I once had dinner with a man who was soon-to-be assassinated by political opponents. Mr. Gamini Dissanayake, a Sri Lankan Opposition Leader, was also a founding patron of the English-vocational school where I was a teacher, and he invited our school administrator, his wife, and all of us teachers to his house for dinner and conversation back in the spring of 1991.
I don’t recall many moments from that evening, but I remember feeling a sense of unease and burden while he talked about his political exile in the United Kingdom and the pressure to return home to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Though I recall a few lighthearted and relaxing moments, his heart and posture seemed heavy with the conflicting expectations and political maneuvering that he anticipated. At the very least, I’m sure he appreciated the solace in the company of those with a kindred hope for his nation.
I hadn’t thought much about that Colombo evening in 1991 until I was informed years later – October 24, 1994 to be exact – that he was assassinated by a suicide bomber. This bomber had allegiance to the minority people group warring for their independence in a nation the size of West Virginia. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with a rich history, and yet during the civil war, we were never far from the reminders of persistent conflict. Whether or not you agree or align with a particular ideology, the use of violence is often seen as the next logical tactic after polarization and animus take root. And for a time, we were aware of the target on our backs because of those who supported us.
I do not wish to speak into Mr. Dissanayake’s political history or frame my entire opinion on a single evening or subsequent reflections of my year in Sri Lanka. But I can respect a man who desired to move his nation forward and was willing to try and find common ground even with those who eventually took his life. I would not have had one of the most amazing years of my life were it not for his patronage and support of our school, and I feel I’ve been richly rewarded with a life perspective and world view that could come only through my experiences.
When I consider the current state of American politics and the recent pipe bomb threats, I’m often reminded of the state of politics in many developing nations. It’s sad and disgusting, yet unsurprising, to see how far we have fallen and to ponder how far we can still fall. I don’t have the answers for our current gridlock and polarization – but I am confident that violence is not and never will be the ultimate answer to whatever question is being asked. And yet the siren song of violence is difficult to resist, especially for those who follow an ideology that desires to win at all costs, no matter the amount of violence, dehumanization, or lies to achieve their end.
I believe there are eternal principles that transcend death. And that love wins in the end. When there will be no more enemies. Not even political ones.