Peace and Conflict

Fear Factor

Fear of the “Other” has been systematically injected into the Sri Lankan population. Fear is the tool wielded by the political elite to control the masses and is created mainly through conditioning the masses to believe that their identities, cultures and ways of life are constantly under attack by the “Other” and creating a need to be “protected”. The political elite altruistically volunteer to “protect” the masses against these attacks by any means necessary. In Sri Lanka the means chosen is military.

The high military presence in and around Colombo, check points, house to house searches, raids on lodges and rest houses, parcels of explosives and a highly visible presence of weapons and artillery along the main streets of commercial Colombo add to the feeling of fear and anxiety among the general population. The passing of the Emergency Law every month and the high alert that is maintained with continuous rhetoric about imminent terror attacks on economic and political targets are instrumental in heightening levels of fear. The masses seem locked in a grid of fear, fear of the “Other”. Who is the “Other”? According to Lacan

…these ideas–of other and Other, of lack and absence, of the (mis)identification of self with o/Other–are all worked out on an individual level, with each child, but they form the basic structures of the Symbolic order, of language, which the child must enter in order to become an adult member of culture 1.

In an article titled Dealing with the Other: A Question of Political Consensus, Michal C. Jankowski states,

The twentieth- century philosophical tradition … was more apt to describe the meeting with the Other – understood as an individual or a person – as a way of developing our self-interpretation of our moral condition. This understanding of the Other may be the picture of the existential situation of the human being. …When a need for consensus is limited to the so-called political sphere, we may find ourselves not able to deal with the Other. Today, we make an effort to not remember the past when the Other could be “reckoned as nothing,”. Nevertheless we managed to avoid the Other by using the notions of friend or enemy 2.

The fear of the “Other” that is instilled in the masses enable the political elites to maintain their status quo, wage wider wars, “liberate” conquered land and manipulate the masses so that they offer the least resistance when their liberties are infringed upon. Anyone who questions or opposes such militarization is labeled a traitor. This is also the strategy used by George Bush Jr. to stifle Americans and justify the war in Iraq.

And finally, there is the fear factor. As a judge slams down parts of the Patriot Act as unconstitutional, it would seem that Mr. Bush has found a way to remind the American public that they should remain petrified. Nothing intimidates a nation better than fear, not even ignorance. Mr. Bush said the message was “a reminder of the dangerous world in which we live”. CIA director Michael Hayden, in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Friday, warned that al-Qaeda was plotting new attacks on the US. “Our analysts assess with high confidence that al-Qaeda’s central leadership is planning high impact plots against the American homeland,” he said.” 3

In a frenzy of fear many Sri Lankan’s have been unquestioningly handing over their freedoms and their rights as citizens of this country to be “protected” from the “Other”. The plight of journalist Iqbal Athas who questioned transparency of the MiG deal is a case in point that proves the levels of power that the masses have handed over to the political elite.

The reality of “being protected” however is very different. It is pertinent to ask who is protecting whom in Sri Lanka and why such levels of militarization are needed. The high speed convoys, the bullet proof vehicles and the road clearing operations where the masses have to cower into byroads before a VIP traverses the town disrupts normalcy, inconveniences and frustrates the masses and yet is done to presumably protect the masses. Further this creates the idea that the people are passive and powerless and that the state protects the “masses” who are “victims” of terror. This idea detracts from the notion that the individual is a powerful entity in their own right. It propagates a culture of subjugation of the people to the state, allowing it to monitor, question, record and trace the individual’s movements without demur. It undermines the individual’s capacity to generate new thoughts on how to deal with difficult situations and argues for continued suspension of “living”.

Knowingly or unknowingly the media has become an ally of the state in its project to instill fear. The continuous coverage of the conflict and the highlighting of the brutalities and negative facets only are calculated to make the masses feel vulnerable and in need of protection by the state against the unknown Other. Many of us believe unconditionally the version of truth that that the media tells us. This distorted truth further manacles the masses and creates a herd mentality.

Breaking away from this demands that questions are asked by the many. For whom is this war being fought for? Who will benefit from this protracted conflict? Why has this conflict dragged on for this long? What are we really fighting for? What are we being shielded from? Should we believe our leaders? What is their track record on giving factual information, rather than their version of the truth? What is their quality of life compared to those they protect?

It is essential to therefore bring up a generation that questions the status quo rather than blindly follow dictates if not we might as well have a chip inserted to be controlled.