By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“A state of permanent war….where violence pervades all spheres of life, where the rich flourish and the poor live in misery; a state that will be deserted by the best of its children? – Yuri Avnery (Countercurrents)
Last week, the Cimmerian darkness enveloping Sri Lanka was breached by a spark of resistance. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) decided to invite the lawful Chief Justice of the country, rather than the usurper, to grace its annual convocation.
In a country becoming habituated into fear and submission, the principled decision by the BASL – and its new president – was both rare and laudable. It demonstrated that courage is not dead in Sri Lanka. More pertinently it reminded the rest of society of the necessity – and the possibility – of resisting the Rajapaksa plague.
The Rajapaksas, shocked by this unexpected sign of independent life in the legal community, are resorting to their usual tactic of demonisation. A group of tamed SLFP lawyers accused the BASL and its new President of being LTTE proxies. Somehow the charge lacked vigour and credibility, probably because the Tiger has been dead, manifestly and uninterruptedly, for almost 4 years.
Therein stems the Siblings’ desperate need for a new enemy, an enemy terrifying enough to frighten the absolute majority of Sinhalese into mute compliance.
The Rajapaksas would be particularly loath to let the legal community find its feet, its voice and its path again.
The moment Shirani Bandaranaike arrived at the BASL convocation, the Attorney General reportedly left it. Had the AG’s Department retained its relative autonomy, perhaps the AG could have acted with greater courage. But one of the first moves of the Rajapaksas, after their 2010 electoral triumph, was to place the AG’s Department under presidential control. Today the AG is nothing but a Presidential-cipher. His job is to persecute Rajapaksa opponents and protect Rajapaksa acolytes. The decision to release Minister Mervyn Silva’s errant son and the politically-connected suspects of Kahawatte serial killings is evidential of this altered role of the AG.
The attackers of the Pepiliyana branch of ‘Fashion Bug’ have been released, as were those who attacked the Jaffna TNA meeting. This week the ‘Uthayan’ newspaper was attacked again. Even if the police manage to catch the culprits, the AG will not press charges.
The Rajapaksas need to be able to break, bend, circumvent, ignore and create laws in order to enhance their power, riches and wellbeing.
According to media reports, Shashindra Rajapaksa, the son of Speaker Rajapaksa, will continue as the Basnayake Nilame of the Katharagama Devalaya, sans an election, thanks to the special gazette No. 1807/39, issued on March 15th by his Uncles’ government. “The gazette….has exempted Ruhunu Katharagama Devale….from clause 12 (a) of Buddhist Viharas and Devalagam Temporalities Act which states that the period a person could hold the post of Basnayake Nilame could be extended only by two years” (Lanka – 23.3.2012). Without that Avuncular intervention, Mr. Rajapaksa would have had to face an election in order to retain his post; now he need not. Incidentally, according to the normal law Mr. Rajapaksa cannot be Chief Minister and Basnayake Nilame, simultaneously. But his Uncles’ government nullified that legal bar via another gazette (1614/30 of August 14th, 2009).
The Rajapaksas do not care about the people, the law or even supposedly hallowed traditions. Their sole concern is to rule supreme and rule eternally.
The anti-Muslim hysteria orchestrated by the BBS fits in perfectly with the Rajapaksa agenda. Not only will the Muslim bogey enable the Siblings to silence Southern dissent and justify even the most appalling acts of repression and deeds of injustice. It may also enable them to worm their way into Indian/Western good books. Gotabhaya and Basil Rajapaksa have chosen to retain their US citizenship; they have families and properties in the US. Thus an escalation of Western animosity towards Colombo can hurt them, personally. With the Rajapaksas, anti-imperialism is just a convenient banner and not a genuine conviction. If the West can be persuaded to overlook the Siblings’ misrule and other crimes, Colombo will be perfectly happy to fall in line with Washington and London.
Perhaps the Siblings look at Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Mali and Uganda and think that turning Sri Lanka into a ‘frontline-state’ against ‘Global Islamic terrorism’ is the way to win Western favour, while pursuing the path of Familial Rule and Dynastic Succession with total impunity. Perhaps they are looking beyond an Obama administration to a Republican Washington with Islamophobes controlling all the levers of power and influence. Perhaps they are hoping for a BJP-led government in Delhi, with an arch-fanatic like Narendra Mohi as the PM. Currently CM Modi is persona-non-grata in the US due to his supposed role in 2002 Gujarat Riots. But a Republican Congressional delegation recently visited Gujarat, lauded Mr. Modi and invited him to visit Washington. Do the Rajapaksas think that in a few years there will be a Republican-BJP axis and that they can find their niche in this Islamophobic alliance?
A pipe-dream? Indubitably; but pipe-dreams can be perused, often at uncountable cost.
Towards a Wasteland
Religious extremism was a key reason for the downfall of the mighty Spanish empire.
When Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes, Huguenots departed for more tolerant lands. Most of the Huguenots were skilled craftsmen (especially weavers). There was a direct correlation between this mass emigration and the subsequent economic blossoming of countries such as England and Netherlands which welcomed the Huguenots and benefited from their skill and know-how.
BBS’s Rabble-Rouser-in-Chief, Rev. Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thero wants to build an army of Sinhala-Buddhist vigilantes. In his infamous Maharagama speech he said, “There are goni billas everywhere; bearded men everywhere…. Today, after this Maharagama meeting, every adult, every youth, including monks should become unofficial cops…. Because of this democratic nonsense the nation is being destroyed…. From today we must become the unofficial policemen of the nation…” Using words, images and figures to compel a nation to go out of its mind and then inducing that psychotic-nation to attack a minority is not new in history. The Nazis, for instance, were masters at it. As Reinhard Heydrich pointed out, “Today the German population forces the Jew to behave himself. The control of the Jew through the watchful eye of the whole population is better….”i
Vigilantes are mobs; mobs lack pity, decency, humanity and basic intelligence. The BBS way will pave the way to another Black July.
Last week, a member of the Maharagama UC abused a 12 year old girl. That is not a rumour but a fact. No monks demonstrated against the child-abuser; no mobs attacked him, even though the victim was a Sinhala-Buddhist child. Clearly the BBS policy is that crime is a crime only if the perpetrator is Muslim/Tamil/Christian and the victim is a Sinhala-Buddhist.
The public threatening of Cricket Board officials/cricketers by a BBS-offshoot indicates that the current pandemic of fanaticism will not spare even those Sinhala-Buddhists who refuse to abide by the BBS dictats.
The activities of these ‘Mara Sena’ (Forces of Death) might help the Rajapaksas stay in power forever; but they will make Sri Lanka an unliveable land for more of its people.