Patriotism for improper conduct

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By 2018-02-11

By Aney Darling

Dear Dorothy,

This week's column is something of a rant. I'm going to share with you something that really got under my skin, and made me truly feel saddened for the world we are leaving behind, for our children. The racism, the hatred and the prejudices that simmer and foam like venom on the lips of bigots never seem to lessen; not even after almost a decade since the war has come to an end. A recent video of a senior Sri Lankan diplomat went viral for threatening to slit the throats of LTTE sympathizers (no, not minority Tamils, but pro-Eelamist members of the diaspora) protesting outside the Sri Lankan High Commission in London.
It was Minister Counsellor, Brigadier Priyanka Fernando, who is also a serving officer in the Sri Lankan army that performed this gruesome gesture. And the nationalist racists shrouded in patriotism all rejoiced! "What valour," they said. "What bravery in the face of terrorism." And to an extent, they were right. He risked his privileged foreign appointment with benefits (if he was in fact aware of the severity of his actions and their consequences) to show a bunch of extremists that their xenophobia was not tolerated. As a lay person I understand this – that emotions cannot be controlled when faced with a situation that wreaks havoc with your sanity. Yes, I agree with those on social media that say, his friends would have died beside him at war, he would have faced much grievances in the face of the LTTE and seen so many lives lost at the hands of this terrorist organization; it's only 'human' that he reacted the way he did.

But, the thing is he was not a lay person trapped in a personal situation that provoked his anger and antagonism. He was threatening to kill, giving voice to institutionalized violence in the face of a peaceful protest (their agenda maybe not have been peaceful, but by appearance their demonstration was) amidst an official ceremony. In that instance, he was representing the State in an official capacity; he should have taken to account international media and how his reactions could greatly disadvantage the country. It wasn't a situation that warranted aggressive and threatening behaviour; he could have simply ignored it, not given the protest such prominence, treated it as insignificant extremism, but he chose to act immaturely; and act immaturely, he did.

He should have been trained for this post. If the government did train him, it was an inefficient endeavour; if they didn't, then they are partly to blame. He himself is to blame because he ignorantly created unnecessarily importance around a protest; a protest that didn't require a threat that constituted killing and murder. The throat-slitting gesture didn't make the brigadier look brave or fearless. It just made him look like a troubled man who felt threatened and vulnerable.

Brigadier Priyanka Fernando made an enormous error in judgement that day; one unworthy of a senior officer of the armed forces and a diplomat. Because of his distressing gesture, he also put the country he loves under immense foreign pressure (we can't simply go about saying we don't need international aid or foreign support when we're a developing third world country with an instable and, for the most part, unhinged political landscape). Many of you may disagree, but I believe that in this particular situation, he was unprofessional, improper and unethical.

But what I really wanted to talk about today were the numerous statuses that were beginning to appear on social media – after the video of the throat-slitting gesture by the Brigadier went viral. It was sickening, these updates. The message was clear; almost all Tamils in Sri Lanka were terrorists, Eelamists and were hell-bent on bringing down the Sinhala race. They were mostly in Sinhala and expressed a lot of hatred and hostility towards the Tamil community, generalizing them all as terrorists and villains. Others deemed everyone who saw the gesture by the brigadier as wrong, as LTTE sympathizers and closet-terrorists. Such vile words were spewed by 'patriots' levelled against the minority community, labelling them dogs and worms, or dirt and faeces.

I was in shock. I 100 per cent agreed with those who criticized LTTE supporters because it's an extremist terrorist organization and we must stand against any religious or racist extremism together.

But there are also people who were branding all Tamils as being separatists and I obviously disagree with that (just as much as I would disagree that all Buddhists aren't a part of Bodu Bala Sena). One girl said that having a soft spot for Tamils meant that I had a soft-spot for the LTTE. I was also told that I am a racist because I support the Tamils (and not the Sinhalese in this situation). How is this a Tamil-Sinhalese situation? It was a question of how the Sri Lankan Diplomatic Service in the UK responded to a pro-LTTE protest outside their official premises.

Was it not? Also how did defending another race make someone racist? I thought condemning an ethnic group due to misinformation and stereotyping human beings into groups for the sake of nationalism, and extremist agendas, made a person racist.

What truly baffled me, Dorothy, was how stating that "not ALL Tamils are supporters of the LTTE and that the terrorist group is hated amongst the Tamil community too" can rile up such animosity. I'm not naive enough to say there aren't LTTE supporters in the community, but I also know so many Tamils and none of them condone terrorism, at all. I grew up with so many Tamil kids. All of us did. They were our friends. They weren't bad people, but here we were, writing them off and generalizing them as terrorist-supporters. So, am I to agree and assume that all of them are undeserving of a home in Sri Lanka?

It really got to me; so much disgust and resentment against our own countrymen; people we see and talk to, work with and meet often; all given up for terrorists! And this is what we hold so proud and so dear, after overcoming an armed conflict that prevailed for years and years – racial discrimination and ethnic intolerance. It surely is a wretched day for Sri Lanka!
Write to us at [email protected] and share your thoughts and comments on the throat-slitting video that went viral.




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