The National Peace Council (NPC)

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Reconciliation is a process and depends on national identity

1.  Reconciliation is necessary to preserve one country and the State within it. Reconciliation is a process. It involves how Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims perceive their future to be. It requires more than a set of proposals to reconcile marginalized communities.
2.  Many Sinhalese see reconciliation as simply coexistence; others regard it as respect; and still others as mutual forgiveness. All intractable conflicts that actually end must go through some reconciliation process if the parties are going to co-exist in the future. If they do not, conflict is likely to recur, even after a victory or peace settlement, if disputes escalate. Without reconciliation it is difficult to visualize the other side agreeing to be part of the same state.

      Some aspects of reconciliation:

       truth (acknowledging there is some merit to the    
       other side's interpretation of events and to their demands)
        justice (granting redress as a means of putting the past to rest)

3.  Religious and ethnic based nationalism always leads to conflict in a plural society and not to reconciliation. The Government seems to believe that with economic development of the North and East, there will be reconciliation. But however necessary and desirable this is, it cannot itself bring about reconciliation. We need to develop a fair and just framework to address the national question - 13th Amendment or 13th Amendment plus? Measures must be taken to reconcile adversaries. It is necessary to talk to all the parties involved in the current situation, namely the democratic Tamil leadership, the Tamil diaspora and even the UN. Reconciliation requires facing up to the truth.
4.  The key to achieving reconciliation is to build strong equitable relations where distrust and fear were once the norm. The priority is for a political settlement - the 13th Amendment or 13th Amendment plus, which has to be negotiated between the democratically elected Tamil leaders and the President. The nature of the settlement must suit the present conditions and the demand for devolution has to be addressed and cannot be evaded. The President can carry the Sinhalese nationalists, particularly the Maha Sangha, with him because he still has the trust and confidence of the Sinhalese people.
5. The most valuable lesson to be drawn is the need for political leaders and the Maha Sangha to take a pluralistic Sri Lankan national identity rather than an ethnic or religion based nationalism. Previous attempts to resolve the problem failed owing to the opposition of sections of the Maha Sangha. Attempts must be made to win the acceptance of the Maha Sangha.
6.  In addition to resettlement of the IDPs and providing them a livelihood, it is necessary to address the trauma suffered by these people. Their self-esteem has to be restored. This aspect of the rebuilding of their psychology can be best done by civil society groups, NGOs and church groups.
7.  A Sri Lankan identity means that there should be no more appeals to Sinhala nationalism or Tamil nationalism. All sections of the people, particularly the media and the political leaders, must decide against it. But the answer is not to seek to plant more Sinhalese in predominantly Tamil areas and reduce the Tamil majority, for that would only worsen the fear and suspicion of the Tamil people that the Sinhalese are seeking to dominate them. The halt of State aided colonization has always been a demand of the Tamil people to which we have to pay heed. Peace can come only through justice and reconciliation.
8. Devolution of power is the only way to win over the Tamil people to the acceptance of one country and one people. India did it, and it has helped India to build an Indian national identity. Gone are the days when Indians considered themselves as Sikhs, Bengalis or Tamils. They are now proud to call themselves Indians. We still pride ourselves as being Sinhalese or Tamils but not as Sri Lankans. Tamil expatriates have much to offer to rebuild the country for reconciliation to be achieved. People of all communities are ready for reconciliation. It is up to the Government of President Rajapaksa to take the lead without playing politics of race and religion, as in the past. We have failed to build a Sri Lankan nationalism. Some would say that there is no such thing as a Sri Lankan nationalism but this is a myth that the English educated have sought to foist on the country. There are three basic paradigms of nationalism: secular nationalism, ethnic nationalism and theocratic nationalism. We have to decide between them in building our post-colonial independent State. Countries like Singapore followed the secular nationalist model, as did India. Pakistan and Iran follow the theocratic model. Malaysia also selected the ethnic nationalism paradigm; the 1967 ethnic riots there led to much carnage and the country’s leaders learnt their lessons and sought to address the challenge of ethnic pluralism.
9.  Countries that have followed ethno-religious nationalism have failed to achieve liberal democracy although the façade of elections and political parties may continue, as they do here. But behind such a façade is the Sinhala Buddhist identity that assumes that the country belongs only to the majority community, the native sons who should inherit the land, which includes the land where the minorities are settled and constitute a majority.  In states where the dominating culture that affects democracy is ethno-religious nationalism, only the majority is automatically assumed to be loyal citizens. The minorities are suspect and have to prove their loyalty to the State.
10. Forced homogenization - the spurious solution of some Sinhalese nationalists is that the only way to integrate the minorities is to remove their majority status in parts of the country they inhabit and assimilate them to Sinhala Buddhist culture. So they suggest a policy of colonization in these areas  if not openly, at least by stealth. The fear of the Tamils that ethnic colonization is planned should be dispelled, and the best way to dispel it is to resettle the IDPs in their original homes and villages. But we must learn from history.
 A Jewish ethnic group was forced to convert to Islam in Turkey under the Ottoman Empire. But this group, called the Dönme, did not marry outside their community and despite their efforts to integrate into the Muslim State, were looked upon with suspicion by the majority Muslims of Turkey. They were branded separatists and perceived as a “fifth column” an internal danger to the majority. During the First World War they were accused of assisting the enemy. Despite public efforts of minorities to integrate in new nation-states, religious identities can persist and not be entirely replaced by secular citizenship. Even when they attempted to play their part, minorities were not always accepted as equal citizens in practice. So the policy of trying to make Sinhala Buddhists out of the Tamils, Muslims or Christians is not a policy that can succeed, with Turkey being the best example.
 Some Tamils changed their names to Sinhalese names after the pogrom against them in 1983. But were they accepted as Sinhalese by the majority? Professionals who had married Sinhalese wives lament how their children and wives were also victims of the pogrom. Much of the scholarship on nationalism discusses the slow development of the formation of “nation-ness.” It is described as a gradual process lasting centuries from nation building to the emergence of nationalism and nationalist movements to processes of nationalization. We obtained Independence only few decades ago from three centuries of colonial rule. We must not be in a hurry to build a “nation-ness”. Attempts to culturally or even racially incorporate minorities into the mainstream are not workable projects, which will bring success. Instead they will merely lead to stratification within such a society.  
Scholars therefore argue for the open, universal secular approach to citizenship. It envisages a slow development of a nationhood consciousness. Ethno-religious nationalism has not so far succeeded anywhere in the modern world. When “nationalizing nationalisms“ work for the interests of the majority community alone, an individual’s ability to define himself or herself may be limited. When the core nation (Sinhala Buddhist) is considered the “legitimate ‘owner’ of the state, which is conceived as the state of and for the core nation,” nationalizing states promote that group’s “language, culture, demographic preponderance, economic flourishing, or political hegemony”. President Mahinda has to decide between this concept of nationalism and the secular concept of nationalism. The choice he makes will determine the future of this country. Buddhism, as promoted by the sections of the Maha Sangha, is less concerned with belief systems and more with social and political identity. The search for a common national identity through a process of accommodation and acceptance of its ethnic and cultural diversity will take some time to develop “nation-ness”.
11. There is a lack of trust and easy communication between the groups as both communicate largely in their respective ethnic tongues. Although race has been used as an ideological weapon to achieve many political ends, the distinction between one race and another is but perceptual and at best cultural, and does not correspond to any biological or epistemological absolutes.
12. Role of English - English is not the native language of any of the ethnic groups. It makes the people’s consciousness cross-cultural. The Language Act that made Bahasa Malaysia the national language was adopted in 1967. However, since then English has made a comeback in Malaysia and there is more acceptance of the language in all sectors of society than, say, in the 1970s.
13. People ought to share their love for the country categorically and the country in its turn should show affection for all its people without partisanship or bias. Only then, through this dialogic process of mutual respect and allegiance, will the country realize its full potential as a nation. On the other hand, if every group tries to inscribe its authority on the island and seeks to deprive the other groups of their due share from the country, it will lead to the degradation and potential destruction of the homeland. By focusing attention on their interactive past, the groups could overcome their present differences, restore the spirit of accommodation and friendly unity, and achieve their common destiny as a nation.
All of us must make amends. Each and every one of us has to make an individual effort. We must show by individual actions that we will not tolerate bigotry and race hatred any more. A law against Incitement to hatred against minorities by speech or writing should be introduced and the use of such inflammatory speech or writing to further election campaigns should be banned, as in India. END


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