BY Fr. Augustine Fernando, Diocese of Badulla
In a democracy each one of the people is recognized as equal to any other in human dignity and therefore has equal honour and respect as citizens. One person could, through reason or reasonable attraction, persuade another to be of the same mind with him; if it is a just, upright and an inspiring mind, so much the better. Persuasion cannot be forced despotically on anyone by anyone else. Megalomaniacs often resort to trickery to create opinions favourable to themselves. That would be akin to invading immorally into the personal and autonomous sanctum of someone. Just as there could be the possibility of attraction, there could also be dislike. Such dislike could be on the part of one person or it could be mutual. Such dislike could arise due to varied factors. It could be due to certain views and attitudes not being shared or tolerated, but resisted and repulsed even vehemently.
However, in the social context of the 21st Century we are constantly moved to accept that any problematic differences between individuals and among groups of people are not to be resolved violently, but through dialogue and striving to arrive at better understanding. Today, to be considered civilized and cultured, everyone is called to be genuinely humane, tolerant, honest and socio-civically mature. There should be humanness and justice if peace is desired. “Pax opus justiciae” – Peace is the work of justice. Justice could be established when right and fair relationships among all sections of people, individually and collectively, become its basis. When the natural norm and principle of human fraternity is accepted as an operative principle in the making of a Constitution, and a Constitution with the participation of the People could be drafted and accepted, we would have formalized the basis of justice, unity and peace, and be firmly together on the path of human enhancement and economic progress.
Rules of war
It is this attitude of human fraternity that has developed in people their refraining from inflicting harm to people subdued, even during armed conflict and war. The defeated are taken prisoner, they are not exterminated. This means that all those who engage in war should know to follow conventions that have been developed by the community of nations, to keep even bellicose rivalry at an internationally acceptable standard of conduct, so that human comportment may never be lowered to levels of cruelty, wickedness and brutality unworthy of human beings. All those who engage in war from Commanders-in-Chief, Ministers of Defense (and War?) to Generals, Admirals, Commanders and soldiers are supposed to know these
‘Rules of war’ and adhere to them strictly.
Unfortunately, we in Sri Lanka have found some of these international conventions not to our liking and therefore inconvenient at crucial moments of our history, recently. And so the power holders of Sri Lanka and some in the Armed Forces have been accused of unjustly, inhumanly and mercilessly eliminating not only non-combatant innocent Tamil people during the last war, but also Sinhala and Muslim people when crushing the insurrections of 1971 and 1988-89.
The wife, daughter and very young son of Prabhakaran were killed. Though the wife and children of Rohana Wijeweera had the fortune of having their lives saved, Wijeweera himself was brutally murdered and his body burned in the crematorium at Kanatte.
Politicization distorts reasoning
Politicians and all citizens have still to understand that crimes of citizens do not permit the State to retaliate and punish citizens with crimes similar to what some citizens have committed. While some chauvinist politicians refuse to act according to human decency, fraternity, equality and reason, some army personnel who had fought in the concluded war have also not understood and accepted such civilized stances yet. When politicization through distorted partisan reasoning has corrupted well established traditions, it is sometimes very difficult to guide the minds of people with entrenched prejudices to common sense. Yet prejudices of a national scale can never be elevated to be made national policy.
Many politicians in power, including the President and Prime Minister, have also not understood that to disregard the law, to by-pass the law, to request that the law be not applied, to save a dishonest friend, a corrupt politician, a corrupt politician’s kith and kin, is to subvert the law and undermine society’s law and order for which the law has been established.
They do not understand that their questionable friendship with political opponents not only undermine the authority of State agencies enforcing the law, they are also unjust by the silent majority of law-abiding tax-paying citizens and also by the State by undermining the collection of fines and revenues. Meanwhile when a non-profit-making non-governmental organization, the Church or a religious institution that provide free help to the distressed, the poor, the aged and the orphaned request a tax concession giving very valid reasons, such courteous requests are peremptorily turned down. It is no wonder that almost all top politicians, whose whims and fancies are satisfied at State expense, are looked down upon contemptuously by the people for their unjust, unfair and anti-social irresponsible attitudes.
Corruption in UNP & SLFP
Sri Lanka needs elected representatives who are capable, honest and just, who wouldn’t break the law or disregard it even to help a brother or a family member. It is up to the people to elect men and women of unassailable integrity to positions of high responsibility. The growing number of civic conscious citizens, highly sensitive to the demands of social justice should by various means communicate to their fellow citizens the urgency of standing together in fraternal solidarity and cleaning up the political arena. That arena ushered in 1956 an era of degeneration that malformed into decades of racial and religious discrimination and bloodletting war and stinking political corruption. The degenerating and divisive trends began to culminate with the 1972 Constitution and reached dictatorial zeniths after 1978, when politicians of the UNP and SLFP led regimes indulged in unprecedented levels of corruption. From 1994 the corrupt tradition continued with their leadership and top rungs, aided and abetted by the Marxists of yore who had lost their political spine, and allowed themselves to be swallowed by ‘capitalist-socialist political greed’.
Today, the newly voting young people and other citizens should be led to a keen social consciousness by civic conscious leaders, and asked not to sell their souls to any political party for a mess of pottage and align themselves to any political manifesto of the major parties; but to be independent supporters of honest politicians who uphold democratic values, and are free of prejudices and unjust discrimination that distort and disrupt even the legitimate ethnic, religious and cultural identities of the people of Sri Lanka. The people should save Sri Lanka from the long-standing saboteurs and corrupt humbugs in politics who wish to entrench themselves in power.