By Emil van der Poorten –
I’ve had friends ask about my recent relative silence in the matter of writing to either the print media or on-line publications and I expect I owe them something of an explanation.
As many of you know I have, at one time or another since my return to the land of my birth, contributed to pretty well all the English-language newspapers of this country, sometimes – for obvious reasons – under a pseudonym and sometimes using the name my parents bestowed on me. With the creeping paralysis that has overtaken the media here and which has paralleled the dictatorial conduct of the leadership of this country, outlets for opinions such as mine have shrunk to nothing. This has happened primarily for two reasons – outright purchases or blockbuster takeovers by minions of or members of that government and self-censorship driven by commercial considerations and/or rank cowardice in the matter of being critical of those ruling Sri Lanka.
In a context where those similarly targeted by this government have met fates far grimmer than mine, it is still cold comfort to be told that “you could have been worse off!” The fact that Lasantha Wickremetunge is dead, Frederica Jansz lives in exile in the North Western United States, a bunch of other journalists are in political exile in Britain and Western Europe, Mandana Ismail Abeywardene has seemingly taken a vow of silence and Tisaranee Gunasekara, arguably the bravest and most skilled journalist in this country, cannot find a newspaper to publish what she writes is very obviously meant as a chilling reminder to any lesser lights with the temerity to raise their voices against the monumental parody of a democracy that is Sri Lanka today.
For those leopards among us who cannot change their spots, particularly when they are closer than ever to the proverbial four-score in the matter of life span, all of this statistical information is of no consequence, not because of some irresistible urge to be a 21st Century Don Quixote but because there are some matters of behaviour – classify them as belonging in the realms of morality, ethics or principle – that one simply cannot divest oneself of. It is as simple as that and, I’d suggest, a code that every religion and philosophy extols and all those in a country so full of self-identified “religious” and “moral” people pay seemingly never-ending lip service to.
A little diversion might be in order here and that is to reference the term “hypocrisy.” There are too many pithy definitions of the word to tempt me to add my contribution to that list. However, suffice it to say that even that paying of lip service to the great and good things in behavior has begun to disappear and has been replaced, unapologetically, by a simple “What to do, men?” response to every new horror that’s documented. This constitutes not simply resignation but abject cowardice and, typically, is practiced by those whose attendance at temple/kovil/church/ mosque (take your pick!) is much higher than average. This reality certainly leaves the rest of us “unbelievers” looking like the epitome of self-righteousness when we so much as make a passing reference to such things as a “moral compass!”
You might well parrot the “What to do, men?” brigade at this point, posing the question absolutely rhetorically because you, like the majority of Sri Lankans claiming to be “educated” think that is the appropriate (and easy!) way out, knowing damned well that, at best, it is a temporizing that even puts that much-maligned flightless bird to shame.
That there will be an ultimate coming together of those of goodwill and decency in this country is no longer a “given” considering the pass to which the huge goon squad that proclaims itself as government has brought Sri Lanka. I have consistently been portrayed as a prophet of doom and gloom, particularly by those who believe that the salvation of Sri Lanka lies in the “carpeting” of roads on which their luxury vehicles will no longer damage their suspensions or the 21st-Century version of cobbled walkways which will ensure that no overweight, middle-aged, middle-class ladies are likely to twist their ankles. Suffice it to say that criticism from that quarter or the members of assorted “Forums” hardly deserve critical comment by such as me. Those ambulatory monuments to cowardice and collaboration with Sri Lanka’s version of Nazism can continue their search for bigger and better “pandams” with which to identify their loyalty and illuminate the path of the violent boors from whom they derive their protection. That is their prerogative. When chaos descends on this country as surely as the profligacy of the brigands and bandits will bring it upon us, they are going to be, at least, the secondary targets of those desperately seeking a crust for themselves and their hungry children. And they won’t have assault-weapon-armed “security” for their protection (unless of course they belong to the upper echelons of the group to which they pay continuing obeisance). It might be cold comfort for those of us on the other side of the divide that separates this government from those with so much as a moral bone in their body, but it will be comfort, nevertheless, to see some of the chickens that these sycophants helped raise coming home to roost! Violent crimes of necessity, not merely opportunity as may now be the case, will be visited upon all of us seen as being “privileged” by virtue of having three square meals a day and a roof over our heads. We will be the newly-minted “dhanapathi” class of Sri Lanka! It will make for strange bedfellows indeed, but who said history wasn’t usually messy?
In moments of particular pessimism, I continue to be sustained by what Margaret Mead once said and which I have quoted in the past, “”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Maybe there is still hope for the optimists among us!