Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ayubowan ආයුබෝවන්

Dear Ms. Heckscher,

Thank you for your frank response. I understand your concerns.

ISLE is an academic program, run by a consortium of colleges to provide a better understanding of Sri Lankan life and culture.  We hope to provide students with an opportunity of analytically experience the country.  One who's government, as you detail, has had a horrific relationship with it's minority populations and majority's dissenters.  And, the perspective of minorities including the letter published by Lasanta, the journalist who was a victim of government's brutality is included in Sri Lanka Reader (which we ask students to read before they head to Sri Lanka). We believe now, more than ever, it is important to have bright American students there to study Sri Lanka to understand the political and ethnic dynamics and to understand the people who are supporting or opposing the government and their reasons.  As it is & has been important for study abroad programs to exist in China, Uganda, Rwanda, Syria, Israel ... the list goes on.  ISLE has a diverse alumni group, including a new generation of professors, foreign aid workers, UN professionals, Fulbright Scholars. Many are doing work in Sri Lanka, and/or claim their professions catalyzed by their time at ISLE.  We are proud of our alum and the mark they continue to make on the world, and on Sri Lanka.  We hope that more students are able to get to know and fall in love with Sri Lanka's people & cultures.


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I'm glad you understand how important it is for me to be sure that students learn the facts about Sri Lanka--and not just propaganda about the Resplendent Isle's claim to be the longest continuous Buddhist civilization--and that ISLE Program alumni have gone on to do important humanitarian work.  Because of the conditions in Sri Lanka, it's more than just an academic program.

Thanks so much for specifically addressing my concerns, X.


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Of course.  As an ISLE alum, and a deep lover of Sri Lanka, I absolutely understand your concerns.  Thanks again for reaching out.


And yet...what I really want to do is take X by his very thin  shoulders and shake him. What I really want to say is, "Show me your outrage!  You say you love Sri Lanka--then prove it!"  What I want to hear him say is, "I'm sorry you've lost Rajah."

I feel I should be appeased by now--if I'm reasonable, I have to admit that his response was far better than I'd ever dreamed.

But what does reasonable have to do with it?  I'm so uncomfortable with the idea of these students and professors studying a culture as if they're studying another species, tip-toeing around a genocide that is still taking place.  (The photos you see here are taken directly from the ISLE program's brochure.)

X talked about academics as if it was a shield against all criticism.  "This is an academic program."  You wouldn't read about concentration camps prior to studying Baroque music in Nazi Germany and then claim the program raises awareness of the holocaust.  Am I being unreasonable?

Sree Padma Holt was too busy to write to me herself.  "Padma sends you her regards."  Is it unreasonable to hope that the director herself addresses an ethical question about her program that's being raised by a former student?  It's a small program and I did address my letter to her--not her PR guy.  (And why do they need a PR guy?)  Should I be ashamed that I wonder if Padma is Buddhist and where she stands, personally?

X justified the ISLE program by reminding me that people study in Israel (i.e., despite the ongoing Palestinian situation).  If I'm reasonable, I say, "Of course, X.  Why should Sri Lanka be held up to a different standard."  If I'm reasonable, I don't suggest that perhaps it's unethical to study Middle Eastern Art in Israel if you are pro-Palestinian.

So this adds a troubling new twist for me.  I don't want to be dismissed because someone thinks I'm unreasonable or crazy or a pest, so I say, in essence, "Thanks for taking my naive question seriously,"  and I close shop.

And how does this tie in to procrastination?  Am I afraid to declare that raising awareness about Sri Lanka is, in fact, a priority for me?  Am I afraid to be an activist?  Afraid to be an activist about an unpopular issue?  Is worrying about genocide a hobby?


  1. Roma, I hope you see this. I can't figure out how to send you a private message, but I want to thank you for reading what I've written here about Sri Lanka. It means so much to me to have connected with you in this way!

  2. You know what?
    This is more about you, Flynn and who ever, a very personal way; YOUR way of responding to what you see as a hypocritical situation where the on going genocide is being airbrushed away and kept more as 'history' in the back ground.

    In my experience (says she) most card carrying professionals and people who are part of institutions never step out of line with anything that might give you a clue to an emotion (those unreasonable things, remember?) or a personal view that could be seen as going against the party line.
    What then happens is that everything is kept on a 'reasonable' level at arm's length.

  3. And this is really at the core of my frustration. I think everybody should take this personally and you need people and their stories to make it real and personal. You can't win, really--it's such a turn-off to see really furious people preaching their heartfelt propaganda in your face (that could be me!), but it's just as infuriating to be confronted with calmly impersonal intellectual Flynns who keeps a cool distance. It's very tricky to maintain just the right balance of rational calm/honest human feeling.

    Embarrassing to be so earnest about something!