Putting The BBS In Its Place

“‘Religion is based . . . mainly upon fear . . . fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand . . . . My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.'”

– Bertrand Russell

So here I am, writing something again after a hiatus of a few years. I’ve been busy but all the recent events surrounding the BBS has forced me to start writing again about these issues with a renewed sense of vigour. I’ve written about the problem of Sri Lankan Buddhism before. It’s intimate link to nationalist politics is undeniable. I’ve talked about the inherent problems of the Buddhist philosophy from a purely academic standpoint. I have talked about Islam and it’s inherent problems. However I do think that this is the time that the non religious of our country and secularists turn an academic exercise into political action.

The BBS has all the dimensions and attributes of a religious nationalist force capable of militant action against the Muslims/followers of Islam. As such we need to ensure that they are put in their rightful place. If there are any sensible people left in this country I urge you to consider the following steps:

1. The hate speech of the BBS and their leadership must be swiftly dealt with. I fear that much damage has already been done. Explore legal provisions to prosecute the BBS to the full extent of the law. The government must take action in this regard. It is also unclear if the government supports the BBS tacitly, although from the vitriol the BBS is spewing these days I highly doubt it:

2. The so called silent majority of religious moderates on both sides must condemn the actions of the BBS vehemently and take practical steps within their respective congregations to curb the activities of the BBS. This is no easy task as a mjority of Sri Lankan temples have been hijacked by the BBS.

3. Secular groups of the country must step up and engage the BBS at every turn, destroying every vitriolic argument with a renewed sense of vigour using the power of logic and reason.

4. Members of civil society must turn to their brothers and sisters, examine the beliefs of their neighbours and stem the hatred and vitriol at the point of origin. Engage, engage, engage at every turn and do not give up.

5. Protest the public display of religious symbolism. The Buddhisification of the country is in full swing. Every Poya day is used as an excuse to demonstrate the militant power of the BBS. Secularists and non believers, however small a community they be, should voice their disapproval. Symbolism is a powerful thing. The Buddhist flag has turned into a rallying call for militant nationalists. Take their precious symbols away from them.

6. The BBS is not a religious organization. They are a nationalist political group that uses notions of  religious and racial identity for their political gain. Do not respect a monk who supports the BBS. Do not offer alms to monks from the BBS. Do not invite them to events.

7. Do not use violence to attack the BBS. Use logic and reason. I know that this is tough, but fight them effectively, not on their terms but on yours and endure you shall.

8. Put aside whatever differences you may have, your personal opinions on the Halal issue, Qazi courts, Sharia law, whatever. Address the issue at hand, namely the militant force hell bent on pushing their nationalist agenda. Defeat this first and then we can discuss the broader issues related to secularization. Unite against the common enemy.

That sums up my first proper post for this year. What have you done personally to put the BBS in their place? scroll down and let me know, tweet at me when you can and together let’s make sure that the BBS is put in it’s rightful place – six feet under the ground.

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On the broader implications of the Islamic protests…

We have this notion that it is in the application of an idea or concept that the concept itself failed us. Stalinism for example is often quoted as a failed application of the ideas of the time – Communism. The recent Islamic protests against a video on YouTube are also explained away by the “true believers” by claiming that the protesters are not practicing their religion appropriately and that the notions, ideas and concepts of Islam are true etc (“these extremist idiots don’t know the true meaning of Islam…” etc).

Should we not criticize the propensity of an idea or a concept to fail so miserably in practice? I think if we can do that, if we can truly understand that often the idea or concept that may be lauded by many inherently contains enough leeway (or the seeds thereof) to be practiced to a disastrous end then perhaps we can get somewhere and spot the dangerous and disastrous ideas early on.

Randy Newman – God’s Song

Randy Newman’s “God’s Song”. Tongue in cheek, satirical and a whole lot of fun.

 

What are the forms of ritualized behaviour amongst faith systems and why do we hold on to them? asks Pascal Boyer

What are the strange and bizarre forms of ritualized behaviour that humans prescribe to, what are the similarities between the faith systems of the world and why do we hold on to them? Anthropologist Pascal Boyer has extensively researched these questions and presents his findings in this enlightening lecture. A  full treatment of the material discussed can be found in his most recent book – Religion Explained.

Politics Power and Buddhism On The Eve Of The Buddha Jayanthi 2011

Sri Lankan hypocrisy at it’s best – A “gossip” site celebrates the Buddha Jayanthi (in style)

Buddha Jayanthi, Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi call it whatever you want according to the establishment it has been 2600 years since Buddha achieved his ultimate goal. We are the kind of people that gives its politicians and leaders a lot of latitude. Thus we should not be surprised and shocked to witness much silliness – and this is the only way to describe what has transpired- leading up to the Buddha Jayanthi.

Mr Champika Ranawaka and Co. shaved their heads and started meditating. “Observing” the Buddha Jayanthi was what the media called it. I see it as a farcical display of arrogance and inanity on their part. There are no half measures when it comes to “observing” Buddhist principles and teaching, you go all the way or you don’t. Buddhism demands that you sever all attachments and lead a life of ascetic contemplation and meditation. This display of pious “observance” is thus nothing but a farce.

This is nothing but a PR move to lend a veil of respectability to a dangerous and flawed ideology and the sheep-like masses of this country will give these people the respect they so desperately yearn. It really is a pathetic state of affairs. Spewing hatred and acting like cavemen 6 days a week and then observing sil on the last day does not make you a Buddhist.

Former monk and ex-speaker of the house Mr Lokubandara declared today that…ah well see for yourself.  Boggles the mind doesn’t it?  the news has rendered me speechless.

Ah the UNP. Considered by many a “liberal” in this country to be a ration… ah screw it. You see what we have to work with here?

Vesak has morphed into quite a strange event during recent times (more so this year than the recent past). While the monks and the politicians claim that the theme for this year is “the observance of the principles of Buddhism”. They claim that we should create an atmosphere of reverence however the atmosphere on the streets is anything but. The commercialization of Vesak is in full swing. Street vendors will sell you a picture of the Buddha and a Buddhist flag (and throw in a tacky mask from the scream movie series) for a few bucks. Where oh where is the pious mob that protested against the Buddha bikinis and Akon? So commercialization, capitalist consumption and greed is fine while free expression (and that by ignorant foreigners) is a tantamount to “blasphemy”?  They seem to be busy banning the consumption of meat and alcohol in a country containing people of many faiths who differ in opinion regarding how best to spend a long holiday weekend. If you are a Buddhist and want to observe the teachings please go ahead. Don’t eat any meat and stay the hell away from bars and liquor stores but don’t force your bullshit down my throat. In some sense it is a pathetic development that the government has to step in every Vesak to ban the consumption of meat and alcohol in this so called pious land of the Buddha. They seem to have little or no confidence in the Buddhist population when it comes to observing the teachings of the Buddha during the holiest period of their religion.

I claim that this silliness is a direct result of our tolerance of the actions of our politicians and the powers that be. Perhaps you have tolerated these actions out of apathy and indifference or perhaps out of fear but it is high time that we raised our voices against this injustice and cruelty.

I claim that the powers that be are in bed with an asinine evil and diabolical theocracy. Evil not in a biblical sense but a kind of evil that forces its doctrine on the rest of the populace who may not want anything to do with it and belong to a silent minority. It is the stifling of our liberties (what little we have) that annoys me the most while the politicians and monks descend into farcical silliness more and more. Who says we have to do what the majority decrees us to do? Just ask Henry David Thoreau. If you like me feel that this has gone far too far and things are really getting quite silly in Sri Lanka, PLEASE for God’s sake SPEAK UP and SAY SO.

On an unrelated note: Made a comment here. Quite an interesting discussion. 

The Problem With Buddhism

Sri Lankan blogs that criticize Buddhism and Islam have been under attack during the last couple of weeks. In light of these recent developments I realized that I have a huge problem with Buddhism (not that I’m okay with Islam but lets get to that in due course). I’m outraged at the spiteful behavior of the Sri Lankan Buddhist. This is not the first time that they have tried to stifle the criticism leveled against their dogma and practices. 1992 was historical year. In 1992 Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, a notable Sri Lankan anthropologist wrote up a series of essays and published a book called Buddhism Betrayed?: Religion, Politics, and Violence in Sri Lanka. I’m outraged that this book is still banned in Sri Lanka. Forget the politics and the ethnic hyperbole for a moment. Banning an academic monograph is disgusting and vile and we should be ashamed of it. Dr Tambiah must be applauded for fearlessly pursuing the publication of this book during such a volatile period of our history. This inanity that equates criticism with “blasphemy” must end. Does Buddhism even consider “blasphemy” as some sort of offense or affront? I think not.  I have not read this book, it is currently unavailable in libraries and most people my age are unaware that such a book even exists. This is truly a sad state of affairs. Google books does provide a small excerpt here. In and age where one cannot even examine an academic publication in order to agree/disagree with the authors claims, building a movement that actively engages the religious becomes a pointless exercise.

Okay so I have a lot of problems and in order to get a hold of what I’m dealing with here I’d like to examine two aspects of Buddhism, break it down and analyze each aspect:

1. The original dogma as preached by Buddha

2.  The Theravada Buddhist philosophy as practiced by a majority of Sri Lankans. Something we shall refer to as “Mainstream Buddhism”

Having a background in Science and Mathematics it is natural that I analyze these issues using the lens of Science and I think this is justified. It is justified because Buddhism claims to be an examination of human existence (what are we here for? what is our place in the universe?) such a claim must be scrutinized carefully for it provides an all  encompassing world view which essentially tells one how one should live one’s life. The danger with such a complete and all encompassing world view is that any new knowledge which contradicts portions of this world view is met with the utmost of hostility from the adherents of said philosophy.

Such strong claims must be subjected to testing and verification and the truth value of these claims must be examined. In short Buddhism must first be able to be falsified. Falsifiability means that a particular statement could be shown to be false by providing a counter example, often physical and experimental in nature. If a statement cannot be falsified it has no value with regard to the seeking of knowledge and truth. The statement may be comforting from a psychological standpoint but has no value for someone seeking knowledge about said system of knowledge. Karl Popper had the same view with regard to scientific assertions. He was of the opinion that scientific claims must be falsifiable (that is provide an inherent condition so that it can be disproved), he also believed that such standards should not be applied to religious and metaphysical systems of knowledge. This division troubles me. Buddhism (metaphysical and religious) claims to have the answers to our existence and to our ultimate liberation. I would like to know if this system of knowledge really does deliver before say I devote my whole life to practicing Buddhist preaching and doctrine. Is that too much to ask?

I don’t think that this is an unreasonable request on my part. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and I must agree with Carl Sagan. One does not call it the burden of proof for nothing. If you present to me “the path to liberation” you better damn well be sure it is true and that it works. How better to test for truth utility and effectiveness than falsification? My next post will consider several aspects of the foundation of Buddhism and question the nature of their falsifiability. The samsaric cycle, reincarnation and karma will the subject of the next post.

Related – Review of  The Work of Kings: The New Buddhism In Sri Lanka, By H. L. Seneviratne, written 7 years after Buddhism Betrayed, it picks up the trail from Dr Tambiah

Islamaphobia

First used in the 1970s to characterize the “Islamists” that questioned the holy texts, the term has evolved over time and nowadays is used to describe pretty much anyone who criticizes Islam. The local pseudo secularist/progressivist Islamic bunch throw this word around a lot these days so I decided to do some digging.

Its sounds a lot like Xenophobia doesn’t it? The term does carry a lot of negative connotations, in which case it is more than worthwhile that we spend some time analyzing this recent phenomenon. Does criticizing Islam (or any other religion for that matter) warrant the use of such a label? I’m sure we can all agree that Xenophobia has a tangible and detrimental effect on any society in the world. From the massacre in Rwanda to the Holocaust, it becomes pretty clear that the hatred that one group of people have against another, solely based on their race can be exploited by many entities for their advantage with horrifying consequences.

Is Islamaphobia a genuine phenomenon? I mean is it important to characterize and label a certain individual as an Islamaphobic based on an a priori assumption that said individual would commit a violent act against an Islamist? or is there something more fishy and even sinister going on?

Criticism of a particular ideology or position should not warrant a label with (obvious) negative connotations. We are free to criticize political positions ideologies and parties, we are free to criticize scientific theories. Should this not be the case when it comes to Religion? our opinions on such matters should not be stifled by petty name calling, especially when such a label has such obvious connotations and is derivative of a term held to be a description of a disgusting position taken by man against another race. Being anti Islamic does not mean that one is willing to kill and destroy all Islamists. I am of the opinion that the group that coined this term and subsequently spread this term made a purposeful attempt to keep the meaning of this term vague, open and ambiguous. A cunning move. What are the lines of demarcation? what qualities constitute an Islamaphobic? the qualitative definitions vary from region to region and this has always proved to be advantageous to the fundamentalists who use this term (cunningly disguised in secularist prose) to belittle, ridicule, undermine and disparage the position of free thinking secularists, humanists and atheists. It is a form of diplomatic ambiguity in the worst sense of the term.

I am not alone in this analysis. Take for example the position held by a student of Roland Barthes, I was pleasantly surprised when I came across an article where he argues that the use of this term may have been a deliberate move by the Iranian fundamentalists during the 1970s. It is quite obvious that the local “Islamic Progressivists” do not fully understand the context in which this term was coined and that using such a term to disparage the efforts of the secularists hurts the progressive Islamic cause.

To put it quite bluntly the fundamentalists are using the moderates. The widespread use of this term in recent times is a testament to how well the fundamentalists are able to manipulate the masses to garner sympathy for their cause. Criticism does not equate to hate, rather it is the antithesis as criticism requires thoughtful consideration and examination of facts and does not depend on emotion insofar as hatred does.

A few links:

[1] A site dedicated to creating “awareness” about this term – http://www.islamophobia.org/news.php

[2] French Philospher Pascal Bruckners arguments – The author of Le Sanglot de l’Homme blanc (The Tears of the White Man) Pascal is a world renowned Sorbonne educated libertarian scholar. His articles have been the subject of much controversy.