From a heaven in the making to a haven for racially oriented thugs

Sri Lanka celebrated 70 years of independence from colonial rule on 4 February but the traditional show of arms on this day continues to baffle Sri Lankans who yearn for genuine peace and harmony.

Indeed, the absence of war has brought a welcome change to the nation’s DNA by turning one of the most dangerous places on Earth for as long as 26 years into one of the few safe havens there are on the planet today.

The dichotomy however, is that beneath the veneer of peace – or shall we say, the absence of war – there simmers the prospect of a return to the days of hell on Earth. The nation, as one of its exemplary citizens laments in this edition’s Cover Story, finds itself in a ‘state of paralysis.’

And it isn’t only the ‘conflicts of ethnicity and religious beliefs’ that are threatening to raise their ugly heads once again; there are signs too that Sri Lanka’s insurgent past could someday return to haunt not only the people but also the heart and soul of business – after all, the so-called ‘third force’ in our utterly polluted political landscape has its roots firmly planted in two insurgencies that grinded the nation and its engine of growth to a halt!

We may point fingers at one community or the other but the reality is that by and large, extremism from within Sri Lanka’s diverse ethnicities and religions has been left to fester into a ticking time bomb.

Once a paradise – and ironically, in many ways still a paradise in the making, as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Carlsberg Cees ’t Hart said in a recent Cover Story in this magazine – this country belongs to ‘Sri Lankans’ and not one community over another.

“In Sri Lanka, I see a beautiful country with endless beaches, timeless ruins and welcoming people. That is Sri Lanka to me – in many ways, it is a promising paradise island,” he told us in an exclusive interview not long ago.

Carlsberg’s global head may not have said so if he was here a few weeks later when all hell broke out in the hills.

The ‘Sri Lankan identity’ that many of us espouse is in danger of disintegrating and innocent civilians have once again become the target of marauding gangs whose extremist take on all things national surely does not reflect the majority perspective.

So if there’s a time to celebrate our Sri Lankan identity, it is upon us – it’s time to get going.

As for celebrating our diversity, let’s do this in our homes, places of worship or designated safe houses rather than out on the streets – because sadly, this incites chauvinism, envy, jealousy and eventually, violence.

And as far as the streets go, the nation holds its so-called law enforcement machinery to protect each and every Sri Lankan no matter what his or her background is.

When shameless extremists arm themselves to attack unarmed civilians, we except those whom we arm to protect us to do so without resorting to making shameless excuses.

The bottom line: we should stop celebrating our ‘independence’ until we’re all truly independent.

– Editor-in-Chief