A NOTE: The engine ACADEMIA sends me copies of articles relating to my Sri Lankan interests. The item presented below is a new phenomenon seeking to stimulate discussion directed towards cross-ethnic harmony. Whether such objectives can be served in the midst of the cut-and-thrust and slashing of throats by dedicated advocates of THIS or THAT cause is a question one must address when reading the commentary that follows. The HIGHLIGHTED EMPHASIS is my imposition.
Reminder: You’ve been invited to join the Discussion of Melathi Saldin‘s paper “Pushing Boundaries Heritage resilience of minority communities in post war Sri Lanka”.You have been invited either because you are following Melathi Saldin or because Academia thinks you’d be interested based on the overlap between this paper and what you read and write on Academia. Since the Discussion started 4 days ago, there have been 12 comments and 22 participants.
|This chapter explores the impact of post-war cultural politics on the ethnically diverse Sri Lankan Muslim community and emphasises the ways through which they utilise heritage spaces for resilience building when their identity, belonging and legitimacy to the state are challenged. Despite the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009, the post-war recovery process continues to be marred by increasing violence against other ethno-religious minorities, notably the minority Muslims. Confronted with diverse forms of precarity, this community has been compelled to transcend numerous social and physical boundaries in their quest for empowerment, wellbeing and cultural survival. Given the weak and often uninspiring reconciliation infrastructure instituted by the State following decades conflict, the Muslim community has come to rely on grassroots and civil society initiatives to influence and empower them in the face of adversity. This chapter will examine one such initiative —the Visit My Mosque Program— which focuses on enhancing intercultural understanding between Sri Lankan Muslims and other ethnoreligious groups using the mosque as its focal point. As mosques in Sri Lanka have been particularly reticent to the idea of opening up that space for non-Muslims and to a great extent also to women [Muslim or otherwise], the Open Mosque program brings to the fore a new set of questions to explore. What does it mean to allow outsiders into this space which previously actively discouraged the entry of the other (Kufr – unbeliever)? What potential does it have to positively impact relations not only with the majority Sinhalese, but also other minorities in the present volatile an uncertain post-war context? And how can this shift be understood within the broader context changes occurring in the Muslim world today?|
To view the paper and comments, please follow the link below:
I think as a concept, the Welcome to Our Mosque program is very valuable. However, in the Sri Lankan context, there should be a long-term strategy to improve the harmonious link between different religions, especially between Buddhists and Muslims. It is important to take steps to change the attitude towards Islam among the majority of Buddhists. To do this there is a role to be played by the government as well as the main media in the country. Recent events such as the Easter Sunday church atta… Read MoreRecent events such as the Easter Sunday church attack has not been helping the situation at all. Over the years, Sri Lanka has become a too politicised society. As a result, the country’s politicians need to play a vital role in this case.
i totally agree, and in fact this has been made worse by the easter sunday attacks but i think was something that was there in the post war scenario
Thank you for your comments. Yes, there does need to be a long-term strategy but we are still struggling for truth telling and meaningful reconciliation more than a decade after the civil war. As many scholars have argued, meaningful reconciliation and co-existence is certainly not in the interests of those who wish to cling to power on populist sentiment. State endorsed programs for reconciliation are top-down, largely tokenistic and out of touch with on-the-ground realities and needs of local communities. The Welcome to Our Mosque program can be understood as a means for minority Muslims to regain the narrative of reconciliation and exercise their agency. Also importantly it is not an apologetic attempt at reconciliation. Grassroots programs such as this have real potential in ensuring understanding among diverse communities, especially at the local level.
Thank you for inviting me to give my comments on this important article by Melathi Saldin. The author has drawn attention to a few very relevant and pertinent issues besetting the island of Sri Lanka. This article critically looks at some of the positive contributions as well as a few strands of misperceptions of the “Welcome to Our Mosque programme” initiative that was operational in some parts of Sri Lanka. In illustrating the positive and other aspects of the programme the author brings to the surface some of the very significant concerns, especially the hegemonistic Sinhala academic approaches to the island’s history and culture that is slowly getting institutionalised in heritage organizations such as the Department of Archaeology and the Central Cultural Fund (CCF)..” To this list, she should also add epigraphy, linguistics and iconography. She underlines the fact “as to how this informs and shapes national heritage narratives. It also traces the ways through which minority communities write against these narratives by creating their own often precarious spaces for cultural expression, engendering resilience in the face of adversity.” The author’s apprehensions bring to light the damage and destruction done to the historical, architectural and archaeological heritage of the native national communities as the Tamils and Moslems. This topic should be a matter of scholarly discussion in public square. (p. 237) As the founding Head of the Department of Christian and Islamic Studies at the University of Jaffna (1980-1997) during the crucial years of the civil war, I was a witness to the gradual erosion of the strong bond of scholarly and professional relationship that had undergirded the Moslem-Tamil academic cordiality in the North and East. The University lost women and men of very high academic calibre from among the Moslem nationality, in almost all Faculties, more specifically, the Faculty of Arts.
One brief comment on the Bibliographical citations because the author is a Doctoral student. A demanding task of Doctoral research is to sift the grain from the chaff in the selection of Bibliography because the Sri Lankan civil war has also produced a cascade of local and foreign commentators and petty pundits some of whom seek to re-write histories to propagate their own subjective servitudes. Many Sri Lankan scholars consider Michael Roberts as a paparazzi academic who mills out cheap material in the name of scholarship. Critical scholars have identified his academic shallowness and pro Sinhala thralldom. A doctoral reader should exercise caution in citing those with an obvious bias. (p. 241) As for Neil Devotta who is referred to in this article, his ardent anxiety to ascribe all premeditated evils emanating from Sri Sinhala politicians to the British colonialist is fundamentally flawed. This only goes to suavely support the Sinha status quo and exculpate them from the disasters caused to this island in the post-colonial phase; and by default to shift the blame to the British. The oft-repeated litany is that the British favoured the Tamils in terms of employment and the Moslems in their commercial enterprise – this is totally unfounded. The British never had a policy of recruitment for employment in Ceylon, except selecting the personnel purely based on merit. (p. 241). Tamils who were qualified were given the job! (Numbers in parentheses refer to the page number of the article.) Prof. A. J.V. Chandrakanthan, Toronto, Canada
Thank you Professor Chandrakanthan, for taking the time to provide feedback on my chapter. I will keep this in mind for future publications.
This is an informative and well written discussion of the “Welcome to Our Mosque” program in Sri Lanka, and the socio-historical background of anti-Muslim sentiments is effectively explained. Mosques in Sri Lanka are primarily all-male spaces, and as the chapter points out, non-Muslims are often restricted from freely entering them. However, there is another type of Muslim sacred space to which women and non-Muslims are typically allowed open access: the saintly tombs (ziyarams) of Sufi shaykhs, where the annual festivals often attract gender-mixed family groups and at least some members of other ethnic and religious communities. Further study of the “Welcome to Our Mosque” initiative could be broadened to include a comparison with inter-ethnic access to Muslim saintly shrines and Sufi festivals as well.
Thank you for your constructive feedback, Professor McGilvray. I will certainly expand this study to include these fuzzy spaces in future publications.
This chapter explores the impact of post-war cultural politics on the ethnically diverse Sri Lankan Muslim community and emphasises the ways through which they utilise heritage spaces for resilience building when their identity, belonging and legitimacy to the state are challenged. Despite the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009, the post-war recovery process continues to be marred by increasing violence against other ethno-religious minorities, notably the minority Muslims. Confronted with … Read More
very interesting and thank you for this valuable contribution. the mosque remains just more than a place for religious expression, in the case of sri lankan muslims, it remains also a essentialist representation of their otherness
An interesting chapter and you have done a good job. However, what would be the long term and actual impacts of such programmes, on radicalized minds?
Thank you for your feedback Amjad and Fazeeha. Amjad – agree with you. It is important to enhance understandings and broaden interpretations of the mosque (in Sri Lankan context) as more than just a religious space, but that which is representative of the heritage of Sri Lankan Muslim communities. While all mosques may not have archaeological value, all mosques certainly have cultural/ heritage value, especially to their local communities and it is important to highlight this. Fazeeha – The… Read More
the opening observation highlights a real challenge in terms of mis perception that an Asian Foundation 2011 study also reflected on. we do not know each other. So it is a good starting point but it points out to only the religous practice and less of the lived experience. it is interesting to note that for the muslim community, the concept of boundary is less physical and more spiritual
Review Article by Michael Roberts in 2004 addressing A. J. Wilson: Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, London, Hurst & Co, 2000, contains this segment:
Perhaps because of his relative unfamiliarity with the militant youth and the events in the Jaffna Peninsula in the 1980s and 1990s, Wilson has coopted A. J. V. Chandrakanthan, a Catholic clergyman and former lecturer at the University of Jaffna, to provide an ‘inside view’ of ‘Eelam Tamil nationalism’ in chapter 9.Chandrakanthan lived in the Jaffna Peninsula during that period and experienced one of its worst moments in late 1995 when the army of the Sri Lankan state broke out of its beachhead at Palaly and conquered the western half of the Peninsula, inclusive of Jaffna town. Writing from the safety of Montreal in 1998, Chandrakanthan provides a passionate account. He casts himself and the Tamils in general as victims. Like Wilson, he presents the Tamil movement as a struggle for liberation and a ‘defensive…nationalism’ (p.161).
This is an invaluable essay, although its value lies in its fervour rather than its analytical rigour. Read it, and you will hear an authentic voice of the (Sri Lankan) Tamils speaking for the (Sri Lankan) Tamils. Chandrakanthan’s picture of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, for instance, is a veritable paean of praise in the kāvya tradition of the Indic world—a tradition that both Tamils and Sinhalese share.
In other words, this chapter is a significant primary source rather than a reliable secondary study.We learn that (some) Tamils are nurtured and trained to regard themselves as uyirayutham, that is, to make their life into a weapon. This is the making of the suicide bomber, in other words—a person to whom suicide is a that-kodai or ‘self-gift’ (p.164). We are also told, usefully, that the living rooms of Tamils of the diaspora are replete with LTTE icons (p.170).
Not least, we learn that Prabhakaran is regarded as a thesai thalaivar (‘national leader’ or ‘supremo’). Thalaivan (and thus thalaivar) can also be read as ‘hero’. The significance of Chandrakanthan’s account is the manner in which it reveals how he himself, like numerous Sri Lankan Tamils, regards Prabhakaran as a God with a capital G. In saying that Prabhakaran is like a king of the same ‘mythic proportions [of the] ancient Tamil kings and heroes’ (pp.169, 161), he celebrates his own devotion to man and cause.
YetChandrakanthan also attempts to sustain his imagery with strategic devices directed at the Western audience that is a major constituency for his propaganda.Prabhakaran’s legendary status, it is said, is seen by Christian Tamils as comparable to that of a ‘Tamil Moses’ (p.159). Likewise, the self-sacrificial suicide personnel are compared to sannyāsis or ascetics (p.164).
These stratagems are too obvious to work. And they are undermined by Chan-drakanthan’s fervent excess. How many readers will swallow his linkage of ‘heroic death’ with ‘the ancient Tamil religion of Saivism’ (p.164) in a manner that renders Saivism into a Tamil possession rather than a ‘Great Tradition’ within India writ large? The problem with zealous propaganda is its very zealotry.
As problematic for me, however, is the intellectual dishonesty attached to his account of that undoubtedly bitter moment, the enforced departure of virtually the whole population of Jaffna town and its environs in the face of the army advance. Chandrakanthan presents only one half of the truth when he says that this event ‘set in motion an exodus into the south of the Jaffna Peninsula’ (p.162). Virtually every one in Sri Lanka is aware of the grapevine knowledge that the LTTE decided—intelligently, as with most of their military operations—to make a strategic withdrawal after their initial resistance. As one former Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) fighter put it, ‘the sharks took the sea with them’. Not to mention this fact is a dereliction (albeit a deliberate one).
In so far as Chandrakanthan’s essay appears within the covers of Wilson’s book, it gathers up the latter’s considerable academic credentials.The two make up a partnership, the more so because their principal thesis overlaps. Thus, any sins of omission or commission on Chandrakanthan’s part accrue to Wilson himself.”
***** For the review article in full, visit https://thuppahis.com/2017/07/19/narrating-tamil-nationalism-subjectivities-and-issues/ OR rummage in Sri Lankan bookshops for the pamphlet version printed by Vijitha Yapa Bookshops in 2005 or visit suitable libraries and locate South Asia, April 2004, vol. 27 pp. 87-108.