There is something amiss in Sri Lanka. Nine months away, and a sense of overwhelming alienation from the land coupled with a guy wrenching yearning to stop it from a further descent into destruction seem to simultaneously repel as well as pull me to this cursed land. Cursed not because we cannot thin kof ways out of conflict, but cursed because those who can are perenially caught up in the parochialism of peacebuilding.
Which is a novel concept – that peacebuilding can in and by itself engender conflict is not new. But in Sri Lanka, the passivity of civil society (if one exists) and the NGOs seem to have reached all time highs. No mention of the topics that are inconvenient – the religious intolerance and the radical extremism that colours groups of thugs organised into pseudo-political parties that function as the lackeys of the two main politcal forces in the country – the SLFP and the UNP.
Whither common sense? Whither principles? If principled criticism in the on going peace process runs the risk of assasination, the the present conundrum seems not be so much the resumption of war, but rather, the continuation of a peace that is imbalanced and skewed in favour of political elites and new power groups.
Actions of certain NGOs add the gloom – imbeciles who take home grossly inflated sums of money bespeak of a country that has never lacked committed and talented young individuals to take up where previous generations have failed. There is no new vision, itself perhaps the result of an entrenched mindset that cannot think beyond the years that the whatever incumbent government is in power.
There is alienation. A damoclean sword atop society threatens to, as one academic recently put it, serbianise the entire country. Selves, emtions, identity, ethnicity, polity, society – all deeply fractured.
This then is the time for pseudo representation – the pyrrhic politics of the North and South can neither address the concerns and fears of internal constituencies, let alone image a united and coherent front with which to address those of the “other” side.
Es muss sein?
Let’s forget about a peace process – the process, if ever there was one that could succeed, has long since solidified into a opaque morass of conflicting interests. To re-energise the process will require a political will that Sri Lanka will not see in the months to come. And yet there is space, if we act now, for voices of moderation to act as a bulwark against a societal collapse – leave aside a return to war.
A return to war would perversely makes things simple – things become strangely clearer in times when the sides are clearly drawn. Black and white.
It is the shades of grey that NGOs and civil society must now cultivate to influence the powers that be in the stratosphere of partisan politics. If this be the season of miracles, then let them flow unceasingly.
To re-align NGOs to a common goal and desire to nourish each others work.
To destroy the hyprocisy within civil society that tarnishes any work that it does.
To do away with those who treat peace as a process of self-aggrandisement and financial gain.
Sri Lanka is in a vortex that I fear it may never recover from.
My wish for 2005 is that I am proved terribly wrong.