We either perish in violence or learn to live with violence. With violence becoming part of our life, our priority concern is how to survive amidst violence. We leave the task of analysing why people behave in a violent manner to psychologists, biologists and sociologists in the West, where the type of violence seen in Sri Lanka either does not exist or only exists in a mild form when the Bin Laden types strike.
Some of these experts might say that in some of us, there is an amoral or psychopathic personality that drives us to commit acts of violence while others might split our genes and formulate a theory to bring out a correlation between ethnicity and violence. Yet others might study our skulls — like the Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso did in the 1870s — and say the fault lies with the shape of our skulls. But in our society, we are only bothered about how to end violence or to survive amidst violence.
To end violence, we had the panacea. That was a long time ago. We had the moral higher ground when Sri Lanka's J R Jayewardene told the 1951 San Francisco Peace conference that "hatred ceaseth not by hatred but by love". Extolling the virtues of non-violence as preached by Gauthama Buddha, Jayewardene, who later became Sri Lanka's first executive president, said Sri Lanka renounced its right for reparation from Japan and urged the other countries also to forgive the imperial crimes.
The Pakistani delegate who spoke after him also stressed the same message, by saying that one of the first acts of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, when he conquered the holy city of Makkah was to forgive all his oppressors and enemies, who expelled him from his birth place. But sadly today, in Sri Lanka where Buddhism is the religion of the majority of the people and in most Muslim countries, people have either become victims of violence in some way or another or perpetrators of violence. Since the Sri Lankan government signed a ceasefire agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in February 2002, the outside world has been of the view that we have been spared of violence. Far from it, we have been putting up with a low-intensity war in which the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims have all become casualties. We are disturbed not because we are horrified to see death and destruction, which, of course, we have become accustomed to, but because violence is perpetrated despite the truce.
Last week, we nearly went back to war, when the LTTE, in obvious acts of provocation, attacked two military vehicles within three days, killing 14 soldiers. Why do they want to precipitate another war when the door for negotiations is not closed? Is it because life has become a big bore without a large-scale war?
During the early days of the truce, a Sinhala peasant from a village close to the Northern war zone told a sociology researcher that he was feeling bored because he did not hear the distant gunshots. In the late 1980s, when this country faced two wars at the same time — the Tamil separatist war in the north and a Marxist insurrection in the south — there was a kind of carnival atmosphere near the bridge over the River Kelani with ice-cream and snack sellers making a quick buck. The reason: People flocked to the bridge to see the flow of floating bodies — victims of some goon squad. Does this mean that in a society accustomed to violence, there appears to be excitement in violence? I hope some Western psychologist would venture into a place like Iraq and do an extensive study on this aspect.
With the possible resumption of war being the topic these days at every gathering in Sri Lanka, only a few noticed that the international day for the elimination of violence against women fell on November 25. There was hardly any media coverage of the special day. Even the women's pages in newspapers paid any attention to the day although, according to Women's Rights Watch Sri Lanka, more than a thousand incidents of violence against women are reported in the media every year and some 4,000 female victims of domestic violence seek the help of Women In Need, a voluntary organisation.
The indifference may be blamed on the fact that we are more worried these days about the type of violence that does not discriminate between its victims on gender basis. Ironically, in this type of violence, women figure prominently as some 33 per cent of all suicide bombings in Sri Lanka have been carried out by women — the female Tigers, whom the LTTE glorifies as Akkini Paravaikal (volcanic birds). In the LTTE's armed struggle, its women cadres are as deadly as its men. It was a woman LTTE member who killed former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and it was a woman suicide bomber who tried to assassinate former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga. Who knows, very soon we may have to declare an international day for the elimination of violence by women.Ameen Izzadeen is a senior Sri Lankan journalist based in Colombo
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