Izeth Hussain, courtesy of Sunday Island, 4 July 2010
Since winning the war on May 18 last year one of our major preoccupations has been the question whether or not we can proceed to win the peace also. It would certainly be premature to attempt anything like a definitive judgment on this question at the present stage. What can be said definitely, however, is that there is a danger of our simplifying the problem confronting us. Winning the peace involves much more surely than restoring normalcy in Jaffna, putting in place, or not putting in place, certain constitutional arrangements, and trying to make a success of the Commission on Lessons learnt and Reconciliation. We need an open-ended, multi-faceted, holistic approach, of which an excellent example has been provided in Bishop Duleep de Chickera’s article Another Commission – another chance for post-war reconciliation, in the Sunday Island of June 20.
I will now focus on a couple of paragraphs in his article to illustrate what I have in mind. He writes, “The crux of the reconciliation crisis however is the inability or the refusal to substantially draw the minorities into the task of governance and nation-building. For this to happen there should be a change in attitude.” Part of his next paragraph reads as follows, “The alarmingly conspicuous absence of all national languages and cultures at national events as well as the fast diminishing number of minority community representatives as national advisers, consultants and senior bureaucrats, apart from tokenism, makes the point. The sooner that competent persons from minority communities are included in all departments of national life, very especially our shared political future, the sooner reconciliation will be within our reach.”
According to the Rev Bishop the crux of the problem is not the putting into place of constitutional and other arrangements – as tends to be too often assumed – but bringing about an attitudinal shift to enable the full and meaningful participation of the minorities in the national life. I entirely agree with that view, which provides an excellent example of the holistic approach that I have in mind. Such an approach is also there behind his favouring a Day of National mourning to commemorate all those who died in the war. I myself proposed such a Day and chose the anniversary of Black Friday1983, to offset the triumphalism that is inherent in the celebration of V-Day on May 18. But there is a note of recrimination inherent in my proposal that is inconsistent with the idea of reconciliation. A further point is that the idea of “mourning’ will not be acceptable to the Sinhalese people as a whole. Perhaps the best option would be a Day of Remembrance, something in the spirit of the commemoration of the end of the First World War, something very different from the celebration of V-Day after the end of the Second World War. The difference is that 1945 witnessed the victory of good over evil, as I and many others see it, whereas November 11 in 1918 witnessed merely the termination of four years of collective stupidity and collective murderousness. On May 18 last year we witnessed the termination of decades of collective stupidity and collective murderousness. A Day of Remembrance would therefore be in order, for which the slogan should be “Lest we forget”.
Perhaps what we need most of all in Sri Lanka today is to cultivate the sense of “reverence for life” which is at the core of all the great world religions, something without which we will probably be doomed to further bouts of collective stupidity and collective murderousness. The Rev Bishop writes, “It is when the pause after war drives a nation to its senses and the realization that the highest purpose of life is to protect and enhance life, that national reconciliation begins.” By the time the British left Sri Lanka in 1948 we had a hundred years of peace since the last Kandyan Rebellion in 1848, and it may be that as a consequence we have tended to forget some of the eternal verities. In contrast the West and Japan knew demented violence over that period, and some measure of collective wisdom seems to have descended on them as shown by the fact that we can no longer envisage any wars between them. Some of that wisdom can be seen even in some of their films. I have in mind several in which violence is seen as a horrible necessity but always as something to be atoned for, with the redemptive hero, the virtuoso of violence, killing to restore the good society but himself departing at the end of the film on his eternal vagabondage. The great original of such films seems to have been an unlikely Western, Shane, while the others include once upon a time in the West, the great Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Yojimbo and a couple of other Japanese films I have seen. We must hope that we too will learn from the violence that Sri Lanka has gone through.
I will not go into further details from the Rev Bishop’s article to show the importance of adopting a holistic approach to the problem of winning the peace. Instead I will conclude by merely mentioning some of the additional measures that seem to me necessary. First of all we badly need to work out a paradigm of racism to enable a proper understanding of our ethnic problem, without which understanding we will probably repeat the horrors of the past. Secondly we must recognize that it is absurd to learn from the past beginning with the CFA during which period the Tamils put themselves in the wrong. We must begin with 1977 when the stupidity and murderousness of the JR gang drove the Tamils to rebellion. Thirdly, and above all, we must drop the nonsensical notion that the ethnic problem is only a problem of terrorism and nothing else, a notion by which we have been dehumanizing our Tamils. While recognizing that there is nothing to be said for the Prabhakaran gang, we must be prepared to acknowledge the courage, resourcefulness, and self-sacrifice shown by many Tamils in their rebellion. Full reconciliation will never come until we are prepared to say of them what was said in the ancient Chinese inscription on the tombs of courageous fallen enemies, “Do us the honour of being born among us in your next birth”.
Reconciliation eludes us as wounds of war not substantially addressed –
Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo from Sunday Island,19 June
Reconciliation eludes us today because the immediate wounds of war have not been substantially addressed. State policy on resettlement and development in the previous war zone has not yet been adequately clarified; and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the people to hold Government Ministries and Departments accountable for clear information, incompetence or delay, Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, the Bishop of Colombo, said last week.
“Much more serious is the growing militarization of the previous war zone. This trend sends counter-productive signals to a people, crushed for years; first under the LTTE and then the ravages of a fierce war. It suggests that an armed presence is still necessary in these areas since the winners distrust the losers; and stands in contrast to a visibly indifferent resettlement policy”, he said in a statement.
Welcoming the C. R. de Silva Commission on “lessons learnt and reconciliation” as timely, the Bishop said it is now a year since the civil war has ended in our beloved Sri Lanka and sadly national reconciliation continues to elude us. It is yet another chance to learn from mistakes of the past and to humbly declare the truth that brings reconciliation.
“The mere end of war does not simply bring reconciliation. It rather offers a promise of reconciliation by bringing an end to fighting as a problem solving device. It is when the pause after war drives a nation to its senses and the realization that the highest purpose of life is to protect and enhance life, that national reconciliation begins”, he noted.
“Reconciliation in a poor country also demands economic reconciliation. In spite of lapses which require attention, state sponsored health care and education for all, are exceptionally commendable welfare measures that need to be appreciated. However, given today’s economic realities which trap and de-humanise the poorest, we need to move beyond these measures”.
More realistic economic opportunities for the poor should be accompanied with welfare measures for the most vulnerable in our society. A concerted war on a sub-human quality of life requires the attention of our economists. Politicians will contribute best if they initiate such policies; and opt voluntarily for a simple life style. Such a response mostly, will counter the peoples’ perception that in many instances the quest for political power today is also a quest for personal financial gain., the Bishop said.
The crux of the reconciliation crisis however is the inability or refusal to substantially draw the minorities into the task of governance and nation building. For this to happen there should be a shift in attitude. The minorities cannot continue to be sidelined as peripheral communities dependent on goodwill decisions taken at the centre or with little to offer the nation. The alarmingly conspicuous absence of all national languages and cultures at national events as well as the fast diminishing number of minority community representatives as national advisers, consultants and senior bureaucrats, apart from tokenism, makes the point. The sooner that competent persons from minority communities are included in all departments of national life, very specially our shared political future, the sooner reconciliation will be within our reach., he added.
“The investigation of disappearances and deaths of a large number of civilians, including media personnel, is another step that will enhance reconciliation. The identification of sites of death or burial, so that last rites can be performed should be part of this work. This will help relatives come to terms with the truth, the past and grief. It is when the deepest longings of those who grieve have been heard, that reconciliation spreads”.
Another obstacle to reconciliation is the delay in declaring a Day of National mourning to commemorate all Sri Lankans who died as a result of the war. This should be done to concurrently demonstrate that war must never be repeated; and that those who died gave their lives to end all wars. Such a national opportunity to mourn will no doubt release a vibrant collective national energy towards national integration, Bishop de Chickera stressed.