In Hamburg in 1936, a German man called August Landmesser had the courage to say no. He had already been sentenced to jail time for marrying a Jewish woman, yet he stood in a crowd during celebrations to launch a ship and refused to raise arm to give the Nazi salute.
He stood up for what he believed was right, while so many of his countrymen followed the policies of their leader blindly or even worse, chose to look the other way. The silence of the majority of the people meant that 6 million Jews had their lives destroyed for no reason apart from being Jewish, for having their rights considered lower than the majority.
You would look back and think, how could something like that have happened? Did every German that lived during that time, think that killing their own countryman in the worst ways imaginable was a good thing? Or did they think that it was not their problem and look the other way?
The stories behind countries such as Sri Lanka, which are multi-ethnic and multi-racial are special. There is a rich history, of how culture and tradition of each community have intermingled: of how temples, kovils, mosque’s and churches have existed side by side for decades. You don’t have to be Sinhalese to enjoy milk rice, be Tamil to enjoy vadai, Christian to enjoy Christmas cake and Muslim to enjoy Biriyani…these are traditional food we wait impatiently for during the particular festivals.That little trait is what makes us Sri Lankan – that all religions and cultures add wealth and colour to our country.
Every citizen of this country has the right to live free and practice their faith in a way that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. We, as a country need to take the time to leave our little boxes and really understand and respect the culture of our neighbor. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
The moment we stop thinking conscientiously, the moment we stop communicating with each other and slowly start noticing our differences as opposed to the decades of culture and traditions that we have shared, that has made us richer as Sri Lankans, in every sense of the word, that is when people with ulterior motives use our ignorance against us.
One should “never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person is at stake... Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)
Remember that in the end, it doesn’t matter that terrible things happened. What matters is that the people who knew better, did not have the courage to say “No, not in my name.”
This column was written by a STITCH volunteer to find out more visit our website, www.stitchmovement.com