Sri Lanka

After meaning to watch it for almost 9 months, I’ve finally watched Channel 4’s shocking investigative documentary: Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields.

I’ll be honest: my understanding of the conflict in Sri Lanka – and of the country as a whole, for that matter – was very limited beforehand. So I won’t pretend to be an expert after watching one documentary and doing a little speed-reading.

Watching it did, however, bring me to ask some very uncomfortable questions. How has the international community let this one slide? How did it allow tens of thousands of civilians to be caught up in a conflict not their own in the first place? How, and why? Why, why, why?

I’m not a cynic by nature. In fact, I’ve recognised for a while now that in many ways, I’m really quite naive about the world. I grew up with a vague idea that at the end of the day, there were enough good people in power to counterbalance all the bad ones, and make sure things turned out all right in the end. But gradually, I grew up. And I continue to grow up. And that process has involved recognising that most things in life come in shades of grey.

Simplicity is golden. It is a luxury, it can be elusive. Simplicity can be misleading. Crude simplifications of complex situations can justify extreme behaviour, if one side represents right, and the other, wrong. Simplicity breeds ignorance: a polarised view of the world.

Yet without simplification – a clear idea of right, wrong, good, bad – everything blurs and runs. Order becomes chaos, courage and conviction dissolve, morals seem pointless, and people lose hope. Alliances are formed and battles fought around the simple principle of good versus bad, despite the fact that there is always a history to any battle of alliance which tells a much hazier, more convoluted, story.

Now, all this is nothing new. But it’s a trail of philosophical thought that taps into everything we think, and everything we do. It’s easy to simplify, and it’s awkward to empathise. It’s harder still to draw the line between simplifying and oversimplifying, to know when to pass definitive judgement and when to empathise. I have always kept my convictions quite fluid, purely because the more that I learn, the more slippery those convictions become in my hands. History teaches so many sides to so many stories. Yet we also see simple cycles repeating themselves over and over.

The idea of simplicity is a fascinating paradox. We base our lives (and our religions) around simple principles, without which we’d be lost. That’s one of the reasons atheism is scary: it centres around the idea that there is a vast unknown that cannot and may never be explained. That there’s no point to life, beyond the little goals and milestones we set up in our own universes. But this is also quite liberating, isn’t it? That there are no real limits, and that we were all just lucky enough to evolve and survive? It’s scary, and brilliant. Just like life is simple, but complicated. Full of paradoxes.

…Anyway, that’s quite enough from me.