Sri Lanka’s recent economic collapse is one more case of extremist ideologies destroying nations and economies. On July 13, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was forced to flee Sri Lanka. Left in the wake of disastrous economic policies, Sri Lanka’s citizens now scramble to find bare necessities such as fuel, milk, and toilet paper.
The Rajapaksan ideology introduced an organic farming policy that dealt a death blow to the agricultural sector in Sri Lanka. This was nothing short of environmental extremism that ignores the needs of the poor and fails to seek a balanced approach in addressing environmental issues.
The global environmental lobby, which continuously predicts apocalyptic events, gave the Sri Lankan government five stars for the organic farming policy that killed a growing economy and decimated a thriving middle class. The same lobby cannot be found now when it comes to providing food for starving Sri Lankan families.
The United States is trapped in the same kind of environmental extremism with its intransigent policy on fossil fuels. Banning fossil fuel expansion within a nation of vast natural resources (and yet continuing to import fuel from other nations) is senseless and has severely undermined the U.S. economy, sending a ripple effect through the rest of the world.
It is clear to economists that the resistance to the invasion of Ukraine would not have the severe economic global impact it is having if the U.S. had been self-sufficient in its oil production. Environmental extremism has led to fuel prices climbing to unsustainable levels, and it has adversely affected the livelihood of millions around the world.
It is true that as humans, we are meant to steward our natural resources and exercise responsible concern for all of creation. While we acknowledge our failure in creation care, we must also acknowledge that the leaders of the environmental lobby are an elite few whose lifestyle is far removed from the world’s poor and needy. There is no equivalent plea to confront the wanton consumerist culture of the elite.
The environmental elitists’ resistance to an incremental approach is a blind and immoral position. They don’t suffer from or even understand the immediate consequences of their actions, nor are they challenging excessive materialism.
The U.S. needs to change to a sensible fuel policy immediately so that the supply of fuel can increase and the price of fuel around the world can come down. We are in for a long haul in resisting the Ukraine invasion. And no doubt, Russia and China will play this game as long as possible until the fuel crisis ruins major economies and weakens the resolve of the rest of the world.
Besides the organic farming policy, the Sri Lankan people also opened the door to political extremism by electing a so-called strong leader to strengthen its majoritarian identity. The Rajapaksas’ unbridled power led them to do what they thought best to stay and continue in power.
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently spoke about resisting the bad habit of giving “freebies,” instead of investing in long-term economic development. He may have been thinking of Sri Lanka when he sent this message to the chief ministers of Indian states who offer free electricity and other goodies to win elections. Populism does not make nations economically stable.
What’s more, the Rajapaksas’ use of a robust extremist and violent Buddhism ran counter to the peaceful teachings of Buddhism, and it pitted religions against one another. Democracies and dictatorships alike should know by now that violent force and subjugation of religion in any part of the world will never succeed. Religion is connected to the deepest regions of the human soul, and there is no physical force on Earth that can destroy human souls.
The faulty Rajapaksan ideology led to the massacre of the Tamils even after the Tamil extremists surrendered. To date, Sri Lanka’s leaders have not been held accountable for this genocide of a minority population.
To set aside the rule of law in dealing with violent extremists who challenge the integrity of a nation, and to allow for extraconstitutional processes, breaks up the social harmony that is critical to economic progress. When the only recourse to minority extremism is armed majoritarian extremism, there is no hope for democratic laws and processes.
The Sri Lankan people got more than they bargained for when they voted in a strong leader who would “take care” of them. Instead, their leaders led the nation into its current debt trap. They even almost sold a seaport to China.
Democracies need to rise to the aid of the Sri Lankan people so that they can find their feet and begin rebuilding. One hopes Sri Lanka and other nations learn that extremism of any kind does no good for its people.
Mature democracies, civil societies, incremental and responsible environmental policies, the protection of minorities, and accountability for those in power are the answers to the present leadership crisis we are facing in our complex world.
Joseph D’Souza is the archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India and the founder of the Dignity Freedom Network, an organization that supports and delivers humanitarian aid to the marginalized and outcastes of South Asia.