By Emil van der Poorten –
To say that reams of paper, or the equivalent in electronic publication, have been used in belabouring what is or is not our “national identity” would be to seriously understate what has been happening in this country, particularly since the end of the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
One of the greater absurdities was the “abolition of minorities” that the President proclaimed at one of the early triumphalist gatherings. One did not need to have anything resembling academic credentials in any discipline to realise that this was nothing but political sloganeering at best and an attempt to homogenize Sri Lanka in a manner that the Rajapaksa Regime thought fit, at worst, neither in any way acceptable.
What is particularly bemusing is the fact that, pretty well without exception, those who are talking about national unity, the diversity of Sri Lanka’s population and a whole other blather of terminology that I daresay even they do not have so much as a dictionary understanding of, more often than not are driven by a level of insincerity that boggles the mind.
One thing that has struck me as relevant in this discussion about “national identity” is the fact that three members of the Rajapaksa family have, not to put too fine a point on it, absolute political and fiscal control of Sri Lanka. The relevance of that fact to this discussion will be evident to anyone who continues to read this submission to its end.
The President has been consistent in espousing the need for “one nation, undivided.” His two brothers who wield enormous economic and military power, respectively, in this country are both U. S. Citizens or on their way to achieving that status via the Green Card route. Neither of the younger siblings have ever, by word or deed, suggested that they will surrender that status for Sri Lankan citizenship, pure and simple. One can, accordingly and reasonably, assume that they are supportive of the primary tenets on which the good old U. S. of A is based.
Never denying that it is a “nation of immigrants,” the USA has always sought to assimilate every new arrival rather than integrate them. If two thirds of the Rajapaksa Power Troika, already U.S. citizens or aspiring to that status, follow that thinking, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination for any observer to comprehend the fact that they wholeheartedly support the premise that Sri Lanka should also become “one nation, undivided,” a description not only espousing and forcing assimilation of any minorities into one Sri Lankan whole but setting the stage, as has become increasingly evident, for the subjugation of any “lesser” racial/ethnic “others” in the process. Let me refer to a statement of Mr. Basil Rajapaksa some time ago that his ambition was to re-make Sri Lanka in the image of the USA, something I have not heard him seeking to recant since. And, despite the anti-US babble that is played and re-played ad infinitum, accompanied by fasts-unto-death etc., we are dancing, most animatedly, to the USA’s tune in a variety of ways, particularly in the matter of “liberalisation,” “privatization” etc. etc. (take your pick from the World Bank Thesaurus of economic terminology)
All of this – the real Rajapaksa agenda – is aided by the dumbing down of the Sri Lankan population, for reasons that will take too long in the telling for purposes of this discussion, which is only too ready to march behind (misspelled) posters proclaiming “Down with the Imperialists/Westerners/”Para suddhas” (take your pick) while ensuring that supplies of Fair & Lovely fairly fly off store shelves, one of the more interesting phenomena of Sri Lanka’s current culture! It certainly appears illustrative of a post-colonial relationship that is characterized by an addiction to “B” grade Hollywood action films; sold out performances of everything from hip-hop artists to latter-day reincarnations of the abominably vacuous Jim Reeves and other unlamented pop performers of a like substance and time; and “Talent” and “Reality”, shows that make anyone with any sensitivity to indigenous culture cringe! All of this, though, is reflective of a reality that says “Para-suddha” in one breath and seeks to ape the worst of what comes off that “Suddha’s” turf, trying to achieve epidermal pallor that those coming by it naturally seek to be rid of by sun-tanning!
And how does the “one nation, united” sloganeering fit in with all of this? It is simply the other side of the coin of political stupidity parading as some kind of “Identity” on which you can hang your “national pride.” It also bears ominous comparison to the Nativist movement in New York in the early days of the Excited States of Amnesia, a horror depicted in the Martin Scorsese film, “The Gangs of New York.” That was a violent “cleansing” of those who weren’t White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, several ethnic minorities taking their turn in the urban abattoir of racism that was New York City then. Comparisons, anyone?
Looked at in the cold light of day, no one in Sri Lanka claiming to be “pure” this or “pure” that can substantiate such a claim except by falling back on some piece of mythology. We are an island nation, a small one at that and apart from the geographical, historical and economic realities that have been a part of our evolution to what we are today, we do not have the space, vegetation etc. to claim some pristine pureness as might the Yanomami of the Amazon rain forest. Any claim of “purity” is pure unadulterated nonsense and no persecution or killing of those perceived as the “other” in paranoid defence of that stand is going to make it the truth or, God forbid, make it come to pass.
Why don’t we, instead, do something infinitely more realistic? Why don’t we accept the fact that every one of us is different, even if they happen to have the same mother and father? “Separate but equal” is a phrase that took on a lot of negative baggage a long time ago. However, if one is looking for slogans, it will do as well as any. We can and MUST retain our individuality, and that includes as communities of various kinds. NOT “tolerant” but “accepting” and there is a world of difference between those two words.
The stupidity of large chunks of our population who are beguiled by some chimera of a pristine Sinhala Buddhist nation boggles the mind! Is it any wonder that pursuit of such pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die leads not only to ongoing frustration but will ultimately lead to the discovery of some Sri Lankan equivalent of Dante’s Inferno rather than paradise when the destination is reached?
What’s wrong with a conscious attempt at establishing a truly democratic country where, at the very least, the right to twirl your umbrella ends where the tip of my nose begins?
Enough of this humbug being foisted on us by moronic, uncultured politicians parading as arbiters of “culture” and “civilization!” All we need to do is just look ahead of us to know where the route I have suggested can take us and then look back at the chauvinist, racist, religio-fundamentalist path we have trod as a nation and where it has brought us. Like the man said, “Fooled me once, shame on you. Fooled me twice, shame on me.” How many times do Sri Lankans need to be fooled before they wake up to their self-inflicted pain and chaos and try to do something about it?
 Perhaps the most widely-used product claiming to make users “fairer.”