Much was written about Nelson Mandela, his life, death and the media circus which invaded his funeral. So much has been written that there is really nothing new to add. But, reading Simon Jenkins’ article about Mandela titled ‘The Mandela coverage and the banality of goodness,’ the following paragraph made me squirm.
“South Africa in the early 90s was no postcolonial retreat. It was a bargain between one set of tribes and another. For all the cruelties of the armed struggle, it was astonishingly sparing of blood. This was no Pakistan, no Sri Lanka, no Congo. The rise of majority rule in South Africa was one of the noblest moments in African history.”
"I wish one could say that this ‘rise in the majority rule in Sri Lanka was one of the noblest moments in Asian history.’ But increasingly depressing realities, of the kind which led Jenkins to put us plumb in between Pakistan and the Congo, suggest otherwise. "
It’s not what he says about South Africa, true as it is, that embarrassed me so much. It was the phrase ‘This was no Pakistan, no Sri Lanka, no Congo.”
If anyone asks what’s wrong with that statement, see where Sri Lanka is juxtaposed – between Pakistan and the Congo, two of the most violent, unstable countries in the world.
Simon Jenkins is a political columnist for Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Of course, one can ignore what he says. But his is a voice of moderation and reason in a media world full of hype and prejudice, and we ignore such voices at our own peril.
To understand the full import of that mercilessly realistic assessment, we should read the following sentence as well, though with a sense of heightened irony: “The rise of majority rule in South Africa was one of the noblest moments in African history.”
Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Congo are countries which have been ruled by majorities since independence from colonial rule. There was no sudden ‘rise of the majority’ as it happened in South Africa. And yet, one can argue that, at least in our case, there was a rise in the rule of majority since its military triumph over a militant ethnic minority.
I wish one could say that this ‘rise in the majority rule in Sri Lanka was one of the noblest moments in Asian history.’ But increasingly depressing realities, of the kind which led Jenkins to put us plumb in between Pakistan and the Congo, suggest otherwise.
Despite repeated claims of a ‘thriving democracy,’ what we are witnessing is a tyranny of the majority, the worst kind of democracy possible.
And now on culture, which is the best mirror of the politics of any era. If the mirror doesn’t tell the truth, then something’s very wrong and breaking the mirror, as it happens in the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, is not the answer.
The National Museum has reported 221 artefacts ranging from coins to ancient weapons going missing after an exhibition held in 2012.
National Heritage Minister Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, revealing these details in parliament, has decried the lack of financial resources to preserve this archaeological heritage for future generations.
He hasn’t mentioned how much of a budget the museums have got for this gargantuan task. All he says is that it’s woefully inadequate.
I must say that the minister looks cultured. He looks exactly right for the job, which is a rare occurrence in Sri Lanka. In an interview with the Daily Mirror (published on Wednesday Dec. 18), he says in answer to a question regarding our artefacts still kept by the former colonial powers: “There needs to be a holistic approach through a world body like UNESCO.”
There are very few ministers in this cabinet who would understand the concept of holism in any language. But I personally feel that the tragedy lies in having a cultured man in such an excruciatingly difficult position. The difficulty lies chiefly in the national malaise of having scant respect for culture (of which archaeology is a prima donna facet). It has little value in our politics except as a concept (akin to nationalism) useful when it comes to winning elections. For that, as for much else in Sri Lanka, lip service would do, while the money goes chiefly into maintaining a culture of VIP luxury vehicles and other necessary aspects of power.
As for the theft, valuable items are stolen from museums from all over the world. The problem is not so much in the theft. It is in the way it’s perceived by everyone, which reduces this to just another news item, and not a very significant one at that.
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