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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

An open letter to Defence Secretary from an ordinary citizen.




The Island, Colombo, 19 May 2010

It is with dismay that I read the news report on the front page of The Island of Thursday, May 6th, titled’ ‘TRAITORS SHOULD BE GIVEN CAPITAL PUNISHMENT’, with an inset that ‘Defence Secretary Rajapaksa says the LTTE rump is exploring every avenue to avenge Prabhakaran’s killing on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon last May’.

According to that report, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya says anyone seeking to undermine Sri Lanka’s sovereignty should be regarded as a traitor. It will be a grave blunder on the government’s part for the so-called international community to interfere in Sri Lanka, he says. The Defence Secretary says that any Sri Lankan promoting an agenda that is detrimental to the country is nothing but a traitor who should be ready to face the consequences…….. traitors deserved capital punishment and no one should shed crocodile tears over them."

If he will pardon my saying so, too often, the Defence Secretary seems to speak impulsively not calmly issuing reasoned and well-balanced pronouncements. Some of us ordinary citizens are often left to wonder and feel perturbed at the attitudes that are promoted. All of us are mindful of the debt we owe the President and his brother the Defence Secretary, and even more to the former Army Commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka and his men, for bringing the long drawn-out and ruinous war to an end. We can understand – even if we don’t go along with it – the triumphalism that prevailed when victory was finally wrested from the LTTE. But is it necessary to demonise the enemy? A Palestinian peace-maker named Ali Abu Awward observed, in the course of a meeting of 135 Israeli and Palestinian artistes to express the benefits of reconciliation, "Everybody wants to see the other side as a devil, to excuse their own behaviour against him, because if we saw him as a human there is a payment, there is a price, and nobody wants to pay the price".

Thankfully, the war is over. Now is the time for genuine moves towards peace and reconciliation and efforts to bridge the polarization that has taken place between Tamil-speaking and Sinhala-speaking Sri Lankans. Constant fulminations against possible attempts on the part of unnamed, nebulous sources abroad, and against any group or individual who is at all critical of the government may seem like red herrings to distract the people from the realities of our situation here, notably the rising COL, now that the elections are over. It is the talk of ‘Patriots’ and ‘Traitors’, of "those who are for us or against us," that troubles me. The definition and wide interpretation of the term ‘traitor’ seems to emanate from a few strident voices and since the popular feeling is that these voices have the backing of the government, a fear psychosis which began quite some time ago, has almost paralysed thinking people to the extent that they fear to raise a moderate tone and a reasoned criticism of any sort, publicly. The handful of courageous journalists and writers who still dare to speak out openly and honestly, have sometimes deplored "the silence of the good people". That silence indicates that most people feel cowed and they will not risk any public utterance that might be interpreted by the powers-that-be and their supporters as treasonable.

Increasingly, the impression created is that the government will not allow any dissent and that we must all be ‘yes’ men and women and forever hold our tongues – whatever the provocation – if we wish to survive in the present climate. There are many things that raise concern and at risk of being called a traitor. I’d like to ask the Defence Secretary a question regarding one such issue that disturbs me. It’s about those cemeteries in the North where the LTTE honoured their dead. Did you concur, Mr. Defence Secretary, with the decision to bulldoze those LTTE cemeteries? I visited Gettysburg in 2008 and I was more than ever moved to admiration of that great US President and rare human being, Abraham Lincoln, when I saw how the graves and monuments of the Confederate dead had been allowed to remain side by side in the hallowed ground which also bears testimony to those of the Union Army who perished in battle.

"Hatred cannot be overcome by hatred," said the Buddha. We can do no better at this point in time than to enshrine in our hearts the concluding sentences of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural speech: "With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Anne Abayasekara

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