Category Archives: Peace-Conflict-Governance

5000 People Spoke Out Against Racism in Sri Lanka

Petition pic

5,081 people that is. The petition was created by a small group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens, following the systematic harassment of minority communities around the island over the past few months. What started out with banning Halal food, rapidly developed into arson attacks on Muslim owned businesses, defacing of Mosques and attacks on Churches.

That’s not to say that the issue cropped up recently. In 2012 an extremist Buddhist group, lead by monks, stormed a Mosque in Dambulla and torched the 50 year old building. The Buddhists in the area condemned the violence against their Muslims neighbours, stating that they have co-existed peacefully over the years. The government did what they do best– they ignored it.

Just as they ignored other isolated incidents of both Mosques and Churches being attacked as well in the recent past. They went as far as calling the public delusional and having cooked up the Grease Yakka attacks.

Then again, this has been an issue since the 1950’s; possibly beyond. The problem is undoubtedly deep-rooted, and we cannot allow it to fester as it has for all these decades. It has been the impetus of the 30 year conflict, and here we are once again, repeating the mistakes of our past.

We need to speak up. We need to work towards chipping away at the racism in Sri Lanka that’s preventing us from truly progressing. No amount of expressways, wider roads, wetland parks and cobble-stone pavements (all built on borrowed money as we sink deeper and deeper in debt), will help Sri Lanka progress.

So 5081 people spoke out. They called on the government to take action against the hate-speech, hate-crimes and racism. The petition was mailed to the President a few weeks back and has reached the Presidential Secretariat.

Here’s a link to the petition in case you’d like to read through it (there’s a Sinhala and Tamil translation available as well)-

You can check out the Facebook page too(it’s got lost of neat graphics and posters)-

I do hope that all those who signed the petition will continue to speak out and fight against racism in Sri Lanka. Signing the petition is a good first step, but we need people actively working towards bringing about change.

-Megara Tegal

Meg is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She’s a journalist and a world-class klutz. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.


Sri Lanka’s Youth Plan for Sustainable Development

The Rio+20 Summit is in full swing and the Sri Lankan arm has taken its first initiative, in which a statement has been presented to the Minister of Environment. Post-war Sri Lanka certainly is in need of a system of sustainable development and at this stage the country has a fresh start in which adopting such a system is relatively trouble free; or so it should be.

The statement that encapsulates several vital areas in sustainable development was drafted by over 30 youth-led and youth-focus local organizations that are involved in environmental conservation, management, climate change, sustainable development and advocacy for environmental issues. Bringing these organizations together and orchestrating Sri Lanka’s participation in the Rio Summit, is the Youth for a Greener Sri Lanka (YGSL) that was established earlier this year (March 2012). The statement is a position paper on which future projects will be based. The paper was presented to the Ministry of Environment, as the ministry had arranged for the involvement of youth groups in the process. Nashen Gunesekera, the drafting committee chair, says it shows the enthusiasm of the government as other governments had not involved environmental conscious volunteer groups, apart from the ministry’s own.

Attaining sustainable development

A large team of local environmentally conscious youths has formulated a multipronged action plan, addressing several key areas that are intrinsic in the development of a nation. Top of the list and under the umbrella of youth policy positions, the statement mentions society’s role in sustainable development. The activists believe that equality is essential, they explained “our aspiration is equality for all, and not the luxury of the 20 per cent of the world’s people who enjoy the exploitation of 80 per cent of its resources.”

Well-being and happiness as well as right mindfulness were also highlighted as the cornerstone to sustainable development. Society being at the heart of development, even with an extraordinary physical plan, it cannot fruition sans the right mindset of the people.

The economy is another key area that needs to be addressed, and therefore, the team included environmental sustainability and poverty reduction, and a Green Economy in the statement. YGSL explains, “A Green Economy should replace the current economic order of inequity, destruction and greed. A Green Economy should be an economic system that ensures social equity, protects the ecological balance and creates economic sufficiency. The core idea of a Green Economy should be to enforce sustainability, specifically the wellbeing of all people and respecting and preserving the biodiversity of Earth’s ecosystems.

A green economy manages consumption and production in an environmentally conscious manner. The document indicated, Agenda 21 (Chapter 4.3), which is an outcome of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED 1992) states that; “The major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable pattern of consumption and production, particularly in industrialized countries, which is a matter of grave concern, aggravating poverty and imbalances.” According to the team enabling the SCP should be the focus of any emerging international outcome. SCP is a systemic process of lifestyle and livelihood behaviours that ensures the wellbeing of all people in an equitable manner while conserving the ecology for current and future generations.

Political solutions are on the cards as well as sustainable development governance, which they said, “We understand Sustainable Development Governance should necessarily create platforms at every level for the voice of youth to be heard and to be considered within the decision making processes, for it is on the shoulders of youth the responsibility rests.”

On that note they believe it is necessary to establish an office for the ombudsperson — high commission for future generations. “We the youth representatives of Youth for a Greener Sri Lanka understand that there is a lacuna in current decision making processes and institutions of the world, especially as all of them fail to consider the long term effects of decisions made today. The proposal stated at paragraph 57 of the Zero Outcome document calling for the establishment of an Ombudsperson/High Commissioner for Future Generations is thus an opportunity to meet this short coming and by establishing such an office, we believe that both the aspirations of youth and future generations will be protected.”

How Sustainable Development Can be Achieved

The team also presented a set of recommendation that can be adopted by the Government of Sri Lanka as well as the governments in the international arena. They laid emphasis on the inclusion of the youth at all levels of decision making so the future can be shaped to suit the next generation better. The team expressed, “We wish to state by participation, youth are empowered and are given the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential hence enabling them to harness their skills required to move the world toward the paradigm shift which is necessary to achieve economic growth, social equity and environmental sustainability.”

Employment for the youth is also mandatory for a better greener future, according to the local Rio+20 Summit members. “At present there is a lack of green job initiatives and access to green skills training programmes for young people. We believe bridging the skills gap among young people through improved education and training will be a key to achieving environmental objectives and a transition to a green economy.”

Education and training  —  skills development opportunities, the opportunity for youth to volunteer to achieve sustainable development.

The President will present the paper as part of the country report at the summit. Neshan Gunesekara said, “The international community will analyze, scrutinize and criticize the paper. The point of presenting the paper at an international forum is so that other countries can take stock of what Sri Lanka has achieved over the years and adopt some of these strategies that will help them.

He added that, he personally believes that the youth of Sri Lanka is very environmentally conscious, and they have shown an initiative but what they lack, is the support of the government and other authorities, in implementing plans and taking their concerns into consideration.

Well, that’s good news for BB too. Having particular goals will help us channel our efforts in these areas and those connected to contribute to sustainable development in Sri Lanka. It should also make devising project plans easier. So three cheers to our Rio paper!

-Megara Tegal

Meg is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She’s a journalist and a world class klutz. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.

Science, Law and Nuclear Weapons

The trouble with man-induced destruction is that ‘law’ cannot keep up with ‘science’.

Science has no morals; from animal testing to finding cures for diseases that once were a stamped passport to the after life. It has no scruples as to whether research and development or inventions are detrimental to the world. It’s all about wanting to know more, more, and even more.

And that’s where law comes in. It’s the bottle stopper, or rather the filter that controls how far science can take its immoral liberties. But there are lapses in this system. According to Judge C. G Weeramantry, former Vice-President of the International Court of Justice, and President of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, just as law is able to review and determine whether the effects of the latest scientific findings or inventions are destructive and should be banned, science has vamoosed ahead and developed ten more!

Nuclear weapons and nuclear energy is one such controversial subject. As international judges review and debate on whether it should be banned, science is steadily proliferating advanced nuclear weapons. Judge Weeramantry, however, believes the debate is over. The obvious catastrophic power of nuclear warfare was seen back in August of 1945, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The destruction was unprecedented. It was inhuman, deep-rooted and its effects seeped well beyond the region.

Here are some of the effects of nuclear weapons:
  1. They cause death and destruction on an unprecented scale. Hiroshima 140,000 killed immediately and shortly after, an estimated 230,000 to date. Nagasaki 39, 000 killed immediately and 100,000 to date.
  2. They cause congenital deformities, mental retardation and genetic damage for generations.
  3. They carry the potential to cause a nuclear winter which blots out the sunlight, destroys crops globally and causes freezing cold and darkness over large areas of the earth’s surface.
  4. They damage the environment not only for the present generation but future generations as well.
  5. They contaminate and destroy the food chain.
  6. They produce multiple physical effects, inducing cancers, leukaemia, keloids and related afflictions, as well as gastro intestinal, cardiovascular and related afflictions.
  7. They continue for decades after their use to induce the health related problems mentioned above.
  8. They imperil the entire eco system.
  9. They produce a destructive electromagnetic pulse which cuts all communication lines, throws all electronic devices out of action and cause all organised life to collapse.
  10. They span a time range of thousands of years. The half-life of plutonium 239, one of its by-products, is over 20,000 years. Several of these half life periods are required before radioactivity becomes minimal.
  11. They produce social disintegration.
  12. They irreversibly damage the rights of future generations.
  13. They imperil all civilizations an threaten human survival.
  14. The vast bulk of the victims are civilians, thus violating a central principle of international humanitarian law.
  15. They cause damage to neighbouring states which are not at war with either party, thereby violating another rule of international humanitarian law.
  16. They produce psychological stress and fear syndromes which last through the victim’s lives.
  17. They wreak cultural devastation, destroying historical monuments, historical documents and works of art.

Here is an eyewitness description from the first use of the weapon in the nuclear age- one of hundred of such scenes which no doubt occurred simultaneously, and many of which have been recorded in contemporary documentation. The victims were not combatants.

“it was a horrible sight. Hundreds of injured people who were trying to escape to the hills past our house. The sight of them was almost unbearable. Their faces and hands were burnt and swollen; and great sheets of skin had peeled away from their tissues to hand down like rags on a scarecrow. They moved like a line of ants. All through the night they went past our house, but this morning they had stopped. I found them lying on both sides of the road, so thick that it was impossible to pass without stepping on them.

And they had no faces! Their eyes, noses and mouths had been burned away, and it looked like their ears had been melted off. It was hard to tell front from back. One soldier, whose feature had been destroyed and was left with his white teeth sticking out, asked me for some water I didn’t have any. (I clasped my hands and prayed for him. He didn’t say anything more.) His pleas for water must have been shi last words”.

Multiply that account a thousand fold. Hundreds and thousand more people suffered a similar fate.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were two isolated incidents that occurred three days apart. Now, 60 years later, bombs that carry 70 or even 700 times the explosive power of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are available. The devastation that occurred 60 years ago magnified 700 times by just one bomb today!

Illegality of Nuclear Weapons (or the lack of it)

Humanitarian principles were recognises and outlined as far back as in 1899 when The Hague Declaration concerning Expanding Bullets banned the dum dum bullet. It was declared too cruel a weapon to be used in ‘civilized warfare’, and banished to the darker corners of laboratories; never to make a comeback. What was so deadly about the dum dum bullet? The bullet was designed to explode the moment it enters the human body­—and in doing so exacerbate the victim’s suffering, inducing a slow painful death.

The dum dum bullet was certainly barbaric. When compared to nuclear weapons, however, it’s nothing more than a paper pellet. But lo and behold! Some of the same ‘civilized states’ that voted against the dum dum bullet, maintain that nuclear weapons; despite its ghastly, mortal, and lasting effects on hundreds of thousands of people, unborn children and the ecosystem, should be legal.

Professor Weeramanthy writes, ‘the possibility of their [nuclear weapons] use is increasing by the month and time is running out for meaningful action to rid the world of this scourge’.

Nuclear bombs- will bring world peace, say civilised, responsible states

So what cards do these states play in trying to keep their blood curdling nukes? The jokers. Empty claims, that surprisingly people seem to buy. False claim uno numero- that the atomic bomb successfully ended the war with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And look, how the countries have risen like phoenixes from the nuclear ashes! These self-proclaimed ‘responsible’ states, will store an arsenal of these badies, to ensure those rogue states stay in line by threatening to unleash a diabolical weapon of mass (and I’d add interminable) destruction on them if they misbehave. Of course they stultify the edge of their argument by adding that they would never really dream of executing the threat. Empty threat or excuse? The answer is clear.

Myth buster one- If Hiroshima and Nagasaki are newborn phoenixes they are undoubtedly mutated, probably afflicted with cancer, retarded and deformed. Plutonium persists in the soil even today. The destruction will prevail.

Myth buster two- ‘Responsible states’, really? Can we honestly, trust these self-professed ‘responsible’ will not employ their weapons of mass destruction?

Myth buster three- Will these so-called rogue states, cow down and surrender when threaten with being blown with nukes? Saddam Hussein led the US on saying he had nuclear weapons. Iran and Pakistan, claim they’re going be dabbling in the proliferation of forbidden nuclear weapons. And this subsequently conceives a rather comical paradox.

Nothing good can come out of nuclear weapons. Nothing.

On the Brightside

Judges of the International Court of Justice (the World Court)—the world’s largest tribunal in international law; unanimously held that “there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control”.

Judge Weeramanthy stated, “this is an imperative obligation lying upon every single state. If the nuclear states do not pursue the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in good faith with a view to total disarmament they are in clear violation of their basic obligations under treaty law, under customary international law, under general principles of law and under law evidenced by judicial decisions. In Short they are in violation of their obligations as laid down unanimously by the World Court, how then can they expect non-nuclear powers to obey international law and keep away from nuclear weapons? Nor will they be able to speak to other nations with authority or credibility.

While the law is potent, more will have to be done in order to ban nuclear weapons. The absurdity of the ‘logic’ held by nuclear-armed nations as to why they should own nuclear weapons is indisputable. Everyone is aware of the magnitude of destruction caused by nuclear weapons. Even blockbuster movies; in the recently released Avengers movie, Ironman selflessly saves America from a nuclear explosion by flying through a space portal seconds before the nuke set off, as the rest of the Avengers and America watch from below with baited breath.

Movies, cartoons, books… all communicate the abominable destruction of nuclear weapons. Awareness is far from lacking. Yet, nothing is being done hit the brakes on nuclear weapon proliferation.

– Megara Tegal

Meg is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She’s a journalist, part time TV show host, 3rd grade caricature artist, student in social sciences and she holds the world prize for klutz-iness. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own

The Dansala of Inspiration

Vesak 2012

Pic by Rushda Mohinudeen

What comes to mind when you think of Vesak? I am sure you’re reminded of observing sil, going to the temple and worshipping, the jathaka stories, the stories from life of Lord Buddha, the importance of the Dhamma etc. I am sure that thoughts of making Vesak koodu (lanterns) at home, of the lavishly lit thoran (pandols) and dansal will run on the fringe of your mind as well.

Whilst the religious activities continued throughout the weekend, where many visited the temples to observe sil or to engage in the Dhamma, at night, the country was up in lights and music. Throngs of people walked on the roads or got in to trucks to go see Vesak. To enjoy the massive thoran which depict stories from Lord Buddha’s life or to enjoy food from a dansala.

Speaking of Dansal, the only thing that comes to a Sri Lankan’s mind is food! Various kinds of food, be it a hot meal of rice and curry or ice cream. However, this year Beyond Borders gave the word dansala and its concept, a whole new meaning! Working on the lines of inspiring, Beyond Borders decided to have an ‘Inspiration Dansala’ whereby distributing quotes from the Dhammapada, to the general public making the people more aware of the meaning behind this religious celebrations.

Making of the BBites Dansala board

Joining the people on the streets of Colombo, the guys and girls from Beyond Borders gathered near the Gangarama Temple to spread the inspiration to the people. With a few hiccups at the start, the distribution of these quotes had a lovely response with some people coming behind the energetic team asking for more sticker quotes, or asking for translations!

A rather blurry pic of the BBites distributing… inspiration!

Even though our team was a little hesitant in getting this going, we felt welcomed by the response from the people. The overall experience was overwhelming!

Bhagya Senaratne

Bhagya is a board member of Beyond Borders. She is currently reading for her MA in International Relations and she’s our mole in the government. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.




-The poster, like the play, is more than usually out there


Our latest Forum Theater production will appear on November 2 at the Bishops College auditorium.

Forum theater is about audience interaction and expression. The play generally consists of five short scenes that last about 20 minutes. The audience is allowed to absorb the story in the first run and then the play is repeated; except this time the audience has the freedom to stop it at any point and attempt to redirect its course.

Normally the play focuses on a relevant social issue. The thespians’ last three productions tackled racism, disability and censorship, this time around the topic will be ‘Patriotism’. The play is rather straightforwardly titled ‘Patriot’.

It is however, anything but straightforward. The protagonist, David, is an adman who has to face tremendous opposition from the powers that be and his loved ones alike as he tries to stay a moral course that is compatible with his beliefs as well as capable of supporting his family.

He is caught in a dilemma when a promotional campaign for what he considers to be questionable government propaganda is thrust upon him by his boss. The consequences of his decisions are far reaching. And David is ultimately forced to find out just how far he is willing to go to stand by his beliefs.

The play is darker and more abstract that Beyond Borders’ previous attempts. Our last effort, Elected based on racism, drew record crowds.

The play starts at 6 p.m. Come with your acting juices flowing for maximum satisfaction. Entrance is strictly based on invites and there are still a few left. Call 0777 491718 to grab em.

U Can Haz

We have just launched a website about the constitution. Now stop that yawn and go check it out, because we’ve tried to convert the heavy worded constitution of the Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka to something more well, readable.

The project is a part of Beyond Borders’ Peace and Governance initiative. The site will have Sinhala and Tamil versions soon. In the meanwhile we would really like to hear what you think about the English version that is already up.

Why we did it

If you haven’t already rushed off to check out our shiny new website then let us tell you why we thought of doing it. Beyond Borders Peace and Governance from the outset had the primary goal of combating  youth apathy towards governance issues. Our research indicated that a lot of youth simply don’t bother with getting to know the fundamentals of our governance structure unless forced to by way of academics or threat of assault by blunt metal object.

One of the many reasons for this, we discovered, was the unavailability of youth friendly information sources. A lot of young people feel marginalized by our system. Others feel used by the powers that be. So the website idea came about as a humble effort by us to provide a young person friendly version of the constitution.

There, that’s the short answer. The long answer is too long to type, but this is the general gist of it. Remember to leave a comment about the site. Bouquets and brickbats equally appreciated.

Silence of the Land Of Lotus Eaters

In a democracy the constitution should ideally epitomize everything that its people stand for. It is intended to be the document which protects the people from unfettered powers of its Leader while protecting the individual whether he is a political minority or a racial minority. But in a country like Sri Lanka with a unique interpretation to constitutionalism we might as well stop using the façade of democracy as our country codifies unlimited powers to an inevitable despot thus allow the “all knowing” head of the state to do as he pleases for as long as he pleases.

So we Sri Lankans do not complain and have complete faith in our noble leader to make choices for us and as many say the amendment only gives him the opportunity to seek elections if the people are unsatisfied with the leader they surely will be able to show their dissent through their vote. Sadly, in Sri Lanka the only form of the average Sri Lankans involvement in the Political process and how he is governed is reduced to just casting his vote. And as observed time and time again in any form of election in Sri Lanka, our elections have been far from “free and fair.” The election in which leading political party’s openly misuse public funds, ignore the directions of the Election commissioner will surely not be more reliable specially in a situation in which the incumbent is certain of retaining power indefinitely . The credibility of Election results will be further hindered as the new constitutional changes take away the powers of the Election commissioner of issuing guidelines to prevent the misuse of state resource while he may oppress the private media by imposing specific guidelines.

The only glimmer of hope for the de-politicization of the currently politically infested Public service Commission and other institutions was the 17th amendment which ensured a certain form of independence in the Constitutional council. However the proposed Parliamentary council will undoubtly reflect the whims and fancies of the political Party’s as it will purely consist of MP’s. This council is not empowered to make any recommendations merely to make certain ‘observations’ which the President is not inclined to abide by.

Impeachment is the only safeguard available even if the President is despised by all during his infinite reign. But this too is made next to impossible with the constitutional requirement of two third support at various stages for such a motion supported by the Supreme Court.

In a country where incidents of openly violating the Fundamental rights of an officer, publicly bashing of media personnel goes without any recourse it is highly unlikely that the an individual may seek any form of justice where his fundamental rights are violated. If the constitution does not protect the individual, does not serve as a check, or seek to preserve the separation of powers among the different arms of government, one questions the essence of the Sri Lankan constitution.

With such impending dooms apparent for anyone with an atom of a brain to realize it’s shocking that the opposition is silent on these matters. Where is the public debate that should be present before such important constitutional changes?  An unconstitutional bill may receive public outcry and will be severely criticized in a vibrant democracy if the people object to it. In Sri Lanka where judicial review of legislation is non-existent this may never happen, but its saddening to see that even as a constitutional amendment of such public importance is being rushed through we tacitly accept the “wise” decisions made by our representatives.

Is it due to public apathy, ignorance or absolute faith in the current ruling system that we the people sit and watch as the rulers of this country entrench their powers further by manipulation of the constitution, which ironically is the document of the people and not a person.

Anushka is a core group member of Beyond Borders and a lawyer in the making, currently studying in her second year of law. Her opinions are her own.

8/9/10 : The Day to Remember!

8th of September 2010 marks the new era. The end of Sri Lanka as we know it and a new beginning. An era of limitless power and political overhaul. The birth of the 18th amendment with a majority of 141 votes. 161 against a mere 20! Even the numbers don’t seem quite right next to each other!

I speak to friends with animation trying to make sense to be answered back with “I am sorry I didn’t have time to read what is in the 18th amendment!” or “I don’t do politics”.

I wake up to a protest for the 18th Amendment! I wonder whether these people even know what the 18th Amendment entails… Or be these people like in all other protests being packed in and brought to perform their duty. ( the question is rhetoric. Of course we all know the answer to this!)

I yearn to ask these protesters what they scream for, but of course I am no way near them. Surely for my better health.

In the evening there is a meagre crowd holding candles at the peaceful vigil expressing their resentment towards the Amendment. There is more police around it than those who are actually participating. I tell them that there are not many people, to be answered that it is an improvement from the previous experiences. So does that mean we are finally making sense to people??

Ever so faithful “dialog sms news” arrives on the phones of those who have subscribed announcing the result of the vote. 160 for and 20 against! People not much surprised at the outcome. They knew   it was coming. But fail to hide the bafflement at the one digit missing when contrasting the numbers.

Arrival of another sms, announcement of a mistake in the information transmitted. The guy next to me finds it amusing, adds “I am sure some more people would have jumped.” (if you are Sri Lankan you know the meaning of “jumped”. But for the enlightenment of others, it would be a reference to those politicians who change from the opposition to the governing party.)

With all his smirking, he did manage to make sense. After all it was all quite predictable.

At office I hear explosions. My thought: the war being over, where do such sounds emanate?

My boss explains “sound of celebrations”.

I nod, busy cutting paper articles on the Amendment.

I need to keep them, carefully pasted on a scrapbook.

When and if I ever live to have grandchildren, I will show the date on the articles to them and tell, “Look kids! This was the day the Sri Lankans got the best of their stupidity! The day they all marked the beginning of an end!”

Vositha is a legal researcher, law student and ardent Eco-activist working with Project Act, our environmental project. Her views are her own. The original post and more of her writing can be found here.

The Sacred Vote

We visited a community of Northern Displaced IDPs in Puttlam recently. This was part of our Peace and Governance initiative, an effort to improve cohesion between youth and the entity we call Governance.

We had 3 discussions in course of our visit; the first was with a group of youth, the second with a young provincial council member elected to Jaffna and the last was with a few officials and community representatives from the Community Trust Fund.

Their problems are complex and community discourse has reached a fever pitch with the war ending and the possibilities of relocating to their old homes becoming a reality.

But we found yet another issue that mainly was faced by the youth; young people are facing an inability to act upon their right to vote. Most youngsters who have left the territories before the age of being eligible to vote have not received their voting registration forms yet.

So we got together with a bunch of other young people and wrote a letter to the Elections Commissioner about it. A lot of much more useful work has been done in this regard of course by organizations like CPA and CTF. We heard that the elections commissioner was due to release a circular enabling them to vote during this election, but are yet to find out what came of it.

A casual report on our discussion with the IDP youth can be viewed here.

Revised Patriotism

In 1774 Samuel Johnson printed The Patriot; a critique of what he thought was false patriotism. He made his famous statement ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the Scoundrel’ on April 7th, 1775. This line was not about patriotism in general – but what patriotism was not. With this statement he defined ‘self confessed patriots’ and tried to carve out a niche for the true patriot who was in sight and rhetoric fast becoming obscured by the scoundrel.

If the Definition of Patriotism is ‘the love of one’s country’ and a scoundrel was someone who commits evil with deliberate intent – then the bulk of Sri Lanka is in trouble in its very core. The hallowed halls of leadership have self professed patriots who have imbibed their own version of patriotism on a people made divisive along the lines of differences.

It seems scoundrels have taken refuge in almost every sphere of Sri Lankan patriotism, and sustain themselves by using patriotism as a means to propel themselves to lay their hands on commissions from funded projects, tax collections and naked corruption.

There was a time when Sri Lanka was a country of true patriots, who by acts, deeds, examples and no mass media to propagate for them were branded as revolutionaries by a people who had genuine love for them, and not the reprobative hooligans we now have who try to encase themselves in supposed patriotism to disguise their evil schemes.

It is now obvious, ever since we gained independence in 1948 that patriotism is well and truly a place where scoundrels have found refuge. In this abode, they are refugees who have nothing else to cling on to, a group of people who have exhausted all their opportunities to serve their countrymen by using them to satisfy their own whims and fancies.

These scoundrels use patriotism to side with the patriotic fervour of the common man hoping that the common man would see their patriotism and not see the whole plethora of anti national activities they do inside this façade.

Who determines what Patriotism is today? In Sri Lanka in particular, and in the world in general.

Patriotism can be defined in almost every category of our day to day lives.  From the soldier who sincerely fights for his country to the little child whose day is spoilt when his national team loses a cricket match. They can be very little (deemed almost insignificant) deeds which reflect the patriotic philosophy emanating from within a person.

In essence they can be any one of the following, or much more –

  • Sri Lankans who have died in war or peacetime, by standing up in defence of Sri Lankan ideals and social ethics, of her liberties & peace and her people.
  • Standing up and expressing opposition when anybody (irrespective of who it may be) is subjected to injustice or discrimination.
  • The love for Sri Lanka that makes one sacrifice his/her own comforts just to make it a holistically better place to live for everyone.

Patriotism was in display when the Tsunami struck in 2004, when Sri Lanka won the Cricket world cup in 1996, when the ethnic diversity of the Sri Lankan cricket team was hailed  when they reached the finals of the 2007 world cup, and never when there is exploitation of a country’s resources (belonging to everyone) to enhance the lives of just the family, friends or near acquaintances, be it through mismanagement of economic resources, outright lies and deception, taking millions of rupees in commission from national projects, deceptive unconstitutional elections, allowing special interest groups to manipulate the infrastructure of a country and continued political practices that are blatantly unconstitutional.

Patriotism is the sound of the horn that calls ordinary people to become national heroes.

President John Kennedy is quoted as saying – “A Nation that is afraid to let its people judge
the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation afraid of its people.”

I quote below some of the salient points of ‘The Patriot’. The differences in the spellings of some words are possibly because those words were spelt that way when this was originally written.

It is the quality of patriotism to be jealous and watchful, to observe all secret machinations, and to see publick dangers at a distance. The true lover of his country is ready to communicate his fears, and to sound the alarm, whenever he perceives the approach of mischief. But he sounds no alarm, when there is no enemy; he never terrifies his countrymen till he is terrified himself. The patriotism, therefore, may be justly doubted of him, who professes to be disturbed by incredibilities; who tells, that the last peace was obtained by bribing the princess of Wales; that the king is grasping at arbitrary power; and, that because the French, in the new conquests, enjoy their own laws, there is a design at court of abolishing, in England, the trial by juries.”

“The people is a very heterogeneous and confused mass of the wealthy and the poor, the wise and the foolish, the good and the bad. Before we confer on a man, who caresses the people, the title of patriot, we must examine to what part of the people he directs his notice. It is proverbially said, that he who dissembles his own character, may be known by that of his companions. If the candidate of patriotism endeavours to infuse right opinions into the higher ranks, and, by their influence, to regulate the lower; if he consorts chiefly with the wise, the temperate, the regular, and the virtuous, his love of the people may be rational and honest. But if his first or principal application be to the indigent, who are always inflammable; to the weak, who are naturally suspicious; to the ignorant, who are easily misled; and to the profligate, who have no hope but from mischief and confusion; let his love of the people be no longer boasted. No man can reasonably be thought a lover of his country, for roasting an ox, or burning a boot, or attending the meeting at Mile-end, or registering his name in the lumber troop. He may, among the drunkards, be a hearty fellow, and, among sober handicraftsmen, a freespoken gentleman; but he must have some better distinction, before he is a patriot.”

“Much less does he make a vague and indefinite promise of obeying the mandates of his constituents. He knows the prejudices of faction, and the inconstancy of the multitude. He would first inquire, how the opinion of his constituents shall be taken. Popular instructions are, commonly, the work, not of the wise and steady, but the violent and rash; meetings held for directing representatives are seldom attended but by the idle and the dissolute; and he is not without suspicion, that of his constituents, as of other numbers of men, the smaller part may often be the wiser.”

“A disputed election is now tried with the same scrupulousness and solemnity, as any other title. The candidate that has deserved well of his neighbours, may now be certain of enjoying the effect of their approbation; and the elector, who has voted honestly for known merit, may be certain, that he has not voted in vain”.

“Such was the parliament, which some of those, who are now aspiring to sit in another, have taught the rabble to consider an unlawful convention of men, worthless, venal, and prostitute, slaves of the court, and tyrants of the people”.

“ That the text of the house of commons may act upon the principles of the last, with more constancy and higher spirit, must be the wish of all who wish well to the publick; and, it is surely not too much to expect, that the nation will recover from its delusion, and unite in a general abhorrence of those, who, by deceiving the credulous with fictitious mischiefs, overbearing the weak by audacity of falsehood, by appealing to the judgment of ignorance, and flattering the vanity of meanness, by slandering honesty, and insulting dignity, have gathered round them whatever the kingdom can supply of base, and gross, and profligate; and “raised by merit to this bad eminence,” arrogate to themselves the name of patriots”.

So will we allow patriotism to be tarnished by the scoundrels that hide beneath its cloak of executive privilege? The choice is ours to make as a critical election draws closer and Sri Lankans have, perhaps the first chance in a long time, to vote for patriots in the right sense of the term, whoever that may be interpreted to be.

Patriotism should never be the last refuge of scoundrels! A scoundrel is not a patriot.

Raashid Riza

Raashid is a non active core group member of Beyond Borders; meaning he is on extended leave. He is currently a fresh faced architecture graduate working in the UK. Sometimes, he also blogs here. His opinions are his own.