Fundamentalisms Face-to-face as the Dhammadīpa concept is re-affirmed in Sri Lanka

Michael Roberts, 15 March 2012

There are many forces promoting the campaign to haul the Sri Lankan government – and implicitly Sri Lankan society – before the coals through a condemnatory resolution at the UNHCR sessions in Geneva this month. That big power interests (inclusive of their manifest double standards) power this drive is undoubted. That the Sri Lankan governmental agencies over the years 1977-2012 have much to answer for is also clear – though WHO should administer such a process of monitoring and/or accusation, and how practical & useful such a project would be, is far from clear in my mind.

Apart from Tamils seeking vengeance, in my reading it is equally evident that strands of secular fundamentalism centred in INGOs, Western political moralists and Tamil and Sri Lankan activists have also inspired such moves. It is therefore significant and the counter-propaganda mounted by GoSL and other interest groups in Sri Lanka and abroad should include a re-affirmation of the Dhammadīpa concept by a body of bhikkhu activists during their public demonstration of opposition to the resolution under debate.

This idea has a long and venerable history, though it is also tainted with extremism at certain moments in past time. Here, however, as the banner on display indicates, it is explicitly allied with an image of small people and small societies being threatened by big people in the form of Western imperialism. That point is not without some validity of course.

Ideally these charges should not preclude some introspection among the religious practitioners who press this complaint. But, then, this request can also be placed before the human rights activists in the West. Having seen the Australian branch of the International Commission of Jurists, Gordon Weiss and others in operation in Australia I think such an expectation is fanciful. The problem with fundamentalism, whether secular or religious, is its one-sided tunnel-vision. Introspective and critical reflections on its range of premises are rarely pursued.


Kitsiri Malalgoda 1970 “Millennialism in Relation to Buddhism,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 12: 434-41.

Bardwell L. Smith (ed.), Religion and the Legitimation of Power in Sri Lanka, Chambersburg: Anima books, 1978.

Michael Roberts, Sinhala Consciousness in the Kandyan Period, 1590s-1815, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2004.

S. J. Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics and Violence in Sri Lanka, University of Chicago Press, 1992.

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Filed under american imperialism, australian media, fundamentalism, historical interpretation, NGOs, patriotism, political demonstrations, politIcal discourse, power politics, Rajapaksa regime, reconciliation, religious nationalism, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, truth as casualty of war, world events & processes

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