What's called for in the immediate term in the Dambulla mosque brouhaha is for the top level leadership of the government to issue a statement reassuring the Muslim community of the Dambulla sacred area environs that their constitutional right to practice the religion of their choice will not be traduced – and that efforts would be made to ensure that the controversial mosque would be retained in its original location, if it can be ascertained beyond reasonable doubt that this place of worship has been in existence in Dambulla for the last 50 years, or thereabout.Beyond that, an unequivocal condemnation is necessary, of the violent and unbecoming behaviour of a baying mob that entered the mosque, with or without the concurrence of the area leaders of the Buddhist clergy. The Buddhists of Dambulla, or at least those of them so-called who made their way rudely into the mosque and commandeered those premises, may or may not have a legitimate grievance, but their modus operandi is inexcusable irrespective of the nature of their loudly-hailed claims.
The entry into the mosque by a baying raucous crowd chanting what were said to be 'religious incantations' was a slur on the majority Buddhists in this country, who are tolerant, compassionate, and insofar as they are so disposed, follow the teachings of the Buddha scrupulously, in contrast to the tub-thumpers that entered the mosque as if by right.
We daresay that the strict application of the 'sacred area' concept is by itself flawed, and particularly in instances that places of religious worship have existed for decades, they must be allowed to remain where they are, irrespective of the declared nature of the scared enclave -- or religiously significant precincts. That a Catholic church exists cheek by jowl with the Dalada Maligawa, the sacred temple of the tooth does not stop that holy place being considered the most hallowed and venerated by those millions of devout Buddhists in this country, is an inspiring situation that speaks for itself.
That's Buddhist tolerance at its admirable best, and should be an object lesson to all those who seek to establish unrealistic religious enclaves in the mistaken notion that declared sacred areas are so sacrosanct that they cannot have any places of worship sacred to other religious within their demarcated spaces.
Sacred areas should not be contaminated by presence of booze taverns, vice dens and abattoirs for instance, but the sanctity of any declared sacred space is certainly not lost but enhanced on the contrary, by allowing places of any sort of religious worship that have long been in existence within their boundaries. This verity should be a simple rule of thumb position that is considered a given in any Buddhist sacred area -- a clear exhibition of the tolerant and compassionate tendencies of the Buddhists who were the first adherents of the moral philosophy of live and let live that is now being preached to us by some Western based NGO types as if the Buddhists in this ancient island are all alien to these 'new-fangled' concepts of co-existence.
A forcible or a clumsy and intrusive establishment of a mosque or any other place of religious worship in a Buddhist sacred area is another matter, as it would then be a deliberate attempt to alter the religious demographic of the sacred area, and its core character as a sacrosanct turf reserved for a particular religious persuasion.
But all available evidence in the case of the Dambulla mosque under contention indicates that this is an institution that has been in existence for years, as area government MP Janaka Bandara Tennakoon has vouchsafed for with admirable forthrightness and clarity.
Besides, there is evidence of the mosque's existence for decades in these precincts in the form of documents of archival significance, and other more mundane records such as utility bills including electricity bills, etc.
However, the government is correct in the position that all parties involved should be dispassionate and calm in the face of an issue that has explosive potential of stoking unwanted religious discord. It is absolutely correct that there ought to be restraint on all sides as the process of investigation goes on under the good offices of the prime minister to determine the exact circumstances in which the mosque came to be situated in the declared sacred territory of the Dambulla Vihara.
That notwithstanding, what is as important is to stress that special tolerance and fortitude is called for from the majority Buddhist community, which should make no repeat of the spectacle of mob rule that was evidenced when the mosque premises were encroached on, two weeks ago. What's called for on the other hand, is an apology concerning this act of obdurate intolerance. It behoves the government to take the lead in such an effort of fence-mending and bridge-building, considering the hurt feelings of at least some elements of the Muslim community, manifest in the form of protest and haratal campaigns in the Eastern Province, beginning from Kalmunai.
The government and the majority community of Sinhala Buddhists have to ask themselves seriously whether they want, at this stage, post-Geneva, when there is an unfair spotlight cast on this country's long-standing pluralistic and democratic bona fides, a wholly unnecessary situation of possible ethnic polarization between two of the most amicably pulling along ethnic groups in this island, the Muslims and the Sinhalese, that have co-existed splendidly in a spirit of comity and comradeship, literally for centuries?