On 14 and 15 May 2019, revenge violence broke out in a number of towns in Sri Lanka against Muslim shopkeepers by Christians motivated by the Easter Sunday attacks on three Christian churches, two Roman Catholic and one Protestant. The Easter church attacks were carried out by a recently formed militant Muslim militia most of whose members have now been arrested by the police. However, the danger of sectarian violence remains real, and measures of active reconciliation are needed.
Just 10 years ago, in mid and late May 2009, the fighting between the Sri Lankan Army and the remaining Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan (LTTE) led by Veluppilai Pirabhakaren came to an end. The military struggle had begun in 1983, but its roots went back at least to Independence in 1948. The conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils had ebbed and flowed since the colonial period in disputes about legitimacy, language, economy, and policies on religion.
Since the armed conflict had a certain religious coloring – the Tamils being largely Hindus and the majority Sinhalese Buddhists – religious organizations, both national and international, tried to play a role as mediators; or, at least, proposed possible subjects ripe for mediation.
In the end, no offer of compromise was ever enough. All forms of moderation were seen as betrayal. The war continued with the last months being particularly destructive. The psychological wounds are deep. The healing of individual traumas with psycho-spiritual techniques remains a real priority, for the suffering of the war may sow the seeds of future unrest and a desire for revenge.
At the end of the armed conflict in 2009, the Association of World Citizens proposed a con-federal structure of government as a way of respecting differences in a pluralistic society while providing the possibilities of joint action. There is a need to develop government structures in which all citizens feel that they belong and that their interests are safeguarded.
Federal or con-federal forms of government were agreed to in the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord leading to the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution. The amendment provides for the establishment of provincial councils. Unfortunately, these Councils have never become functional.
It is my impression that in the past decade, there have not been the creative changes in the structure of government needed. Popular participation in government has not been developed.
While the Sinhalese-Tamil tensions lent themselves to con-federal type proposals as the populations lived in relatively separate parts of the island, Christians and Muslims live spread out over the whole country. Thus, decentralized governmental structures are not an adequate policy for reconciliation. Rather, it is a modification of attitudes, values and individual actions which is needed. In many such conflicts based on attitudes and visions of “identity”, the Association of World Citizens stresses the importance of a quest for the Higher Self.
This is an identity which first includes the individual’s current self-identity formed by nationality, social class, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, language and life experience. The Higher Self is more than the sum of these elements in the formation of identity. The Higher Self is formed by an interaction of the individual with what we can call a spiritual energy from which the individual consciousness arises. What the Chinese call the Tao. It is this Higher Self which is the ground of world citizenship, a sense of identity with all of humanity and a kinship with Nature which also arises from the same spiritual energy.
As has been said, it is difficult to solve problems on the same level from which gave rise to the problem. While Christian-Muslim dialogue is necessary in Sri Lanka, as elsewhere, it is only as the individual person moves beyond their self-identification as Christians or Muslims that a true harmonious society can grow.
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizenship