Muslim Congress leader, Minister of Justice, Rauff Hakeem is reported to have said at a public meeting at Kalmunai last Sunday that President Mahinda Rajapaksa should defeat ‘yellow robe terrorism’ just as he had defeated other forms of terrorism. This had caused much concern among certain sections of the Buddhists particularly among the Sangha. However, Hakeem on Friday apologised for his comments.
Certainly all forms of terrorism should be defeated and uprooted irrespective of the colour of the robes: yellow, white, black or even colourless such as the deadly al- Qaeda variety. Reports of his speech do not indicate that he had referred to any specific instances of terrorism but certainly there have been instances of disputes between Muslims and Buddhists which had threatened to erupt in violence but fortunately were contained.
One such incident which received wide publicity was an incident in Dambulla in April this year, where a mob involving a Buddhist monk had threatened a Mosque in the precincts of the Dambulla Rangiri Vihare, a place of historic significance to Buddhists. Buddhists are still demanding that the Mosque be shifted out from the present location but Muslims say that it had been in existence for many decades. The issue has yet not been sorted out and the dispute lingers on.
Some such religious disputes cannot be resolved even for millennia such as the issue of the Ayodhya Temple in Faisalabad between Hindus and Muslims or the Temple on the Mount in Jerusalem between Jews and Muslims. But when issues are not as great they should be resolved by the powers that be if they are not to rumble on and break out into bouts of violence.
Sri Lankan Buddhist monks have often been accused by minority communities, both religious and racial, of violating their fundamental rights in the interests of Buddhism. Buddhist monks however do not shy away from the fact that they have been the guardians of Buddhism throughout the history of this country, have been advisors to ruling monarchs and still assume the right of directing the heads of state of democratic Sri Lanka. This has been accepted by all Sinhalese rulers of modern Sri Lanka – if not for historical traditions at least for winning elections, since it is presumed that Buddhist monks do still exert considerable influence over the electorate. The involvement of Buddhist monks in issues where Sinhalese and Buddhist rights are involved – the majority of Sinhalese being Buddhists – is the basis for Rauff Hakeem’s statement, ‘Yellow Robe Terrorism’.
The Eastern Province is the only province where there is a fair ethnic balance between the three communities and the only province where the Muslims have a sizeable political clout. Moves are now being made by Buddhists to re-establish places of historic worship which were lost when the region was controlled by the LTTE. Reclaiming of land by Buddhist temples often in thickly populated Muslim areas is the basis of disputes between the two communities.
The SLMC which Hakeem leads was established to give the Eastern Province Muslims a voice in mainstream politics. Now with provincial council elections round the corner, Hakeem has to prove himself as the leader of his party. He has pulled the SLMC out of the UPFA coalition – only for the Eastern Province elections – while retaining his cabinet portfolio and is fighting for Muslim rights by calling upon the President to end ‘Yellow Robe Terrorism’.
Buddhist monks will attempt to justify their involvement in Eastern Province disputes by citing their historic role in protecting the rights of the Sinhalese and Buddhists. They will also cite the special place accorded to Buddhism in the 1972 Constitution. But in these contemporary times, where it is accepted that Sri Lanka is a multilingual, multiracial and multi religious society can those rights which go back even beyond the beginning of the Christian Era be recognised by law?
Certainly, if the monks are terrorising Muslims, immediate action should be taken by President Rajapaksa himself. But Rajapaksa has shown much reluctance to take any action that Sinhalese or Buddhists will consider to be inimical to them. Hakeem should have made public, specific instances of ‘Yellow Robe Terrorism’ for President Rajapaksa to investigate and act upon. Mere public pronouncement in the throes of an election campaign is not sufficient.
On the other hand what Hakeem has claimed, is political dynamite. He is a cabinet minister and the Minister of Justice at that. His statement can exacerbate Buddhist-Muslim relations which at present are not on very steady ground. Can President Rajapaksa, so conscious about maintaining social and political stability ignore such an incendiary statement?
Most Sri Lankan Buddhists are not in favour of monks dabbling in politics even though they have been at it for millennia. It took almost six decades for a political party of monks to be elected to parliament. The latest move is by a UNP member Wijedasa Rajapakse to move a resolution in parliament calling for a ban on monks contestin parliamentary elections.
A Buddhist monk takes to the robes forsaking all worldly pleasures and seeking deliverance from suffering through Samsara. Certainly not to capture political power through the sanctity of the yellow robe and enjoy all political perks.
Founders of great religions did not envisage the formation of religious sects that would capture political power and rule mighty empires. Religion has been the instrument for gaining political power as evident from history of many powerful nations. In Sri Lanka, post Independence politics saw politicians trying to exploit Buddhist priesthood but now priesthood is dictating to politicians. Can the Rajapaksa regime take on the Buddhist priesthood if it is clear they are at fault?
We wait to see the outcome of Rauff Hakeem’s battle with Yellow Robe Terrorism and the support he gets from his all powerful President.