I suspect I’m about to set a personal record for question marks used in an SM post.
As a South Asian-American and diasporic blog, SM has hosted numerous conversations about Sri Lanka and related communities. I’ve been involved in many of those conversations–first as a lurker, then as a commenter, and finally, as a writer, journalist, and blogger. No matter my role, it seems that the bigger the Internet gets, the scarier it is for people to talk about Sri Lankan/diasporic politics (or any polarized issue). Off- and online, as like finds like and people reinforce their own beliefs, entrenched polarization makes it hard to listen, hard to talk, hard to *stay *for the very real pain on multiple sides. Sometimes it’s easier to check out. And people do. But don’t we deserve better than that? Is it possible that there might be a little… nuance? What’s a person in the middle to do?
Well, here’s my attempt: I’m one of several individuals behind a new multi-ethnic Sri Lankan diaspora group called Lanka Solidarity.
We’re trying to ask and answer questions like: How can we expand the space for conversation about Sri Lankan and diasporic politics, and make it safer and more comfortable? How can we provide honest feedback for each other and hash out issues in good faith and with accountability, but without the misinformation and ad hominem or personal attacks that have come to characterize conversations about Sri Lanka, particularly in the diaspora? How can we pursue and promote reconciliation in the diaspora–in a way that shows solidarity with people in Sri Lanka? In what ways might we make a real difference on the ground in Sri Lanka?
I have several tidy answers for these questions. And if you believe that, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn that I’d like to sell you. Only 5 million rupees! No problem! Special price for you!
More seriously, I get asked–or have to ask myself–versions of these questions quite a lot. What is a safe space? Whose voices have been marginalized? What do I feel safe saying? Who has permission to dissent, and who made those rules? How are they enforced? What kind of information is out there–and what kind of information do I want to rely on? Which fricking way do I go to get out of the Fireswamp? These questions stink more and more as (as Elizabeth Kolbert quotes Cass Sunstein saying) “Views that would ordinarily dissolve, simply because of an absence of social support, can be found in large numbers on the Internet, even if they are understood to be exotic, indefensible, or bizarre in most communities.” Yes, the Internet (where so much debate is conducted) INVITES nutty, anonymous statements with no backup, and these statements appear so persistently that the most rational person on the face of the earth falls flat with exhaustion, sometimes without having ever made it to the even thornier issues.
But! The anonymity of the Internet also allows for people to voice opinions they’d be afraid to express otherwise. Web-based space has clear limitations, but it’s also a way to reach out. So we are going to GET UP AGAIN. Rocky-style! Up! At ‘em! Red Bull Gives You Wiiiiings! Okay, no. But it is sometimes easier to get up again if you know a bunch of other people are going to too.
From our mission statement:
“Lanka Solidarity formed in 2009 when a multi-ethnic group of individuals based in North America discovered a shared interest in understanding ground realities in Sri Lanka. Fueled by a desire to question exclusionary forms of politics, this group saw the need for an organized and safe space to discuss Sri Lanka’s past, present, and future.”
And we’re not just about the Interwebs. We also like real live interaction.
**Where: Science Club 1136 19th St. NW Washington, DC When: Tuesday, November 10 6-11 pm **
More than 200,000 people are still being detained in camps in the northern part of the country. We’ve chosen to support two local charities that are working in the camps. If you can’t come, you can donate to them directly. (A previous fundraiser in NYC raised $1,000+ for three groups.)
With the support of others interested in real, honest conversation and safe space to argue the issues, I can go out and try again. And again. And again. Maybe I’ll fail. But isn’t it better to try? And this, hopefully, is a starting point upon which we can all agree–a good, solid piece of common ground: The IDPs deserve help.
(The LS website is growing, and we’d welcome feedback and ideas from the Mutiny community!)