Secularism has become the buzz word for all those who wish to drive out Buddhism from public life in Sri Lanka, both overtly and covertly.
When we refer to secularism we must be in a position to distinguish it from pseudo-secularism.
What is practised in a large majority of countries in the name of secularism is a pseudo variety of secularism.
We now see particularly in the Western countries in the light of the influx of a large number of refugees from Middle Eastern countries, deep seated nationalism and patriotic fervour rising to the surface and challenging the ‘secular image’ these European countries had carefully cultivated and projected to the outside world in the decades following the end of the second world war.
In other words, beneath the veneer of ‘secularism’ in Europe lurks an innate nationalism that had laid the foundation of the nation state and united the people on the basis of a shared past that bonded one another through affinities to a common religion, ethnicity and language.
Sri Lanka’s 2500 year old civilization was founded on this basis-similar to the great Chinese and Japanese civilizations, and several European Christian nations.
Yet, modern day pseudo-secular countries particularly in the West want Sri Lanka to discard its primordial national (Sinhala) and religious (Buddhism) identity, and embrace an artificial secular identity that has neither roots to the soil of the country nor been shaped either by history, common values, heritage or destiny.
Secularism calls for equal treatment of religions without discrimination.
In which countries is that practiced?
Take for example the status of Buddhism (And other Eastern Dharmic Religions) in Western countries.
In Europe only two countries have officially given recognition to Buddhism- namely Russia and Austria.
The rest of Europe with a Christian heritage denies official recognition to Buddhism.
Buddhism is being tolerated but not recognised officially as a religion despite almost all majority Buddhist countries in Asia giving full official recognition to the major Abrahamic religions, i.e. Christianity and Islam.
It is this lack of reciprocity on the part of European Christian nations to give any form of recognition to Buddhism that has caused consternation at recent international Buddhist Conferences. Speakers have condemned the adoption of double standards by European countries in respect of different global religions.
Despite claiming to be ‘Secular’ most European countries allow Political Parties to bear religious names such as the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Germany. The leader of the CDU, Angela Merkel, is the current Chancellor of Germany.Christian Democratic Party (France), Christian Social Union in Bavaria, Christian Democratic Party (Norway), Christian Democratic People’s Party (Switzerland), Christian Democrats (Denmark) are names of some of the political parties that openly espouse the cause of the majority religion in Europe.
There are no public holidays for Buddhism or any other non-Christian religion in the public holiday calendar of European nations with Christian heritage.
This is in stark contrast to the conduct of traditional Buddhist countries e.g. Sri Lanka, which has granted public holidays on days of religious significance to adherents of both Abrahamic and Eastern Dharmic religions.
Discrimination against Buddhism
The discriminatory stance against Buddhism in Europe has had several detrimental effects such as categorising Buddhists as being members of ‘sects’ and ‘cults’ among other things.
Official recognition would allow Buddhists certain rights, such as access to the media, financial support, legal standing, and recognition equal to those of Christian Churches, and right to be taught in a school. It would allow them the legal right to form voluntary societies as exclusive Buddhist Societies with membership restricted only to Buddhists.
It is regrettable to note that concepts such as Secularism, Diversity, Multi-culturalism and the like have now become code words for demonising the Sinhalese majority and removal of Buddhism (Despite its singular and overwhelming contribution to national life since it was introduced by Arahant Mahinda to Sri Lanka in circa 300 BC) from public life.
Manipulation of Secularism
Secularism in the West began with the objective of separating the Church (Which was trying to usurp the power of the State) and the State. Nevertheless, the Secularism in Christian countries remains unequivocally pro–majoritarian.
In contrast in the Eastern countries such as India and Sri Lanka, Secularism has been manipulated to become anti–majoritarian.
Religious discrimination en masse and public policy wise, really began in Sri Lanka after the arrival of the Portuguese in 1505. They had an Inquisitorial mindset shaped by events commencing in Europe in the 15th century which required all non – Christians e.g. Muslims, Jews to convert to Christianity or face the Inquisition, which meted out a series of harsh punishments including burning the victims at the stake for being ‘ heretics’.
The Portuguese Inquisition in Sri Lanka (1505 – 1658) deserves a close and careful study as it was introduced to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese following the Catholic Inquisition in Europe and the Goa Inquisition. There were several Portuguese Captain – Generals like Jeronimo de Azavedo who were in charge of the Inquisition both in Goa and Portuguese occupied territory in Sri Lanka.
Secularism as a concept was conceived and evolved in an European context.
It is euro-centric in its very nature like the European Union and even the United Nations, which today is unashamedly promoting re-colonization and the right to intervene in the affairs of nation states that seek independence, self – reliance and non – alignment.
Instead of transplanting ideas grown in contexts that are far removed in respect to both time and space, the challenge for us in Sri Lanka is to develop our own home grown political ideas taking into consideration Lanka’s heritage and history, and more importantly the setbacks this country sustained as a result of nearly 450 years of western colonialism.
Unreasonable demands of the EU
How should Sri Lanka respond to constant unreasonable demands made by the European Union and the USA, to shape our public policy, Constitution, method of governance, national security and the like in line with hidden agendas drawn by these countries to suit their parochial interests and objectives?
Let me conclude with an edited quote from a very perceptive Indian writer:
“I would like to reiterate that non-Europeans are better off being always suspicious of the motives behind the preaching of democratic, liberal and civilized forms of governance by the West. Being at the receiving end of colonial oppression for centuries, non-Europeans should naturally be distrustful of those lecturing them about the virtues of liberty, who had trampled these virtues the most. Just recount these events in last couple of centuries, Atlantic slave-trade to plantation slavery in Americas, violent and repressive colonies in Asia and Africa, brutal world wars in a span of thirty years accompanied by genocide (by US in Japan) and holocaust (by Nazis on Jews) on a scale never seen before, waging a cold war in its most violent form in Asia. If this were the track record of those lecturing the virtues of democracy, liberty and human rights then only the insane would listen to their diabolical propaganda. China feeds more than 1.2 billion of her people and the West is too worried about the lack of democracy in China. Let China start taking the Western panacea (by the way, isn’t communism a Western theory?), famine would run havoc, automatic weapons will flood the streets of her cities, drug and narcotics will intoxicate her people and a total lawlessness will pave the way for Western powers to intervene and colonize using R2P. Therefore, we should remember that preaching Western (Anglo-Saxon) style democracy and liberty to any non-Westerner for serious implementation would be a one way ticket to frustration, chaos and turmoil in a non – Western country”.