Photo via The Globe and Mail, by Eranga Jayawardena/Associated Press
The power system in modern societies is polycentric and therefore there are innumerable movers and shakers that influence society either in conflict or conciliation. Compared with olden societies, relying on a few powerful stakeholders does not lead to quick fix of problems due to its multi-polar nature. Therefore the advocates of social harmony and peace should understand the real nature of the problems at hand and understand how they should be addressed. They require a nuanced understanding of the contemporary society and its nature of power structure. Absence of this sense would lead to responding to the fringe than the core of the problem.
The emergence of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and their associates threatening the Muslim community and other minorities in a post war society at a time when communities are clamouring for peace, unity and reconciliation is intriguing. In the post war Sri Lankan society, after the decimation of the LTTE by our armed forces, no communities either the majority or the minorities have an appetite for new conflicts. They are indeed for reconstructing their lives towards a more homogenous egalitarian Sri Lankan society that guarantees peaceful co-existence and guarantees a peaceful future to their children and their children’s children. This brings to question why all of a sudden, Sri Lankan society is pushed to the brink of another conflict? How is it possible for the society to be gripped by tension instantaneously?
Strategy of Tension
Strategy of Tension comes from the armoury of those who control people. To control people in the way that the powers wish them to behave. It is a tool that divides, manipulates and controls people. It incites violence for crowds to react to enable the police or military force to move in and take control of peaceful societies. It leads to provocation, violence and intimidation. This as a strategy increases the level of tension in society and makes people suspicious of each other and in return makes them to places their trust on the central power that controls them. This leads to destabilization of public order to stabilize the political order. Encapsulating this theorem, James Jesus Angleton (Head of CIA 1954-1974) said “Deception is a state of mind and the mind of the state”. This clearly gives an idea as to where the roots of many tensions can possibly be.
Pondering over this issue seriously also shows that inspite of complacency of some, that it is indicative that the political order in such a society is unstable hence strategy of tension is exerted upon people to garner political control of society.
Sri Lankan society today is polarising like in mathematical permutations. Our people are stereotyped now as traditional Muslims, Muslim fundamentalists, Nightclub Buddhists, NGO Mercenaries and the list keeps on expanding. These are clear divisions in society deliberately created to weaken concentration of peoples’ power from becoming a challenge to political powers. Division of people based on their race, class, religious variants and idiosyncrasies and stereotyping to form hierarchical order of master race dictating the rest is not democracy but racism. This with the admixture of violence and intimidation is commonly considered to be fascism. Deplorably, the posture taken by BBS and their followers and those directing them are putting Sri Lanka on the thresholds of such political ideologies. This is the death knell to democracy and democratic aspirations of the people. Sri Lanka, inspite of some misgivings in the past, is yet a vibrant democracy, not to mention the oldest democracy in Asia. Its three decade war against separatism and other similar challenges from the south did not dent its democratic fundamentals. This is because the people were politically divided as is natural in any democratic society but not divided as people on racial, religious or ethnic basis. The new challenges posed to Sri Lanka with the advent of BBS and their cohorts is a deliberate division of people based on marginal differences of race, culture and religion as opposed to uniting them as Sri Lankans based on fundamental similarities to strengthen the foundation of the nation state. This is alarming; this does not threaten purely the interest of the Muslim community or the other minorities but also the interest of the Sinhala Buddhist community and the nation as a whole. Leaving this untrammelled would destroy peace and co-existence in this country and lead to new cycles of violence and conflict benefitting only those who wish to live on the misery of mother Lanka.
Commendably, the Muslim community bore the brunt of the attack on their values, cultures and businesses by BBS and their cohorts with equanimity and tolerance, because they are prepared to make further sacrifices for the sake of the country to prevent new conflicts from emerging. In the lifecycle of the Sri Lankan Muslim community this is one of the most testing periods it has ever encountered, as Sinhala Buddhist – Muslim relationship has rarely been put to test like this before. The time tested Sinhala Buddhist – Muslim relationship is resilient enough to withstand this test unless a fool or a political adventurist torches the light of destruction that would consume everyone for the ensuing decades and send Sri Lanka back to the stone ages.
Muslim’s equanimity and tolerance is important and it is equally important that other communities especially the Sinhala Buddhist community is fully appraised of this threat to the nation. To fight such a threat, the majority Sinhala Buddhist community must also be made to understand the gravity of the emerging threat to the nation that polarization along racial, religious and cultural differences that BBS and their followers trying to impose on society threatens the vital interests of the Sinhala Buddhist community as well. And this threat that divides Sri Lankans to groups and sects and set one against the other is not in anyone’s interest.
Challenge to National Unity
National unity in Sri Lanka should be priority number one. Post war Sri Lanka has more causes to be united than to divide and perish. The problems confronting us are many and indigenous. The problems of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, corruption, rising suicide rates, the state of war widows, rising rates of incest and rape, failure of politicians to deliver their promises, insecurity, failing education and health, lack of opportunities, brain drain, environmental pollutions and emerging environmental issues calls for a more united response than by divisions. These aforesaid problems threaten the very sustainability of the nation and none of these problems have bearings upon race, religion or culture. Visibly, by their divisive stance, BBS and their associates are bent on fighting national unity. It is almost as if they have been contracted to create new issues to conceal the major problems that the country is suffering from and to deliberately make issues out of non issues by using race, religion and culture as deceptive tools to misguide people from reality, similar to the French priestly class that colluded with King Louis XVI in cheating the people that caused the French Revolution
This is the moment of truth for all Sri Lankans, their unity across religious, cultural, racial and political barriers are important to address the pressing problems that confront every citizen. They must unite against corruption, mis-management and racism and must unite to make the life of every citizen safe, comfortable and productive to build a nation that uphold religious and cultural values of all its citizens as a sign of living civilization than living on the glory of an obscure past.