By Pradeep Jeganathan –
I write to correct, for the sake of the public record, serious, egregious misrepresentations of two public interventions – “ICES & I”, and “Sri Lanka’s Common Future,” that have appeared in print recently. In the course of an article published in scholarly journal [Social Text 117 • Vol. 31, No. 4 • Winter 2013 :1-24], ( read here ) which will be cited here after as MDS) Mangalika de Silva, “interrogates,” i.e. questions, “ideologies… advanced by three prominent Sri Lankan public intellectuals…”(MDS:2). I am one of the “three prominent Sri Lankan public intellectuals,” whose work she questions. The others are Professor Michael Roberts, a senior historian and anthropologist, whose major works, including the Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of a Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931, are scholarly classics and Dr. Dayan Jayatillake, the author, among other work, of Fidel’s Ethics of Violence a landmark of erudition, originality and passion. My response, however relates only to the comments about my work; I look forward to future interventions by Roberts and Dayan Jayatillake, if they choose in write in reply. Nor I am concerned all that very much with de Silva’s larger argument here, except to note that it doesn’t amount to very much at all.
On the one hand, de Silva makes blanket generalizations about all three authors she is questioning. For example, she notes that they have an ideology of “minoritarian… disposability,” “opposi[ing]… transnational humanitarian discourse”(MDS:2), “Increasing tolerance of routinized extrajudicial violence”(MDS:2). In another passage, de Silva claims that, “the complicit intelligentsia of the Sri Lankan war effort strove to humanize ethnocidal war crimes by casting Tamil victims as a historically stagnant, Orientalized, and roboticized rabble”(MDS:4). These are just a few examples of her generalizations. Focusing here, exclusively on my work, I underline that these are egregious and grotesque misrepresentations of the rather straightforward ideas in the two short, public interventions of mine that she cites.
On the other hand, in the section of her essay that is devoted to my work, de Silva’s misrepresentations move from the egregious to the downright false. Take for example this first example: “In response he [Jeganathan] proposed an affinity between the nation-state project and his version of radical democracy in accordance with the formula that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” thereby transplanting his anticolonial rhetoric and antifascist ethics into the encampment of counterinsurgency through Carl Schmitt” (MDS:15). I have not used the words appearing in quotation marks in de Silva’s text, ““the enemy of my enemy is my friend,”” in the two essays at hand. There is a very serious question here about de Silva’s quotation and citation practice that continues in this manner throughout the essay.
It is a simple ethical principle in any kind of writing, that text in quotation marks needs to be clearly sourced. More so if the passage is quoting the work of a particular author. So, in the passage from de Silva’s work quoted above, which begins, “Parallel to… was the analysis of anthropologist Pradeep Jeganathan…,” the implicit assumption is that the phrase, ““the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” is taken from my work. It is not. Needless to say, I do not recognize my work in the paraphrasing – I have not suggested anything about enmity and friendship in a political sense in the essays in question – but I am focusing here on what is false.
Four lines below this passage, de Silva writes, “…while acknowledging the relative “tolerance” of the Sri Lankan regime he…..”(MDS:15). The world tolerance, relative or otherwise is not used in the two essays in question. Again, it appears in quotation marks in a longer passage about my essays, in de Silva’s article. Again, de Silva’s general paraphrasing of my work is egregious – but I focus on what is patently false, the use of the word, “tolerance,” by de Silva as a quotation from my work.
In a later paragraph of the article, de Silva writes, “For Jeganathan, Tamils in the northeast were held hostage by the intolerance of a “pre-modern,” xenophobic, narrowing, minoritizing ideology, and thus their liberation by the armed forces was also a modernizing, humanitarian, and majoritarian achievement.”(MDS:16). Again, the word “pre-modern” is not used in the essays in question, even though it appears in quotation marks in her sentence. The quotation is false. Nor have I argued in those essays, that there was a liberation “of a pre-modern” Tamils, by a “modernizing, humanitarian” armed force.
There is little point served in re-phrasing here again what I once wrote. The reader, as I said before, is welcome to read and engage honestly and reasonably with what I’ve written, rather than make up quotations from my work. It is most unfortunate that a scholarly journal, which claims to a procedure of review (de Silva thanks three readers for their comments) – has allowed such blatantly false quotation and citing practices in print. It is worth recalling, however, that the journal in question, was caught in an academic ‘sting’ operation some years ago. It published at article, which was written as a fake – assuming it was indeed authentic. The Sokal affair would indeed have been funny, if it is didn’t call into question the publication practices of this journal. Surprisingly they don’t seem to have improved.
So to with de Silva. As one of the external scholars who examined de Silva’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Amsterdam, together with Professors Peter van der Veer, Peter Geschiere, and Annelies Moors, and spoke on behalf of her work – which I argued was improving – I should say now, with considered dismay, that I was wrong.
* Dr. Pradeep Jeganathan is a Consultant Social Anthropologist. For more info visit www.pjeganathan.org