Where have I been all these years?
I got married. Tried to write a novel. Acted in a couple of films. Produced a play. Toppled an authoritarian regime. Y’know, the usual.
Changed the daytime career a couple of times, including since February 2009 to a role in which I was not comfortable expressing my thoughts publicly online.
Why have I returned to blogging?
Firstly, the novel does not seem to be going too well, and when I look back at the years I was actively writing this blog (more than seven years ago), it seems to coincide with a time I was creatively productive in other ways as well. Given the peculiarities of my personality, I think perhaps this blog can be not only an outlet, but also a catalyst for other writing. I am hoping it will perform the same role again.
Secondly, there are many ideas I want to explore and share with Sri Lankan policy makers, both in the private and public sectors, and I need a place to articulate them. I might as well develop them here.
Thirdly, there are several big changes looming in my life which I want to document.
Are my views still the same?
Yes and no. Some of my views have evolved as I have learnt new things and new ways of busting through faulty logic. I met several people with whom interaction has been particularly enlightening. Also, I have been reading a lot more history.
My views on international intervention, in particular, have evolved to the point where I acknowledge that some type of pressure is needed to keep any government honest. Where domestic institutions that ought to provide checks and balances are compromised and ineffective, it might be practically useful and justifiable for international actors to help amplify the legitimate concerns of domestic groups. Sri Lanka’s policy direction in the post-independence pre-war period was determined by a majoritarianism that ignored the democratic rights of the minorities. And so, until our media, courts, police, parliament and other institutions are up to the task of effectively protecting these democratic rights, I think playing the international card is an option that should remain on the table.
However, any international intervention needs to be strategic and sensitive to the situation on the ground. When you look at the recent history of international interventionism around the world, the examples of Iraq, Libya, and Syria which immediately spring to mind, appear to be unmitigated disasters. Similarly, I still think that the particular tone and timing of the international pressure in the immediate aftermath of the war was misplaced, insensitive to domestic realities, and possibly even counter-productive. It helped cement Rajapaksa as a national hero by providing a convenient bogeyman antagonist for years after Prabhakaran’s demise. In the eyes of the SinhalaBuddhist nationalists, he became not only Dutgemunu, but also Veera Puran Appu. The polarization that occurred as a result of the misplaced international effort drowned out moderate voices that could have helped navigate the thin grey line between Rajapaksa’s narrative and the narrative of the Tamil diaspora.
It was not until much later, when international voices became less shrill, that left to our own devices, we democratically rejected Rajapaksa. As an ordinary member of the public, my own efforts in that direction, along with those of many of my new friends and acquaintances, were not insignificant. Many of us put our necks on the line, and I am glad that we did not have to find out what would have happened if Rajapaksa had won. Faced with the rise of ethno-religious fascism that the Rajapaksa regime was enabling, if not actively creating, through groups like the Bodu Bala Sena, Sihala Ravaya, and Ravana Balaya, there was little choice. We had to do everything in our power, within legal limits, to ensure he was not re-elected.
And this is why, even with all the faults of the present government, we still did the right thing by voting Rajapaksa out. We can argue about degrees, but I will grant that at least certain sections of the present government are also corrupt. I would even go so far as to say that as far as management of the economy is concerned, this government is making even the Rajapaksa regime look relatively competent in comparison. However, in terms of democratic freedoms and respecting individual civil liberties, there has been a massive change. And, that change was something that happened almost overnight.
However, this is still not good enough. I do not want to switch back to the Rajapaksas, but the performance of this government is well below what most people who voted for them expected. There is a dire need to hold them accountable by highlighting their faults in the media, offering solutions where appropriate, but also shaming them when they are corrupt.
When we first started blogging, Luddites in Colombo belittled online activism, but the role of online media, particularly on twitter and facebook, in the presidential election of January 8, 2015 was undeniable. It is no longer the territory of the privileged English speaking few. Most of my own writing for the campaign was done in Sinhala using Google Translate, Google Transliterate, and Helakuru on my phone. Social media activists were given much credit for his election victory by President Sirisena himself. In an environment where traditional media was stifled and untrustworthy, new media put down firm roots and grew quickly in influence. There is no stopping it now.