Dealing with hate-mongers


I salute you on your forthright editorial in The Island of June 16, on ‘Dealing with hate-mongers’, with comments on PM’s firm determination to eliminate the malady. Please permit me to express my views on this subject, while suggesting a simple workable remedy.

The PM’s recent remarks condemning racial and religious hatred in the strongest possible words are most encouraging. He has even threatened to introduce new regulations if needed. Don’t we have enough regulations in our statute book to safeguard its people and property? Despite these, how many times have sections of people run amok and hurt other’s sentiments and damaged property? Where has it gone wrong?

Since the unfortunate ‘war’ ended in 2009, several proposals have been put forward to end religious and racial hatred and bring about amity. Even new ministries and government sponsored organizations were created for National Unity and Reconciliation, but we don’t seem to have achieved the desired result. The most recent decision is to introduce the subject of Ethnic Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation into our Universities curriculum as a module; we still seem to be experimenting. No amount of planning at the top will succeed unless at the ground level people are made to realize they are being taken for a ride by rabble rousers. Religious tension has escalated and the country is threatened with yet another turmoil. It is easy for a few individuals to mobilize the masses against any racial or religious group. This must be averted at any cost.

True, there is some dialogue among the top rung religious leaders, but it obviously isn’t enough. The dialogue should seep to all people to remind them of peaceful coexistence, honoring and respecting all racial and religious groups. People should be encouraged to enter into dialogue and to understand and respect each other, thereby enabling them to abide by the norms of decent society, and not fall prey and provide fodder for hate-mongers to achieve their ulterior objectives.

The stage is already well set for such dialogue, if only the opportunity is grabbed. In our country, we have 25 Special holidays; barring only two – the independence commemoration and the May Day, they are all linked to the different nationalities and religions. Declaration of a special Public Holiday is for the purpose of honoring and commemorating an event, but how many of us can honestly say we engage in some activity connected with such event?

A practical approach would be to restructure our Special Holidays. In addition to the Independence commemoration and May day, Thai-Pongal, National New Year (two days), Vesak (two days), Poson, Ramzan and Christmas – this group of ten days only, could constitute our National Commemorative Holidays. The remaining ten Poya days, Hadji, Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, Mahasivarathri, Deepawali and Good Friday may be made full working days, with the exception that the first two hours i.e. 8 am to 10 am, be spent in an activity devoted to the significance of that particular day’s event. On a Poya day, a bana preaching/meditation for one hour, followed by an hour’s dialogue. Similarly, on Hadji and Prophet Mohammed’s birth-day, an hour’s programme on some aspects of Islam, on Deepavali and Mahasivarathri days a Hindu Religious/Cultural program of one hour, and on Good Friday, a prayer service and talk on aspects of Christianity, of one hour’s duration, and each of the sessions followed by an hour’s dialogue. In sincere dialogue, we discover that which is good, true, beautiful and holy in other religions and begin to appreciate them. The people should start talking to each other, open themselves to the followers of other world religions, understand their faith and begin to respect them. This will ensure that everyone will at least spend some time meaningfully, in honor of the particular event commemorated on that day. It will also promote integration and harmony amongst the different religious and ethnic groups, as individuals of all shades will jointly be involved in arranging and participating in each other’s events, and after a good healthy dialogue, getting back to work after partaking in refreshments and fellowship.

Such activity well planned and executed in all work places and schools will ensure that the inter-religious dialogue will trickle down to all strata of society; it will promote better understanding and respect for each other’s cultures, build bridges, facilitate cross faith interactions, build new friendships and regain inter community trust essential for ensuring harmony and oneness.

An added benefit will be the curtailing of number of special holidays, increasing the number of working days, thereby helping the country’s smooth administration and economy.

As we have been enjoying so many holidays for decades in the guise of ‘holy days’, in order not to deprive well-earned holidays and to encourage people to relax as well, a Thursday and a Friday may be coupled with a week-end once every quarter, thus restoring eight holidays and creating four ‘long week-ends’ per year, for real holidaying. This means we will be having only 18 special holidays, instead of the present 25.

It is important that people are made knowledgeable and prepared ethically and morally so that they will not be used as fodder because the rabble rousers come disguised and have to be beaten at any cost before they can deal a death blow to our beloved nation. It is also of paramount importance that legitimate grievances be addressed promptly and rectified rightfully appeasing the people. It is people who can defeat hate-mongers; let’s empower them and save our beloved nation!

Dr. L. A. W. Sirisena

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