PAX VOBIS CUM
(1998 December 30)
I hope that I have got it correct in Latin. Let there be peace with you and Latin is the language of the Pope and the Vatican. I thought that I should write on peace after reading the Christmas messages of the Archbishop in Colombo, Rt. Rev. Dr. Nicholas Marcus Fernando and the Bishop of Colombo, Rt. Rev. Kenneth M.J. Fernando as appeared in 'The Island" of 25th of November.
I wonder whether the Archbishop and the Bishop agree with Prabhakaran, who admitted, in his now very much publicised speech on the twenty seventh of November, that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country. We do not know what made him to admit that, but it is a fact as much as Italy is a Roman Catholic country and England, or if it is really necessary, Britain is an Anglican country. In fact, I have come across many Catholics and Christians belonging to the Church of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), including some priests, who have no hesitation in admitting that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country.
I am not trying to force it on anybody but whether we like it or not, as Prabhakaran has done, we have to accept it as it is a fact. Why should one force the others to accept a fact? Or why should people be reluctant to accept a fact? People should be able to accept a fact without it being forced on them. Neither the Buddhists have forced anybody to accept their religion. As Buddhism is not a faith there is no point in forcing anybody to accept the Dhamma and the Buddhists have never fought wars to spread their religion. The Buddhists can easily say to the others "pax vobis cum". The Buddhist 'metta' is for all beings, not necessarily for the human beings.
However that does not mean that the Buddhists are nonchalant and will accept with bowed heads any injustice caused to them. There may be a few Arhants, even today, (not necessarily in Sri Lanka) and some who have entered the stream (Sovan or Sothapaththi) but the vast majority of the Buddhists are prthagjanas. As such they are not expected to behave like the Arhant Punna who went to the province (Janapada) of Sunaparantha. Though they believe in "Na hi verana verani", they are not prepared to be the victims of the hatreds of the others.
Just as much the Buddhists will not force the others to accept that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country, they will not allow the others to force on them that Sri Lanka is a multi- religious country. In England, where the Archbishop of Canterbury lives, there are Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists and others. But nobody calls it a multi religious country and no "sarva agamica" concept is tolerated there. However that does not mean that the Muslims and the others cannot practise their religions in England. They do practise their religions, but as I have often said the status of the Archbishop of Canterbury is very much superior to that of the chief incumbent of the London Buddhist Vihara who has been conferred with the title 'The Sanghanayaka of Britain". In Sri Lanka there is an act of parliament on the activities of the Church of Ceylon, but the 'mother parliament' in Britain has not approved an act in respect of the Buddha Sasana in that country.
The Archbishop in Colombo, in his Christmas message says, " We have to admit and realize the fact that wherever we came from, and whatever time we came into this island, now this land belongs to all of us. We have to admit that we should be free to follow our traditional cultures, to speak the language of our choice, to practise the religions we believe in, to enjoy legitimate freedom in our day to day lives". These are seemingly innocent and harmless words. In Sri Lanka not only anybody can practise the religion he or she believes, but can refrain from following any religion. This is something that people of this country have enjoyed at least since the time of the king Pandukabhaya until the Portuguese arrived in the country. However we are free again to practise the religions we believe in, but it is good to see that the Rt. Rev. Archbishop insists on reminding us now and again, that there was a period in our history when we did not enjoy that freedom.
It is true that this country belongs to all the citizens of the country. However there are number of provisos that should be added to this statement. It is a prerequisite that all the citizens should be loyal to this country and not to some other country. I believe that the overwhelming majority of the Sinhala Christians and Catholics are hundred percent loyal to Sri Lanka and there is not much of a problem in this regard.
When one says that the country belongs to all of us it also implies that the history of the country also belongs to all of us. One cannot say that the country belongs to all of us but the history belongs only to a certain section. If all of us are prepared to accept that the history of the country belongs to all of us then it is not necessary to say that "wherever we came from and whatever time we came into this land the country belongs to all of us". Whether one is a Buddhist or a Christian one should be able to stand before the Ruvanveliseya and say in admiration that this is the work of our people. A Christian or a Catholic does not have to worship at these historical places; nevertheless he or she should have a sense of belonging and should be able to identify him or herself with these places.
In England any two citizens are equal before the law at least in theory. However this does mean that the Christian culture and the Buddhist culture are on an equal footing in England. Two individuals are not the same as two cultures as far as a country is concerned. Mr. Charles Windsor, if he becomes a Buddhist would not be able to become the king of Britain. The king of Britain has to be the defender of the faith and it means that he cannot be the defender of Buddhism. Neither the Alert organisation nor the Article 19 people in England would claim that the king of Britain, being the defender of the Christian faith is violating the rights of the people other than the Christians. The non -Christians living in Britain accept that the king of Britain is the defender of Christianity due to historical and cultural reasons. In other words they accept the history and the culture of Britain. The non-Christians in Britain would not say that "wherever we came from and whatever time we came into this land the country belongs to all of us". Instead they will go to the Westminster Abbey and identify themselves with its history and pronounce that this country belongs to all of us.
It is true in the abstract that a person is free to speak the language of his or her choice. If two people desire they can speak in Latin. But that does not mean that in the context of the history and culture of a country all languages have equal status. The United States of America recently made officially, English the official language of the country. Until then English was the official language of the United States of America unofficially. However it was made official as the Americans thought that with immigration across the Mexican border Spanish could become a threat to English in the future. That is how the mighty Americans took steps to safeguard English of all the languages.
In the United Nations only five languages are recognised as "official languages". In Britain two Sinhala people can speak in Sinhala, though there are many Sinhala people who speak in English and only in English. But it does not mean that Mr. Tony Blair, every times he speaks in the house of commons, will issue a summary in Sinhala or all the acts of parliament will be translated into Sinhala. Some of these statements related to human rights are only good in the abstract and they have no meaning when analysed with respect to concrete situations. On the other hand like everything else human rights are also relative and simply because they could be applicable in one country it does not mean that they have universal validity.
The Bishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Kenneth Fernando in his message says: "There is no other way of making Peace among human beings, except by speaking, by dialogue and by negotiation............. In our own country too, we eagerly await the day when there will be a dialogue among those who are now at variance in our land...............For Him the whole human family is one. We Christians must uphold that belief and live according to it. In Christ we are one.................We can never make Peace in our world if we demonise the enemy".
They are nice words but unfortunately the Christian world does not seem to have any regard for them. It was only a few days before Christmas the two powerful Christian countries, the United States of America and the United Kingdom decided to launch an air attack on Iraq. Messrs. Clinton and Blair are not interested in talking to Mr. Sadam. It appears that the European and American Christian countries throughout the history have acted according to something like " In Christ we may be one but on the earth we are different from the rest and we are the supreme." I do not think Mr. Sadam was considered as a human being by the two big Christian countries. They have always demonised the enemy whether it is Sadam, Ho Chi Min or any body else. The Bishop may be correct and it may be that we do not have peace with a simple p or a capital P in the modern world because of the Christian countries.
I am not trying to say that the Bishop should preach the leaders of the Christian countries before he attempts to advise the others, nor I am defending Messrs. Clinton and Blair or Sadam. All I am saying is that under certain conditions people, including the Buddhists go to war. However the Buddhists, as I have said before have not resorted to war in order to spread their religion. The conditions under which people belonging to different cultures go to war are different and it would be a nice project for some of our NGO researchers to study these conditions.
Huntington in his book warns the western world of an impending clash of civilisations. What he does not tell is that the history of the world has always been a history of clashes of civilisations and cultures. One might even say that the human beings will be civilised or cultured, the day these clashes of civilisations and cultures end. But it is very unlikely and as long as there are civilisations and cultures there will be wars. One solution to this problem is to have one culture for the whole world and it appears that the Christian countries are attempting impose that solution on the others through globalisation of the Christian culture. The so-called globalisation is nothing but the globalisation of the Christian culture. Once that kind of globalisation is achieved we will be one not only in Christ but on the earth as well.
What is happening in Iraq or former Yugoslavia or Sri Lanka is nothing but clashes of civilisations and cultures. In Sri Lanka the western Christian countries are using Tamil racism to achieve what they want.
In Sri Lanka no peace will be achieved through negotiations. What is attempted in the name of peace through negotiations is a federal constitution paving the way for Eelam . There is no war at the moment in Sri Lanka, just as much there was no war when the JVP took up arms against the state. I cannot remember the Bishops and the Archbishops advocating negotiations with the JVP leaders then nor the Foxs and the Fachetts coming to Sri Lanka to get the government and the opposition to exchange letters on talks with the JVP. Then all the "friendly" governments helped the Sri Lankan government to defeat the JVP. Why are they different now when the LTTE has taken up arms against the state?
The war will begin only if the so-called peace is enforced on the Sinhala people. No peace will be achieved through negotiations with the LTTE, which is backed by the western countries. Let there be peace with you in a Unitary or Eksesath Sri Lanka.