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Sunday, 3 April 2016

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Crying 'Wolf!'

Crying 'Tiger, tiger' is not just a poetic first liner in this country which is yet recovering from thirty years and more of bloody ethnic-b ased internal war. Many have been the false alarms in this country, especially in the metropolis, during the war when people would react with terror at the slightest rumour of a possible attack by separatist militants known for their ruthless slaughter of civilians in urban guerrilla strikes.

The danger, during the war, was obviously real and people throughout the country, north and south, had to be vigilant and ready to react with safety measures in any military contingency.

Today, however, the Eelam separatist movement has been shattered militarily and is also politically almost defunct. While there are sundry Tamil politicians who do tentatively make noises in support of an ethnic Tamil nationalist cause, rarely does this advocacy actually mention secession and the formation of a separate ethnic State. Indeed, in the post-war period, elections at provincial as well as national levels have shown remarkable support among Tamil people for Sri Lankan national causes, the last but not least being the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015 in which the critical issue had been the restoring of genuine democracy, good governance and inter-ethnic justice.

The Tamil diaspora, which, at one time, was demonised as being the principal funders of secessionist insurgency, has already diversified in to a range of different political tendencies with only a very tiny minority of people harking back to the days of LTTE insurgency. Many, if not most Tamil activist groups overseas have long discarded separatist goals. Some of the groups who, at one time, were vilified as financiers of separatism and 'terrorism' are today very publicly and actively in support of national governmental initiatives in Colombo. These same groups, during the war, were prone to summarily dismiss or ignore Sri Lankan national issues as not being of interest to the Tamil community since that community was defined by them as a separate 'nation'. Such rhetoric and such political discourse is almost unheard of, these days.

Indeed, ever since the end of the war, the periodic detection of former LTTE arms caches reflected the considerable success of the security forces in obtaining the co-operation of the Tamil civilians in the North and the East in their uncovering of weaponry and other insurgent assets. These weapons and equipment had been either hurriedly secreted away or discarded by Tiger cadres giving up militant activity and attempting to merge with the population.

Indeed, in recent times, it has been certain groups of Sinhala politicians and activists who have kept the 'Tiger terror' fires burning in their attempts to whip up Sinhala exclusive nationalism by nursing the old fear psychosis that prevailed during the war but had begun to fade after 2009.

In the post-war situation there yet remains residual ethnic sensitivities due to the failure of the previous regime to constructively address the underlying problem of ethnic inequality and discrimination. Hence, while the minorities - not just the Tamils - continue to worry about their future as proper citizens of Sri Lanka, the ethnic majority Sinhalese are naturally concerned about that continued minority sensitivity, and, thereby, are sensitive to issues of their own ethnic identity in relation to the other ethnic communities.

These sensitivities reflect on the future stability of the country and need assuaging politically and socially if this country is to usher in genuine social peace in the long term. For such a fundamental problem of State as the ethnic conflict is, only sweeping political structural renewal, as in the form of constitutional reform, will provide a serious solution.

No one should know this better than the intelligentsia of this nation, especially those who claim to be expert in constitutional law, particularly those who have actively engaged in finding structural solutions to the ethnic problem in past decades.

Yet, today, some of these intellectual bigwigs are among the first to start alarm bells ringing the moment another cache of old Tiger weaponry is unearthed. If the lower ranks of political rabble-rousers indulge in such antics, they could be contemptuously dismissed as what they are - plain, opportunistic rabble-rousers.

But when senior intellectuals indulge in the same?

For too long have ethnic politicians opportunistically seized the slightest excuse to dangerously fan communal flames.

Crying 'wolf' is a popular European reference to a Greek fable about the repercussions of constant lying. Aesop, the legendary Greek writer of what later became known as 'Aesop's Fables', reportedly wrote a tale of a shepherd boy who had fun misleading his village people about an imminent attack by wolves against his herd of sheep. Since sheep, in that ancient pastoral era, were a hugely valuable asset of the peasantry, it was not surprising that the poor villagers did not hesitate to come running to rescue their herds whenever this mischievous young shepherd gave his false alarm about wolves.

Likewise, today, the nation is beset by criers of 'Tiger!' - not just those rabble-rousers but, also, from among the intelligentsia and even elder statesmen. Do these much-vaunted political leaders and 'thinkers' want to be also dismissed as mere decrepit 'rabble-rousers'? What does that do to our national civilisation? Where, then, is our own standard of responsible politics and civil behaviour?

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