“And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth…”
A couple of days ago, I was at Kiriella, talking with a man about the Aluthgama incident and the wave of racism wreaking havoc in the country.
Now this man is not an idiot. Truth be told, he’s one of the few people I actually respect. And surprisingly, he was arguing for retaliation against the Muslim communities rather than against it.
His arguments, which were varied, went something like this:
“This is a Sinhala country. While many Muslim communities exist in peace, prosperity and relative harmony with everybody else, many don’t. Muslim extremism is on the rise – has been on the rise long before the Rajapakse government. There are entire swathes of Sri Lanka where no Sinhala is spoken, where no Sinhala people hold land or reside, where Muslim communities exist like little inbred desert states closed in on themselves. Within the community of “Sri Lanka”, there are Muslim groups that are communities unto themselves – refusing to acknowledge any others. There’s a whole different Sunni vs Shi’ite conflict happening. There’s two groups of Muslim extremists chopping themselves up down South. That is wrong. This is our land, not theirs. This nation should be under Sinhala control, and not anything else.”
He went on to list a whole list of perceived conflicts – whether real or imaginary, I don’t know. It all came back to his one dominating point: they are a 10% pushing out the 70% from lands and areas that are rightfully theirs (a notable example he used: Ruhuna, the ancient capital of Sri Lanka, is now overrun with Muslims).
“Our nation is not the only one having this problem. Take America, which is having its own problems – Christianity waning in the face of Islam and rapidly increasing religious phobia. It comes down to some very simple fact: this is our land, our way of life, and that is not going to be broken up by any minority.”
The sad thing is not that this is a view that the majority of Sri Lankans hold. The sad thing is not that Colombo, Wattala and a few other areas are starting to look more and more like the only strongholds of reason and sanity.
The sad thing is this might actually be true.
I do not lay claim to statistics. If you want statistics, read “Understanding the causes of the Muslim-Sinhala conflict” on Colombo Telegraph (if it’s blocked, use a VPN). There are two sides to every story. I’ve no doubt we’ve all seen both sides. On print and web media, we’ve seen a sizeable chunk of the pro-Sinhala story. We’ve also seen (largely on foreign media sites and expat blogs) the Muslim side of things – basically claiming that 70% of the island have now turned into terrorists. Both sides usually list a long string on conflicts stretching all the way back to the 50s, tracing the butterfly effect that led to the situation today.
I can’t decide which is factually right. I wasn’t alive in the 50’s. I wasn’t there in the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s. I, like many of my generation, are the third side of this strange coin.
We don’t give a damn.
Unlike our parents, and our parents’ parents, we grew up in a truly multicultural community. We studied in classes with Sinhala, Muslim, Tamil, Christian, Hindu, <insert random race, religion or creed here> in the same room eating out of the same buth packet. We celebrate Avurudu, Christmas, Eid, Dheepavali, Thai Pongal. We’re all pigs for kiribath, watalappam and christmas pudding. We grew up, making friends with, talking, chatting, playing cricket with, laughing with, falling in love with people from the other side of the cultural barrier. We went all over the island, visiting ancient churches, mosques, temples, statues, marvelling at all of them with equal awe.
We know truths our parents, and their parents, seem to have forgotten. Like the fact that all of us cry when hurt. All of us laugh when happy. All of us bleed when struck. And, regardless of whether you follow the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammed, the whole pantheon of Hindu Gods, we all bleed red.
We’ve shed the curious racist terms built into our languages as day-to-day phrases – for example “Dhemalek wagey kiyawanana” (to jabber like a Tamil) – we’ve left those behind because honestly, they sounded stupid.
It’s very simple. We’re the first generation in this country to think of everyone as people, and not Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic etc. We’re the first generation not to give a damn. We’re the first generation to stop harping about 2500 years of culture and tradition and realize we’re basically 21 million people on a rock that nobody gives a damn about, and that the only hope for the future is to reach it together.
To be fair, there have been those before us. There are even some within our ranks who have been corrupted. It’s not a perfect generalization. Nevertheless, it’s true.
So what if there are Sinhala extremist groups? Is that a reason to cry out and say “all Sinhalayas are guilty” and declare race war (I saw a post on Facebook hinting at this once, a well-written but nonetheless horrible generalization starting off with”Dear Buddhist” and signed “Yours, Muslim.”) So what if there are Muslim extremist groups? Is that reason to cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war upon an entire tenth of the population? Has the LTTE ever been truly representative of the Tamils? Have the ISIS and the Taliban been anything but terrorists wearing the cloak of religion?
A robed, brainwashed monkey baying for blood: does it represent any religion? Buddhist, Muslim – is a bloodstained cleric our symbol or our bane?
There are faults on both sides. There are problems on both sides. There are more sides than two. This country has come out of a 30-year civil war and people are still in fighting stances. That said, seeking justice is not the answer. To trace back the chain of events, seeking redress plus interest for deeds long done and buried, is not the answer. Let he who is without sin throw the first stone (nobody’s innocent here). The answer is to forget the past and move forward. Perhaps we’ll eventually have enough momentum to drown out the idiots who throw stones in the false conviction that they’re right.
(cover image from thuppahi.wordpress.com)