By Dayan Jayatilleka –
“…Thangathurai was pro-US and pro-Israel. Prabhakaran was also of the same mindset but he was also, strangely, inspired by Hitler. He had with him a copy of ‘Mein Kampf’… It was a strange combination. On the one hand, I think he had ideas about Jewishness, the state and the formation of Israel. On the other hand, the idea of eliminating the “Other” came from Hitler. There was a connection in his mind….” ` (‘RAGHAVAN, LTTE’s co-founder with Prabha, tells all’, interview by Ahilan Kadirgamar, Nitharsanam.net)
Do you recognize this ghastly ideological mix, this monstrous model? Or do you recognize yourself in it and like it? Is it happening to us here in the South too? If so what are you doing about it? I know what I am doing or trying to do, and always have done.
When this chemistry takes place and model arises or is revived in the North, it is applauded or swept under the rug by Northern nationalists and Southern liberals in political parties and civil society. When this fanatical fusion came alive in the North, politicians and civil society excused them as “our boys” and now, “our girls”. It is happening again today. Meanwhile Southern nationalists condemn this phenomenon in the North, but applaud, appease, ignore or excuse the same phenomenon in the South, using the same argumentation that they do in the North. The South can see Northern fascism and the North can see Southern fascism. Each is blind to the fascism in its own part of the island, hidden behind its respective populist-nationalist disguise.
The truth is that Prabhakaran was a Northern Hitler while Hitler was a global Prabhakaran. The Tigers were the Northern Nazis, the Nazis were the global Tigers. It is and was only a matter of scale. Prabhakaran was the most evil leader this island’s history produced, while Hitler was the most evil leader world history ever produced.
I agree totally with the conclusion of one of my few living intellectual heroes, Emeritus Professor Richard Falk of Princeton and the University of California, Santa Barbara, former UN Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine, who concludes his latest interview saying: “…I feel it is not too alarmist or misleading to talk of the present era of American political life as ‘pre-fascist’, posing the formidable challenge of reversing the political current in the country as rapidly as possible to avoid any transition from pre-fascism to fascism…” (Wider Consequences of US Withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, Truth Out July 3rd 2018.
I believe that what Richard says of “the present era of American political life”, applies even more strongly to the present era of Sri Lankan political life, in both North and South: the present situation is one of “pre-fascism” and the challenge is to fight off the danger of the transition from pre-fascism to fascism. I say it applies even more strongly because the US and India have the framework of a strong enlightened Constitution and institutions which ensure a true separation of powers, with guarantees and firewalls. We Sri Lankans do not have anything resembling the same measure of Constitutional protection and the chance for Constitutional change has vanished due to adventurist Northern demands in and out of parliament and the Northern Provincial Council. Having failed to prevent the rise of pre-fascism in the North and South, the elite neoliberal Establishment and its supportive NGO propagandists having actually contributed to it by pushing public tolerance to the brink, we are far more vulnerable to fascism and less able to prevent the transition from pre-fascism to fascism.
Some of us fought the battle of ideas against Tiger fascism and Southern Pol Potism and rebelled against rightist authoritarianism in the 1980s. I did. Most in civil society did not. Today I fight the battle of ideas against the rise of the fascist-flecked Alt-Right in the South as well as against the ‘heroization’ if not deification of suicide-bombing terrorism and fascism in the North. Civil society either fight one battle or the other or none. It also denounces those like me who fight fascist ideology whether it comes from North or South, because to me, fascism is fascism and is plain wrong, plain evil, whoever and wherever it comes from.
The week that the civil society petitioners called for the rejection of my nomination as ambassador, a personality from the opposite end of the spectrum, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara, former head of the Civil Defence Force (CDF) told the Irida Lakbima that I wasn’t fit for the post of a “peon” in an embassy. He is a GLSF star at the Geneva sessions and a paper presenter at the Foreign Policy workshop of the recent Viyath Maga daylong session at the Shangri-La which served as an Alt-Right coming-out ball. What roused his ire was my support for the implementation of the 13th amendment. So, the neoliberal civil society activists criticize me because I oppose a move beyond the 13th amendment and the unitary state towards federalism, while Sinhala ultranationalists ex-military brass denounce me because I’m for devolution within a unitary state (13A).
On the morning after the UNHRC vote in which Sri Lanka won 29-12, I was criticized from these same two quarters. The civil society neoliberals denounced me for preventing an inquiry into accountability for alleged war crimes, while Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara criticized me for a reference to the Presidential promise to “ proceed with the implementation of the 13th amendment” in our victorious Resolution. Thus do the extremes mirror each other; complement each other.
The so-called civil society petition against my designation as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Russia does not provoke me into a personal defense of my record. With my performance in Geneva being mentioned in The Economist (UK), The Times (UK) and dealt with in (non-Sri Lankan) PhD theses, post-doctoral monographs, academic journal contributions and book chapters, sufficient to comprise a modest bibliography, the local “civil society” charges against me only make me smile and shrug.
What the petition does though is make me look critically at the civil society phenomenon in Sri Lanka today.
There isn’t one civil society in Sri Lanka. There are three. There used to be four, but one has died out and there are three. Two of the three civil societies are the polar opposite of each other and constitute extremes. The only thing all three have in common is that they dislike me intensely and manifest that dislike on the record. This tells me I am staying pretty much on the (or a) Middle path or occupying a centrist space.
What are the three contending civil societies that exist? Which is the one that has disappeared? The one that petitioned against me could be politely called pro-Western liberal cosmopolitan civil society. In concrete terms, going by the textual evidence, they all support the 2015 Geneva Resolution. Their civil society rival could be designated Sinhala ultranationalist civil society. The third is the Tamil equivalent of the latter, broadly sympathetic to Tamil Eelam and even to the LTTE.
The first category is perhaps best identified with Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu and the CPA, both signatories to the petition against me. The second is best identified with Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara. As for the third, I wouldn’t quite know whom to name as the most prominent. All three civil societies have their respective Diaspora supporters and bases. In the case of the first, these are on the faculty or student body, or are alumni of Western universities. In the case of the second it is the Global Sri Lanka Forum (GSLF) and its recent breakaway. In the case of the third it is the ‘Great Heroes Day’ commemorating Tamil Diaspora, represented by the TGTE.
There is an interface and overlap between the first civil society category and a milder variant of the third, represented by the British Tamil Forum/Global Tamil Forum (BTF/GTF).
It is not that the liberal cosmopolitan civil society is consistently pro-UNP. When the UNP had its most progressive leadership, explicitly committed to a multiethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious, multicultural i.e. pluralist Sri Lanka, i.e. that of President Premadasa, most of today’s civil society liberals did not support him and indeed stood actively opposed when he was besieged by a combination of the old UNP establishment, the ultranationalists and the center-left Opposition. I stood with him and almost paid for it with my life, in a lynch mob attack. Even today, none of these liberal civil society activists support the most viable electoral option for the UNP; a young leader with a mass base who has won and lost, but fought many electoral battles in the Deep South.
Not a single one of the signatories to the petition against me raised their voices against the LTTE during its Reign of terror that engulfed the country for thirty years. I fought that ideological battle. I still recall Prof Peter Schalk, a scholar and prominent Tiger supporter, walking me on Galle Face Green, his arm around my shoulder, cautioning me that following the damage I had done to the LTTE on the BBC’s award winning Suicide Killers (1991) by Stephen Lambert, he had seen my name on a magi board in an important Tiger office in Western Europe.
I also recall the iconic father of Sri Lanka’s Special Forces and the LRRP, Gen Gamini Hettiarachchi, sending VVIP commando security for me on those annual occasions where I was a designated lecturer at the joint program between the US Special Forces and a selected 40 men of the Sri Lankan Special Forces. When I asked Gen Hettiarachchi who was the Commandant of the institution that hosted the program, why he had wasted VVIP Commandos on my security, his answer was that the military has a good assessment of the LTTE’s assessment of me and that whatever I do on my own time was my business but when I was a guest of the Sri Lankan armed forces, I was their responsibility and had to be accorded a degree of security that was commensurate with the threat assessment.
I further recall US Charge d’Affaires at the Permanent Mission in Geneva, later US Ambassador to Kenya, Mark Storella (a New Englander and Ivy Leaguer) walking me to my official car in Geneva, opening the door graciously and asking me if the vehicle was bullet-proofed, and when I laughingly said “no”, he said “but it should be…you are under a greater threat than any one of us here…you have a security threat from the Tigers!”
The Magnificent Hundred civil society activists not only did not fight the battle of ideas against the fascist–totalitarian Tigers, they actively advocated a Chamberlain-like policy of appeasement and supported the CFA. A senior political scientist and prominent petitioner actually placed in print a criticism of the then PM, Ranil Wickremesinghe, that the CFA failed because he did not give the LTTE its due status of equality as a proto-state!
None of these civil society liberals denounced the assassination, unprecedented in modern times, of a Foreign Minister, namely Lakshman Kadirgamar, by the LTTE. Nor had they denounced the LTTE for murdering the liberal Tamil politician and intellectual Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, a man who had afforded them considerable institutional patronage.
At the time of the greatest protracted challenge faced by Sri Lanka, the neoliberal civil society cosmopolitans failed the moral and ethical test.
I had argued on the record in a lengthy interview with the top pro-Tiger intellectual DP Sivaram (aka Taraki) in the Northeastern Herald, January 1993 (Vol1, No 6, pp. 8-12) that the LTTE could be defeated decisively by the Sri Lankan military, and such a defeat should be the goal of the State. This was reiterated at length in my first book “Unfinished War, Protracted Crisis” (Vikas, New Delhi, 1995). I was consistent in this and wrote a piece in the Island in 2004 entitled ‘Why Prabhakaran Will Lose’.
During the last war, two professorial petitioners wrote that the Sri Lankan state could not militarily defeat the LTTE; could not win the war. They were defeatists as well as moronic analysts.
It is not that neoliberal civil society and its ally, Tamil civil society, did not have chances to make choices. Few artistic interventions have held up a moral mirror before their societies as has “Demons in Paradise”, the factual yet dramatic film (with the actual protagonists, not professional actors) by Jude Ratnam which was shown at Cannes. The film commenced with a reconstruction of the emblematic horror of July 1983, immortalized in a photograph of a man, stripped naked, seated on a step, about to be kicked to death by a group of Sinhala youth. The film starts with an interview with the photographer at the very spot he took the picture. The movie’s dramatic climax is a campfire scene around which activists from the LTTE and other organizations recount the awful atrocities visited by and upon them by each other. This movie, which could have had a cathartic effect, was ignored by civil society here and in the Tamil and Sinhala Diasporas.
The movie had favorable reviews in the quality press in India and the West. None of the ‘liberal” signatories to the petition against me, reviewed the film. It was ignored or not shown at all in the North. It caused not a ripple among the Sinhala ultra-nationalists. Only small audiences appreciated it within the Tamil Diaspora, at screenings which usually followed by denunciatory interventions by pro-Tiger activists. I was one of those who reviewed the film favorably.
I said there were four ‘civil societies’, one of which has gone extinct. That was the real civil society. I have its archeological remnants, from the University of Ceylon magazines of the first post- independence decade, through to the Marga journals, Logos (Fr. Tissa Balasuriya) and of course the Lanka Guardian under Mervyn de Silva’s founder-editorship. This was a civil society that was always autonomous of the state and government, but not necessarily antagonistic to either, and served as a strong counterweight both to the state as well as to non-state and anti-state ultra-nationalist fanaticism. This civil society was modernist, and philosophically universalist in its values. It was culturally westernized but by no means pro-Western politically, economically or in foreign policy terms; it was Third Worldist. Its function was primarily intellectual–a dual role of independent-minded critique and the proposal of well-reasoned, progressive reformist public policy. It would have been utterly unthinkable for that civil society to have drummed up a petition to oppose a nomination of a credentialed public personality however controversial to the post of Ambassador!
Both in terms of its stance in world affairs as well as in Sri Lankan politics, this civil society was genuinely non-aligned, though certainly not neutral or equidistant. That civil society was internationalist, patriotic, progressive and modernist while today’s divides up between the neoliberal-globalist cosmopolitan and post-modernist on the one hand, and the parochial, nativist, ultranationalist and pre-modernist on the other.
In contradistinction to the earlier civil society, today’s civil society consists of an archipelago of non-governmental organizations which behave as if they are or should be the government! Some, such as the signatories to the petition against me, behave as if they run the Yahapalana government or should. Others behave as if they will run a nationalist successor administration or should. Still others think they are a proto Tamil Eelam government which is around the corner (more “round the bend” I’d say). All three current “civil society” streams have abdicated the moral and intellectual responsibility of an authentic, strong autonomous civil society.
The increasing ascendancy– not the coming into being–of Sinhala ultranationalist civil society is due precisely to the disgustingly anti-national stands of the cosmopolitan liberals. Just as Sinhala Only was enthroned in the context of social revulsion towards the culture (and foreign policy) of the UNP of Sir John Kotelawela, today’s ultranationalist civil society groups surf the broad revulsion among the masses to the unpatriotic postures of the neoliberal democrats. It is a classic backlash.
I am accused by the civil society ‘activists’ of being opposed to Reconciliation. Well, I am certainly opposed to a lop-sided policy of reconciliation which has resulted in Black Tiger Day, the day of the suicide terrorists who blew up Rajiv Gandhi, Ranasinghe Premadasa, Gamini Dissanaike and Neelan Tiruchelvam to name just a few, being openly commemorated in the North! I can think of no society anywhere in the world which would tolerate the open commemoration of a terrorist suicide bomb squad within its own internationally recognized and legitimate borders. This brand of appeasement pushed by civil society has derailed the necessary project of reconciliation, and instead resulted in a burning desire in the Sinhala majority areas to see a leader who will crack down decisively on the theatrics of terror. With the ban on Mahinda Rajapaksa running for the Presidency, this has resulted in the default option of an Alt-Right candidacy.
“Whatever one sows that shall he also reap”. (Paul to the Galatians 6:7)