Some cause happiness wherever they go.
Others whenever they go.
If you didn’t believe the President is a megalomaniac, charlatan and liar. If you didn’t believe the UNP is governed by its own damning, disturbing embrace of racism, evidenced by episodic expression and a deafening silence around systemic roots, including within party cadre, senior leadership and structure. If you didn’t believe this government and every other government, for decades, hasn’t contributed to the growth of a virulent, violent majoritarian nationalism. If you didn’t believe that politicians of every imaginable hue, through their partisan pulpits, haven’t contributed to the detriment of a self-assured patriotism which doesn’t rely on decrying, destroying, demeaning or dehumanising others.
If you didn’t believe that the SLPP, now in an overtly reconciliatory garb, has for years fomented, condoned and fertilised communal violence in its petri dish of populism. If you didn’t believe that senior political figures, who openly stood for very different ideas and principles in 2015 and were elected on that basis, weren’t hypocrites.
If you didn’t believe that the BBS is not an aberration or anomaly, but condoned, conflated with and celebrated as mainstream Buddhism by the venerable Mahanayakes themselves. If you didn’t believe that the reason for antebellum and postbellum Sri Lanka’s near-total failure at reconciling, through enlightened self-interest, competing national identities is because of an ingrained racism so pervasive the mere flagging of it results in vehement, violent rejection. If you didn’t believe that what matters for all governments – past and present – is the capture of the vote bank in the South.
If you didn’t believe that no mob violence or violent extremism of any hue, anywhere in the country, would be born and grow without direct, sustained and considerable support from the political establishment.
If you didn’t believe the country’s political culture is the anti-thesis of democratic norms. If you didn’t believe Negombo, Minuwangoda, Kurunegala, Ampara, Digana, Aluthgama and mob violence in so many other places, over the years, happened because of well-laid plans that weaponised drivers of conflict.
If you didn’t believe this mob violence has a direct, sustained connection with the racism present in mainstream politics.
If you didn’t believe that impunity is ingrained in our political culture. If you didn’t believe that accountability, beyond the cosmetic establishment of hamstrung, half-baked institutions and legal frameworks, isn’t something governments are remotely interested in. If you didn’t believe that mainstream media normalizes violence exception.
If you didn’t believe that on social media, reflecting society and polity, there is a pulsating, priapic brand of patriotism that tears to shreds anything and anyone perceived to be in opposition. If you didn’t believe the exercise of violence on tap, in the decade since the end of the war, has helped cement political authority in a configuration that justifies militarisation, the infringement of rights and the trampling of civil liberties. If you didn’t believe that a state which invites pervasive, invasive Chinese surveillance as well as Israeli technology, does so because it knows the rhetoric of national security resonates deeply in the South. If you didn’t believe that the lack of any sustained opposition to so much in politics and beyond that is unethical, improper and immoral is because, from school, violent exceptionalism and othering is normalised, justified and endorsed as necessary.
If you didn’t believe that the expression and actions of those in saffron robes trump, any day, anywhere, for any reason and at any time, the rights and liberties of everyone else. If you didn’t believe that political futures of even the country’s highest elected offices are pegged to individuals who command and control mob violence.
If you didn’t believe the likes of Sinhale, BBS and other movements are out-growths of the same mentality evident in the acronym soup of Sri Lanka’s leading political parties.
If you didn’t believe that for decades, long before the advent of social media, foundations laid for majoritarianism to seed, seep into and spread through every sinew of governance, lead invariably to violence. If you don’t believe that being uncritically part of and benefitting from these structures contributes to violence and murder.
If you don’t believe in news reports of violence against refugees fleeing persecution, because they somehow look different and pray to a different script.
If you didn’t believe that Tamils, Muslims and everyone else in Sri Lanka have the inalienable right shape their own destiny.
If you didn’t believe that dehumanising political opponents or ridiculing those with a different point of view by calling them alien, unpatriotic or non-Sri Lankan perpetuates a culture of violence, from national to local levels.
If you didn’t believe that those in positions of authority today behave, speak and act in ways that will deeply influence a younger demographic, when confronted with difference, to take up cudgels, instead of informed debate. If you didn’t believe that a mainstream media culture that is rarely critical of majoritarian bias, and instead headlines the worst racism and prejudice, directly contributes to violence in every sphere of social and political interaction.
If you didn’t believe that sermons by influential figures, in saffron shades or Salafi, strategically serve to divide, cause anxiety and raise fears. If you didn’t believe that dog-whistle propaganda, seemingly innocuous but with deadly intent, whip up, simmer and sustain communal tensions.
If you didn’t believe that this propaganda, with increasing sophistication, volume and velocity, is produced on social media to carefully corrupt minds that a few years hence will exercise their franchise, or not, to ensure racists win and moderates lose.
If you didn’t believe that the most engaging political communications campaigns are executed by the worst, most divisive, corrosive, violent and reprehensible elements in polity and society.
If you didn’t believe that silence in the face of injustice is how political parties attempt to capture votes that they perceive may otherwise be lost, especially at a time of volatile, new dynamics in electoral processes. If you didn’t believe that the state’s racism runs so deep, only the most flagrantly offensive periodically runs the risk of public censure.
If you didn’t believe that prejudice, exclusion, othering, racism, bias, communalism, censure, transactional violence, slurs, insults, callous disregard, suspicious looks, incivility and impoliteness, amongst other violent interaction points, are an everyday, occupational hazard for minorities in Sri Lanka, getting worse.
If you didn’t believe that one risks life, livelihood and limb to not be part of, allied with or somehow partial to the majority’s script, state, space, society and structure.
If you didn’t believe any of this, news of Gnanasara Thero’s Presidential pardon and release from prison would have come as a shock.
Counter-intuitively, the Thero’s release also frees many from a fiction that has lasted decades.
The President’s mentality, the UNP’s silence, the SLPP’s tacit endorsement, society’s broad acceptance and the general polity’s apathy around impunity, injustice and intolerance is a long-overdue, honest capture of a country very far removed from the first two words of its official, full name.
Perhaps the first step in addressing what we don’t want to become is to acknowledge who or what we really are, and for decades, have been.
To paraphrase Commodore Perry’s famous line, we know our enemy.
It is us.