Oscar Wilde, not by any means the most accurate marksman, was way off target as regards the state of our nation when he wrote these introspective lines. “Yet each man kills the thing he loves/By all let this be heard/The coward does it with a kiss/The brave man with a sword.”
Today, the brave man (no admiration for anyone intended) dies like a dog in the street while the coward (let us cast no aspersions) has his deadly way with assault rifles more suited to a theatre of war. In the meantime, “the usual suspects” are pursued, arrested, detained, interrogated, and released from police custody into the warm welcoming embrace of corrupt politicians, crooked businesspeople, and criminal warlords. As you can see, the late great gun culture is alive and well in our land today.
There is good reason to think that the late great gun culture would have been interred with the ashes of our once and future war. Several thousand armed combatants on either side of the erstwhile ethno-military divide laid down their lives so that an end could be called to Sri Lanka’s little lamented violent conflict. But although the big bazookas have fallen silent on the battlefield – for good, we hope – the sound of small-arms fire reverberates round town and country up to the present. I am not the only one, methinks, who thinks that there is something smelling of cordite in our country today.
The latest ‘shootout at the OK Corral’ (as the recent pseudo combat operation in Mulleriyawa has been tagged) is but a new twist in the tale of our ongoing romance with violence. Tragically, such expressions of violence are now both a means to an end and an end in itself. As a means to an end, violence has been invoked to condone and support the defence of the realm, the elimination of undesirable elements in the underworld, and now (as then, as always) the castigation of political opponents. As an end in itself, violence is as old as the day and age in which Cain looked askance at his brother Abel. It is now de rigueur for thugs with issues of the ego, vulgar villains with axes to grind or a living to make, and law enforcement officials with legal mandates to maintain and political masters to mind… That “the silly doctors thought to interfere with the historical inevitability of a bullet in the head” (as one wag said), in the case of the most recent shootout, is neither here nor there.
Our war heroes may be dead but the arch-villains still among the living. Fate is a funny thing and destiny a demigoddess with a twisted sense of humour, so kismet me hardy! The point is that guns aren’t lawful, nooses give, and gas is awful, so might as well live… to wit, nothing short of the death penalty for slayers of citizens in the street will save us from the kind of sudden anarchy we have come to expect in a post-conflict milieu. Of course, this is an irony in itself. Those who live by the sword should not have to be slain by the sword in a society advocating non-violent resolution of conflict.
On reflection, though, the question is whether our society is advocating non-violent resolution of conflict at all? A quick survey of the field reveals quite the contrary. The military establishment is now reportedly being brought in to curb illegally armed politicos milling around, as the police were once thought to be on a suspect-in-custody killing spree to curtail underground gangs. Most average citizens would heartily endorse such an extra-judicial modus operandi if it would help to fight crime. Ivory tower intellectuals rage against the dying of the light in some distant corner of their purlieus, so there’s no point counting them in. Civil society has not so much as muttered under its breath let alone ponder or pontificate and issue a statement. Those of us who like our peace and quiet will go gently into that good night where neither arms nor the man, neither might nor main, are desired or required to keep the peace and maintain law and order in our individual universes. A rare few may enjoy the intervention of vigilante groups.
As a whole, we enjoy violence and will fight to keep it. The movies we watch, the games we play, and the role models among our leaders (whom we think we don’t emulate but whose negative influence is pervasive anyway) will ensure that this mode is subliminally reinforced. That late great gun culture is only a step away from being a national pastime, a popular sport, the right of citizens to carry a weapon – to defend themselves against cops, robbers, criminals, vigilantes, and all. It is a revolution that will be televised. Cheap entertainment for the masses costs nothing – merely lives.