By Ameen Izzadeen
Sri Lanka’s nation-building process is being dealt blow after blow in the wake of the April 21 Easter Sunday attacks. The horrendous crime that took the lives of more than 250 people is an irrefutable statement that we had neither reached the highest level of nation building nor have we attained the moral progress required of us as humans.
Nation-building is synonymous with national integration. It is a structural process in which development is seen not only as economic growth but within a wider definition of a comprehensive process. In this all-inclusive process, development or nation building means social, economic, political and spiritual development. If a nation concentrates only on economic development, neglecting social, political, cultural and spiritual developments, that nation is doomed.
In a multiethnic country, nation building also involves developing a common identity. Progressive nations such as Singapore and Canada have made the best use of their multiethnic character in their nation building processes.
If a country and its people move in the opposite direction, displaying narrow-mindedness and giving priority to parochial identities instead of displaying broad-mindedness and embracing an all-inclusive national identity, then that nation is triggering national disintegration, which may bring in its wake conflicts and a complete breakdown of the nation’s socioeconomic and political institutions.
Post-April 21 violent incidents and political moves indicate that our political leaders and a majority of Sri Lankans do not fully realise this danger and the importance of nation-building with an all-inclusive approach.
Nation-building is not only government-driven, but also people-driven. In Sri Lanka, it appears, both these processes are now on reverse gears. Sri Lanka being a multicultural state, government leaders are expected to pursue progressive policies aimed at bringing a less assimilated group into the mainstream.
With nation-building being the topmost priority of any state serious of achieving comprehensive development, Sri Lanka’s leaders need to turn the searchlight inwards and find out why they cannot act in good faith to achieve nation-building goals.
Sadly, the government, the main opposition, the law enforcement authorities, the clergy and the media have failed this nation and its people, in one way or another, in responding to the urgent need of nation-building and national integration in the wake of the Easter Sunday blasts that devastated the social fabric of this nation.
Instead of coming together with the determination to rebuild this nation from the ruins of the carnage, they have allowed the emergence of racism and racist politics.
In Sri Lanka, we did not see a leader like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, who a month before the Easter Sunday terror attacks, showed the world how a government should respond to a national crisis. She gave the topmost priority to the more important task of national integration and nation building, while taking steps to deal with white supremacist terrorism. But in Sri Lanka, most social and political institution failed, displaying their inaction, deliberately or otherwise, or adopting silence, deliberately or otherwise.
As a result, as a nation, we are backward marching towards what the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes called the state of nature, in which life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’ with every man against every man.
As reprehensive as the failure to avert the Easter Sunday calamity is the government’s failure to avert the violence unleashed by racist elements against the country’s Muslim community.
With the President, under whom police and security affairs come, rushing to China to kowtow before President Xi Jinping, with the Prime Minister being powerless to issue instruction to security forces, and with the main opposition concentrating more on a plan to win the next elections solely on Sinhala votes, Sri Lanka has been plunged into virtual anarchy since April 21. Playing havoc in this vacuum are political monks who with their inflammatory speeches incite racist elements, rather than underscoring the four sublime states of mind – metta, karuna, upekka and mudita – as preached by the Buddha.
In the post-April-21 period, democracy has been undermined, while mobocracy and monkocracy achieve whatever they want through intimidation and ultimatums to the government, making worthless the franchise the people exercised to elect this government in the hope that it would govern the nation in a just and fair manner.
The people power concept is an encouraging feature in any democracy, but if racism becomes the driving force of any people power campaign, then it is fascism and the government should take all measures to crush it. There is a mark difference between France’s Yellow Vest campaign and the white supremacists’ rally at Charlottesville in Virginia, in August 2017. We condone the former, and condemn the latter.
The clergy form a key social institution in any country. They play a positive role in the nation-building process. Colombo’s Archbishop won the hearts of the people when he, in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday massacres, underscored the Christ’s message forgiveness and love in averting a backlash against the Muslims. Similarly, the mahanayake thera’s appeal to Muslim ministers on Wednesday is a welcome move.
However, the people expect religious leaders to uphold the nation-building spirit to stem the inevitability — the polarisation of society. After 30 years of civil war, we have restored the territorial integrity of this country. But we have only united the landmass; sadly at people-to-people level, we are not united yet.
Driven by the greed for power, our politicians appear to be thriving in racism. What contribution has the Joint Opposition made to prevail over the racist mobs, a majority of whom constitute its vote base?
The Prime Minister on Tuesday said racism should not be allowed to raise its ugly head again. But the President and he seem to endorse racists’ violence by not dealing with the troublemakers in a tough manner.
The Police, meanwhile, probably in the absence of proper guidance from a weak government, are literally taking the law into their hands. It is alleged suspects are being arrested and charged under draconian provisions of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) Act or detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, though the crimes they allegedly committed are not connected to terrorism. For instance, a pregnant Muslim woman who tried to vomit was arrested and detained, because the people thought she was trying to blast herself. A woman who wore a kaftan that carried the pictures of a ship’s steering wheel was arrested and charged under the ICCPR. But the suspects arrested for taking part in anti-Muslim violence were released on police bail or charged under the normal law of the country.
These alleged double standards raise the question whether the Police are also working on a racist agenda. If so, they are doing a grave damage to the country’s social fabric and pushing angry Muslim youths towards extremism.
Also in the racists’ bandwagon are sections of the media. They compete with each other to cultivate racism. It may be business for them, but their irresponsible journalism, does in no way, contribute towards nation-building.
With the government unable to act decisively, the forces of disintegration run or ruin this country. Whither nation-building in Sri Lanka?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)