Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sri Lanka - The Fractured Jewel

(Extended version of my end of yet another email exchange.
The Japanese follows.)

So you're vacationing in Sri Lanka for a whole month? And doing good deeds on the side? If you were thirty years younger, you would call it a working holiday. Enjoy.

Sri Lanka, by coincidence, is one place with which I have somewhat more than a passing acquaintance. More than any place else, it reminds me of Japan. A large island, its mountainous terrain and monsoon rains remind me of Japan in my childhood with its lush vegetation alternating with heavily cultivated agricultural fields, interspersed by running brooks coming together to empty into the sea. But little things can remind you are not in Japan: a little boy and a huge lizard, side by side, in the mountain pass watching your cars go by in the mountains will be one. The insurgency spanning four decades is another.

Sri Lanka is a place where the womenfolk work outside the home. And hard. Tilling the fields, running the sewing machines, construction workers, presidents and prime ministers: Sri Lanka is a place where the women assume more than normal Third World share of the burden. Then there are the suicide bombers.

The problem with the LTTE question is the same conundrum we find with many standoffs involving powerful insurgencies that use extreme tactics. Because of their extremism, they stand a very good chance of failing to gain the mandate from their own purported constituencies. Thus, they cannot accept a democratic solution; the best they can hope for is a military standoff that gives them a measure of control over their patch of territory.

But it helps to understand the immediate situation if you remember that little if any of this would have come to pass if the Singhalese had not overplayed their hand in attempting to impose their will on a resentful minority. And the political family (and sometimes intra-family) feud that has dominated the Sri Lankan political scene (carried on by the matriarchs) has relegated any unified front that may have produced a consensus behind a package of carrots and sticks that might have bought the rebels around to the stuff of pipe dreams. This is yet another example that reminds me of the importance of individual political leadership. Imagine how things could have been if Sri Lankan had had half the stature and wisdom of a Mandela, or even a Lee Kwang-Yew. And managed to survive the ever-present threat of assassination. One of these days, you might want to do a comparative study of the origins and practical implications of dynasty in South Asia.... and Japan. And America.

The clock cannot be turned back. And with a democratically elected Singhalese-dominated regime on one hand and an ideologically dedicated, diaspora-backed Tamil insurgency on the other, I fear the Sri Lankans (a people, by the way, that my MS Word dictionary does not recognize) are, for the forseeable future, in for more of the same.

Note: Given the teardrop shape and the beautiful landscape of the island, as well as the astonishing variety of the gems that are found there, it is not surprising that others have looked at its tragic modern history and called it a fractured jewel. Google to find out.







だが、時計の針を戻すことはできません。そして、一方に民主的に選出された、シンハラ人が支配する政権があり、他方に強固な信念に裏打ちされ、世界に散らばった同民族に支えられている武装抵抗勢力がある以上、スリランカ人(ちなみに、私が使っているマイクロソフトのWordプログラムは、Sri Lankanという言葉を認識してくれません)は、現状脱出の見通しが立たないのです。


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