By Noel Berman –
“Hitler found that he could gain power and consolidate it, in part, by whipping up a frenzy of hatred toward imagined internal national enemies, including Jews and Communists (often identified and conflated with each other). He played the nationalism card and promised to destroy the enemies who “hated Germany.” Historians said that Germany proved susceptible to this radical message because of the extreme political and economic circumstances it faced and because it lacked resilient democratic traditions to withstand such demagoguery,” says Dr. David Gushee of Mercer University.
What we are seeing today, especially in the aftermath of 21/4, is not much different from what went on in Germany. The Tamils, the erstwhile arch enemy has been vanquished and a new one created to take their place. The so-called calls to boycott Muslim business establishments and sometimes open racism we see masquerading as nationalism is not going to bring about the anticipated “golden era” of Sinhalese civilization. That would require an eradication of corruption, serious changes to the education system, law and order and the implementation of sound economic policies. Racism and fear-mongering on the other hand may win an election and would probably be the main platform of the next elections but electing a party that is trying to outdo the other’s ethnocentrism will not help build a nation.
It appears we not learned the lessons of history. Our ethnocentrism resulted in a bloody civil war at a conservatively estimated financial cost of over US$ 200 billion not counting the loss of lives. Imagine where we would have been if we had that amount of money to fix our education system and build our economy?
Yet, we let our politicians run amok and politicize racism and marry it with religion for cheap short-term electoral gains. It is only a scoundrel that will create and then appeal to a primordial fear of the other and use it as a tool to manipulate an ignorant electorate for personal political gain at the expense of the future of the nation.
No wonder Lee Kwan Yew said, “I did not realize that he (JR Jayewardene) would not give way on the supremacy of the Sinhalese over the Tamils, which was to lead to a civil war in 1983 and destroy any hope of a prosperous Sri Lanka for many years, if not generations.” (Lee Kwan Yew, From Third World to First).
To our shame — we are no longer a tolerant country that wants to heal the wounds of the past and move on to a brighter future. Instead, we are radicalizing a peaceful religion that has been called “The Light of Asia” and turning the majority of peace-loving people into hate filled racists ready to destroy and even kill. Religion began to leave its imprint on politics but soon politics ensnared religion and is now destroying it. And while all this was going on, the people began migrating. So, first it was the Burghers, then the Tamils and now even the Sinhalese are leaving the country because they see no hope in staying on in a country that is doomed to not merely repeat the mistakes of the past but to exacerbate the horrors of the past.
When will we realize that our economy and the poverty of the Sinhalese is not because of the Tamils or the Muslims? Our economic deprivation is because of the corrupt politicians who have systematically raped and robbed this country for 71 years. They are to blame for the ills that affect Sri Lanka and no one else. To cover their corruption, they need a convenient scape-goat and who better than the Tamils of yesterday and the Muslims of today.
On the positive side, there are a few voices that are emerging, and this brings hope. Also, there are businessmen who have taken a stand and are not succumbing to financial gain by sacrificing their morals to promote racist projects. And maybe a few politicians, a very few.
But where are the senior sane political and religious leaders, the so-called guardians of a nation’s morals and builders of a better future? Where are the celebrities and opinion-leaders who should be coming out and speaking for justice? Or have we all surrendered our ability to think and yielded to a myopic and false narrative of supremacy because it suits our fragile collective egos? Only time will tell if we will be able to find a way out of the rampant racism and rediscover a real democracy where we vote for political parties whose policies will bring about justice, peace and prosperity to all citizens and not cast our votes based on race and fears of the other.
The silence of the nation has become our biggest national crisis and the prophetic words of Lee Kwan Yew will become a tragic epitaph on the tombstone of our nation, “It is sad that the country whose ancient name Serendib has given the English language the word, “serendipity” is now the epitome of conflict, pain, sorrow and hopelessness.”
Noel Berman, Chairman: Colombo School for Critical Studies