With all the violence and counter violence, taking place in Sri Lanka an uninformed bystander is hardly in a position to judge the case. Lasanta Wickramatunga’s letter published posthumously states the truth of the Sri Lankan situation, as he saw it. What he says is pretty much the standard critique of regimes caught up in the sorry spectacle of fighting terrorism on their soil; his absolutist defence of freedom, human rights, his mixing up of ethical concerns on issues related to war and peace, run counter to the global culture of common sense which insists that liberal democracies can not fight terror through a strict and legalistic adherence to the liberal values. But Lasantha’s words bear the stamp of a rare authenticity and sincerity; their truth is attested, by the extraordinary career of the man, who lived and died for what he stood for. He played his part with great conviction and élan. By courting his death the man himself towers so much
above the controversies that he created that it would be impertinence to quibble about them today.
The Letter From The Grave is bereft of any rhetoric. Stark in its simplicity, frugal and almost pared to the bone, it betrays no trace of emotion, there is no straining after effect, no dramatization of self pity, even though the occasion provided for memorable last lines. His account as to why even the President, who is his personal friend, would be compelled to connive at his death is stated in a deadpan tone of reportage and is almost sympathetic in its explanation of his motive and compulsions. Lasntha’s stoicism in face of the imminent death- the two abortive attempts on his life had left him in no doubt- and the quiet certitude and detachment with which he pursued his normal vocation, reminds us of Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, waiting for his assailants to come.
“Death will come to me when I am worthy,
And if I am worthy, there is no danger
I have therefore only to make perfect my will.”
T S ELIOT: MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL
Bravery in face of death is a rare attribute .The brave warrior who casts derision upon death is always chancing his courage and his combative skills against the opponent, where should he succeed, power and material gains are on offer. If not martyrdom and a pace in the hall of fame is always reserved. The jihadi terrorist courts death and thereby nullifies the strategy of counter terror. What kind of a threat do you hold out to some one who himself comes seeking it, in order to advance his goal of hatred and polarization of opinion .The Jihadi is no longer a conscious, rational, moral agent but an automaton who is controlled by his handlers. He seeks his reward in the hereafter. In both the cases there is something in wager. The one is pursuing power the other glory.
The friend of none other than the President himself, Lasantha certainly knew the rewards of conformism and the perils of independence. But he chose to wage a relentless campaign against the establishment, heeding to his call of “conscience” , because, “if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted.” Lasantha reminds us of the deep alienation from our own truths, because in a world concerned exclusively with power and advantage, our consciences have long since become equal shares, or at least a sleeping partner, in all our activities. The poignant urgency of the letter and its disturbing import, is on account of the fact that Lasantha makes it appear, as if renouncing a life of power and advantage is the easiest thing to do and dying in the defence of these cherished values is only normal human decency, thereby denying us the comforting thought, that heroic deeds are not for every one. His courage, commitment and public spiritedness have to be measured against the petty concerns for security and self preservation, the extraordinary passivity and indifference of many of us, in face of issues of urgent concern. It is the death of people like Lasantha that keeps the human enterprise going, sustains our belief in the values that we cherish, and renews our belief in the profession of journalism, as one of the most important, in an open society.