By Suren Rāghavan –
Designing democratic developments in a post-conflict situation is ideologically, institutionally, and qualitatively, different from a post-colonial democratic construct. Reestablishing the vacuum of law and order and demilitarizing while the space for non –violent reasoning and debating towards a collective civic order will take priority. The genuine commitment of the political class to foster such environment, in which the new democratic possibilities can grow, is indispensable. No amount of international actors and their interventions can bring this condition, unless otherwise the indigenous elites are committed to democratic values.
What is happening in Sri Lanka at this stage seems exactly this-the rulers are not interested in democracy while the international actors are coming in the form of inquiry which is interpreted as a direct invasion. More countries have seen the return of conflict due the absence of above minimum conditions in their immediate post conflict period. Lanka has spent five full years after May 2009 when she comprehensively defeated the Tamil Tigers, ending over 25 years of civil war. Yet her possibility to normalcy and democracy has been totally undermined by a political class (or family). All southern elections became mere mechanism of consolidating power than sharing them. Governance is considered an opportunity for self-glories than for the goodness of all sections of the society. Media and freedom of information are limited with a militaristic embargo. Charges of corruptions are far more serious than the times of war. In essence, the victory at war has turned to a defeat of wider democracy. Gravitational center of such situation is due to a political culture depended on the culture and values of newer political elites.
Old Fires at New Village-(Aluthgama)
The Sinhala-Muslim ethnic carnage in Authgama confirms that Lanka is a structurally and ideologically fractured state. The question why Lanka with its most militarized apparatus and multiple security/secret services failed to detect and prevent another ethnoreligious conflict in a distance less than 100 KMs from capital Colombo can only lead to one logical conclusion. The security sector does not care or passively supports. This is not merely the security sector. In Lanka the security always, rightly and wrongly has been the obedient service tool of the ruling regimes. So then why do the rulers fear to build a democratic order in which the multiethnic society will self-foster? Instead fail to prevent deep violence between them. In Bosnia, Burundi, Mozambique and other states we have seen recurrence of conflicts when the elites are threatened by the possibility of democracy – because democracy demands power sharing, accountability and fair play. Then regime owners (or their appointed agents) inflate ethnoreligious sentiments leading to direct violence.
In Sri Lanka the Muslim-Buddhist clash was in the making. In my analysis of the militant Bodu Bala Sēnā. I had predicted such outcome unless the burning nature of issues are not dealt with firm and adequate satisfaction of both sides taking the rule of law as our only guidance. At my subsequent interview (April 2014) with Venerable Galagodaaththe Gñānasāra – the firebrand leader of BBS, I discussed the issue of use of violence. To me his fears were political than socioeconomic. His learnings as a Rājakīya Panditha thera were terribly dented with a deep fear of a systematic expansion of the Muslims and their fundamentalist branches. Such fears are a ripen platform for political elites in executive powers or those aiming at such. The abysmal inability to imagine a better way of politics and power imprisons these leaders in their primordial instincts. No amount of theories and analysis can provide the ethical and moral guidance needed to energize such vision. Social/Political science is limited in providing direct answers. Such crises are contextual to special setting. Solutions could come only on the strength of the indigenous cultures and their commitments to universal norms.
The proposition that Islam is more violent than all other religions is popular. It is equally popular in the public space that Buddhism is the most Ahiṃsā religion. Such binaries have no social scientific evidence. Instead what we have is the historical fact that all religions have used and are using violence as a discourse to promote their worldview. Perhaps the interpretation of the historical holy texts are bit disadvantageous to Islam where prophet Mohammed is narrated as a trading worrier who led at least six different wars. In Lanka, Muslims have mostly lived as a merchant community . Their political mobilization is led by economic and religious interests. And the (majority of) Sinhala Buddhists have lived side-by side to Muslim for a very long time. However, as discussed elsewhere such dynamics changed primarily due to two reasons: 1) the protracted- humiliating Sinhala-Buddhist state war with the separatist Tamil Tigers until its triumph and 2) a newer (Sunni) identity politics adopted by a visible section of the Muslims. In the post war context both these dynamics have competed to muster their powers to refill the new state order. Muslims in their religious identity – Buddhists with their cultural hegemony. Regime owners have willfully failed to regulate either one of them with rule of law and justice. Instead, such identity vote banks have deepened the binary positions and undermined the strength of democracy as well the speed it could return.
Democracy cannot be imported or implanted. It is based on a very fragile set of values and practices cross fertilizing human rights and liberty. When such possibilities are actively barred by political elites, irruption of violent conflicts is inevitable. The political horror in Lanka is that sections of the ruling are not mere observers of such developments but active supporters. The spiritual tragedy is that the Sinhala Saṅgha (or a vociferously active section of), have become the committed crusaders to advocate and activate an extreme interpretation of their role in leading Lanka’s history and future as a Buddhist state. Their vision is for a Sinhala Buddhist Sri Lanka. In fact one should not have any issue with that as that is majoritarian democracy. The issue becomes more complex when they desire all non-Sinhala Buddhist to live as peripheral or secondary citizenry and not equal partners of a working democracy. Such thoughts are directly oppositional to the fundamental norms of modern democracy.
For democracy, at least four key factors are essential. 1) a Civil Culture that genuinely desire and support democracy 2) Rational Actors (political and cultural) who dedicate to democracy 3) Independent Institutes those will uphold the legitimacy of rule of law and justice and 4) An economic plan where democracy brings sustainable development at grassroots level. No analysis is needed to agree that in Lanka the 2nd, 3rd and the 4th factors are dismantled, disappeared and dissolved. The vision and actions of the majority political leadership (even more disappointingly their bloodline heir presumptives) do not bring any hope of a better society committed to democracy. From the Supreme Court to the local police station -the intuitional politicization is shamelessly naked and violently mocks at the ordinary citizens. An army that fought a separatist war is converted to a lapdog position. Post–conflict economy has limited itself in construction of massive projects of harbors and airports with international loans at market rates with no use to the public or their economic progress. International casino investors are granted decades of tax relief while the taxes on basic food items have doubled or more.
Yet there is one hopeful last factor- the civic society and its common aspiration for democracy. The importance of civil society in repairing post conflict societies has been well argued. Their ability to cross the boundary of divisions to reconstruct a new society is essential. The cross ethnoreligious interaction and involvement of citizens in dialoguing and envisioning a democratic society towards a didactic exercise in forming a new social capital is paramount. There are lexicographic differences in what is named as civil society. Is it the political society or the cultural and intellectual segment? For me such terminological differences cannot erase the power to mobilize a common democratic future. Such historical waves of civil society had created many modern states from Germany to India. Looking at Lanka, and learning from Aluthgama- there cannot be any other determination but to mobilize the democratic desires of the civil society beyond it’s politicized, ethicized and religiocide code of conducts. For this, all forms of civil bodies from trade unions to religious societies needs to agree on a minimum common denomination for democracy. We will need to identify new popular and charismatic yet disciplined leaders who believe in consociational democracy and inspire such mobilization. Our collective failure to find any such possibility will inevitably entomb our remaining democracy. When we cannot feel the pain of the mother whose infant is brutally injured and struggling for his life in Aluthgama, when we cannot comprehend the rage in the mind of a Buddhist zealot who travels far to burn and create a carnage, then we fail one more time – in our history in our civilization. However, if we stand as a civil society committed to democracy then – as my friend Asoka Handagama had written වැලපෙමුද එකට ඉකිය ගෝරනාඩුවක් වෙන්න උන්ගේ කන් අඩි පුපුරන? සත්තකයි බුදුනුත් එයි අපි එක්ක එක පෙලට හිටගන්න. The intellectual and spiritual challenge of our polity is to urgently compose such civil society agenda.
*Suren Rāghavan PhD, is a visiting professor at St Paul University – Ottawa and a Senior Research Fellow at Center for Buddhist Studies- University of Oxford. His book Buddhist Monks and the Politics of Lanka’s Civil War will be published in London August 2014.
 See: Rāghavan, Suren, ‘Buddhisizing or Ethicizing the State-Do the Sinhala Saṅgha fear the Muslims in Lanka?’ Journal of Oxford Center for Buddhist Studies, Volume 4, 2013, pp 88-104 http://www.ocbs.org/ojs/index.php/jocbs/article/view/45/73
 An exam title won by scholar monks within the Pirivena education in Lanka
 See Andrar Tor, Mohammed The Man and his Faith, Routledge, London 2008
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