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.