Mahinda and Buddha stickers on a jeweler’s scales, Kegalle
I like traveling around Sri Lanka. I was supposed to visit Mannar on Thursday, but the Ministry Of Defence rejected my approval. This makes me think. I think I’m rejected cause I write for the Sunday Leader, and they published my photos of Vavuniya and Puvarasekulam. It could also be because I had a small incident in the Hambantota Port. Fair enough I guess. The bigger question for me, however, is how many benefits there are for toeing the line and how much it sucks when you cross it. It sucks that I can’t travel north, but people there can’t get out. If I go along with that my life would improve. There is a Faustian bargain on the table and it terrifies me.
I have and will work with the government. I like government, at least more than not having a government and I still think public service is a noble thing. In Sri Lanka I have met a lot of people in government service who are very cool and I’m consciously ignorant enough to hold my tongue (now). I think we have insane problems, but I still support the government.
Screwing People Over
Some stuff, however, I really don’t support. I don’t support keeping people involuntarily in IDP camps. I don’t support keeping Sri Lanka opposition leaders and media out, or citizens even. I don’t support the demonizing of people you don’t disagree with as somehow not Sri Lankan, and threatening their reputation and lives. I don’t support killing, nor the glorification thereof. I definitely don’t support rule of men over rule of law.
Why This Is Bad
I’m like this because of my parents, and because I’m a practicing (and forever failing) Buddhist. My parents raised me to treat other people as I want to be treated. The Buddha taught compassion and non-violence. As much as I dig politics and Machiavelli, I still think that causing other people to suffer is bad. As much as I understand the reasons, I think that incarcerating people and killing (even terrorists) is wrong. I mean, I do support thrashing the LTTE, but as my parents’ son and a Buddhist I have to recognize even their humanity. I certainly recognize the humanity of the innocent people caught in between. I understand that shit happens, but I can still see that it’s shit.
This is who I am and I cannot change it. But the temptation is great.
Being in the ‘opposition’ sucks. For one thing, it doesn’t pay well, and for another, you can’t even do much good. If your goal is to help people, you need to work with the status quo. To start with, you need access. As long as I sorta toed the line I had access to the north and I was able to help a few people here and there. When I crossed and showed and telled that I wanted them out (though the Leader surprised and shanked me on that) I was cut off.
All my meager military, government and even aid contacts are burnt. I’m in the wilderness now, and it sucks. For one thing I don’t feel special, and for another I can’t do anything. On a much worse level, people I know in the government are totally hooked up and they can drive faster, earn more, break more laws and generally live in more comfort and security than me. And it’s all pretty easy. They just have to toe the line.
Then I think of Luke Skywalker and how he thought he could work with the Dark Side, and how poorly that went. Except of course, it kinda did work, and I think I could do it to. And I would, if I could. Alas, I am a fucking klutz and I tend to involuntarily trip over the line at least bimonthly and end up in some sort of trouble. I cannot stay on any particular side not out of morality as much as sheer willfulness and dumb.
To be quite frank, I think they’re all assholes. SLFP, UNP, NGOs, America, China, Sinhalese, Tamils, rich, poor. I don’t agree with any particular rationalization based on those categories because I don’t think it accurately describes the world. However, this leaves me is largely alone. I piss off my friends, my enemies and myself.
What scares me, however, is how tempting ‘selling out’ seems. How tempted I am. You can take the ‘government side’ and get safety, security, and filthy lucre. You can take the international/NGO side and get posh parties, pats on the back, travel and possible asylum.
However, I want none of these things. At least, I don’t want them in exclusion. I would like to be safe and free in my own country and still fit into a broader moral universe, which I do find in much western thought and literature. What bothers me is that I am tempted by both, accepted by none and getting shit from all sides. I can see how people can just pick a side and fight externally, but being born and raised the way I am, I can’t. I am a Sri Lankan raised abroad with all the qualifications for the last century. This fight is all internal for me and, quite frankly, it sucks.