A long, slow descent into hell

I’m currently living in Sri Lanka at the moment, and witnessing the continuation of this beautiful islands tragic history.   Colombo is a virtual police state now controlled by what is effectively a military dictatorship.

Any sane analysis of the recent history here makes taking sides a senseless exercise.  Much like the Bush/Bin Laden relationship, this is a game played by violent boys upon people of various ethnic backgrounds.   Given the complete banning of journalists anywhere near the current warzone and the state control of the media here it is of little use trying to work what is actually going on at the moment.  It seems truth reveals itself in historical glimpses.   The tigers may be a doomed force now, but a whole generation has been born and raised in this conflict.  They have lived lifes of forced migrations, refugee camps, propaganda as education,  and life looking down the barrel of guns from both behind and infront.

I had a moment of horror a few nights ago when I was taken aside by a young soldier in standard procedure when roads are completely cleared to make way for fast moving convoys of vips.  As the noisy collection of bikes, army trucks and black tinted SUVs emerged around the corner this friendly young soldier with gun pointing nonchalantly in my direction casually removed the safety from his gun.  So for a few sweaty moments I had my first experience of a fully loaded automatic weapon being pointed at me with no safety on.  As soon as the convoy passed the soldier put the safety back, smiled and let us be on our way.

With only limited ability to make sense of current events it falls to artists and writers to create meaning and hope.  I point you to a well written piece in The Guardian by Sri Lankin novelist Romesh Gunesekera.

The other night, in London’s Nehru Centre, I heard the Bengali poet Sunil Gangopadhyay recite a powerful poem against the warped beliefs we use to excuse our sometimes atrocious behaviour. It made me think: what should I believe in now? What can I believe in? What must I believe in?

So, here is a list to start with:

– I must believe that the fighting will be over tomorrow and there will be no more killing, indiscriminate or discriminate.

– I must believe that those who have the power will ensure that future generations will not be brought to this point of suffering again.

– I must believe that everyone believes murder is wrong.

– I must believe that aid will flow into the country and that it will go wholly and directly to those who have suffered most.

– I must believe that money for war will be converted into money for peace and reconstruction, wherever it may come from.

– I must believe that a military victory will not lead to triumphant jingoism.

– I must believe that all those who have been trained only to fight will be found gainful civilian employment.

– I must believe that the ambitions of the military will not grow ever larger.

– I must believe that a just and democratic society nurtures and protects all its people and treats them equally.

– I must believe that dissent will not be punished.

– I must believe that the press and media will be free and fair and brave.

– I must believe that journalists will not be intimidated.

– I must believe that good will is stronger than ill will.

– I must believe that good leaders are honourable people who will always place the interests of their people before the interests of themselves.

– I must believe that the young will learn from the mistakes of the elders.

– I must believe that we will not be fooled again, wherever we are and whoever we are.

– I must believe in the human capacity for compassion and reconciliation.

– I must believe all wrongs will be righted.

– I must believe that in words we will find what in fury we cannot.

But must I also believe – as leaders on all sides seem to – that the end justifies the means? Does it, really?”