By Romesh Hettiarachchi –
Undoubtedly, the political worldviews of Dayan and I diverge in many respects. For one, Dayan’s expectation that interlocutors list their political views when critiquing political positions is hardly reasonable. While my criticisms of the Tamil Tigers and Tamil nationalism are public, such criticism need not be expressed every time I write. The logic of my writing ought to be determined on its own merits. Or in other words, idiots can be found all over the world, irrespective of geographical location.
That being said, Dayan is right in pointing out my limitations in a conversation about what it means to be Sri Lankan. I simply have lived outside the country for too long to discuss this matter with any degree of authority. Its for this reason, that unlike Dayan, I generally prefer to listen and read to the political opinions of others. In fact my views as a Sri Lankan living outside Sri Lanka may only matter to the extent that I and others are capable to leverage the collective strengths of our diasporan communities to service the needs and lives of all Sri Lankan citizenry.
However as a simple observer, most ordinary Sri Lankans aren’t preoccupied with categorizing their friends into patriots and traitors. Most Sri Lankans only resort to these tendencies when local intellectuals, media and the politicians give them reason to do so. Dayan’s Smart Patriot is simply one more attempt to give Sri Lankans such reasons. My response to Dayan’s conception of the Smart Patriot simply seeks to ensure this idea does not gain traction.
Dayan’s Nationalism: A Bourgeois Nationalism?
Dayan points to Liu Shaoqi’s description of the nationalist internationalist as described in “Internationalism and Nationalism” to assert that one can in fact be nationalist and internationalist at the same time. While curious to know whether Dayan sees himself as either a member of the bourgeoisie or the proletariat, Dayan’s assertion is slightly disingenuous. Shaoqi differentiated between genuine patriotism and bourgeois nationalism in the same way I described in the very next paragraphs of the same essay:
Genuine patriotism means fervent love or one’ s own fatherland, its people, language, culture, literature and best traditions, behind which lie thousands of years and generations of historical development. This kind of patriotism has no connection whatsoever with self-centred, selfish, and anti-foreign bourgeois nationalism, nor with such national prejudices as narrow-minded exclusivism, isolationism, sectarianism and provincialism, which reflect the sentiments of the small peasant and backward patriarchal system
Genuine patriotism respects the equality of other nationalities and at the same time cherishes the hope of realising the best ideals of mankind in one’ s own country while defending the unity of all peoples of all countries. On the other hand, reactionary bourgeois nationalism fans mutual hatred and hostility between nations, while the national prejudices of the old backward patriarchal system isolate their own nationals from the rest of the world, causing them to sink within the narrow confines of their own stagnating outlook. We must resolutely reject both of these positions.
While the reader can determine what kind of nationalism Dayan promotes, do remember that Shaoqi was deemed a traitor and subsequently executed by Mao Tse Tung (“the biggest capitalist roader in the Party”) simply for suggesting Mao’s government was in need of reform. Needless to say, Dayan’s Smart Patriot has more in common with Mao’s opposition-destroying Cultural Revolution than the reform-minded Shaoqi.
The Smart (Fascist) Patriot
With Shaoqi expressing hope that his essay clarified any misunderstandings regarding proletariat internationalism and bourgeois nationalism as well as to expose, what Shaoqi called, fascist propaganda, it is important to ask: What does Dayan call those who are not Smart or Dumb Patriots? Or in other words: Is Dayan’s Smart Patriot a fascist in sheeps clothing?
Possible answers to these questions can be found in the writing of Carl Schmitt, a Nazi intellectual, whose political thought may be the intellectual forefather to the Smart Patriot. In The Concept of the Political (1932) Schmitt argued that the state should perpetually be in the process of distinguishing between friend and enemy as “conflict is embedded in existence itself.” Like Dayan, Schmitt believed distinctions between friends and enemies are to be based on the existential concerns of the state with enemies comprising of all those who do not belong to the state, particularly those whose hostility and readiness for combat threatens the very existence of the state:
What always matters is the possibility of the extreme case taking place, the real war, and the decision whether this situation has or has not arrived (p. 35).
Again, the reader is in the best position to determine the relevance of Schmitt’s writings to Dayan’s Smart Patriot. However, I highly recommend Concept of the Political as necessary reading for all nationalists of the Smart Patriot variety, containing just enough intellectual heft to rationalize the paranoia of the victorious over the defeated Other.
The Outcome of Nationalism is Separation
Dayan references three texts in his response which he deems relevant to assumptions concerning Sri Lanka’s identity and nation-building project and process. I only need to engage with Prof Jerry Z. Muller essay “Us and Them: The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism” as a) these articles mention neither “patriot” and “nationalism,” and b) any pertinence these articles may have are addressed by Shaoqi’s remarks above.
I agree with the view expressed in Us and Them that “it is not what is but what people believe that have behavioral consequences.” Such is aptly demonstrated by nationalist parties in Europe (e.g. Golden Dawn in Greece, UKIP and the British National Party in Britain, and France’s National Front) whose popularity may be attributed to domestic variations of nationalism. However what Dayan may have not realized is that Us and Them is in fact an argument for partition and separatism based on ethnicity. For Muller, nationalist governments in 20th century Europe:
openly discriminated in favor of the dominant community. Government activities were conducted solely in the language of the majority, and the civil service was reserved for those who spoke it.
While such discrimination frequently leads to conflict, Muller argues that states formed on the basis of identity ought to be justified as such states are generally cohesive and stable. Muller concludes by stating:
Partition may thus be the most humane lasting solution to such intense communal conflicts. It inevitably creates new flows of refugees, but at least it deals with the problem at issue. The challenge for the international community in such cases is to separate communities in the most humane manner possible: by aiding in transport, assuring citizenship rights in the new homeland, and providing financial aid for resettlement and economic absorption.
Dayan adoption of Muller’s line reasoning is surprising. Similar principles were adopted by the Tamil Tigers throughout the civil war and peace process and implemented in situations such as the expulsion of Muslim Sri Lankans from Tamil controlled areas in 1990. I would have expected Dayan to criticized Muller’s view by either asserting ethnic differences are not inevitably linked to violence on a grand scale or moreover the sheer diversity of languages renders the prospects of the nationalist project hopelessly impractical. While I will leave it to Dayan to sort out the inconsistencies of his “political existentialism”, I sincerely hope Dayan will not be arrested for encouraging or advocating for the establishment of a separate State within Sri Lanka. Such an arrest will be truly unbecoming of the Smart Patriot.
Alternatives to Nationalism in a Post Conflict Society
Accommodating multiple demands for ethnic self-determination in an existing state is undoubtedly precarious. Hardly surprising given that self-determination as a concept has only existed since 1919 after Woodrow Wilson proposed it during the Treaty of Versailles negotiations. While the many difficulties associated with self determination remain to be worked out, the solution for a post-conflict Sri Lankan society surely cannot be found by classifying Sri Lankans into patriots and traitors based on subjective and often false assumptions.
In conclusion, Sri Lankan patriots comes in a variety of shapes and sizes with a myriad of political beliefs. What patriots all share in common is being consistently committed and motivated to act for what they believe to the best interests of the country. Those who believe Sri Lankan patriotism must recognize the Sinhala nationalism are neither smart or dumb.
They are simply wrong.
*Romesh Hettiarachchi is a lawyer and mediator in Toronto, Canada. A former director of Sri Lankans Without Borders, Romesh can be reached @romesh_h. For those interested in continuing these discussions, particularly those in Canada, visit the Kathae Kadai facebook forum.