Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)
MISINTERPRETING RELIGIOUS DISCOURSES : WHO ARE WE TO JUDGE?
Ven. Gnanasara Thera versus Pastor Jerome
Attempts to create religious disharmony have caused more harm than good to the fragile social fabric in Sri Lanka. Hate speech, misinformation and disinformation can also create a similar situation. Sri Lanka has already witnessed two insurgencies and the 30-year ethnic conflict, of which the darker memories still continue to haunt the entire populace. It is in this backdrop that anti-muslim riots in Digana and Aluthgama added more fuel to the fire. Hate speech and attempts to incite violence created more divisions among ethnic minorities to the advantage of the main actors (including politicians) who pulled the strings from behind the scenes. There was a time when the Sinhala Buddhist ideology was forcefully instilled in the minds of people. Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara thera, General Secretary of the Bodhu Bala Sena, a Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist organization was a main figure in the frontlines. Recently, another individual, Pastor Jerome Fernando who has gained popularity among the Christian community was blamed for his speech regarding the Buddha. The following is a comparison of speeches made by the two individuals.
REMARKS MADE BY VEN. GNANASARA THERA
During the pre-riot speech held in Aluthgama in June 2014, Ven. Gnanasara thera, delivered a fearmongering speech to the public. Excerpts:
My dear loving Sinhalese, we are gathered in Aluthgama with much pain. The rulers of this country who get elected by our vote, saying that they will represent Sinhalese and Buddhist haven’t given much value to this vote. Therefore, they will not feel this pain. But anybody with a heart and mind must be regretting this incident. At this sorrowful moment, even with much pain, we have to remind certain things
As we left the Welipenna interchange and reached Dharga Town (I believe that even these names should be changed) we realized that this is the hospitality we are receiving for our humaneness. This is like the Nandikkadal Lagoon. The Special forces and the police have been deployed. Why is this? I would like to remind that we still have Sinhalese police force, a Sinhala military. Even if one marakkalaya (a Muslim) lays their hands on a Sinhalese, it will be their end. Everybody in this country have leaders. The marakkalayas have leaders. The Tamil people have leaders. But the Sinhalese don’t have a leader. We have to find a leader for the Sinhalese
Some matters don’t get highlighted on media. This shows the influence Muslims have on media. The future generations will curse us if we don’t do our duty now. There are many influences attempting to rob our heritage. We informed the President that we have a problem. But they are all ready to hurt us. There is one group called Thowheed Jamath. Did Buddha eat human flesh? These people have sermons in mosques. There are no security forces deployed to see what they are talking about in mosques. I challenge the intelligence services to check how many such groups are there across the country. Are these laws applicable only for us
If extremists’ groups are not curbed and if you expect us to do the needful, you can expect two things to happen. One is that we are not afraid of blood and we proved it. For 30 years, terrorists fought with us. There were some ministers who were more Tamil than the Tamils. But a small group of us affirmed that terrorism can be defeated and we provided that spiritual leadership to this country. We are coming to Kattankudy soon, to see your strength
I would like to tell the marakkala businessmen and people that only 97 Muslims died at war. But 27,000 or more Sinhalese sacrificed their lives. So, if these extremists are not put to task, we will boycott Muslim businesses. It doesn’t matter if we have media or not. Just think whether you want to get 74% of people to your shops or not? Have we ever staged hartals when Sinhalese became third in terms of the ethnic population in Colombo? We purchased a majority of items from your shops
(Link to full speech - https://youtu.be/kthbf-tz6vw)
In another video, Ven. Gnanasara Thera is seen confronting Muslim clerics. He questions them as to why they have come to a press conference headed by monks to speak about issues faced by Muslims. “We don’t invite Muslims to speak about our issues. Don’t use the saffron robe to swipe your issues under the carpet.”
(Link to full speech - https://youtu.be/lfsgzunybca )
In another video released on June 25, 2019, few months after the Easter Sunday attack, Ven. Gnanasara thera describes Wahhabism/ Islam as a cancer. “Wahhabism is interpreted as a cancer. We are not saying this, it is the Muslim priests in Saudi who are saying this. These are the people who read verses of the Quran written on goat skin. Many of them have now left Saudi and have sought political asylum in USA, Europe etc. They say that Islam is cancer. Many countries fall prey to this cancer unknowingly. These people claim that if this cancer spreads, it will gobble down all cultures in the world. This situation has been created in Sri Lanka as well. There are more than 50 Wahhabi organisations in Sri Lanka alone.”
(Link to the full speech - https://youtu.be/ KERKAHKF7ES )
Ven. Gnanasara thera was convicted of four contempt of court charges by the Court of Appeal and was sentenced to 19 years of rigorous imprisonment. Prior to that several arrest warrants have been issued on Ven. Thera on charges of inciting violence, hate speech, creating religious disharmony, obstructing duties of the police and so on. But in May 2019, Ven. Thera was released on a controversial presidential pardon.
PASTOR JEROME’S INTERPRETATION OF ENLIGHTENMENT
Over the recent past, Pastor Jerome Fernando of the Glorious Church gained much popularity for his healing services, sermons and speeches. Recently, in one of his sessions titled ‘The Mysterious Frequency of Agape’, Pastor Jerome was seen making some controversial statements on not only Buddhism but Islam and Hinduism as well. Excerpts:
Some of you may think that the Christian journey is like going on a trip. No, it looks like it, but it’s ok to think like it, but on this journey, everything you need is already there. And it is found in the wavelength of Agape. This is what separates Christianity from Buddhism. This is what separates Christianity from Islam. Let’s take Islam for instance. You can’t even call Allah, a father. Are you hearing this? You have 99 names for God in Islam. Yet, love is not one of those. This is what separates Christianity from Buddhism. Because for a Buddhist in their mind, it’s like, okay, anunta kala dé, thamanta pala dé (what goes around comes around). In a sense it’s true; if you do something to a prophet anyways. Now, but in the Buddhists’ mind, they never hear the love of Buddha. Are you hearing this? Their focus is enlightenment. But to be enlightened you need light. The name Buddha means enlightened one
Ladies and gentlemen, what is greater? The light or the enlightenment? Jesus said I’m the light of the world! So, I tell you now, Jesus didn’t say I’m the enlightened one. No, no. Jesus came from a different wavelength. Jesus said I’m the light. So, I submit to you. The Buddha was looking for light. He was actually looking for Jesus. This is why every Buddhist needs Jesus. This is why every Muslim needs Jesus
This is Christianity that separates itself from Hinduism. Glory to God! Hindus are very close to the Gospel. The Buddhists are also very close to the Gospel. Muslims are very close to the Gospel. Very close. That’s why you need preaching like this. To help them take the next step. Hinduism, the reason why they venerate so many animals, they don’t realize and hopefully after I say this they will realize, why they have a God that looks like an elephant, the reason why they have Gods with 10,000 hands, they are not far from the truth. Why they venerate cows? They are very close, but they are still far away. But what separates Christianity from Hinduism is this reality of love. The wavelength of Agape. Someone here needs to tell your loving Hindu people what you are doing maybe true to you, but there’s a deeper truth. Never persecute anybody, never shame another person’s faith. Never disrespect another person’s belief. But what we are doing here is communicate the truth by love
(Link to the full speech - https://youtu.be/x8rapn6gjqo )
Following this speech, Buddhasasana and Religious Affairs Minister Vidura Wickramanayaka said that no room would be left for anyone to insult any religion. Subsequently, a probe was launched by the Criminal Investigations Department. But it was later learned that the Pastor had left the country. However, taking to his social media, the Pastor had claimed that he had visited Singapore as it was pre-planned and that he would return on Sunday (May 21). The Colombo Fort Magistrate Court issued a travel ban on Pastor Jerome and an arrest warrant has now been issued to arrest him upon his arrival.