23 September, 2020

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Violence: Paradox Of Sri Lanka & Sri Lankans! 

By Laksiri Fernando –

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

We are not merely the most intelligent of animals. We also have a rare and perplexing combination of moral tendencies. We can be the nastiest of species and also the nicest.” ~ Richard Wrangham 

When the British PM Theresa May declared her resignation, she talked about ‘the country I love,’ almost in tears and emotion. We all feel the same no doubt about our own country Sri Lanka whatever the misgivings that we have about its violence, misdeeds or leaders.  

There must have been so many events that have disturbed us in life, and in my case most were related to violence and killings. I left active left politics after the 1971 insurrection because it was unfortunately in the name of ‘socialism’ and ‘revolution,’ although I had occasion to warn about its catastrophic consequences as a young university teacher. 

Cycles of Violence 

Some may point out only the atrocities of the police and the armed forces in 1971, but I have at least seen two dead bodies killed by the insurrectionists at Rambukkana. It is the same tendency that became enlarged in 1987/89 period. Although I was abroad (fortunately) by this time, I have seen dead bodies at Ratmalana and Agulana during a visit in early 1989. 

Most disturbing out of all violence undoubtedly is the violence committed by one community against the other without any cause or objective, but just hatred. Apart from 1958, when I was too small to witness except hear, there were series beginning 1977 culminating against the Tamils in 1983. Those made the country’s image to tear and terrorism to emerge. And when you belong to the community who is the main perpetrator, the feeling of despair and disgust is undoubtedly the most. We left the country in 1984.    

It is not only what you see that disturbs you, but what you hear or come to know about. Of course Sri Lanka is not the only country that is engulfed in violence but many that I have visited in Asia and the Middle East on official duties. That experience led me to come back in 1997 and try my best to help resolve the situation, unfortunately no that successfully.  

After the end of the war, there was a particular incident that disturbed me most. That was in October 2009. A mentally unbalanced Tamil youth in his underwear was throwing stones at trains in Bambalapitiya. The police came in civils and without arresting him, chased the man to the sea and attacked him with poles until he drowned. People watched but no one tried to prevent or object. (Watch You Tube). That is the time we decided to come back to Australia again.  

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The Paradox 

Sri Lanka is not all violent. There are peaceful times. The country achieved independence in 1948 peacefully. Until 1958 major communal riots, it was relatively peaceful. Then after 1971, until around 1983 it was again relatively peaceful. It is a beautiful and a friendly country in general. People also have achieved many things in cooperation and harmony. I have met many people who have visited Sri Lanka from different parts of the world and they appreciate not only the natural beauty but also peoples hospitality. It is peaceful until people become suddenly violent! 

After the end of the war in 2009, who believed something would happen suddenly as the recent Easter Carnage? 

Sureshini Sanders also called Sri Lanka ‘The Land of Lost Content’ (2013). There is another book by the same title. She notes the following with amusement and also sadness referring to the 1983 riots. 

Dad had a Tamil friend married to a Sinhala lady and his kids were asked in school, ‘What is happening in Sri Lanka?’ One of them famously answered, ‘I think my mother’s people are trying to kill my father’s people!”  

We need to appreciate the positive sides of  the people and the country as well. Particularly during Tsunami in December 2004, the people became united to assist those who were affected and in need, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or political differences. However, there were some even stole the Tsunami funds! This is a paradox that we encounter everyday in politics and in social life. This is not simply about ‘good people’ and ‘bad people.’ It is mostly the same people playing good and bad. This is what Richard Wrangham said about “We can be the nastiest of species and also the nicest.”      

There was an interesting interview recently given by a woman from Prague, Aran, to the Vishwakarma channel who is apparently stranded in Sri Lanka. She was cheated by a Sri Lankan woman. Yet, she says Sri Lankans are nice and helpful people. More importantly she makes a comparison between Europe and Sri Lanka. She says, in Europe people are not helpful, but if you are in trouble, the police would assist. On the contrary in Sri Lanka, people are helpful, but not the police. This may be her experience, but with some lessons for the country as well. The breakdown of the ‘institutional system’ is mostly at the centre of the unbridled chaos, conflicts and violence. 

Intriguing Questions 

The most intriguing factor is that most people who indulge in violence are almost ordinary people. For example, those who took up arms in 1971 were some of our students at Vidyodaya. They were good natured people in normal life. They thought they were fighting for a good cause, to change the class nature of society and bring socialism. The question however is why some people take up arms and some not for the same cause?  

Then you have the state and its armed forces. From its origins, the state has been a coercive and sometimes a brutal apparatus. It is often justified that if otherwise that the society would run into chaos and violence. Therefore to prevent violence, an organized form of violence is institutionalized. That is the argument. Then again there is a question why some people join the armed forces (including the police) and some not? Of course some may be desperate in finding employment. However there are some others who join the police or the army because of its apparent power. They indulge in violations. 

I have also conducted classes for armed forces on human rights, conflict resolution and related matters. They are ordinary and sensible people and even when they are confronted with moral questions, some even were forthcoming in divulging some of their deviations or mistakes. Lack of knowledge on ‘what is right and what is wrong,’ and the absence of rules  and training on correct behaviour also might be contributing factors to the institutionalized state violence. 

Those who take up violence as a ‘career’ are often called terrorists. They also could be the most ordinary people. Either they are indoctrinated to indulge in violence as a cause or forced to be so under compulsive circumstances. 

In the case of Sri Lanka however it appears that for the recurrent cycles of violence, insurrections, terrorism and state violence, there are more profound political factors underpinning those occurrences, nationally and also internationally. It may be suggested that violence in society is linked to violence in politics. It is not only overt violence that we should be concerned about but also hidden and covert forms of violence that we ourselves must be careful about. 

There are links between extremist views, criticisms, propaganda and violence. There are links between intolerance of views, hatred, castigation of others (for the slightest disagreement!) and violence.       

Some Reasons

It is difficult to identify in one go the possible reasons for the endemic nature of violence in Sri Lanka or elsewhere. One may need to analyse more carefully the events and incidents in determining particular reasons for particular incidents/upsurges of violence. However, there are general patterns and reasons. 

There is a tendency in social studies to always identify socio-economic or objective reasons (i.e. unemployment, poverty, discrimination etc.) for political violence or even terrorism. However that is not the case or not always the case. While they undoubtedly could supply background reinforcements, the actual driving forces are subjective and ideological. This is abundantly clear through the suicide bombings that created the Easter Carnage recently, more than the LTTE or the JVP insurrections in the past. 

Then what drives the humans to follow and embrace ideologies of warfare, violence and terrorism? Some of the reasons may be inherent in our genes and biological evolution. In 1996, Dale Peterson and Richard Wrangham published a book called ‘Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence.’ Based on many field studies they identified similarities in aggression between chimpanzees and humans. 

The main culprits were the males! This sounds quite fitting to Sri Lanka as well. I am not sure whether they did a study on generational differences of violent chimpanzees. But in Sri Lanka’s case, the culprits are mainly or relatively male-youth, although there have been female suicide bombers as well, but mostly conscripted. When one looks at violence and warfare that humans or Sri Lankans have been indulged in throughout years or centuries, it should have come from somewhere. Arthur C. Clarke fictionally imagined it had come from the aliens! (A Space Odyssey, 2001). 

Richard Dawkins argued it is The Selfish Gene (1978) that leads not only to selfishness but also to violence, killings and warfare. It was a scientific study. This is what the Buddha tried to deconstruct or counter,  but it appears that this particular gene is abundantly there among some of our Buddhist monks. 

There is however a new study by Richard Wrangham (The Goodness Paradox: How Evolution Made Us Both More and Less Violent, 2019) that gives us some hope. The hope is that there are some traits of ‘tolerance’ and ‘less aggression’ as well (a good gene perhaps!) in humans beings that we might be able to cultivate through awareness and self-discipline. Most important might be to give more space for the females to conduct public affairs as they appear to be less fortunate with the selfish gene.  

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Latest comments

  • 10
    4

    Singapore pm lee Kuan knew how to run a multicultural country and made it a prosperous country. Whereas the sinhalese politicians did not know and follow Buddhism and made sri lanka a killing field.

  • 1
    4

    Your Yamapalana regime. How hard did you work to put these rioters in power!

  • 12
    0

    Lucky that you left the country even you over expressed about it….still we are suffering here.
    Dr. Laksiri please help us to get out from this HELL.

    Sirisena created a HELL in this paradise

  • 13
    2

    Laksiri Fernando,

    One doesn’t need high flown theories or a PhD in political science to find out why Sinhalese mobs go on rioting against minority communities:
    1. They are drunk with power because the rulers and the armed forces are Sinhalese.
    2. Armed forces aid and abet with the Sinhalese rioters,
    3. Buddhist monks, who are held in high esteem by the Sinhalese Buddhists are also behind such malicious activates against the minorities, and the politicians dance to their tunes for fear of losing votes.
    4. Most important of all rule of law is not enforced against Sinhalese mob rioters against minorities: Rioters are not brought to justice from 1958 onwards – not even in the most recent riots against Muslims, whereas in the UK riots several years ago, rioters were hunted down and punished.
    5. Sinhalese in general don’t understand that every riot they create makes the country and them poorer. They have such a bloated ego that they blinded to the realities of progress and prosperity cannot happen without unity among all communities.
    6. History will repeat in Sri Lanka until it descends into an abyss.

    • 1
      0

      Yes, until we learn to face the reality of our mentality of not recognising the equality of all Sri Lankans the temporary strides we make moving forward will always be retraced. We need to educate ourselves about the contributions the minority groups have made into the development of our country starting with the leaders who were at the forefront in gaining our independence; look at the significant contributions in the field of education, the Arts, health and the economy in general. We have to go beyond tolerance and educate ourselves to accept, respect and love the other; we need to educate ourselves to be inclusive in our thinking.

  • 9
    2

    Violence is in general is a charcter that is dominant in Srilanka since 1958. Gender (Male over female), Race (Sinhala over Tamil), Religion (Buddhism over Hindu, Muslim and Christianity), Rich over Poor are domainant players for the intense violence within the Srilankan people. Gender factor mostly attributed to phisiol;ogical difference but others are attributed to man made factors or created for opportunitic advantages.
    Srilanka has got high level of education but this education is not used for the country or people. It is only used to create violence.
    Dr. Laksiri, you mentioned “there were some even stole the Tsunami funds! “. Can you tell us who are these “Some”.

  • 5
    0

    Doc, Thank You so much. You really have made a sincere attempt in exploring the core issue which others conveniently ignore. Yes I had been very critical of you lately but when due, I will be the first to give credit and say a big thank you.In my opinion, a country of educated , hospitable and fairly decent people have over the years, gradually transformed/conditioned into immoral ,violent people full of hatred and resentments.The self serving politicians have been working in pushing the bar lower and lower so that now, what is immoral is the new moral. The decline is such our public is readily accepting proven criminals, crooks, murders , rapist and swindlers as their leaders. To make things worse the so called religious heads too are lying ,cheating, deceiving and there by enabling the politicians. I just cant fathom the idea of raising children anymore in such unhealthy environment. What ever the parent may teach , the child is then exposed to such criminals in public and media 24/7. Few years back a kid I knew well,told me that he was driving his parents (father is lawyer, mother is teacher) without possessing a driving license and cops stopped, on a routine check . The kid casually got out, went up to the cops and bribed some money, returned and continued driving. When the father was told he just laughed. You know well what the repercussion would have been, if this occurred in Australia.

  • 3
    1

    Prof. Laksiri says:
    “Then again there is a question why some people join the armed forces (including the police) and some not? Of course some may be desperate in finding employment. However there are some others who join the police or the army because of its apparent power. They indulge in violations. “
    Very true. The armed forces and their composition , being disproportionately rural Sinhala Buddhist, means that they have all the hang-ups of that segment of society.
    Milinda Moragoda ( and no I am no fan of his) has proposed that all males over 18 should serve 2 years in the forces. This should increase minority representation to what it should be (about 25 %). and water down the Sinhala Buddhist tendencies.

    • 1
      0

      Old codger

      “Milinda Moragoda ( and no I am no fan of his) has proposed that all males over 18 should serve 2 years in the forces. This should increase minority representation to what it should be (about 25 %). and water down the Sinhala Buddhist tendencies.”

      Every single nutter, wannabe fascists, monks, priests, criminals, political thugs, rapist, drug dealer, pimp, local Mafia, unemployed ………………….. would be trained, made fit and taught to use firearms, …………… and would someday demand the right of the people to keep and bear Arms especially the Gnanasara variety, ….

      Don’t you think this will lead people to resort to gun fight at Galle Face (or Sri Lankan equivalent of the O.K Coral) to resolve even a minor dispute?

      • 0
        0

        Native,
        Right now the proportion of nutters in the forces is way too high. The entry of those who don’t see it as a route to a pension should dilute that . Also, having trained reserves will remove the need for an expensive and unproductive standing army as at present.

    • 1
      0

      Old codger

      Beware Nimal Fernando has the tendency to draw guns faster than anyone else in this forum.

  • 1
    4

    Laksiri Fernando: One Australian killed 50 muslims in New Zealand.Foreign media says, and I believe it, that Zaharan was pushed to advance his attack. He could not find an enemy. so, he want against his supposed to be enemy the catholics/christians. Then the second attack was organized and political parties were used too. It looks there is a Handler behind all these. but, you want to say Srilanka is violent.

    • 0
      0

      Sri Lanka has violent people, who can be very easily manipulated into ganging up in mobs and attacking, burning, looting, and killing, Sri Lankans of a different race and religion. If this lot genuinely followed the teachings of Lord Buddha, they would NOT be behaving like uncivilized barbarians.
      Our people are cheap. They are willing to turn against their neighbor easily, and their resentment surfaces the moment there is some tension. Every time they attack the minority, our economy suffers.
      They don’ seem to care.

  • 0
    0

    Laksiri Fernando,

    If you just look through neo Marxist lens, you may look at with a different perspective and come to different conclusions!

    You are more a Christian than a- shall I call neo Marxist?.

    This is not a criticism, but a sad thought about the plight of former leftists and socialists in countries like UK, Australia, Sri Lanka, now in India as well

  • 1
    2

    IT is no point of telling it to Jahn Perera: This is part of a Interview”
    Your investigation into the actions of the secret services makes a frightening report. We discover that since the 80’s the United States has invested billions of dollars to finance criminal activities and that by means of the CIA they are directly implicated in the attacks attributed to the Moslem
    It is the only work that establishes the tie between wars in the Balkan of the 90’s and the attack of September 11, 2001. All the large attacks, in New York, in London, in Madrid, would never have taken place without the recruitment by the American and British secret services of these jihadists who have been blamed for the attacks. I bring a new light on the manipulations of the intelligence agencies. Other books than mine have noted the presence of Ossama Ben Laden in the Balkans. But their authors presented the Moslem fighters in the Balkan as enemies of the west. The information that I collected from multiple sources, demonstrate that these jihadists are puppets in the hands of the west and are not, as one pretends, enemies.

  • 0
    2

    Theresa May be genuine. but it is their Past karma. Their grand parents did it to smaller colonies in the world. Now, they RE GOING THROUGH THEIR OWN KARMA..
    i SAW SHE WAS CRYING and tried to understand her agony.

  • 2
    0

    The answer to all of this is as follows. People like yourself Sarath and the lIkes included owe it to the Nation so I ask all of you to rise above your prejudices and lead from the front instead of basking in GLORY.

    1) Stop singing the Songs of Praise for MR , Gotha and their Cohorts.
    2) Accept that Sri Lanka has an Ethnic Divide
    3) Accept that you with all the Securty Appratus in your hand have brutlised the Minorties and Sinhala Lanka holds the record for the number of Race Riots in the World.
    4) Show Remorse and devolve power and punish those who committed War Crimes.
    5) Withour Accountability there can be NO Reconciiation.

    The fight forc Freedom has been internatiolised and if you want to avoid BEHEADING of Sri Lankans who bring so much revenue from working in the Muslim World time for action is now.

  • 1
    2

    58 started by a South Indian 83 also ( see genealogy by dr James t ratnam) you can google.sinhalese are taking the blame! Divide and rule!

  • 0
    2

    58 started by a South Indian 83 also ( see genealogy by dr James t ratnam) you can google.sinhalese are taking the blame! Divide and rule! Last comment was not posted. May be you have an agenda?

  • 2
    0

    Moderator:

    It is excatly 24 hours since I posted my comments but you have chosen to block it for the 2nd time. Some of the Articles from the so called inrellectuals are not Fit For Purpose and factually wrong and needs to be challenged . But I am not sure whether you have taken it upon yousrself or at their request to shield them from any criticism and in a Free Press you need checks and balances. But you have failed to uphold that rare commodity and I am not surprised. This is Sinhala Lanka

  • 1
    0

    It is interesting to note the writer say (in the third last paragraph of his piece) “When one looks at violence and warfare that humans or Sri Lankans have been indulged in throughout years or centuries………………… from the aliens!”. I wonder whether we are to take it that humans and Sri Lankans are not of the same species.

  • 0
    1

    Whatever the race or religion communal violence is the common occurrences in every country. That is not unique to our country. Suicide bombing in religious sites by fanatics of another faith can be categorized in to same lot like communal violence. As such when you live in multinational or multi religion society , you can not think of practicing teaching of your faiths in full. you have to respect beliefs of the others as well although your faith described the other faiths are bullshits and followers are vile animals. That is the basic error of All the Islamist live in whole world. You may say that is the belief of few extremists. That is not the case if you go through their basic religious literature.As such recognition of such cult as one of religion in our constitution is a big blunder done by our leftist parties hierarchies in 1972 like kolvin R de Silva architect of our republic constitution in 1972 .

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