Monday, November 21, 2011

Another Day in Paradise: Life after Genocide


The war in Sri Lanka is over and now, at last, healing can begin.  This is propaganda from the murderers, seeking to justify decades of racism and genocide to the outside world, as well as to mollify Sri Lanka's own, wary inhabitants.

What I, as an outsider, find as outrageous as the Sri Lankan genocide is the efforts of outsiders to excuse the genocide.  

The study-abroad program that sent me to Sri Lanka 30 years ago is now selling this propaganda under the auspices of The Asia Foundation's LankaCorps.  

LankaCorps is a unique new opportunity for Americans of Sri Lankan heritage to professionally engage in social, cultural, and economic development activities in Sri Lanka. Three young leaders will be selected to live and work for six months in Sri Lanka as Asia Foundation LankaCorps Fellows from April 1 to September 30, 2012. The program's intent is to foster the involvement of young members of the diaspora who have limited in-depth experience with the country.

Kiss my American ass.  What kind of olive branch is used as an instrument of rape?  Involve young members of the diaspora in what, exactly?  Will these young refugees influence policymaking in the new Sri Lanka?  Are these young members of the diaspora allowed to talk about the past so that history is not doomed to repeat itself?  What can their participation produce, other than support for the status quo?

I feel myself shaking with rage as I fight with a stubborn flicker of doubt and hope.  Nothing is so simple, even if we want it to be--what if good can come of it, out of the aftermath of genocide?  Why not forgiveness?  If peace and harmony can be achieved this way, then why shouldn't the end justify the means?  

And that's a question I can answer simply, without a flicker of doubt:  the end can't justify the means.  

We can't build a nation of multi-ethnic harmony on top of an open grave.  Healing does not happen when we turn away from the source of our pain; healing happens when the source of pain is acknowledged.  The only way to rebuild and to heal is for the government of Sri Lanka to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Last night, when I visited my mother in the nursing home, we argued after I read a portion of the New York Times book review to her, about a biography of Hitler's mistress, Eva Braun (the review by Dorothy Gallagher of "Eva Braun:  Life with Hitler," by Heike Gortenmaker, in the November 20 issue of the book review).  

At first, we chuckled at Eva and Adolf's familiar domesticity, "At meals, she sat at Hitler's left. She felt secure enough to rebuke Hitler for being late to dinner, and to indicate when she thought he had talked enough."  The author suggests that the demonization of Hitler has prevented a full understanding of the Nazi phenomenon, along the lines of Hannah Arendt's concept of the banality of evil.  Unlike Arendt, Gortenmaker seems to find a measure of comfort in Hitler's banal domesticity.  

The reviewer, however, concludes, "Or do we know, as we have always known, that evil walks among us; that no monster (or his friends and lovers) thinks himself monstrous, no madman thinks himself mad; and that, as the filmmaker Jean Renoir once said: 'The really terrible thing is that everyone has his reasons.'"

My mother declared that she believes Hitler is the archetype of psychopathic evil.  I found myself playing the fuming role of devil's advocate.

"Why should Hitler get to be the archetype?  Or why does he get off as a psychopath? Genocide happens in every country.  Every generation has its genocides.  Maybe he's just the only one the whole world agrees to hold accountable."

My mother purses her lips and blinks.  "No, Charlotte.  Hitler is different."

"The Germans were made to apologize and stand in a corner, now they even have an Auschwitz theme park or whatever, where people can tour the green meadows and smoke stacks and observe a moment of silence.  Germany got over it because they were punished--they fessed up, accepted collective guilt, and moved on.  The difference is Germany was made to atone."

My mother looked down at her fingernails, which I interpreted as her waiting for my tirade to finally be over, which only fueled my flames.

"Does the world make Turkey admit to its genocide of Armenians?  Did the Armenians get handed prime real estate of their own, like the Jews, as payback?  No one really believes that piece of shit poghotz in Russia that's not worth fighting over is really Armenia.  Armenians are still stateless and we don't heal because Turkey is allowed to deny its crimes."

My mother looks at me and clears her throat.  I'm feeling a little self-conscious, but that's the worst time to back down.

"You think if German Jews had fought back like the Palestinians, would they be called terrorists or heroes?"

I want to be convinced that these vague overtures towards multi-cultural harmony in Sri Lanka signify hope.  Why shouldn't we all want to believe in a fairytale ending, "and after the genocide, they all lived happily ever after.  The End."  

Like I said before, kiss my American ass.



1 comment:

  1. There we go! I LOVE your raw and heartfelt out rage! You are so right to be totally raging at the cover up or 'make-over' (lets look pretty on the outside) in Sri Lanka.

    What I find incredible is how life kind of resumes after man made genocide as well as something like a tsunami. I have watched documentaries about Africa and how the enemies and genocide makers are approached and forgiven! They don't seem to be sweeping what happened under the carpet and yet they to really want to draw that line under what happened. I don't think I'd want to draw that line no matter what. But I wonder if the Western world's response to the horrors of Hitler's Germany says more about us Western whities really wanting and needing to distance ourselves from a race that is quite a bit like us lot ...
    Brown folk in distant places is comfortably 'over there' and not uncomfortably close to home?
    What do most people know about Armenians? Pretty much zero I'd say.

    You have had first hand experience in Sri Lanka and are not distant to these real people. Most people would rather turn away and change the subject and pretend all is rosy ... we know that.

    So you are wonderful in that you refuse to shut up and look a way!

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