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Plea for help from Sri Lanka: The Church of England Newspaper, June 13, 2014 June 26, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India.
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The Bishop in Jaffna, the Rt. Rev. Daniel S. Thiagarajah has called upon the Indian government to come to the aid of Tamils left destitute by the civil war in Sri Lanka. Speaking to the Times of India last week, Bishop Thiagarajah said the Church of South India has set up a relief centre in Jaffna to assist in the resettlement of refugees and to support widows and orphans, but private NGOs could not shoulder the entire burden. The Christian churches in Sri Lanka sought to foster ethnic reconciliation, reuniting Tamils and Sinhalese into a single nation.  “We are all one people. Ahead of us is a challenging task of rehabilitation of our people who have gone through the darkest period in our history,” the bishop said.

Buddhists boldly bully buzzed Brits: GetReligion, April 25, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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The obnoxious Englishman abroad is a well loved story in the British press. The opprobrium once reserved for the British football hooligan abroad has now spread to his vacationing cousins. Cheap airfares and package holidays to the beaches of the Mediterranean, Florida and points East have given the Briton abroad a reputation for boorishness, lewdness, and alcohol-fueled vulgarity.

“They scream, they sing, they fall down, they take their clothes off, they cross-dress, they vomit,” the mayor of Malia, a popular Greek resort, told the New York Times in 2008. “It is only the British people – not the Germans or the French”.

Are the British the world’s worst behaved tourists? I think Americans can still give the Brits a run for their money. Let me note the annual horror of Spring Break here in Sunny Florida in defense of my claim of American exceptionalism. Aesthetically speaking the sunburnt, tattooed, shaven-headed, bandy-legged Briton abroad is an unpleasing sight. And the men are even worse!

The British government keeps track of the bad behavior of Englishman abroad, publishing an annual report on consular support given to jailed tourists, football hooligans and other assorted louts.The British press has a love hate relationship with yobos abroad. The Daily Mail and other popular newspapers will run stories bemoaning bad behavior and vulgarity with headlines like: “Beer-swilling Britishwomen are branded the ‘ugliest in the world’.” However, British television celebrates the bad behavior with documentaries and series like Channel 4‘s “What happens in Kavos” — an English version of the soft porn “Girls gone wild” films distributed in America.

The news that a British nurse vacationing in Sri Lanka is being deported from that country due to a Buddha tattoo that state officials find to be offensive to Buddhist sensibilities is being reported along these lines — the clueless tourist acting in a way that insults the locals. The Guardian‘s story came from the French wire service AFP, which stated:

Sri Lanka has detained a female British tourist for having a Buddha tattoo on her right arm and ordered her deportation, police said on Tuesday. The unidentified woman was arrested at the country’s main international airport on Monday and appeared before a magistrate, who ordered her deportation, police said in a statement.

The statement said she had an image of the Buddha seated on a lotus flower tattooed on her right arm. “She was taken before the Negombo magistrate, who ordered her to be detained prior to deportation,” it said, adding that she was arrested shortly after her arrival on a flight from neighbouring India.

It did not say what charges were brought against her, but Sri Lanka barred another British tourist from entering the island in March last year for showing disrespect to Buddhism by having a Buddha tattooed on his arm.

Subsequent stories in the Guardian and other Western news outlets reported the woman’s name and provided a photo of the tourist showing off her Buddha tattoo. The Guardian also ran an opinion piece noting that the Buddha tattoo was offensive to Sri Lankans arguing:

The arrest and pending deportation of a 37-year-old British nurse, Naomi Coleman, from Sri Lanka for sporting a tattoo of a meditating Buddha on her right arm has once again raised the issue of tourists being woefully unaware of religious and cultural sensitivities in places they visit.

While alcohol was absent from this incident, the photos of the tattoo and its wearer, coupled with statements that the tattoo was considered offensive by Buddhists, slots this story into the ugly Briton abroad category.

But … is this all there is to say on this story? Are Buddhists offended by tattoos of the Buddha? Why is this offensive?

Could this be political chauvinism disguised as religious piety?

The Western press appears to have accepted uncritically the argument that tattoos of Buddha are offensive on religious grounds. Yet no scholars of Buddhism are questioned on this point. In its opinion piece the Guardian cites a story in the Daily News of Colombo — one of Sri Lanka’s principle newspapers — in support of the offensive to Buddhist claims that also raises political questions. The Daily News article quotes a senior Buddhist monk demanding the government ban publications printing images of Buddha.

The Mahanayake Thera during a meeting with the President pointed out that the print media material bearing the images of The Buddha were even used as serviettes at eateries and also used to wrap various consumer goods by traders.

While noting the above, the Mahanayake Thera asserted that this amounted to an act of sacrilege.

Images of Buddha according to the senior monk must be protected from sacrilege. But again we do not have an explanation of why other than the monk’s assertion that this must be so.

In April of 2010, I wrote an article for the Church of England Newspaper reporting that:

Buddhist extremists have forced the cancellation of a concert tour in Sri Lanka by the pop singer Akon, after a mob ransacked the offices of his booking agent in Colombo for insulting the Buddha. … The protesters were offended by Akon’s latest video “Sexy Chick,” which shows bikini-clad women dancing at a pool party, while in the background stands a statue of the Buddha. Jathika Bhikku Sansadaya, a Buddhist monk organization affiliated with the Sinhala nationalist party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) demanded the government cancel the concert stating Akon had insulted Buddhism.

The government caved in to the demands of the rioters and refused to issue Akon a visa. The reason why the Church of Englan Newspaper ran the story was due to the intervention of the Anglican bishop in Colombo.

Bishop Duleep de Chickera of Colombo upbraided the police for their inaction. “Reports that the police failed to prevent the attack and did not object to some of the perpetrators of this offense being released on bail the same day, are worrying,” he said. “Such behavior implies political patronage in the attack and political interference in the investigations. When some who frame the laws of the land and some of those responsible for the enforcement of the law disregard the law, the plight of the people is critical,” he said in a statement given to the media.

The bishop argued the motivation for the protests were not religious but political. Sri Lanka’s Buddhist monks have a long history of political activism and in recent years have used perceived insults to Buddhist imagery — t-shirts, tattoos, music videos, a parcel wrapped in a newspaper that displays an image of Buddha — as a stick to beat the government and rouse their supporters.

How then should the Western press have handled the story of Naomi Coleman? Was it wise to assume that Buddhism is akin to Sunni Islam where images of the prophet or the enlightened one are forbidden? Should the assertion that this is offensive be tested by reference to a scholar of Sri Lankan Buddhism or a political analyst? Should we trust as true the statements made by the police?

The deeper story here is not the social or aesthetic faux pas of an English tourist, but the political activism of militant Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Religious offense may be the issue trumpeted by the Sri Lankan government, but could it really be Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinism at play?

Tutu calls for boycott of Commonwealth summit: Church of England Newspaper, November 15, 2013 November 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of Ceylon, Church of England Newspaper.
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Archbishop Desmond Tutu has lent his support to the call by Tamil leaders for a boycott of next week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

On 7 November 2013 the South African Nobel Laureate urged Commonwealth heads of government to skip the meeting in protest over “war crimes” committed by the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Approximately 40,000 civilians were killed in the final months of the Sri Lanka’s civil war, a 2009 U.N. report claimed, as government troops shelled rebel held territories in the north of the island. The U.N. report also accused the rebel Tamil Tigers of shooting civilians who attempted to flee the war zone. In the war’s aftermath the government has been accused of using violence to suppress political dissent and has jailed journalists for voicing critical views.

On 11 November the Indian government announced that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would honor the boycott and skip the meeting, while Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week said he would stay away in protest to Colombo’s treatment of the Tamils. Both governments will send lower level delegations to the 51-nation summit.

Prime Minister David Cameron stated he would attend, but will ask “serious questions” of Mr. Rajapakse after having viewed a “chilling documentary” detailing the closing months of the war.

“I will raise my concerns when I see president Rajapakse next week in Colombo,” Mr. Cameron said, “and I will tell him that if Sri Lanka doesn’t deliver an independent investigation, the world will need to ensure an international investigation is carried out instead.”

“If there are enough reasons to suggest that the Sri Lanka government have not been doing things with integrity, I think the world has to apply all the screws that it can,” Archbishop Tutu said. “And a boycott of the CHOGM could be one of them.”

Cry for justice for Ceylon: The Church of England Newspaper, February 3, 2013, p 6. February 7, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of Ceylon, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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Shirani Bandaranayake

Sunday February 3rd will be a “day of lament” for Sri Lanka, the Bishop of Colombo told his clergy last week.

In a 23 Jan 2013 pastoral letter, Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey said “it is with a heavy heart that I write it, the reason being that in the past few days we have seen the complete collapse of the rule of law in our nation. We no longer appear to be a constitutional democracy.”

Sri Lanka’s government and the judiciary have been on a collision course since President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ruling party filed an impeachment motion against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake on 6 Nov 2012. Last month a parliamentary panel found her guilty of irregularities after she ruled that a bill submitted by the president’s younger brother, Basil Rajapaksa, proposing an 80-billion rupee (£400 million) development budget must be approved by nine provincial councils.

“If the impeachment motion is passed in parliament in defiance of decisions of the country’s judiciary, it will signal a massive breakdown in the rule of law and checks and balances,” warned Sam Zarifi, the International Commission of Jurists Asia director.

However, a government spokesman told reporters in Colombo the chief justice had politicised the judiciary and her actions were “very unbecoming of a chief justice.”

Bishop Canagasabey disagreed. “The rule of law means that we as a nation are governed by a system of laws to which the lawmakers themselves are subject. This is a way of ensuring that power is not concentrated in the hands of one person, or group of persons and exercised arbitrarily.”

“The breakdown of such accountability is a process that has been building up for the past several years. It has now climaxed in the recent events that have seen both the Executive and the Legislature disregarding the provisions of the very Constitution which they swore to uphold and defend, giving the appearance of a country ruled on the principle that ‘Might is Right’.”

The bishop said that warnings from the church and “civil society bodies repeatedly issued have been ignored. There is currently a climate of fear and helplessness, where people remain silent rather than speak out against rampant injustice, intimidation, violence and falsehoods.”

Bishop Canagasabey asked members of the diocese to fast and wear white clothing on 3 Feb 2013 as a sign of their prayers and “to grieve over the state of our country today.”

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