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The Sinhalese: Blasé!

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Sunday, 12 December 2010 10:17 No Comment]

A recognised and accepted evil When Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power, the existence of an ethnic problem was an accepted fact; five years later its non-existence has become an accepted fact. The ethnic problem not only perished, it freed the Sinhala psyche from memories of past errors and crimes, from the Sinhala Only Language Act to the Black July massacres. After all, if the only problem was Tiger terrorism, then what we did or did not do would be irrelevant.

The Rajapaksas saved the Sinhalese from the burden of regret and guilt – and not having any responsibility for the plight of the Tamils, rendered pity and sympathy over their condition unnecessary. This mindset enabled us to look on with indifference not only at the suffering of civilian Tamils during the war but even afterwards, when more than 300,000 Tamils were kept in camps. Our perception, and therefore our definition, of these camps could have been various and contentious, but that need not have been a bar to sympathy, to a sense of human solidarity. The absence of any empathy was particularly outstanding in the South’s reaction to the plight of the Northern displaced. There was a wild rush [...] to visit the North, but not to help the homeless in the North. We worshipped and sea bathed and engaged in sightseeing but failed to be touched by the human misery around us. The regime’s very effective propaganda about happy welfare villages and rich Tamil refugees may have contributed to this near total absence of human solidarity – but that does not explain it. The blasé attitude came primarily from the belief of our own sinlessness, not just in the conduct of the war but also in creating conditions for it. We are the innocent; they are the guilty. And the guilty must bear the pain of retribution unalloyed by the balm of sympathy or pity. That is their karma.”

(Tisaranee Gunasekara, The Anatomy Of Rajapaksa Rule, in Dissenting Dialogue, Issue No. 1 November 2010. dissentingdialogues@gmail.com)

The above words reminded me of von Stauffenberg, and the German Resistance Memorial Centre, Berlin: for a few years, I happened to live in the continuation of the road now named after him. (Stauffenberg attempted to kill Hitler, failed and was executed the next day, 21 July 1944. A terrible revenge was exacted not only on the “conspirators” but on their families.)

There’s no doubt that, particularly at the start, the majority of Germans were supporters of Hitler, with an enthusiasm that passed into adulation. But there were a few who thought independently, and recognised Nazi fascism for what it was: an evil  based on racism and a callous contempt for what one would see as human and humane decencies  –  in short, as civilised conduct. Having recognised the true nature of the state and its political leaders; having grasped the terrible and tragic consequences on others,  they refused to look the other way; declined to be afraid and silent, resigned and passive.

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