photo from the peace march last month
Was yesterday and the BBC was kind enough to run something I wrote for a blogger panel. Thanks to The Benevolent Dictator for recommending me. It was edited for space and I’ve included a different version here. The best metaphor I have to explain life in Sri Lanka is a country with a really terrible flu. We have this ethnic conflict which – like a virus – has its own logic and causes. However, all we see are the symptoms. When you have the flu you get a fever and the body produces snot and phlegm and all these nasty things to try and control the pathogens. In the same way, the ethnic conflict puts the country on high alert and all these security measures and murderous paramilitaries have sprung up to supposedly resolve things. Travel around Sri Lanka and you’ll see a country dangerously overheated – blowing its nose and coughing up blood.
There are checkpoints everywhere. I see at least ten men with guns every day. Gloved police stop traffic to let Ministers through and everybody gets all twitchy in case the buggers blow up. That’s nothing compared to life in the North and East. There people have been bombed out of their homes, denied water, had their children conscripted to fight, denied access to humanitarian aid, etcetera, ad nauseum. In Colombo stuff blows up, the phone lines get clogged, and someone cleans up the smoking mess. Life moves on. You’re honestly more likely to get killed in a mundane traffic accident than a terrorist attack. What sucks more is that war fever tramples on civil liberties and civility in general. I’ve had my car towed by the bomb squad and gotten vague death threats for what I thought were moderate blog posts. And those are just mild symptoms. People in the North and East are truly suffering and sometimes I can’t look at the news. What’s worst is that there’s no middle anymore. You can’t even talk about the ethnic conflict without being branded a LTTE sympathizer. I guess it’s the same on the other side, except they actually do kill dissenters. The whole country is like ‘Aaaah, I have snot coming out of my nose’ and trying to solve the problem with a sledgehammer.
World Peace Day, in that sense, just treats the symptoms. I mean, if we stop fighting for a day that’s not going to make the riots of 1983 or the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi go away. However, I think that day would have value. Under the Ceasefire Agreement the inflammation went down enough that we could talk about the ethnic conflict itself. Not that we really did. Personally, I didn’t talk about the ethnic conflict on my blog until stuff started blowing up. Colombo is a fun town and there’s other stuff I’m interested in. Peace kinda makes you complacent in a way, but it does lay the economic and social groundwork for a lasting solution.
However, even a day of peace seems far away right now. As far as I can tell violence breeds more violence, kills our moderate leaders and stifles debate. I don’t understand how that ever leads to peace, but I guess I don’t understand how a runny nose works either. I just hope it works out. Under the ceasefire I could imagine Sri Lanka in 20 years and it was a great place. So great, in fact, that I came back from studies abroad with a lot of hope. That hope is starting to congeal into heartbreak, but I still believe in this country. World Peace I don’t know about, but I think Sri Lanka can make it. There’s so much creativity and life here; you can almost feel a humid pulse when you get off the plane. I do believe that force is stronger that whatever is tearing us apart. It’ll take some time for the fever to break, but it will. I mean, it has to.