17 October, 2021

Blog

Arguing With Racists

By Charles Ponnuthurai Sarvan

Dr. Charles Sarvan

Epigraph: “Unhappy the land that has no heroes.” “No, unhappy the land that needs heroes.”~  (Brecht)

Preface. St Augustine said he thinks he knows what time is but if someone were to ask him “What is time?”, he would find it difficult to answer. So it seems with the word “race”. We think we know its meaning and use the term with casual confidence. In literary theory, the Russian Formalists drew attention to the fact that language is the medium of literature, and one of the devices of literature was (through unusual use and collocation) to make strange the familiar and, therefore, draw attention. The terms “race” and “racism” need to be estranged and looked at because of their semantic shifts.

The attempt here is not to provide answers but to share some perspectives on race and racism: different perspectives at the expense of rigorous cohesion for which I apologise. I also admit I have filched bits and pieces from my earlier articles. Though set in motion by ‘How to Argue with a Racist’ by Adam Rutherford, someone who has “studied genetics all his adult life”, it’s not about Rutherford’s book. In passing, I wish Rutherford’s title had been, ‘How to discuss race with racists’. By “argue” it is implied that one side is utterly convinced of its position and seeks to defeat the others who are equally convinced of theirs. But to silence a person in argument doesn’t necessarily mean s/he has been convinced. Besides, as Darwin wrote, ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. May I say that by nature I dislike argument as much as I welcome frank discussion. Argument generates the heat of emotion but often not the light of understanding: argument, as one dictionary has it, means “the expression of opposite views, typically in a heated manner”. Argument can descend to, and end in, vulgar name-calling. The starting point for Socrates was that he didn’t know. This was not the doubt of a Hamlet leading to paralysis but an active questioning, probing, self-examination. Beginning in the late 1950s in what I had thought of as home (Ceylon), race and racism are not abstractions to me. What follows is about race in general though being written for a Sri Lankan readership, it draws on the Island. End of Preface.

The signifier “unicorn” refers to a non-existent animal. Similarly, the term “race” seems to be a signifier without a signified in the real world. But we are loose in our use of language. We speak of colonialism and colonies in instances where it was imperialism and imperial territories: Ceylon was not colonised, nor India.  We perpetuate the mistake of Columbus by speaking of “Indians”, rather than of “Native Americans”. We say “Happy birthday” rather than, more precisely, “Happy birth-anniversary”. We talk of “black” (non-white) people, and sometimes of “the white race”. In reality, there are neither “white” nor “black” people. The paper on which we write or type is white but not the people classified as “white”. Fielding suggested “pinko-grey” instead of white, while Boakye offers “pinkish beige”: see bibliography below. But the dominant West has chosen “white” (associated with cleanliness and purity) and the rest of the world has followed suit through docility or simple laziness. Similarly, there are no black people but shades of brown. But we have a penchant for sharp dichotomy: the guilty and the innocent, good and bad; black and white; 14 million Jews and the rest of the world of almost 8 billion gentiles etc. Shades in between, nuance and complexity are mentally taxing and troubling. “The first problem with being black is that it is literally not accurate.” No matter how dark my skin is, it is not black in hue (Boakye). But ‘Brown’ and ‘pinkish beige’ are not as neat and effective as ‘black’ and ‘white’. The connotations of black are almost invariably negative except, as Boakye notes when, with reference to expenditure and income, one speaks of being financially “in the black”. (Note: the opposite of black in this context is not white but red: to be “in the red”.) I recall that in Sinhala a word of endearment was “Sudhu”, applied even to someone dark-skinned: if I’m not mistaken, the term means “fair”. If someone felt ignored, he would teasingly ask: “Api kalu the?” “Are we black?” Implying, “Is that why you don’t treat me better?” Again, whether the expression has current currency, I don’t know. But Olive-skinned Romans looked down upon people we now consider white, and enslaved them. “In Australia I met many people that to me looked white and yet they swore they were blackfellas – as Aboriginal people often call themselves – and the intensity with which they spoke about their blackness let me know that they really had lived blackness in the harshest sense Australia could possibly muster. How could this occur that people that literally have a ‘white’ complexion (but Aboriginal features) came to be seen as black?” (Akala). Sri Lankan Christopher Rezel, writer and journalist now ensconced in Australia, commented in an email message to me: “being a 100% white Aboriginal makes no difference. First and foremost you are Aboriginal, irrespective of skin colour.” To the chagrin of those Sinhalese who cherish a belief they are Aryans, extreme white right-wing groups will reject them unceremoniously because “Aryan” means “white” to them. (The Nazis narrowed the term Aryan, and even excluded Russians and East Europeans who are very much ‘white’.) Often in the Western press, particularly in the USA and UK, “race” means a non-white skin-pigmentation. In an article written many years ago, titled ‘The term Racism and Discourse’, I suggested, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that a certain kind of racism be more accurately termed not “racism” but “Colourism”. For an instance of Asian “colourism” against Asians, see the personal and painful experience of Martin Jacques whose Indian-Malaysian wife died of neglect in a Chinese hospital in Hong Kong. (It’s argued that prior to the 1600s and the enslavement of Africans, white people saw themselves as belonging to a country rather than to a ‘race’. In simple terms, the enslaved were not Christian and, therefore, could be held in life-long servitude but as the slaves became Christian, another justification was needed, and it was found in whiteness. See, among others, Robert Baird, ‘The Invention of Whiteness’; also the essay by W E B Du Bois, 1868-1963, titled ‘The Souls of White Folk’.)

Though Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty idiosyncratically claimed: “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean”, language is conventional rather than individual. So though I am careful to distinguish between colonialism and imperialism; though I refer to the autochthonous as “Native Americans” and not as “Indians”, I find myself writing about “black” and “white people”, sometimes with the added cautionary but clumsy phrase, “so called”: so-called white people. Another expedient is the phrase, “people of colour”, though not its opposite: colourless people.

Those who believe in race are unable to agree on the number of races presently existing: Rutherford estimates they range from just one (the human race) to about seventy. Shlomo Sand (2010. See, Sarvan, ‘Groundviews’, 07 March 2013) states that there is no biological basis for Jewishness, and that belief in a Jewish race is nothing but “racist pseudoscience”. Race is a social myth and not a scientific fact but “Zionist pedagogy produced generations who believed wholeheartedly in the ethnic uniqueness of their nation”. Shlomo Sand is Professor of History at Tel Aviv University and this book was first written in Hebrew for a Jewish readership. It’s as if a Sinhalese teaching at a Sri Lankan university were to publish a book – not in English but in the Sinhala language – questioning the fundamental assumptions of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. (Professor Sand observes that in Sri Lanka identity contains a very distinctive blend of ethno-nationalism with traditional religion where religion becomes an instrument serving political ends: pages 285-6).  Permitting myself a digression, the popular (and legitimising) Sinhalese Buddhist belief is that they (like the Jews) are a chosen race because they and the Island were chosen by the Buddha and tasked with preserving Buddhism in its pristine purity. How this “purity” finds expression is debateable. The title of Professor Sand’s book (see bibliography below) is deliberately ambiguous: Jewishness is not natural and real but is an artificial invention. Another work by Professor Sand has the provocative title, ‘How I Stopped Being a Jew’. (Perhaps, the title should have been ‘Why I stopped being a Jew’.) Opposition to Zionist policy and practice, particularly against the Palestinians, is deliberately and incorrectly met as being racism, more precisely, as anti-Semitism. But there is no Semitic race (Sand). What prevails is but ethno-religious nationalism. Israel today is made ugly by “brutal racism” and a crying failure to take others into consideration (Sand, p. 76). Israel defines itself as a Jewish state but is unable to define who a Jew is: there is no Jewish DNA (Sand, 79).Professor Sand asserts that he can’t be free unless others are also free. “My own place is among those who try to discern and root out, or at least reduce, the excessive injustices of the here-and-now”.

Belief in race is troglodyte. All human beings “are of one and the same blood” (Karen and Barbara Fields). Genetically, women are far more different to men than black men are to white men (Rutherford). Individuals often share more genes with members of other races than with members of their own race, and so we should speak not of race but of “population groups” (Gavin Evans). But language being the invention and tool of human beings, I fear “population groups” will soon grow the negative connotative barnacles “race” has acquired at present.

Yet another synonym suggested for discredited ‘race’ is ‘ethnicity’. However, the latter term can testify to the resilience and mutability of racism, and the disguises it can adopt. Ethnicity is an aspect of relations between groups where at least one party sees itself as being culturally distinctive, if not unique. This sense of difference influences the perception and treatment of others. Though there are similarities and differences, the former are glossed over, and much made of difference. However, the boundary delimited by one cultural criterion – system of government, language, religion, social customs and practices – does not coincide with those established by other criteria. In short, “ethnicity” may be a Trojan horse bringing back disgraced racism. Ethnicity is a term to be used after careful thought. The term culture can now denote something essential, now something acquired; now something bounded, now something without boundaries; now something experienced, now something ascribed. Race as culture is only biological race in polite language. “Language is the source of misunderstandings” (Saint-Exupery) but language can also disguise and deceive. Finally, as with other terms bandied about, it’s a matter of defining terms and clarifying concepts. Take for example, the word “peace”: Is it peace for the conquerors only? Is peace merely the negative absence of overt war or the positive presence of harmony for all citizens which, in turn, is the product of elements such as justice and a sense of security? (Justice cannot be equated with Law because there can be unjust, discriminatory, laws.)

As with ethnicity, so it is with nationalism. It has been said that a patriot is one who loves his own while a nationalist hates all others. ‘Nationalist’ can be but a euphemism for ‘racist’: some nationalists claim that their group, and only their group, constitutes the true, real and authentic, nation. Racists reject a nationality based on law and legal status. Some Sri Lankans living abroad claim, often receive and enjoy, this nationality but vehemently and violently deny it to other groups in the country of their origin: there, they affirm, nationality is based on ‘race’. 

As I have written elsewhere, though race does not exist, racism certainly does – and flourishes. Race is not the father of racism but its child (Ta-Nehisi Coates): it is racists, those who are race-minded, who think and react in terms of race. Racists create race. In Flannery O’Connor’s short story, ‘The Artificial Nigger’, a man asks his little grandson “What was that?” The innocent boy gives several wrong answers such as a man, a fat man, an old man until the grandfather educates him with, “That was a nigger”.  As Professor Amy Chua notes, the majority projects itself as the norm; others are deviations and subordinate. African Americans are not allowed to feel American in the same way that many white Americans take for granted. “Sri Lanka” means for many “Sinhalese Buddhist”, and secondly Sinhalese Christians. Tamils, Muslims and others are beyond the including border. (The Buddhist scholar, Dr. K. S. Palihakkara, using figurative language, sadly noted: Soon after the death of the Enlightened One, the beautiful clearing he had made was overrun by the surrounding jungle, and now “almost all Buddhists practise more of Hinduism than Buddhism: page 109. If this is so, it obviates the question whether there are Sinhalese Hindus: Buddhists are also Hindu. After all, according to the ‘Mahavamsa’, the dying Buddha prayed to the Hindu god, Vishnu, to protect Vijaya and his followers who were bringing Buddhism to Lanka.) Some Tamils claim that only Tamil Hindus are “real” Tamils. (If, according to Dr Palihakkara, Buddhists believe in and practise much of Hinduism, then Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole, ever an individual and an iconoclast, argues that most Tamils were once Buddhists.)

Racism can strengthen the racial consciousness of a minority. Identity isn’t  single and simple but multiple and complex but racism and ‘colourism’ focus on just one aspect, be it ‘race’ or skin-colour. I quote from an earlier article of mine: “The so-called assimilated Jews of Germany felt their Jewishness was accidental rather than important, much less essential. Several fought and died for Germany in the First World War: ironically, Hugo Gutmann, the senior officer who recommended Hitler for  the Iron Cross, was Jewish. Soon Hitler and the Nazis made it brutally clear that the Jews were Jews and not German. One thinks of the early decades of the 20th century and those Tamils who worked ardently for (what was then) Ceylon’s independence. The following is slightly edited from my ‘Public Writings on Sri Lanka’, Volume 2.

There was a time when most, if not all in the Island, irrespective of language and religion, equally took a measure of pride and encouragement from ancient achievement, temple and lake; an equal measure of happiness in being “Ceylonese”; a time when Tamils described themselves as Ceylonese and not (as some Tamils tend to do now) as “Sri Lankan Tamil”.  When in 1915, D. S. Senanayake (later the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon) and his brother, F. R. Senanayake were jailed by the British authorities, Tamil Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan went to England to plead their case. On his successful return, jubilant crowds placed him in a carriage, detached the horses, and dragged the carriage themselves. He was not seen as a Tamil who had helped free a Sinhalese, but as a Ceylonese helping a fellow Ceylonese… In 1925-6, when Bandaranaike, as leader of the Progressive National Party, set out the case for a federal political structure for Sri Lanka, he received no support for it from the Tamils (K M De Silva). Even after the trauma of Standardisation (“racial” quota) in relation to University admission beginning in 1971, and the Draft Constitution of 1972, the All Ceylon Tamil Conference declared, “Our children and our children’s children should be able to say, with one voice, Lanka is our great motherland, and we are one people from shore to shore. We speak two noble languages, but with one voice” (Nesiah, p. 14). In 1952, the Kankesuntharai parliamentary seat was contested by Chelvanayakam, as a member of the Federal Party. He was comfortably defeated by a U.N.P. candidate.”

Racism is a virulent force, more powerful than religion or class solidarity. I cite from an earlier article of mine: “Nelson Mandela observed that ‘race’ and colour generate far stronger and virulent emotion than class solidarity. History shows us that the powerful tide of racism can sweep away class solidarity; indeed, in the name of race, people are willing to damage even their material welfare. I know individuals who were socialists but later in life proudly succumbed to racism. Even those who have chosen to live outside the Island, while asking for and enjoying equality in their new home, nourish racism in the Island. The Bible (Acts, 9:4) tells us that cruel and persecutory Saul changed dramatically, and has come down in Christian history as Saint Paul. But in politics, it’s a case of Pauls becoming Sauls, racist and corrupt. Life is corrupting.”

As it has been observed, the trampling of the rights of others is often justified by a proclaimed sense of victimhood and vulnerability: “We are victims.” “We were cheated and robbed.” “We attempt only to balance the scales of justice.” “Our identity and survival are in danger.” The last is said even by an overwhelming majority in full control of the state and its apparatus. The struggle for equality by a minority group is deliberately miscast as an attempt at domination, and brutally suppressed. (As History shows, fear, whether imagined or real, can breed cruelty.) George Floyd, an African American, was murdered in May 2020 by a white police officer. The officer was found guilty of murder in April 2021 and is due to be sentenced. Mr Floyd’s dying words, “I can’t breathe”, have resonated widely. His first-person singular “I” can be pluralised by oppressed minority groups who gasp: We can’t breathe freely!

Inter-racial social and personal friendships do not alter fundamentals, though they are touted as evidence of the speaker being above racism. As Henry Thoreau (1817-1862) reflects in his essay, ‘On Civil Disobedience’, it doesn’t help if you are against injustice but do nothing at all about it. (Among others, Thoreau influenced Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.) Perhaps, the ruling elite in Sri Lanka, including military officers, have Tamil associates, if not friends: “I have a Tamil friend, therefore I am not a racist.”

Racism is not only stronger than class solidarity but also more powerful than religious affiliation: white Christians in the USA joined their fellow whites in enslaving or lynching black Christians.  (If I am not mistaken, primarily Sinhalese Christians do not identify with Tamil Christians but with Sinhalese Buddhists.) A sacred text in one hand can do more harm than the knife or burning torch in the other hand. In fact, as Graham Fuller and others have shown, religion has often willingly lent itself to political and racist projects. Those capable of injustice and cruelty be they (in alphabetical order) Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews or Muslims transform those evils not only into the unavoidable but into the noble and, most importantly, the holy: sacred, therefore obligatory. Golda Meir asserted that Israel was brought into existence in order to fulfil God’s wish and promise. Similarly, “the Buddha chose the Island and us. Therefore, we have to choice but to dominate.” Rather on the lines of “Blame me on History”, we have “Blame me on the Divine”.

For Sri Lankan readers, the contradictions inherent in racism are illustrated by Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933).The Buddhism he carried to India and to the West was a world religion, a lofty and noble Buddhism which was not sectarian but broad and inclusive. But within Lanka, Dharmapala’s Buddhism was ‘racist’, narrow and political. (Compare those Sri Lankans living abroad who embrace multinationalism and multiculturalism but vehemently deny it to others back on the Island.) As Patrick Grant writes, Dharmapala lauded Buddhist tolerance and inclusion but believed in Sinhalese hegemony. He preached that Buddhism was universal, breaking down boundaries and hierarchies of race, colour, caste, kinship but promoted a racist Sinhalese-Buddhist fundamentalism, one which even excluded Sinhalese Christians: the true Sinhalese was a Buddhist. He urged young Sinhalese, following the Western example, to be scientific but credited the myth of the ‘Mahavamsa’ with literal truth (Grant). Evidently, the Anagarika was not troubled by cognitive dissonance. One of the factors leading to his break with Henry Olcott was that the latter rationally could not believe in relics while Dharmapala venerated them. Having viewed the Buddha’s tooth at Kandy, Olcott thought it was not that of a human being but was the incisor of an animal. However, Helena Blavatsky explained that it was, of course, the Buddha’s tooth because in one of his previous lives the Buddha was incarnated as a tiger:  Steven Kemper, p. 82.  (When I expressed surprise that the actual tooth had been exposed to Olcott, Professor Kemper, in a message to me dated 20 April 2017 wrote: “An exception was not made for Olcott to view the relic.  A steady stream of British officials, including the Prince of Wales, had a chance to view the relic — both before and after Olcott’s visit. .The relic was once shown to a visiting Australian cricket team, I believe. The Kandyans’ animus was not so much the presumed Christianity of these foreign visitors to the Dalada Maligawa, but the treatment of the relic as a curiosity, as opposed to an object of veneration.”)

As I have written elsewhere, the “dreams” of some can become terrible and tragic “nightmares” to others. The Anagarika was an irredentist, an irredentist who wanted to recover a paradise that had never existed. In his “dream”, Lanka under King Dutugemmunu was a paradise: “temples, tanks, parks, gardens, public baths, resting houses for man and beast, hospitals – also for man and beast – free almonries, schools, colleges for Bhikkhus and nuns, gymnasiums, public baths. The Sinhalese people lived a joyously cheerful life in those bygone times…the streets were crowded day and night by throngs of pilgrims…The atmosphere was saturated with the fragrance of sweet-smelling flowers and delicate perfumes (Dharmapala, p. 324). There were “no slaughter houses, no pawnshops, no brothels, no prisons and law Courts and no arrack taverns and opium dens” (Dharmapala, p. 325).

Professor Daniel Goldhagen who taught Political Science at the University of Harvard sees racism leading to something much worse than war: eliminationism. Eliminationism is racism at its very worst: given the book’s relevance to the subject of racism, I quote at length from it. By this key term, the Goldhagen means the transformation, repression, expulsion or extermination of a group. Such a policy is implemented “only when the perpetrators are confident of success, owing to the overwhelming superior force they can unleash against defenceless people” who, though they are fellow countrymen, are seen as foreigners and inferior (page 361). The enemy is pursued and killed with veritable “glee” (pages 356 & 7). “They routinely talk to them, taunt them, conveying to them their belief in their deeds’ rightness and justice, and their joy in performing them” (page 170).

Multiple acts of savagery not only precede and accompany but occur after the death of the victims (160). Bodies are stripped naked, mutilated and displayed to men, women and even children. The perpetrators express joy, gloat and boast. “They mock the victims and celebrate their death” (180). Not only dead bodies but places of worship and cemeteries are deliberately desecrated. The rape of women is part of the display of power, intended to humiliate and visit shame, not only on the victims but collectively, on the group.

Eliminationists see themselves as reacting, rather than acting (page 442). Perpetrators view the victims as “having inflicted great injury upon them and their society” (pages 448-9). Eliminationist action is justified as being essentially retributive and, secondly, preventive of (imagined) future attack. The victims, and not the perpetrators, are seen as the “problem”: They are the cause. They are to blame. They exist. Eliminationists believe they are acting for their group, for a high and noble cause, and not for themselves (page 221). Horrible and horrifying cruelty is seen as obligatory, laudable, even “sacred”.

The aim of eliminationism is to homogenize society, to usher in some dreamed-of pure state. Eliminationists think on the lines of, “If W is achieved, then X, Y and Z will inevitably follow or be realized, and some kind of an ethnic and spiritual paradise will be realized”. Language and visual images conveyed in talk and discussion, newspapers and radio spread the notion that an entire (emphasised) group of people are subhuman and dangerous. Therefore, any study of eliminationism that “fails to give primacy to language and imagery” denies the fundamental reality of how people are cognitively, psychologically and emotionally prepared (313). Language is the soil that contains the seeds of action (page 342).

Such eliminationist attacks will not occur if the community in general disapproved, was shocked or expressed revulsion and distaste. In that sense, there is general complicity. An entire community contributes towards, and is responsible for, elminationism. The clergy is listened to with respect and credence, and has a powerful influence on the thought and actions of the people. They incite, absolve, make sacred. Places of religious worship are provided for meetings and planning; in some instances, for the storage of weapons. In the name of religion, irreligious acts are carried out.

Intellectuals and artists (through literature, folk songs, story, plays, and symbols) project the myth of a great, heroic and noble people victimised, in danger and having the need for defensive aggression and elimination, so that their true nature can, once again, find expression. Such works tend to be tragic, reproachful and, finally, hortatory: (Goldhagen uses the phrase literary and artistic mass murderers: page 346.) University professors, academics, intellectuals, journalists and artists are no different from the illiterate and the lowest in society (page 398). Indeed, enjoying recognition; having status and influence, they are far worse and culpable.

Soldiers, the paramilitary and policemen play a major role in elminationism. They constitute “pre-existing institutions of violence (page 103) and are either “the lead killing institution or in a critical support role” (page 102). During a period of conflict, other countries have difficulty knowing what is happening, and this gives license to the military to act as it pleases (page 285). Soldiers often feel rage because of the danger they face, and because “their comrades, loved ones and people” (page 455) have been killed, suffered injury or harm (page 455). They inhabit a brutalizing and brutalized world.  (Jonathan Shay, in his 1994 study, ‘Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character’, records a US soldier who fought in Vietnam saying, “I carved him up with my knife. I lost all mercy. I couldn’t inflict enough pain.”)

Detention camps set up by the government and its soldiers are “a spatial, social and moral netherworld” (page 113) into which the perpetrators herd “a weakened, overwhelmed, unthreatening, and pliant population, including children” (page 441). “A principal operational purpose of camp systems is degrading the victims, to make them understand their subjugated, demeaned, and right-less state (page 424). Camps are “cruelty’s quintessential sites” and perpetrators create them in a manner guaranteeing the victims will suffer cruelty “regularly, daily and nightly” (page 433. End of Goldhagen quote.)

From another perspective, one can argue that racism is inherent and makes us, of all animals in the world, the most dangerous (Yann Martel). Indeed, we have made the planet and everything on it our “prey” (op. cit). Doris Lessing observed that  there’s something in us that impels us to divide and separate. I’ve long felt there’s something fundamentally flawed in our human makeup. The French psychologist and psychiatrist, Jacques Lacan (1901-1981), wrote of the mirror-stage in the development of a human being when, unlike with animals, it realizes that the image seen in the mirror is she, herself: that there is me here. The German word fremdeln: refers to a behavioural pattern in the development of infants, usually around the eighth month of life, in which a child develops a mistrust, dislike or fear of strangers. In a fundamental, biological, sense there is “Me” and everyone else is the “Other”. (But this does not throw most of us into some kind of existential angst because we construct what I would call bridging relationships: with parents, relations, friends, and through romantic and/or sexual love.) Is racism the result of the individual, rather than being single, seeing herself as belonging to a group, separate from, if not opposed to, other groups formed by other individuals? Does racism go back to our distant past when, armed with stones and sticks, we fought other animals and other groups of humans for our very survival? Professor Harari writes that tolerance is not a human characteristic, and a small difference in skin-colour, language or religion has been enough to prompt one group of Sapiens to set about exterminating another group (page 18). Biological distinctions between different groups of Homo sapiens are negligible yet figments of imagination are transformed into cruel and very real social structures and practice (Harari, page 144).

Though not based on fact and science, “race” exists, and powerfully so, because it’s a political and social construct. Tisaranee Gunasekara, erudite and among the most trenchant of commentators in English on Sri Lankan matters, wrote that racism is universal. In the West, it is talked about but elsewhere, it’s a closed subject, hidden though in plain sight (message, April 2021). The answer is to “talk” about it, reasonably and calmly, avoiding vulgar abuse and name-calling. To the Stoics, the divine spark in human beings was reason. Voltaire (1694-1778) believed that though doubt is uncomfortable, and certainty can lead to criminality, progress can be made by the use of reason. Judgement is easy, while knowledge is difficult: John Williams. To my limited knowledge, Buddhism is a philosophy and, most importantly, a moral and ethical code. But a moral position, adopting a moral life, is based on reason. What has long struck me about Buddhist doctrine is its beautiful reasonableness (reason + able). Buddhist doctrine is above all one of reasonableness. No wonder most follow the Buddhist religion and not Buddhist doctrine. (In a message to me, Graham Fuller said that, though not a Buddhist, Buddhism has had the strongest influence in shaping his “most basic world and spiritual views”. He then went on to add: “I had initially tended to think that Buddhists were of course something of an exception to the bloody link between religion and violence. Yet I discovered in later years that in Sri Lanka and indeed in Myanmar, that Buddhists too fall prey to the same human instincts”.)

Apart from religious doctrine; apart from ethical and moral principles, empathy is needed to combat our racism. And a pre-requisite of empathy is a modicum of imagination; the ability to “put oneself in the shoes of another”. This imagination and empathy has been found lacking in philosophers, and even in academics teaching lofty, compassionate, literary texts. Those of the majority do not pause or care to ask what it would be like to be a member of an oppressed, subordinated, minority. In the early 1960s, John Howard Griffin, a white journalist, turned himself into an African American and travelled in the more racist southern states of the USA. The resulting book describes not empathy but lived experience. Perhaps in Sri Lanka, during times of most uncivil ‘civil disturbance’, some Sinhalese has had his racial identity menacingly questioned? Sri Lankan Tamils for their part must ask themselves, with absolute honesty, whether they are free of all vestiges of thinking, attitude and behaviour based on caste.

But racism is irrational, so how can it be deconstructed by reason? Can the irrationality of racism be disinfected and dispersed by the rational? After all, racists first form attitudes and beliefs, and then set about finding justification. Heraclitus of Ephesus (535-475 BCE) famously said, “All is flux”, and the Buddha made transience one of his most important perceptions but, as has been noted, from another perspective, though some things change, some (unfortunately) don’t. Professor Harari observes that confronting racists with facts, evidence and statistics has no effect because their beliefs are not based on reason. Elsewhere he observes that tolerance is not a human characteristic, and that a small difference in skin-colour, language or religion has been enough to prompt one group of sapiens to set about exterminating another group. Professor John Gray has argued that the idea that history is a story of increasing rationality, decency and ethical progress is a myth.

Lines from a song popular during the time of the US invasion of Vietnam come to mind: “Oh when will they ever learn. When will they ever learn?” – what appears as a question is really a sad exclamation. However, Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, pointed out that the more hopeless a struggle seems, the greater the honour in not giving up. Of course, this applies only if the cause espoused is just. Nigerian born Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote that she no longer talks to white people about (what I term) colourism because it’s futile. In linguistics, the speech-act theory is associated with the philosopher, J. L. Austin but it can be argued that all speech and writing are acts, and Reni Eddo-Lodge in saying she won’t talk does precisely that. She acts by saying she will no longer act. (Members of Sri Lankan groups  must also talk with each other: not accuse, shout and abuse.) Violence in any form, as Sartre noted, is a failure, the failure of human beings to resolve issues without resorting to the crudity of force. Language is all we have to combat racism. Goldhagen points out that the peaceful existence of several multi-ethnic, multicultural countries attest to the fact “otherness” need not necessarily lead to conflict. German-born Franz Boas (1858-1942), known as the ‘Father of American Anthropology’, insisted that on the basic unity of humankind. There was no natural hierarchy of races, cultures or languages. He acknowledged that rejecting traditional beliefs and stories “in order to follow the trail of truth is a very severe struggle”. He used the German word “Herzenbildung”, meaning the training of one’s heart to see the humanity of another.

Racists will argue that racism is natural, but don’t decency and justice – in short to be humane and civilized mean, among other things, the recognition, control and overcoming of our negative impulses and drives? In a message to Martin Jacques, I wrote: “Individuals like you have helped to make people confront their prejudices; to increase awareness, and so change attitudes and conduct. Our globe, planet Earth, rotates on its own but social change is the result only of human endeavour and action.”

Some works drawn on

Akala (Kingslee James Daley): Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire

Robert Baird:  ‘The invention of whiteness’, Guardian, 20 April 2021

Jeffrey Boakye: Black Listed

Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking Glass (fiction)

Amy Chua: Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations

Charles Darwin: The Descent of Man

Reni Eddo-Lodge: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race

Gavin Evans: “The unwelcome revival of ‘race science’”, Guardian, 2 March 2018

E. M. Forster: A Passage to India (fiction)

Karen & Barbara Fields: Racecraft

Graham Fuller: A World Without Islam

Patrick Grant: Buddhism and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka

John Gray: The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths

Ananda Guruge (Ed.):   Return to Righteousness: A Collection of Speeches, Essays & Letters of the    

Anagarika Dharmapala

Ratnajeevan Hoole: Heritage Histories: A Reassessment of Arumuga Navalar

John Howard Griffin: Black Like Me

Martin Jacques: ‘The Global Hierarchy of Race’, Guardian, 20 September 2003

Steven Kemper: Rescued From the Nation: Anagarika  Dharmapala and the Buddhist World

Doris Lessing: The Golden Notebook (fiction)

Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Toni Morrison: The Origin of Others. (b) Playing in the Dark

K. S. Palihakkara: Buddhism Sans Myths & Miracles, Stamford Lake Publishers, Pannipitiya.

Yann Martel: Life of Pi (fiction)

Saint-Exupery: The Little Prince

Shlomo Sand: The Invention of the Jewish People.                                                                                   

How I Stopped Being a Jew

Charles Sarvan: Public Writings on Sri Lanka, Vol 2.                                                                             

Sri Lanka: Literary Essays & Sketches

John William: Augustus (fiction)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 4
    11

    Just a waste of time.

    Simply split the island into 3 mono ethnic nations and relocate people. All problems will be resolved. Living with racists is the worst punishment any population can have.

    • 5
      1

      “the popular (and legitimising) Sinhalese Buddhist belief is that they (like the Jews) are a chosen race because they and the Island were chosen by the Buddha and tasked with preserving Buddhism in its pristine purity. “
      I think two people in particular are responsible for our predicament. One is Mahanama, the author of the Mahavamsa, which explicitly condones murdering non-Buddhists and destroying their shrines. To be fair, many religious books including the Bible and the Koran, do the same. But only here is such a compilation treated as serious history.
      The other culprit is Dharmapala, who built on fairy tales from the Mahavamsa to paint a picture of fake glories destroyed by foreigners.Of course he left out the cruelties of Sinhala kings and the fact that most of them came to power over the corpses of their relatives.

      • 4
        1

        Furthermore, Dharmapala painted over the rank casteism even among the Sangha, which was only mitigated by the “evil foreigners”.
        Children are taught that the Buddha visited the country 3 times, but not that even Burma, China, and Thailand have similar tales. They are taught about our 2500 year old “hydraulic civilization” but not even older irrigation systems in other countries. Dharmapala also propagated the idea of Sinhalese being “Aryans”, which he seems to have picked up from Hitler. This is the poisonous brew in the heads of the Weerasekeras, Jayasumanas, Weerawasas, etc, who presently run the country.

        • 5
          0

          old codger

          “This is the poisonous brew in the heads of the Weerasekeras, Jayasumanas, Weerawasas, etc, who presently run the country.”

          According to Prof Gananath Obeyesekere such people have a family secret to hide, their ancestors came from South India relatively recently and were forced to convert to Sinhala/Buddhism in order to fit in with their neighbors, co workers, friends, …… , failing to do so will undermine their claim to parity with them.

          They need to act as zealous Sinhala/Buddhists in order to establish a leading position among Sinhala/Buddhists, I mean among competitive racists.

      • 0
        0

        Dear Dr Sarvan,
        thank you for your valuable piece.
        .
        “””Belief in race is troglodyte. All human beings “are of one and the same blood” (Karen and Barbara Fields). Genetically, women are far more different to men than black men are to white men (Rutherford). Individuals often share more genes with members of other races than with members of their own race, and so we should speak not of race but of “population groups” (Gavin Evans). But language being the invention and tool of human beings, I fear “population groups” will soon grow the negative connotative barnacles “race” has acquired at present.””””

        “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” — Harriet Tubman, died March 10, 1913

        So long public perception in our motherland would REMAIN as it is and .the place given to the virulent buddhist monks would continue….. .biased media giants would not outreach the masses with facts about srilanken issues, or their address is much less than it is necessary, nothing would work in the line of tangible changes for a better future for the youth in our beautiful motherland.

    • 4
      2

      Two. Muslims are Tamils.

      Soma

    • 5
      0

      There are only two ethnicities that belong to the island . Chingkallam and Thamizh. South Indian immigrant Tamil Dravidian converts to Islam , with a little bit Arab and other bits in a few hundred families are still Thamizh by ethnicity and Muslims by religion. Calling your self a Muslim or a Moor is a religious identity and not ethnic. They have no ancient history of owning lands or ruling any part of the island. People who came to trade or largely arrived as refugees, do not have a right to start claiming large parts of the island, especially in Thamizh areas , as their land. They have a right to live in dignity and peace, where ever they live, just like the recent immigrants and refugees to the west but have no right to claim lands as their from the original inhabitants. Even if racist opportunists like you encourage it

  • 8
    21

    “Permitting myself a digression, the popular (and legitimising) Sinhalese Buddhist belief is that they (like the Jews) are a chosen race because they and the Island were chosen by the Buddha and tasked with preserving Buddhism in its pristine purity.”

    What the Jews are doing to the Palestinians is much more subtle. Palestinians are living in specially designated areas, with limited access to water, land, education, medicine, and jobs. Huge fences and military forces prevent them from entering Jewish settlements, which are for Jews only. These Jews on the settlements are allowed to carry guns, while Palestinians are not. There is no parallel in Sri Lanka. Tamils can live anywhere on the island. They have been demanding separatism in the Parliament via TULF/TNA for 70 odd years. The only barrier Tamils sometimes face is language. But this can also be overcome if Tamils take the time learn Sinhala, as Muslim traders have done since the 1500’s.

    • 6
      3

      Chingkallams are chosen race and the island was chosen by Buddha to preserve Buddhism ! You really indeed are a Jester . Who gave most Chingkallams this idea? The Mahavamsa fairy tale? Their opportunistic power hungry politicians/elite/clergy ? The so called chosen race is largely descended from South Indian Thamizh that too largely low caste immigrants. Also what is practiced in the island is not Buddhism but a racist cult called Chingkalla Buddhism that is a mish mash of Buddhism and other religions largely Hinduism and other cults that existed in the island, long before Buddhism arrived or a people called Chingkallams originated. Remember large parts of the island was exclusively Thamizh and Hindu and the so called Chingkalla chosen people did not have any look into these areas, until Thanks to the British they got power in their hands in 1948.

      • 0
        5

        Pandi Kutti,
        “Remember large parts of the island was exclusively Thamizh and Hindu”
        —–
        Demalu think Yapanaya peninsula is large part of the island.
        Demalu who were brought to Yapanaya by Portuguese from Hindusthan remained in Yapanaya peninsula because they were dead scared of malaria prevailed in North Central and Eastern part of the country. It was Sinhalayo who went to that area after Independence, cleared the jungle and established settlements.

        • 7
          0

          Eagle,
          “Demalu who were brought to Yapanaya by Portuguese from Hindusthan remained in Yapanaya peninsula “
          You keep repeating this rubbish without reading your own Holy Book, the Mahavamsa, which states clearly that King Mahasen destroyed Hindu temples in Trinco and elsewhere. How come there were Hindu temples in the 3rd century?

          • 5
            0

            old codger

            “How come there were Hindu temples in the 3rd century?”

            One Sinhala/Buddhist pundit 15 years ago wrote the Hindu Temples were built by those GOOD Sinhala/Buddhist kings for those Hindu Traders arriving at this islands shores, Puncha Easwarams, ….. 5 Easwarams namely Naguleswaram, -Ketheeswaram, Koneswaram, Munneswaram and Tondeswaram (Tenavaram).

            What do you have to say to that claim?

          • 1
            3

            OC
            Be rational.
            Could they not be Sinhala Hindu temples?

            • 2
              0

              S.J,
              Rationality doesn’t work when dealing with EE.

    • 7
      4

      Utter rubbish and racist rantings. Has Lord Buddha or any of the Buddhist texts and teachings ever mentioned about the island or the Sinhalese , who never existed at the time of Lord Buddha , ever being the chosen people to preserve Buddhism in its pristine purity ? What is pristine and pure? There is nothing pristine or pure and from what I can see from the form of Buddhism practiced in the island, there is nothing pristine or pure in it. It is a nasty racist , ethnocentric religious cult , that is masquerading as Buddhism. Lord Buddha will weep if he sees what is now being practiced as Buddhism in the island. As for Tamils learning Sinhalese good idea and similarly Sinhalese should also learn Tamil, the other language that has been spoken in the island for more than 2000 years and the language of the north east and large parts of the north west and central parts of the island. Further the Sinhalese language itself is greatly indebted to the Tamil language for its evolution and formation. After all around 35% of the present day Sinhalese vocabulary is derived from Tamil. Its grammar, lexicon, syntax and alphabet are purely derived from Tamil and lastly most of the present day Sinhalese people themselves are of Tamil descent and Tamil is spoken by around 100 million people as their first or second language in the region.

      • 0
        5

        Rohana25,
        “…similarly Sinhalese should also learn Tamil”
        —-
        Why should Sinhalayo who are the native people in Sinhale/Sri Lanka waste their time to learn a language (Demala) brought to their country by ‘Paradeshi’ Dravida invaders and Dravida coolies brought by colonial rulers?
        ******
        Languages in the sub-continent are divided into two categories by linguists; Indo-Aryan and Dravidian. Sinhala language belong to Indo-Aryan category. Which idiot said 35% of the present day Sinhalese vocabulary is derived from Tamil?
        *******
        “…lastly most of the present day Sinhalese people themselves are of Tamil descent”
        BS!

      • 0
        4

        “Has Lord Buddha or any of the Buddhist texts and teachings ever mentioned about the island or the Sinhalese “

        Sinhalese are mentioned many times explictly in Mahabharata, but no specific mention of Tamils, only Dravidians. It proves the accuracy of Mahavamsa.

        “When the sage Vasistha was attacked by king Viswamitra’s army, Vasistha’s cow, Kamadehnu, brought forth from her tail, an army of Pallavas, and from her udders, an army of Dravidas and Sakas; and from her womb, an army of Yavanas…And from the froth of her mouth came out hosts of Paundras and Kiratas, Yavanas and Sinhalas, and the barbarous tribes of Khasas and Chivukas and Pulindas and Chinas and Hunas with Keralas, and numerous other Mlechchhas.”

        • 2
          0

          Lester,
          What a barefaced liar you are! The above passage doesn’t mention Sinhalese:
          “From her tail, showers of burning coal shot out and burned many an unwary soldiers. In an instant, a vast army emerged from her body. The Pallavas emerged from her tail, from her udders the army of Dravidas and Sakas came forth. Her womb gave birth to an army of Yavanas (greeks), and from her dung, the Savaras emerged. From her urine came an army of Kanchis. The froth from her mouth gave rise to a host of Paundras and Kiratas and many other barbarous tribes.”
          Who do you think Dravidas are?
          If you want to lie, do it convincingly.

    • 0
      6

      Lester,
      “The only barrier Tamils sometimes face is language. “
      —-
      This barrier was created by GG Ponnambalam who told Tamils not to learn Sinhala to keep the two communities apart for their political survival telling them that a separate State will be established for Tamils.
      Now Sinhala students have to learn Tamil and Tamil students have to learn Sinhala but Tamil politicians in Yapanaya do not allow Tamil students to learn Sinhala by not recruiting teachers to teach Sinhala. Recruiting teachers is the responsibility of the NPC.

      • 0
        6

        Eagle,

        “This barrier was created by GG Ponnambalam who told Tamils not to learn Sinhala to keep the two communities apart for their political survival”

        Exactly. This war was created exclusively by Jaffna Tamils to retain their high-caste positions. Colombo Tamils have never had difficulty assimilating. Long time ago, I had a Tamil tutor who taught his children to speak Sinhala. Both of his children had no difficulty getting admitted to the university.
        Sarvan is wrong about standardisation. Standardisation was created to accommodate rural students with insufficient access to proper schools. Even if you are Sinhala, you have to get a significantly higher Z-score than another Sinhala in the rural district. Standardisation discriminates against anyone in an urban area.

    • 4
      1

      Lester the Jester

      “They have been demanding separatism in the Parliament via TULF/TNA for 70 odd years. “

      Can you give us some evidence to support your stupid claims.

  • 12
    0

    Arguing with racists? Logic fails. Rationality fails. I have known a senior Sri Lankan gentleman who holds a British passport and who was hotly intent on convincing me that the African is inferior, that in relation to Western culture the African could not compare. The man was educated, with excellent command of spoken English. However at over 80 years, he was mouthing the thinking of another era. He was refusing to see the light, away from the garbage dump of history. In my discussion with him I found myself floundering, lost for words. It was like trying to convince those among us who say Covid-19 doesn’t exist, or that it’s a virus set adrift by wicked nations or people, or that vaccines are a trap. Their biases overrule their intellect. They are lost.

    • 6
      3

      Sarath

      Don’t waste time worrying about bigoted grumpy old men. Some of them also see white Brits as intellectually lower than themselves. That must be the baggage they carried with them from back home, the aristocratic Aryan/Vellala mentality.

      I understand their second third generation children/grand children are successful in dealing with their bigoted Elders. I also hear the caste issue is being firmly established among a section of Tamil/Sinhala diaspora.
      I may be wrong.

  • 2
    10

    Prof. Kumar David mentioned in one of his articles that CT has imposed a word limit of 500 or 600 on his biweekly contributions. How come Dr. Sarvan is allowed to write such a long article, well over 1500 words, which CT is happy to publish?

    • 1
      2

      CM
      Have you read all articles by Kumar David?
      Some ran pretty long.
      500 to 600 is either an appeal or advise, I am not sure which.
      Long text, however, can be unappealing to read on a computer monitor.
      *
      BTW
      Any objection to the article besides its length?

      • 3
        0

        I am not objecting to the content of the article. I am simply asking why there are different rules for different authors. Is that an unreasonable question?

        • 2
          1

          CM
          Glad that you do not object to the content.
          If you look at comments, many exceed the 200 word limit some to be within the earlier 300. Some even longer.
          Text length if controlled by software can be strictly applied.
          There is editorial discretion based on the worth of an article. That is subjective, but not arbitrary.
          Some editing for length is desirable in several cases.
          Sustaining the interest of the reader is a challenge in long texts to be read on a screen.
          *
          I do not think that it is personal favoritism at play but content based exemption.
          CT is not the fairest in its editorial policy, but not so objectionably bad.

    • 4
      2

      Dear Captain Morgan: Responding to you:
      .
      I hope that you will make an effort to understand what I’m saying because I think it important.
      .
      I see the logic in your complaint that an article of this length “has been tolerated”. I saw it in the morning, and have read parts, (sometimes been distracted), and then returned to it. This is not easy reading for anybody, but I think that it is an important article if you can find the time to digest it.
      .
      I managed to get the words counted (by doing a copy/ paste on to a Word Document). It is 5,575 words. It is good that CT allowed it in, and Professor Kumar David isn’t complaining, is he? I am in touch with both writers; will you tolerate my observations about them?
      .
      Kumar has an excellent relationship with CT, and he writes (for free) on a range of topics that most of us enjoy and appreciate. He likes to help CT remain an interesting and relevant forum, and he writes those disciplined articles almost as a duty – to educate us. Not all articles by those who desire publicity will be published by CT.

    • 4
      1

      Continuing:
      .
      Professor Sarvan is even more serious in his concerns.
      Now, this is not to suggest that there is a competition to find out who is the greatest or most committed. These two writers are different, and if we can find the time, we must read both.
      .
      Please try to relate the facts that follow to what you see in the article above. Professor Sarvan is now old, but writes brilliantly and clearly although with great difficulty. When he writes here about race, try to remember that he himself is married to a German woman whom he loves dearly, and who is suffering painful illness. The messages that he gives us drawing on his experiences are sincere and carefully thought out.
      .
      Reading this is difficult because of the subtlety and complexity of meaning. Nothing here has been made deliberately difficult. I’m making an effort to reach out to those who feel like giving up when they perceive how difficult it is to focus their minds on this. I may not have succeeded in making myself understood, and I may have to return with a better thought out comment.
      .
      This is great writing.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe

    • 3
      3

      We have to make an effort to prevent the garbage from messing up our environment. It is good for CT to take a stand !

  • 8
    1

    Regarding word length. I suppose CT makes an exemption for articles that educate. All of us need education, after all.

  • 11
    2

    ………To my limited knowledge, Buddhism is a philosophy and, most importantly, a moral and ethical code. But a moral position, adopting a moral life, is based on reason. What has long struck me about Buddhist doctrine is its beautiful reasonableness (reason + able). Buddhist doctrine is above all one of reasonableness………………..
    May I add to that, adhering to Buddhist Philosophy is a voluntary exercise of undertaking by oneself to adhere to the code – not like the commandments of religions. No formal ceremonies, like Baptism or Testimony of Faith (Shahada).
    It is a personal moral decision on how you want to shape your future life and endeavour to live by that code.

  • 5
    0

    Thank you Dr. Sarvan for another very edifying article. Lester in his comment, drawing a parallel between Sri Lanka and Israel, speaks of the latter being more subtle in how they treat the Palestinians. However his own analysis of the Tamil problem and the solution he prescribes is nothing but racist and not so subtle too!

  • 4
    11

    Tamils are making a desperate attempt to tell the International Community that Sinhala Buddhists in Sinhale/Sri Lanka are racists who oppress and discriminate against minority Tamils to garner their support for the attempt to create a separate State for the descendants of Tamils brought to Yapanaya by Portuguese.
    If Sinhala Buddhists are racist, Tamils and Muslims would not have stand a chance to live in their country. Sinhala Buddhists saved Muslims when they faced persecution by Portuguese and allowed them to settle down in interior parts of the country where they were safe. Sinhala Buddhists gave asylum to Tamils brought to their country from Hindusthan by colonial rulers and accommodated them when their masters who brought them ran away abandoning them in their country.

  • 4
    9

    Tamil politicians like Sir Ponnambalam Ramanadan were not narrow minded racists but some of the Vellala Tamils who emerged as politicians in Yapanaya in 1930s started using anti-Sinhala slogans for their political survival. GGP is the leading figure in this group. GGP exposed his anti-Sinhala stance by giving a racially charged speech at Nawalapitiya in 1939 denigrating the Sinhala-Buddhist culture, its history and the people which led to the first Sinhala-Tamil clash. His close associate SJVC took it further by forming the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (toned down as Federal Party in English) in 1949 which had as its hidden agenda the establishment of a separate state.
    Some Tamils try to give the impression that separatism is a result of discrimination against Tamils by Sinhala majority after the country gained Independence which is not true. The idea of separatism emerged during the time Sinhale/Ceylon was ruled by British. SJVC formed the Federal Party soon after the country gained Independence from British rule. At that time Vellala Tamils were the most privileged community in Sinhale/Ceylon dominating the Public Service.

  • 3
    1

    “In most cases, the meaning of a word is its use” — Ludwig Wittgenstein

  • 5
    2

    Prof. Sarvan,

    A fine essay, but eclectic and somewhat meandering.

    “Goldhagen points out that the peaceful existence of several multi-ethnic, multicultural countries attest to the fact “otherness” need not necessarily lead to conflict.”

    The problem with this view is that even in such countries where such peaceful co-existence was considered successful for a few decades, new conflicts are coming to the fore. In some cases, racial animosities are tied to the vicissitudes of economic life. A perceived loss of wealth and status among white Americans while global capitalism takes its relentless course, is a major reason for the rising anti-immigrant, pro-Trump sentiment in the U.S., even though some whites have always had a racial superiority complex.

    You refer to Nesiah, p. 14 in the article but I don’t see it in the citations.

    By the way, Harvard University is not called the University of Harvard. The latter form would be correct only if it were based on a place name. In this instance, it carries the name of Rev. John Harvard.

  • 5
    2

    Racism is a weapon of opportunism. Racism put people in dark and continued fear. Racism is used for capturing the power whether it is in politics or in civil service or in business. But the fact is where the racism in power, there is no peace, there is no development, there is always conflicts. Sri Lanka is a failed state because of racism.

    • 3
      3

      A
      Fully agree, and note that it applies to the LTTE as well when it wielded power.

      • 3
        2

        SJ,
        It clearly shows that you have some personal revenge against LTTE.

        • 5
          1

          Ajith

          “It clearly shows that you have some personal revenge against LTTE.”.

          SJ shares LTTE’s world view.
          It does not make him an obvious VP’s “B” carrier.
          He agrees with LTTE only issue by issue.

        • 6
          2

          A
          There are many who would have had personal scores to settle had they been alive.
          There need not be a personalized explanation for every point of view.
          *
          If you are pleased with the performance of the LTTE, let me not disturb your peace of mind.
          Delight yourself by scolding all critics of the LTTE to your heart’s content. But nothing will change reality.
          The LTTE was a necessary evil to many. But do not deny the evil component.

          • 4
            1

            SJ,
            I am sure you have read my comment fully and clearly. In it, I have not mentioned any one in particular whether it is Rajapaksa or Ranil or LTTE or PLOTE. You have the right to tell your opinion about LTTE and another one have to have the right to have opinion about Rajapaksas, PLOTE or TELO or EPDP. You may say Banana is the Best fruit. I may say Orange is the Best fruit. Therefore, relevance is necessary.
            The evil component is very common and it is impossible to identify any one without that evil component including me and you.

            • 2
              1

              A
              I fully read your comment and fully agreed.
              My reference to the LTTE was in that context.
              You accused me of personal distaste for LTTE.
              Now you fly at a tangent.
              *
              Let us be focussed and not go bananas talking about all and sundry.
              *
              As for evil component, will you place Adolf Hitler on par with MK Gandhi because all have an evil component? In addition, both were vegetarians.
              You seem to be bending over backwards to protect the LTTE.

      • 4
        2

        SJ, always remember the LTTE was a creation of the racist pogroms of the sucessful GOSL. So don’t blame the LTTE for the carnage they unleashed on the people of Sri Lanka. They have killed so many family and friends of my family, mainly my parents. The racists from the south fed the venom that created this monster called the LTTE. If the south treated the north and east equally, there would have been no venom to feed anyone. Likewise, if the Tamils were the majority, I believe the same type of nonsense would have gone on in SL, where the Tamils would have subjugated the Sinhalese. I am a neutral Tamil. I have the seen the pain of Sinhalese mothers crying out for their kids just the same way the Tamil mothers were crying for their children. Many of the soldiers joined the army due to poverty, similarly many of the LTTE members came from very poor backgrounds, which the elite like the Jaffna Tamils capitalized. I am a Jaffna Tamil, meaning I am from the Jaffna town area. I saw the supporters who pushed for Tamil Ealam were quickly sending all their children abroad to study and winding the rural youths to fight. Similarly the Sinhala elite did the same.

        • 2
          1

          TftN
          Let us not confuse what the LTTE was with what led to it.
          The latter does not justify every aspect of the former.
          I was and am kind to militants and soldiers from a personal perspective as victims of circumstances.
          But can we fight shy of critically reviewing all policies and actions that led to the tragedy.
          *
          One word against an idol and the critic is a blasphemer.
          Then on there is no reasoned debate or discussion but what you see most on these pages.
          You should in fairness address your remarks at the source of this sub-string.

          • 2
            4

            SJ,

            “I was and am kind to militants and soldiers from a personal perspective as victims of circumstances.”

            Tamils lost their “freedom struggle” the day they assassinated Rajiv Gandhi. I have a low opinion of India. However, one cannot simply assassinate the Prime Minister of the 2nd largest democracy and expect the world to believe a fairy tale about genocide the next day. Prabhakaran resembles Hitler in many respects. Both of them won many battles at the beginning, thanks to poor planning by their opponents and a policy of appeasement. Once the opponents became smarter, both of them became delusional and used their own people as cannon fodder.

            • 3
              1

              Hey Lester,
              For the first time, I see you normal.
              Your assessment that Tamils lost their “freedom struggle” the day they assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, is the whole truth.

            • 2
              1

              Lester

              “Tamils lost their “freedom struggle” the day they assassinated Rajiv Gandhi. “

              Tamils lost their “Freedom Struggle” in 1948 immediately after Citizenship Act 1948 passed in the parliament. The Parliament lost it moral authority in the same year to govern the entire country.

              “I have a low opinion of India.”

              You must be SJ’s brother.
              Do you think you are superior than Hindians?
              Why?

              “Prabhakaran resembles Hitler in many respects.”

              In fact Gota is aspiring Hitler.
              The Sanghas agree with him.

              “Once the opponents became smarter, both of them became delusional and used their own people as cannon fodder.”

              It was in fact Hitler who won the war for the Allies.
              Actually it VP who won the war for the clan.

              In the current struggle between democracy and Sinhala/Buddhist Fascism, Gota is going to win the struggle for Democracy.

              • 0
                0

                Vedda,

                “In fact Gota is aspiring Hitler.”

                Gota liberated hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians from Marxist fascist Tiger terror. Gota, Shavendra, Mahinda, etc. should be awared Nobel Prizes for this work. Gota gave orders for the high-ranking LTTE buggers to be executed on the spot. They had 30 years to surrender. On the day they were executed, Nadesan was on the phone begging India to force a ceasefire. Do you know that they also contacted United Nations, the governments of Norway, United Kingdom, United States and the International Committee of the Red Cross? They told 14 year olds to take cyanide rather than surrender, but they did a full begging trip for their own surrender. Gota did not even put low-ranking LTTE in jail. He rehabilitated them in camps & provided job training. Kindly inform your HR friends Navi Pillai, etc.

            • 1
              0

              Lester,
              .
              Can you count? Or is it that you cannot assess what a “democracy” is?
              .
              How did India become only “the 2nd largest democracy “?
              .
              As for values, I suppose that for you what is not all right is assassinating Prime Ministers, but murdering children is all right. Sarath Fonseka, speaking recently in Parliament, didn’t excuse the latter.
              .
              And this guy still lives:
              .
              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vijitha_Rohana
              .
              Member of “Sihala Urumaya” – your party? He only attempted murder in broad daylight when supposedly standing in a guard of honour.
              .
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dV-A9BDd1HY
              .
              We long time no see that one minute video.
              .
              I cannot understand the Tamil here:
              .
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lru3EQ5tE14
              .
              These four minutes in English and Sinhala are thought provoking:
              .
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtvJX98V-9o
              .
              This is less than a day old:
              .
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0m2Bo4pwcc

              • 0
                0

                That last Youtube is now more than a day old.
                .
                I made a mess of submitting the comment last night whilst feeling sleepy, but I had it saved on my HDD.
                .
                There are many significant things happening right now, I feel, which can be picked up if we’re working on an internet-connected computer. The “average Sri Lankans” whose votes decide the major political changes affecting us, knows little of all that. However, the last thing that “superior us” must do is to pour scorn on the hoi polloi – for many reasons.
                .
                All public event were banned from yesterday (Saturday, May Day). So, we are trying to defeat Bangladesh in an empty cricket stadium in Digana, but weddings (with receptions?) are allowed even tomorrow, Monday, the 3rd, because that is the last auspicious day for a long period. So, then, let the couple get married in the presence of the Registrar only. Such things happened fifty years ago, as we’ve reminded the author of this good article where comments will be allowed till tomorrow:
                .
                https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/sri-lanka-heading-towards-a-4th-dictatorship-will-it-be-good/
                .
                That bit about weddings is the last item in the notification by General Shavendra Silva, who seems to make the final decision on all matters in Sri Lanka.

              • 1
                2

                Sinhala_Man,

                Second or first, what is the difference? Prabhakaran was a madman to kill RG, as Gandhi family is very famous in India. India will never allow a fake state in SL, as this will encourage Tamil Nadu to also demand independence. India used a stupid strategy in the 1980’s. They thought they can force SL to give Tamils a political solution by carefully controlling the Tamil militias. TULF tried the same thing; LTTE killed off their top leaders. LTTE also killed off most of the Tamil intellectuals who were working with CBK government to find a political solution. Today there are no moderate Tamil politicians of the likes of Neelan or Lakshman Kadirgamar.

                Fonseka was the top military commander. Eelamists and their human rights friends mention him for some reason. They only want Gota’s head. Fonseka is guilty of an attempted coup, in normal circumstances he would be executed.

                • 2
                  1

                  Lester – as I am commenting on this, I do feel I am arguing with a racist/an ignorant.. of high level.. however … what you ve been adding above is not based on facts. It is almost like putting all the blame on killings in 89 only on JVPrs.

                  Neelan and Lashman Kadirgarmar who killed them are not yet clear. We have no idea if our MAFIA BOSS aka MaRa the man was behind that assasinations. In a country, almost any high crime would not be ended up being acceptable verdicts, can anybody with some sanity could ever agree with lanken judiciary ?

                  • 0
                    1

                    Leelageymodamalli,

                    All the evidence is there to implicate LTTE as the prime suspect behind assassinations of Lakshman and Neelan. Only in your parallel universe, Rajapakse is a suspect. LTTE did not like Lakshman, as he was a rare honest Tamil politician, who convinced the West to ban the LTTE as a terrorist outfit. This was a big blow to the LTTE, as it made any fundraising or propaganda in the West, illegal. By assassinating Neelan, LTTE proved they were not interested in federalism, even though your hero Ranil was ready jumping up and down.

                    • 0
                      0

                      Lester,
                      .
                      We, both Sinhalese, have certain views, and let us hold on to them.
                      .
                      It was “nice” for us to have a Tamil like Lakshman who was on our side in a Civil War. A Tamil may see him as a comprador, and not as an honest politician. We mustn’t expect him to agree with us.
                      .
                      Neelan’s case is different. I had met him, and listened with rapt attention to what he was saying in 1985 at Peradeniya, in the E.O.E. Pereira Theatre. I don’t think that he ever accepted any position offered him by the government. He retained his “Tamilness” and was certainly acceptable to most Tamils. I agree that he could have been an embarrassment to the “power-hungry” LTTE.
                      .
                      I don’t know who murdered them both; it wasn’t me! We tend to read a bit, form an opinion, and then not re-examine unless necessary. I think that the Tigers got rid of both.
                      .
                      However, somebody may legitimately raise the question, as with the Easter 2019 Bombings, as to who benefitted. Rajapaksas from that, and also from Lakshman’s death. Nothing proved yet. So, the official version holds in the latter case.
                      .
                      But enough evidence adduced by AKD, Harin, et al to make me uncertain about the former.

        • 2
          1

          Tftn,
          Not only LTTE but also other Tamil militant groups and the Sinhalese militant group JVP are the product of Sri Lankan political (Sinhala and Tamil and religious leadership and Indian political leadership. It is not about who was the best evil among Sri Lankan military, JVP, LTTE, PLOTE, TELO, EPRLF, EPDP, EROS and so many other militant groups were in the field. However, as it is it is about the country and people. The past is a history but the future depends on the lessons learned in the past and move forward a better future to all. Unfortunately, I don’t think any one has learned any lessons and any one have the intention to bring reasonable solutions to the problems or unite the people towards a better society. If you consider LTTE was an only evil, then you are also an evil.

          • 1
            1

            “Unfortunately, I don’t think any one has learned any lessons and any one have the intention to bring reasonable solutions to the problems or unite the people towards a better society.”
            *
            I make no claim for myself.
            But the above is a grossly sweeping statement.

        • 2
          0

          Tamil f
          I am perturbed to hear of your personal circumstances vis a vis LTTE atrocities. Appreciate your desire to be neutral too. Forgive me for my previous comments associating you with LTTE which were off the cuff repartees.
          .
          LTTE was a creation of Vadukkodai resolution.

          Soma

          • 0
            0

            Dear soma,
            .
            I had to scroll up to realise that yours is a sincere comment directed at “Tamil from the North”. “Tamil f” sounds as though you were suggesting one of the oldest words in English. It has survived because so often used in spoken English. It hardly occurs in Olde English (i.e. Anglo-Saxon) writing of which there is so little. And that, if you try to read it, is a totally different, highly inflected, language. Professor Sarvan doesn’t even quote in Middle English – he translates into contemporary English so as to make it intelligible for us.
            .
            What we must try to understand is that although Professor Sarvan is honest enough to acknowledge all his roots, he can no longer be classified as “a Tamil”. Just as I don’t want to be counted as a “Sinhalayo” – a term now used by racists, although I have used the plural form when I meant the singular.
            .
            It is desperately necessary to focus on the 7.9 million (and counting) people in the world today:
            .
            https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/
            .
            and the quality of the lives that they live, rather than be obsessed by myths about how they all came to exist where they now do.

            • 0
              0

              World population today: What I meant to quote was the exact number of people in the world at the time of writing, but it was not possible to copy the ever changing number (understandable). My intention had been to copy, and then paste.
              .
              I meant to write 7.9 billion; in fact, I have reduced it to a thousandth part; it doesn’t seem to have mattered since I don’t think that anybody has bothered to read it. Most readers lose interest in an article (and the accompanying comments) two days after it appears. The figure has not yet reached what I have given, which was “the closest decimal point approach”. It’ll get there in a month or two – and to me that seems a dangerous and unacceptable challenge.
              .
              We humans are making enough of a mess of this planet. Let us not further complicate matters by creating myths about a past that we can never get back to, for purposes of checking. So much of what we stubbornly insist on doing is unnecssary.
              .
              Professor Sarvan’s article will remain valuable so long as the language it is written in is comprehensible.

  • 4
    1

    A very erudite article. A massive mental effort tying up together the many books read. Thank you.
    A small correction on standardization — so called. I sat the AL in 1969 and entered in late 1970. The engineering admissions to Peradeniya (then the only engineering faculty) were announced first. There were 103 Tamil medium, 30 Sinhalese medium and 27 English medium (third shy, a mixed bag of Tamils Sinhalese and Muslims) students.
    The propaganda was that 120 Tamils had entered and the Mahaweli would flow with our blood if we came.
    The government added 28 marks to the aggregate of every Sinhalese student and redid admissions.
    It was racism pure and simple and had to be given a new face. I am pretty sure but not certain that a similar thing was done the next year too.
    Then came Secretary Premadasa Udugama with his PhD in Education from England. He applied standardization [used to compare the performance of students doing subjects with high marks (Arabic was mentioned) with students doing subjects with low marks (chemistry) applying to the same programme]. He argued that if the Tamil medium and Sinhalese medium averages were different, it was because of translation and grading errors (even though a Royal Commission going through the 1969 scripts declared there was no difference in marking and if at all there was a difference, the Tamil examiners had been slightly stricter).

    • 0
      2

      If you look at the percentage of Tamils vs Sinhalese in higher studies overseas (Western countries), there is no difference in performance. The only advantage some Tamils may have had in very early days of Sri Lankan Independence is access to English medium schools. This advantage no longer exists but Eelamists are still whining about it.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.