We are all Parisians tonight…but..

We are all Parisians tonight…but..

What is it about Paris that is most alarming tonight? As we mourn the dead, pray for the families and express our solidarity with the sorrow of the world’s most loved city, there are similarities that should send a chill down our spine. What appears as a strong thread through Paris also has the potential to reach Berlin. Or London. Or just about anywhere else in the free world.

It is sad but time to realize that the politically correct bubble has burst long time ago – it burst when when some issues were deemed more fashionable than others and pushed to the front. In the same guile imagination that thinks a show that relies on sex and nudity to ‘express’ the lives of young women in a big city “Girls” to the one that still likes to nourish the notion that inter-faith as a platform truly works. Inter-faith dialogues don’t work with people who believe their way is the only way. It doesn’t help them change their view – instead, they will try all they can to push their viewpoint in.

The Judeo-Christian heritage of the West, the Biblical values that built America, the strong work ethic that made the West the world’s best, is slowly but surely eroding. Multi-culturism as a concept has failed and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that. There never has been a better time than now to enforce those ethics ad empower and engage the young to discover the values of that heritage so that at least, they can be spared the likes of ISIS.

There are certain principles we are expected to live by – not all bridges are meant to be crossed. Women must be empowered yes but not to take over the man’s world. The underprivileged, the under-represented and the under dog all have their day – but there will always be limits. No one promised us a perfect world of perfect justice. Some, such as the radical Islamists, will never see the viewpoint of the rest of the world. They will never be included – and the sooner we understand that, the earlier this menace will stop.

Calling a spade by a politically correct name will not take us anywhere. Yes it is the 21st century but the principles that have governed this universe haven’t changed in the name of progress. Too much of anything is not good for anyone.

As concerned as we should be for the Syrian refugees streaming into Europe, we should also be more vigilant. Although the pictures of a dead little boy lying on a beach tag at our heart strings, we must take decisions with our heads. The pictures of the streaming refugees mostly show restless young men with smartphones who don’t fit the bill for refugees fleeing a war – are they being planted in Europe as sleeper agents so that more bombs can go off? Where are the checks and the balances?

How many more bomb attacks must the world endure at the hands of the Jihadists before the lessons are learnt? As we pray for the families, the victims, the injured, we need to ask ourselves the question, have we learnt anything tonight?

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Ven. Sobitha Thero – the visionary who chose to stand in the gap…

Ven. Sobitha Thero – the visionary who chose to stand in the gap…

He didn’t belong only to the Buddhists but to all Sri Lankans…

For Christians, Old Testament history is full of those who chose to stand in the gap on behalf of their people and their nation – especially significantly during some of the darkest and the bleakest times. There were others ; Queen Esther was raised for ‘ a time such as this’ – (Esther 4 :14). But each of them was courageous, committed and chose to come forward at a time when others were too afraid, too timid or too indifferent to care.

When Sri Lanka’s time came to stand up and be counted, it fell upon a valiant Buddhist monk, Ven. Sobitha Thero, to do so. His calling was for a time such as this. Ven. Sobitha chose to stand in the gap, to make his voice heard on behalf of all Sri Lankans, against the powers of a dark and a vile dynasty of corruption and nepotism. He fired the first words and set about on getting civil society activated – and with it, awakened the nation into the possibility that there could be change – after all. He single handedly lit a flicker of hope in all of us that later became a light strong enough to cover the whole nation – whether we were Buddhists, Christians, Tamils, Moslems mattered not. What he inspired us to dream was that a concept of Good Governance was indeed a possibility for Sri Lanka. Good Governance may not have delivered on all fronts yet and there maybe issues as there always are – but what made the difference was that we defeated an impregnable monolith of a dictatorship because he dared to make it possible.

As social media posts reflect, all Sri Lankans – irrespective of religious and ethnic affiliations, chose to mourn this giant of a human being. He didn’t belong only to the Buddhists – he belonged to all Sri Lankans.

I still remember the day, under the Rajapakse regime, when they tried to gag Ven. Sobitha – this was fresh on the heels of his coming out strongly with the good governance movement. I remember seeing intimidating vehicles and troops outside the Naga Vihara Temple in our neighbourhood, one night. My husband Asoka and I wondered out loud – if the shove came to a push and the state chose to surround the temple and force the courageous monk inside to keep his mouth shut, would we the people, show our strength and challenge them?

That was not to be. Social media carried posts of the brave Buddhist priest being threatened by the then regime but nothing could – nothing would hold him back. He gave his all to bring the historic regime change in the country. He showed that it could be done. It was our Nelson Mandela moment – our Martin Luther King moment. It was his moment to step into the gap. He rose gallantly above all religious leaders of the country – and stood tall over the shifting of a nation’s perception that a perverted state could not be overcome. If anyone, history would credit him with that.

I remember the time when our shepherd, the Bishop of Colombo Dhilo Canagasabey called for the Christian community to take part in a Day of Lament to protest the impeachment of the Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake back in 2013. We made the effort but the baton had to be carried further than that – into the hearts and minds of people everywhere in Sri Lanka and it had to fall upon a leader of courage who were up for the challenge.

That leader stepped forward to be in a class of his own – in 2014. He sounded the clarion call. He stepped into the gap when the very words, good governance, sounded hollow enough to dampen the spirit of a nation subdued and crushed beyond repair.

True to his calling, Ven. Sobitha wasn’t happy with the results of the Good Governance in governing – he believed as many did, that more had to be done. And that is true. Yet, the significant step was that we had passed on from darkness to light, under his watch.

We owe him, as a nation, to ensure that the change he believed in was possible for Sri Lanka, will come. And that it will show our children the way forward.

May he attain Nibbana – I’m sure thousands of fellow Christians and those of other faiths join me in the sincerity of their hearts in wishing him farewell.

Mozart’s sister was equally talented and the point is…

Mozart’s sister was equally talented and the point is…

Apparently, Mozart’s sister was as talented as the gifted composer. And it seems she had to give up music in order to find a husband and settle down. Now to the naked eye, there’s nothing wrong with this – it was the expected thing to do at the time. A woman back then had to find a husband at a certain age in order to survive. Not that things are much different today although we would have to hold our tongues to be politically correct. Any woman in her late thirties and unmarried, can hear her biological clock ticking loud and clear. But that’s not the topic today.

Mozart’s sister’s legacy is being revived, some say, to fulfill the feminist agenda. Among other things they want you to consider – letting women fight on front lines and screaming injustice every time a man mouthes what is deemed to be a sexist joke. Now, for every politically correct gender agenda, there are perfectly justifiable battles women are fighting elsewhere in the world – Saudi women cannot drive or cannot complain against their husbands. Women in India are fighting rape and male attitudes against women. Elsewhere in Africa, women are fighting to avoid genital mutilation. Every battle a valid one.

Which is why we must be careful not to trivialize the victories we have had, the victories that must be won. Equality is not about matching the men physically and challenging them to dare to go to war with women as comrades but about being confident in who we are, no matter what roles we may be called upon in life to play.

It does trivialize the importance of gender issues when we choose to cry mayhem over every time some man in his seventies or sixties, belonging to a generation when sexist jokes were pretty much ok, make one. It does bring down our rallying call for justice a peg or two when we raise the battle cry over women who had no other choice but to live as per the norms of her day. It is not about the sisterhood – it is about gaining enough respect and recognition to warrant a push for greater, much needed change. Change that will be taken seriously because it is needed for the millions of women placed in much less fortunate circumstances. Women who are fighting battles everyday to keep their families together, their children fed and themselves safe.

Even in the developed world, women face many discrimination issues – over pay, career prospects and opportunities. The glass ceiling is very much there even though we may not always see it.

So the next time media runs a story that probably will be the next great feminist story, we need to be able to assure ourselves that sisterhood is not about being politically correct in a world clearly gone mad, beyond all borders with the PC agenda.

It is about being able to draw attention to the issues of discrimination against women all over the world. It is being able to identify the real issues from the noise. And be able to stand up and be counted for it.

Cherish the moment…

Cherish the moment…

So many tragedies, so many tears – from the shooting in Oregon to the flooding in South Carolina grabbing headlines the same week…ISIS is still wreaking havoc in the Middle East and at home, we still haven’t established who killed little Seya..it’s a dark world and it is easy to drown in all in sorrow, in one big heap..

But we are a people of hope…I speak as a Christian who believe that my Redeemer lives..I also speak as a mother and a wife and I believe that we must be able to cultivate our moments that empower us to overcome the sadness, the bitter world around us. It is so easy to go along with the flow and feel the negative vibes but we must swim upstream.

Many of us get through the day absorbed in what we do – often, our work. We connect to the world on our computers and smart phones and it becomes so easy to be wrapped up in our own little worlds. Can we step aside and connect with those around us? Can we spend a moment to cherish with our children, aging parents, a lonely co-worker, a neighbour who recently lost a loved one? Could we reach out to other people and maybe take some of the loneliness, the anger, the frustrations away?

It is the moments spent in the company of others that enrich our souls – that make us who we are.Too many of us hide behind our phones or our lap tops as we connect and entertain ourselves ; it is important to switch off the devices and switch on what makes us who we are – the human connections that enrich us.

Dinner table conversation is a good place to start. Teach the children to connect to one another – they are increasingly connected to devices too and sometimes, we are guilty of using the very devices as babysitters. Two year olds are entertained by iPads and by five, they don’t need company, they’ve got it all together, entertaining themselves.

Cherish the moment. Get off the computer and take your daughter or son to a walk in the park. Let not the darkness around us get in. We can light a candle in our own lives – it can and must come from us.

Just last week, we visited some of my husband’s relatives in the country – the beautiful surroundings of Dodanduwa, Hikkaduwa. The old house had been beautifully restored and the sprawling garden and a cool well was a treat to behold. Just sitting in the old verandah, doing nothing but listening to the sounds of nature, laughing and catching up with a few, many such a difference in our lives that day. It gave me a memory to cherish. I can still close my eyes and see in my mind’s eyes the fireflies gathering as the night fell, the sunset slowly coming over the greenery of many hues.

Let us not let a troubled world trouble us too. We can and must take refuge in what we do everyday -find the time to cherish moments spentwith each other.

Casting the first stone…

Casting the first stone…

In the aftermath of one of the most despicable crimes against humanity committed against little Seya, we have entered the next phase and justifiably so. We must find the perpetrator and if possible, hang him. Some want to give him over to a mob while others want ISIS style execution. Given the heinous  nature of the crime, by all means yes. But if only we have the right man.

It was more a case of venting out our outrage, our righteous anger that burns against a man whose deprived mind was capable of doing things that a normal human being would not even consider.  And rightly so too ; every mother, every father, every one else wanted a part of seeking justice for Seya.

Unfortunately, the law enforcement officers still haven’t been able to find the man. The father was first considered a suspect and then the grandfather was a likely candidate too. As social media forums flowed with hate, the focus then shifted to a 17 year old who was said to be in possession of porn on his computer. But, as I write this, no proper culprit is found. Yet, in our pursuit for justice we as a nation have already judged and passed sentence on people who have not had anything to do with the crime.

As absurd as it may sound to some, one wrong doesn’t make another right. Every man present that night in Seya’s neighbourhood is not, must not be a suspect. The job of the law enforcement is to seek out the real killer ; speculation can only ruin life for by standers such as the girl’s father, grandfather or the 17 year old boy whose future, by now, probably looks quite bleak just by the virtue of his arrest on suspicion.

Hunting killers is a painstaking business – some police officers have taken years to follow in the trail of perpetrators before pouncing on them. Nazis who killed women, men and children in cold blood are still being hunted down and persecuted despite the fact that many of them are now in their nineties.

Sometimes, striving for swift justice to ease our own pain is not enough. Neither is assuring ourselves that someone, anyone must be caught and brought before justice. We must be able to wait upon justice, seeking the actual killer and not someone who may have done it or who could have done it. It will then become a mere courtroom drama and lose steam down the line, causing many to lose faith in a system of justice we want to believe still works, despite all the flaws.

Seya and the many other little girls and boys being abused, groped and violated, want us to deliver the kind of justice that doesn’t make sensational news on media just so that we can rejoice for the wrong reasons. They, I’m sure, if they could speak, would want us to act with wisdom , they would want us to outsmart the killer and the Paedophile and call their bluff.

They would want us to develop a system that would not just bring one killer to book but also plug the holes where more would-be perpetrators can score. They would want us to come together as a society to build a safe environment for children as much as we can. They would ask us what lessons we learnt from their stories so that other children can be spared the misery.

We owe them that much. Not just to cry out for anyone’s blood but to make sure, with our heads as well with our hearts, to ensure that we can find the killer using right evidence and not heresy.  That we are capable of rising above emotion and deal with it as a responsible, civilized society that can unlearn wrong perceptions and learn the lessons the little angels are teaching from up there.

In the meantime, let’s do what we can do – become better , more vigilant mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters so that in our own way, we can prevent another child from being abused.

We owe it to us and our children- and to Seya.

“I remember distinctly meeting this little girl who was very young, probably about seven or eight, and she was rocking backwards and forwards staring at the wall, and tears streaming down her face because she had been brutally raped multiple times, you couldn’t talk to her, you couldn’t touch her. I felt absolutely helpless, I didn’t know what to do for her.”-
Those stark words were spoken by the Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie,appearing before the British parliament on the horrendous use of rape by ISIS in conflict as a weapon. I have heard of the atrocities and seen the pictures but Jolie’s words sank in deep – I had just sent off my eight year old little girl to school. I couldn’t even bring myself to read the words in total – how low could a human being sink in order to desire the rape of a child..while it is unthinkable to many of us, to the ISIS, it is merely one of the tactics they use to shock the world and pursue their agenda.

Robbing a child of his or her childhood by whatever means, in my book, amounts to a crime as worse as taking a life. The little girl Jolie saw, violated in mind and body, rocking back and forth, staring at a wall, tears streaming down her face has suffered more trauma than we can possibly imagine. For some of them, the worse memories are watching their friends and sisters bargained over and sold as sex slaves.

These children would never know the blissful childhood routines most children take for granted. Traumatized and disoriented for the rest of their lives, they will not be able to experience life in totality. As much as they need help in relocating and rebuilding, the psychological damage unleashed on them would require professional support and guidance.

As at April this year, TIME reported that over 3,000 girls, mostly from Christian minority and Yezidi community, were being held as sex slaves , a practice defended by the ISIS despite worldwide condemnation. A girl who escaped told of the brutality of rape, with girls as young as 8 being raped repeatedly by ISIS gangs who would not hesitate to hit them violently. Many girls die and others survive scarred for life. Where their destiny lies, no one can tell.

In the meantime, are we doing enough to at least shock the world into realising that these are someone’s daughters and sisters that are being violated without any regard for them? Are we doing enough in spreading the word? Can condemnation of the manner in which ISIS is using their faith to justify the horrendous sexual violence come from within the Moslem community?

We live in a world no longer shocked by what it hears and sees – we have become numb to pain and suffering of others. As these girls continue to suffer more psychological damage than even physical, can we do our little bit and share the word? Can we in our own little ways replicate what Angelina Jolie is doing.

Let’s join hands on social media – let’s create awareness of the fate of girls just like our daughters, girls who should be smiling and laughing, going to school and singing the Frozen theme song.

“Societies have a peculiar way of relating, or more accurately non-relating, to rape maybe because it is so vicious, they choose to live in denial about it.”

Aysha Taryam

RIP little one – may yours be the last such death that will haunt our world.

RIP little one – may yours be the last such death that will haunt our world.

The picture of the little Kurdish boy’s lifeless body, washed up on the beach in Turkey, should have been enough to register the hopelessness, the futility of the migrant crisis going on as I write this, in Europe. It was a symbol in many ways – the parent in us mourned the boy’s sad fate and hearts were touched. He was too young to be thus swept away in a torrent of tragedy. Yet, powerful as his picture is, the tragedy underlying the refugee influx is neither fully grasped nor serious enough to warrant the attention of a world occupied with everything trending on line.

His little feet would have lost their grip on a boat jammed with people – he and his brother were not wearing life vests. They didn’t have a chance of surviving out at sea ; they escaped from a nightmare on land only to be swallowed up by the waters. As tragic as it is, how can we try to make sense of it all?

Thousands of migrants are jamming the entry points into Europe ; the despair written on their faces may not tell the whole story. As much as the world wants to identify with it, as much as the world is dismayed by it, there are other things to consider, saner counsel that must prevail. As the ISIS seeks to throttle any civilization left in the ancient heartlands of the Middle East, how is the world reacting? When you want to stop the flow of water, you plug the leak. Then only will you choose to deal with the overflow. Are we plugging the leak that has led to millions of people leaving Syria on a treacherous journey in search of a better life? Is the world doing enough to make sure those people can be kept in their own shores and taken care of?

There are more questions here than answers. Is the desperation written on their faces one that stems from losing their homes or from wanting to simply migrate to a better life? How would we know and how can we identify the true and genuine asylum seeker from the economic migrants? How would we know who is an ISIS sympathizer and who isn’t, in that maddening influx of young men, boys and adolescents cramming railways and walking on rail tracks in countries choked up with a refugee influx, from Greece to Hungary?

We in Sri Lanka have dealt with such issues before – you might say we have hindsight into such problems. When civil war broke out in Sri Lanka with the terror group that held the record of being the world’s deadliest before ISIS came along, the LTTE which perfected the art of suicide bombings , there were asylum seekers from war torn areas who went in search of a better life to Europe, the US and Australia ; as time went by, during the thirty years the war lasted, the refugees gradually became economic ones although their stories may have been believable in many ways. Then the war ended in 2009 and the world woke up to the reality that they could indeed go home. A few in reality, did.

The human smuggling rings are smarter than the world’s law enforcement authorities, a fact that many are not able to grasp. Until a year ago, the well organized gangs kept a lucrative business of smuggling people to Australia from the shores of Sri Lanka. The Australian Government was swift in dealing with this outflow ; today, a few would dare to try the boat journey through the dark seas into Australian waters.

Until and unless the world and its police forces choose to deal with the satanic rings of human smugglers, whose profits lie in exploiting other people’s misery, we would continue to see the horrors of children dying and families daring to cross through some of the world’s dangerous routes.

As sad as it all seems, as hopeless as it all seems, it can and must be dealt with. Not because we feel guilty about our safety nets that are not available to those unfortunate families but because we need to stand up to the evil of humans being treated and transported like goods. All in the name of better lives.

I am choosing not to feel guilty although the picture of that child moves me to tears – I am choosing to argue that the world and the powers of US, Europe, Middle East, Asia and the UN must step in to deal with the well organized criminals.

Until then, RIP little one. Just being shocked and saddened at your death nor sharing your picture on social media, will help you and others like you. We as the world must take action.

May yours be the last such death that will haunt our world.