quarters. My heart also bleeds every time I read news about young men with derailed minds, especially in the western world, rushing into schools and brutally killing innocent children and teachers.
Only few days ago the news media reported that gunmen have burned down a church during a mass and killed six people including a priest in Burkina Faso in West Africa. This may have occurred in faraway West African nation. But what happened there is dastardly enough to be condemned by all right-thinking people – Six innocent individuals killed in the House of God along with their shepherd who was there to guide them. This is a part of global trends in terrorism and has to be done away with in which ever part of the world it occurs using all international mechanism at our disposal including the UN.
Now going back to the horrific events of Easter Sunday, it saddens me to observe that some people are pointing their fingers at the entire Muslim community for this tragic happening. It is true that those who perpetrated this shameless terrorist act called themselves Muslims. It has to be remembered that the Muslims in Sri Lanka, whichever part of the country they are living in, are peace-loving citizens with a long history of integration and peaceful coexistence with their neighbours be they Sinhalese, Tamils or Burghers. It is an observable fact that all Muslims in this country have collectively condemned this abhorrent terrorist act of a radicalized few. Hence it is unfair for the Muslim community as a whole to suffer at the hands of unruly radicalized elements from another quarter. This could leave a bitter feeling in the entirety of the Muslim community, which should not be allowed to happen.
The post-Easter Sunday happenings in Negombo, Chilaw, Nikaweratiya, Minuwangoda and Hettipola and several other areas are very disturbing. It is heartening to note that the security forces along with members of civil society in the affected areas are taking urgent action to stop the mischief makers from creating incalculable damage not only in destroying business and religious places but also damaging the long standing healthy links established among the communities during a long period of time As a very young education officer serving the Chilaw region extending from Wennapuwa to Puttalam and from Thabbowa to Anamaduwa I have had the privilege of travelling to most of the schools in this area. Though predominantly Catholic they were very tolerant of all communities that existed there. In Chilaw, where I was based, there was St. Mary’s College and Church, there was Ananda College and the Muslim Maha Vidyalaya and Mosque not far from each other. The Munneswaram temple is also in the vicinity. I have seen for myself how respectful they were to each other’s cultures and places of worship.
At the Chilaw tennis club where I spent my evenings playing tennis there were the Nihal Correas, Dalpadados, Brian Forbes and the two famous tennis playing duo of Noordeen sisters – a happy mix indeed. It is hard to imagine that there could be any communal violence in a place like Chilaw. This could also be said of other places where violence between communities have sprouted. These are all places where, not so long ago, peace and harmony flourished among all people. Every possible step should be taken to ensure that the amity in places like Chilaw should not fall a prey to the evil intents of terrorists.
The need of the hour is to have the necessary mechanism to deal with radicalization of all forms and it must be dealt with immediately. They must be nipped in the bud instead of allowing to disturb and ruin the lives of all peace loving Sri Lankans. Hate speeches must be completely banned and the law must be strictly enforced. Much has been written and spoken about this menace, but unfortunately nothing substantial has been achieved.
It will be useful to take a leaf from the ethnic problems faced by Malaysia in this regard. In the late 1960s, the newly-independent Malaysia experienced a violent uprising between the Malays and Chinese. Finally when peace was established between the two communities, the leadership in the country consisting of the Malays, Chinese and people of Indian origin including Sri Lankans, sat together to work out strategies to ensure that similar uprisings would not take place in the future. They banned hate speech and also made sensitive subjects like racial issues taboo from public discussion. They also appointed peace committees in every work Place, University and school. What is important is that these committees comprised of all races in the country. The writer who went to work in Malaysia as an International Civil Servant in the early seventies was able to see their national plan for social integration working smoothly and yielding results.
During the last one month several discussions, meetings and interviews were held on the tragedy that took places on the Easter Sunday. Several eminent members of the society participated in these exercises. Members of the clergy representing all religions followed in this country also participated.
One person who stood out at these discussions was The Catholic Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. Being the head of the local Catholic Church, he was the most affected by the Easter Sunday tragedy. Every time he spoke, he called for peace and calm and he appealed to all his people to abstain from violence. In all his speeches, he emphasized tolerance and not violence. Following the unrest in Negombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith was prompt in saying this backlash was by outsiders and not by the people of Negombo. Perhaps this might have averted another imminent flareup in the area.
We need more people of the calibre of the Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith in this country to de- radicalize the unfortunate elements from different communities who have become a threat to peace and harmony in the country.