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E PLURIBUS UNUM – (OUT OF MANY, ONE)

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Liberal democracy is rooted in the rights of individuals and not the rights of groups or fixed communities. 

According to Francis Fukuyama, liberal democracy cannot exist without a national identity that defines what citizens hold in common with one another. Given the de facto multiculturalism of contemporary democracies, that identity needs to be civic or creedal. That is, it needs to be based on liberal political ideas that are accessible to people of different cultural backgrounds rather than on fixed characteristics such as race, ethnicity, or religion.

Human beings have a fundamental need to belong—a need that their collective identities, be they racial, ethnic, religious, regional, or national, often satisfy. Such affiliations, which psychologists call “social identities,” serve multiple psychological functions. These include, for example, the need for a sense of safety, which social identities satisfy by reducing uncertainty and providing norms that help people navigate everyday life. 

Some social identities also offer rituals and customs to aid with loss, mourning, and other significant challenges that occur during the course of one’s life. ( This relates to the Sri Lankan governments ignoring international guidelines on  COVID-19 death disposal and mandating ONLY cremation in Sri Lanka for COVD dead). This caused the social identity of a group of Sri Lankan’s to be ignored based on contested scientific evidence thus scarring the psyche of Sri Lankan Muslims for generations to come. 

At times, identities provide a sense of purpose and meaning and a basis for esteem and regard that is larger than people’s individual selves. Identities efficiently satisfy the human need for respect and dignity.

The concept of “identity,” builds on a universal aspect of the human psyche that Plato labelled thymos, the demand for respect for one’s inner dignity. But there is a specifically modern expression of thymos that emerged after the Protestant Reformation and that values the inner self more highly than society’s laws, norms, and customs and insists that society change its own norms to give recognition to that inner self. The first major expression of modern identity politics was nineteenth-century European nationalism, when cultural groups began to demand recognition in the form of statehood. Fukuyama argues that identity politics is eroding national unity in the United States and Europe, undermining the kind of civil discourse essential to the maintenance of liberal democracy. 

I believe that much of modern Islamism is similarly driven by identity confusion among Muslims in modernizing societies who feel neither Western nor traditional and see a particular form of politicized religion as a source of community and identity. We saw this in the movement which led to the Easter Sunday Carnage of 2019 in Sri Lanka. The ideological, political and social infrastructure which gave rise to the Easter Sunday Carnage is still not only existing but thriving in Sri Lanka thanks to identity politics of the majority and minority Muslim Community. The prime reason for this situation is the current Sri Lankan constitution which calls for proportional representation at a threshold of 5% of the votes polled. If this situation persists the identity politics and all that it leads to Will continue to persist and thrive in Sri Lanka. Politicians to clergy and all in between will exploit this situation for their individual expectations at the cost of national issues.

I believe Identity, in the recent past has begun to focus on the rise of right-wing nationalist populism or vice versa.  This development threatens liberal democracy because populist leaders seek to use the legitimacy they gain from democratic elections to undermine liberal institutions such as courts, the media, and impartial bureauc-racies which minorities rely on for a sense of equity and all citizens rely on for fairplay

The contemporary Middle East, like the Balkans before it, is an extreme example of out-of-control identity politics and what ultimately happens to countries that do not invest in integrative national identities. We must take all precautions not to go down this path in Sri Lanka. 

We in Sri Lanka have an unparalleled and unique opportunity to exploit. With the election of the populist SLPP which used identify politics of the majority ( thus reverse engineering the traditional interpretation of identity politics often associated with politically marginalised minority groups) to establish a politically stable governing environment, the state should use this platform to solidify liberal democracy in Sri Lanka by working towards creating a national identity that  defines what citizens hold in common with one another. Not doing so at this point of time will lead to a situation of identity politics going on steroids!!!!!

I conclude by once again quoting Fukuyama who warns that ‘fragmenting into segments based on ever-narrower identities, threatening the possibility of deliberation and collective action by society as a whole‘. If we go down the current path of identity based politics we in Sri Lanka are most likely to fulfill this prophecy.

People will never stop thinking about themselves and their societies in identity terms. But people’s identities are neither fixed nor necessarily given by birth. Identity can be used to divide, but it can also be used to unify. That, in the end, will be the remedy for the populist politics of the present.

We need a national level effort and programme to address these issues in a Sri Lankan manner and I firmly believe that a state-led Declaration of a Year of Tolerance will be a good starting point and foundation to use identity as a tool to unite all Sri Lankans to become one, out of many.

Please consider extending your considerable influence as a Sri Lankan towards this end

Dr Ruvaiz Haniffa 

Consultant Family Physician

 

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Opinion

Youth battle against drugs needed

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Twenty-one-year-old student Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul read a 10-point manifesto aimed at reform of Thailand’s politically powerful monarchy

If our university students are daring enough to challenge the government for their rights for a clear-cut education policy, that no government could change, according to their whims and fancies or for the benefit of corrupt ministers, and state officials, then our university students’ unions could also challenge the government, regarding the drug mafia.

They should follow the 21-year-old. Thailand girl, from Thammasat University, who stood up against Royalty and called for a monarchy change, saying all humans have red blood and called for various reforms, as she fearlessly delivered the manifesto, including the call to change the constitution and education. This speech could have sent her to jail for 15 years, but she stood her ground.

Our university students, for the sake of our young generation, and those to be born, could challenge the government to take genuine action, as promised at the recent election, against all those who are involved in the drug mafia, be they ministers, officials or relatives. It is a well known fact that such an amount of drugs, etc., cannot be imported without the help of VVIPs.

Only the challenging from the young generation of all fields could induce positive action to expose the culprits. Mr. President, you asked the people to give you the strength to fight all corruption. You got it, but the people are worried about the outcome. Was it an ‘election gundu’? Do it, though you may not get the goodwill of corrupt ministers and officials, but the people, the honest and the hard working parents will be thankful to you.

Save the children before introducing any long term plans. Remember this drug mafia is very much worse than terrorists, because ministers did not get commissions from the war, but drugs bring in millions of rupees.

 

Barbara Seneviratne

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Opinion

Reduce number of vehicles on our roads

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Please allow me a short comment on the perceptive article by George Braine, in The Island ( 4th September, page 6), on renationalizing the private bus service. I hope it catches the eye of our President.

Firstly, his observation about how in Hong Kong and (Singapore too), buses are washed every day, and trains are comfortable and clean. Let alone comfort, couldn’t the “higher powers” provide us AT LEAST with CLEAN public transport, despite the now ingrained lack of hygiene in Sri Lankan society (it’s now part of Sri Lankan culture!). We have become an unhygienic people immune to uncleanliness – if you doubt this, tell me the name of ONE South Asian country which is as filthy as us. (Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Hong Kong …?). Habits such as spitting betel leaf in public, onto the pavement, throwing “Buth Parcels” on to it for the purported purpose of obtaining “merit”, by feeding the disease- infected stray dogs and cats (I almost forgot to include the rats) – this is us!. If you still doubt, go have a look at the state of our Public Toilets ANYWHERE, including the “international” Airport. Our children should be taught at an early age, how to use a toilet correctly – obviously most parents don’t know this skill.

Forty years ago, the belching buses with people hanging onto the footboard for dear life, were a common sight. It remains so today – in what aspects did we lopsidedly “Develop”? Highways – for whom?

Recently I travelled from Colombo to Galle, and last week, from Colombo to Nuwara-Eliya by car. On the Galle trip, I saw private buses tearing along, racing each other on the wrong side of the Galle Road. It was reported the following day that three had died in a head-on collision. On the Nuwara-Eliya trip, even up in the dangerous winding hills, private buses were engaged in a permanent roadrace to gather passengers.

In the very same newspaper (September 4th), on page 3, headlines read – “Three persons killed, three others seriously injured in car mishap”. It goes on to say that due to speeding, two young men sent themselves to a premature death. At least three die every day in fatal road accidents. The country’s Traffic Police are out of touch with reality. Dishing out parking fines (for the ulterior motive of collecting revenue!), watching idly as trishaws (a law unto themselves), cut across the line of traffic, allowing motorcycles to “short-cut” along the pavement, Mr Braine’s suggestion that vehicle imports should be BANNED (including Duty Free ) for five years is absolutely right! I hope the President will firmly refuse to bow to pressures in this regard, in the public interest.

He will receive fervent thanks from the public at large if he can reduce the number of vehicles on our already clogged roads. By prohibiting vehicle imports he also creates jobs for the numerous vehicle repair shops needed to keep existing vehicles in good order.

 

JAYANTA KURUKULASURIYA

 

 

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Opinion

A true People’s Company for a People-Centered Economy

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By JUSTIN KEPPETIYAGAMA
Jdkgama02@gmail.com

 

As per the policy manifesto of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ (‘Rata Hadana Saubhagyaye Dekma’), the main objective of the government is creating a people-centered economy through rural development.

In achieving these expectations, Sapiri Gamak, a community-based development programme is being implemented, anticipating to convert the entire country to one development zone, by building a people-centric economy that will be fully owned by the people of the country, and strengthen the local entrepreneurs; instead of selling and mortgaging national resources and financial assets of the country to foreigners.

The objectives of this programme are, improving employment and livelihoods through development of rural facilities, and thereby uplifting the socio-economic condition of the rural economy. These development projects should facilitate the income pathways of villagers and generate self-employment opportunities.

Under the guidance of the Prime Minister through this programme, projects for development of roads, infrastructure facilities required by the agriculture sector, facilities required to uplift the economy at rural levels, facilities required for development and upgrading of rural health, development of education by providing electricity, water and sanitary facilities for schools and other priority physical infrastructure facilities that are directly attributed to development of rural economy will be implemented.

Under this programme, Rs. 2 M. will be spent to implement development programs at each Grama Niladhari Division, covering 14,021 Grama Niladhari divisions of the country. At present, under this program, 37,862 development projects worth of Rs. 27,920 M. are being implemented island-wide by the Divisional Secretaries under the supervision of District Secretaries.

Divisional Secretaries and District Secretaries are not the stakeholders of these projects. To implement this project there should be a mechanism that should include all villagers as the stakeholders of this project. It should not be a mechanism, operated by bureaucrats, or one dependent on budgetary funding. It should be a mechanism, funded by the people, entrepreneurs, farmers, producers, consumers, living within the G.N. division and supplemented by the Government. It should be a mechanism, owned by the villagers and operated by the villagers and for the benefits of the villagers. This should be a self-financing mechanism; a legal entity having its own identity. It should be a village-based mechanism to address the problems faced by the villagers. It should be a mechanism that leads to a self-sufficient economy.

The situation prevalent today must be changed. The course of development followed so far must be reversed totally. It must be village-based. All modes of production must be village based. The villagers must be given the knowledge to improve all their economic activities. Any industries facilitating all economic activities of villagers should be commenced in the village itself and by the villagers themselves. All technological knowledge we get must reach the villagers. This mechanism should transform all villagers to stakeholders in the village economy.

1. To create a people-centered rural economy I propose to promote one co-operative society per G.N area under the Co-operative Societies Act. It should be an enterprise of villagers, by the villagers for the benefit of the villagers. There should be 14,021 co-operative societies covering the entire island. The objectives of these co-operative societies should include:

a. Buying, stocking, selling and supplying all forms of industrial, agricultural and trading inputs and consumables and livestock required for raising the living standard of villagers.

b. Accepting deposits from members and providing venture capital or debenture capital to them to carry on their business activities. It should be the Rural Bank.

c. Providing credit, in cash, or in kind, to members to meet their other needs.

d. Undertaking the promotion, management, control and supervision of any enterprise or scheme using identified deposits of members for the benefits and advancement of such members or a group of members, and charging a fee, commission or a share of profits for such services.

e. Making investment of identified deposits of members in stock, shares or securities, on behalf of such identified members

f. Carrying out survey and research, issuing publications, and maintaining a database helpful for improvement of economic conditions of its members.

g. Providing professional services to the members regarding investment in income generating activities.

h. Promoting all types of business entities as sole proprietorships, partnerships, joint ventures, limited liability companies, or cooperative societies among or between members and be a partner, shareholder as the case may be, of such business.

i. Consulting, promoting, issuing, organizing, managing and administering mutual funds of any type or character for the benefit of their members.

j. Rendering managerial, marketing, technical and administrative advice to members to carry on any form of commercial or economic activity.

All government development projects relevant to a particular G.N. area should be contracted to the relevant co-operative society. They also should be agents for state owned enterprises such as Paddy Marketing Board, Sathosa, Milk Board, Fisheries Co-operation and State Banks.

2. To create a people-centered national economy the government should promote one Peoples Company making all 14,021 G.N level co-operative societies and all State Owned Enterprises as its shareholders. Government’s all national level development projects should be contracted to this company.

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