Diversity and the Reverence for
Violence has been a fact of human life from time
immemorial and a considerable part of it derives from the
intolerance of the ‘Other’, or those who are seen as aliens and
‘different’ by the barbaric practitioners of such savagery.
Democracy is also all about humans cultivating tolerance for and
accommodation of those who are seen as different, although these
aspects of the democratic project tend to be deemphasized when
dominant groups within countries seek to exercise collective and
throttling control over those who are seen by them as having
little or no right to exist in their midst.
We would be labouring the obvious if we say that much of
contemporary bloodletting has to do with this brutal intolerance
of the ‘Other’. World War Two, for instance, which claimed lives
in the millions and was sparked by perceptions of racial purity
on the part of the Nazi regime headed by Adolf Hitler, was
characterized by this failure to revere and accept the ‘Other’
and contemporary times are so rife with this species of
brutality that we would probably only be wearying the reader by
recollecting them here afresh.
However, at a time when the world is commemorating the
horrific 9/11 tragedy, it is relevant to take cognizance of the
monstrous harm mankind is doing to itself by failing to respect
and accommodate the ‘Other’, or, in other words, to foster a
reverence for human life in all its diversity. Intolerance of
diversity and plurality was a hallmark of the Nazis and
continues to be a defining feature of fascist groups all over
the world. Needless to say, this ideology of hate cannot go
hand-in-hand with democracy, the messages of our greatest
religions and mankind’s enlightened thought systems that
proclaim a Reverence for Life.
In Sri Lanka there was the LTTE scourge which tormented us
for 30 long years which had its roots in an ideology of racial
hatred and rejection of the ‘Other’. The impact of the LTTE was
so destructive and divisive that it bred mutual hatred among
some sections of our public and helped in bringing into being
brutal chauvinistic groups in Southern Sri Lanka too, which, in
turn, helped in keeping the flames of war and conflict raging.
The lesson which should have been learnt is that hatred does
not cease by hatred. But has this prized nugget of wisdom been
taken possession of by the die-hard promoters of ethnic
In the post-Cold War world, ethnic wars and cultural
conflicts, unfortunately, have assumed a discomforting salience
and one of the most daunting challenges facing the international
community is to make the world safe for diversity and peaceful
co-existence among human groups characterized by a multitude of
identity markers. To the extent to which this is achieved, it
could be said that this world is no stage for a ‘Clash of
Civilizations.’ If the world fails to make any progress towards
this cherished aim of an international order which respects
diversity and upholds Reverence for Life, the defenders of the
‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis could be said to be vindicated,
because human prejudice, intolerance and rejection of the
‘Other’, will win, over the spirit of democracy and the valued
ethic of peaceful co-existence among human groups.
Sri Lanka is now bestowed with the opportunity of proving the
proponents of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis wrong by
establishing conclusively that it could pull through to an era
of complete tolerance and understanding among its communities.
That is, Sri Lanka too could show the way in institutionalizing
and cherishing ‘Unity in Diversity’.
This is the foremost project in the post-conflict years in
this country. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has repeatedly spoken
up for the need for all of our communities to gather round the
Sri Lankan flag. That is, we must forge ahead as a single and
united polity and this message must be spread far and wide in
this country and one could be glad that UPFA candidate at the
forthcoming Colombo Municipal Council election Milinda Moragoda
has made respect for the ‘Other’ one of his main campaign
Colombo with its rich mosaic of communities, religions and
cultures should prove a fertile field to spread the message of
continued peaceful co-existence among communities. Colombo could
be transformed into an object lesson in greatly strengthened
ethnic and cultural equality and we hope considerable headway
would be made in this direction.
We do wish Colombo will be a trail-blazer in material
prosperity as well as resoundingly flourishing ethnic and
cultural accord. Making economic and other forms of equity a
permanent feature of our social landscape becomes imperative.