That was Barak Obama at his brilliant best addressing the Muslim world from a podium in Cairo. His words of wisdom plus his charisma maxima combined together to make anyone listening to be all ears and frozen till the speech was over. There is little doubt He meant what he said and I am sure the world wishes him well and prays that the appropriate action will follow to bring peace among any warring factions, without which the Obama words would be nothing but just another fancy rhetoric.
Speeches are inspiring and they are written by those who know what to write. Yet, it is the action that gives meaning and becomes the reality.
President Obama’s mention of the Israeli Palestinian conflict and the long lost harmony in the Holy Land brought home to me thoughts of what is happening in Sri Lanka. Ours too is a similar debacle in many ways. One man’s country is another man’s home. The endless duality between two races in Sri Lanka has been there for centuries dating back to 400 BC, the time Dutugamunu marched from Magama to hurl his spear at Elara in Anuradhapura. The divisions between us have been that long. Historically, the nation has erupted in hostility from time to time which sorrowfully resulted in loss of limb and life. The sole reason for the dissensions has been directly related to our inability to accept each other as co-owners of a land that we have inhabited and occupied together for more than two millennia.
Let me quote a high hoisted metaphor “you win some, you lose some”. What have we won together as Sri Lankans of Sinhalese and Tamil origins? The only thing I know is Mutthaiya Muralitharan bowling in international cricket. How much have we lost? It is uncountable. We are two peoples who competed fiercely in unparalleled commitment to ruin each other and lay waste to the beautiful land that is our home. The truth stands infant naked, the leaders led and the followers followed in vile deeds that destroyed both. The Sinhalese burnt 90,000 books in the Jaffa library, and the Tamils shot and wrecked aeroplanes at Katunayake and left metallic carcasses, different times, same sadness. There’s so much more carnage in the last thirty years and I am not even touching on human sacrifices, the nearly hundred thousand who died nameless or are now forgotten or will soon be forgotten. Lives shed in vain for the want of a separate land.
The long fought demarcation dream is gone or maybe postponed to another day to raise its ugly head unless we all seek peace now and make whatever little efforts we can to bring the two races together. Years ago Belafonte sang to the world from the slums of Soweto “We are the wave”, that was against apartheid, the power of people to unite against the might of racial supremacy. There were others too who stood on lesser pedestals, not glittering in Belafonte mould, but simple people who believed in civil rights and stood forth boldly to make their protest. The Chinese gentleman on Tiananmen Square, plastic shopping bags in both hands standing in front of a battle tank in defiance was a classic example of dissent from the ordinary. Rosa Parks in Montgomery, refusing to give her seat, rebelling against segregation, brings another beautiful memory. These were spontaneous acts; unplanned and done simply because they felt it was the right thing to do. That is what we need in Sri Lanka today. You and me to go in search of a Tamilian and shake his hand and say we are friends and hope he does the same too.
Let us try our best to be blessed by calling ourselves peace makers.
No fairy tale is going to unfold in Sri Lanka in our search for peace. It will not come to us by listening to conversations dominated by ignorance. Nor will it be through political debates on TV where the untruth and the irrelevance are made palatable by people who pretend to be innocent as daisies. The days of glass slippers and fairy god mothers are long gone. No more Cinderella Balls. We need people’s action, the power of one and that’s where it starts when a Sinhala migrant in Manchester goes to a Tamil takeaway food stall and says "hi and hello" and buys ulundu waade to take home to his children.
Possible, yes of course, it is all a meeting of minds for positive possibilities.
Dear reader, give a thought to what I say. We need not send emails now to Oprah telling her to stop giving voice to the LTTE. That part of Woodstock is over, the stage is now empty and only the audience is present and it is the audience that needs to stand up now and shout out for peace. There is no dress rehearsal here, the time to act is now and the ones to act are us. We need not be the high and mighty who pisses in purple to seek peace. We may not be capable of big bites but the nibbling we can do will most certainly contribute to chisel the shape of harmony among the two ruffled races.
The entire fight between the Sinhalese and the Tamils has been completely orchestrated through the years by the leadership on both sides. There lies the total blame and nowhere else. Where was it that you saw a Tamil man fighting his Sinhala neighbour unless he was influenced by someone he calls his leader? Doesn’t the same hold true to a Sinhalese? Don’t we all have Tamil friends who in turn reciprocate equal bonding? So where did this erosion begin? Wasn’t it sown by the leadership, be it political, racial or religious? The division of the land was not propagated by Somasundaram who worked as a clerk in a bank or by Wijayawardana who sold Glucorasa sweets. They got drawn into this terrible tragedy because of leaders who fanned the flames of racism that engulfed most of us till we too got personally scarred and reluctantly or otherwise became shareholders of the Armageddon. The spread was like wild fire, the stop must come from where it started, the leadership of both races, and supported by us the ordinary who MUST seek peace as individuals.
Barak Hussein Obama was right. I in my insignificant journalism can only repeat what that wonderful man said and I truly believe it is the truth. Blessed are the peace makers, such beautiful words. It is by doing our utmost for racial harmony that we become eligible for this blessing. Isn’t it time we raised our heads as one people and breathed in peace in this paradise that we so proudly and so sincerely call home.
About the author
Capt Elmo Jayawardena is the Founder/President of CandleAid Lanka. CandleAid Lanka (formerly AFLAC International). We are a link between one person’s generosity and another person’s humanitarian need. CandAid helps people who suffer from the multiple burdens of poverty. My job is to make the world hear their cries – HELP ME Website: www.candleaid.org