24 October, 2017

Think Globally, Act Locally

By Emil van der Poorten –

Emil van der Poorten

The slogan that is the title of this column is one that was very popular many years ago at the time of the first awakening of North Americans to the need for attention to the environment, global warming and acid rain.

It comes to mind in a Sri Lankan context for two very different reasons, the first of which is the predilection of those supporting the most violent and corrupt government in Sri Lanka’s history for trotting out the “They did it first!” rebuttal every time some international or even local agency concerned with human rights points out (yet) another horrendous incident where, once again, the rule of law is treated as a dead letter rather than the cornerstone of democratic practice and civilized conduct which it is in any civilized, democratic country.  It’s yet another excuse for inaction.

The fact that the western democracies have a bottomless well of hypocrisy into which our sycophantic horde dips its collective bucket for fresh supplies of material to throw at those critical of the regime they serve so assiduously should not, in any way, impede the need to continue to draw attention to the parlous condition of quasi-democracy in Sri Lanka.

I will never tire of saying that just because Hitler visited genocide on a minority group does not give us and ours the right to do so.  Just because Mao and Stalin murdered millions of people in pursuit of some irrational scheme for economic modernization or because of paranoia or megalomania doesn’t give us an excuse to overlook something similar in our circumstances.

We need, as Sri Lankans to fall back on a (Buddhist) culture that completely rejected violence in any form, leave alone the exercise of brutality as the prime tool of governance.  What is being suggested here is not some form of simplistic Judaeo-Christian precept of “peace to all mankind, love thy neighbor” and “we are one nation,” but a rejection of violence in any and all of its forms, particularly in the matter of governance of this country’s population.  That calls for honesty in examination of of what has transpired, particularly in the history of this country since independence in 1948 and a public acceptance of the crimes and injustices that have been perpetrated, no matter by whom.  South Africa’s reconciliatory rather than retributive model is the obvious one to follow.   Until and unless we do this, we will not even begin any kind of national healing process, leave alone create a nation united as it goes forward to the economic success that is a sine qua non for its very survival.  If we lose or further delay the opportunity of following that model, we are courting nothing less than disaster.

The other fall-back I have kept hearing ever since my return to the land in which I was born is “they” are soooo..  powerful and we are so few in numbers that we can do nothing about their behaviour.  Let me, for the umpteenth time, fall back on the timeless words of Margaret Mead which are more than appropriate in rebuttal:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

With the advent of means of communication as fast as the speed of light, it seems, the tools are available to a wide swathe of the community to get the word out that the pillaging of this country is simply not acceptable, must stop and, in the event that it does not, that the community at large will ensure that it does.  Standing up against the banditry in our country is not the daunting task it was when I was first involving myself in political activism and (need I say it?) even up to 15 or 20 years ago when there were very few media outlets in Sri Lanka: remember that, when one spoke of “mass media” in Sri Lanka it used to mean government-controlled radio and daily print publications you could count on the fingers of your two hands and have a few digits left over?  All of these were also completely controlled by those whose class-connections left no doubt as to what they wished printed (or not printed!)

I have had the opportunity to be politically active on two continents over many years (sometimes more than I care to remember!) and I do know what it means to canvass support in villages in the hinterland of our country, served by little other than footpaths, and in single constituencies larger than all of our Resplendent Isle with populations smaller than the total Voters’ List in a Municipal Ward in Sri Lanka.

Times have changed and the nature, extent and reach of media has grown exponentially, but the basic factors have remained the same.

In circumstances where it is still “one person, one vote,” the bottom line is getting as many as possible to the polling station on election day or to mass public protests as share the beliefs I am talking about: basically that the rule of law should prevail and there is transparency in all the actions of government and the private sector.  “Good governance” cannot but follow on the heels of the establishment of those principles.

In the matter of the practicalities of what we are talking about, you need to ensure that the beliefs just mentioned are shared.  That should present no challenge because they are as basic as “kavun and kiribath at New Year” as one might say in this country.  However, this is obviously a process that needs to precede the any actual campaign leading up to an election or organizing mass protests and needs to be approached on the practical basis of “applying the resources available to the maximum effect.”

One of the primary excuses for inaction advanced by the “They are soooo powerful” brigade is the corollary claim that “They have control of the media and have the money and muscle to make all our efforts futile.”  Take a good hard look, my older friends in particular, wasn’t this the “reality” way back then as well?  Lakehouse used to be the dominant newspaper group and Radio Ceylon the only game in town insofar as the ether was concerned.  Both were dominated, if not absolutely controlled, by the United National Party, and espoused the philosophy and policies of that party in unmistakable terms.   Among the advantages that they held, the wealthy political parties (read again as “the UNP!”) were the only ones with the ability to provide transportation to voters to the polls, in addition to the money to print and distribute paper publicity in a variety of forms.

Yet Wijayananda Dahanayake, running, if I remember right, for the Lanka Sama Samaja Party in that first election, a doctrinaire Trotskyist party, with not so much as a bicycle, leave alone buses, at his disposal, asked his supporters not to hesitate to get to the polls in free transportation provided by his UNP opponent, H.W. Amarasuriya, and vote for “Daha.”  You’ve guessed right: W. Dahanayake beat one of the UNP’s giants in the Southern Province.

Among the others performing similar “giant-killing feats” (in the Central Province) at that time of our history was T. B. Ilangaratne and his wife, Tamara, in Kandy.

When Mrs. B seemingly bestrode the Sri Lankan political field like the proverbial colossus, not hesitating to use State resources to advance her party’s cause, and Tamara Kumari Illangaratne had metamorphosed into the Amazon of the Galagedera electorate, a lowly small-village mudalali called Tikiri Banda succeeded in defeating her by dint of hard work and determination on his part and that of his unpaid volunteers, in 1965.

Times might have changed, the means of “getting the word out” have doubtless been revolutionized, but as long as the will is there, political change can be affected.

In all reality, the massive exercise of the current militarized Sri Lankan state’s power has changed the old democratic equation significantly.  But new challenges simply call for new responses.

We have the means of “getting the word out” even in a country where the media falls into one, two or all three categories not conducive to expression of opposition or dissent: it is directly owned by the government, it is completely controlled by government sycophants or paid lackeys, it self-censors to the point where its “news” falls into one or more of the categories reading “irrelevant,”  “garbled,” or “untrue.”

We need to go over or around this travesty of “free media.”  We have the means to do it and we need to exercise those means.  The massive, revolutionary capacity of communication methods outside what used to be the “mainstream” were more than amply demonstrated in the Maghreb, irrespective of whether the outcome was completely desirable or not.  We can do the same in Sri Lanka which certainly has far deeper roots in democratic practice than Libya, Tunisia or Egypt EVER had.

Make no mistake, the present regime, through its minions in such places as Deraniyagala and Rathupaswela have provided ample evidence of what it is capable.  But, nobody said you could make omelettes without breaking eggs and some of us could well end up being the “hen’s fruit” in this equation!  Considering that the alternative is a living death under the dispensations of this regime, the status quo doesn’t offer too many alternatives for the future, does it?

We need to look outside our shores and outside our time for historical precedents to ensure that decency and democracy return to our land.  The first stirrings of such a movement have begun from among those considered least likely to show resistance: the rural poor of the Sinhala heartland.  It is our responsibility to build on this and return Sri Lanka to what its democratic foundation promised not so long ago.

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    I would say ‘Think sensibly and act reasonably’. What is sensible seems to have lost meaning to people who are power hungry. For instance the reaction to criticism would nowadays be a white van or thieves breaking into your house. Running for an election means having your house bombed and family shot at. The limits of reasonable are also stretched in a similair fashion.

    I am inclined to believe that this is due to the prevalence of a high level of mental sickness and lunacy in people. People behaving irrationally is on the increase. Just observe the behaviour of people on the road.

    “Philosophers such as Aristotle and Pliny the Elder argued that the full Moon induced insane individuals with bipolar disorder by providing light during nights which would otherwise have been dark, and affecting susceptible individuals through the well-known route of sleep deprivation.” – Lunacy could be a result of extensive night life which is a characteristic of the powerful clique.

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      Yes you have something really valid there and may I further add that not all of us are born equally as we tend to mostly claim. We are all both mad and bad to some extent but politicians need to be both mad and bad to a greater extent than the average citizen and/or subject. In most other cases we are neither mad nor bad but with poorly developed brains that may have been affected by even the poor nutrition of our grandparents.

      Most repeat offending criminals seem to have poorly developed frontal cortexes that do not let them think much of the consequences or reign in their emotions. Much of our probs and ills stem from the myth that we are all born equal when the reality is otherwise where one doubts if even identical twins are born that equal. Though our needs and wants may be often similar and/or the same, yet even there people differ due to their genetics, epigenetic, mental developmental constraints, stagnations and retardations due to the bio-socio-cultural milieu and other mematic factors.

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    Yes you have something really valid there and may I further that not all of us born equally as we tend to mostly claim. We are all both mad and bad to some extent but politicians need to be both mad and bad to a greater extent than the average citizen and/or subject. In most other cases we are neither mad nor bad but with poorly developed brains that may have been affected by even the poor nutrition of our grandparents.

    Most repeat offending criminals seem to have poorly developed frontal cortexes that do not let them think much of the consequences or reign in our emotions. Much of our probs and ills stem from the myth that we are all born equal when the reality is otherwise where one doubts if even identical twins are born that equal. Though our needs and wants may be often similar and/or the same, yet even there people differ due to their genetics, epigenetic, mental developmental constraints, stagnations and retardations due to the specific bio-socio-cultural milieu and other mematic factors.

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    Emil, what you are asking us is to revolt. Isn’t that correct?

    We know about your bad old Equitist days in Alberta with Barry Pashak when your futuristic Equity (Forum) Party performed miracles by developing policy through “online think tanks” organised around the Internet.

    Pashak still curses you for destroying the party by becoming more interested in community activism and Edmonton municipal politics and failing to run one candidate to maintain registration.

    You might try those old tricks in Sri Lanka now. But the government can be confident that a looser like you can never succeed with the Winter genes in your blood!

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      Watching brief:
      The fact that some people keep digging for “dirt” about me only seems to confirm the need for CT to put out an Angoda/Mulleriyawa edition!

      Incidentally, when next you communicate with Barry Pashak, give him my regards.

      Incidentally, if you go back far enough into my genealogy, you will find, in addition to the Winter and van der Poorten genes a few from Kandyan families from the Tumpane and Kadugannawa/Mawanella areas and from goodness knows how many parts of Europe and the US. I don’t think Saradiel, Robin Hood, Jack the Ripper and Al Capone figure among my ancestors, though I must admit that sometimes I wish they did!
      Going from the sublime to the ridiculous is one thing, but when people are reduced to going from the ridiculous to the lunatic, it provides a totally different dimension!

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        So any one who opposes your conspiratorial rubbish is a lunatic, is that right?

        Bend down and look back up your rear end to find out the amount of digging you have been doing to find “dirt” on other people.
        Be aware that the people who need to know know a lot about your contacts and sources including those in Colombo embassies!

        All arrogant fools consider themselves precious, and are unable to see their own ridiculous personalities.

        You atand out among them!

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          Watching Brief:
          I was brought up NOT to laugh at or make fun of the mentally unstable. However, in your case that is an extremely difficult, if not impossible, dictum to follow!
          When you say, “Be aware that the people who need to know know a lot about your contacts and sources including those in Colombo embassies!” is that meant to be yet another of the threats that you and your “handlers” have been handing out to those who disagree with them? Rest assured, that even if I knew where all the Western embassies were located, I wouldn’t have the time or the inclination to go “embassy-hopping” and your friends who keep hacking into my emails should know by now that my friends are not “conspirators against Sri Lanka,” not even by their paranoid standards! They should know that after finding out what my grand-daughter’s itinerary was to be in Sri Lanka two years ago!
          I am now fairly certain of the identity that your pseudonym seeks to cover. It is certainly not appropriate to someone who might claim a PhD after his name!

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    Hmmm…Very interesting…

    Please Let the rural poor living along those footpaths and over and across the paddy fields lift themselves up first, in the rapidly expanding current Economy and catch up with your Elite mates in the City.

    Then these rural poor can get an IPohne for their poor younhsters so that they can respond to your Twitters and rush in bigger numbers than in Rathupussellawa.

    While Mr Poorten is working OT to convert the rural poor to the Capitalist class and caste,the Cs already there seem to be leaving the herd even with their IPhones and Twitter accounts.

    The 3 to 1 drubbling of Ranil’s UNP in Puttalam and N’Eliya is worse than the 2 to 1 in Matale and Kandy.

    These are electorates where large concentrations of minorities live,

    Did these people get the jitters over Ranil’s unstinted support to the LTTE proxy TNA and especially to its leader Sambandan?..

    Did they sense that the TNA ” Manifesto” is not good for them going forward?.

    Having seen how the great majority of the real indegenous South African live after their” White Man” drafted reconciliation with the Elitist Africans,we can only be thankful that our leaders won’t put the majority Srilankans in the same plight.

    Is Mr Poorten risking even excommunication to help his Elitist politician mates?.

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    K. A. Sumanasekera (aka? aka?)
    The incoherent rubbish thrown at a target that doesn’t exist, obviously, doesn’t merit attention.
    However, to your question, “Is Mr Poorten risking even excommunication to help his Elitist politician mates?” even if the question is largely and typically incomprehensible, suffice it to say that one has to belong to some “faith” to be excommunicated. IF I was a Roman Catholic, you could have contacted that great buddy of your boss and yourself, the Cardinal (I mean the churchman and not a bird)and have me excommunicated (or worse – burnt at the stake, perhaps!) However, sorry to disappoint you, buddy, because I don’t (unlike you) belong to any “religion,” temporal or ecclesiastical, and certainly not on payment of a regular stipend!

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    Blaming someone else when anything goes wrong is an age-old Sri Lankan defence, and not one likely to be jettisoned anytime soon. Why waste valuable time setting our own standards when the ‘they did it’ defence has stood us in good stead all these years. Twenty five centuries old noble truths, forged in high meditation, count for naught when it comes to setting OUR own national standards and morals. Put simply, why waste valuable balls-scratching time, when myriad excuses come easily to hand. To the shysters in government, the national apathy in our land like no other presents them with the earthly manifestation of that mythical Shangri-La. Sadly, the skin of our tribe grows thicker by the day. The recent pathetic responses of ministers of state during the recent visit of the UN Commissioner of Human Rights were an outright disgrace and it just washed over the general populace as if nothing happened. When I spoke with a Whitehall mandarin on Saturday, he mentioned that ‘GOSL emissaries to London these days were about as welcome as a ‘fart in a lift’ – a sorry indication as to how far our international stock has fallen.
    You are right when you say that hope must not be lost. A ‘democratic’ electoral majority is not necessarily a moral majority. But we who share that sentiment, and yearn for a better tomorrow, may have some time to wait. The will is there but the way has yet to show itself. Remember, as Aunty Edna reminded me often, the darkest hour is usually just before the dawn.

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    Emil,

    Greetings and we are free at last and so will you be but it is a mater of time.

    I like to address your concerns under the heading

    RISE & FALL OF MAHINTHA RAJAPAKSE.

    I like to quote the famous words of Late Diana who said “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”

    Sri Lanka is a bit crowded for Tamils Sinhalese and the MR Clan to live together under the same roof so we have to have separate sleeping arrangements and we served notice on the 22nd of our intentions.

    RISE:

    The Trials and Tribulations of the last 64 years ( Dare I say going back 3000 years) has been due to the failure and the intransigence by the Sinhalese majority to address the Tamil Issue by meeting the Tamil Aspirations. But they failed miserably in that respect creating fear and hatred simply because the vast majority of the Sinhalese are inherently Racist.

    Just step back for a moment and imagine that there were no Tamils in the Island and I bet MR would not have risen to power and even if he did he would have been soundly beaten at the ballot box with his record of Thuggery.
    He was able to rise to power by playing the Race Card and promising to destroy the LTTE and the Tamil Nation for which he had a receptive audience. He is able to hang on as that audience is still listening to that same music.

    FALL:

    MR promised to destroy the LTTE and the Tamil Nation and colonise the north but he has been stopped in his tracks. The Sinhalese expected him to fulfil his promise but that has not happened and will never happen and you cannot destroy 3000 year old Tamil Heritage and Culture.
    When the people realise that he has failed miserably then the allegiance will switch and with the election of the CM to Northern Assembly and devolution of power MR has lost control of the North and his dream of Ethnic Cleansing is in tatters. By March 2014 with a change at the top in India MR will be looking in to the abyss and the prospect of him being taken to the Hague will become a reality.
    MR would have then fallen from grace and the question of Accountability would have been settled.

    We can then begin the process of Reconciliation as two separate people within a set up of an Autonomous State.

    I would like to set up a charity to offer Scholarships to both Tamil and Sinhalese children who have been affected by the War and have suffered as a result.
    In that respect I would certainly contact you when the time is right and you can compile a list of Sinhalese families who can benefit from the Charity and these are early days.

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