Us and Them: Sri Lanka’s first landmine on the road to peace…

Cartoon by Jeff MacNelly, Chicago Tribune

Cartoon by Jeff MacNelly, Chicago Tribune

In our troubled times, cartoonists often provide more than mere caricature and entertainment. War and peace are no laughing matters, and neither is the profound advice some cartoons offer us. As a product of our image-saturated, popular culture driven world, I derive part of my insights from cartoonist-philosophers whose economy of words is unbeatable.

I haven’t discovered exactly what provoked the American cartoonist Jeff MacNelly (1947 – 2000) to draw this brilliantly perceptive cartoon in May 1992. But the three-time Pulitzer prize winning editorial cartoonist of the Chicago Tribune (and creator of popular comic strip Shoe) has captured a sentiment that has characterised so many tensions and suspicions in his land and mine: us and them.

It’s at the root of so much conflict and grief, be it between Islam and the West, or Israel and Palestine, or Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka. Its entirely a matter of perception, largely a creation of our insecure and insular minds. Yet we argue, wage war and kill each other for the sake of this strong tribal perception.

In an op ed essay published on Sri Lankan citizen journalism website Groundviews today, titled Memories of War, Dreams of Peace, I asked:

“Can we as a nation finally stop glorifying the war and its weapons, and return to our cultural heritage of ahimsa? How do we turn the current opportunity for peace into something tangible and lasting, so that we don’t allow political violence and war ever again? Do we have what it takes to go beyond chest thumping and finger pointing, and begin to care and share? Would we eventually be able to liberate our minds from our deep-rooted tribalism that sees everything through the prism of us and them?”

Indeed, one of the first – and hardest – challenges as we try to unify Sri Lankans and rebuild our war-ravaged country is to get over this division.

Read the full essay: Memories of War, Dreams of Peace