This is not a sprint. It is a marathon. Distrust and insecurity did not happen overnight, and it will not be eliminated overnight. In this era of divide and rule politics, it may take a decade or two to reach another new equilibrium of religious and ethnic harmony – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
By Dr. Ganga Hematillake
The 30-year-long reign of LTTE terrorism on the island and the drawn-out military response by various Sri Lankan Government administrations left massive shifts in the geopolitical equilibrium of interracial and interreligious relations on Sri Lanka. The primary division was clearly between ethnic Tamils in the north and ethnic Sinhalese in the south who were then supported by Muslims in the east.
This shift resulted in a polarised national identity-split into two main groups. One that supported Tamil separatism and one that opposed it. Picking an identity from the two choices available was easy for the majority race Sinhalese and for Muslims who were adversely affected by the war and therefore chose to oppose the separatist agenda. The two choices available was very hard for the ethnic Tamils, especially those living outside the north and east who had been living in harmony with Sinhalese and Muslim communities for centuries until the unfortunate events of Black July.
Ethnic Tamils did not have a third choice. Most were either pushed to support the separatism or forced to become sympathetic to the cause of separatism, initiating the “insecurity” and “distrust” between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities.
The abrupt end of the war in 2009 created a massive shift in equilibrium that was completely unrecognised by the then national leadership. The national leadership was totally unprepared for the new reality and therefor allowed the natural order of events to proceed without any planned interference leading to another new ‘re-equilibrium’.
This ‘new re-equilibrium’ slowly grew into a deep feeling of ‘insecurity’ and ‘distrust’ by ethnic and religious populations and neighbourhoods belongs to those now celebrating the victory of war (Sinhalese and Muslims), resulting in a deep cracks of our national identities. Various internal and external influences, mostly based with extreme religious ideologies then started working on taking advantage of the opportunity to advance their own agendas to benefit from the divisions.
The defeated, who are mostly ethnic Tamils, most were supporters of separatism or forced to sympathised with the separatist agenda as they did not have a third choice, went in to a state of hiding, some looking for a new identity but still unable to fully come to terms with war wounds.
Root cause of post-war insecurity and distrust
Just like the USA trying to force-feed “democracy” to the rest of the world to broaden their influence outside their domain causing regional instability in many parts of the world, just as China offers loans to cash needy countries to eventually trap them to be under their own sphere of influence, several middle eastern countries (Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia) have their own way of spreading their own sphere of influence to vulnerable regions of the world.
Middle Eastern countries do this through exporting their versions of extreme Islamic religion by means of using their extreme wealth to make huge donations to local organisations, then buy out influential local politicians to support building large number of mosques that preach extreme versions of their Islam. They also fund building of large number of schools that teaches extreme versions of their Islam that is very different from the more moderate Islam that is practiced for centuries in these local multi ethnic multi-racial communities.
This hostile overtaking of the local neighbourhoods and communities by the extreme Islam came at a massive expense to the relationships of the local and well integrated, well tolerated moderate Islamic communities who lived in harmony with other ethnic and religious groups in those regions for centuries.
Born-again Christianity, also known as Evangelical Christians with its origin in Southern USA and also well known for their religious extremism spreading mega churches in USA with deep pockets of billions of dollars at their disposal, also went out in a campaign to spread their ideological Christianity to the third world. They do this with large-scale conversions that were possible with their unlimited spending power contributing to the distrust and insecurity of the local communities of Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics and other Christian sects who peacefully cohabitated these communities and then mainly fell victim to the conversions.
Coming out of the 30-year brutal war to a new equilibrium, Sri Lanka was unprepared and non-immune to such well-organised outside invasion of religious extremism. Based on the basic truth of physics, (every action will have an equal and opposite reaction) (how the state of equilibrium is achieved in nature), what Sri Lanka experienced as a result was a locally grown Buddhist extremism as the equal and opposite reaction, largely due to the insecurity and distrust caused by this outside invasions of extreme Islam and extreme Christianity.
Due to the absence of strong national government and lack of stern executive leadership that could have intervened and prevented the invasion of extremism, what resulted was what we have today in Sri Lanka, a melting pot of communal and religious disharmony.
The hidden powers of influence
In this era of ‘Second Cold War,’ where old and new superpowers are at war with each other for the global geopolitical dominance, ‘vulnerability’ is the key feature they are looking for to make their move to bring a country or a region in to their sphere of influence. Communal and religious disharmony brings ‘instability’ to a country or a region and the ‘instability’ makes them ‘vulnerable’.
So obviously, religious and ethnic disharmony is a tremendous incentive to the new and old superpowers to maintain the countries and regions in a ‘vulnerable’ state. As long as this incentive exists to the superpowers, it is very difficult to the vulnerable country or region to come out of the vulnerability as the local leaders will not have the ability, power or incentives to overcome this vulnerability. On the other hand, local leaders will be made powerless, disabled and discouraged by both covert and overt actions of the superpowers.
The tactics they use to maintain ‘vulnerability’ are innovative:
1. Devolution of power
2. Enforcement of human rights
4. Press freedom
5. Freedom of religion
6. Judicial reconstruction
7. Regime changes
8. Buy out of politicians
9. Forced constitutional amendments
10. Overt threats of war crimes allegations of leaders
11. Overseas training opportunities for judges, MPs, military leaders and potential leaders (brain washing and bribing for loyalty)
12. Large scale grants and long term loans for strategic projects with terms and commitments attached in fine print (entrapment)
13. Creating food and basic necessity insecurity by making the local productions of a country/region succumb to cheap imports (subsidised by superpowers) and making the country/region depend on imports for all their basic needs (food insecurity, vulnerability of the population to famine in case of embargos, a weapon used by super powers to punish countries who don’t fall in line)
Path to a new equilibrium of religious and ethnic harmony
A. Eliminate ‘distrust’ and ‘insecurity’ among ethnic and religious communities
This is not a sprint. It is a marathon. Distrust and insecurity did not happen overnight, and it will not be eliminated overnight. In this era of divide and rule politics, it may take a decade or two to reach another new equilibrium of religious and ethnic harmony. This can happen only if all the needs of such new equilibrium are met, which includes the need to address the forces that are trying to maintain the ‘instability’ and ‘vulnerability’ of the nation.
B. Overcome the ‘instability’ and ‘vulnerability’ of the nation
For a nation like Sri Lanka to overcome the ‘instability’ and ‘vulnerability,’ first it must have a strong and committed leadership. This includes strong executive President who is committed to improving the stability of the nation overcoming the vulnerabilities of global geopolitics. Understanding all the overt as well as subtle threats coming from all directions and then proper use of diplomatic agility to help manoeuvring the nation through this mine field of tactics listed above used by the super powers that constantly creating the instability is the key ability needed from a strong executive President. Lack of such understanding resulted in the 2015 regime change.
Sri Lanka is fortunate and must be thankful to the voters who made the right decision to elect Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the strong executive President. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka became a victim of global geopolitics after the war ended and faced each and every one of the 13 tactics listed above that had weakened the executive president’s ability to overcome the ‘insecurity’ and ‘vulnerability’ by the passage of the 19th Amendment that followed the regime change of 2015.
Getting out of this trap is a major hurdle and require a constitutional changes. Sri Lanka must again thank the voters who seems intelligent to understand this need and delivered the needed parliament two-thirds majority to make this happen. However, until that happens, Sri Lanka’s hopes to overcome the ‘instability’ and ‘vulnerability’ remains uncertain. Still the government is under the 19th Amendment and the same tactics used by the super powers to bring the 19th which made the country “unstable and vulnerable” can be used by those forces save the 19th as well.
C. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka
Once the 20th Amendment is implemented, the President’s ability to overcome the hurdles of ethnic and religious disharmony becomes a possibility as the country will become more secure and stable with less vulnerability. The steps needed to achieve this would depend on four pillars of success that was originally proposed by the National Unity Forum (Then called National Unity Alliance) in mid-2019. I have expanded them a bit more to address the today’s needs as I see it: 1. Defence 2. Discipline 3. Development 4. Democracy.
1.1 National security
1.1.1 Protect our national heritage and environment to ensure sovereignty of the nation will not come at a cost to our heritage or environment.
1.1.2 Protect food security by promoting and modernising agro industry so Sri Lanka can become self-sufficient in our internal consumption without having to depend of food imports.
1.1.3 Establish energy security by decreasing our reliance on imported oil and gas by developing and harnessing the green renewable energy technologies as well as exploring the natural gas reserves to meet the additional demand for energy.
1.1.4 Improve naval and Coast Guard capabilities, invest in local building of ships, arms and ammunitions for supply needs of the Navy and Coast Guards so every meter of the islands ocean covered boundaries are protected from smuggling, poaching and other illegal activities.
1.1.5 Use of diplomacy to maintain excellent relations with our powerful neighbour, India and assure Sri Lanka will never be allowed to be used by any other power to threaten the sovereignty of India and in return seeking a similar commitment from India.
1.1.6 Scrutinise the source and intended use of foreign funding to NGOs and assure all work done by NGOs are approved by the national level board of directors appointed by the President.
1.1.7 Control and monitor all places of worships as well as all religious schools to assure the preaching and teaching is not promoting extremism, violence against others or promoting hate crimes.
1.1.8 Block entry of extremist elements that may enter on long-term visas pretending as clergy or school teachers to teach English, a common tactic used by those who seek to make the country “unstable”.
1.2 Individual security
1.2.1 Protection of all law abiding individuals in society (individual safety and security) by enforcing one law to all citizens without any discrimination.
1.2.2 Enhance intelligence capabilities directed towards preventing/eliminating hate crimes form society (Acts of crimes based on ethnic and or racial hatred such as personal injury, murder, rape, destruction of property and places of worship).
1.2.3 Strong punishments as a deterrent for committing hate crimes.
1.2.4 Use of maximum force to root out and exterminate gangs and mafia like criminal activities that has become a menace to the Sri Lankan society
1.2.5 Use of maximum force to prevent and punish smuggling, distribution and sale of illicit drugs, identifying the enablers in all sectors of society and expose and punish irrespective of who they are and or how powerful they are.
1.2.6 Health security – Provide access to affordable quality healthcare to all citizens living in all corners of the country, urban, rural or very rural by utilising innovative technologies such as telemedicine and expanding the healthcare workforce with innovative changes to national health system.
1.2.7 Employment security – All national and local level education and training must focus on the work force needs of the country so all individuals graduating from training will have job opportunities available. Develop a highly trained technical labour force to supply the needs of the growing international market just like how China and India provide such services to the world.
1.3 Rule of Law
1.3.1 Revise legal system to assure fairness and non-discrimination (equality) and eliminate conflicting local, regional or religious laws from our legal system.
1.3.2 Assure effectiveness, equality and efficiency in the methods of implementation and enforcement of all laws.
1.3.3 Provide opportunities for academic and spiritual development within core national values based on each individual’s religion without infringing on other’s rights
1.4 Training and education of discipline
1.4.1 Promotion of the education of basic societal discipline and behaviour expectations of citizens within rules and ethical guidelines compatible with our national values.
1.4.2 Revise the curriculum in public education from kindergarten level through O/Level. Include subjects that teaches history of the nation and celebrate the rich diversity of ethnicities and religions of Sri Lanka. Include in the curriculum various traditions and celebrations of every religion practiced in Sri Lanka.
1.4.3 Promote the value of unity, harmony and need for respect and the “Sri Lankan identity” for all Sri Lankans to be proud of under one flag as one nation under one law for all citizens using publications, tele-dramas, children’s books
1.5 Energy security
1.5.1 Harnessing all carbon neutral renewable forms of power generation and exploration of natural gas creating large job opportunities in every region of the country.
1.5.2 Explore natural gas reserves to provide energy security with the ultimate aim of energy self-sufficiency required for development and use of citizens.
1.6.1 Identifying and implementing systems and projects for sustainable economic development with the ultimate aim of continuous economic and social empowerment of all citizens while ensuring water and food security with the protection of the environment without violating the core values.
1.6.2 Develop manufacturing capabilities of most local needs at local level creating jobs and training opportunities closer to home of the people so to limit having to travel long distance to work or move out of villages to seek employment
1.6.3 Develop roads and bridges to connect all corners of the island without damaging the precious environment
Path to third choice – All new equilibrium!
A strong executive leadership with a government less ‘vulnerable’ to external manipulations, flawlessly implementing the rule of law that is equal and fair to all communities, resulting over the years gradually decreasing the distrust between ethnic and religious communities.
A nation continued to be nurtured by positive inter cultural, inter racial and inter religious educations and promotions and aggressive suppression of the extremism in all sectors by uncompromising executive actions. The country and population will begin recognising that there is another choice available. That choice would be the proud identity of ‘The Sri Lankan’.
Majority will be proud to be a Sri Lankan citizens, citizens of one country, under one flag with one law for all citizens with guaranteed personal security, employment security, health security, energy security and moving towards a sustainable developed nation under one identity: The third choice!
I am a dreamer, but I know I am not alone!
[The writer is MD, MS, MS (Pharm), FACP and an Interim Chief Medical Officer, United Health Centres, California.]