Cultural Fault Lines
Sri Lanka is a country torn along cultural fault lines. Before the end of the Cold War, the world was divided into two along political lines — the Free World and the Communist bloc. The two groupings were multicultural, but held together by the threat of a common enemy. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the common enemy disappeared and the world fragmented into smaller pieces, with the fault lines running across cultural differences (‘civilizations’ as Samuel Huntington would put it). We now have the West, Latin America, the Middle East, East Asia, South Asia etc.
Sri Lanka has a similar problem within a single country — we have two cultures in conflict. While Tamils and Singhalese are morelike each other than either would be like Americans or Chinese, these two cultures seem incompatible at present. Ours is more a cultural/ethnic problem than a political one.
We have three possible solutions:
#1 Full segregation: Divide the country in two; Tamils will live in the North, Singhalese in the South
#2 Conflicted coexistence: The two groups will continue to live together as they do now and deal with conflicts as and when they arise (i.e. a may-blow-up-anytime situation)
#3 Full integration: Erase the cultural differences between the two races, develop a common Sri Lankan culture that is neither Singhalese nor Tamil; erase this distinction from the minds of the next generation so that when they grow up, it will only be a trivial difference.
Full segregation (option #1) means partitioning the country. A lot of people don’t like this and there are of course disadvantages — politically, socially and economically. We’re starting to learn rather painfully that option #2 does not work verywell. So we should explore option #3: full integration.
How is integration achieved? By gradually erasing the conflicting differences between the various Sri Lankan ethnic/religious groups and introducing and stressing commonalities.
A Common Language
Apart of Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem began as a language problem (the “Sinhala Only” movement). Therefore part of the solution should be a language solution. Make English the national language. Make Singhalese and Tamil associate national languages. The twoethnic languages will continue to be spoken at homes and private gatherings. But over a period of about 10 – 20 years (a reasonable time frame for such a radical undertaking, I think) everything government sponsored (including government schooling) will be converted to English, and the entire population will be familiarized with the language. With the language barrier gone Singhalese and Tamils will interact and understand each other much better. History teaches us that different peoples who speak the same way tend to get along with each other better. But language should only be the beginning.