Five ways in which to ‘set a nation ablaze’

Thursday, 12 May 2022 01:28 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

APOCALYPSE NOW? – Armageddon can be avoided by carefully nurturing another type of flame! - Pix by Ruwan Walpola


Sri Lanka is being reborn. Inch by painful inch at Galle Face green, which is rising from the dirty-grey ashes of reprehensible state-sanctioned thuggery. And elsewhere, square foot by fiery square foot, as angry mobs – who? whose? what enraged monsters in masks lurk behind the furious faces? – raze their erstwhile governors’ mansions to the ground.

It is by far from being the best of times. Despite the naive and sentimental protestations of the civilian Struggle that has suffered its worst setback in a month of Sundays, by dint of one man’s criminal intentions and continuing impunity, in the face of irrational complicity by state actors aiding and abetting the former first family to flee. 

And yet – until and unless the newly-muscled military open fire on hapless protestors, under the guise of muzzling looters – it is not the worst of times either. Yet. Even as grim a reaper as the regime’s leader who until recently presided in silent mystifying absentia over the incipient anarchy would – should – could if he were sensible – hesitate before the arguably illegal order given goes from writ on paper to being blood on the soil.   

That the future of today’s children is in danger of being from Mother Lanka’s womb untimely ripped is grave cause for concern for every decent citizen and civilised dissenter. The agents of an unfathomable evil are working behind the scenes to suborn insurrection and cast what is left of a nation facing an economic Armageddon into an everlasting Apocalypse. So now or never is the time and place to be ever watchful about the blaze all about us. It is also time to light some healing fires of our own.   

Not with a torch of hate and hunger for revenge or retribution by a nation on the march against its administration and political establishment. But with a flame of ideas whereby even those books burned at Gotagogama’s famed library will rise from the ashes because there’s no quenching the thirst for knowledge that grows prosperity. And the passion of a people newly freed from decades of slavery to corrupt, craven, cynical politics must be nurtured carefully lest the vulgar mob and hired hands extinguish the precious fire... 

For newfound liberty is volatile – A spark may turn vigilance into vigilantism; thoughts about ‘justice’ being tinder to the tough-minded manipulators of reality even now, today, after a conflagration has shown that the people won’t be as tolerant tomorrow as they were yesterday of their one-time ‘heroes’. 

So, for peace with justice to be our next dawn, ‘converting fire-starters into finely-attuned constitutionalists’ (a modern equivalent, perhaps, of the ‘swords-into-ploughshares’ and ‘spears-into-pruning-hooks’ motif), the mindset of the large mass of those who – until very recently – led lives of not-so-quite desperation must move from passion to prudence, from rhetoric to reason, from sensation to sensibility. Ergo, five ways to ‘light the fire’:

Be active and proactive – not reactive

Go to Gotagogama when the curfew lifts. Help the genuinely apolitical activists who have stood for a month in your stead to build back better. The battle is but half-over and one mustn’t leave the principal alone, much less the primary cause of the war undone, simply

because is one annoyed, upset, disappointed – whatever the emotion – at its ostensible

hijacking by political wolves in sheep-like civvies. 

Voting with one’s feet set our criminal governors back... And while their cowardly, state-sanctioned thuggery may have set the clock back by a day or two, iniquitous boots on the ground cannot quell the riotous breast or quench the democratic spirit. 

Take your own books as a votive offering for the famous ‘library’ there – it’s time we stopped worshipping soothsayers and started following philosophers and social scientists. 

Savages may have burned the book depositories of Alexandria and Jaffna among other repositories of the indomitability of the human spirit. But the civilised at heart will always triumph over the Neanderthal drunkards of ‘5K a day, half-a-bottle and full-rice-packet’ infamy.  

Be aware/be alert

It may be shutting the stable door after the donkeys have bolted? Never too late, though, to beware of the besetting sin of Sri Lankan social media’s armchair activists! There are only so many versions of the truth as there are tweeps and trolls out there. Just check, verify, clarify etcetera – before you post, share, forward. It is as criminal an activity to vicariously participate in the destruction of public property as it is to set the faggot up the sticks to flame politicos’ buses and backyards.  

One way to light a fire that will never go out is to recalibrate our national tendency to scare, shock and sensationalise. Bright beacons illuminate – never burn the ships they serve to bring into safe harbour. It would be a pity, crying shame and national sin to set the rumour mill rolling again in the service of subversive elements in society and suborn insurrection at the click of a mouse or press of the fingertip. Time to douse the flame – for good – of the ‘racism’ that has bedevilled our beloved island-nation, despite (or perhaps because of?) it being the putative safe haven of Buddhism!   

Be aloof from the plots

The birds have flown the coop. More might fly if the guardians of the law band together with the strong arm of the people’s protectors? 

But the quislings who betrayed their patrons in the end – by changing sides and espousing principles from which they were clearly estranged when they brought their cabals to power – are still around, lurking in subterranean bunkers of iniquity that pass for exemplars of honourable businesses and civil society.  Be it major media players or minor web-side entities, silent chambers or apex professional bodies, Sri Lanka must remember the part so many influencers played in keeping those castles in the air afloat, sky-high. 

And though many if not most have been called out by watchful commentators, the threat to transparency has not been stamped out by a long chalk. Here be dragons, masquerading as latter-day knights in more than slightly tarnished armour.

If the shenanigans of our elected representatives have taught us anything by their dithering and duplicity of late, it is that the old political mono-culture whereby everyone played the game – whether by design or by default – is exposed for the hollow sham it was. 

It must not be allowed to raise its head again by an apathetic polity who have only recently come to appreciate, understand, and model the virtues of an apolitical electorate. This is an irony whose appropriateness is becoming more valuable by the day, as civil society tries to build back better from the crumbling facade of a governance structure on fire and a country sitting on a powder-keg as presidents go mum or speak fumblingly after dropping the ball and former prime ministers flee with wives and sons.

Hold your arms akimbo

Each time there is a national crisis, there is a country-wide opportunity to reach out and support the marginalised who are undergoing hardship. Every time the island has been under a cloud – war, COVID-19, tsunami – its political class has robbed their fellow citizens of a chance to weather the crisis with grace and improve their lot in life. However, now, the people have taken their destiny firmly between both hands as perhaps never before.

The shining example set by the legal community spearheaded by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) must be commended and replicated. Standing in solidarity with those wrongfully arrested or wilfully deprived of their civic or human rights, they have shown how to extend a helping hand in keeping with both the letter and the spirit of the law. 

Let’s link up and stand arms akimbo – both literally and metaphorically – with the marginalised, the movers and shakers who are engaged in a gargantuan ongoing struggle, as well as the more invisible demographics, whose plight tends to drown silently under the switched off spotlights and search lamps.

Peace with justice begins with you

The politico of the calibre that is being asked to go home will go – now, or at the next election, or maybe even never ever... Their flesh is as grass – flourishing one day, fit for the furnace the next... Our burden of duty now, in the same breath as seeking to recover the national assets lost or missing from their rapine and pillage, is to ensure we aren’t consumed by the fiery inferno they’ve sought to leave behind as their lamentable legacy. 

But the root cause of the state of ‘power failure’ will remain close to the heart of the people’s praxis if we don’t turn the spotlight on ourselves more fairly and squarely. And this we must do in our perhaps rare moments of private reflection. The life force of a franchise once given freely cannot be – in the absence of laws empowering the people’s right of recall – be readily withdrawn, as some of ‘us’ are now discovering to ‘our’ anger, shame, and guilt.

And if we – all, I would dare essay – fail to see the ghost of an arrogant Gota or the gremlin in the engine of the power-hungry Mynah (who’s gone but not forgotten) in our own mindset, we may be doomed to repeat the lessons of our history-in-the-making if we don’t learn from them as we go along. For such a spectre is a demon only we can exorcise and never ask it to #gohome if it is already ensconced there.     

| Editor-at-large of LMD | Enervated by fire | Energized by flame |

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