26 August, 2019

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Why I Still Stand By Sri Lanka

By Demi Perera –

Demi Perera

Sri Lanka is open. That is what I’m telling the world in my capacity as a travel writer. Moving on from a terror attack, which is amongst the worst the world has seen, the country is facing an unequivocal truth; life must go on. Given its history of resilience life will not simply go on but it will do so with gusto. Of that I’m sure. When the church bells toll again the storm that hit will have passed to clear the way to a renewed sense of strength and togetherness amongst the people. That is the collective wish and the good news we dare to hope for.

To arrive at our figurative light at the end of the tunnel requires the acknowledgement of what transpired. The truth. That elusive Golden Snitch which is so often hard to digest. Sri Lanka has awakened to yet another new beginning. One that was brutally imposed yet withstood by a nation united in inconceivable tragedy. An act of violence that will once again change the course of the island’s history.

How is it that we find ourselves here again? Peace that cost 30 years and thousands of lives was never leveraged to build reconciliation and lay the foundations for a stable and inclusive future or all. A thing that was entirely possible in competent hands. Instead, it was squandered in a vacuum of morality and integrity. As the country fell from the corrupt and dictatorial frying pan in to the incompetent and fractured fire the welfare of the people rested on those, even at first glance, ill-suited to leadership.

Life moved on without the foresight to protect the two things that made Sri Lanka a land like no other; the land itself and its natural resources. With no regard nor an apparent understanding of sustainability fraud, constitutional crisis and chaos followed. Risky foreign investment as well as tourists flowed to the island lured by its strategic location and staggering natural beauty. Merciless gentrification along the coasts imploded at any cost. The very ground beneath our feet was trifled away as Chinese sovereign land; a betrayal that even thousands of years of colonisation had not managed to inflict on the island.

Materialism and greed masqueraded as progress was fed to a fervent population desperate for a new dawn. Anyone who dared question the Emperor’s new clothes was shut down and deemed unworthy of the prosperity that was sure to follow. Even as power changed hands the country spiralled uncontrollably downwards wrapped precariously in a questionable cloak of progress. Still, we were not to know that worse was yet to come. With a leadership distracted by nothing but their own survival the island became a haven for illicit drug runners, religious extremism and unfathomable corruption. As predictably as day follows night terror struck in a gruesome reminder that peace and the land, upon which we had placed so little value, could be snatched from under our noses.

What transpired on Easter Sunday has now been replayed a thousand times. Disbelief spread around the world as it became evident that the Sri Lankan government had multiple warnings of the imminent attacks but wasn’t compelled nor felt duty-bound to act. One blundering politician after another, in government and opposition, appeared on foreign media speaking only to further personal vendettas. It quickly became clear that there was no protocol for dealing with the crisis. The death toll continued to rise. The President remained in Singapore only arriving some ten hours later from a destination just four hours away. In a frenzy of finger-pointing, gross negligence and lack of accountability social media was shut down to control ethnic tension. Apart from deploying the military, to monitor peace, we are yet to see a decisive government policy for uniting people and moving forward beyond this colossal failure.

The resulting disarray has seen a string of predictable sporadic reactions from the banning of face coverings, curfews without prior warning and even a bungling insurance scheme for school children. None of it bearing the slightest resemblance to a cohesive strategy for dealing with a catastrophe of this magnitude. The continuing lack of competence adding to the fragility of a people desperately seeking answers while those who inevitably stand to gain from this anguish await in the wings to swoop in for the kill.

So how does all of this translate to the wider world that Sri Lanka has made its prosperity so dependent upon? Travel warnings of the highest threat level. They are not the knee-jerk reactions which they’re perceived to be but a proactive approach to protecting citizens based on intelligence. Governments do not issue them lightly. The UK Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka placing it on the notoriously nick-named no-go list. The insurance industry follows and invalidates travel insurance which covers everything from lost luggage to emergency medical assistance and repatriation; a risk very few are willing to take. Respectable travel press will not cover destinations on the list for fear of being seen to ignore Foreign Office guidelines. Needless to say travel agents will suggest safer alternative destinations to their clients. In such a climate it becomes impossible to encourage people to travel to Sri Lanka.

The way forward is in the hands of the Sri Lankan people. It’s also far simpler than we’re led to believe. Expecting tourists to ignore a travel ban and come to Sri Lanka is unrealistic and naive. Very few will do it. The world is not assured by videos of travellers claiming to feel safe in the country. The collective focus needs to shift towards influencing the ban to be lifted. On the ground this simply means unity. It’s to stand firm against those who wish to exploit differences for their own gain. It’s to build bridges towards each other. It’s the refusal to be antagonised in to rising up against your neighbour. This is the image Sri Lanka now needs to project; communities standing together in the face of adversity making the country safe, first and foremost, for its own citizens. That is the only way the world will be encouraged to return. It’s the only assurance it seeks.

For what its worth I shall carry on in the name of those whom we lost and I will never forget. As a writer, with a platform to speak to the world, I pledge to ensure that from here on this narrative will not be dominated by that which was temporarily diminished but by what unyieldingly remained. The disillusioned people who’ve long lost faith in their leaders, the Catholic Church and community who’s forgiveness for an unforgivable act has shown the world nothing less than divine mercy, the Muslim community which continues to act with grace despite the scrutiny it now finds itself under and finally those parents and children whose insufferable grief I pray I will never have to endure. For if there is martyrdom to be had I place it firmly at the feet of this country to which I owe everything.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    2

    Dear Demi Perera,

    “Religion is the opium of the masses “ said Philosopher (lover of wisdom) Karl Marx.

    It was initially exhibited by the Sinhala Buddhists, and now by the Muslims who took up the Satanic Ideology, Wahhabism, per Hadith of Najd

    • 4
      0

      Amarasiri, what about the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British? I suppose they converted the then majority Buddhists through noble means. This country didn’t have ethnic or religious wars although some would love to say that the war between Elara and Dutugemunu was such but the truth is not so. We see all this mayhem only after the invasion of the Europeans.

    • 4
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      I am an Agnostic. I am of opinion that as long as there are religions there will be terror, even God can’t stop it. In Srilanka,among the Sinhalese you find, Buddhists, Catholics, Christians,. among the Tamils you find Hindus, Christians, Catholics, Buddhists and Muslims. But among the Muslims you find only Islamist but may be of various sects. How do we sort this matter out.
      Further, I understand the bomb blasts killed more Tamils at the Tamil Mass at St, Anthony, similarly at Batticaloa and Negombo too. You may add this to the Mullivaikal killings.
      “Innaa Seitharai Oruthal Avar Nana Nannayam Seithu Vidal” (Kural) Meaning: the best way of punishing a person who has wronged you is to do something good in return and make him feel ashamed.

      • 1
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        K Anaga,

        Where is God? Is he there?

        Or, is it just evolution, and a construct of man?

  • 2
    0

    Why I do not stand by Lanka????? . To find the answers we desperately seek , in the aftermath of Easter , the citizens need to start by asking just one question. Did our president was aware in anyway, prior to the first explosion on that fateful day ??????? If the answer is NO, then is he lying to the public????? If the answer is YES , then what is next ?????Instead of blaming US,Saudi, India, our Government, ISIS,port, geopolitics, —- will sure lead to more questions (some may be valid ) but not answers.The fact of the matter is our public is toothless,spineless, helpless, hopeless and worthless. They know they are in a position they can just vent but do nothing. Knowing well you have a President who is so sure, telling on your face ” I will not resign”. A president so sure decided to ignore all security warnings. A president so sure staged a constitutional coup last year. Our public right now has only two choices. Either you put up (with the criminals) or you are by your own in denial. There are no alternatives or options because all are bad and some are worse. The decline will continue until the bottom.

    • 2
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      I have nothing but praise for Demi’s stylish prose but, as for the content, I think she has not said anything new. As a matter of fact, the essay is filled with common opinions that could be heard from daily commuters, evening tea/coffee tasters to media talks by political pundits of all sides! For example, Demi thinks that missed opportunity for reconciliation by the previous Gvt after the war may have paved the way for Easter Sunday Attack (ESA). I don’t deny the fact that the previous Gvt gave priority to racial dominance while giving only a lip service to the national reconciliation, but I doubt whether even a full ethnic reconciliation could have prevented a few Muslim youths from new Jihadi ideology. Besides, their first target was traditional Muslim religion itself while the vast majority of the Muslim population has no quarrel with other races or religions in SL.
      I don’t believe that ESA is any different from JVP & LITTE terrorism. They all are product of some kind of ideology. Religious wars & the Cold War are the same. The deepest reason for these types of conflicts are not very different from fights among animals for territorial rights and/or mating rights. The difference between Humans & animals is that humans, b’cos of their bigger brain, taken it to an another level of what we call ideologies. Therefore, I guarantee that, even if the modern wave of Muslim Jihadism is disappeared, somebody somewhere sometime will invent some other ideology to “change” the existing mode of thinking leading to another bloodshed. We cannot escape from this reality b’cos, any new movement needs only a few to be brainwashed. Once conceived, other unrelated emotional reasons can help the membership to grow.
      Humans, like all other animal species is only one child of “survival of the fittest”.

  • 8
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    My elders have told me that some Muslims have approached Catholic priests and asked for forgiveness and this has been readily given.

    I do not approve of this. Firstly there is nothing to forgive. The Muslims who approached the priests have done nothing wrong. Secondly, by forgiving them the priests are strengthening the notion that the Muslims are guilty of something, they are not.

    Guilt lies in the actions of individuals or groups of individuals. A community cannot be blamed for the acts of some of its members.

    Today the Sinhalese Buddhists as a whole, are blamed for the persecution of Tamils, the burning of the Jaffna library etc. The Tamils as a whole, are blamed for the LTTE terror and the war. Let us not make the same mistake with the Muslims.

    • 5
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      This is the most compassionate response we can and should offer. It’s the only way we will never be defeated.

    • 2
      2

      “Today the Sinhalese Buddhists as a whole, are blamed for the persecution of Tamils, the burning of the Jaffna library etc.”

      Truth hurts, isn’t it?

      Sori Sinahala State terrorism is not destroyed yet.

      It is Sinhalese and Sinhala State are the torch bearers of terrorism, ethnic cleansing, rape as weapon, genocide etc. against Tamils.

      These all are in the full belief of comic story. Take your comic story to your home.

      Get out of my home, Tamil Eezham. You have your own home, Sori Sinhala Lanka

      Tamil will not accept Sri Lankan identity. period.

      • 3
        0

        The truth is KA that you are an utter moron who understands nothing. A good thing that you do not represent the majority of Tamils.

      • 2
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        KA, the Sinhala Buddhists may be blamed but that is only in the diseased minds of Tamils like you. You probably haven’t noticed, but we won. You lost. Take your period and your Eezham and insert it where the sun doesn’t shine, loser.

    • 1
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      Paul

      I agree with you broadly.
      However, the question arises that when such incidents occur, occur repeatedly what should have been the response of the particular community over a period of time?
      They tend to pretend their hands were tied.
      First every community should acknowledge where the fault lines lie.
      Attempt should be made to prevent and rectify it.
      Apologise and compensate where possible.

      Isn’t it too much to expect from little islanders who have lost all sense of right and wrong, anything goes, ………….. and still gloating about who won the war,………. never had the humility to grasp what we had lost in the past 71 years, what ought to have been achieved by the people of this island, rather than dwelling on empty rhetorics, hollow victory, …… proud about ancientness of our civilisation which we never seen nor experienced, …..

      “Today the Sinhalese Buddhists as a whole, are blamed for the persecution of Tamils,”

      Because they have the majority to effectively change this country for the better for all people, including Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians …. rather than pandering to a noisy minority.

      Please count all race riots that had taken place in this island between 1956 and 2018.

      • 0
        0

        ‘Because they have the majority to effectively change this country for the better for all people’

        Can all Germans be blamed for the persecution of the Jews in the Thirties before Hitler came to power? Of course not. Blame lies with individual Germans and German organisations. In the same way blame lies with individual Sinhalese and Sinhalese organisations (political parties).

        • 0
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          It’s all Sinhalese, the ambiguties you try to hide behind do show your (the so called educated Sinhalese) loin cloth after 2009.

  • 4
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    Paul you are right. More than apology what we need is holding hands and togetherness. If not the apologies will keep repeating. Peace is just a day dream when there is no genuine reconciliation.

  • 2
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    Thank you for taking the time to write this. Thank you also for your kind compliment on my prose. I wholeheartedly agree that I’m not saying anything new here. I didn’t set out to do so. My aim was to ignite a common debate which by your respectful and eloquent response I have achieved.

    I would however like to clarify that I do not think that the missed opportunity for reconciliation by the previous government paved the way to the Easter Sunday attacks. I’m 100% in agreement with your opinion that nothing could have prevented a few Muslim youths from becoming radicalised. I’m simply saying that it was a missed opportunity to build an inclusive future both economically and culturally. Thank you for responding with such intellect to my writing.

  • 2
    0

    Demi, you sure seems to be genuine and matured, compared to our politicians.

    • 1
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      Chiv,

      You’re too kind. Thank you but that bar has been set too low :)

  • 1
    0

    Demi Perera’s article {“Why I Still Stand By Sri Lanka”} is a shade different from the hundreds of others.
    Demi acknowledges in the last para “….the Muslim community which continues to act with grace despite the scrutiny it now finds itself under….”.
    The Lankan Elites must not squander this.
    .
    Demi may take that extra step and research into the role played by Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), formed in 2012, the patrons, protectors and financial backers in the tragedy.
    Did the arson of Muslim businesses and the 2014 Aluthgama pogrom contribute?
    .
    In recent times interest in Buddhism has been rekindled. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dalai Lama is credited for this. The GoSL of the time declined visa to Dalai Lama. How do you explain this to tourists Demi?
    Is BBS damaging Buddhism?

  • 3
    0

    Demi,

    I just can’t bring myself to comment on what you have written because I am so sick of the things going on back home ……….. but

    “in my capacity as a travel writer.”

    That’s a very interesting vocation! ………… I too am a frequent traveller; not a writer ……… I think Cassandra Wilson captures the reasons for people’s wanderlust in her lyrics which I thought I’ll share with you.

    Everybody seems to want to get away to someplace
    Get away from themselves
    I got a feeling if they found that someplace
    They’ll want to go some place else.
    Do we really want to go to Mars?
    Do we ever really want to try?
    I got a funny feeling if we get up there
    We’re gonna stop and wonder why
    Don’t you want to be right here, right now?

  • 0
    0

    World’s top most travel writer Demi Perera has landed us with a fine piece of intellectual writing to ponder few hours after a very heavy brunch; which exactly is what I’m doing right now.

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