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of Faith


The thin line dividing terrorism from respectability

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By Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Last week this column highlighted how high officials have played dirty games with marks at interviews. We usually pay these officials obeisance. This week saw student violence at SJP University. Being respectable folk, we shake our heads in disbelief . We dismiss the students as animals bent on wanton destruction. We cannot understand them.

What does a student who knows that these upper class games go on, do? Play these games hoping to be inducted into the system? Or blow it apart? To examine this dynamics of power, let me take you back 33 years to personal experiences and draw from the life of Charles Ratnamuktan Alban Hoole, or Muktan, who passed away last Sunday.

Standardisation had just begun. Mahnavar Peravai, the first violently bent Tamil mass movement was gathering momentum. The leaders were graduates Ariam Thomas and Sathiaseelan who came regularly to the universities to deliver radical lectures, and Sivakumaran. Psychopathic policemen were in Jaffna on punishment transfer as if with the order If you need to beat up people, go do it in Jaffna. Muktan, 2 others and I were waylaid in Nallur for no reason and mauled by some policemen led by an SI. Kicks below the belt left me badly hurt. We were asked to assault each other and were further assaulted for refusing. At my turn, I was reluctant but Muktan signalled that I punch him and I did so on his shoulder to avoid damage.

My father, a priest, lived by the law. We went to the Tamil SP who told us to take it to the OIC because "I would have to take action!" The Federal Party moved in and their lawyers initiated a private plaint for assault. At 18, my knees shook as the SI glowered at me in court. The case went well until the 1971 insurrection intervened and on each court date the lawyer came with the SPs certificate that he was on emergency duty. Our case flopped when we settled for an apology which my father felt we should not reject.

The law had failed us. I decided we had no hope in this country and must leave. But Muktan, being a cricketer and athlete, took an active direction. When a policeman who assaulted us came to Moratuwa on some investigation, he had him assaulted and bucketed. He joined the Peravai and used to go at dusk to Subramaniam Park for training (which at that time was mainly karate). Their idealism was fired by Israeli embassy literature on how a great nation can be built with little water. I was troubled but failed to betray him to my parents.

When N.M. Perera came to open the Insurance Corporation office across Christ Church Jaffna where my father was incumbent, police were sent ahead to secure the place by assaulting a few people and clearing the street.

Muktans operation was, armed with a sackful of stones from the side of the roof away from the street, to pelt the policemen. Not knowing from where the stones came, they became even more violent. The event was a disaster with only stooges present. Fortunately, my father saw Muktan and ordered him down. He was sent off to England with the help of our eldest brother, then working abroad.

In England, he had a religious experience that turned him around completely. He changed track to Theology, did a BA from Hull and an MA and Ph.D from MacMaster. With his marriage to Jacque, the daughter of Kenneth Guiver, OBE for leading The River Authority as it Chief Scientific Officer, his transformation from the Peravai to respectability was complete.

With his vision for transforming hearts and training minds for service, Muktan returned home. Almost single-handedly he established Baldaeus Theological College in Trincomalee (named after Phillipus Baldaeus, the first Protestant Missionary to Jaffna) and churned out responsible nation-building pastors. Baldaeus offers bilingual courses, has a not insignificant Sinhalese student section and is a role model for national universities for what good can be done with a few responsible teachers. Muktan and Baldaeus were a beacon to the nation.

In this light, what is the difference between Muktan and his many Tamil friends who took a different route? Between him and the students at SJP? It is a thin line. The difference I think, is the spiritual dimension. Unfortunately our youth are exposed to a warped spirituality that, instead of driving us towards inward reflection and service, is used to assert sectarian power.

If we can understand that, our attitude to terrorism and violence would be very different. Certainly we must never drive our youth without a sound value base to the point where they think that they cannot right the wrongs around us. For once they feel helpless, irrationality follows.

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