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When I'm not writing about my experiences in this journey called 'life', I'm singing and uploading my own interpretations of modern music. Click on "Cover Songs" to hear them, or on the YouTube logo on the right to see my YouTube channel.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Anti-Terror Traffic

In some countries, the steps taken towards countering the very real threat of terrorism is swift, sharp and decisive. By now we have gotten accustomed to being strip searched outside almost every hotel, national landmark and public toilet; even the tedious task of removing belts, shoes and nipple rings before boarding an airplane is met with a collective air of resignation (and in the case of nipple rings, the occasional yelp of pain).

Yes, the world in general has accepted the fact that someone out there wants to kill someone else; every morning we pray that ‘someone else’ isn’t us. And so we comply with almost any form of security measure the powers-that-be deign appropriate. All the authorities need to do is assign a rather large and serious looking man in uniform at their checkpoint, create the illusion that by entering their little cordoned-off area we immediately become ten times more likely to be struck by a stray air-to-surface missile, and we do whatever they tell us to.

In most cases, this is the best course of action. Surely the police and security people know what they’re dealing with; it’s their job for crying out loud! You just need to trust that they have everything under control and get on with your life.

Not so in Sri Lanka. Our track record when it comes to security is rather shaky at best. There have been numerous assassination attempts at various political figures over the years, ranging from local ministers to the president. Though this in itself is nothing unusual, the success rate of these attempts is alarming. The last time an assassination attempt was botched was when Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the president at the time lost only her eye instead of her life back in 1999. Yet, to consider the loss of an eye as a botched attempt is a frightening example of how successful these attempts usually are.

It isn’t hard to see why either; just the other day, the president had visited Kandy to stay in his hill capital residence. The police, who naturally are required to provide the highest form of security for the president, set into motion their tried and tested counter-terrorism tactics.

No parking in town.

Yes, this is their answer to the apparent threat to the president’s life; restrict parking inside the city to the single parking complex which is completely out of the way from anything of importance. I can just picture it now: two ‘terrorists’ in masks driving around town, bomb in the backseat, cursing the brilliance of the police as they struggle to find a parking spot for their mini cooper. “Curses! Foiled again!” they say in unison, and drive back to their secret lair to get their bicycles.

Our country has been involved in civil war for 25 years. For as long as I have been on this earth, we have been at war! Yet, despite all our years in the ‘business’, we seemed to have learned absolutely nothing, save for traffic diversions. Indeed, it seems our police department is extremely adept at this dark art, and continue in the fond belief that randomly interchanging the one way lanes in the capital will thwart the attempts of one of the most ruthless and well organised terrorist organisations in the world from entering the city for fear of getting lost. Meanwhile the average commuter is left to simmer in silence as entire routes are changed and basic traffic laws ignored in their frantic bid to appear busy.

Another common assumption by our beloved authorities is the fact that only buses and 80’s model vans are likely to carry suspected terrorists. At every checkpoint, it is a common sight to see 40 to 50 passengers of an intercity bus standing by the road as the police go through their belongings. Meanwhile, autos, cars and any other form of vehicle you care to name go speeding past. Surely terrorists can find alternate modes of transport, especially since these checkpoints are well known and advertised for the whole world to see! I’m sure our friends – the masked terrorists and their mini cooper – would go completely unnoticed by the cops, even if they were to carry a big ‘Wile E. Coyote’ style stick of dynamite strapped to the hood.

In short, it is hard to decide which side is more incompetent: the police, for using ludicrous methods like those mentioned above to ensure the security of the people, or the terrorists, for not having completely and totally crippled the country by now.

Or maybe I’m wrong, and right now, somewhere in the outskirts of Colombo, two masked men are watching their mini cooper being towed away by the police, as a large and serious man puts them in police custody for driving up the wrong way on a one way street.

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