By Grusha Andrews –
The aftermath of the incident of Brigadier Priyanka Fernando, defense attaché at the Sri Lankan High Commission in the United Kingdom, gesticulating throat slash to pro-Elam protesters in front of the High Commission of Sri Lanka in the UK on the 4th of February 2018 has become a mirror to a potentially dangerous shift occurring in the psychological profile of the Sri Lankan society. This incident fuelled by anger, consternation, opportunism and quasi-patriotism memed in to ejaculations of wrath, particularly on social media.
Seventy years after independence one may argue that the emotional insignia of the nation is that it is easily provoked, readily retaliatory to the point of being choleric. Sri Lankan society appears to be largely divorced from reality, with little insight in to the impact of such incident on peace building, sustenance of peace and its oxygenating effect on uniting a divided Tamil diaspora. Even in the most personal recesses of reasoning, out in the places of work, in fora of intellectual discourse, in social media spaces, on the internet and with each other- it appears that Sri Lankans have truly entered the choleric age.
From president to peasants
The Fernando-Eelamist saga touched a spectrum of citizenry from an angry spewing president to professionals, politicians and peasants incensed with ‘patriotic-pyrexia’. Other notables were military personnel and alumni of D.S. Senanayake College, Colombo, and alma mater of Fernando. It is reliably reported that fuming president threatened the sacking of the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the recalling of Fernando following the throat slit gesturing saga. Equally reactionary were the Tamil polity where the chief minister of Northern Province Wigneshwaran cried for a de-ban of the LTTE within Sri Lanka. The Fernando–Eelamist saga has only given a reference photograph to emblemize the choleric age. Fernando’s cocky smiled finger pointing image framed and adorned thousands of Facebook profiles igniting the controversy, assuming a life of its own. The larger discussion that this phenomenon opens is the lack of serious political and intellectual discourse among the people of Sri Lanka with a reported literacy rate of 92%, the highest in South Asia. It also sheds light to the anger that continues to mar the emotional ambience of a nation subjected to chronic violence, terrorism, loss and dispossession in an environment of war, suicide bombers, crony politicians, jingoistic politico-religious barterers, servile journalism and ethnic polarity on politics. The similarity of the reaction of the president and the peasant ring even louder alarm bells driving home the importance of healing the society of its endogenous anger.
The psycho- forensic basis of the ‘throat slash’ gesture
The throat slash is a gesture made by moving one’s index finger, thumb or entire hand, held straight and with palm down, horizontally across one’s throat imitating the cutting of a person’s throat with a blade, indicating strong disapproval, extreme anger, or displeasure with others or with oneself. The actual act of cut throat can be homicidal, suicidal or accidental. Homicidal cut-throat is a well-recognized method of killings in settings of violence, honour killings and as a tool of war crimes. Emotionally driven murders are committed by mothers in newborns, intimate partners of heterosexual or homosexual relationships, etc. From a psycho-forensic point of view ideation, insinuation, gesticulation, implementation of a crime in the form of cut throat does not fall within the norms of ‘social’ conduct. Needless to say, the gesture, amounting to digital vitriol, provocative and menacing, certainly does not fall within the prescribed guidelines of diplomatic conduct by any measure.
The passionate support that Brigadier Fernando received from politicians was vivid. The usual suspects such as Keheliya Rambukwella, Susil Premjayanth, Wimal Weerawansa , Udaya Gammanpila seized the moment. More disturbing perhaps was the hypocrisy of the middle aged aspirants of leadership of the UNP, namely Ruwan Wijewardene and Navin Dissanayake who came out of their liberal and genteel closets to expose their racist nakedness of being soldiers of the choleric age. If any of these politicians were feigning wrath, the reality becomes even more complicated where the choleric age of racial politics will be compounded by ‘a dose of deceit more than usual’. Semi-hilarious and totally worrying were the brush off remarks of the de facto leader of Sri Lanka Podujana Party and once a former president of the country , Mahinda Rajapaksa who tried his best to trivialize and add jocularity to this serious issue stating Fernando was “merely scratching his neck!”
Ruwan Wijewardene educated at St Thomas Preparatory School Colombo and University of Sussex UK has shown that dynastic political privilege of being the great grandson of D.S. Senanayake does not quite protect one from the tentacles so of racism. Navin Dissanayake educated at Royal College Colombo and University of Sussex UK, and a barrister no less, has shown the same political immaturity and ignorance about the political sensitivities of the Fernando fiasco. Understandably, it must be difficult for Dissanayake to be even minded about the issue, given that his father Gamini Dissanayake was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber in 1994. However a man who cannot leave aside profound, personal and harrowing tragedy to achieve statesmanship will have little hope of emerging as a national leader in the future. However the collective anger or, worse, its pretence by politicians trickling from president downwards shows that not only is there a present void in the deeper understanding of issues pertaining to a proactive foreign policy, peace building and racial cohesion, but there will be a greater void that may widen in the future which the aspirants of political leadership in the country will not have the maturity to fill.
The Eelamist protestors implemented the wisdom of Sun Tzu in provoking choleric rage in the choleric age. Not only Fernando, but an entire cross section of politicians appears to have willfully fallen in to the snare, entangling them in anger and opportunism that may not serve them well. .