Amid the clamour of chauvinists practising arson and the clangour of empty vessels making the most noise, you may have missed a very important point. That while sticks and stones may break your bones, some words could surely kill you. This is because entirely the wrong type of people have come round to the thinking [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Down with these dangerous ideas


Amid the clamour of chauvinists practising arson and the clangour of empty vessels making the most noise, you may have missed a very important point. That while sticks and stones may break your bones, some words could surely kill you. This is because entirely the wrong type of people have come round to the thinking that a lie can become a national mindset if it is repeated long and loud enough. Also that the bigger the lie the more readily it will be believed by a country with a fatal chink in its latent psyche.

One cannot fail to notice that charismatic bigots make better headlines and more electrifying media coverage. One cannot help but comment on such extremist positions taken and actions engaged in. In fact, the diehard ultranationalist or psychopathic venerable is probably relying on you – yes, you, dear – to notice, post it, repost it, share or tweet or forward. In this business (for that – business – is precisely what those who suspect an economic motive lurking in the shadows behind the ethnocentric shenanigans of a week see), there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Let’s take stock for half a mo. News travels slowly these days, especially if it is riotous and incendiary. The state would prefer to call it crowd control rather than censorship. Consider how, when, where, you heard about Aluthgama, Beruwela, Dharga Town, the hartal of last week, the halal ha-ho of last year, the Hirana episode that is now allegedly a hoax… Chances are that it was social media in one form or another. Customary media channels follow ploddingly with self-censored news features, no commentary, nil engagement. Who can blame them? It’s as easy to torch a newspaper’s press these days as it is to gut a No Limit flagship store. And yet, while the southwest lights up like sporadic bushfires threatening to spread and Nero fiddles, the common or garden citizen – yes, you again, dear – sighs, shrugs, snivels a bit at the outrage of it all, and sleeps it off in the hope that, somehow, tomorrow’s tweet or perhaps the last post of some offsite journal will show the thing to have been a passing shower of sparks.

Something’s got to give. What if it was to be common sense that was to break out like a healing rash? What if conventional wisdom would be employed to rule the day rather than an extremist point of view? What if cultured people from all strata of our society – democratic, decent, dharmishta – could voice their calming, cooling, healing sentiments as readily as the fiery but hypocritical demagogue, by-turns-piqued and placatory despot, and incendiary monk? What if the very civilization for which are reputedly famous and of which we are reasonably proud could be heard loud and clear over arriviste philosophies such as racial superiority and rule by law? What if citizens – and not their priests, police, or politicos – could have the last word? Peace with justice!

I suspect that many of us – you and I, dears – would be saying something along these lines, as we attempted to speak into the present volatile context in a bid to counter the rabid thesis being established at present:

I am possibly small and almost certainly insignificant, but a citizen of a sovereign nation-state nonetheless and my right as much as my vote must count for something.

We alone might not amount to much against a juggernaut of ethno-religious hatred, but together we can and must take a minor – maybe – but concerted stand – now – against this type of chauvinism – before it is too deeply entrenched into the national psyche to be excoriated with relative ease.

Enough is enough!

Just let us discuss:

Modes of expression of dissatisfaction with the status quo, militating in favour of a restoration of law and order over and above vested interests and hidden hands, the arrest and trial of all agents provocateurs in a bold step to secure the war victory of a bygone decade, and return to peace with justice for all. The need of the hour!

Means of getting the message across to the powers that be in a more meaningful and impacting manner than temporarily changing our Facebook profile pictures. A can and must do!

I think you get the picture, don’t you? We have all thought or said it often enough this past week or so. Let me leave you then with two more dangerous ideas to add to your repertoire…

Halal is not haram

In a truly pluralistic society – such as we constantly claim to be and trumpet for propagandistic effect – there will be not only difference, but tolerance of difference. The true test of the mettle of this tolerance will come when our neighbours get stranger and stranger – in our eyes – as regards their customs, traditions, rituals, culture, language, habits, mores, and general temperament or even morphology. That we are eminently divisible along so many fault lines has been only too obvious since 1815, and in 1915, but not 2015. An acid test is ahead for all of us. To fail it (again) means to face the prospect of not just a ha-ho over halal or a hullaballoo over hijab; but another holocaust along the lines of 1983, 1987-1989, or worse.

Here’s an appeal to the religious animal in all of us.

Absence does not make the hartal grow fonder

In a truly politicised culture – such as we consistently prove ourselves to be – there will be not only dissent, but opposition to dissent. The storms and stresses of how this space for civil dissent and civic-minded dissidence is negotiated will demonstrate how we have assimilated the three-millennia-old lessons of savage civilization, subjection to colonialism, and salvation under republicanism. That we are patently flunking this examination at the hands of our peers – and not by courtesy of distant parliaments or hostile international forums – must not only engender guilt and cause shame, but cure us of our xenophobia as well as our antagonism to the alien in our midst.

Here’s an appeal to the socio-political animal in all of us.

The most dangerous idea of all is that one citizen – you or I, dear – could begin to change the mindset, the mediascape, and the mental landscape of Sri Lanka today.

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