Contrary to the attempts to spin-doctor every excess of the current regime and its sins of omission by those whose names hardly need specifying to anyone familiar with the media in this country, Sri Lanka has very serious problems that stem, primarily, from the militarism, racism, triumphalism and brutality that appears to pervade society and is increasingly taken for granted, as a ‘fact of life,’ thanks to the seemingly never-ending barrage of propaganda from writers of this ilk and those who provide them with patronage.
The fact that most of this stems from nearly three decades of violent conflict, does not provide an excuse to pretend it isn’t a problem in the here and now.
Suffice it to say that the sycophantic voices are significant and their ranks swelling, thanks to the perks that accrue to such people for providing the cloak of concealment to a regime that it is increasingly short of raiment with which to cover its moral and ethical nakedness.
Sri Lankan governments past and present are guilty of generating and presiding over this tragic state of affairs. The constant fall back of the horde of apologists when confronted with these horrors is, “They did it first,” the “they” ranging from Atilla the Hun, the Visigoths, the leaders of the Inquisition, on to Hitler, Idi Amin and the governments that invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. In the case of the last category, the very fact that their conduct was totally reprehensible and their subsequent behaviour hypocritical, does not give us the right to use them as stalking horses to visit misery on those we victimise.
And this is exactly the path that these apologists tread in their seemingly endless sycophantic posturing.
A simple phrase would describe the response of those of us who subscribe to a code of decency, morality or ethics of some description: “This is just not good enough.” Invoking the horrors of years and centuries past to justify the excesses of Sri Lanka today is just not acceptable.
We do have an ancient culture which gives us a base for behaviour of a far more civil and decent kind. Or is ‘decency’ now ‘old-fashioned’ and minus anything resembling ‘cachet’ in the parlance of those philistines who seek to control all of us and the discourse as well?
We have suicide rates that are horrendous and I know that reported statistics in this field often only exhibit a tip (even if a substantial one) of the iceberg of reality.
We have a seemingly endless stream of crimes of violence, often exhibiting cruelty that beggars description.
We have a drug and alcohol problem that no amount of ‘thithas’ will ever put an end to until and unless ‘the-powers-that-be’ use the skills of those knowledgeable in the addictions field to put in place a realistic and effective programme.
We have bribery and corruption permeating every element of our collective existence, setting progress back in innumerable ways.
How about the Rule of Law having ceased to exist in all but name?
How about a government that calls premature elections, the cost of which exceeds our entire education budget and then immediately does that which is the opposite of which it proposed in its election manifesto?
“Enough,” you say?
Okay. What should we do about this mess and what can we, in fact, do?
For starters, how about recognising and acknowledging the problems that confront us? Without this recognition we are not going to be able to deal with them. Invoking the mantram of “2500 years of Sinhala Buddhist civilization” will just not cut it! Yes, the answers could well reside in that canon, but merely invoking it without seeking to apply some of the eternal truths contained therein in a practical manner will be nothing but a waste of time.
Once we have accepted the need to deal with the problems before us, we need to devise the means of responding to them.
Here I would submit that we need to throw into the dustbin of governing practice the ‘command’” structure as the panacea for all ills. It has never worked anywhere and it will never work here. We need to involve those facing the challenges, to work with them and not to ‘do’ to them, no matter how well-intentioned the ‘doing’ might be. Even Mussolini, the first Fascist, didn’t succeed in making the trains run on time and look at the kind of end he had!
We also need to get away from the myopic belief that ‘economic development’ by itself, without the social development and integration that we so desperately need after nearly 30 years of war, is going to be the one-stop panacea. It isn’t. We need well-constructed, ethically-conducted modes of social development alongside economic development. This combination is a sine qua non for any kind of success. There are certainly no economic quick fixes. All they provide is the opportunity for the unscrupulous to rake in the bribes and commissions.
This can and must take place because there is no other way to solve the problems we face. And solving the problems of some will mean, in the last analysis, solving the problems of all. I particularly say this because the current theology appears to be that we take credit for the successes and blame the failures on our opponents, whoever they may be at any given point of time and motor on with grandiose ‘infrastructure’ and ‘economic development’, whatever those elements ultimately amount to.
We need to leave the well of paranoia, xenophobia and delusion and look at the whole world for the practical approaches that will help us conquer the Himalayas confronting us. Particularly, discarding everything ‘the West’ has to offer in this regard will constitute foolishness of monumental proportions. We need to take the best and most appropriate to our purpose, no matter from where it comes.
The primary challenge, though, is that of a government divesting itself of the enormous power it has arrogated unto itself without the attendant accountability and responsibility. You can’t work as a partner when you have pretensions to omnipotence. That has to change. That is the primary challenge facing us as a nation and as citizens who seek a life of peace, tranquillity and achievement within its shores. Irrespective of the authority that the current regime feels it is entitled to exercise, the voice of the people of this country must be heard and their needs met in a manner that they decree. Nothing less will suffice.