By Emil van der Poorten –
As someone who has been accused of foolhardiness up to and including exhibiting suicidal impulses in the matter of criticizing the most violent government in Sri Lanka’s post-independence history and, perhaps of all time, I suppose I bring to this piece some experience, if not expertise, in matters associated with its title.
At the outset let me say that I have been wearied by the constant admonitions from my friends, almost without exception, not to provoke a government that has given ample evidence of its capacity to respond to those who are seen as its “enemies” with less than the application of the rules and philosophy attributed to the Marquess of Queensbury. Worse than the veiled and not-so-veiled-threats has been the advice of friends and relations to “back off,” “not act as a cat’s paw for people lacking the intestinal fortitude to call a spade a spade,” etc. Some of this has even come from those I know to be acolytes of the current regime and I can but guess at their motivation!
As I might have answered in another time and in another place, “I have not now nor ever had” ambitions of being a Horatius prepared to sacrifice life and limb in defence of some bridge of democracy. No, mine is a far more mundane motivation, one that is driven by a belief that it is one’s right (and duty) as a thinking human being to apply whatever skills are at one’s disposal to the defence of those elements of behavior that separate human beings from the lesser mammals. As simple and, maybe, as complex as that!
Even if I did have pretensions of being some heaven–sent saviour of Sri Lankan democracy and good governance, the recent reality is that I would not have had to fight to be some kind of primus inter pares in that regard in this country. The reason for that state of affairs is that I have seen few, if any, certainly among those writing for publication, that fit in the category of outspoken opponents of Fascism as it is being practiced in Sri Lanka. The exception to this rule has been the coterie of women journalists of skill and courage who have given evidence of being prepared to face the wrath of the Rajapaksa Regime in their search for the truth and the exposure of the (totally rotten) status quo in Sri Lanka.
While the beginnings of this piece have been sitting in the bowels of my laptop, Tisaranee Gunasekara has written a chilling piece to Colombo Telegraph on a truly Orwellian dimension of intrusion into Sri Lankans’ private lives under the guise of issuing an Electronic ID Card. If it hasn’t already happened, the usual suspects will trot out their defence of this, the final nail in the coffin of anything resembling personal privacy, falling back on the very tired “explanation” that “those who have nothing to hide, need have no fear.” That kind of blatant rubbish hardly deserves comment except to look at what that kind of intrusion has led to. And pardon me if I have no patience with those who are going to trot out the examples of the United States’ security services of various kinds having targeted the likes of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden as an excuse for what an US citizen is seeking to do in this country to Sri Lankan citizens. In case the ranks of Sri Lankan dolts don’t comprehend the fact, principles are supposed to be applied across the board, not reserved for selective application to one country, to the exclusion of another. It is just as reprehensible that a so-called democratic country brutalizes those not prepared to march in lock-step with a junta that happens to rule it as it is for the land that gave birth to Magna Carta or that which provided Lincoln with the means of making the journey from log cabin to White House to do so. In matters of principle, ethics and morality there aren’t “different strokes for different folks” as much as the Rajapaksa Regime believes that it rules by divine right and The Family and its acolytes, no matter how criminal, are above the common weal in anything and everything.
I might have taken longer than I intended to in the effort to distance myself from any claim to bravery of a historic dimension, however, I believe that just as much as there have been certain risks to the enterprise, one has a duty and responsibility to stand up for what one believes to be right. If you claim to belong to the human race, to abjure such responsibility is to forfeit that membership. Simple as that? Yes, simple as that.
If this sounds like yet another diatribe against the lily-livered of this nation who must have a veritable treasure chest of excuses for demonstrating sniveling cowardice purely and simply for personal gain parading it as a survival instinct, I make no apologies. When history deposits on that Great Garbage Heap in the Sky the horde that looks on while their “leaders” are making life intolerable for all but the bribe-takers and dope-dealers of this country, I will not shed a tear. In fact, I might just wear a little smirk because they would be getting their just desserts in advance of those whose fortunes they have advanced by their deliberate inaction and silence.
There is no room in this conflict for bystanders. To use what the Rajapaksa Regime constantly intones in slightly modified form, “Those who will not actively support democratic practice are against it” and deserve to meet their maker on their knees if that has been their chosen posture in life. Fear is certainly a more than acceptable emotion for any human being living in this nation and opposed to its willy nilly descent into darkness. However, paralytic, abject cowardice is not. The alternative? Stretching every sinew for the democratic removal of the pestilence that has plagued this country, under one political banner or another, for far too long.