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Peace

Unity: Now or never

If Sri Lankan communities are going to unite NOW, it is the time. In fact they must do so and defeat the purpose of ISIS or whoever was behind the Easter bombings that rocked our beautiful island.

We all have close Muslim friends. Those who are my age (many decades old) have had lifelong Muslim friends who are as near and dear to us as our own relatives sometimes. I know I have one. She is Jezima Ismail – as close to me as a sister.

My personal feelings can be echoed all over Sri Lanka. We all have close ties with Muslims – socially and professionally. Citizens should not let personal quarrels with individual Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or Christians affect their public behaviour or their political thinking.

The blame game is on in full swing but we are forced to accept the grudging admission of the Government that the blame is theirs. We have no alternative but to do so. A more robustly uttered admission would have been better but at least an apology was made. Truth to tell, many of us, non-party citizens, blame the entire Government for this appalling tragedy. We are not concerned with individuals since it is clear that NO ONE was doing his job…..specially the President who has adroitly (and blatantly) managed to side step all accusations.

One of the disadvantages of high office is that everyone around tells our leaders what they think the leaders want to hear. The tragedy is that after a while they begin to believe it themselves. Slavish sycophants are too many alas. Foolish Ministers, some without much education, actually believe the nonsense that is fed to them on a regular basis.

We have been badly let down by our complacent and even arrogant leaders. Our disappointment cannot be quantified. We are completely shattered by the seen inefficiency of the Government and care little for all this naming of culprits and calls for resignations while the Government tries desperately to pin the blame on others. Security lapses were their fault. Collective responsibility is an expectation of a parliamentary system and we expect to be kept safe.

The moderate Muslims must be feeling a deep sense of unease and much shame at the inhuman behaviour of these radical Islamists. All of us have close and dear Muslim friends. We grew up with them. We studied together. Our parents met socially.We went to their homes to feast at times of Ramazan. Only our names were different. Religion was never discussed

All citizens should read Savithri Gunasekara’s article in a leading newspaper of April 26. As spokesperson for the Friday Forum which is a group of Sri Lankan intellectuals, she asks highly pertinent questions. I do hope her views and those of the Friday Forum are online for all to read. Many of her questions and those of the Friday Forum remain unanswered by our Government. Why? Surely we need to know the whole truth however egregious it may be.

Those of us who remember the start of the LTTE issue recall with a shudder how JR handled that awful ‘Black July’ in 1983 when Tamils were being massacred on the streets of Colombo. He did not utter a peep for over four days. It was the individual Sinhalese, who came to the aid of their beleaguered Tamil friends but by the time JR spoke to the nation, Tamil feeling had hardened against a Government that showed them no sympathy in a crisis of such magnitude. Can we blame them?

As always, Sri Lankans can come together on their own initiative. After those bombs detonated on Easter Sunday citizens helped each other when and where they could regardless of community. Private aid is flowing in.

The word ‘UNITY’ is on the lips of all caring Sri Lankans. As the former Principal of Asian International School, I can say with all the force I can muster, that during the 25 years that I was Head, we did not have even one instance of racial disharmony. In fact I often remarked in my many articles on education, that International schools were oases of racial unity. Almost every school belonging to the TISSL group will echo this statement firmly. In our schools we have Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Nepalese, Indonesians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Indians and of course a small number from Western countries. At AIS there used to be 150 Staff members, full-time teachers, part time teachers, minor staff, visiting lecturers and hundreds of students … all belonging to every community of the island and NEVER was there a problem.

One instance springs to mind. It was the day when the news broke that the War was won. One little boy – perhaps 11 years old, ran round the school waving the National Flag. He was stopped by a Sinhalese Prefect.

“Won’t you be hurting the feelings of your Tamil friends?” he was asked.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” the little boy gabbled quite remorsefully. “ Sorry Kumar. I’m so sorry.” His best friend was a Tamil.

The moderate Muslims must be feeling a deep sense of unease and much shame at the inhuman behaviour of these radical Islamists. All of us have close and dear Muslim friends. We grew up with them. We studied together. Our parents met socially.We went to their homes to feast at times of Ramazan. Only our names were different. Religion was never discussed.

So, now this tragedy MUST unite us. It is a timely warning that radical behaviour must end. The Muslims themselves can help by not wearing such distinctive clothing which emphasizes their apartness. Let them find out what the Quran really says about dress and not what the Mullah’s interpretation of the Prophet’s words are. Many countries have banned the burqa.Perhaps the Muslims can do the banning themselves as a show of good faith without the Government needing to pass a law.

In the course of my chequered school career, I have been to eight schools in three countries. For a period of seven months, I was at Visakaha (no, not when my Mother was the Principal) but under that of her great successor, Susan George Pulimood. Ms. Pulimood was herself a Christian but at every morning Assembly she followed my mother’s modus operandi and made her pupils recite Buddhist verses – often in English. It was during those seven months that she got her students to memorize Rhys David’s beautiful and poetic translation of the Mahamanagala Sutra. There are many translations of this Sutra but none so perfectly phrased as the Rhys David one. I do not remember all of it and Google search has proved fruitless.

So I will put down the four verses I remember. The first two and the last two. The Mahamangala Sutra is particularly relevant today. It shows us how far we are from living the sort of life envisaged by the Great Teachers of any religion.

The Mahamangala Sutra.

When yearning for good
Many devas and men wondered
What was the greatest Blessing.

“Do thou inform O Master
What is the Greatest Blessing?”

Verse One.

Not to serve the foolish,
But to serve the wise.
To honour those worthy of Honour.
This is the Greatest Blessing

Verse Two

To dwell in a pleasant land.
To have done good deeds in a former birth.
To have a mind filled with right desire.
This is the Greatest Blessing.

(Sri Lanka is no longer a pleasant island. We do not serve the wise any longer. This is a corrupt and violence-ridden land. Whom can we honour? Where are our blessings?)

To continue. The last two verses are of special significance to Buddhists who accept the Four Noble Truths as being the path to eventual Enlightenment and they encapsulate the beliefs of Buddhism.

Final Verses

Beneath the stroke of life’s changes,
Is he that stands unshaken.
Passionless, Unsorrowing , Secure.
This is the Greatest Blessing.
Invincible on every side,
Is he who acted thus.
On every side he walks in safety,
And HIS is the Greatest Blessing.

If there is anyone who can help me find the full Rhys David translation I shall be very grateful.

I am echoing the feelings of many Sri Lankans when I say that now is a time we can show the world we CAN unite. Let us show ISIS, or whoever launched this despicable attack, that Sri Lanka is the wrong country to have chosen to unleash this kind of terror.

This CAN be done under a strong leadership. Are we hoping in vain or is it remotely possible that the Mahamangala Sutra teachings can prevail in Sri Lanka once more?

The author is a former principal – Asian International School and can be reached on goolbai@gnail.com


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