‘Sole representatives’ of Tamils?

30 May 2006

Democracy says that NOBODY can be the sole representative of ANYBODY. The LTTE’s claim that it is (or that it should be) the sole representative of Sri Lankan Tamils is unacceptable.

Intercommunity conflicts are often put to an end by the emergence of a moderate leader on either one of the sides, perhaps those like Martin Luther King Jr. But if the LTTE starts eliminating every Tamil leader or intellectual who is not directly aligned with them, then we’ll never have such a moderate leader from the Tamils. And this makes the LTTE one of the biggest obstacles to a lasting peace today. Because I really don’t see moderate leaders arising within the ranks of the LTTE itself anytime soon.

Here’s an organization that is systematically eliminating all other groups representing its own people, sometimes by terrorizing and often by assassination. If that’s how they’re going to treat their own people while they’re still a guerilla force, I can’t imagine what they’ll do once they achieve far reaching governmental powers. If a Tamil state or a semi-state is ever established, don’t expect multi-party democracy. Expect totalitarianism.

Peace between Singhalese and Tamils quite aside, handing over the Tamil people to the governance of the LTTE would be like handing the proverbial chickens over to the fox. A political solution cannot include the LTTE alone.


Is Sexuality a Western Import?

25 May 2006

If you think sexuality is a western import, think again. Sexuality is a part of every culture because it is a part of every man and woman. A culture may hide it, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

The actual western import is the OPEN EXPRESSION of sexuality, which is what unnerves most defenders of “culture”. They know what fuck means; they just don’t want to hear it out loud. Every man wants to see women naked. But some just don’t want to admit it, and wouldn’t let others admit it. And so on and so forth.

I would have dismissed the differences in the level of sexual expression as cultural differences, if it weren’t for two things. Firstly, suppression of sexual expression is a suppression of expression. And suppression of expression is suppression. Suppression is bad because it’s contrary to freedom.

Secondly repression of sexual desires is bad (on a personal level, I mean). Repressed sexual desires have a tendency of surfacing in very ugly, Freudian ways. If you are a regular user of Sri Lankan public transport, you know what I mean. If you’re a woman, I’m SURE you know what I mean.

Unethical Prevention of Conversions

22 May 2006

What exactly is an ‘unethical’ conversion? The religious-extremist-nationalists have been trying hard to get the government to ban these ‘unethical’ conversions, but nobody is really bothering to properly define ‘unethical’. Let me tell you what the only type of unethical conversion is — if you put a sword to somebody’s throat and say ‘convert or else’, that’s an unethical conversion. Everything else is perfectly ethical.

I can hear all the objections now. I’ll tell you why I’m perfectly aware of them all but continue to disregard them. First of all, no government, no organization, no group ANYWHERE can tell ANYBODY what to think or believe. If a Buddhist government attempts to keep a Buddhist from embracing another religion, then THAT’S an unethical conversion. If an Islamic community or a Christian community pressures one of their own to not embrace another religion, THAT’S an unethical conversion. Or more accurately, an unethical prevention of conversion.

Promises and Incentives
So that’s the first reason. If somebody is promised food and medicine or even money in return for converting, it may be unethical in the eyes of whatever higher power the converter or the convert believes in. But it cannot be unethical in the eyes of the Law. It is wrong to promise what your religion does not promise. But it’s not illegal.

If a Buddhist promises Nirvana, peace of mind or happiness and riches in the next life to a potential convert, that alright by all counts. If a Christian promises heaven and miracles to a potential convert that’s also fine by all counts. Those are all promises of that particular faith. But if a Buddhist promises immortality or a Christian promises the power to levitate then that’s wrong spiritually. But the Law has no business poking its nose there. And no one group has the right to manipulate the law into doing such nose-poking.

If I were to decide to become say Jewish, I don’t want anybody getting in my way. If I believe Judaism is right for me, for whatever reason, I want to be able to publicly, proudly and freely declare it, to be able to freely practice it and not be persecuted for it. If my practice hurts no one then it doesn’t matter whether my choice is Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism or African Voodoo. What’s more, the law has no right going after my rabbi, my priest, my minister, my monk or my witch doctor.

But what if I convert for benefits? Then that’s not a real conversion is it? Me and my converter are likely to rot in at least one of our hells for it. But like I said, the law can touch neither. What if I’m ‘tricked’ into converting? Tricked? How so? By being promised something that cannot be delivered? Last time I checked, EVERY religion promises things with no definite delivery date. That’s the nature of religion and why religion requires something called faith. These are things that cannot be regulated or legislated. People doing “Unethical” conversions should be dealt with by their own religion’s hierarchy. Potential “victims” should be enlightened by their own religious authorities. Nothing more. Unless of course if you’re drugged or something. In that case you don’t need additional anti-conversion laws — regular criminal law would do just fine.

Let’s be fair. And realistic. ALL decent religions spread by conversion. There are only two other means of spreading a religion — one is conquest, the other is rapid reproduction. Neither of those are very virtuous methods. So conversion it is then. If these “unethical conversion” laws had existed two thousand years ago, both Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha would have been in jail.

The “Legacy of Vengeance” – II

19 May 2006

A continuation of The “Legacy of Vengeance” – I

A political solution by itself (such as devolution of power), is more likely to convert the problem from one form to another — the civil war may convert into a border dispute or an arms race. The two groups already dislike each other and I doubt if the hatred will have any trouble crossing borders.

Plus Sri Lankans have never been used to tolerating neighbors divided by land borders. The closest neighbor, India, has always been too far across the sea to evoke any strong emotions among Sri Lankans. If Sri Lanka is ever partitioned, the two states (or semi-states) are unlikely to get along.

Permanent solutions
So we come to the question of permanent (long term) solutions. If Sinhalese and Tamils were physically different or if they had clashing beliefs, then some form of partition would have been the only permanent choice. But since our difference are not quite so rigid, there is a better permanent solution, IF we can implement it.

We need to either 1) eliminate the differences or 2) make them invisible. In the case of the first option, eliminate Sinhalese and Tamil in favor of English and we would have eliminated perhaps 90% of what distinguishes Sinhalese from Tamils. It would be a major step in the direction of a homogenous society.

But people who have lived in homogenous societies for a long time have a problem — if they’re ever suddenly faced with diversity, they’re likely to become defensive or hostile. It would be much like the case of a child who is healthy because he is never exposed to germs. In adulthood that lack of exposure may kill him, since he never had the opportunity to develop immunity to germs.

This is why option 2 is the best in the long run — the development of a society where people are effectively blind to cultural differences and diversity (it is difficult to do the same with political and religious beliefs, however). But this is something that has never really been achieved anywhere in the world. Sri Lanka needs a more practical and immediate solution, which brings us back to option 1. Whether it’s a realistic options is a different question.

The “Legacy of Vengeance” – I

18 May 2006

Two things bring peoples into conflict: the presence of shared resources and the absence of shared culture. In Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese and Tamils do not have a resource sharing issue (as do India and Pakistan over Kashmir). Ours is a problem of two cultures clashing.

When I say culture, I mean both customs and beliefs. Beliefs include both political and personal (e.g. religious). Politically, both Sinhalese and Tamils believe in the same thing — democracy. Both prefer a similar mix of capitalism and socialism. Hinduism and Buddhism are largely compatible and have much in common. In fact, a certain percentage of Buddhists make up for the absence of gods in Buddhism by praying to Hindu gods. Despite attempts by a certain group of Buddhist “extremists” to create problems, Sri Lankan Christians and Buddhists get along admirably. So we may safely rule out beliefs as the main cause of conflict.

Which leaves the remainder of what makes a “culture”, i.e. what makes each group see the other group as a distinct and different group. It cannot be skin color or physiological differences — Sinhalese and Tamils are largely identical. Tamils tend to be slightly darker than Sinhalese, but there are many Sinhalese who are much darker than the average Tamil and are not in anyway treated differently for it. Ours is not a skin color problem.

So if it’s not politics (as in the case of USA vs. USSR), if it’s not religion (as in the case of Indian Hindu’s and Muslims), if it’s not color (as in the case of black Americans), what is it that we use to distinguish ourselves as Sinhalese or Tamils?

This leaves customs, of which language is the most prominent in our case. In fact the names “Sinhalese” and “Tamil” are more often used to mean the respective languages than the groups that speak them. The language difference allows us to view ourselves as two distinct peoples. Other customs such as dress and traditions do play a part in this, but without language they become more like caste or class differences — it may lead to prejudice but rarely to civil war.

I believe that it’s language that has allowed the Sinhalese and Tamils to maintain their original identities throughout the generations. The Sinhalese and Tamils came to Sri Lanka from different places and during different time periods, as did the various European immigrants that eventually became Americans. Americans were able to lose their original national identities in a matter of several generations because of a common language. The Sinhalese and Tamils have remembered their differences for over a thousand years. By the very process of teaching a child to speak Sinhalese, we teach him that he is not a Tamil, and vice versa.

Liquor ban during Vesak

15 May 2006

Banning the sale of liquor during the Vesak* week doesn’t make Sri Lankans any more Buddhist than they already are. It’ll just alter their external behavior. That’s not the goal of religion.

You cannot legislate religion. Law and religion both aim for morality but do so using two completely different approaches. The Law does not care whether a person is good or bad — it’s only concerned with his external behavior. Therefore it can depend on the threat of punishment. Religion IS concerned with whether a person is good or bad, sometimes REGARDLESS of his external behavior. The Law is compulsory. Religion is voluntary. Mix the two and you have a problem.

To say nothing of the wrongness of one religion ruling all in a multi-religious society. The Law MUST be secular. There is NO place in the law for religion-specific or group-specific morals.

* The Buddhist holiday commemorating the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha

Democratic Backfire

10 May 2006

Democracy backfires in societies that don’t uphold individualism. The most recent example was in Palestine — the West wanted more democracy in Palestine. The Palestinians turned around and elected Hamas. When you look at the oxymoron of a democratically elected dictatorship, you have to ask whether democracy is indeed what we think it is. What is democracy in a country where the majority votes away the rights of the minority?

Democracy is not a political ideology — it is just a political modus operandi. To the question “How should we decided this?” democracy answers “By majority vote”. To the question “What is right and what is wrong?” democracy has no answer.

A democracy must be built on top of an existing political ideology, often reflected in the country’s constitution. The US constitution for example, outlines basic rights that are not open to vote. Basic rights are not open to vote because they cannot be decided. They already exist and they must be discovered. The political ideology on which most western democracies are based is capitalism, which is basically another word for economic individualism.