By Laksiri Fernando –
“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Today is the International Day of Non-violence (2 October). What could be our thoughts for the day and the cause of non-violence? In the case of Sri Lanka, there are winds again blowing in the direction of encouraging violence and justification of violence. Encouragement of violence and justification of violence are more abhorrent than people under certain circumstances indulging in (spontaneous) violence for social, political or psychological reasons.
Encouragement and justification of violence mostly come from the elite for political or psychological reasons, the perpetrators most often not indulging themselves in violence directly, but promoting the others to do so. The poor and the youth are the most vulnerable for this violent propaganda or instigations. This promotion or indulgence cannot be justified on the basis that others also perpetrate, or perpetrate more. The State most often comes under this category of ‘others,’ in that limited sense for some justifiable reasons.
Could all these be due to ignorance or false perceptions? It could be, and that is why education and awareness are necessary to prevent people encouraging, justifying or indulging in violence. However, when people take a violent path it is usually difficult to divert them to legitimate or non-violent paths, unless they come into a crashing point or forced for peace agreements under national or international compulsion. These crashing points can be defeats in the case of a violent movements or arrest in the case of an individual violator. Then there is a possibility of rehabilitating some by the society or the state, if the programmes are scientifically designed. Then there are others who indulge in violence for ideological reasons, coming back again and again to violence.
State and Violence
Why do we depend largely on the state to curtail violence in society? The state itself is violent or largely violent, one can argue. The reason is that the state is the main legitimate overall organization in society, presumably based on a ‘social contract.’ If the ‘social contract’ is weak or state itself is indulging in violence, then it is up to the people to reform such a state until social harmony is achieved. That is why we have Democracy, although there can be a contradiction between the ‘democratic institutions’ and the ‘state apparatus’ in a given context. Rejection of the state is embracing Anarchy that would lead to more and more violence.
Violence is abhorrent because it hurts people physically and/or psychologically; killing or now popular predicament of ‘involuntary disappearance’ being an ultimate consequence. Who has a right to terminate another person’s life? There is no point in opposing one form of violence while defending the other. Violence also could be verbal, and the worst forms could be the indiscriminate violence and terrorism. We can quote and quote people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela (in his late years) or the Religious Leaders to drive the point. This 2nd October is the 147th Anniversary of Gandhi’s birth in addition to the International Day of Non-violence. But in terms of quotes, the following from Robert Kennedy might be the best, apart from the one quoted from Gandhi before, for our Sri Lankan conditions.
“What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet. No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled or uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.”
Robert Kennedy stated the above aftermath of his brother’s assassination. That is why he talked about martyrs. However, all of the reflections are true in the case of Sri Lanka. What has violence ever achieved in Sri Lanka in the North or the South? Only death and destruction. What has it ever created? Nothing but hatred, further suspicion and distancing of communities and generations. This voice of madness should stop. Violence is not the voice of the people.
The immediate reason to raise the issue of non-violence in this article is not merely the ‘International Day of Non-violence,’ but mostly the disturbing trends going on in encouraging violence and defending violence of the past (of all sides) which have the potential of igniting open violence in the country again. The glorification and justification of Prabhakaran’s violent path (not to speak of terrorism) and the justification and the defense of all what the army did in defeating the LTTE are some examples. It is also not true that the state completely terminated violence by defeating the LTTE in 2009. ‘Terrorism’ yes, but not overall violence. Violence against the Muslim community in Aluthgama, among other places, in 2013 with the state sanction is one example.
People however managed unitedly to ensure a governmental change in 2015 with the hope of achieving further peace and ethnic reconciliation, among other democratic objectives. This is the potential of democracy that we previously talked about in curtailing state violence through reforming the state. There is much the civil society also could do and should do with responsibility. People should be united, irrespective of ethnicity or religion, to achieve this objective and the leaders should not sabotage this effort. Of course the performances are slow, not completely satisfactory and beset with contradictions. These are some of the realities that we have to change with determination and unitedly.
However, this is not a reason to create despair, make maximalist demands or place unachievable goals or indirectly instigate people to ‘Rise Up’ or resort to civil disobedience. Of course, civil disobedience is recognized as part of non-violent struggles. However, the rationality depends on the context. There are opportunities to negotiate with the present government at present. Some of the TNA leaders are doing so whether completely satisfactory or not. Instigating people and launching protests without coming to the negotiating table is simply irresponsible.
I am here directly talking about the NPC Chief Minister, C. V. Wigneswaran. Since his elections, he is misusing the provincial council to launch his political agenda, without doing his job properly. It is most hilarious that he has become a ‘radical’ or a ‘revolutionary’ at his late age, not to speak of his former judicial position! This has given ample opportunities for people like Wimal Weerawansa or Udaya Gammanpila of the Joint Opposition to arouse ethnic and racist passions among the Sinhalese in the South. Are we repeating the history is the obvious question?
Parallel to all these are the trends among the Tamil intellectuals or writers to justify Prabhakaran and the violent path that he took, directly and indirectly, not to speak of terrorism. The newest in this trend is the article by Pitasanna Shanmugathas titled “It was wrong to Label the LTTE as a Terrorist Organization” (Colombo Telegraph, 30 September 2016).
White Washing Violence
Shanmugathas’ main accusation is of course against the US, for banning the LTTE as a terrorist organization. Misusing even Noam Chomsky, he says “the United States is the world’s leading terrorist state.” Anti-state rhetoric is the whole mark of his argument. It is true that the US has blundered and created violent havoc in many parts of the word, but it is a democratic state for the people in the country. It is unfortunate that the UN or the other states have not been in a position to check the adventurous foreign policy of the US. But still the possibility is available for the people in the country to change the foreign policy by changing the government although arduous. Branding the US as a ‘terrorist state’ does justify anti-state terrorism, even at present, unleashed by many groups and individuals in the country. News of this nature are not rare almost every day.
Shanmugathas laments that “India is never regarded as a terrorist state even though the superpower commits terrorist actions both domestically and abroad.” His sympathy with various terrorist organizations in India and Kashmir are conspicuous. His knowledge about international relations or political theory is also questionable as he considers India as a ‘superpower’ without any explanation. Is this rhetoric or what? Although his criticism of Lakshman Kadirgamar appears mild to say “This was completely a wrong policy” referring to his service to the country in promoting the banning of the LTTE internationally, his sympathy with the LTTE is clear. He says “It should be acknowledged, first and foremost, that the LTTE did have legitimate grievances” in this regard against Kadirgamar.
It is possible that this person is a misguided and a confused individual who now believes that the LTTE and more correctly Prabhakaran should have been ‘educated’ and ‘reformed’ and turned into a ‘Dharmakaran’ to resolve the conflict or the war in Sri Lanka. But the experience or the reality was not that, to say the least. It is no wonder, according to him, it was Erik Solheim who has given him this dead-rope. So, eliminating Kadirgamar was justified or not a major crime! Shanmugathas further says “During the Indo-Lanka talks, Prabhakaran voiced frustrations against Rajiv Gandhi for undermining his authority and not directly negotiating with him.” So, eliminating Rajiv Gandhi also was justified or something that has just happened! ‘Undermining his [Prabhakaran’s] authority was the major crime of Rajiv Gandhi because according to him or Solheim “Prabhakaran was the sole decision maker within the LTTE.” Here we are not talking about democracy, but dictatorship or a dictatorial person.
The most alarming from Shanmugathas is the following. He is giving a plausible reason for Neelan Thiruchelvam’s killing.
“A plausible reason why Prabhakaran blatantly rejected constitutional reforms such as the Indo-Lanka accord and the GL-Neelan package, and proceeded to kill those who proposed constitutional reforms was because Prabhakaran did not understand the necessity of federalism and ignorantly viewed separatism as the only answer.” (My emphasis).
Perhaps the above is something Solheim must have told him although it is not clearly stated.
Failure of Peace
But the following is something they have clearly stated.
“Bob Rae and Erik Solheim, two individuals who played key roles during the peace process, stated that a good portion of the peace process was spent teaching the senior LTTE officials about the basics of federalism. LTTE senior leaders such as Thamilselvan and Col.Karuna were flown abroad to nations like France to learn about federalism. However, as acknowledged by both Bob Rae and Erik Solheim, this was completely useless because it was only Prabhakaran who was the sole decision maker within the LTTE.”
It is intriguing to note why Thamilselvam and Karuna were flown to France to teach federalism? France is a unitary state and not a federal one. Be as it may, according to this interpretation of Rae and Solheim, the whole peace effort of Norway was not successful because they couldn’t teach Prabhakaran about federalism since (1) he couldn’t be taken to France and (2) he was the sole decision maker within the LTTE.
My interpretation of the failure is different, of course several factors contributing. Primary among them is the failure of the peace mediators, (Norway being primarily responsible) to convince the LTTE or Prabhakaran or even educate and advise him/them that they should move away from violence and the violent path. I wouldn’t mind if they were taken to any country for that matter. If the Norway was successful in that, then many lives could have been saved including Prabhakaran’s. This is not a lesson of the past but also a lesson for the future on this International Day of Non-violence. To achieve peace and reconciliation, encouraging and justifying violence must stop, on all sides.