Reflecting on the End of the Sri Lankan Civil War: The Need for a New Conversation in the Global Sri Lankan Community

Although military hostilities in Sri Lanka ended two years ago, the dynamics of the conversation in the global Sri Lankan community continues to be influenced by the nations’ past conflicts. Decades of communal grievances and misunderstandings have seemingly scarred our grandparents’ and parents’ generations to voice visions of a brighter future.

Much of the current dialogue in the leadership of our communities attempts to justify past military actions and policy decisions. One community of elders extols the virtues of a successful military campaign against terror, conducted with little limits. A second community of elders focuses on building a separate nation without seeking alternate means of serving the population they supposedly represent.

The Need for a New Conversation

Common to both approaches – largely exclusionary of each other – is a substantive discourse of what the future should look like. Absent from the argument of who committed war crimes and who are terrorists is a discussion of the daily challenges faced by families – from all communities – who continue to suffer from the loss of a father, mother, brother or sister or the loss of shelter or farmland, two years after the war has ended.

The Choices Facing Our Sri Lankan Community

Our worldwide Sri Lankan community has a choice to make; a decision that will influence the long-term future of the country and people we all care about so deeply.

Our communities can continue to face each other with suspicion and skepticism, interacting when necessary by arguing about past conflicts and grievances. Ten years on, the global conversation between our communities will not have changed and the average Sri Lankan will live in very much the same way as they do today.

Alternatively, our communities can choose to focus our energies on re-imagining the relationship we have with each other and start thinking and building a future where we all work hand in hand, side by side as we strive to ensure that the past is not repeated.

The Role of the Past

Regardless of the choice that you or I make, the past cannot be ignored. Asking to forget the past is almost like asking someone to forget their grandfather, grandmother or other ancestors. While neither comfortable nor simple, discussing the past – particularly when lives have been lost – must be a feature of any dialogue that truly honors and respects its participants.

However at the same time our conflicted past must not determine our future. We are not condemned to live in animosity and enmity. On the contrary, the military conflict– and the events leading up to the conflict – must strengthen our resolve to ensure the past is never repeated. The global Sri Lankan community must make a renewed effort to explore new and innovative means of working together to meet the needs of those most affected by the war.

Using Development as a Form of Reconciliation

One way that we can work together is finding points of common interest and common ground. BuildChange (www.buildchange.ca) – a legacy project of the Mosaic Institute and an initiative I am proud to be a part of – is a uniquely Sri Lankan-Canadian experiment to explore what life would be like if the diverse Sri Lankan communities in Canada could work and play together while trying to meet the most immediate needs of war-affected families.

While such an initiative may not be the ‘right’ answer – or an answer that responds to the burning questions inside the leadership of our elders – it is our attempt to make peace personal in a way that is relevant to the average person living in Sri Lanka.

We hope that, no matter where you are, you will join us in committing to a more constructive conversation with each other in the year ahead.

  • Arosha Bandara

    This type of dialogue is an absolute must if Sri Lankans are to move forward in harmony. I have watched a couple of the webcasts of Mosaic Institute events and it is great to see young people from across all sections of the Sri Lankan community try and approach this dialogue in a constructive manner.

    Are there similar initiatives in other parts of the world? I think it would be particularly useful to have similar projects in the UK where there is a large Sri Lankan diaspora with minimal interaction and a distinct lack of mutual trust. I would be keen to get involved in supporting (or even starting?) such an initiative in the UK.

    • Groundviews

      Arosha, check out ‘SL2G’ on Facebook: “A group bonded by our relationship with Sri Lanka, coming together to explore and celebrate new perspectives on identity, culture and community.”

      GV.

      • Burning_Issue

        Dear Editor,

        Is it possible to publish the article written by Michael Atherton that appeared on The Times of UK – 19/05/2011? The title “Sri Lanka’s test to prevail over enemy within”

        Cricket in Sri Lanka has the potential to unite the communities, but the politicised cricket is very damaging!

        • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

          Dear Burning_Issue, we do not reproduce material on this site published first elsewhere in print or the web. For our edification, please provide the link to the article you refer to, which we can also highlight in our Twitter feed. Thanks in advance.

      • Burning_Issue

        Dear Editor,

        I bought the hard copy this morning; the on line version is only available to the subscribers. I am not a subscriber; even if I am, no one else can read it unless they too are subscribers. I am not sure how I am going to do this. It is a full page article with Dilshan’s picture in the middle, a rather large one; scanning is difficult too.

        • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

          Bummer. Doesn’t seem to be available online either, even as a fire-walled link. What we sometimes do is to iron the page, place it on a suitable background and take a photo using a digital camera, which if held steady and cropped, approximates the image quality of a scanned page. Give it a try if you can.

      • Burning_Issue

        http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/sport/columnists/mikeatherton/article3024233.ece

        I bought the 24 hour subscription!

        “Mike Atherton Sports Journalist of the Year
        Last updated May 19 2011 12:01AM

        In the week after the World Cup final, and his subsequent resignation as captain of the Sri Lanka team, Kumar Sangakkara made a visit to a school. The kind of visit, you might think, that sportsmen make all the time: meet and greet, make a speech, inspire a budding cricketer maybe and return to a comfortable, if occasionally pressured, existence.

        In one sense you would be right. Sangakkara was there to inspire, but his message was more important than that. St Patrick’s College, you see, is in Jaffna, in the north of the island, where warfare rather than sport has been the norm for the past few years. A year or two ago, it sent out the kind of letter that schools often send to their alumni, except that the appeal for funds was to repair damage inflicted by war and floods.

        Sangakkara’s visit was unusual for the region and, naturally, he was fêted. He took with him a message of unity, the hope, he said, that soon “cricketers from the north and the east will be playing in the national team”. It would, he said, be a “great symbol of unity in the country”.

        Sangakkara then returned to Colombo, a capital city that had been under siege and a constant target until two years ago for suicide bombers from the Tamil heartlands in the north.

        Sri Lanka’s presence in Britain in the early part of the summer is another reminder that cricket is played mainly in parts of the world where democracy, freedom, stability and good governance are still a dream. Given the backdrop of political interference, financial mismanagement, constant allegations of corruption and a talent base diminished because of years of civil war, their success on the pitch has been nothing short of staggering.

        If results on the field are in any way affected by what happens off it, we should expect a one-sided series this summer, an expectation not diminished by closer inspection of the Sri Lanka team. They are shorn of three Test-class bowlers, two of whom, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, have done more than anyone to underpin Sri Lanka’s competitiveness in Test cricket, which, unlike its one-day equivalent, can be sustained only by wicket-taking bowlers.

        There will be demonstrations — nothing yet approaching the kind of indignation that accompanied any mention of Zimbabwe a few years ago — but demonstrations nonetheless from those Tamil groups and others opposed to any contact with a nation accused of gross human rights abuses as the civil war was brought to a close.

        Will they affect the cricketers? Who knows, but there are decent men among the Sri Lanka team who would perhaps blanch at a cursory glance at the US State Department’s latest analysis of the situation in their country: the state-sponsored, extrajudicial killings, the denial of press freedom, the election violations and, as the war in the north came to an end, the indiscriminate bombings of hospitals and the murder of civilians. Suddenly, kissing the badge after scoring a hundred does not seem so appealing.

        But Sri Lanka’s cricketers will be careful to show few signs of dissent because their place in the team may depend upon a certain level of loyalty. There was hand-wringing about playing against a side whose titular head was Robert Mugabe, but even Zimbabwe Cricket is less politicised than Sri Lanka’s governing body.

        Not for nothing was the new ground built for the World Cup in Hambantota, the president’s fiefdom, called the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Stadium. His family members fill critical positions in a government that controls the interim committee, which in turn runs Sri Lankan cricket. The link between cricket and politics on the sub-continent is nothing new, but the level of control in Sri Lanka now is unhealthy.

        Sportsmen, such as David Gower and Darren Gough, were persuaded to enter the alternative vote debate in Britain recently, but in Sri Lanka the endorsement of a star cricketer is seen as far more fundamental to carrying votes. The greatest of them all, Muralitharan, had stayed firmly on the political sidelines until recently, when, after the completion of the World Cup ground in his home town of Kandy, he endorsed President Rajapaksa.

        Keerthi Tennakoon, the head of the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections, insinuated the pressure someone such as Muralitharan may have been feeling. “State media, especially, is using artists and cricketers to support the ruling regime,” he said. “If they say no, they face problems.”

        In the opposing political camp are former cricketers such as Arjuna Ranatunga and Hashan Tillekeratne, both of whom have made allegations of corruption.

        Ranatunga has drawn attention to the missing millions — Sri Lanka Cricket has been called the “third most corrupt institution in the country” (after the police and education departments), and that by a former sports minister — and Tillekeratne to the match-fixing he alleges has been rife since the early 1990s, when he was not only a member of the team, but the captain, too. As ever, given the political sensibilities, proof is essential and since making his allegations, Tillekeratne, according to one ICC official, has gone “shy”.

        The politicking and the administrative incompetence were too much for Trevor Bayliss, the Australian who coached the Sri Lanka team to the World Cup final in India last month. He stepped down after the final, urging better administrative support for a group of players he had clearly grown close to. “I am constantly amazed how well the players do with all the distractions put in front of them,” he said. “That is a skill in itself.” A skill that is too often underappreciated in more stable climates.

        These distractions proved too much for Sangakkara, the captain, and his deputy, Mahela Jayawardena, both of whom followed Bayliss out of the door, as did the entire selection committee.

        Imagine England without, suddenly, Andrew Strauss, Andy Flower and Geoff Miller. The resignations of Sanagakkara and Jayawardena have left a vacuum of leadership and their continued absence in the Indian Premier League while their colleagues were beating Middlesex did not augur well. Are they as committed as before?

        Tillekeratne Dilshan, the new captain, is a bold and aggressive opening batsman, but few of his type have been successful Test captains. To remain true to his instincts will be doubly difficult in England (if the rain ever arrives) as the ball darts around like a chased buck. Given his green-as-grass bowling attack, though, his form may be the least of his worries.

        Sri Lanka’s tour to England marks the beginning of the third phase of their cricketing journey since admission in 1981. The early struggles were followed by a golden period in one-day cricket and steady progress in Test cricket, powered by one of the greatest spinners sever seen. The post-Muralitharan era will be more challenging on the field, not helped by the unhealthy mess that Sri Lankan cricket finds itself in off it.”

        • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

          I say, that’s really kind of you. Thanks.

  • sr

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. …..

    Thus this should stop:

    http://www.lakbimanews.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1456:wannis-post-war-leap&catid=35:news-features&Itemid=37
    Wanni’s post-war LEAP: TWO YEARS AFTER THE WAR, Ranga Jayasuriya, 15 May 2011:
    ‘’Military camps have dotted the region and soldiers are manning check points at every nook and corner. Militarization of the Wanni is in full tilt.
    “Nothing happens here without the knowledge and connivance of the army,” confides a senior police official.’’

  • luxmy

    Thanksssssssssssssssss.

    The prelates should have been told to make their own submissions:

    LLRC seeks guidance on final report from Buddhist prelates !!

    http://www.lakbimanews.lk/portal/news/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1057:llrc-on-its-final-lap&catid=40:news&Itemid=64
    LLRC on its final lap, 3 April 2011: The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) members met the Chief Incumbents of the Malwathu and Asgiri Chapters last week to seek guidance before preparing the final report scheduled to be presented by May 15.

  • silva

    Hetti
    You bring fresh hope. Thank you for that.

    But the entrenched lack of political will be very hard to penetrate:

    THE DUAL REALITY OF THE PRESENT TIME, National Peace Council, 11 April 2011:
    ‘’….. Another example of the problem of dissent in civil society comes from Jaffna. A high powered inter-religious delegation from Colombo recently visited the north where they met with the war-affected people. Although there is no more a problem of terrorism, the delegation was given military escort when they traveled into the interior. This would have dissuaded the war displaced people of those parts from being too open in their expression of dissatisfaction for fear of displeasing the military officers who wield great control over their lives. However, when the delegation met with their religious counterparts in Jaffna, they were able to hear a frank and critical expression of views. Specific issues raised included the militarization of governance in the north.
    The following night some men had gone to the residence of one of the outspoken clergymen, called him out and flung cow dung and other excreta at him. They had also thrown chillie powder at the face of one of his assistants and assaulted him when he had gone to find out what was happening. The assailants had dropped a mobile telephone with phone numbers on it that would assist in finding out their identity. Although this valuable piece of evidence had been given to the police, no action appears to have been taken so far. The message that freedom of expression has its limits in the north was very clearly made. …’’

  • Asi Panditharatna

    This is an interesting article, over the last week i have been thinking alot about how in the UK we can encourage some kind of dialogue between young people from Tamil, Sinhalese and also families from mixed marriages who have one thing in common- their families came from SL. i see the negativity of the Tamil Youth Forum and the calls for boycotts of SL and demos against the cricket team and see young Tamils of SL origin with little appreciation of the country their heritage is from. Of course many will have an issue with the current Government of SL over what has taken place during 2010/11 and in the recent past. However i wonder if they can seperate out their `dislike of GOSL’ from that of the country and its communities, including SL Tamils. There is excellent work being done by organisations like SL Unites, SOS Childrens Villages that is trying to help young people in SL understand each other better. The work of Codoc in the UK is really thought provoking and possibly could be used as a medium to promote real debate and discussion, possibly leading to better understanding and appreciation of the issues.

  • Agnos

    Burning_Issue, GV,

    When there is a pay wall at an online newspaper, there is an easy way to get around it. Just google the caption and click on the link produced (because the news is often fresh, the items will appear at or near the top of the search result) by google. It will work — I know that you can use this at least with NYT, WSJ, Times (UK). I hope those who use this method will set aside the money saved in subscribing to such newspapers online, however small, for helping the IDPs and other victims of the war in Sri Lanka.

  • silva

    Hetti

    If various groups put their shoulder in, it’ll be really great, eg.:

    ”TRAINING PROGRAMS FOR SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHERS, 25 November 2010”.

    The National Institute of Education should be persuaded to send in delegates and then asked to incorporate them in the school curriculum.
    Pl bear the submission made by Justice Weeramantry to LLRC on Peace Education. If all can make links at various vertical and horizontal levels, it will become more systemic and sustainable.

  • silva

    sorry, forgot to mention the organisation:
    TRAINING PROGRAMS FOR SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHERS, National Peace Council, 25 November 2010”

  • Anchal

    Though violence, either overt or subtle, may hold sway over the world in which we are afloat, the Buddha’s path to freedom requires of us that we make a total break with prevailing norms. Thus one of the essential steps in our endeavor to reach the abode of safety is to “lay down the rod,” to put away violence, aggression and harmfulness toward all living beings. In the Buddha’s teaching the “laying down of the rod” is not merely an ethical principle, a prescription for right action. It is a comprehensive strategy of self-training that spans all stages of the Buddhist path, enabling us to subdue our inclinations toward ill will, animosity and cruelty.

    The key to developing a mind of harmlessness is found in the ancient maxim stated in the Dhammapada: “Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not slay or incite others to slay.” The reason we should avoid harming others is because all living beings, in their innermost nature, share the same essential concern for their own well being and happiness. When we look into our own minds, we can immediately see with intuitive certainty that the fundamental desire at the root of our being is the desire to be well and happy, to be free from all harm, danger and distress. We see at once that we wish to live, not to die; that we wish to be happy, not to suffer; that we wish to pursue our goals freely, without hindrance and obstruction by others.

    When we see that this wish for well being and happiness is the most basic desire at the root of our own being, by a simple imaginative projection we can then recognize, again with intuitive certainty, that the same fundamental desire animates the minds of all other living beings as well. Just as we wish to be well, so every other being wishes to be well; just as we wish to be happy, so every other being wishes to be happy; just as we wish to pursue our goals freely, so all other beings wish to pursue their goals freely, without hindrance and obstruction.

    This fundamental identity of aim that we share with all other beings has implications for each stage of the threefold Buddhist training in morality, mental purification and wisdom. Since all other beings, like ourselves, are intent on their welfare and happiness, by putting ourselves in their place we can recognize the need to regulate our conduct by principles of restraint that hold in check all harmful bodily and verbal deeds. Because afflictive deeds originate from the mind, from thoughts of animosity and cruelty, it becomes necessary for us to purify our minds of these taints through the practice of concentration, developing as their specific antidotes the “divine abodes” of loving-kindness and compassion. And because all defiled thoughts tending toward harm for others arise from roots lodged deep in the recesses of the mind, we need to undertake the development of wisdom, which alone can extricate the hidden roots of evil.

    Since the state of the world is a manifestation and reflection of the minds of its inhabitants, the achievement of a permanent universal peace would require nothing short of a radical and widespread transformation in the minds of these inhabitants — a beautiful but unrealistic fantasy. What lies within the scope of real possibility is the attainment of a lasting individual peace within ourselves, a peace that comes with the fulfillment of the Buddha’s threefold training. This internal peace, however, will not remain locked up in our hearts. Overflowing its source, it will radiate outward, exercising a gentle and uplifting influence upon the lives of those who come within its range. As the old Indian adage says, one can never make the earth safe for one’s feet by sweeping away all thorns and gravel, but if one wears a pair of shoes one’s feet will be comfortable everywhere. One can never be free from enmity by eliminating all one’s foes, but if one strikes down one thing — the thought of hate — one will see no enemies anywhere.

  • Off the Cuff

    Dear R. Hettiarachchi

    A very thought provoking article. Especialy the following two paragraphs that I have taken the liberty to reproduce. Thank you for sharing your insight.

    Much of the current dialogue in the leadership of our communities attempts to justify past military actions and policy decisions. One community of elders extols the virtues of a successful military campaign against terror, conducted with little limits. A second community of elders focuses on building a separate nation without seeking alternate means of serving the population they supposedly represent

    One way that we can work together is finding points of common interest and common ground. BuildChange (www.buildchange.ca) – a legacy project of the Mosaic Institute and an initiative I am proud to be a part of – is a uniquely Sri Lankan-Canadian experiment to explore what life would be like if the diverse Sri Lankan communities in Canada could work and play together while trying to meet the most immediate needs of war-affected families.

  • silva

    Anchal
    How can all of us thank you enough for your divine message?

    This must be in the primary/secondary/tertiary school lessons on Personal and Social Education(PSE).

  • sabbe laban

    Your kind of philosophy is good to be dreamt about and preached if you have time to kill. There’s nothing wrong with Buddha’s teachings. They say all what he thought was the cause of suffering and the way out of it. But you can’t rule a country according to the Buddha’s teachings. You have “enemies” and you have to punish them. Sometimes the state has to use military power to solve problems. Even during the Buddhas time there were wars in India between some kings who were his desciples. eg.Ajasath and Pesenadi Kosol.

    Until the whole world becomes holy as the Buddha told there will be killings and violence. The preachers will always preach, but they will not give answers to the poltical and social problems. As a result the the beast within us will take the upper hand and pick up the sword instead of spreading “loving-kindness”.

    I am sad about this situation, but I too am helpless. I think that we all are carrying forward the needs of evolution.