By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Reading reports of the recent manifestation in Maharagama, I cannot, as a political scientist, avoid the clear, decided conclusion that what we are witnessing is nothing less than the emergence of an ethno-religious fascist movement from the dark underside of Sinhala society. It is what the political philosophers Hannah Arendt and Reinhold Niebuhr (and more recently, Alan Wolfe) characterised as ‘political evil’. (Those who expend much polemical powder and shot identifying President Rajapaksa as a Hitleresque fascist, now have a real movement that fits the bill far more closely).
Just as fanatical ethnic or ethno religious movements came to the fore globally with the dawn of a uni-polar world following the collapse of the USSR and the larger socialist alternative, the Sri Lankan counterpart arises with the post-war uni-polarity of our political system and the vacuum left by the slow motion implosive collapse of the democratic opposition.
Looked at more closely, the concrete context of the emergence of this movement is constituted by the confluence of five factors:
- Benign tolerance, if not early patronage, on the part of the regime. A precursor of this phenomenon was the anti-Muslim propaganda conducted by a party which is a constituent of the government and which concurs with the current calls of the new militant movement. The fast risen high rise in a prime location in Colombo, which houses the extremist movement, also indicates access to patronage.
- The absence of an inclusionary, pluralist statesmanlike stance and discourse on the part of the nation’s political leadership, and a refusal to adopt such a stance. Instead a dominant ‘regime discourse’ of majoritarian militarism, which legitimises more militant spin-offs, spouting hate speech and blackmailing regime and state.
- The absence of a moderate nationalist and socially progressive, i.e. social democratic Opposition. The opposition is in the throes of a protracted ‘organic crisis’, defined by Antonio Gramsci as one in which the traditional social support base of a party deserts it. The organic crisis of the opposition is rooted in the inorganic/disorganic character of that Oppositional leadership and the non-emergence of an organic Opposition which represents “the collective will of the people-nation” (Gramsci).
- The tacit collusion of state authorities such as those of law enforcement, who do not investigate, still less crack down on extremist movements of the majoritarian character, because they have been signalled or socialised into thinking that the cultural policing of minorities and the imposition of majoritarian norms is in order, and is indeed their role and function.
- The weakening of the Left, by which I mean the JVP, by a three way split, one to the populist right, led by Wimal Weerawansa and the other to the radical left, the FSP/JAV and the sectarian inability of the JVP and FSP to form a united front or action bloc even if their future survival depends upon it (which it does).
I don’t know who is ‘behind’ the new movement nor what its motivations are, and do not care to speculate. What I can make is an educated guess at what the consequences of this religio-fascist surge will be. What then is the emerging scenario? The fuel is spreading on the ground and a single match, a single spark, a single incident however minor, could set off a violent clash, commencing a whole new cycle of conflict and polarisation. We Sinhalese and our fellow Muslim citizens will be psychologically separated and unable to look each other in the eye, just as our Tamil citizens and we are unable to even now.
The new Sinhala Buddhist radicalism will spawn Muslim radicalism in Sri Lanka, outflanking the moderate Muslim leaders and factions. Reactive Muslim radicalism will be a magnet for the global jihadi movement that is especially strong in South Asia. The residual LTTE elements will reach out to the Muslim radicals and a pooling of resources and division of labour –including access in Tamil Nadu–will enable each to mount operations against Sri Lanka, thereby ending the hard won peace that we now enjoy.
The Sri Lankan armed forces will be affected by the demoralisation that will set in among its many Muslim officers and men.
Sri Lanka will lose the support of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, representing a billion adherents and inclusive of states that staunchly supported Sri Lanka during decades of war.
Since the Sinhala Buddhist extremist surge is taking place in the absence of any sign of Islamic terrorist activity in Sri Lanka, the case would have been made before world opinion that it is not LTTE terrorism that was the cause of our tragedy but that Sinhala extremism caused LTTE terrorism. The separatist elements of the Tamil Diaspora could well point to Maharagama and say this is what happened to us; what was done to us, and now they are doing it to the Muslims who supported the state during the war against Tamil separatism. The moral-ethical blame would shift to the South and the Sinhalese.
The apprehensions of the other minorities, including the Catholics and Christians overall, would be heightened, because no one with any discernment would accept the gratuitous advice of the Sinhala Buddhist racists that the enemy are the Christian fundamentalists (i.e. the Evangelicals) and that the Catholics should mobilise against them. The attacks on churches of all denominations during Christmas 2003, the arrest of a nun belonging to the congregation of Mother Theresa, the burning of the statue of Mary and the conduct of the authorities in the aftermath (already the subject of a condemnatory communiqué by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith) makes it clear that the Christians as a community will be and are already a target. The alienation of a minority which is a fragment of an influential global community of two billion will only help those who seek to isolate Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese.
Far from enabling Sri Lanka to portray and position itself as a new Israel, the new surge of anti-Muslim Sinhala Buddhist extremism will cement the arguments of those who have long attempted to catch Sri Lanka in the R2P trap. The Responsibility to Protect is based on the case that a state is unwilling or unable to protect its citizens or a significant section of its citizenry, from large scale violence tantamount to ethnic cleansing. While it is true that R2P requires a Security Council Resolution to be triggered, it is widely observable that interventions invoking R2P or proto-R2P arguments take place with no such authorisation.
The frog-in-the-well ‘strategic minds’ embedded within the Sinhala racist surge or manipulating it as a proxy, may think that an anti-Muslim stance will endear the Sinhalese, the state or the country to the West. These gentlemen and ladies do not seem to know that the West supported jihadis in Afghanistan against the USSR, and still do so in Libya and Syria—even against their own interests- when they are fighting against a state or regime that the West is inimical towards. The Sinhala racists also do not know that the West bombed Christian Serbs facilitating the birth of two Islamic majority states, Bosnia and Kosovo, destroying Yugoslavia (which had begun to self-destruct anyway). In trying to dominate multiethnic, multi-religious Yugoslavia, the Serbs lost the non-Serbian parts of their country (including Kosovo in which they had sacred spaces) and were contained in the part where they did have a historic majority.
No military victory, even one as definitive as that of May 2009, can be durable if the tectonic plates of society start moving apart from each other, and move apart they will, if they are pushed away or excessive pressure is brought to bear upon any of them. Sri Lanka will not be the Israel of South Asia. The drive for Sinhala Buddhist domination over all its minorities will make it the Serbia of South Asia. If this multiethnic, multi-religious, multilingual country is forcefully and unilaterally redefined as Sinhala-Buddhist and nothing else, it will be an ironically self-fulfilling prophecy: the country will shrink, or be shrunk by the world, to its Sinhala Buddhist core/heartland and nothing beyond. The country will crack up and be diminished.