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The last trump, the last trick

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 18 November 2016 00:00


Some men lead lives of quiet desperation. Poets, philosophers, people in the street or on plebeian public transport, taxpaying citizens hard-pressed by budgetary policy and burgeoning prices. Far from the cut and thrust of parliamentary politics, safe from the hurly-burly of pragmatic governance (or so they think now) these desperate people – women and children included – might find a few certainties to console us. Death: a blessed relief at times. Taxes: a rigorous burden to try our patience and perseverance. Supermoons: a benighted distraction that (like good governance, perhaps – another once-in-a-lifetime event) over-promises and under-delivers. We are hollow people, our headpieces filled with straw, leaning together for cold comfort against cruel November rains that stir dull roots with all-too-familiar convective aches, and pain.dft-15-7

Other men – for want of a better term to name members of the third or fourth genders – enjoy living noisily and dangerously. Noisily, for their own listening pleasure, and that of likeminded demagogues or antidemocratic deviants. Dangerously, for the rest of us desperate people, living quietly under the aegis of an increasingly under-threat Pax Republicana. Representatives of militant monastic movements, these moonstruck monks chant more than mere lunar incantations. They bay at eclipsed hopes of hegemony for the ethno-nationalistic chauvinism they espouse. They bark at passing caravans that have set our country on a course for transitional justice- and national reconciliation-oriented constitutional reform geared at getting the best in the future out of a bad situation in the past. They blatantly enjoin a volatile activism on the part of their fans and followers, blindsided by a chink in their armour, a fatal flaw in their psyche. They bamboozle the powers that be with egregious demands – which, for all their absurdity, resonate in the minds of some patriots and sundry scoundrels. And they’re getting away with blue murder. Or appearing to, being permitted as they seem to be, to speak vitriol and vituperation in public, and invoke an unfathomable impunity.

Foulmouthed fundamentalism

untitled-2Ven. Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara Thero – among other members of the third sex – is at it again. Once more, it is the Muslim community in general and Muslim activists in particular who have provoked the bear to poke itself with a stick. Again, the accusations are against anyone inimical to the ethno-ultranationalist cause who is suspect, who are condemned in absentia, and dismembered by invective. Frighteningly, incendiary demands are placed at government’s door. Terrifyingly, most of us folks who lead hollow, shadow, sad, half-lives of quiet desperation seem willing to let the ogres of ethno-religious totalitarianism set our nation-state on fire yet again. In Colombo, this monk confronted a rep of Muslim fundamentalism with fire. In Batticaloa, another of his ilk publicly threatened a Tamil Grama Niladhari in the purplest terms with apparent impunity (a hapless senior policeman simply watching and waiting for an opportunity to shepherd the volcanic Vesuvius away to the safety of a police van).  

In the past, equally constrained or challenged citizens – private and elected representatives of the people, perhaps themselves compromised in some way by certain of their own peccadilloes – have identified and addressed the threat posed to all of us by such desperados. A firebrand MP not averse to foulmouthed filibustering in parliament has labelled the first-mentioned venerable monk’s organisation “an extremist group” prone to excessively provocative statements. A former diplomat and academic, who hasn’t hesitated many times to support or endorse authoritarian regimes with a populist voter base, hasn’t hesitated on one occasion to call his oeuvre, the ‘BBS’, “an ethno-reilgious fascist movement from the dark underbelly of Sinhala-Buddhist society”. A past and present senior government minister under many dispensations has gone as far as equating the monk and the movement he co-founded as being in the image and likeness of “Taliban terrorism”, and fostering extremism by inciting communal hatred and violence.

Well said, sirs. But.

Where is the soothing sound of these voices of sweet reason now? Why has civil society with its champions of liberal democratic values fallen silent? Whom do the powers that be fear? That they tread so cautiously anent rabid demagoguery now that it is near? Such that they suspect the despots of old again are here? Is it up to the masses of people leading lives of quiet desperation to take a stand against this fearful trend which might tend to set our country alight again? Or will a government that once appeared to have the courage of its convictions take the mantle of being a voice for the marginalised once more… and more importantly an agency against the fall of night in broad daylight?

Favoured archangel

Maybe government, more than any civilian agency, knows the nature of the minefield. There is perhaps more to these outrageous outbursts and egregious expectations than meets the eye. Nationalism, to national-reconciliation tub-thumping political liberals, may still seem like the first refuge of scoundrels. Now, more than ever, in a milieu where patriotic chest-thumping seems strangely out of place – in a largely deracinated marketplace where democratic-republicanism pays the piper – the erstwhile merchants of death and jingoistic profiteers from war may have grown desperate. Quiet, they’re not – at least, not their front men. Rather, strategy by cynical tactic by sly manoeuvre, they seem to be manipulating public sentiment while pressing political hot-buttons to their favour. Therefore, it behoves the mission-minders who received the people’s mandate in two successive elections last year to ask the ‘why’, ‘where’, and ‘what’ questions; not just those ‘who’ and ‘how’ concerns that you and I (desperate, deceived, in the dark) may have.

I, like you, maybe, am/are tempted to field issues such as: Who is the venerable monk, that he dares shake two clenched fists in the face of government? How is it that he is still at large? Who will rid us of this troublesome, meddlesome, priest? How will the state press its case for peace with justice abroad when there’s such a fiery cauldron burning hot at home?

Into this heady mix, minders of state and national security are possibly wary of adding fuel to the fire and fears over our quietly desperate mind… “Why is it vital to vested interests to throw a spanner into the nation-state’s sense of stability now?” “Where does this fiendish movement receive its funding, its inspiration, its encouragement, its nous, its devil-may-care determination?” In an atmosphere of rumours of war-mongering, fuelled by speculation about internationalist agendas, and conspiracy theories about a grass-roots groundswell by a chauvinistic counter-reformation ambitious for high political office again, cautious consideration and level-headed reasoning is urged on government and state apparatus such as national security, as much as civil society and idle curiosity. For Satan disguises himself as an angel of light and jokers in the pack seem to possess the card trick to trump law and order. While (no doubt) Kings and Knaves of Spades lurk in the murky subculture. Forget we won’t – we dare not – we can’t – that the monstrous monkish movement once enjoyed the patronage of friends in high places. Powerful allies were noted to be present at hallmark events and landmark inaugurations. Those same forces might be seeking a sudden resurrection of their ghoulish influence over the national psyche; riven by doubts about democratic-republicanism on one hand and fears about the face of national reconciliation transitional justice – and what these chimeras may portend for their favourite demographics (the military, some mandarins of a past regime, et al.).


Fee, fi, fo, fum

So, there is a ghost in the machine of government – or more precisely, the machinations of the once and future political culture that doesn’t change – no matter which coalition or cabal is in power. It is an agency of old that the present dispensation seems to be empowering – by design or by default, it is not clear. And to lay that gremlin in the engine to rest – in the national interest rather than narrower, or petty, partisan, party political interests – the ‘coalition against corruption’ government has to know its mind, get tough on inciters of war or hate crime, and act decisively and determinedly. Mightier coalitions or groupings of pragmatic convenience than the present incumbents have been threatened – and toppled – by external threats that were permitted to fester, and foster cancer in the fragile flesh of our war-weakened society. And it is thus imperative to arrest the errant moonstruck monk… to haul him before a high court – yes once again – under the relevant provisions of the ICCPR Act of 2007 (vide threatening, soliciting, inciting, violence) and detain him at the government’s ongoing pleasure. Throwing away the key is one act of poor governance that we quietly desperate people may not complain about too loudly – and not for long – and if other fundamentalist agents provocateurs exhibit a similar propensity to disturb the hard won peace, let them share the fate of this errant monk. Sri Lanka has suffered long enough in painful consternation under the shadow of a volcanic saffron brigade while silent chief priests and sly colluding politicos – that fourth sex – hold their piece at the price of wars and rumours of war.

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