Presidential victor will have to wage war on terror
By Nous
There is, perhaps, no higher sense social responsibility for the business sector to embrace than the demonstration of resolve even in an atmosphere of terror. Indeed our businesses could be called upon to give scope to commerce in defiance of terror that asymmetrical warfare inspires, when cultural logic forces the country to wage war either on the prevailing Tamil terrorism or on the Sinhala terrorism that may follow if a dishonourable peace is imposed from above.

The business sector has been in the forefront of those who have been advocating peace at any cost – even at the cost of justice and honour. Understandably, bound as our businesses are by a narrowly pragmatic creed, the concern with ideals of justice and honour would seem too esoteric a matter for them to willingly endure pain and face brutality of war on account of it.

Perhaps equally explicable is the fact that a significant segment of our population, both Sinhala and Tamil, is seen to be animated by the idea of defending the honour of the community to the exclusion of all other moral considerations. Among Tamils, the concern with the dignity of their community has even given rise to the impulse for ecstasy through suffering and martyrdom.

It is often the backward looking, and not those who are facing the future with hope and confidence, who would allow a single consideration to outweigh all other considerations involved in the overcoming of impediments to living well.

It is no doubt a mark of vice that a significant segment of our population, both Sinhala and Tamil, is not of a sanguine temperament and lacks a lively consciousness of the dignity of being a man – factors that undermine in a basic way the disposition to act fittingly and intelligently. However, habit brings moral dispositions to maturity. Aristotle says: “lawgivers make the citizens good by training them in habits of right action – this is the aim of all legislation, and if it fails to do that it is a failure; this is what distinguishes a good form of constitution from a bad one.”

If this is so, it would appear that historically we have had only very bad constitutions. We are also an agrarian society. As is often the case with agrarians everywhere, the preference is for conservation rather than for change. “Farmers traditionally even excuse the privilege of the aristocrat in exchange for the shared avowal of an inflexible cultural continuity,” says a historian.

Religion is one of the most significant forces that unite the Sinhalese as well as the Tamils. Both Buddhism and Hinduism are ancient religions that have persisted largely unchanged and unaffected by either the attraction or logical contradiction of new ideas.

Thus due to a variety of factors, many of us do not put a high premium on change or progress. It is not difficult to see how the very lack of progress must be intensifying the feeling of pessimism, unworthiness, and impotence that underlie thought and action.

Since many of us in the country are ill disposed toward acting decisively and righteously due to an underlying feeling of pessimism and impotence as well as poor moral training, we often give the impression of lacking even the desire to better ourselves materially. Moreover, because of our lacklustre approach to bettering ourselves even materially, the method of conducting our affairs reasonably, by means rational co-operation has not become a settled habit here.

However, the upcoming elections will show how far the emergence of new customs and habits due to the growth of capitalism, increased worker-migrations, and the brutality of war are proving disruptive of the settled moral dispositions – whether such disruptions have given rise to a majority that is favourably disposed toward seeking freedom for self-improvement which capitalism alone can provide.

Perhaps so, yet it is difficult to imagine the situation in which there is a peaceful acceptance of the will of the majority. This is not only because the individual is imperilled in our collectivistic constitution that lacks a comprehensive American-style Bill of Rights; it is also because the principle of majority rule has been perverted by the introduction of the system of proportional representation.

The direction of the country is now left to an elite group to decide - the parliament can act today in contemptuous disregard of the wishes, fears and prejudices of “we the people”. The perversion of the democratic theory must be added to the conditions that are preventing us from being trained in the habits of acting virtuously. Some such cultural logic, it is ventured here, is forcing asymmetrical warfare on us.

The Tamil liberation movement is animated neither by the idea of liberty-ancient, which is democracy, nor by the idea of liberty-modern, which is the Bill of Rights. There are elements in the South that wish to impose the tyranny of the majority on dissenting minorities. Some of those who advocate peace at any cost with Tamil terrorism would gladly have a Premadasa cruelly suppress Sinhala terrorism. But if we are to become genuine allies of cultural progress, we need to declare war on enemies of liberty not just in the South but also in the North.

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