By Mohamed Harees –
“Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” ~ Abraham Heschel
Will Rogers once said “everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke”. Judging by what former State Intelligence Service (SIS) Director SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena said at a recent hearing at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Easter Attacks, it appears that the entire administration and law enforcement mechanism has become a joke, making Sri Lanka a laughing stock yet again in the eyes of the international community. Or is it Systemic racism, so entrenched that it has become the new normal? When the fence fails to protect all the crop, to whom shall we complaint? goes the adage. Unintelligible ‘Intelligence’ in a Land like no other!
The Daily Mirror, reported that in a report made on July 20, 2015, Jayawardena said that out of 203 students, there were only five Muslim students at the Law college in 2003. However, in 2012, 78 Muslim students were admitted to Law College and as a percentage it was 25.24% of the overall students. Explaining his opinion Jayawardena said that this was part of an attempt to invade key positions by minorities. “I can only warn the relevant institutions. The Ministry of Justice and Law College should investigate the matter,” witness said, responding to a question raised by the Commissioners. Witness further said that the LTTE also assured many students in areas under their control and they also passed their university entrance exams. This is one approach minorities can take. This kind of invasion happens in France and some other countries. At SIS we observed the trend and its up to the relevant officials to take the necessary measures”.
Not a fiction but a fact in our motherland! Not quite sure whether to laugh or to cry! In a way, coming at a time when the nation is about to face another Parliamentary polls, Jayawardene may be another ‘cog in the machine’ used by his political masters to create another Muslim bogeyman as part of the well-orchestrated demonization campaign directed at the community, to win elections. These days, the nation is being already treated to a liberal dose of anti-Muslim hatred by demonising the community, thanks to the likes of Ratanas, Gnanasaras, Madu Maadawas, Wimals and Gammanpilas, Ranawakas to name a few. In fact, Basil wanted SLPP to be like BJP- an admirable role model indeed! It also can be a case of Media sensationalism. As the link between voters and candidates, media is an essential part of politics. News publications do sacrifice journalistic integrity for the sake of more exciting stories, especially in the run up to an election.
However, shoving aside this witness as a scapegoat and his ‘breaking news’ revelation at the Commission of Inquiry as mere humour or media sensationalism may miss the wood for the trees. What Jayawardene said appears to show how deep the racist rabbit hole goes. What he said thus aptly reflects the bigger picture and the thinking within the political establishment and its administrative machinery, seeing Muslim ghosts in every corner in Post war period. If it is not reflective of systemic or institutionalised racism, then what is?
One of the principal attributes of a good intelligence analyst is the ability to set aside one’s prior information, experience, and prejudices and only use designated information sources to make judgments, decisions, and recommendations. This may sound simple but it isn’t and many people are not capable of setting aside acquired attributes in analyzing information and data. And also there is the the ability to see both sides. Probably the most important of all of the attributes, but also the most difficult to maintain are integrity and courage. In the case of the likes of the senior officers like Jayawardene, these attributes seems lacking. In fact, if the breakdown of the intelligence system led to the Easter Sunday disaster, then those at the top like him should be held to account for failing in their duty.
On the basis of his representations, any reasonable person with an iota of common sense will realise the stupidity and baseless nature of his fears. On the one hand, Muslims are no different to the Sinhalese or Tamils and being equal citizens can pursue any profession or vocation of their choosing. Why should minorities going into legal field in greater numbers be viewed as a threat which prompts SIS to suggest action at the highest levels? Thus, to conclude or cast suspicions that they are on a secret conspiracy plan to hold crucial posts in the government when their numbers are increasing in the legal field reflects the low level, the once elitist Intelligence services of Sri Lanka has now stooped to. On the other hand, it is not the proper representation of the facts as well. According to a legal professional, if the statistics are properly analysed in the said period, the gradual increase was in the number of Tamil medium students as a whole; not just Muslims. But Jayawardene has however failed to highlight in the same breadth, the actual reason behind the increasing numbers – the surge in Tamil medium law entrance classes and also an increase in their quality, which resulted in more students entering Law College in the Tamil medium. However, this is an entrenched and chronic problem which is beyond this narrow concern about ‘increased Muslim intake to the field of law’.
It is a tragicomedy of our times that Sri Lankan political parties are seeking a fresh mandate when they represent a bankrupt political system which has taken Sri Lanka aback to the point of a failed state. Sri Lanka’s social integrity and economic stature have been compromised beyond repair under the Post-Independence rulers. They have turned Sri Lanka into a divided nation. Frustration with the corruption, divisive/racist politics, loss of confidence in politics and rule of law, and the lack of orientation of the country’s elites to the common good and the interests of young voters in particular, have led to a generation no longer using their right to vote and withdrawing from political life. The polarisation of society and political culture has made it more difficult for young people to become politically-active. Sri Lanka’s rulers have thus repeatedly disregarded the country’s best interests for personal gain.
One of the biggest tragedies of our time is the emergence of intolerance and raw racism in the social and political fabric of this country, especially in the last few decades. Once upon a time, we Sri Lankans prided ourselves on our tolerance of difference. According to the story we told ourselves, we forged “one” people out of “many” in our schools, neighbourhoods, social interactions and political for a, as the US motto ‘E pluribus unum’ projects, tolerating a wider range of religious beliefs. We won our independence on a united platform. Seven decades later , racist thinking in State craft and institutionalization of racism has taken Sri Lanka down the precipice. However, no lessons are learnt yet.
Racism of this kind, racism that infects the very structure of our society, is called systemic racism. And at first glance, it may be difficult to detect. Since the end of war, hate speech and crimes have been on the rise. Sinhala Supremacists have been emboldened. Anti-Muslim rhetoric has intensified. We condemn these awful examples of prejudice and bias and hate, but systemic racism is something different. It’s less about violence or burning symbols than it is about everyday decisions made by people who may not even think of themselves as racist. The main problem nowadays may not be the street thugs armed with knives and guns but the folks dressed in national suits in the Parliament, government offices, service uniforms and saffron clothes. Systemic racism persists in our schools, offices, court system, police departments, and even in Intelligence as we discussed. When those from among the minority people do not occupy most positions of decision-making power, those people have a difficult time getting a fair shake, let alone getting ahead.
If racism, racial discrimination, and all related forms of intolerance still persist in daily life, it follows that they will inevitably be reproduced in a country’s legal, law enforcement and judicial systems. It is a shocking fact that discrimination – the manifestation of racism, and intolerance – exists and persists in the administration of justice and law enforcement. It is in this context that the racist attitudes of the Sri Lankan Intelligence. There is systemic racism existing in policing and law enforcement. How could the fence be trusted to protect the crops and also show impartiality when the law enforcement and its attendant arms are partial, racist and discriminatory in their approaches?
Identifying the role of race in someone’s decision-making process is a complicated task, and determining the motive(s) behind another person’s observable action is even more complicated. Sometimes the term “systemic racism,” often wrongly interpreted as an accusation that everyone in the system is racist. Not all racial profiling is based on the individual actions of a few “bad apples.” Even courts have recognized that racial profiling is a systemic problem. In fact, systemic racism means almost the opposite. It means that a country has systems and institutions that produce racially disparate outcomes, regardless of the intentions of the people who work within them. The term racial disparity denotes outcomes that differ by race or ethnicity. Racially biased behaviours may arise from racial animus, statistical prediction, or features of situations that facilitate differential treatment based on group membership.
Racial profiling undermines trust in public institutions. There is clear link between public confidence in law enforcement and public safety. People are less likely to cooperate with investigations and provide testimony in court if they have negative perceptions of law enforcement. Racial profiling can happen at any stage of decision-making by law enforcement authorities. It may result from an individual’s explicit or implicit bias based on conscious or unconscious stereotypes, personal prejudice or hostility toward particular communities. The impacts of racial profiling are devastating for communities, like what the Muslims experience in Post war Sri Lanka in the face of demonization. Law enforcement organizations must therefore take steps to prevent, identify and respond to racial profiling, racial discrimination, harassment and other violations of their code of conduct.
People should not consider racism as a partisan issue, and they need to stop making it a partisan issue. It’s a question of morality. First and foremost ,in addressing systemic racism, it is important to acknowledge that racism actually exists, get involved with organizations that are fighting it, and finally elect leaders and policy makers who won’t reinforce or support structurally racist policies. Individuals doing personal work to understand systemic racism is necessary, yet it’s so not sufficient. Those wanting to enact change need to agitate to demand fundamental change from institutions in their own lives. It requires all of us to move beyond reform. We need to articulate clearly that the current system is not working. “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”– Mahatma Gandhi