Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Are Sri Lankans really peace loving? - (updated)

A friend of mine raised a question at a discussion yesterday. He said that there are two statements we commonly hear:

1. We have bad politicians who appeal to nationalist sentiments/play the race card to win elections.
2. All ordinary Sri Lankans are very peace loving and do not share in the racist sentiments expressed by politicians.

His questions were:

1. Can both of these statements hold true at the same time?
2. What if the Election Commissioner had a moment of real insight when he said that most Sinhalese welcomed the attacks on the Muslims?
3. Assuming politicians are elected on the basis of statements made then either one of these statements must be false. Both may be partly true.
3. Given the violence against Muslims in 2013 and 2018, the long conflict with the Tamils, riots and insurgencies (1987-89, 1983, 1971, 1958) are we really as peace loving as we like to think?

On November 6, 1959, ten years after returning to West Germany in the wake of the Nazi period and Holocaust, the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno addressed teachers from the Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation with a lecture whose central question continues to echo more than a half-century later: “What does working through the past mean?” Underlining the need to confront the persistence of fascist structures within postwar democracy, Adorno argued powerfully against the desire in the German society of the 1950s to “close the books on the past and, if possible, even remove it from memory.” The potential for a relapse into catastrophe was all too real, according to Adorno.

After 1945 antisemitism In West Germany did not die out. Studies carried out between 1946-52 showed a third of the population to be strongly antisemitic while another third was antisemitic. The defacing of a synagogue in 1959 lead to a public repudiation of antisemitism by the media, political parties, trade unions and the church.

From that point on, openly antisemitic attitudes encountered more vehement criticism. The Nazi past and the extermination of the Jews became topics that were given increasing importance in the media, schools, historical research and cultural activities. By the end of the 1980s, only 5% of the West German population was blatantly, and over 15% considerably, antisemitic. Attitudes in Germany were thus statistically in line with average West European populations. From now on, the younger generations proved to be the least antisemitic.

After the most recent violence should Sri Lankans also start questioning themselves as to why this seems to keep happening? It is uncomfortable to think about it, we prefer to do something to salve our conscience, perhaps help a few Muslim friends or charities and then move on. To forget painful incidents seems preferable to dwelling on them.

Should we start by trying understanding the story of these conflicts? What happened in 2013 and 2015? What were the chain of events that lead to 1983 and the war in earnest after that? Can a team of historians with sufficient independence and distance set out a broad common narrative, at least as a starting point. There is a fog of disinformation and misinformation, would trying to dispel this be a start? Different groups hear different stories. They don't interact or understand.

I remember some classmates discussing the habits of Tamils, perfectly harmlessly but in utter ignorance- referring to them in the same terms as we would to Chinese, Indians or other foreigners. They had never had any interaction and only knew of them through fables.

If we are even arguing over history, refusing to acknowledge one-another's mistakes, how do we move forward?

Any one of the events above (and many smaller ones besides) could be dismissed as an aberration. If it was really so, why does the cycle of violence keep returning?

 Adorno’s argument about the need to confront the persistence of the past in the present seems relevant to Sri Lanka today. What do you think?

My friend was interested in hearing the responses from Sri Lankans on these questions. Please put in your views as comments?

I am not trying to debate the issue, just trying to see what people think, just put your thoughts down in the comments section.



Ratmale,Minneriya,Sri Lanka said...

Prejudices can only be changed/challenged in formative years.

I have always believed that if there was an idiots guide to Comparative Religion being part of the curriculum, at young age, many of our prejudices may disappear. The concern of most would be that the child may turn atheist when they try to sift through all the mumbo jumbo of logic!

In SL I cannot think of an intellectual debate going on, until our people are better educated, as they are already prejudiced through their closed societies they interact in. Hence my suggestion of getting them young, informing them essentially that people are free to believe what they want as long as they do not harm/upset/belittle their neighbors in anyway.

I am maybe quite impractical but it is the only way to make headway out of this conundrum.

By the way nice to see you in the blogosphere after a long interlude. Hope all is well with you Jack

Jack Point said...

Thank you Ratmale for responding.

All is well but am very tied up with other work so no time to blog.