"Extremists hurt religious freedom in Sri Lanka-US"

By Ramani D Wickramarathne

The US State Department in a report on religious freedom issued recently described "an overall deterioration of religious freedom due the actions of extremists" in Sri Lanka. According to a newspaper report which appeared in The Sunday Island of 19th September 2004, this report was submitted to Congress by the State Department. According to the report made by the State Department, over one hundred attacks on Christian church buildings and members by extremists have been reported in late 2003 and early 2004. It says that many of the observations are based on information provided and confirmed by diplomatic observers, and unnamed non-governmental organizations. The report on Sri Lanka under sub-section South Asia makes special reference to the Draft Anti-Conversion Bill which was presented in the Sri Lankan Parliament recently.

The timing of this report in the US, is clearly to send a message to the Sri Lankan government and her people who are predominantly Buddhists, that it should not go ahead and pass the Anti-Conversion Bill and also to give warning signals that the US "may consider" some of its famous blackmailing tactics to silence the demand of the majority religion /race of Sri Lanka which is a small Third World Country. The US which is a "self-proclaimed champion of democracy, human rights & international police man " is quite famous the world over, for using similar threatening methods in many other developing countries as well. The irony is that most of these sweet sounding "slogans" are not being adhered to or respected, within the soil of the US itself but those in the Third World asian countries are expected to abide by them. Double standard hypocracy on the part of the US is not a new thing to those who know US foreign policy well.

We need to study the backdrop to the above mentioned comments made by the State Department of the US which is obviously insensitive and unconcerned about the fact that Sri Lanka is a sovereign state which has a very longstanding cultural and religious heritage which spans over 2300 years as against the history of the US which is a mere 200-300 years! Little wonder that the leaders of the US, cannot and do not understand the emotional bonds of the Buddhists of Sri Lanka.

It needs to be mentioned here, that although Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country, we have maintained religious harmony with all religions since time immemorial. Children of all religions have attended the same schools with no religious animosity. It has been like one big family sharing the joys and woes together. In the past (before 1978) each religion, their customs and habits were given due respect, each religious institution whether it was a church, mosque, kovil or temple conducted their own religious activities without disruption from any other group. During different religious festivals, those of other religions also enjoyed themselves. But, there was no over - stepping of boundaries, the limits were quite clear. All clergy who belonged to all different religious denominations were respected whether male or female.

Each religion in this country has it’s own religious identity which calls for the highest respect of all citizens. In order to blend with the local culture, it is not necessary to borrow the identity of another religion as we have seen happening in a subtle manner. The Christians (orthodox churches) have their own practices, culture and it is beautiful. So does the Catholic church of this country. Authentic Catholic rituals have a beauty of its own which gives it that special value and respect. However, we have seen the Catholic church changing the tune of its hymns to sound like the ‘Bhakthi Gee’ of Buddhists. We have seen the Catholic church use traditional Gok Kola which Buddhists use (coconut leaves) to decorate their churches during religious festivals. We have also noticed the Catholic church adopting terminology used by the Buddhist clergy such as ‘ Maha Nayake’(Chief Monk), ‘Anunayake’(Deputy Chief Monk) to address their Catholic clergy, ‘Aramaya ‘(which is the Sinhala term for a Buddhist temple) being used to call a church, to use ‘Bhavana’ for meditation in the church. The very meaning of ‘Bhavana’ in the Buddhist sense, is totally different to the Catholic implication. Formerly Christians went to "Sunday School’ now they go to "Daham Pasala’ like in the Buddhist practises. The word ‘ Sunday School’ has a very specific meaning to the Christian community- why change it to ‘Daham Pasala?’ The word ‘Daham Pasala’ or ‘Dhamma School’ is very special to Buddhists because they are taught the Buddha Dhamma. Where would you find Dhamma being taught in a Catholic/Christian church? There are many more similar terminology which has been adopted by the Catholic church on instructions received from Rome, through a period of time which has given the Catholic church an artificial flavour. These changes have not been done without a motive behind it. The Muslim mosque and Hindu kovils have continued to use their own forms without any distortions.

The problems began when governments changed in the late 1970s and the then government began what they called " the open economy" and permitted foreign NGOs to enter this country in the guise of helping Sri Lanka in socio-economic development work. Needless to say that these so called "wonderfully philanthrophist" NGOs were/are, all Christian backed organisations. This was only a ruse for them to enter and destroy our culture. With this came the hoards of US based Evangelical Groups who thought that they were the "only saviours" for this asian nation. They did not enter with permission to spread their Christian faith but began their evangelical work once they set foot in this land. We may call that intrusion into "our privacy- the privacy of this nation." It is they who began a systematic onslaught to create religious and racial disharmony. It is they who coined the word " ethnic problems in Sri Lanka." If Sri Lanka has an ethnic problem, how come that the majority Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala communities are working so harmoniously in all parts of Sri Lanka except in the North? The same applies to "religious disharmony" as used by the Evangelists- the Buddhist citizens of Sri Lanka have lived for so long with Christians who belong to the Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Weslyan, Church of England and Hindus and Muslims with no animosity. However, it has to be mentioned here that the "disharmony" began with the entry of Evangelical Christians groups from the USA, UK, South Korea and some European countries into this country.

The disharmony began, when these Evangelical groups began to coerce Buddhists and use unethical methods to convert them; the disharmony began when they began to deceive people by promising them instant cures to illnesses by praying and when the patients died; the disharmony began when they began to sow the seeds of disunity in the rural villages by adopting favouritism to those who follow them as against those who don’t; the disharmony began when they began to insult Buddha statues by smashing them and getting "the new entrants" to their faith to spit and urinate on the smithereens; the disharmony began when they began to open Pre-schools like mushrooms all over the island in the guise of offering good English education, with a promise of entry into good schools; the disharmony began when they began to teach these innocent Buddhist children of 4-5 years, that they "must not kneel in front of anyone other than God" thereby destroying the age old cultural practises of our Sinhala people who pay reverence to the Buddhist clergy, teachers and parents and elders; the disharmony began when they paid men to don the yellow robe and misbehave in society to create a rift between the Buddhist temples and the Buddhists by getting these "fake Buddhist monks" to go and purchase liquor from the liquor bars, to go into meat stalls and super markets and purchase meat and fish for everyone to see, to go into restaurants after 12 noon and order food and partake of it, to be seen by others etc; the disharmony began when they use young couples to go into village temples in the night requesting shelter from the temple monk (on the excuse that they were travelling far) and in a short while the male would leave the female in the temple alone and go out- within minutes, the girl would ring the temple bell and inform the villagers that the monk had tried to molest her( the purpose is to bring disrepute to innocent monks); the disharmony began when they started to chase the monks out of their temples; the disharmony began when they began a scheme to send paid workers to destroy Buddhist archeological sites and rob temples; the disharmony began when they began to teach innocent Pre-school children not to offer flowers at the temple because the bees and butterflies will have no food; the disharmony began when they teach the children that Prince Siddhartha was a bad father because he left his baby of one day and renounced the world to seek The Truth and ultimately to become Gauthama Buddha-The Enlightened One. When the "Evangelical Visitors" to this country behave and act insensitively to the culture of this country, when they try to force themselves into villages which are 100% Buddhist or Hindu without an invitation, they are rubbing too hard.

Since 1978 this country has been invaded by various "philanthrophic & concerned" foreign organizations that entered on the pretext of investing in socio-economic development projects in this country. They have ventured to "reach out to the un-reached" rural masses of our country, attached themselves to various provincial government projects and worked. No projects have been conducted altruistically purely for charity- they have always had some string attached to the their work. After a few years, their "well meaning intentions" have surfaced to be that of unethical conversions of innocent Buddhists and Hindus living in rural hamlets throughout the country. To achieve this agenda, they have acted in many devious ways such as opening pre-schools to attract children in their formative years, tuition classes to help students preparing for examinations, organizing tours for children and youth "to see the country " which often end up with at least one visit to a church, doling out dry rations to the families of children attending their pre-schools & providing uniform material to the children free of charge, conducting medical clinics and prayer sessions to heal the sick. Often, they obtain signed consent of parents and children to say that they embrace the Christian faith, before further help and education is given. Socio-economic development projects are done together with the relevant regional /provincial governments & on completion of a project, they set up their logo (which often resembles a cross) at these sites. Children’s Homes are opened to help destitute children they say. Children in these homes often have "visitors" who come to check the welfare of the children while throwing in a few words about God and how wonderful He is. Gift boxes are opened saying "this is Lord Buddhas, this is Jesus Christ’s " & in the box allocated to Lord Buddha they cleverly keep it empty while filling the box allocated to Jesus Christ with lots of goodies that children love! The list of insensitive/crafty methods can go on and on.

In the process of their well meaning concerns, what they really want to achieve, is to get the younger generation weaned away from the religious and cultural customs to which these Buddhist and Hindu children are born in to. Instead of teaching the children to continue their age old practices, they are taught to ape western customs and habits. While doing all this, gradually the children are trained in reading and praying in the Christian method. Although they targeted at converting over whelming numbers to Christianity, they have yet to achieve this goal.

Enough is enough and when Buddhists realized the danger of such plots, they realized that the well meaning Metta, Karuna, Muditha & Upekha practiced by the Buddhists of this country to all and sundry, was being abused by the "foreign aunties and uncles." The Buddhist clergy realized that it was necessary to introduce an "Anti-Conversion Bill" in order to ensure that all citizens of this country have a right to continue the religious practise of their birth and their parents. According to the law and The Human Rights Charter, minors are guided by the religion of their parents until they are adults. Unethical means of converting Buddhists and Hindus and ensuring that the human & religious rights of their families have to be protected at any cost from invading parasites.

On many occasions when Evangelists have duped the sick into praying without taking medication & where the patients have ended up in coffins, the village has arisen to protest. Often these protests have been by Buddhists and Hindus. At such gatherings, the Catholic Church of the area has sent their clergy to meet the temple monks and express their solidarity with the Buddhists because , they say that even their flock is being snatched mercilessly by the Evangelists. If this were the case, introduction of an "Anti-Conversion Bill" to stop unethical conversions would be the ideal moment for these orthodox churches to stand behind the Hindus and Buddhists. On the contrary, during the past months/weeks we have seen many articles appear in the newspapers stating that " Unethical Conversions"- Christian Bodies Against Proposed Legislation"( Sunday Observer 4th July,2004); "Anti-Conversion Bill- A Gross Violation of Religious Freedom"( Sunday Observer 18th July,2004); "Special Catholic Media Programmes on Anti-Conversion Bill" (The Island 22nd July,2004); "Church Challenges Anti-Conversion Bill" (Daily Mirror 23rd July, 2004) etc etc. There is a massive campaign being conducted by the Evangelical Alliance, Catholic as well as Methodist Churches to build up public opinion against the Proposed Bill. How come so much hypocracy is exhibited by the churches?

These Churches have been vigorously promoting " inter-religious peace committees" and many other such inter-religious themes, only to serve their agendas and purpose. If your next door neighbour’s house was burgled and the police raided your house to find the culprit, if you were no party to the crime would they find anything? You would have nothing to worry about- isn’t it? Similarly, the fact that the Catholics as well as the Christian Alliance, have come out so vociferously against the Anti-Conversion Bill proves that they have something to fear- it is their guilt that is pricking them into action! It is because they are all guilty of unethical conversion practices that they want to fight tooth and nail against this bill. Otherwise, any sane person will realize that Buddhists of this country have lived peacefully with all racial as well as religious groups without any disharmony whatsoever till the late 1970s. Problems started only after these Church groups aggressively went forth to hurt the Buddhist sentiments and the religious culture of this country.

All the talk about human rights, democracy and freedom of speech and conscience, are all brought out as "golden theories" to justify their activities. Where is the human rights and freedom of conscience that is due to the Buddhists and Hindus of this country? When they smash Buddha Statues and spit on them while getting new entrants to follow in their foot-steps are they being sensitive to the human rights of the Buddhists? When they say insulting things about the Lord Buddha to Buddhists in order to ridicule and belittle the innocent unsuspecting Buddhist children, are they thinking about human rights? If they do- whose rights are they considering- only their own Evangelical/Catholic rights to convert those of other religions.

With the introduction of the Anti-Conversion Bill, the activities of all guilty parties to which it applies, will find their activities curtailed and with that, their source of income from foreign Christian organizations will be largely reduced. Their existence here will become redundant. All those guilty of conducting unethical conversion practices against Buddhists and Hindus in this country have never been promoting or protecting the socio-religious culture of this country. Rather, they have been acting as "agents "of foreign powers to destroy our culture and religion. When they vociferously support the LTTE, are they promoting peace of a unitary state? Similarly, the manner in which they are behaving right now, shows very clearly that they want the religious harmony of this country, also to disintegrate to destroy whatever is left of our culture and identity. If ever there has been disharmony in this country, that disharmony has never been initiated or master-minded by Buddhists or the Sinhalese of this country.

To carry their Catholic/Evangelist plots even further, they are known to give misleading information through various Christian websites to international communities worldwide, that Sri Lanka is fast becoming a hell-hole of religious extremism, that Sri Lankan Buddhist clergy and laymen are barbarians who are attacking their "Christian Messengers" at every turn. One can check the truth of this if one goes through the websites of International Christian Concern (ICC), World Watch or Christian World News. Typical of their mentality, they overstep levels of moral decency and then rush to give publicity to the repercussions, through the internet and pro-Christian TV channels worldwide! It has also been exposed how Christian organizations have been using the pictures and statues of Lord Buddha for commercial purposes solely with the motive of insulting and hurting the feelings of Buddhists worldwide. On the contrary, has there been any evidence of Buddhists or Hindus insulting Christ, Virgin Mary or Prophet Mohamed by using them for commercial purposes?

There is a common golden saying in Sinhalese" Kata boru kiwuwath diva boru kiyanne ne"( "Even if the mouth lies, the tongue will not lie" is the English translation) has been proven beyond reasonable doubt in this instance. Come on Christian friends, be honest with yourselves and with those around you – "Think" and you will find the answer within yourselves and your conscience! Please show us an example of any country in the world where the minority race or religion of that country is ruling or aspiring to rule the majority race/ religion of that country & trying to justify their actions too – except in Sri Lanka!

Is it possible for anyone to inform us whether such activities would be tolerated in any other country other than in a Buddhist country like Sri Lanka. It is due to the principles of Metta, Karuna, Muditha and Upekha as taught by The Lord Buddha that Sinhala Buddhists have tolerated such insults for so long. Tolerance also has its limits.

Please permit us to live in peace and harmony. Buddhists do not expect patronage from Catholic/Christian Churches, Hindu Kovils or Muslim mosques. Neither do these other religions expect patronage from Buddhists for their religious activities. Let each conduct their own activities without infringing or overstepping the boundaries of the other. This is not asking too much- it is only the basics of decent living. Respect one another and be sincere in your actions. Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists should confine their religious activities to their own flock rather than try to "sell their beliefs" to believers of other religions. Peace and harmony among religions can be maintained and fostered only when the "Catholic / Christian Evangelical Aggressors" begin to sincerely and truly, respect other religions from the bottom of their hearts & not when it becomes just a hypocritical gesture. Each religion must maintain it’s own religious identity and cultural heritage -there is absolutely no need for globalization of religions!

Considering all facts mentioned above, it is highly ironic that the US State Department without checking on all facts in an unbiased manner, has thought it fit to put out an International Religious Freedom Report 2004 in which they claim that Buddhist extremists hurt Christians. Foreigners who enter the sovereign territory of another country, must understand that they have to respect the culture, religion and sentiments of the locals if they wish to be considered as welcome visitors. Arrogance and insensitivity to the local culture will naturally arouse feelings of animosity towards the aggressors.



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