By Laksiri Fernando –
We have an ‘analysis’ of all in one basket. I am referring to Dayan Jayatilleka’s (DJ) article in The Island (21 June) perhaps incorrectly titled “The issue is incitement: The BBS, Champika & the Gota factor.” The ‘family proposal’ does not appear in the title for some reason. It was previously published in the Colombo Telegraph as two articles, then they became ‘two in one’ in The Island. Let me try to dissect.
While ‘extremism’ and ‘incitement to violence’ are not the same, there is no great wall between the two despite what the author claims. Extremism from any side could easily evolve into violence or incitement to violence. It is true that those who paint the BBS or the behaviour/utterances of Gnanasara Thero as just extremism or equal to other extremisms, misses the point of ‘incitement to violence.’ But in political debates all extremisms should be discouraged, condemned or denounced.
Hate speech and extremism should not be defended under freedom of speech while only ‘incitement to violence’ is condemned. Punishing is a matter for the judiciary and the law enforcement. However, we can point it out or even agitate for it, if it is absent or the law enforcement is defending the culprits. Freedom of speech entails social responsibilities. Ultra-nationalism, chauvinism, Islamophobia and extremism in general breach these social responsibilities. It is true that any one indulging in such extremist propaganda should not be punished off hand, unless there is a direct connection to violence or hate speech. We have hordes of them in our country.
DJ says he learned to distinguish the two, ‘extremism and incitement,’ through his experience at the UN and more precisely by chairing the Intergovernmental Working Group (IWG) on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration. The Durban Declaration (2001) was ‘Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance.’ It was titled as such. In that context, it is incomprehensible how come that a person who chaired the IWG on those issues claims, “Nor is the main issue Islamophobia. While Islamophobia is in and of itself reprehensible, what should be focused on is incitement to violence.” In the Declaration, there is nothing particularly about ‘incitement to violence’ as the crucial issue, of course because it is a declaration. But Article 61, highlights Islamophobia as a crucial issue as follows.
61. We recognize with deep concern the increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities;
DJ was not only the Chair of the particular IWG in 2008, but also the Rapporteur of the sessions. The report of the sixth session (A/HRC/10/82, 26 February 2009) that he has reported does not talk about such a distinction, while it is true that there were divergent views and frictions within the discussions and he was admirably trying to moderate them as far as possible. Most of the debates were on the future agenda of the IWG, the African Group suggesting five themes as follows and the EU delegate expressing objections or reservations. “The suggested themes [were]: (a) effective remedies, recourse, redress, compensatory and other measures at the national, regional and international levels to victims of human rights violations resulting from racism; (b) incitement to racial and/or religious hatred; (c) racial profiling; (d) restoration of human dignity; (e) racism and refugees, migrants, asylum-seekers.” This is in paragraph 33 of the report.
What was proposed in terms of ‘incitement’ was “incitement to racial and/or religious hatred” which in fact goes against what DJ is suggesting for Sri Lanka. (Or is he trying to confuse the Sri Lankan readers arrogantly believing they are ignorant?) It may be the case that he suggested to the EU delegates (during informal discussions) to isolate ‘incitement to violence,’ but what appears in the report is not that. If I am mistaken he should clarify.
Incitement can be for violence or incitement can be for racial or religious hatred, as the African group seems to have maintained. In the latter case, the distinction between extremism (ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, racism) and incitement becomes thinner and thinner. When the African group proposed the above, their intention was to counter Islamophobia spreading in Europe; the EU delegate objecting to it.
When ‘incitement’ is linked only to violence, Islamophobia escapes. This is exactly what DJ is subtly doing in Sri Lanka today. Gnanasara is culpable, but Asgiriya escapes. To fudge the whole effort, he also defends all other extremists including himself. The following statement epitomise his ideology or enterprise.
“It is with this experience and achievement that I make the point that what we should focus upon is not Sinhala and Tamil racism, chauvinism or extremism, but precisely and specifically the incitement to violence, i.e. the rousing of mob violence or individual attacks.”
To him, Sinhala racism, Tamil racism, chauvinism and extremism are all fine, what is wrong (or should focus upon) is only incitement to violence and rousing mob violence. He cannot understand the connection. He cannot or pretend not to understand the cause and effect, or the root causes behind violence and incitement to violence.
Gnanasara Thera and BBS
Let us take the central issue of Gnanasara Thero (GT) and the BBS. At present, that is one of the central issues, I agree. Because many Muslim mosques and shops have been newly attacked. The BBS press briefing first addressed by Dilanthe Vithanage on 15 June did not categorically deny that Thero was involved in violence. What he said was “if to some extent (yamkisi pramnayakate) he was involved, that was because of Champika and Rathana Thero.” He also said, “If he was given some contracts (yam yam conthrath) those were given by Champika and Rathana Thero for their political objectives.” Of course, Vithanage was referring to the past and not to the present. Champika however is clearly implicated.
Even without Vithanage’s revelation, it is well known that Gnanasara was bred and brought up within the JHU political movement. JHU was/is an outright ultra-nationalist movement. Gnanasara contested to the Colombo district as a JHU candidate in 2004 at the parliamentary elections. When the BBS was formed in 2012, under his leadership it was an offshoot of the JHU. Therefore, the connection between the BBS’ ‘ethno-religious fascism,’ and the JHU’s ultra-nationalist extremism is clear. It is not merely a personal connection but an ideological one. One has led to the other.
In terms personal patronage for this movement, there have been several political leaders other than Ranawaka who have patronized and curry favoured with this movement. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is one who inaugurated the BBS training academy in Galle in March 2013. He was the Defence Secretary at that time. When Azath Salley was talking against the BBS, he was arrested under the PTA in May, two months later. Completely correct or not, Gotabaya was implicated in the September 2011 demolition of an Islamic shrine at Anuradhapura. It is well known how he treated Frederica Jansz in 2012, forcing her to leave the country. Gotabaya-Champika connection also was very clear those days whatever happened thereafter. None of these persons could be trusted to lead the country in the future. While in the opposition or out of power, they may appear not so extreme, allowing others to do the job. But when they are in power they almost certainly would emerge as near fascists.
Features of Right-wing Extremism
Writing on ‘Contemporary British Fascism’ (2004), Nigel Copsey said, “…the extreme right should be viewed as a broad ‘political family’ which possesses an ideology of common constituent parts.” “Adopting this approach, the core defining features of right-wing extremism turn out to be: (ultra) nationalism, racism, xenophobia, anti-democracy and the strong state.” He came to the above conclusion after investigating 26 definitions and at least half of the authors agreeing.
It may be all right as an academic exercise to try and distinguish between different segments of right-wing extremism, including the BBS. But it is dangerous to do so projecting Sri Lanka’s political future based on such distinctions. Because our choices should be democratic and for democracy. It is within such a futile exercise that DJ wants to see a reformed Gotabaya Rajapaksa, from the position of “Right of Mahinda and Right of the regime” to a reformed man, saying “Gotabhya is not the most reactionary, right wing figure in this country.”
The right-wing does not constitute only of ‘ultra-nationalism,’ ‘racism’ or ‘xenophobia.’ It also constitutes the features of ‘anti-democracy’ and ‘advocacy of the strong state.’ Gotabaya qualifies on both counts. He is a former army man. He was the Defence Secretary even after the end of the war, culpable for or overseeing many atrocities including Rathupaswala. As a proposed candidate for the presidency in 2020, his chances would be extremely dim unless he gets an overwhelming majority of the Sinhala votes. To obtain such a vote, he logically must align with ultra-nationalists, racists and xenophobic forces. Anti-Indian xenophobia is already propagated by his supporters! This is the impending danger, not necessarily the present government. With these credentials, it would be an outright scoundrel who could trust him as “the last best hope to deal with this dangerous phenomenon on incitement or any of the myriad of other daily crisis.”
DJ has already started this ultra-right-wing campaign. That is why he has now written on ‘Politics After Asgiriya.’ He is not Alt-Left, but Alt-Right.
Proposal for Rajapaksa Family Rule!
The present government is undoubtedly weak, lethargic and inefficient. There are also extremists within it. Economic policies are largely erroneous and neo-liberal. Many promises given to the people have not yet been fulfilled. There are no signs of fulfilling them either. Therefore, there should be a better government at the next election through the democratic process. There is no need to bring back the past monsters however. The country should move forward and not backwards. The present government however has kept the democratic processes moving whatever the shortcomings. That is the benefit of the 2015 change. The formation of the Joint Opposition was natural and a good development in this respect. Whoever the ‘official opposition,’ the government also should interact with the JO properly in parliament in addition, and should listen to the just demands of the students and the trade unions.
The danger of DJ’s proposal is not about supporting the JO to come to power at the next election. But to bring back very clearly a much more stronger family rule, Gotabaya as the President and Mahinda as the Prime Minister this time. With such a political science knowledge and international experience, I cannot understand why such a pathetic proposal is put forward. The following is his proposal.
“This is the worst, most dangerous, most unconscionable government I have seen in my country in my lifetime. Whatever their past and present errors, only Mahinda as Prime Minister and Gota as President can get us out of this deep, stinking pit, and put us back on track.”
There is much confusion in this proposal, perhaps guided by emotions and personal antipathies mixed up with Stalinist upbringing. On the emotional side, he uses Trumpian terminology to classify the present government as ‘political evil.’ He is also not sure his personal vengeance against CBK-Ranil could really be achieved. Therefore, he also has the second alternative and says, “If Gotabhaya does not or cannot intervene to stop the spreading cancer, then even more radical methods of intervention by the people themselves—such as in August 1953— may be embarked upon.”
He also wants to supplement it with an upsurge not only like Russia in 1917 but also Iran in 1979. Would he promote, in the latter case, Gnanasara Thero or somebody else emerging as Ayatollah Khomeini in Sri Lanka? Only the time would say. There are indications of his thinking in that direction in his recent most article on ‘Politics After Asgiriya.’