Friday, February 12, 2010

Future in Paradise - A Rant and A Rave!


Those of us fortunate enough to live in the beautiful island paradise of Sri Lanka are living in interesting times!

With apologies to Charles Dickens (for mangling his famous paragraph in the classic, A Tale of Two Cities), the following can be said about this period in Sri Lanka:

"It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the age of wisdom, it is the age of foolishness, is is the epoch of belief, it is the epoch of incredulity, it is the season of light, it is the season of darkness, it is the spring of hope, it is the winter of despair, we have everything before us, we are all going direct to heaven, we are all going direct the other way..."

Yes, we who are so blessed to live in paradise are currently experiencing a strange kind of bliss - the bliss of moving from a state of dodging mud being flung around in the name of "unbelievable change" and a "suba anagathayak" (loosely translated as "super future"), to a state of daily "unbelievable excitement" coupled with "super disbelief"!!!

On one end, we have a human being and current president who is being caricatured as a Raja (king) and on the other end of the current political spectrum, we have another human being and war hero who is being caricatured as a potential (unsuccessful) savior.

So what - you may ask?

Well, everyone seems to have forgotten that they are both mere mortals susceptible to all the foibles that mere mortals tend to display. When they do something good, they are praised to high heaven. When they do something stupid, they are hellishly ridiculed. To top it all, their so-called loyalists strut around assuming that they can brand other citizens of Sri Lanka as patriots or racists or whatever, much akin to the tendencies that junior George Bush and his loyalists displayed in categorizing other countries as rogue nations.

All this prolific labeling is entirely based on mere perceptions - a sad situation - especially in a country purported to be the cradle of Buddhism. Similar to pretty much all other religions, Buddhism profoundly extols upon us to remember that what we see, hear etc., is not reality. No indeed, reality is deep within, and all these religions urge us to first look within ourselves and find ourselves before evaluating (and trying to brand & label) others...

Politicians - hark! Or maybe, we should say 'hark back'.

Example: Whenever any non-Sri Lankan says something that could be perceived to be prejudicial or accusatory, instead of evaluating what is said with an open mind, most of our leaders are very quick to label them as international conspirators.

What is going on? Have we completely lost our ability to judge right from wrong? What has happened to our Sri Lankan values and principles? Where is our integrity?

Therefore: What if some other country or some non-Sri Lankan says we are violating human rights?

Shouldn't our reaction be to honestly assess whether we have indeed committed violations instead of getting all hot under the collar, turning defensive and then accusing that particular country of committing worse violations thereby devaluing their right to remind us of our human rights!

What really matters? Isn't it in truly looking within and trying to find out if something went wrong - regardless of whatever actions that may have precipitated our so-called errors? Yes, Sri Lankans suffered immensely due to terrorism. But does that give us a special badge of righteousness to inflict pain on others or react with rudeness - however misguided they may have been? Sometimes, in the height of war, crimes are committed. Should we not accept this and vow to correct ourselves instead of flailing out wildly at anyone or any country that happens to allude to this possibility?

Will I be branded as a traitor for just documenting these thoughts that run through my mind? Will you have thoughts similar to, "what does she know?" or "she is out of touch with real Sri Lanka" or "she is a 'Colombian' (a local euphemism for people who live in the capital city of Colombo and its suburbs)" or "she has not suffered in a terrorist bomb" or "she did not fight in the war" as you read through this? Thus, are you consciously or unconsciously invalidating my viewpoint without actually considering it carefully? Thereby, are you judging the messenger instead of the message?

Maybe or maybe not...Your personal answer and its implication is actually the entire point!

Back to a Dickension quote as further food for thought:

"Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind."

Is this the situation in Sri Lanka with a vociferous and powerful few (both in the government and in the opposition) completely drowning out the beautiful reasonableness that permeates the souls of most Sri Lankans?

Yet there is hope, because Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka have proven to be so charmingly resilient and determined against all odds. I would like to imagine as follows - once again in the words of Dickens:

"I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out."

So, there is hope! I hope!

16 comments:

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Nabeel Yoosuf said...

Well said..it is sad to see that if you criticize or are open minded about the current ruling, they think you are a conspirator..and if you speak for the people in the north and east, they think you are traitor.

Prasad said...

Shahani, this is an absolutely brilliant piece! Well, I know the readers should be reflecting not on the brilliance of your writing, but on the quite disappointing state of affairs in our country that you are referring to. I haven’t really read anything from you of this nature before (if you have written any), so the first thing that struck me is “wow. She can write!”

I have been vocal in FB myself regarding the same issue and was wondering if I am going too far. However, your blog is an encouragement to me and others who are vocal. Majority of the population is unfortunately polarized in two opposite directions and/or buried too deep in the mess to see things in perspective. I think it is the duty of those who are not polarized themselves to try and put things in perspective.

I am sick of state sponsored constant brainwashing of the nation, and opposition’s twisting of facts for political gain. Both groups of course are doing both these things, but in my opinion ruling alliance has upper hand in brainwashing department. One group is trying hard to keep people ignorant, brainwashed and polarized where the other group is trying every trick in their bag to undermine the stability for short term political gains.

Most disappointing phenomena for me is the fact that not many people want to distance themselves from this ugly political drama. They have chosen their favorites and want to cheer their camp even when they violate basic ethics and fundamental tenants of good human conduct.

You are ending your post in a positive note! I do hope your sentiments at end hold true. However, we may need some action as well as the positive thoughts to make it correct.

IMO we need an education system that preaches the importance of keeping an open mind. We should at least see some improvement a few generation later?

SAD® said...

Very thought provoking and well written blog post. Well done.

You see some hope, there is always hope I suppose. Hope is what keeps all of us going. However, I have been hopeful since my childhood. But the question is how long can we live with just that - hope. Isn't it time that hope turns into realization.

I have seen/perceived/assumed that we as a nation has grown and matured, but to see all of a sudden that we become worse than we were. To give a case in point, I thought that the era of election violence, the attacking of your opponents after the results was long gone after seeing the past few elections run virtually violence free, relatively. But lo and behold it came all tumbling down this time. Is everything cyclic in our country - I don't know.

Regarding the human rights aspect, didn't we just pass a similar cycle post '89 - '90 era, where the current Prez was the torch bearer for HR.

So have we as a nation become better? Yes, we have ended the conflict and we are basking in the glory of that. But have we become better citizens, have we matured as a nation - I really don't know

If we become better to then go back into the lowest ebb at the drop of a hat, we haven't matured at all.

We all need to think and act like one nation. As you correctly say to look into our conscience and correct our mistakes - rather than trying to bury our heads in the sand and ignore everyone else. To respect opposing views and tolerate diversity, not brand them as traitors.

I am sorry if I sound pessimistic here. Maybe the events during the past few months has put me down. There have been times I have been ashamed to be Sri Lankan. There have been many instances of despair.

But we live in a great country. We have great potential. Only that we seem not to realize what we have, the country, the people, the land, the water. Only that it seems like we all a programmed to self destruct while destroying everyone and everything around us.

Is it too much to wish for a good thing to last for more than a mere instant. I hope not.

Prasad said...

SAD(R)'s earlier post brings up a few important points and I though of expanding on some of that.

The recently military victory over brutal terrorism is a very important landmark for us. However, as expected, not so surprisingly; the victory was over-politicalized. We as nation chose to “bask in the glory” and refused to reflect on ourselves and understand the causes that lead to the LTTE. We are not doing much to improve the system so that such a disaster will never befall upon us again.

As Shahani very correctly pointed out all those politicians are human beings with inherent flaws (we all are). Any single one of us is not capable of understanding and addressing all of the problems we have. Good leaders should be not doers but facilitators. The system should be resilient enough for leaders with personal flaws (we will never find ones without) to lead. Unfortunately there is very little dialog in SL wrt improving the “System”. The political discourse should encourage poking at the “system” and not at the flaws of “individuals’. We spent so much of time and energy on finding faults with individuals.

Culturally, we have tremendous bias (almost genetic) to think that “System” is perfect and all we need is to “preserve” and not “improve”. We think we just need to choose correct “Personalities” to run the system. Any issues we face are viewed as faults of people, rather than the system. In my opinion what important for us as a nation is to understand that we need to keep improving the system.

Unfortunately the politicalized media is harping on “former glory” and insists on “going back in time” rather than moving forward. This is a disastrous mindset we are creating for ourselves.

The starting point of the new wisdom should be the realization we are not governed by a monarch anymore. We should stop living in the past and look forward for positive changes fitting to the new governance model of parliamentary democracy. Even after living more than half a century in a parliamentary democracy with universal suffrage, most of our self-proclaimed moral leaders and self-styled guardians of the heritage seem to think that we are still ruled by a king and are fond of dolling out governance advices fitting only to a medieval kingdom. One of the key issues that I see in Sri Lankan institutions (religious and educational) is that the traditions around those institutions are still aligned with a non-existent feudal system or colonial rule. The head of state is still assumed to be a “King” by the people (especially clergy) who were trained within these institutions. The advices of the clergy to the lay followers are mostly based on a 13th centenary value system designed to keep the peasantry in their place. We often hear clergy and other conservative scholars bringing examples from the time of ancient kings to draw parallels between contemporary situations. Their basic assumption is that something ‘good’ from that era is unquestionably good and fitting in current times as well. This is very wrong! The value systems changed drastically. The value system the majority of Sri Lankans subscribe today is very different from value systems prevailed at the times of Devanampiyatissa or Dutugemunu or Prarakramabahu.

I have my own “brain-dump” in this http://worldview.icloneable.com/ link where I speak about just one aspect (out of many) that I think need improvement – the relationshiop between religion and governance. This may not be the most pressing problem we need to solve first, but this is the one that I care about most (based on my personal taste)

Nuanho said...

Hi Shahani, thanks for the post.

Please do check out the following website:

http://www.bswa.org

I saw your profile and thought it might interest you. Take care.

Jaliya Ekanayake said...

Well said Shahani!. I totally agree about the criticism on politics. But i have to mention that the in my view we are taking a right stand with respect to the human rights issue.

The question is:
What are we going to achieve by finding what happened to a bunch of terrorist? Everybody saw how many civilians were rescued by the army and how they are treated.

Second thing I would like to mention is that "what this ex- general achieve by telling BBC I will testify in international courts?" Is this what our country needs right now?

What we really need is some break for the current government to work and a genuine strong opposition to control it.

Prasad said...

Jaliya Ekanayake's previous post prompted me to copy paste on of my rants from another forum. Please note that this is a copy paste and I did not change the wording to suit this discussion thread.

I am not at all an expert this matter, and feel free to either ignore or correct me if following sounds like musing of an ignorant bystander.

[copy paste]
First of all, let me start by declaring that I am personally against the antics of the opposition that harp on a war crimes probe for political gains… but, I do believe government is responding incorrectly for war crime charges.

It is true that war crime investigation it may not be the thing SL wants right now. It may even be detrimental to country’s immediate plan forward. It is unfortunate that this is surfacing now. However, Sri Lanka should respond maturely to such charges and corporate with international community for the longer term wellbeing of the country. If you are one of those people who would say *f…k the international community* at the mere mentioning of the term “international community” then of course I would not argue further. Such sentiments are good for winning the votes of the people polarized against international community, and you would make a good local politician. However, such sentiments are dangerous at the diplomatic level, as it undermines country’s longer term wellbeing.

The “international community” is nothing but the people who share the world with us. Try reducing this big picture to smaller version of our neighborhood. If you belong to a poor family living in a neighborhood with one or two rich households, and if you see that those rich families do violations of the law, and get away with it using their influential friends, you are bound to feel little bitter about your circumstances. Let’s say your brother had to kill armed robber who broke in to your house in self-defense. To you, your brother is a hero who risked his life to protect your family. However, law does not know that yet, even some of neighborhood families would not know the reality. If your family always have had bitter quarrels among family members, the situation is not good. You are not being looked upon as a peaceful family. If your grandpa had a history of drunkenness, and if he had committed a murder under intoxication two generations before, the situation is much worse. Your grandpa may be long gone, but the stigma of such a murder will be there with your family for some time. If you are the younger son of your family who has a good reputation with the neighborhood, how would you handle this scenario? Would you start campaigning against legal system and the police and refuse to corporate with any investigation of the matter? The rich families may have bigots and hypocrites in them, the police could be corrupted, legal system may be little skewed… However, would your now become and anarchist or would you corporate? The anarchism might not lead your family or the neighborhood to a better life. The corporation might help to improve the corrupted police, the legal system and the whole neighborhood eventually. And just like your grandpa’s stigma should not be used to judge your family forever, the bigots and hypocrites in rich families should be used to judge them forever as well. Things change…. “change is the nature”

I know that there can be many arguments against this simplistic reduction of the affairs of the world to affairs of our neighborhood. I am not too convinced either if we can maintain such simplistic worldview. However, until proven otherwise, this is the view I like to go by.

Jaliya Ekanayake said...

@Prasad:

I like your demonstrative example. It is very good. But two things to mention.

[ law does not know that yet, even some of neighborhood families would not know the reality ]

Do you think India does not know what happened? What about US do you really believe that they don't know :)

[the police could be corrupted, legal system may be little skewed…]
How corrupted and skewed? Have any idea? The world is more screwed than you think.

And finally, when the government say "may be" to war crimes that is when we are really screwed.

Prasad said...

@Jaliya Ekanayake: I understand your thinking and agreeable to your comments in principle. At some level we will have disagree on certain details as these matters are too complex to have a 100% common view.

Certain details of my example should not be taken literally though. Just like we are not discussing a murdering of a robber, but a war scenario, most of the allusions are figurative.

How screwed up the world politics depends heavily on our worldviews. I give less weight to screw-ups by individuals (e.g. Bush, Blair, Saddam) and more weight on screw-ups in systems (e.g. governance models, socio-economic conditions). The screw ups by individuals can be relatively easily corrected by replacing them with better people. The screwed up systems are harder to correct.

BTW if we have actually committed war crimes, I am pretty sure they are not at th scale committed in Chechnya (or even in Iraq for that matter). That however is not an informed statement, but what I “feel”. I personally believe that an investigation in to war crimes will not put Sri Lanka (as a country) in jeopardy. I believe Sri Lanka will be at bigger disadvantage by outright refusal of any investigation. That usually is a sign of a guilty party, and it will be aptly interpreted as such by the foreign media.

I however understand that an investigation could screw up certain individuals and groups. As citizens of Sri Lanka, should we support long term wellbeing of the nation? Or should we support individual and groups that we feel strongly about due to great service they did for the country? I know it is not an easy decision. It’s just like the dilemma in the scenario where your brother killing an unarmed petty thief in anger, after the thief was immobilized. Are you going to support due legal procedure take place, or would you try your best to protect your beloved brother…… (again example are figurative)

Kilgore Trout said...

good writeup ... you certainly tread lightly on the mere mortals.

Obviously, hope is sometimes a dangerous pursuit.

All the same, it seems that out in the wild West, the US Constitution somewhat forget to make language and religion a constitutional right. It was left to the states to adopt such things. wow, what a concept. Thus, in concept the US could end up speaking XML and worshipping UTMs.

Either way, by definition, nation-states are built with a common bond such as langugage, religion and whatnot. It seems the minute such bonds are adopted via a constitution all hell breaks loose. Bonds are usually adopted by tradition and nothing else.

My question then is, what common bond is there in this place you call paradise?

Jaliya Ekanayake said...

@Prasad:

I did not take your examples literally. Just trying to relate things with your example.

We have a conclusion in your last paragraph and here is what I would do.

"I will find the highest influential person to give that phone call so that the "screwed" police cannot take my brother."

It is always easy to suggest things in "Sirimath" way (remember the old story we read) but i really like to see what i will do if i am in the government's position.

Disclaimer: I am agreeing with the government only about the "war/war-crime" issues and nothing else.

Nice discussion. I think we should not hijack Shahani's nice post anymore for this :)

Shahani Markus Weerawarana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shahani Markus Weerawarana said...

Oops - I inadvertently deleted my own comment! Well here it is again...

It is wonderful to see such thought provoking comments emanating from this blog. Thank you to all for creating such an interesting dialogue!

The following is a response to the question raised by Jaliya with respect to the war crimes issue.

Note that I did not say we should or should not have a war crimes investigation! What I said was we should stop reacting in a defensive manner in the interest of learning from past potential errors in our journey forward towards a better tomorrow.

So how can we respond?

Maybe we could say - "yes, there may have been errors committed. We don't know, but it is quite possible, considering the recent history of civilian casualties and deaths in the anti-terrorism wars led by Western coalitions. Just as those coalition troops and their governments have expressed their sincere regrets in the unintentional deaths and casualties amongst civilians, if such events occurred in our anti-terrorist war, then we sincerely regret them as well - primarily because we care about deeply about our fellow Sri Lankans who were caught in a terrible situation.

But please, let us first focus on rebuilding our nation, particularly helping the people and communities that were severely affected in this 30-year tragedy. We welcome your assistance to do so.

Also, please understand that our overall goal is in healing divided hearts. Please help us to strengthen our human rights frameworks so that every person in this country will hereon feel confident that they will be first and foremost regarded as treasured human beings and the events of our tragic past will not have any opportunity of being repeated."

Maybe a reasonable and understanding response of that nature, which acknowledges the other party's concerns and highlights our immediate needs and priorities may be more appropriate than the rhetoric that both the government and the opposition have been engaged in thus far with respect to the war crimes issue.

Above all we need to respond so that our relationships in the global community are strengthened instead of weakened, whilst working towards this country's immediate priority - which is conscientious nation re-building with proper values and principles and a focus on community/social understanding!

Jaliya Ekanayake said...

Shahani:

I am sorry if i have misunderstood your writeup.I fully agree with you regarding the way we should respond. We should have done it just after finishing the war.

However, we need to think really careful on the following two things.

1. They blaming us for claiming 40K civilian casualties.

2. Some soldiers even sacrificed their lives trying to save children came as suicide bombers.

So by making a statement we should not help these "peace lovers" to blame us on the issue no 1 and also not insult those who sacrificed their lives for us.

Prasad said...

I wasn’t planning to post again, when Jaliya correctly said that we are seemingly hijacking Shahani’s post for our own discussion. However, since Shahani seems to be ok with it and since Jaliya himself posted again, let me post one more and sign off.

@Jaliya: My views in this matter could be way off mainstream. I was actually not expressing my full views either, which I believe would have been met with ridicule if not scorn. Jaliya alluded that my thinking to “Sirimath” (apologies for those who don’t know “Sirimath”. He is a character from a Sinhala children’s story that always does the most righteous and most polite thing), which is actually a partial compliment. I want to point out that my views simply follow a different worldview, and they may not be so “Sirimath-like”

My allegiances are with the Sri Lankan ‘state’ and not the ‘regime’. It is unfortunate that a lot of media centric brainwashing is going on that blurs the boundaries between state and current regime. I am indifferent towards current regime. There are a lot of convincing arguments that indicate the continuation of current regime is the best option for the Sri Lanka. It may well be true. Yet, I do not like to forget the fact that what is good for the current regime may not necessarily be good for the state. Making that metaphorical “phone call to the most influential family that we can reach in the neighborhood” is no doubt beneficial for the current regime, but is that the best option for the state? Answer could be either yes or no. I have no clue. Yet there is a valid question.

Moreover, my boundaries of concern simply do not stop at the territorial boundaries of Sri Lanka. I am a citizen of Sri Lanka, and I do not have any other place in the world that I can claim the same rights. Yet, I am concerned about the world as a whole. My children and their children (I am not concerned only about my lineage, this is just a figure of speech) might live in a world where people freely cross territorial boundaries and seek education, livelihood, lifestyle choices. (Yes, people do even today). In such a world, can we only limit our thinking to the short term gains within territorial boundaries of SL, in purely a selfish point of view? Again the answer could be yes or no, but the question is valid.

Similar to family living in a diverse neighborhood, as a country, we cannot forget about long term relationships with international community. We are far from a self-sufficient and self-contained nation that can say *f..k the community* and get away with it. Also making that phone call to the gangster family to stop the police from coming in could be a good tactical move, but we have to live with the long term consequences. Now, I know these topics need lot more discussion and we will really be hijacking Shahani’s post if we go on, and I have not intention to. Also I am not sure if my point of view is correct or not. I just wanted to clarify where I am coming from.

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