Killing Off Real Alternatives In Public Discourse (KRAPD)
“Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
— Hermann Goering at the Nuremburg Trials in 1946
There seem to be four overarching and interconnected arguments that have achieved a stranglehold over public discourse in this country today. They are, of course, most stridently espoused by the dominant breed of Sinhala opinion-dealers and shakers spawned by this regime, but there is no opposition raised even in relatively progressive non-populist circles which have relapsed into a debilitating self-censorship in the face of aggressive majoritarian rhetoric. The arguments have taken their direction from President Rajapaksa whose trademark brand of disingenuous homespun wisdom is widely believed to tap into the public pulse.
(1) Sri Lanka should not and cannot be held accountable by any outside entity, be it a country, a multilateral agency, an international watchdog, thematic monitoring groups or indeed individuals. All such attempts, so the argument goes, are mala fide, factually inaccurate, hypocritical or self-seeking and interfere with Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. Thus, locals, whether they are organisations or individuals, who provide information to foreign whistleblowers or make such criticisms directly, are doubly guilty of colonialist villainy, and selling their souls for a mess of pottage.
(2) By winning the war against the LTTE the Sri Lankan state has rendered considerations of ethnic identity, especially claims of discrimination against minorities, obsolete. All honest people believe this, so anyone who still talks about such anti-patriotic subjects as the IDPs can only be doing so for the dirtiest of ulterior motives. No further evidence is required to establish the perfidy of those who continue to raise issues about the structural and attitudinal discrimination against Tamils (and Muslims) and they need to be exposed by all right-thinking (read patriotic Sinhala) people.
(3) Prevention, by any means possible, of the resurgence of the LTTE (or another similar terrorist organisation) remains the most important priority of the government and its military forces, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. No course of action that seeks to address this priority can be questioned by anyone who is not in cahoots with the terrorists or their international lackeys. The inconvenience that IDPs and others may experience is a small price to pay for the certainty that terrorism will never rear its ugly head again. The government will do what it takes to ensure this, including but not confined to new military recruitment, screening Tamils continuously, preventing the re-establishment of Tamil-dominated “homeland” territories, and, of course, the indefinite continuation of the Emergency.
(4) The war is over and LTTE terror is annihilated, but LTTE terrorists remain at large (in Sri Lanka and abroad) and continue to pose serious threats to the country and its political leadership, necessitating the greatest vigilance and the imposition of restrictions upon the general (mainly Tamil) population. Thus, no right-minded person should complain about (increased?) security checks in the city, the extension of Emergency Regulations and other minor inconveniences. The spiraling cost of living, high unemployment, financial scandals, corruption and impunity are all of secondary importance, and as patriotic citizens we need to support the government through the long process of making this country safe.
Let us examine each of these arguments on its own merits. The first claims that priority for national sovereignty and the proven purity of the accuser are more important considerations than the substance of the allegations made. The implication is that the (legitimacy of the) accuser is more significant than the (verification of the accuracy of the) accusations. This is an obfuscatory and specious argument. It should not matter who demands accountability, since the State is obliged to be transparent in its dealings and to adhere to internationally agreed laws and conventions. To kill the messenger who brings bad news was just as wrong a thousand years ago as it is now, and it is no more than a pathetic attempt to deflect the government’s responsibility to address and refute serious allegations against basic human rights violations, from whatever source they derive.
The second conflates and confuses causes with effects, and is again, deliberately misleading. The LTTE was an unfortunate outcome of the extended discrimination and harassment of Tamils by successive Sinhala-dominated regimes in this country. Removal of the LTTE merely expunges the ruthless movement that flourished as a consequence of the systematic denial of the Tamil people’s right to live as equal citizens in Sri Lanka. Unless the root causes are addressed, structural and attitudinal issues remedied, this demise of the LTTE will not prevent the emergence within the next decade of another, perhaps even more ruthless, force, much like what happened with the JVP. To dispense with ethnic identity by edict and to devalue the power of ethno-nationalism in the face of systemic injustice and the violation of rights is to tempt history to repeat itself. Ordinary people take the law into their own hands only when over an extended period they lose any hope for redress within that law.
The third bedrock premise reinforces the main motivation for the re-emergence of secessionist violence. All Tamils continue to be under a permanent cloud of suspicion and harassment. The exclusion of the so-called minority communities from meaningful power-sharing and decision-making together with the dominant majority is writ large in this kind of rationalization that refuses to relinquish the perks of conflict even after there is none. The current leaders wish to enjoy the utter lack of accountability and unquestionable impunity that comes with waging war against terrorism, while experiencing none of its dangers, so this kind of justification can go on indefinitely if the public can be cajoled to remain in a gullible frame of mind.
The fourth premise is, of course, the lynch pin of the entire discourse structure, and needs to be meticulously nurtured by repressive regimes. We continue to be informed of the discovery of hidden armed caches, of vigilance paid off through the arrest of fugitive terrorist leaders, and of the unearthing of dastardly plots to assassinate our brave leaders. Add to this the villainy of the international community and the perfidy of the opposition whom, we’re regularly informed, are ever willing to strike unpatriotic deals with the terrorists, and you have a perennial formula for non-accountable and non-democratic governance.
Shame on us for accepting this state of affairs! Dear Readers, let’s risk the wrath of the powers-that-be and publicly reject these dangerously debilitating and misleading sophisms, demanding instead the immediate redress of our country’s long list of major issues – ranging from ensuring IDP rights and economic justice, to providing drought relief, the restoration of democratic freedoms and the dismantling of state terror technologies.
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