Let Sanity Prevail | Daily News


Let Sanity Prevail

Destruction caused by the Easter Sunday terrorist bombings.
Destruction caused by the Easter Sunday terrorist bombings.

To those of our generation it will appear that Sri Lanka is in a near permanent state of conflict; now hidden, now open, citizen against citizen, brother against brother. There are interruptions to the theme of violence, these breaks are mistaken for peace. In fact, this is the time for feverish preparations, indoctrination, gathering of weapons for the next round of blood-letting. With the passing of years, the challengers change, they age, giving way to younger malcontents; yesterday’s rebel ends up as today’s status quo. Every round of violence is deadlier than the last, advancement in technology and crueller methods enables the attacker to wreck greater havoc. While each rebellion leaves its particular scars, overall, the country is left poorer and hopeless.

Although very young then, many of us carry memories of April 1971, the first abortive insurrection of the JVP. Living in Colombo we didn’t have first-hand experiences of the carnage let loose by the insurrection, but from the radio, talk among adults and the general atmosphere of fear, realized that terrible things were happening in the country. Listening to adults talk about military operations was exciting, we watched with admiration armoured cars of World War 2 vintage (gifted by the British army) being driven with precision along Colombo roads, maintaining a regulation gap in between the vehicles. To our vocabulary were added unfamiliar words: insurrection, curfew, confessions, search operations, shoot on sight; words we boys too began to use in our chats, liberally and imprecisely.

If I remember right, the April school holidays were extended until late June by which time the government decided the situation was under control. For us, the curfew and the extended holidays were not such a bad thing; there were endless soft ball cricket matches with the boys in the neighbourhood, sharing of comics and even more serious reading like Enid Blyton and Biggles adventures to keep us going.

The attack on the State apparatus, mainly the Police stations, took place on April 5, 1971 or soon after. Now, with greater awareness, we realize that the JVP had no hope in the world of success. Once the armed forces had recovered from their initial shock, the rag-tag JVP was bound to collapse in a matter of days. What appeared to be a spectacular offensive looked menacing only because of the wretchedness of our State structure. Within a few days the momentum had been lost and the JVP were on the retreat, suffering huge casualties in an unequal battle.

But in the minds of a considerable segment of the population, the JVP had infinite resources, and were going to launch several new attacks, there was thus a need for an extended defensive posture; of course, this meant no work, no school. There was a portentous sounding tale doing the rounds about a meeting between the beleaguered Prime Minister Srima Bandaranaike and the tormented Rohana Wijeweeera, the JVP leader, captive, and in extremely harsh remand conditions for a few months then. It was said mostly by young adults, without reference to the source, none with first-hand evidence, as we realize now.

As the tale went, the rebel leader with a show of drama demands a glass of water, which is immediately offered. Dipping his forefinger with a flourish into the glass he produces a drop of water and declares theatrically “I have thrown only this much of my forces at you”. No wonder there was fear in the hearts of our timorous citizens!

July 1983 riots

By the time the July 1983 riots came we were in our adulthood, possessed of better judgement, able to view the horrific events unfolding before us with greater awareness and maturity, with an idea of the history as well as the consequences of such happenings. This time the epicentre of the destructive madness was Colombo, many were murdered, buildings torched and thousands made homeless in front of our eyes virtually.

Rioting broke out on July 24 after the funeral for the 13 soldiers killed in a terrorist ambush in Tinneveli, near the Jaffna University. While the government fiddled around with palliatives, the violence unleashed by mobs spread like an inferno out of control. Both to the economy as well as the social fabric the damage done was profound, in some aspects unrepairable. It was not all grim, there was comedy within the tragedy in the form of the “tiger day” when the word went around that tigers (LTTE terrorists) were coming to Colombo to seek vengeance. The city dwellers panicked, many fled for their lives, getting on to all types of vehicles driving off at break neck speed on both sides of the road, as well as the pavements, escaping what they thought would turn into a battlefield.

As usual, the truth was very different. At the time the nascent LTTE was perhaps only about two dozen strong, and after their daring ambush they were in hiding. Leave alone coming all the way to Colombo, the LTTE could not even raise their heads in Jaffna then. A time would come when they would unleash devastating attacks in Colombo, but in July 1983, those were far in the future.

1983 seamlessly slid in to twin insurrections both in the North as well as in the South. In the South it was the JVP which led the bedlam, while in the North the LTTE, after annihilating the other rebel groups, reigned supreme in terror. Undoubtedly, both groups were formidable, but as later events proved, not unbeatable. As usual, the scare stories abounded, when cool rationality should have prevailed, it was the mythology of the obtuse that came to the fore. It was common to hear fearful assessments; that the LTTE was the world’s most fearsome terrorists outfit and that Rohana Wijeweera (JVP) was fiendishly clever, a Marxist theoretician with an unerring grip on all matters (for that honour, here there is no need to produce treatise of world-wide interest as Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Gramsci, Sartre did).

Apparently, the mediocrity so obvious in all our other endeavours, disappears when a man takes up a gun, in death and destruction at least, we claim international ranking! When true greatness eludes, bombastic piffle gives satisfaction. Weak assessment leads to faulty approach. Confronted by a threat completely outside of their narrow confines, confused and harried, our governments ran around in circles.

And now, this Easter Sunday abomination. On that blood splattered day, some Islamic extremists, without warning, without presenting any demands, blew up hundreds of innocent people, they too perishing in the process. The civilized world shuddered in horror at this barbarism committed in the name of religion. Once again we were the focus of world attention, for the wrong reasons.

Rumour mongers

It must be said that the Muslim establishment, profoundly embarrassed by the heinous crime carried out in their name, quickly condemned the suicide bombers, denying them even funeral rites. Perhaps there was also a sense of remorse, for like many other communities, they too had for long, mistaken madness for fervour, taken intellectual backwardness for strong faith. But that does not make the whole community terrorists, or even promoters of terrorism.

As happens always, the rumour mongers are now in full spate. Your water will be poisoned, schools will be attacked, even locations of the targets are being given; foolish days are here again. When the nation should remain calm, ensure the stability of the economy, attend to their work and let the law enforcement get on with their onerous task, various elements are being roused to break the law.

There is hardly a need to remind the reader of the contribution of the Muslim community towards nation building. Having been domiciled in this country for centuries, they belong, as anybody else. Many a Muslim soldier gave his life to keep the country together, when a protracted civil war was waged in order to break the country. There are many professionals, teachers and other service providers from that important community whose contribution cannot be ignored.

Striking a personal note, a few years back I had occasion to consult Professor Kamal Dean at the Asiri Hospital. His concern, commitment and the professional manner was of the highest calibre. In my own profession, I recall with respect the late Shibly Aziz who during his tenure as Attorney General, by his impeccable conduct, enhanced the prestige of that office. As a young State Counsel I was privileged to appear before former Supreme Court Judge Ameer Ismail, when he was a High Court judge. His efforts to do justice, while maintaining the decorum of court left a lasting impression on my mind. To him, the law was a search for justice, and the legal profession, a calling, not a mere licence to rake in the shekels.

These are but a few of the Sri Lankan Muslims that I have had the honour of meeting. True, they stand at the highest level of that community. Between them and those pathetic terrorists there are millions, with varying attitude, culture and intelligence. This is so with every community.

For the crimes of a few, let not the innocent suffer.

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