18 April, 2024


Ethno- Religious Fascism And The R2P Trap: The Scenario

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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  • 0

    The speeches and resoltions passed by BBS are reminiscent of the way Adolf Hitler set about aginst the jews.

    My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before in the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice…. And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people…. When I go out in the morning and see these men standing in their queues and look into their pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very devil if I felt no pity for them, if I did not, as did our Lord two thousand years ago, turn against those by whom to-day this poor people is plundered and exploited.
    -Adolf Hitler, in his speech in Munich on 12 April 1922

    Sri Lankans should be aware of the danger facing them due to the uncontrolled speech of these racist elements who choose to pervert religon to espouse their feelings of racial and religous superiority. To blame the muslims for all the ills facing the majority is tantamount to subscribing to such infamous movements which caused havoc throughout the world. Religon and politics must never be mixed. The arousal of religous fanaticsm is to let the demon out of the box. Once committed there is no end.

    • 0

      We sympathize.. Strategic thinking is necessary.. Be of good courage for there is a solution to the current mess in Lanka.
      1. The next generation needs to take over since the current generation, particularly the politicians have brought Lanka to the verge of being a failed state. The country needs a YOUNG, ENERGETIC, BRAVE AND WISE President who can be the change like Barack Obama in the US! OBAMA of course has not really delivered but the US is a superpower so course correction is slow..
      2. There is one young, bright, wise and energetic person that can be the change in Lanka two years down the road at the next Presidential election – an outsider to the dirty game of politics and the Diyawenna parliament of morons, crooks, goons etc. who could rise above and steer a different course. KUMAR SANGAKKARA who would win the votes whose candidacy for President will crack the current CORRUPT TO the hilt political formation within the UNP and SLFP – appeal to the youth who are the future of this multicultural society.. MOST IMPORTANTLY SANGA is a national figure who would attract votes from ALL PARTIES.. Civil Society and the Business community must start a campaign NOW – SANGA FOR PRESIDENT – TO BE THE CHANGE THAT LANKA DESPERATELY NEEDS and hopefully he will take up a new batting challenge for a higher cause since he understands MULTICULTURALISM better than most politicians and know how to WIN AND LOSE GRACEFULLY!

  • 0

    One of the root of the Ethno-Religious Fascism we witness is caused by the decline of Buddhism within the Sinhalese people. This fear has led them to take extreme measures. As such the responsible to protect is sidelined by the authorities and the target is Muslims falsely believing that the Tamils are sorted out.

    Apparently the Sinhala-Buddhist (BBS) main beef with the Muslims is the Halaal / Wahabi issue. The Buddhism Monks as we know are suppose to teach the Buddhists to refrain from eating meat; instead they are campaigning against Halaal levy imposed by the ACJU. Shouldn’t they be discouraging the manufacturers to refrain to pay for certification. One wonders if the BBS agenda is to destroy the Buddhist Philosophy rather than to strengthen it. The old philosophy of Live and let live is fast becoming the survival of the fittest.

    What is the solution?

    • 0

      Sri Lanka can and she must rise to this challenge. Sri Lanka must defeat “Balu Sena” ideologically.

      We need an open society. A free media with high standards. Rule of law in the country. These requirements are not really in place. Waging such an ideological battle with ethno-religious fascits with hidden patronage is tough. Yet, we have no choice but, take “Balu Sena” on. Democratically. Non-violently. Ideologically. And defeat them.

      Please note this kind of groups will not disappear completely. Even if you manage to defeat them ideologically on the public stage. They will survive in the fringes. Such groups are a part of life around the world. Whether they are Buddhist, Islamic or Christian. They are everywhere. It may be ugly, yet not unique to Sri Lanka.

    • 0


  • 0

    Dayan – You will be invited to Temple Trees for a chat – thereafter you will cease writing on the subject is one guess, as MR Bros. cabal have
    a hidden agenda, which is being implemented methodically. Watch out.

    The days of political polemics are gone as far as SL is concerned?

    The educated sector has no more say in Governance.

    • 0

      Perhaps we will see Dr. Jayatilleka walk the talk or in this case his discourse.

  • 0

    I hope this kind of articles will be translated to Sinhalese by the press. Need of the hour.

    • 0

      THEY DARE NOT!!!!!!!!

  • 0

    Mr. Dayan
    You stand miles up away of the earth. Where the hell these multiethnic, multi-religious, multilingual countries are found. Not in this earth. Why the UK PM utter to leave UK citizens if they can’t accept the britishness. Britishnes is nothin but Engilish language and Christian religion. Why France banned Muslim clothing in public and in schools. Why the US precident Obama oathed only on Bible. Why those countries do not allow religios holidays other than Christian’s.

    Sri Lankans are not fools and Sinhala Budhists are not extremists to kill innocent civilians what ever their ethnicity may be. But they are not sheeps prepared to be in western menus. They even did not kill you in Colombo cemetry in 90’s. Now they also know who sparked the 83 riots and the Jafna library fire as happened in Libiya and Serb. The west sponsored conspiracies to corner Sri Lanka will fail this time too as they did in last 6-7 years. Don’t be afraid and be a true Sri Lankan who stand unharmed infront of all these man made troubles to us.

    • 0

      Malaysia, Singapore and Ceylon once upon a time to name a few. UK and France regression to 1930’s Germany

    • 0

      Costa,first of all hats off to Dr Dayan.Whatever UK PM
      uttered it’s his politics.Whatever French did,also their
      politics.Muslims in the US or any other parts of the
      globe were not fools to expect Obama to take oath on
      Quran. Muslims,Tamils,Indians,Chinese and the entire West
      know that cheap politics is the name of the game in
      Srilanka. Guys of your ilk are made to come out and exhibit
      your skills to the world.Dr.Dayan has at least tried to
      analyse the situation to best of his experience and
      knowledge.Whatever Muslims,Tamils and Christians did to
      enhance harmony among communities,racist elements were
      not discouraged and instead increased their hatred slowly
      and steadily with the bankrupt but popular pseudo nationalist
      forces which thrives on racism in every form.Large part of
      General public of the majority won’t feel sad about unfolding
      drama.Muslims also can smell it.I personally smelt it very
      long ago.Bullying has been going on for decades and Muslims
      didn’t care and today they face the music.

      • 0

        Why always opposit of you smelt happen. Sri Lanka is moving forward economically and socially and off your hat first for that. Some body smelt similar to you when VP was alive, theirafter when every UNHRC sessions are close, when university dons were on strike, when a corrupt CJ was to be impeached but their predictions were never came true. So will in this western attempt of sparking Sinhala – Muslim riots as they understand who is behind all these perhaps Dayan like who wants us also to knee before the west.

        • 0

          Yes,we are the fastest moving economy in the region
          between Beliatta and Tissamahrama and thanks to 1.5
          million labour force absorbed by M East and another
          more than half a million in the West,yes not only hats
          there are other things that must be off.People of all
          walks of life are getting married to produce kids for
          exports and buy Rolls Royce from that revenue for the
          patriots.Predictions are coming from knowledgeable and
          expert sources according to their experiences.But yet
          things may not happen as predicted,not because of any
          flaw in prediction but because of arrogant and false
          pride seeking nature of our governance which is only
          playing cheap politics to the gullible rural folks.
          How far can you go like this?

          • 0

            Sri Lankans in ME and west are not on the mercy of those countries. They work like slaves to built a necessary part of those countries and our wemen sleep only for 2 hours a day for years for making their luxery.

            There is a price to pay for the democracy that every body enjoys in this country. Contribute happily for that or imagin Somalia

            • 0

              Pray advice me what price the ethnic minority have to pay for democracy in this country. True the Sri Lankans in the ME and the West are are not at the mercy of those countries and in the same way the minority ethnic community should not be at the mercy of the majority in this country. There was a period that motorcyclist was banned from wearing helmets during the civil war. Why? due to terrorism. France adopted the same stance. Why migrate to these countries in the first place instead of staying in the country of birth.

  • 0

    Bravo! Dayan,this is a clinical dissection of the political climate that we all Sri Lankans live in today.It in itself is the epitome of a sociopolitical process that had been set off post 2009 war victory over the separatist Tigers of Tamil Elam and purportedly given shape willy-nilly by a political mindset that thrived and continues to thrive on chauvinist triumphalism.The hapless victims in the rush of this transformation are not only the ethnic and religious minorities but the very institutions that are basic to the effective upholding of democratic values in a country. Excessive powers being concentrated on a family,a suppliant legislature with the opposition being rendered to mere name-board,a muted judiciary, threatened media freedom and crass political impunity are some salient symptoms of the political malaise that had been unearthed or surfaced by the very political movement that was unleashed in 2009. I believe that ethno-religious fascism is the very baby of that movement and is the engine that can sustain a regime that drew its very support from the beginning and needs it now especially when being faced by mounting economic and global political pressures.

  • 0

    Dayan is absolutely correct in this instance.

    If this trend continues unabated Sri Lanka will definitely become a Serbia in South Asia.

    • 0

      He should be correct because he is an experienced person among the few. He knows things better than the current leader of the country that repeats to have 40years exp in lanken politics. But the leader´s lack of wisdom seems to have influenced the country/folks internationally. No sooner, our will be a state – brand lybian or north korean like.

      However, Dayan´s writing bothers me mostly he comes with examples that the large majority of the readers in this or other forums have no idea.

      If his writing would have been in simple ENglish, so that the average could comprehend easily – without losing the same contents of the articles could achieve a lot. See, how many comments are on this thread ?

  • 0

    – Too many arm chair pundits are bad for one’s health.

    – This is just fear mogering at it’s best. When these pundits have too much time on their hands they just write some theoretical nonsense about the first thing that comes to their mind in order to get attention.

    -A Storm in a tea cup. The People are not as foolish or gullible as some of these pundits seem to think.

    – The BBS as well as The Jamaithul Islam have the right to voice their opinion. The government will take care of the rest.

    – Actually they must let the protests on both sides die a natural death. Which it will

    – Didn’t the Buddhist navy and monks attend to those muslim Rohynigias who were lost at sea and dying.

  • 0

    Well Dayan, can you remember heatedly rejecting this when I said it to you on transcurrents four years ago? So now once again you have changed your tune.Are you really unable to see or do you choose not to see when it is convenient not to? In other words is all your reading and studying in vain or are you just playing a cunning game of survival? Perhaps you are one of those who pipers who plays the tune that the paymaster demands…or perhaps a viper that dances to the pipers tune. You have played a significant tole in bringing this situation about and you shall be held responsible for this by all those who know you for what you have been.

    • 0

      Your analysis of DJ’s cavorting is completely correct. This is a man without a principle except one: getting ahead for himself. No less, no more!

  • 0

    Can you remember how you laughed at R2Pee as you called it?

  • 0

    Dayan, you commence this article as a political Scientist with
    “Reading reports of the recent manifestation in Maharagama, I cannot, as a political scientist…………….)

    But further down, you identify yourself as a Sinhalese and appeal to the fears and prejudices of Sinhalese,

    “We Sinhalese and our fellow Muslim citizens………….”

    And in the middle you quote Antonio Gramsci and his hegemony.
    Did Antonio Gramsci ever use the term, “We Italians ….. ”?

    Antonio Gramsci may not be a political scentist,but he is an international communist and a theoretician like Marx, Lenin………

    Dayan either write as a political scientist or a Sinhalese, but no mix up

    Your tribal instinct is much more basic and strong than your scientific mental make up!

    Dayan, You have still a long way to go!

    • 0


  • 0

    While I would not at present go so far as giving the BBS anything more than a fundamentalist minority view, I do agree it has the potential of directing moderates to their view depending on the world reaction, and further cementing strength.

    It is therefore of the utmost importance for the Govt. to suppress this movement forthwith, and the moderate elders in the Sangha disassociate themselves from this movement, explaining clearly how dangerous such extreme views are firstly due to their gross distortion of the facts, and then of manipulating small grievances into ones that seem to snowball due to the inaction of the Govt. and the moderate forces.

    So if the security of minorities in Sri Lanka is threatened, then external forces will use the R2P doctrine to directly interfere in the internal affairs of SL, further resulting in the conflagration getting out of control with the resulting destruction of Sri Lanka as we know it. That is far-fetched at the moment, but nevertheless the outcome if it is not disbanded and need I say it brutally repressed as there is no way of putting these traitorous priests, both traitorous to the Country, and to their Buddhism.

    It puts the Govt. in a tight spot of their own creation, and serves them right for believing they will have an electoral benefit from so doing. In fact it will heavily backfire and looks like the beginning of the end of their rule. What do we the lesser mortals do on this? We simply must try and explain to our constituency that the end result of this is a blow up and we must resolve small issues in a considerate manner, not allowing them to get to a seemingly insoluble problem. Therein lies my request in the earlier entry for the case for halal needing a review that is sensible, and not permit one set of idiots to allow another set of idiots to raise hell.

    As a test of our basic humanity we took the Burmese oppressed people the Muslim minority Rohingyas who were found drifting in the sea and gave them medication and accommodation.

    The next test will be whether we give them asylum if they do not wish to go back for fear of retaliation or recrimination!

    Who will first offer to provide them temporary shelter and employment? A Buddhist temple or a Muslim mosque? This will show the true colors of Sri Lankans. A non sectarian group perhaps. The Government!

    Lets wait and see.

  • 0

    1. Fascism is nothing more than a subversive attack on those processes that generate social institutions.

    2. The objective of fascism is to generate a personality based rather than a process based system of governance.

    3. R2P is recognized purely because it is impossible to get rid of fascism once it establishes itself.

    4. R2P is a ‘trap’ only to those who seek to protect fascism not those who want to be rid of it.

    5. Dr. Dayan has a history of justifying local level fascism at global level and seeking to protect fascism from the R2P process that has been initiated and sustained at global level in order to protect people from fascism at local level.

    6. ‘The people’ is the name in which fascism operates. There is no such entity as ‘The People” or “The Collective Will of The People” there is only governance by process or governance by personalities.

    7. Laws cannot be trusted because anything can be made a law or declared illegal especially in the absence of strong processes or when strong processes are subverted or overridden by strong personalities.

    8. Sri Lanka is currently in an inherently fascist situation not because of the government or the LTTE or because of anything other than that its underlying ideological underpinnings are based on the subversion of processes and the destruction of all those who wish to live within a process governed context.

    9. The modern version of this anti process ideology is known as “Shape” and can be seen in action at every level of its social institutions steadily undermining underlying processes and constantly changing their “Shape” to suite immediate interests.

    10. Dr. Dayan is now trying his best to “Shape” fascism into something that he hopes will be able to survive and there is a very good chance that he will go “up” as one of the greatest ‘shape shifters’ of all time. He has produced an interesting brood of young followers and admirers – at least one of whom brazenly flies the swastika on his front door – who like to see what they are doing as ‘Psy Ops” and who may join him on his upward move.

  • 0

    Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka,

    This is indeed a valuable article in today’s context and therefore worthy of a much wider readership.

    However I feel your style of writing is understood only by the few which is very unfortunate.

    As a contributor to these columns I myself have noticed that my message is either misunderstood by some or goes completely over the heads of others.

    Therefore you might want to consider changing your style of writing to a simpler one in order to make it accessible to a wider audience.

    I quote George Eliot “The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words”.

    Sharmini Serasinghe

    • 0

      Ms Serasinghe,

      this is exactly what I shared several times sofar to this and another following good articles of his. If a writer of Dayan´s grade could all the info in a simple manner, many would become aware the ground reality of the current day politics in SL. I respect him a lot for his knowledge, although I am not a supporter to current regime. I think Rajiva´s articles are easy to comprehend. So are the articles written by Kusal P.

  • 0

    Dayan is basically right to be concerned about the rising Sinhala Buddhist domination of the state machinery, but unfortunately this is the political reality in all countries with a preponderous majority. To call it fascism/racism is to go overboard. The fact that Dayan views the disaffection of the Sinhala Buddhist people, due to their marginalization in the international arena when decisions are made about Sri Lanka, in terms of fascism/racism shows he is afflicted by the opposite of what he terms the “frog in the well” perspective of the Sinhala Buddhist people – namely the “bird in the sky” syndrome. Dayan should come down to the ground instead of using the talking points of Western powers and their media. Yes we have a potential problem but we need to address it with understanding and respect of the people involved.

  • 0

    Neutrality & Liberal thinker. very good article. but Is anyone thinking about this article? A good thinking the best record. the social development is In the hands of A good thinker. thank you very much

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