Our collective memory as a nation is said to be notoriously short. Perhaps, that is something we unconsciously developed by way of a survival tactic as part of the evolutionary process during the past three decades of brutal violence. But for our remarkable adeptness at putting things behind us in record time, we would not have been able to survive the scourge of terrorism. Our resilience may have resulted from our ability to forget tragic incidents as fast as they occurred. How many of us remember at least the years in which devastating bomb blasts and massacres were carried out by terrorists?
However defective our RAM (Random Access Memory) may be, as it were, atrocities we suffered are indelibly etched in our collective hard disc. And the erasure of those vital data is not so easy; only their retrieval is problematic because of the aforesaid chronic memory problem. Therefore, it would be a mistake if someone thinks he could play tricks on our memory and take us for a ride.
Deputy Leader of the UNP Karu Jayasuriya has said in Vavuniya, as we reported yesterday, that the UNP had no hand in the burning down of the Jaffna Library in 1981! In the same breath, he has claimed that the UNP's rivals wrongly blamed the J. R. Jayewardene administration for that dastardly arson attack for political reasons.
Does Karu think the people of this country are a bunch of suckers? If he could achieve the feat of convincing the discerning public, by any chance, that the Jaffna Library was not torched by UNP goons and some rogue elements in the police at the behest of the government leaders at that time, he would be able to dupe the world into believing that Nazis did not carry out the Holocaust or that the LTTE did not assassinate Rajiv! At this rate, the day may not be far off when Karu claims that the pogrom against Tamils in 1983 was not committed by criminal elements among the Sinhalese instigated by the then UNP government! He may also insist that the UNP had nothing to do with the prison massacre of 1983.
Karu is one of the few politicians who still command some respect and he unfortunately risks his reputation by undertaking to defend the indefensible and emulating detestable political dregs who utter blatant lies.
The destruction of the Jaffna Library was a crime that marked a turning point in the northern armed conflict and helped the terrorist groups operating at that time justify their terrorism against the State and civilians. It is obvious that the order for setting that majestic library ablaze came from someone in the JRJ government who ironically knew the value of books and how the Jaffna people treasured that icon of learning. Ordinary thugs trailing politicians do not target a library on their own as they always look for something to loot. Of what use are pearls for the swine? The attack on the Jaffna library was premeditated and evidently had the blessings of the UNP leadership.
Karu's naïve attempt at absolving the UNP of that dastardly crime has betrayed the fact that UNP leaders are desperately trying to overcome a sense of guilt in relating to the people of the North still reeling from the loss of precious books and Ola manuscripts that went up in flames at the hands of UNP politicians and their goon squads.
It was President Chandrika Kumaratunga who got the Jaffna Library rebuilt and re-equipped in 1996 after wresting control of Jaffna, though the loss it had suffered was irreparable. Did the UNP support her in that endeavour? If so, what was its contribution to the rebuilding of that great bibliotheca?
UNP leaders like Karu without blood on their hands should not expend time and energy and risk their credibility trying to disprove well established historical facts. Instead, they must make a confession of the crimes their party committed against the Tamil community including the destruction of the Jaffna Library. They ought to go before their party’s victims, beg for forgiveness and promise compensation.
As for the arson attack on the Jaffna library, the present-day UNP leaders may undertake to develop it further and donate at least one hundred thousand valuable books. Still, they won't be able to atone for their sin fully but owning up to it as well as essaying atonement is far better than being exposed for boru katha or lying and losing face.