The recent selective media coverage on the collaboration between key frontline TNA MPs (often referred to as agents for the Tamil Diaspora) and Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa is the perfect example of what Walter Wink, a leading theorist and practitioner of non violent social change, refers to as the power of the ‘domination myth’. In a ‘system of domination’, the domination myth is the story that explains how things got to be a particular way. Such a story told often enough ceases to be a tale and is accepted as reality itself. And when that happens, people accept the story even if it is destroying the lives of others and even their own.
There have been such myths in Sri Lanka on all sides. Tamils have had the myth that the authoritarianism and brutality of the LTTE was a sad but unavoidable consequence of Sinhalese oppression. Sinhalese have had the myth that colonial rulers are responsible, that King Dutagemuna’s empire can be recreated, that Buddhism in Sri Lanka is uniquely pure and warrants any level of violence to protect. And the latest myth – shared with many Tamils too – is that reconciliation will happen through economic development – that growth, jobs, infrastructure will slowly but surely erase ethnic grievances. And of course, amazingly the fact there is no freedom of expression and the fact that the rule of law does not exist doesnt undermine this myth!
One of the confusing things of this myth is that it is propagated by moderate Tamils and Sinhalese, including some who have previously argued for human rights and democracy. Their argument is simple; “We have lost, there is no other game in town so all we can do is work from the inside and hope to make it less awful than it would otherwise be and hopefully, something will happen in the future to make things better”.
One can understand why those who stand to gain enormously from business deals related to economic development are pushing these myths. But why are Tamil Diaspora – most of whom are more than adequately well off in the West – clutching at these straws? As a result the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) gains access to Diaspora money and traps the Diaspora in “apolitical” work when in reality there is no such thing as apolitical – it is deeply political but just on the side of the government.
According to one expert : “At one time they pursued the narrow idea of separate state and thereby refused to deal with the total crisis of the system affecting all, beginning with the 1978 constitution. Now, they are doing the same thing minus the separate state idea!”. In other words, the Tamil Diaspora who are engaging in this non critical manner have learnt little. When the Diaspora was talking about separate state, all other options were portrayed as completely unacceptable; so how do things today warrant this apolitical, finance led approach? What they are failing to do now – as they did then – is to understand that development under authoritarianism, destruction of the rule of law, abuse of basic rights – isn’t development!
Sri Lanka is walking in the direction of Cambodia and Burma. This is hardly surprising given the close political support offered by Iran, Russia China and Pakistan, all countries where democracy and human rights are almost alien concepts.
To be fearful and greedy is human but we do not have to act on these powerful motives. So what can we do? We need to challenge this thinking in our own minds and in our networks and ask people to think carefully about their funding actions; what agencies are they funding and investing through and with what real safeguards? To pretend that challenging or changing the situation cannot happen is simply making it more dangerous for those brave people who are pressing for real solutions. So let us be brave, especially if we live outside Sri Lanka and let us plant the seeds of change and choose not to be oppressed. And if all this is too much for a first step, at the very least sign the SLC petition and valiantly stand by those brave enough to challenge!
The author of this blog is a member of the Tamil diaspora who wishes, for security concerns, to remain anonymous.