Human Rights, Media and Communications, Politics and Governance

Sri Lanka: the waning of Liberalism?

It seems to be the case that over the past few years the State and the public have become much less tolerant of liberal values. In 2006, a bill set out a total ban on alcohol and tobacco advertisements in the media or on billboards as well as free distribution of tobacco or alcohol related products by the manufacturer or the distributor as means of promotion. In September this year, a Magistrate ordered the Police Children and Women’s Bureau to publish the photographs of several local porn stars, which appear in pornographic CDs and are presently being circulated in the market, in order to identify them and take further action.

Do the above instances not show a lack of respect and intolerance of individuals and the choices they choose to make? Has the ban on advertising reduced tobacco or alcohol consumption? I do not think so. However, advertising companies have lost a part of their revenue. The Magisterial order to publish the photographs of women who act in pornographic films in newspapers is contrary to all norms of decency and civilized behavior. The publication of such pictures in the newspapers also took place about two years ago if I remember right. Are these isolated incidents or are they a part of a bigger picture?

Could it perhaps be that this ultra-conservatism and moral regeneration that is evident in this administration and sections of society is a manifestation of monolithic nationalism which in other words tolerate little variance from the national norms. Is this ultra-conservatism a part of official State ideology of the ruling SLFP alliance and directed mainly at the urban middle class and the rural population to win votes?  Is there a link between nationalism, ultra-conservatism and State ideology?

This country was not ultra conservative under the Chandrika Kumaratunga or Ranil Wickremasinghe administrations. Conservative it may have been, but never ultra-conservative. Perhaps the fundamental difference between this ruling UPFA alliance and the regimes before it, is that this regime’s aggressive national appeal to the Sinhalese middle class and masses is through the use of ultra conservative rhetoric and irrational action. The strategy seem to have worked splendidly for the regime in winning the sympathy of the middle class and the rural masses and securing their votes in a society which has always been traditional with roots in historical and religious conservatism.

Britain where I had my university education some 15 years ago was liberal, multicultural, diverse and far less intolerant than Sri Lanka is right now. I believe the liberal education system, the emphasis on political correctness (taken to new heights by Tony Blair) and the legislation in place against many forms of discrimination in Britain have contributed to make Britain a more liberal and tolerant country to live in.

Liberalism is the belief in the importance of individual freedom and choices.

Liberal values are essential for democratic governance. Sri Lanka is in need of liberal values that are fast disappearing due to the ultra conservatism of this regime and sections of the public.