Us and Them

Power has the tendency to generate some form of resentment. This resentment is further multiplied when those with power have lost the ability and wisdom to see its power from the perspective of those with relatively less power. The loss of such ability strips away the moral authority of the powerful and it widens the gap of understanding between the powerful and the powerless, which can so easily induce a situation of intense confrontation. Such confrontations go beyond the immediate grievance in question; it brings into public discourse broader issues of democratic accountability and natural justice.

The interplay between the pursuit for power with the struggle for natural rights is at the defining center of humanity and puts in place the ‘us’ and ‘them’ factor. It is only human that individuals and communities begin to identity and enclose themselves into either one of these categories in which the ‘us’ implies ‘we are innocent victims’ and ‘them’ represents ‘they are perpetrators.’ But as it so often happens, the ‘us’ fails to notice that they have also become perpetrators in the process; this however is noticed by the rest of the world. The Israeli incursion on Lebanon is an example of it.   

Confrontation between ‘us’ and ‘them’ are quite clearly defined in concrete terms when it concerns two separate distinct entities, as in the instance of Israel and Palestine. However, the ‘us’ and ‘them’ is very complicated and undefined when it involves issues of internal differences arising from within one entity, as in the case of the Catholic-Protestant issue in Irish society. The latter case is complex because it involves long standing interrelations and ties that have formed over time. Furthermore, while there may be contentious issues, their future as a people is tied together.

It is in the interest of the state to divide the people of a given context into the ‘us’ and ‘them’ factor, because it enables them to neutralize any form of existing resistance that may be gaining momentum against their rule. This was clearly revealed when Sri Lankan state agencies succeeded in fragmenting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2004 with Karuna, then a senior LTTE officer, breaking away to form a splinter group. Since his departure, the course of the Sri Lankan peace process changed and has currently returned to a war situation, though the ceasefire has not broken-off officially.

Considering that the dichotomy of a society into the ‘us’ and ‘them’ is detrimental to the unity in purpose and growth of the people, it would be essential for any people engaged in the struggle for their rights to remain vigilant against such designs perpetuated by the state. This is particularly true in the context of indigenous peoples. A crucial component in confronting this divisive element is for the people to engage in a perpetual process of dialogue. It is through honest sharing and active listening that the understanding between people increase. 

All contentious issues should be laid on the table for discussion with the space to disagree as well. This process of sharing views and opinions are important so that any decision concerning the fate of a people reflects the collective aspiration of all, and not just a chosen few. A society that is constantly engaged in an open process of internal dialogue is a strong society. It does not always mean people agreeing on everything, but at least they are talking, and the more they talk, the less there is room for them to be divided into ‘us’ and ‘them.’