Sri Lanka: Can we have a National Ethic beyond Religious Morality?

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Cry a halt to tangential Politics !

  • We were destined to be a proud, self-reliant and bubbling Asian nation in the sub-continent and South East Asia
  • Our founding fathers had mighty noble dreams to launch this nation into becoming a prosperous and vibrant democracy second to none

There isn’t the slightest doubt that in many ways Sri Lanka, our dear Motherland is caught up in a mysterious web of complex situations that will mark the country and its people for better or worse in the coming decades, depending on how well we either succeed or fail in stilling the storms and coping with them. Unfortunately, there has been too many sad and painful events clearly negatively affecting this once serendipitous land since independence. A country that would have reached heights of economic prosperity and social integration has been in reverse gear far too long, since successive national governments took the reins of office to lead this land. We were destined to be a proud, self-reliant and bubbling Asian nation in the sub-continent and South East Asia.  The British our last colonial power, handed over to us an independent nation on a platter and our founding fathers had mighty noble dreams to launch this nation into becoming a prosperous and vibrant democracy second to none.

Sadly, the multi-party political system ruined our hopes swinging the country helter-skelter,inheriting for us today, a people weighed heavily down by national and international debts making it the bête-noire of an increasingly debilitating national economy, ridden with social inequalities, ethnic tensions and religious conflicts making national integration almost an illusive dream and spreading dangerous currents of extremism, both religious and racial. The politics of hate and greed have poisoned the political thinking of the larger population who even at this critical moment seems unable to weigh, act and opt in a manner that is rational and circumspect.A mass endemic hallucination seems to hover over the land.

Religion as a political tool

Political errors together with natural disasters, failure to improve and ameliorate the machinery of production, exports and foreign investments, a system of education without vision, and a stagnant agricultural policy are really crippling the country. Thousands of youth are out of work unable to join the labour force that is neither streamlined nor well-planned. The country needs to turn around with some brand new strategy. While natural resources and assets are being squandered rapaciously, the liberative value of all religions to which we are a haven, is being disinherited since often being manipulated as instruments of political ideology. This indeed, if continued, would spell the end of the road for Sri Lanka. Religions must remain what they should be, namely, inspiration for ethical conduct and reservoir of moral values as well as of human and social behaviour. At a time when we are hemmed in from all sides, one is constrained feverishly to look for some master-plan that will meander for us security and economic prosperity, social integration and safety for every citizen whatever his language, race, religion or social status. These don’t seem to emerge from the horizons currently in vogue.

There seems to be a plethora of confusion, indecision, incertitude and haphazard movements without any definitive direction as a result of which, one senses an impending disaster of a very bleak future. There are enough lessons to be learnt by Sri Lanka,looking at the bloody conflicts that wreaked Northern Ireland with religion-based politics for years, the white supremacy ideology that even now disturbs stability in the USA, other religion-based conflicts raging in Southern Thailand, Southern Bangladesh, in Southern Mindanao of the Philippines and the eternal Israel-Palestinian conflict. Now comes the radical Islamic terrorism that disdains western culture seen as the sanctuary of Christian civilization and holding monopoly in global trade and technology. Paradoxically, almost none of the western countries conducts politics based on religion, opting to remain secular States.

International Pacts in retrospect

Our confused system of elections at all levels, hurriedly negotiated international agreements, the mess of the ever aggravating national debt, the unsolved war crime allegation, the risk of economic sanctions and the general mistrust that western countries contrive about this strategically poised Asian island coupled with the ideological abuse of religion and the majority-minority syndrome are dangerously driving us against the wall. The current bone of contention is the Port City project. The fact that the Supreme Court has advised multiple amendments and rethinking, proves it a highly controversial issue for nation’s sovereignty. The Opposition in Parliament has raised a chaotic brawl against it. As to when the much dreamt-of benefits would be accrued from this highly complex project remains a dilemma. The specific parameters within which the stake-holders will operate still remain unclear. The issue can still be debated politically and be open to critical comments of experts.  

Has the general public been sufficiently conscientised about the nature and the dynamics of this project that involves partnership with another country? Some already see in this project the greatest betrayal of national sovereignty. Why should we be second to any country, they ask and instead, manage our affairs with greater autonomy. It is true on the one hand that to strengthen the national economy, foreign investments are of utmost importance since it opens sleuths widely to the easy flow of foreign capital bringing an abundance of wealth and employment. On the other hand, this exchange between the stake-holders should be negotiated in an equitable manner on a truly win-win-basis as good business science teaches us. We cannot risk losing even a modicum whilst permitting another to win at our expense. It means being foolishly ripped off by another to whom we yield unconditionally.

An ethically honourable way of Politics

One has to negotiate as equals for justice to function within the project-frame. It is common knowledge as to once a beleaguered little island of Singapore with its multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-racial land has over so swiftly somersaulted into being an economic tiger in south-east Asia due to allowing investors to pour into the country. But it was done by its leader with due discretion and astute planning with the whole exercise of foreign investment pursued with pin-drop monitoring. He did not throw the country to the winds, whims and fancies of the investors. There was a time-frames for each phase of the investments. Look at the stunning panorama when your flight descends over Singapore! This is modern Singapore that was on no par with Ceylon the British colony, handed over to its citizens in 1948. 

Elections at all levels must be redeemed of racial extremism and religious bigotry and they should decently be fought on practical issues affecting the people: national security, national economy, vocational training, education health and transport, preservation of fundamental human rights, the pledge of freedom of expression and speech, national reconciliation, foreign policy, international relations and minority rights,issues of production, policy on imports and exports as well as cost of living, employment and poverty alleviation. One need not bring in at all, the issue of religion into the battle of elections. As an ancient and Asian culture saturated historically with religiosity, with the motherland known globally as the seat of Theravāda Buddhism and an oasis of other major living world religions, we cannot cede to a full-blown secularism that will marginalize the religious sensibilities of the population or trivialize the moral and ethical values linked to a just way of ruling and governing. However, there seems to be the possibility of an ethical code commanding public activities such as government, judiciary, legislature, economics and politics that need not be dictated solely by religious teachings. Pure reason can establish the morality and ethics of public and civil activities: the so-called secular spheres. The social conscience will serve as the proper criterion of their moral righteousness or unacceptability.


At this juncture, Sri Lanka needs a national ethic that cuts across all borders which embraces national responsibility of those in the ranks of government as well as the people at large. In the past, religion, language, race, ethnicity and even caste preferences had saturated elections and political campaigns opening doors to cheap politics, extremist ideologies and national tensions robbing the noble profession of politics of its due credibility and honour.In other words, the politics that is being orchestrated in this country is far from being mature and enlightened as a result of which comes the long-standing destructive spillover of the people themselves being inundated in political immaturity and left for decades bereft of enlightened civic consciousness. The citizenry has become an easy ploy and prey in the hands of crafty politicians who astutely ply their despicable trade.

. The whole episode smacks of political trickery and plain hypocrisy ever cheating the people, keeping them indigent, debt-ridden to the newest born-baby and flying in the face of the majority rural poor of the country. It is plain and simple travesty of franchise and democracy.Politics and a party-system based on race, religion, language and ethnicity have wreaked havoc in the country. Everyone seems to fish in troubled waters while the country goes into doldrums of misery. It is high time that we promote instead, a national ethic of politics disciplined by the socio-economic demands of justice, righteous rule and clean public administration. People should never walk into the polls and vote as Sinhalese or Tamils, Buddhists, Christians or Muslim but as patriotic Sri Lankans genuinely desiring a prosperous motherland. We need genuine politicians who are noble statesmen as of yore, inflamed with concern and respect for the citizens. Though buffeted too often by many a comedy of political and economic errors,some bitter lessons can still be learnt even at this eleventh hour, by all concerned.

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Disclaimer: Sri Lanka: Can we have a National Ethic beyond Religious Morality? - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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