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Ideology

Sri Lanka is firmly on the way to become a totalitarian state. It is uncanny the resemblance with the European experience of Nazism and Fascism. You have an intolerant nationalistic ideology, thugs violence at the service of a political party and an increasing suppression of press freedom. But the most creeping is the Divineguma Bill.

The other phenomena are to some extent easier to understand and to classify, especially for the masses. The Sinhalese supremacy is a characteristic of all the Sri Lankan parties, that wanted to drag people attention against an enemy. Rajapaksa administration is just the last comer.

Violence connected to political party is a sad feature of Sri Lankan politics and it has been used generously by all the electoral contenders. The will to silence press freedom is a poisoning attempt to eliminate political conscience from the intellectual landscape of the island and it is mostly directed to starve the most educated of feed for thoughts.

But the Divineguma represents a profound and deep modification of the state, with a subtle tendency towards a totalitarian form of governance.

In the first place the superficial appearance and name wave a populist target. In the name of lifting from poverty the poorest and weakest, it operate an implicit division in the social classes. The most vulnerable persons are led to believed that those who contest the president are opposing any progress in economic equality.

Any educated reader will easily understand the difference between the nominal campaign and the real target of the Divineguma Bill. But if you are struggling to put the bread on the table, the simple opposition to some pennies for your meagre meal will equal to the greedy reluctance of the super riches. Anybody against the Bill will appear as a champion of the interest of the fat cats.

The second totalitarian element is secrecy. Even in matter of security, any restriction of information to the public is a limitation of citizenship. In some cases of national interest it can be applied and it should always with extreme care. In a department of economic development this clause sound deviant. This is precisely a derangement of civil servants to become members and partners. When a body of the state become a private party, which benefit from the state protection and resources but it serves a private master, it is clear the path towards a totalitarian regime.

The question now is simple: can you really oppose within the system a political movement that is by far out of control of institutional check and balances of power? The majority of Italians and Germans didn’t radically oppose the extremist movement because they thought they could win them out in accordance with the rules of the system. But when a ruthless dictator grows too big to be controlled, then the rules are teethless. Would you consider an act of terrorism an open rebellion against Hitler or Mussolini? Many will say that Rajapaksa is not such a serious threat to Sri Lankan democracy. But when you are entitled to act? When are you permitted to defend legitimately your rights?

Three quarters of the citizens in Sri Lanka are Sinhalese and Buddhist. When the religion started to disappear in the sub-continent, on the island the devotees decided that they must protect this cultural heritage as the most venerated treasure.

Whilst it is definitely a mission of merit to safeguard cultural values, there is a threshold of common sense. And that is when you start to harm others only because of their diversity. This is the root of violence in Sri Lanka. In fact the Sinhalese majority, or better the elite of the aristocratic families, decided to portray the mere existence of diversity as a threat to their mission. So they developed this narrative of being encircled and surrounded by the other minorities, which is pure fiction.

Muslims, Hindus and Christians are too few to represent a demographic menace for the mainstream religion. And the same applies to languages. Nonetheless, even today it is quite popular the myth of preserving the cultural heritage by any means. That includes the extermination of the other cultural identities on the island.

Ruins of the ancient Atadage at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka.

Essentially the Sinhalese majority,convinced by the leading feudal-families which control the country, developed a syndrome of being besieged. The necessity to protect the soil, to impose a dominance of its own language and religion, became the obsession of being threatened. Of course 30 years of civil war didn’t help. In particular the LTTE cultivated a sense of revenge, that escalated the atrocities committed by both sides. The Sri Lankan state permitted that deranged members of its security forces perpetrated horrendous crimes against the Tamil civilians. They weren’t isolated case of insanity. The long tradition of communal riots driven by personal interests of local chieftains and of the usual families, when the state was openly

A boy in the attire of a demon, goes on a collection drive in Tamil Nadu, India.
Courtesy of Hindustantimes/Perumal Venkatesan

confronted by an organized army, retuned itself with random attacks against Tamil villages. In response to that, the LTTE sent killing missions to slaughter Sinhalese people living within or too close to the Tamil areas. Finally the LTTE attacked the Temple of the Tooth, the most sacred Buddhist place in Sri Lanka. The delirious of being encircled found an uncanny impersonation.

Though the Tamil presence has never challenged the Sinhalese presence in the South, the paranoid conviction of nurturing enemies at home, became reality. The Sri Lankan ideology is obsessed by protection and defence against its own disappearance. And extremely coherent with its Buddhist philosophy, the biggest enemy of the Sri Lankan state, is itself.

This a reply to  Why a Large Defence Budget is Highly Beneficial to the Nation” by Dilrook Kannagara

Here’s the original post.

 

The article itself is quite petty minded, but it is an important evidence of a mindset. The principles which inspired it, are a fundamental element of debate. It is impressive that Mr Kannagara has the guts to say them explicitly. The courage of course to speak without any spark of intelligence. Yet, his vision is a  a profound insight into the most deranged thoughts of a majoritarian, warmongering mindset.

Is he serious? No of course he is not. But he participates in the ideological mainstream which at the end drives the tragic destiny of Sri Lanka. So even these pathetic words, are actually responsible for the general climate of intolerance, violence and brutality.

I couldn’t resist to respond. 

The Singapore point: similar treat? What on earth has in common a city-State like Singapore with a country like Sri Lanka? If this is the argument then why not saying that Colombo has the same duty and responsibility of North Korea, so Sri Lanka could spend an entire 25% of its GDP. And why not trying to reach the military expenditure of the Soviet Union during Second World War?

The employment point: military expenditure to pay salary? Wouldn’t it be better to give those salaries to doctors and teachers, to improve the services for the citizens?

Handsome return point: maybe you are right and if you are, it is precisely because it was spent on an ongoing conflict, it could make sense. At that time. The argument against military expenditure now it is because that very conflict is over. 

Unvalued return: here you are definitely right: Sri Lanka is a regime, where people don’t feel free and in possess of their right. It is a country run by thugs and their arbitrary will. They wanted to kidnap the Secretary of Judiciary Commission in plain daylight. When there is a clash between executive and judiciary power. 

People are scared and want to flee. Only if you are part of the regime, you are happy and secure. So yes, the only place where loyalty is not in discussion is the army: this is a clear admission that Sri Lanka is an authoritarian State. Well done!

Sri Lankanisation of the North: that’s the most beautiful. Thanks, really because you say in plain words what is the secret mission: to occupy a territory and to destroy cultural identity. That was the reason for the armed struggle, that is the reason why unrest will always torment Sri Lanka. The problem is the military solution. Not the other way round. 

The Sri Lankan Government has a military mindset: it won a war, now it garrisons the peace. Simple as that.

The Sinhalese supremacist narrative told the story of a righteous war: the evil terrorists attacked the righteous Sri Lanka and the brave and peaceful (at the end of the day, aren’t they Buddhist?) Sinhalese were forced to react. 30 years of nightmare were a reaction to the insane plan of a mad leader and his followers. Indeed Prabhakaran was a bloody warrior, he had an obsessive idea and he committed atrocities. But this is only the reverse of what actually happened. The LTTE was a consequence, not the cause.

The ethnic Tamil,working in the plantations, were disenfranchised of the citizenship after independence.

After independence, the Tamils were systematically undermined in the legitimacy of their citizenship: cultural identity, historical heritage were a dangerous claim against the majority. The ideology of a Sinhalese state besieged and threatened in its existence by corrosive forces was the reason of the mandate for president Bandaranaike. The Sinhala Only Act, the decision to downgrade the Tamil culture, was taken on the basis that the simple fact of speaking Tamil is a menace for the entire Sinhalese culture. The Sinhala speaking, Buddhist majority at the time was around 66% of the popultion. The disfranchisement of Plantation Tamil (Tamil of more recent immigration from India: “only” 150 years), put the proportion at 75%. Three quarters of the island is culturally Sinhalese. Nonetheless any presence of difference, is considered a challenge to the majority. The Tamil has been indeed a very influential community. But you can see nowadays the animosity against the Muslim as a product,stemming from the same intolerance.

When in the ’70s the pressure to minimize the Tamil identity started to become unbearable, moderate elements of the Tamil society decided that it was a better idea to second the Sinhalese ideology: if you want a state that is completely Sinhalese, then you can have it. We well retreat to our land of origin, the Northern and Eastern Provinces and secede. Of course the Sinhalese extremists consider this an act of rebellion and used an iron fist to put the Tamils in their place. After that, came the LTTE, a violent, brutal and blind force of reaction against a racist repression.

Note that the decision of living separately and seconding the Sinhalese myth has been considered an act of rebellion. You are a good Tamil citizen if you give up language and culture and embrace the Sinhalisation.

Then it was war, a fight for survival driven crazy by decades of oppression and humiliation. It is ideological to call this conflict a war on terror, a legitimate act of policing against terrorism. It was a civil war, the eruption of ethnic tension provoked by the intransigence of Sinhalese supremacy. The end of the war brought the victory on the Sinhalese side and it is up the victors to write history. Now they can state that any dissent is aligned with the terrorist insurgency. The militarization in the Northern provinces is only the prosecution of the same Sinhalese supremacy: to repress diversity with violence.

The LTTE was a natural consequence of such oppression and the actual exercise of power is the same majoritarian force that caused the reaction. The roots of violence haven’t been eliminated with the annihilation of the LTTE. On the contrary they prosper with under the warmongering regime of Rajapaksa. Nobody but Sinhalese people. This is the brutal, effective message, after the Eelam War. No country for Tamils, no country for Muslims. That implies also: no country for free man (see Lasantha Wickrematunge).

Tamil refugee woman from Sri Lanka waits for news of her son.
Photo: Kate Geraghty

The Tamil community was left in a state of shock and despondency after the massacres of the IV Eelam War. Grief for the brutal murders but also for the defeat of their fight were and are the dominant thoughts of many amongst the diaspora. The big question is about the other side of the strait: everybody considers India the motherland, protector and guarantor of the rights of the Tamils. How could New Delhi abandon his sons? Surely there are divisions and frictions between the North and the South, but the idea that Indian eyes could watch such a carnage and remains impassive is almost unbearable.

The mistake from the Tamil side resides in considering themselves closer to India, just because Tamil Nadu is a part in the whole of the country. The central power in India has an imperialistic attitude towards its peripheral parts. From the far perspective of New Delhi, Sri Lanka is satellite of its dominion and Sinhalese are equally distant from the centre as the Tamils are. In the eyes of the rulers, a Sinhalese and a Tamil are subjects in the same measure.

In 2002 thousands of Muslims have been attacked in Gujarat. Death toll ranges in the hundreds.
PHOTO: AFP/FILE

Alongside the same mistake, the Tamils on the island invoke the protection for the minority. But India itself has more than one concern about the importance that you can give to the minority. The most direct correspondence is with the Muslims. They are integral part of the day to day life and yet their feeling and condition is ideologically separated by the main stream of the Hindus. The presence of the arch-enemy Pakistan as a guarantor of the rights of the Muslims, plays, under some respects, a similar role of Tamil Nadu for Sri Lanka: a sanctuary, a stronghold but also an avenger and an accomplices.

Pakistan’s politicians don’t officially back violence and destabilization in India, but only a naïve could think that behind many episodes of terrorism, you won’t find the long arm of IRS. Though many politicians in Tamil Nadu openly supported the underground operations of the Tigers.

Gujarat Riots against the Muslims 2002

How could New Delhi endorse publicly such intrusive behaviour in Sri Lanka, when is victim of the same tactics?

Moreover the Indian sentiment towards the Muslims is probably closer to the Sinhalese rather than the Tamils: a barely tolerated presence, proxies of destabilization and intimately stranger to the mainstream of the state. It is indicative the case of Narendra Modi, the charismatic Chief Minister of Gujarat and one of the leader of the right-wing, nationalistic BJP. His popularity is growing, he is a modernizer, he could be the man to lead finally India along a glorious path. The only issue is that this glorious path is clearly Hindu.

Sri Lanka riots against the Tamils, 1983

The rational follows this line: divisions in the country are slowing down the progress of the nation; to achieve a full, modern development, India must regroup. Implicitly, excluding the Muslims. In 2002 communal riots against the Islamic community, provoked hundrends of deaths1.

The issue is still controversial, propaganda both pro and against made all the picture just more complicated. The role of BJP members is not clear in details, let alone the one of Narendra Modi2. But the moral responsibilities of the carnage should be taken in to account regardless of criminal liabilities. Mr Modi speaks of modernization and development, but communal riots and massacres of members of the minority, hardly fit with a progressive society, based on education and merit.

I’m reluctant to be more drastic, because the future balance of power looks quite opaque to me. I’m not sure that dirigistic, authoritarian regime could not be the normal governance of future development. Maybe human rights, tolerance and inclusion are relics of the collapsing Western societies. On thing is sure: if you are a minority, don’t look at India for protection.

Chhattisgarh Police with Lathi. Adivasis community lament abuses from police and officers in Chhattisgarh.
courtesy Reuters

The LTTE was a formidable war machine. For almost 30 years it challenged the Sri Lankan army and in many occasions, it won. Prabhakaran left the peace talks also because he thought he could win on the field his own dependency. But now they are gone, both Prabhakaran and his invincible army. The Sri Lankan government is understandably concerned of a future threat, so it keeps the Northern under a tight military control. But this is just half of the story.

True, Colombo needs to keep an eye on the Tamil nationalism, but the belligerence of the movement is alive especially in the hearts of the diaspora. The Tamils in Sri Lanka are tired: most of all of violence. But also of empty proclaim. Even the last LTTE faced not small difficulties in recruiting new cadres. They had to enforce conscription. This led to a simple fact: maybe Colombo is far from winning the hearts and minds of the Tamils, but a new, military organization, ready to destabilize the country, is not in sight.

courtesy JDSrilanka

President Rajapaksa has two other, different reasons to maintain the militarization in the North. One is logistics: he needs to find a place for his army. The huge Sri Lankan army, with all its ramification, is a fantastic employer. But it’s better to keep the soldiers far from the capital. During the Roman Republic, a law imposed that no army could come closer than the Rubicon. Mr Rajapaksa don’t really fear any military man: his brother, Gotabaya, is firmly in control of the military side. General Fonseka could have represented a menace. In the past. Nothwistanding, it’s better to keep some of the boys far away. And the Northern and Eastern provinces are the ideal place.

 But there is a second, more important reason. The IV Eelam war hasn’t been an anti-terrorism operation: an entire people was under the oppression of the majoritarian extremists and it rebelled against them. But it’s fundamental to underline a fact: before the fall of the LTTE, the Sri Lankan state was never entitled to keep that land. Surely, after the independence, it nominally received sovereignty over the whole island. But the North and the East are Tamil. Or at least they are as Tamil as the South is Sinhalese (the concept of minority is outside the Ceylonese horizon and it will stay there for a while). As soon as the Tamil nationalism gained conscience of its means, it overthrown the state presence with ease. The LTTE was a remarkable war machine and Prabhakaran an exceptional war leader. But their success resides in the first place in the real balance of forces: that the North was Tamil. And it has been since a good millennium at least (century more, century less).

Therefore when the Sri Lankan army crushed the LTTE, it was actually enforcing a military conquest., rather than re-establishing the rule of law and the lost sovereignty of the state. This entails that the military presence in the North doesn’t look like an occupation: it is one. The issue is not military: no young Tamil has really the will to start a war. They prefer to risk their life on a boat to Australia. The army doesn’t have to rein a rival force. It just need to re-affirm itself. also the reason of the land grabbing in the area: the army is confiscating land. Pure and simple loot.

The mere presence is required to affirm the Sinhalisation of the North. Sinhala boots have to walk in the North to fix the conquest.

Muslim in Sri Lanka are quite a distinct case. Unlike Tamils and Sinhalese, they never made any claim of sovereignty in the island. But they found themselves harshly hit by the civil war. They suffered ethnic cleansing in the Northern Provinces by the LTTE and complete oblivion by the Sri Lankan government as refugees.

About 100,000 Muslim Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) for the past 20 years have lived in refugee camps in Puttalam District and neighbouring areas. Tamil Tigers had expelled them.courtesy asianews.it

In Puttalam more than 100 000 people have been forgotten in refugee camps for 20 years. As recent as in 2009 the UNCHR (the United Nations agency for refugees), in partnership with Brandix Lanka were still struggling to deliver basic needs, like water and sanitation to them.

The Muslim in the Northern Provinces were Tamil speakers and lived in the region since hundreds of years. Their presence in modern times is old as the ones of Tamil or Sinhalese; yet they were considered stranger by the LTTE, on the main ground that they weren’t ‘real’ Tamils. If it was necessary, an evidence more of LTTE’s lack of democratic and inclusive conscience.

On the other side as well, Colombo showed its absolute disinterest for any other ethnic group outside the Sinhalese. During the IV Eelam War, Muslims parties have orbited around president Rajapaksa, on the ground that as a minority, it was better to cooperate rather than contest the majoritarian force of the central government. In the present coalition of government, Sri Lankan Muslims are present as ministers, but this compromise seems shor-lived.

The supremacist Sinhalese sentiment is growing stronger also against the Muslims. In April, radical Buddhists have tried to demolish the mosque of Dambulla. They fire-stormed the mosque and they threatened 70 others buildings of cult.

The monks involved in the protest claimed that they are just protecting Buddhism from encroachment, but everyone knows that all the other religions on the island are quite low-profile and don’t dare to contest the dominant position of the Buddhism. The minorities only try to survive in a climate of mistrust and oppression.

It is significative that the government is placidly turning its eyes somewhere else, when these cases of hatred and violence erupt. In a state where authoritarian rule is based on the iron-fist of the army, you may wonder how episodes of anarchy can take place. The reason is always the same: from the communal riots of ’58 and ’83, the government is implicitly backing up the racist-driven unrest.

All the the rhetoric of the Sri Lankan state is dedicated towards a unitarian entity, but in any possible occasion it is remarked that unity Sri Lanka is Sinhalese and Buddhist. Consequently all the other minorities should consider themselves as barely tolerated.

The reality in the island is an intense hatred of the minorities by the majority. Sometimes this underground sentiment surfaces and explodes in violence. But the government is far from trying to reign it. On the contrary it deliberately let the steam off as a measure of control and threaten of the minority.

The LTTE was responsible for heinous crime, but the war was not anti-terrorism. The Tigers desperately tried to resist a force of discrimination and oppression, a violent force with the secret intent of eliminating and wiping out all the outsiders of the Sinhalese mainstream.

Until Sri Lanka will come to terms of the diversity within itself, an underlying resentment of the other minorities will be kept alive for further challenges of this unjust authority.