By Dayan Jayatilleka –
The Deadly Ignorance Of Sinhala Alt-Right – Part II
“May God defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies.”—Voltaire
Gotabaya is perhaps the most able person in public life today; one capable of replicating in Sri Lanka, a Mahathirian Malaysia. I have worked with President Premadasa and not only have no doubt that he would have warmly commended Gota for the latter’s urban development, but am also certain that ‘GR’ could be his 21st century successor in the domain of national development and modernization.
Arresting Gotabaya Rajapaksa who played a decisive, indispensable role in liberating us all, while allowing those in the North who salute the separatist-fascist Prabhakaran and his LTTE storm troopers to roam free, not to mention permitting Northern Education (!) Minister Sarveshwaran who renounced the National Flag, to remain in office, is symbolic of UNP arrogance, CBK ‘reconciliation’ and Yahapalana folly.
Detaining Gota would be so polarizing an act, triggering such a social backlash even if subterranean, that it is probably the single most imbecilic mistake the Govt. can make, and could not only mark the beginning of its end, with both the official SLFP and the Government fracturing, but could ensure that Yahapalana has a hard landing rather than a soft one.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa must be defended and saved from his enemies, domestic and foreign: those who want to jail him on trumped up charges amounting to no more than petty administrative mistakes, as a prelude to Geneva-driven war crimes charges. The motivation behind the Government’s commitment to the Geneva resolution of 2015, the reason that the Ranil-Mangala-CBK troika does not wish to renegotiate it on the basis of Paranagama report and Lord Naseby’s discoveries, and the impulse behind the erection of the apparatus for the implementation of the Geneva resolution (OMP-Special Courts-Special Counsel), is the need to frame Gotabaya and eliminate him from politics, offering him as a human sacrifice to the revenge-seeking hardline Tamil nationalist voters in Sri Lanka and the Diaspora.
But Gotabaya must also, and equally, be defended and saved from the folly of his obscurantist, socially destructive Sinhala Alt-Right friends and allies. His current supporters obliterate his technocratic profile and obstruct his meritocratic modernist potential as a second JR or Premadasa, with their backward ideology. They paint a target on his back, misdirecting him away from the mainstream and the moderate center into the ‘kill-zone’ of the Far Right, making the job of his enemies easier by isolating him from the progressives, pluralists and moderates (JO, SLFP) as well as the discontented center-right UNP voters, and of course the minorities.
The CIA operating through proxies, couldn’t do a better job of setting GR up. By locking him in to a hardline Sinhala Diaspora driven project, and extreme positions and discourse, these false friends and dangerous allies make Gotabaya the target of powerful regional and global forces for whom a political settlement with and for the Tamils is a bottom-line and will always remain so. The Indo-US axis will ‘neutralize’ or destabilize any leader who is perceived as hostile to, or who is reliant on a movement that is hostile to, a political settlement with the Tamils, based on political reforms.
The Alt-Right ideology represents the collective consciousness of the character “Jinadasa” of the great Siri Gunasinghe’s path-breaking novel Hevanella, a masterpiece of modern Sinhala literature, whereas the Sinhalese and Sri Lanka have long needed and urgently need now, the collective consciousness of his counterpoint character “Wijepala”.
The Sinhala Alt-Right ideologues do not know the difference between secession, federalism and devolution within a unitary state. For them, any devolution is tantamount to federalism which is tantamount to secession. Not once do they look to any successful devolution of power/regional autonomy within a unitary state. For them, the full implementation of the 13th amendment is automatically federalism. It is one thing to argue, correctly, that the abolition of the executive presidency and/or the abolition of the concurrent list would turn even the existing 13th amendment into federalism, but quite another to say that the full implementation of 13A within the present system– unitary, Executive Presidential and with a Concurrent list—would still be federalism!
In Sinhala Alt-Right discourse, the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 is absurdly trotted out as evidence of the dangers of ‘power sharing” (devolution)! Jinnah and the Muslim League, supported by the British, never agreed to “power sharing” even on a federal basis, with Gandhi, Nehru and the Congress. They wanted to secede and the Congress had to reluctantly agree, or else the British wouldn’t leave. If the debate is about devolution i.e. “power sharing”, then logically, the example presented in the critique should not be about secession i.e. the Partition of India/Pakistan!
The Sinhala Alt-Right must really not know that President Putin held an election to the autonomous republic of Chechnya and secured the election of his young ally President Ramzan Kadyrov, before he launched the victorious final offensive in Chechnya. The Sinhala Alt-Right also does not know how seriously the Chinese take their state structure, as enshrined in their Constitution, of ethnic regional autonomy i.e. autonomous ethnic regions and smaller autonomous areas within them, within the framework of a unitary state.
For the Alt-Right, Provincial devolution in the form of the 13th amendment was forced upon us by the Indians, and therefore it should be rolled back or observed only in the breach. If the Indians forced it on us for certain compulsions of a strategic nature (and these were spelled out in JN Dixit’s famous lecture to the United Services Institute) there is no reason to assume that any attempt by Sri Lanka to roll it back or dismantle it will not reactivate the same strategic compulsions (of keeping India together by keeping Tamil Nadu on-side), with the same coercive behavior, which once again we shall be unable to deter or defeat. This time the intrusion maybe permanent, and backstopped by India’s recent strategic partner, the US. Devolution to the tune of the 13th amendment is the cheapest price Sri Lanka just may be able to get away with paying, because the next stop will be the fullest federalism just short of separation, if not a separate state itself.
An Alt–Right ideologue recently argued that President Rajapaksa’s declaration in a joint communiques with India and the UN Sec-Gen, of his “firm resolve…to implement the 13th amendment” was NOT a “commitment” to do so because a declaration of firm resolve and a commitment were two different things. Now the problem here is that the Sinhala Alt-Right understanding and usage of the English language, in which a “firm resolve to implement” supposedly does not signal a “commitment” to do so, is not exactly the universal understanding of the English language! Clearly the Sinhala Alt-Right needs to invite Prof Rajiva Wijesinha to conduct some evening classes in the use and abuse of the English language.
No State or diplomat or court or newspaper editor anywhere in the world would understand a declaration of “firm resolve” by a President as anything other than a commitment. When “firm resolve to implement” is followed up by a categorical statement by President Rajapaksa in late May 2009 (source: Wiki Leaks) to the outgoing US Ambassador Bob Blake reaffirming his intention to implement the 13th amendment adding a US-style Senate, while stating that he is cautiously undecided on police powers, then that is a reiteration of a standing commitment.
Having made such a promise to a giant neighbor, and to the world’s sole superpower, in exchange for securing their support or neutrality in winning the war, then that becomes a debt owed and to be repaid. Or else consequences follow, which we cannot withstand because we have neither the hard power nor the soft power to do so.
The Alt-Right response to the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 of 2015 is neither to renegotiate it nor to construct a broad majority (as we did in 2009) needed to repeal it, but to ignore it because it “is illegal”! UNHRC resolutions are not primarily about legality but legitimacy—and they do not understand the difference.
The Alt-Right argues that Sri Lanka, and more especially the Sinhalese, should and can imitate Israel. Israel has an unlimited commitment from the world’s sole superpower, based on the electoral influence of the Jewish lobby in the US, the Bible (Old Testament) based Christian-Jewish religio-cultural axis, and Western guilt over the Holocaust. The Jews are part of the Western elite, while Israel itself is militarily the most powerful state in the Middle East and is a covert nuclear power. None of these factors operate in the case of Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese, or are feasible goals. If anyone has the potential to remotely approximate Israel and the Jews, it is the Tamils, with their high achievement, high profile Diaspora.
As for the supposed example of Richard Goldstone’s report and his recantation, there is absolutely no similarity with anything Sri Lanka can emulate or aspire to. South African judge Richard Goldstone is Jewish, but he was not the kind of moral-ethical giant that Richard Falk– also Jewish– is. Emeritus Prof of International Law at Princeton and UN Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk (whom I am proud to able to call a friend) could never be intimidated or pressured. Goldstone was successfully influenced to change his Gaza report by family, friends, and community, when he attended his niece’s bar mitzvah back home in South Africa. There are no Sinhalese, still less Sinhala Buddhists, on the various UN probes into Sri Lanka. Neither Darusman nor Zeid al Hussein are Sinhalese –so, no, we can’t threaten them with treason trials and death sentences when the patriots come to power, or disallow funeral rituals once they are executed.
The three characteristic components of the Sinhala Alt-Right are ignorance, irrationality and backwardness, but what are their three sources? The wisdom of the greatest US President, Thomas Jefferson point to one: “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” (Letter to Von Humboldt, 1813)
A second is contained in the conclusion about Diaspora communities and their political role and influence, drawn by Fred Halliday, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at the LSE:
“Emigrant ethnic communities almost always play a negative, backward, at once hysterical and obstructive, role in resolving the conflicts of their countries of origin…” (Halliday, ‘Conclusions: The World’s Twelve Worst Ideas’, Political Journeys, pp. 259-262)
The third and deepest root is the factor unearthed by one of the most influential figures in the history of philosophy, Friedrich Nietzsche:
“History teaches us that the part of a people maintains itself best whose members generally share a vital public spirit, due to the similarity of their long-standing incontrovertible principles, that is, of their common faith. In their case, good, sound custom strengthens them; they are taught to subordinate the individual, and their character is given solidity, at first innately and later through education. The danger in these strong communities, founded on similar, steadfast individual members, is an increasing, inherited stupidity, which follows all stability like a shadow.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Signs of Higher and Lower Culture’, Human, All Too Human, aphorism 224)
In his lucid speech to the Constitutional Assembly, Dr. Sarath Amunugama, a genuine scholar- intellectual well above social, cultural or intellectual resentment, unlike the Sinhala Alt-Rightists, recalled that the late Philip Gunawardena warned the Sinhala majority in a famous Parliamentary speech that “we cannot be Neanderthals!” The Sinhala Alt-Right ideologues with their “WTF is the Tamils’ problem?” discourse, come across like neo-Neanderthals. They are citizens of a state of collective denial; of “denialism”. Gotabaya must be saved from them too.