A timely move | Daily News

A timely move

The move by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to set up a National Religious Reconciliation Board to eliminate all misunderstandings and mistrusts between religious groups is a timely one indeed. Speaking at a Samurdhi distribution event in Baddegama, over the weekend, the Premier said, through this measure, all suspicions surrounding religions will be eliminated, paving the way for national unity. According to the PM, members to this Religious Reconciliation Board would be nominated by religious leaders and neither he, nor, the President will have a hand in it. The chief function of the Board would be to resolve various issues that may crop up among different religious groups. He said legislation would be brought to set up the Religious Reconciliation Board following a dialogue with all religious leaders. “It is essential to resolve the issues that had come up after the Easter Sunday bombs. Hence, it is essential to hand over the task of resolving these issues to religious leaders”, he added.

Indeed, had such a body been in existence from the very outset, a great deal of misunderstanding could have been avoided and clashes between religious groups nipped in the bud. In fact, had such a multi-religious body been there before, the halal controversy would have not reached the incendiary levels that led to the Aluthgama anti-Muslim riots and subsequent flare ups, sporadically, in different areas. It also would have sorted out misunderstandings occasioned by the alleged conversions by various Christian denominations and prevented attacks on Christian churches. The existence of a Religious Reconciliation Board, no doubt, would also go a long way in neutralizing hate speech directed at certain religious groups through the intervention of the different religious leaders represented on the Board. The public are bound to go along with the views and opinions of such a respected body that would counter all misrepresentations targeting a particular religious group.

Ideally, such a Board should include religious leaders who are well respected and command authority. In this connection, one cannot but refer to the regard and respect shown by the Catholic community to His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith for the leadership given to his stricken flock following the Easter Sunday church bombings. Had he not intervened, calling for restraint, there is no knowing the extent of the bloodshed that would have ensued. The proposed Religious Reconciliation Board should meet regularly and discuss matters that may give rise to controversy by practices in certain religions and douse the flames before they may erupt. For instance there was much dispute over the erection of Buddha statues in the North and the so called indiscriminate setting up of Mosques, allegedly, even in areas with hardly any Muslim presence. There was also the issues surrounding Deegavapiya, sometime ago, which generated much heat among the Buddhist clergy. The mass slaughter of goats at a Hindu Kovil, some time ago, also drew the ire of Buddhists, with the much celebrated Mervyn Silva going to the rescue of the animals. The Board should intervene fast and settle such issues before they are allowed to fester and cause friction between religious groups. A similar Board should also be set up to foster ethnic harmony and reconciliation. In fact this should have been in place immediately after the war ended. It would have been an ideal counter to those sowing hatred and promoting division based on ethnic lines.

No doubt, the Eater Sunday attacks have exacerbated communal and religious tensions leading to Muslims been viewed with suspicion. Matters have taken a turn for the worse, with even Muslim businesses being boycotted. The proposed Religious Reconciliation Board could act to alley all suspicions and prejudices against the Muslim community. The resignation of Muslim Ministers from their portfolios has widened the prevailing gulf which needs bridging if we are to forge ahead as a united nation. In this respect, the call by the Venerable Mahanayakes to them to reconsider their decision shows that the prelates want the brotherhood between the Muslims and Buddhists to prevail. It is also an indication that Buddhists, as a whole, don’t habour any rancour with the Muslims. Their (Mahanayakes) well intentioned appeal should be heeded by the former Muslim Ministers and revert to the status quo. Their keeping away is bound to mirror the division between the two communities, further.

Be that as it may, the Easter Sunday terror attacks, as horrendous as the calamity is, should not be allowed to hang like black pall over the country, permanently. True, the scars will take time to heal, but in the meantime, the country cannot wallow itself in grief and things should get a move on. In this respect, it is heartening to note that attendance in schools are recording near 100 percent and church services, too, are back to normal. The repairs to the bombed churches are almost complete with St. Anthony’s shrine in Kochchikade due to hold its annual feast in another two days (June 13). Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a visit to the shrine during his brief stay in the country, an indication that all security fears have been laid to rest. Hopefully, this mood will be reflected in the whole country, before long. 


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