Why do Sri Lankan ‘patriots’ love Social Polarisation?

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Photo by AFP, via Sri Lanka Brief

Since the end of war in 2009, Sri Lanka has become a country full of zealots and patriots singing the song of country first, religion first and race first. Imponderably, the result that reaped due to this zealotry and patriotism is a fragmenting country along religious and racial lines, religions being hijacked by extremists and rising racial discriminations destabilising a once homogenous nation built on centuries of religious, ethnic & social harmony and pluralism.

Sri Lankan society is homogenous though religious and ethnic diversities are present. This is due to the centuries of cohabitation of the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims contributed to by cross pollination of values and ethos that homogenised heterogeneous grouping as Sri Lankans. Ethnocentric identifications as prevalent now or identity as homogenous Sri Lankan were non-existent prior to the advent of the colonialists. In the pre-colonial Sri Lanka, identity did not matter for recognition but allegiances in the feudal setup did. Therefore racial or religious identities were not politicised then as of now. Hence we see in history a confluent society of pluralist nature.

The seeds of diversity and social polarisation were first sown by the colonialists as a strategy to divide and rule the colony. An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon  written by Robert Knox published in 1681 is an anthropological study critically identifying cultural, social, religious traits and other dissimilarities and differences of the people of Ceylon and sensitises and highlights the differences between people as conflicting as opposed to identifying similarities and confluences amongst its citizens to engender cohabitation and social harmony.

The colonialists used the science of anthropology as a tool to elicit differences between people and cultivated such differences as elements of identity, power and recognition resulting in producing a fragmented society that competed against each other and conveniently falling prey to the ruse of the colonialists helping to effective divide and rule of Sri Lanka.

During this time patriotic Ceylonese from across the religious, social and ethnic divide spurned such divisions and fought to rid the country of the colonial yoke as a united body. Their struggle to liberate the country was not centred on racial or religious superiority but on the moral high ground of liberating the country for its citizens to live free of colonial fetters. History is replete with examples of how the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslims fought in unison against colonialism until the colonial masters found amongst Ceylonese compatriots some who became mercenaries working for them, later  to be identified as ‘Brown Sahibs’.

During the post colonial period, the Brown Sahibs who took the rein of the country were no different from their colonial master with the exception of their skin colour. They not only inherited a polarised nation but also perpetuated the status quo for their own benefits and manipulated social divisions to keep their grip on power at the cost of society. They failed to embark on a nation building programme of bridging different communities together, instead they set one community against the other in the name of patriotism and nationalism which resulted in the dominant minority Tamil community to start a separatist war that bled the nation for more than three decades.

With the exception of the few hitherto, most of our post colonial patriots have been and remain to be scoundrels who sacrificed the youth of our nation as cannon fodder in a war that benefited the political elites and rarely its citizens. Had they not been scoundrels and true patriots, the post war administration should have done justice to the sacrifices of the armed forces and the citizens from all sides of the conflict. Instead, the victory of war was marketed as a trophy to strengthen the political elites than rebuilding a fractious nation.

Sri Lanka today is more polarised that during the war. During the war, social polarisation was less seeming and the war was often branded as a conflict between the state and non state separatist LTTE where LTTE became a common enemy to all inclusive of certain segments of the Tamil population.

Post war Sri Lanka has become directionless, socio-economic anomalies aggravating, rising unemployment, systemic failure in education, health and other sectors debilitating,  corruption and lack of good governance rampant. In this scenario of failing Key Performance Indicators in the country, the ruling elites and the government are answerable to the suffering of the people. The government and the political elites’ lack of capacity and infatuation with power has distanced the people from the centre and leading to political bankruptcy challenging the elites. The political elites, instead of coming with pragmatic solutions to the sufferings of the people are seeking devious means to prop-up their power. This phenomenon of propping-up their power without answering national imperatives was evident since Independence in 1948. One after the other,  successive governments, instead of answering the inherent structural problems that confronts the citizens, have used race, religion, language and other differences as a tool to set one against the other thereby effectively preventing the unity of the people for the common good of the nation.

Now in 2013, the state of the Sri Lankan citizens has not changed since 1948, they are yet seeking a land of plenty and freedom with peace and serenity which the political elites promised since 1948. Ups and downs of history since 1948 have come and gone, 71’s & 89’s JVP insurrections, three decades of war against Tamil separatists, the Tsunami and other pegs of history are sufficient enough for us as Sri Lankans to redefine our society, a society free of divisions, parochialism, intolerance and polarisation and a myopic world view of the islanders. Imponderably, the question lurks why has this not happened, why are we divided and why is polarisation current?

We are a sinking society in the name of great civilizations, as most often not, today those who advocate them are scoundrels and not patriots, as the cliché goes, ‘there is no better bush to hide a scoundrel than a Cossack’. Scoundrel in society in the garb of patriots sold religion and race and no doubt very soon, the powers behind the Bodu Bala Sena and Sinhala Ravaya whipping Buddhist extremism will be evident to the people that they are none other than bankrupt political elites using another devious means to extend their power.

Social polarisation advocated by the extremist forces is a threat to the nation; it damages the social ecology grown from time immemorial. Forceful redefinition of society fragments it and renders it unsustainable. Interdependency, mutual trust and free mixing of people builds a viable sustainable society. Isolation, ostracising and discrimination destroy the very foundation of our well matured pluralistic society. The conflicts that ensue as a result of these misadventures cannot be ended by a war; instead it will be mutually assured destruction to all and sundry.

This threat to the Muslim community is a challenge to this nation. This is not from the mainstream Buddhist community that has a time tested relationship with Muslims. It is from purpose made Buddhist extremist groups working as mercenaries to prop up failing political elites, consciously or unconsciously serving foreign interests than the hallowed purpose of protecting Buddhism. Muslims must take note that based on the time tested relationship with the Buddhists in the past, the future can be chalked out together to build this nation free of extremism on all sides. In this time Muslim must extend support to the mainstream society to fight extremism in all its forms and manifestations and work with the patriotic forces in society to build this nation and to get rid of the scoundrels masquerading as patriots.

  • bharatha

    Muslims used to live normally like everyone. now they want to build mosques in Dambulla, anuradhapura and sripada sacred places of Buddhists.

    • stanobey

      Bharatha,

      Some of those mosques are very old – although some of these groups have started talking about it recently. So what if Muslims build a mosque? That is not a threat to Buddhism. In effect these extremist groups are showing how weak Buddhism really is. You build a mosque they get excited.

      Now to this they will start shout…but oh…what about Saudi Arabia. We have heard this arguments before. This is what comes out of sending house maids there. They have all got a house maid mentality – even the supposedly educated lot.

      In Saudi Arabia there are no Buddhist citizens, these are migrant workers – but in countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia etc were Buddhist communities live – they have temples etc. But more than this temples why not worry about the alcohol and the gambling?

  • DDD

    Hi Mr. writer, Appreciate your letter which has well explained many problems we are facing today. Only little bit missing I see is the lack of discussion about some other extreme groups than the Buddhist once. I do agree we do not need any Buddhist extreme groups. Nevertheless as a peace loving citizens we do not want any other religious or any other sort of extreme groups operating in Sri Lanka as well. From what I have read Halal is not so complicated as what it has been portrayed by some extreme Muslim groups. This has given a breeding ground to other Buddhist extreme groups to thrive on.

    • abu imran

      I think you need to identify those extremist groups you suggest exist in other religious communities. Otherwise, it is tantamount to accusing those religious groups without evidence.

      Also, please tell us which Muslim extremist group (and how it) has complicated the Halal issue.

  • Gaje

    POLARIZATION IS A RESULT OF DIVIDE AND RULE
    THE REACTION BY TWO EXTREMIST LEADERSHIP TO INSECURITY CREATED by THIS PROCESS IN BOTH GROUPS WILL INITIALLY POLARIZE LEADERS FOLLOWED BY THE MAJORITY NON THINKER POPULATIONS WITH A REACTION SIMILAR TO a MOB REACTION!
    I am pasting a my reaction to another website on the same issue.

    Is this another divide and rule policy?
    The Sri Lankan govt. has economic and other issues and would want to divert the attention of the masses to someone else?
    The LTTE also would want to create a division and maybe get support of another minority to divert the govt’s security monitoring elsewhere and dilute resources to strengthen their activity. During the eighties we saw how the JVP activity reduced the security forces concentration on the NE!
    The US also would want to create a wedge between the Muslims and the majority to create havoc in their divide and rule policy. This would also weaken our economy and the political stature among Muslim countries and weaken our economy with less tea and other exports and also these idiots who are so patriotic do not understand that our biggest foreign currency earner whether good or bad will be reduced to almost zero with all the Sinhalese being sent back homeo from the Middle East! If we want them out anyway, when need to phase out with alternate income generation to them.
    DO WE KNOW WHERE THE FUNDING IS COMING FROM? IT COULD BE ANYONE MENTIONED ABOVE INCLUDING OTHER PARTIES!

    We need the repercussions and the disaster we would face to the ordinary man the one who will take to the streets with the BODU BALA SENA, but with all their relatives in the ME! He WOULD NOT SURVIVE A DAY IF THIS HAPPENS!
    WE ARE PROFESSIONS AND INTELLECTUALS ON WEBSITES DISCUSSING THESE ISSUES BUT THE COMMON MAN WILL NEVER COME ACROSS THESE DISCUSSIONS. LET US DISCUSS WITH THE COMMON MAN IN A LANGUAGE THEY UNDERSTAND, WHILE THE INTELLECTUAL ‘ORGASMS’ COULD CONTINUE ON WEBSITES!!!!!!!!
    BUDU SARANAI TO ALL.

    • http://n/a Shelley Dharmaratne

      Harmlessness and goodwill are common elements found in religion. A religion of peace is based on the principle of causing no harm to oneself as well as others, and its followers are to cultivate a harmonious, liberal and peaceful life. A religion of goodwill or loving-kindness is based on the sacrifice and service for the welfare and happiness of others.
      Religious precepts have been introduced by enlightened religious teachers who have realized the noble way of life which leads to peace and happiness
      Practising a religion is nothing than the development of one’s inner awareness, goodwill and understanding.
      In the midst of confusion, imaginary and plastic religious concepts are propagated to create more temptation and confusion in man’s mind. Religion is being misused for personal gain and power.
      Buddhism is realistic and verifiable. In the Buddha’s Teaching, it is said that the spiritual development of man is more important than the development of material welfare. The Buddha stood for rationalism, democracy and practical, ethical conduct in religion. He introduced this religion for people to practise with human dignity.
      The Buddha stood for rationalism, democracy and practical, ethical conduct in religion. He introduced this religion for people to practise with human dignity.
      Buddhists are happy to see the progress of other religions so long as they truly help people to lead a religious way of life according to their faith and enjoy peace, harmony and understanding.
      Buddhism is a religion of tolerance because it preaches a life of self-restraint. Buddhism teaches a life based not on rules but on principles. Buddhism has never persecuted or maltreated those whose beliefs are different. The Teaching is such that it is not necessary for anyone to label himself as a Buddhist to practise the Noble Principles of this religion.

  • alex

    Hmmm … for 30 years it the Tamils (and specifically Tamil militants) were allegedly the cause of these divisions – not sure what the excuse for communalist politics is now. Perhaps it is time to look within?

  • http://abdulhalik.wordpress.com Abdulhalik

    Interesting analysis. Sri Lanka may not have been divided racially in pre-colonial times, but it was still divided. Along lines of class, ancestry and caste. Economic divisions today are still far more deeply felt by the public at large than any other form of division. Propaganda to incite racial division then can be viewed, and this can apply all throughout our history, as an attempt to distract people from the burgeoning wealth gap, these invisible lines separating the haves from the have nots.

  • Jayalath

    AFTER very very carefully considering the rising numbers of conflicts between muslims and rest of the world , that i thought it is worth to know what made the people to fight with only Muslim people in the world and also the reasons to to get the hump between them as well . Example , in Syria and Iraq .
    I haven’t heard of that much near past that people have been fighting to defend their religion or faith in this level except Islamists . Therefore , It is worth to know about .
    Is it because the Islam is consisting with exclusive quality than others or because of some thing that consists in Islam that contradictable with other religions ?
    Or are they in a mission of intolerance or Ignorance ?