By Kumar David –
What motivated this piece is that the George Floyd trial is in progress and CNN is broadcasting it live from start to finish every courtroom day. A second incentive is the spate of gun violence in the US in recent weeks including an anti-Asian outbreak. This remark needs refinement since gun violence is endemic in America at the best of times; about 15,000 homicides every year. This homicide rate is 25 times higher than in other well-off countries; Germany has about 790 a year. Among OECD countries only Mexico, Turkey and Estonia have a higher rate than the US. In a typical year the homicide rate in Sri Lanka is 2.4 per year per 100,000; it is nearly 5.0 in the US. In Central America, the Caribbean and a few Africa countries the rate exceeds 10 – the worst are El Salvador, Jamaica, Honduras, Venezuela and South Africa with over 30 annual homicides per 100,000; far higher than US or Sri Lanka. These are background statistics for reference.
There are white supremacist hate-groups, much inflammatory web traffic and semi-fascist organisations in the US. Huge numbers of mentally unstable folk run free in the “land of the free”. US gun laws are horrifically lax and the lunatic Second Amendment allows just about any adult to own a gun or assault weapon and carry it in public. The National Rifle Association is one of the most powerful organisations in the country with funding, enough to tilt State and Congressional elections and influence Presidential polls. Parts of big cities are not safe; paradoxical fruit of the American dream of freedom like nowhere else, the anthem of the Republican Party. If I left it at that giving the impression that America is a crazy Rodeo Republic, that would not only be misleading, it would be false. It is not possible to get this textured reality across in one paragraph; you have to live it.
The point I want to make is that when you hear of 12 Asians shot at a spa, or a nut-case opening fire in a mall targeting Korean shoppers, or a white policemen crushing the neck of a prone, handcuffed black, asphyxiating him to death, you must not assume that July 1983 USA-style has commenced. If 12 Tamils were shot dead by a Sinhala extremist in Wellawatte the political conclusions we would draw are obvious. But when an angry mob riots against racial violence in the US, it is public anger spilling out against racism. The throng usually consists of all manner of multi-racial movements, rights groups, anarchists and radicals. It is a different ball-game from racial pogroms in Sri Lanka. I am not suggesting which is worse, just pointing out the difference.
My next point does involve a value judgement. When an act of gross racial violence occurs in the US thousands pour out in anger, there is public outrage. Some Black Lives Matter demonstrations drew more whites than blacks. I know that in July 1983 many Sinhalese sheltered Tamils and helped them flee to safety. But there were no rallies, no organised resistance against marauding mobs and monks. (There were exceptions such as Samasamajist Wimal Rodrigo who set up patrols in Thimbirigasyaya to protect Tamil lives, women and homes). But generally such organisation was not possible since the mood and the numbers were not there. Conversely think of the Martin Luther King Civil Rights marches which drew thousands of whites. Over in Mother Lanka progressive Sinhalese do indeed abhor discrimination or violence against Tamil or Muslim minorities but the numbers, JVP and the former Left included are not there to make it a mass protest. Maybe our ancient culture and our pride in our glorious race and past overpower puny humanitarian sentiments!
But it’s not only in Sri Lanka; it seems to be so in many cultures in our region. Tamils in Tamil Nadu can be counted on to fire up about Tamils in Lanka, but care not a paisa for the execrable treatment handed out by Modi et al to Muslims right in their own country. The Burmese are crushed by their own military but yesterday when that very military engaged in genocide of Rogingayas they kept mum. Could it be that “cultures” need experiences like the Medieval Papal Inquisition, 300 years of slavery in the New World, Turkish genocide of Armenians and the Nazi Holocaust before they can grow up?