22 September, 2020

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A Brief Note On Inexcusable Writing: Mangalika De Silva In Social Text

By Pradeep Jeganathan

Dr. Pradeep Jeganathan

Dr. 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

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    Splitting hairs aren’t you really? “pre-modern” or not civilisation only dawned after modernising and humanitarian effort by the armed forces.

    The Tamil sociatal violence is directly connected to the caste system. From this point of view it is pre-modern as per de Silva’s essay.

  • 1
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    Pradeep forget Mangalika! No one takes Social Text seriously.. as for your being a public intellectual – that is a rather dubious proposition aint it?

  • 2
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    Pradeep,

    Your talk about what you did as her external supervisor shows that you did not deserve to be a supervisor in the first place. Did you expect her to be your slave because you were a supervisor? She must have room to grow and discard your kind of gabage.

  • 3
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    Get off your high horse, Jeganathan. While not holding a brief for Mangalika de Silva(who on earth is she by the way?), you sound terribly pretentious. No one cares for these squabbles. Its a waste of space.

    No wonder MR finds it to easy to run rings round these civil society types. They seem interested only in empty fights.

  • 2
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    Mr. Jeganathan,

    I have been very critical of the way Michael Roberts, Dayan Jayatilleka, Rajiva Wijesinha and Laksiri Fernando came to the defense of the Rajapaksa regime. Your writings in public were not as voluminous as theirs, but what I have read of your commentary makes me think Ms. de Silva is right about you, and you are simply nitpicking.

    ‘[Ms. de Silva] notes that they have an ideology of “minoritarian… disposability,” “opposi[ing]… transnational humanitarian discourse”(MDS:2), “Increasing tolerance of routinized extrajudicial violence”(MDS:2).’

    I have seen your comments elsewhere that the extrajudicial killings in Sri Lanka stopped after the war, thereby implying its use as a tool of counter-insurgency is fully acceptable. So Ms. de Silva’s characterization of you, as showing “increasing tolerance of routinized extrajudicial violence” is entirely accurate.

    Now we can add you to the list of public intellectuals who were complicit in SL war crimes and take appropriate action: Jayatilleka, Wijesinha, Roberts, Fernando, and Jeganathan.

    Maybe she deserved someone better than you as her external examiner.

    You once worked with Qadri Ismail. But what I have read of Ismail tells me that your views are very different. Why should Ms. de Silva now share your views?

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      Why should Ms. de Silva now share your views?

      ——————————
      Ms. de Silva neednt share his view, but it is wrong of her to show something else as his view.

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        Sach,

        She might have been a bit sloppy in her verbatim quotes, but her interpretation of what these people stand for is not wrong.

  • 1
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    It looks like the comments so far to this so called excuse are right on the mark and are wonderful testament to the contributions of the author so far. Perhaps sticking to cooking might do the trick!

    see for example Agnos’s views:

    I have been very critical of the way Michael Roberts, Dayan Jayatilleka, Rajiva Wijesinha and Laksiri Fernando came to the defense of the Rajapaksa regime. Your writings in public were not as voluminous as theirs, but what I have read of your commentary makes me think Ms. de Silva is right about you, and you are simply nitpicking. ‘[Ms. de Silva] notes that they have an ideology of “minoritarian… disposability,” “opposi[ing]… transnational humanitarian discourse”(MDS:2), “Increasing tolerance of routinized extrajudicial violence”(MDS:2).’ I have seen your comments elsewhere that the extrajudicial killings in Sri Lanka stopped after the war, thereby implying its use as a tool of counter-insurgency is fully acceptable. So Ms. de Silva’s characterization of you, as showing “increasing tolerance of routinized extrajudicial violence” is entirely accurate. Now we can add you to the list of public intellectuals who were complicit in SL war crimes and take appropriate action: Jayatilleka, Wijesinha, Roberts, Fernando, and Jeganathan. Maybe she deserved someone better than you as her external examiner. You once worked with Qadri Ismail. But what I have read of Ismail tells me that your views are very different. Why should Ms. de Silva now share your views?

  • 0
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    Did you not hold a candle for the regime at the height of their killing of Tamils? Were you not one of the academics who supported the regime?
    Why blame Mangalika for writing the truth?

  • 0
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    Pradeep J, Rajiv W and Thiyagarajah were [Edited out]

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    jeganathan, Why give yourself undue attention, because that “self” does not has a record not worth recalling in public. (I have be careful with my quotation because you may say that I am misquoting you.) If I were you, I would return to the good work work you used to do. What you have been doing in the recent decade or so has betrayed everything you claimed to have learned about politics.

  • 3
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    Dr. Jeganathan accuses Dr. de Silva of unethically inventing quotations of a single word or short phrase which he never wrote. However in the essay in question all attributive quotes are footnoted and none of the examples he gives are. All “illicit” quotations marks noted by Jeganathan are editorial and not attributions. Contrary to his criteria The Chicago Manuel of Style, 15th edition states “Quotation marks are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard, ironic, or other special sense …” Quotation marks are used in this way to distance the writer from the terminology in question so as not to be associated with it. Either single or double quotation marks can be used for the above purposes. What I do find unethical however is Jeganathan’s prominent listing of De Silva’s name in the headline as opposed to the title of essay he is contesting. Given the issues being discussed in the essay is he attempting to draw attention to the author’s name for those in Sri Lanka who compile lists of political proscription, which can have dire consequences? Further, has he not ethically violated rules or norms in releasing part of a verbatim discussion of a confidential university doctoral oral exam in a newspaper?

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