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Sunday, 27 March 2016

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From Easter eggs to Rasa Kevili

Today Christians of various denominations the world over, as well as many other people, celebrate the Easter festival. For the faithful, it is a day of pious reflection, prayer and celebratory worship. For others in society - especially a multi-cultural society as ours - it is a time for joining in with Christians in the joy of the celebration with many a social gathering and indulgence in special confectionery like Easter eggs.

By last week, the shops were filling up with various Easter goodies and festival mementoes. The availability to all, irrespective of religion, of these celebratory goods, is indeed, a wonderful facility for inter-faith understanding. In the consumerist market place the distinctions of religion are transcended with all people having the ability - depending on affordability, though - to at least observe and learn, if not enjoy, the religious and cultural styles and foods of each other's festivals.

Thus, even as non-Christians have the opportunity to enjoy Easter eggs, during festivals such as the Avurudu, all people have the opportunity to indulge in Rasa Kevili and at Milad-un-nabi, everyone can enjoy watalappan and biriyani at their best. The point is that we, Sri Lankans, are truly blessed by the multi-cultural nature of our society and the huge advantage to be gained by our sophistication in knowing and understanding the styles, customs and emotions of a range of communities.

Today, Belgium and the rest of Europe reel under the terror caused by the recent bombings in Brussels. One of the most salient aspects of the European reaction to the Brussels bombings is the growing introspection in that region today as to how well Europeans know and understand and integrate new communities who are beginning to settle in that continent, such as various Muslim communities.

The Western news media is full of such introspection about the cultural distancing between the indigenous (white) Europeans and those small communities of other peoples from outside Europe who have now migrated there. Tens of thousands more are continuing to flood in to that continent right now, thanks to the various wars ignited in West Asia in recent times.

In a sense, the upheavals of the world political system, together with severe socio-economic imbalances between nations and, the facility of global travel, have all contributed to a kind of reverse colonisation with Europe and North America and some other affluent regions being the destination of the new colonising migrations.

We, the different communities in Sri Lanka, have had the advantage of 'growing up' together over centuries. That even despite such centuries of co-existence we, Sri Lankans, were killing each other on the basis of ethnicity till just a few years ago, shows the importance of celebrating togetherness over and above apartness and difference. Indeed, the fact that, even after the Eelam war ended, new inter-religious enmities was instigated by new extremist groups, goes to show how fragile human relationships can be despite centuries of co-existence.

This truth of the multi-cultural advantage is a timely harbinger as we, in Sri Lanka, set about re-formulating our political community as a nation. The new State constitution that we have begun to formulate will define our nationhood anew. In this era of recovery from a destructive inter-ethnic war, social justice and inter-ethnic peace is, necessarily, a key goal of our constitution-making process.

As we observe the terror in Europe and, reflect on the continued war in the Persian Gulf region and West Asia as a whole, it is imperative that this moment of re-mapping our own nation is taken as a historic opportunity to fix things as much as possible so that our own previous mistakes are not repeated. The sheer ferocity of the guerrilla wars as well as the low-level inter-state warfare we see around us should spur us to strive for sanity, reason and sophisticated political creativity in the process of our new efforts at nation-building.

Let there be no slide back in to the obscurantism, prejudices, bigotry and mediocrity from which we recently emerged and are yet emerging. As we learn from our own bitter lessons, let us also observe the world around us and learn from the on-going conflicts, bigotry and irrationalities elsewhere.

What is needed is a high level of intellectual creativity, political courage and selflessness, and, innovation as we design not only our new State constitution but also our process of inter-ethnic reconciliation and post-war peace-making. The measure of our success is certainly not Geneva or any other foreign or external arbiter. It is our very civilisation that should, and does, measure our success. If not, then it is our civilisation that will be measured by our failure.

'Easter' as it is known in Western Christianity and Pasch in the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition (Sinhala Paasku), is the Sunday designated by the world's Christian community to celebrate the rising from death of Lord Jesus on the third day after his execution by crucifixion. The 'Resurrection' as it is theologically termed, symbolises the immense hope that is the bedrock of the Christian faith.

And in little Sri Lanka, at the Indian ocean crossroads between East and West, we are fortunate to know, thanks to our multi-religious society, that this 'hope' is shared by all. It is a hope in our very humanity as it is defined and guided by all the faiths and philosophies that inspire us.

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