Home Truths From Sri Lanka
01 April 1998

As violence rocked the peace process in Northern Ireland in February, an inter-communal group from another conflict zone, Sri Lanka, addressed a forum arranged by For a Change in London. The scale of carnage in Sri Lanka's civil war between Tamil separatists and the Sinhalese majority is far higher than that in Northern Ireland. But the group's perspectives on conflict and peace seemed to us to have relevance beyond their shores.

Jehan Perera, the Media Director of Sri Lanka's National Peace Council (NPC), likened peace initiatives to the shape of a triangle. The government-level negotiations at the top could not work without the demand for peace from people at the base. The NPC was working to develop that groundswell for peace.

Perera went on to make a point which the English -- so often complacent about our nation's historic role -- could take to heart. Justice and peace, he said, depended on understanding the other community's grievances. It was a grievance in itself if one community had to ask another, 'What is your grievance?'

Perera was accompanied to Britain by a Buddhist academic, an Anglican priest and the Director of the Women's Education and Research Centre in Colombo, who is Tamil. Their 'pilgrimage of peace' to Britain and Northern Ireland was organized by the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland.

The 'oral tradition' passed down through the generations within communities too easily becomes the 'enemy syndrome', said the Rev Duleep de Chickera. 'Self-criticism is the seed of growth,' he said. 'We need a new way of looking at the past-critical of our own and appreciative of the other's.'

What could that mean in Bosnia, Rwanda, the Middle East -- or, for that matter, in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland?
by For a Change