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
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.