By Emil van der Poorten –
If justification be needed for this diatribe against the political establishment of Sri Lanka (read Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR1) AND Maithripala/Ranil (MR2) the utterances by a very senior member of the Sri Lanka Armed Forces, the Chief of Defence Staff of that body of “war heroes,” provided it on the English language television news on March 7th.
What was horrendous about it was the fact that it was a clear indication that the Sri Lankan Establishment still operated within a paranoid mindset harking back to the darkest days of the 30 years of civil strife in this country.
What did this worthy have to say that raised the ire of someone who thought he was beyond provocation by bigots, racists and “Sinhala Buddhist” supremacists in this country?
In a priceless utterance this very senior armed forces officer, acting as a spokesperson for the army navy and air force, stated unequivocally that the Muslims should not be sentenced to a racist hell because they had been active allies of the (Sinhala) army in which he had served. He went on to say in what specific ways they had helped in the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Tamils with whom they shared a language (Tamil).
The implication was that the Tamils were the real enemy, if there was one in the current Sri Lankan context, and the Muslims, because they had supported the Sinhala army were allies.
Let’s be clear, at no point did this relatively lengthy (by TV standards) presentation by this individual so much as suggest that violence directed at a group by virtue of their “ethnicity” was totally unacceptable, totally abhorrent. It simply indicated that the Muslims were not “the other,” but, by obvious implication, the Tamil community was. One didn’t have to have a PhD in psychology to understand, very clearly, the message that was sent out to those parts of the “Sinhala Buddhist” majority community who subscribe to the concept of total “Sinhala Buddhist” superiority in this country.
Was this simply yet another act of stupidity on the part of an inept Yahapalanaya coalition or the arrogance of a government that took total Muslim support for granted ever since the previous MR1 government had overseen an anti-Muslim pogrom in southern Sri Lanka, during which mosques, homes and places of business, not to mention lives, were lost.
In either event, neither political stupidity nor cynicism is in any way acceptable at a time when this country is being torn asunder by the soldiers of hell.
A few days ago, a British friend of mine, recounted a couple of very interesting events in which he was an unwitting participant on his way to the local petrol station. He was obviously unaware of the declaration of the all-day curfew because he had to traverse a public highway for several kilometers to obtain fuel. On the way, he had a run-in with a van driver who, typically, had parked on the middle of the road to pick up passengers. Taking umbrage at my friend’s sounding his horn, he stormed up to the driver’s side window and berated my friend because, “You f…ing Britishers are the ones who created all these f….ing problems for us, etc. etc.” For starters, how this (Sinhala) man could ply his trade when there was a curfew in force, is a matter of some interest. However, what is most significant is that all the conspiracy theories that have been bandied about over the years to justify murder of and mayhem against “the other” appear to be very much alive and well among a population that is not exactly learned in the matter of history, colonial or otherwise.
My friend continued his journey to the local petrol station where he was greeted by the sight of the employees standing around outside it with an army guard in attendance. The latter used his assault weapon to make threatening gestures at my friend. My friend, to whom military activity was not alien by virtue of his service in the British armed forces over many years, was rather taken aback. I suggested that all of this might have stemmed from his contravention of the curfew of which he was unaware and which was, as a matter of fact, “round-the-clock” since March 6th.
I suppose I could try and sell the tale I’ve just related to the Keystone Cops producers with a view to earning some pocket money but all of this is not funny, it’s downright tragic.
Since there was no way of really knowing over what hours the curfew was operative, I phoned the local police station to be enlightened. The Officer-in-Charge confirmed what we’d heard on a TV news broadcast the night before: there had been a curfew in force from 6 a.m. on the 7th and it was still operative when I spoke to him mid-morning on the 8th. Since there appeared to be only a two-hour “window of opportunity” for people to get around at the time I spoke to him and since both my partner and I have had open–heart surgery and are under the care of cardiologists (and other consultants as well!) I inquired how we could seek assistance if a medical emergency arose. He said there would be no problem issuing us a pass if we came to the Police Station for one. Despite the fact that this would mean driving about five kilometers along a highway without authority to do so, it seemed like the only practical response to any emergency that might occur. A little glimmer of light at the end of a tunnel of ignorant and callous darkness!
Ultimately, without any prior warning, the daytime curfew was lifted at 10 a.m. on the 8th through an announcement on television.
Sri Lanka is not a country unused to major civil strife, communal riots, murder and mayhem. While I was in Sri Lanka for only a brief part of the “30 year war” and missed the horrendous violence of 1983 and the atrocities of the second insurrection in the late ‘eighties’, I do recall “Emergency 58,” the violence following the elections of 1970, the wholesale butchery of youth that was a feature of the first (1971) “Che Guevara Uprising,” and the “Pass-book” regime that the Tamils around my home endured before “Nanthikadal 2009” brought the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (“Tigers”/ LTTE) to a close, not to mention the deliberately-provoked hysteria and jingoism promoted in anticipation of that victory. Not during one of those events was stupidity practiced as it has been under the Yahapalanaya government during the recent anti-Muslim atrocities. The icing on the foetid cake in the Kandy area, the area worst affected and in which the Emergency Regulations still prevail as I write this, has been the pronouncement by the Leader of the Government party in Parliament and a very senior Cabinet member, Lakshman Kiriella, that “the law enforcement authorities had not done their job!” This is one of the most senior and powerful members of this government speaking of the incompetence/indifference of employees reporting directly to his government!
The final act of this government, as I conclude this piece, is the appointment of an insignificant Cabinet member belonging to the United National Party from the Uva Province as the Minister of Law and Order even after there have been widespread public demands for Marshall Sarath Fonseka, already in the Cabinet, to be appointed to the position. Minister Rajitha Senaratne, the official government spokesman, had already made official public statements, on more than one recent occasion, that such an appointment was to take place once the Prime Minister, the acting Minister of Law and Order, stepped down. One doesn’t have to join the dots from Fonseka’s threats of swift action against murderers, thieves and the monumentally corrupt, including very senior police officers, to the government reneging on its promise to appoint him as Minister of Law & Order.
Words cannot begin to describe what politicians on both sides of the (non-existent?) divide have visited upon the people of Sri Lanka.
Today the Muslims, tomorrow……………?