Colombo Telegraph

A Walk In ‘American Shoes’

By Malinda Seneviratne –

Malinda Seneviratne

Every culture has its own repositories of wisdom, embedded in sacred text or even in folk lore. Every culture has idioms and fables that are prescriptive or at least of a nature that calls for deep reflection.

There’s a proverb sourced to the Cherokee tribe of Native Americans, given life by Harper Lee’s celebrated novel ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ that goes like this: ‘Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes’.

The world has been ‘globalized’ to such an extent that the human race is constantly forced to encounter difference, in people and ideas, political preferences and ideological bent, ethnic identity and religious persuasion. It is perhaps a sign of a fundamental species flaw that human tend to link ‘difference’ to ‘enmity’. We perceive difference first, commonality later (if at all). If first impressions count then this can be perhaps the main reason for intolerance, fear, hatred and violence.

Last week the United States of America was set ablaze; first in Boston and then in Texas (fertilizer plant). There was also a mysterious substance enclosed in an envelope sent to US President Barack Obama, rekindling anxieties first produced over a decade ago with the deadly Anthrax ‘posts’. The USA has known violence. Almost 3000 people died in the 9/11 attacks. The Oklahoma bomb (1994) killed 168. A year before, and exactly 20 years to the day before the Texas explosion (April 19) when 14 died, 76 men, women and children were killed in a standoff between the FBI and a Protestant Sect, Branch Davidians (breakaway group of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church) where the tactics used make US allegations regarding how Sri Lanka dealt with terrorists in rescuing over 200,000 hostages laughable.

Does the world understand the sorrow, horror and perhaps anger of the USA? Has the world walked the required distance in ‘American Shoes’ to fully empathize? Well, the rest of the world has had more than its fair share of Bostons, Oklahomas, Wacos and Twin Towers. Marathons too. Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, a minister was one of 14 victims of an LTTE bomb-attack at an Avurudu Marathon event. It can be safely said, then, that the US is now being forced to walk in non-US shoes. Not out of choice, of course.

What is ironic about all this is that some of those ‘non-US shoes’ were actually US-made or else US-marketed. It is no secret that Washington, as per ‘strategic needs’ (economic and military) has not just fuelled terrorism but indeed has manufactured dissent and violence, causing immeasurable harm to peoples all over the world.

The search for those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings ended on Friday in a shootout where one of the suspects was killed and the other, his brother, injured and subsequently arrested. Boston came to a stop. Trains and buses didn’t run. Offices and schools were shut. Residents were advised to stay home with doors and windows locked. Compare this to Sri Lanka where for more than two decades a bomb explosion could be expected any second and one concludes that the USA is not ready to live with terrorism. It is not a ‘reality’ that anyone should wish on anyone else of course, but it does not hurt to suggest to the good people of that country to walk in the shoes of people from less fortunate countries.

If a couple of bombs saw the USA rush home and lock itself inside, Americans of that country can easily imagine why Sri Lanka, for example, is wary of anyone and anything associated with the LTTE, and why those who re-mouth the uttering of LTTE proxies, sympathizers, operatives and apologists are treated with suspicion. When one of the suspects was finally apprehended, there was cheering. No one called it ‘Triumphalism’, one notes. Having walked in the shoes that the US has been forced to wear, Sri Lanka understands.

President Obama said the attackers had chosen the wrong city to bomb. Is there a ‘right’ city, though? Will Obama at least now have the humility to wear those other shoes and walk the requisite distances? Will some of the empathy of the world rub off on the USA? Time will tell.

*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at

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