By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“Fanatics are picturesque; mankind would rather see gestures than listen to reason…” Nietzsche (The Anti-Christ)
In Weliweriya, the police felt unable to deal with a group of peaceful demonstrators. The army stepped into the breach, ready for war, and led by a Brigadier, no less. The peaceful demonstrators were shot at and assaulted.
In Grandpass, a violent mob reportedly attacked a mosque and some (presumably Muslim) houses. Several people, including two policemen, were injured in the resulting melee. But the saffron-thugs, as always, got away scot-free.
The peaceful demonstrators in Weliweriya were led by the Buddhist monks in the area. Today they are under threat, from powers that be.
The mob in Grandpass was also led by some monks. They were allowed to depart in freedom.
The differential treatments accorded to the peaceful, legal and democratic demonstration in Weliweriya and the illegal, violent saffron-mob in Grandpass send a potent message.
In Rajapaksa Sri Lanka, it is right and proper for Sinhala-Buddhists to attack the minorities. Anti-minority mobs will be treated with kid-gloves by the police. But woe-betide those Sinhala-Buddhists who protest against a political injustice or an economic wrong. They will be treated like traitors and a blood-thirsty army will be unleashed on them.
In Rajapaksa Sri Lanka it is right and proper for monks to incite racial/religious hatred and violence[i]. Such monks will be saluted by the police, befriended by the military and entertained by the President himself. But woe-betide those Buddhist monks, who, motivated by compassion and a sense of justice, try to help Sinhala-Buddhists whose basic rights are violated by the Rajapaksas or their kith and kin.
Weliweriya was an indication of what is in store for the Rajapaksas in aSri Lankauncontaminated by ethnic/religious overdetermination.
The Rajapaksa project is politically repressive and economically exploitative. The Rajapaksas not only dominate the state and its economic organs. Through their stooges, they have made deep inroads into the private sector economy as well. Therefore many employees protesting against unjust working conditions and many communities demonstrating against socio-economic exploitation and environmental degradation will find themselves confronting Rajapaksa interests, directly or indirectly. If this situation is allowed to continue, the political space can become dominated by conflicts between the people (of all ethnicities, religions/or none) and the Ruling Family. The realisation of the existence of common interests and a common enemy can lead to ethno-religious solidarity and perhaps even create conditions for the coalescence of a ‘Lankan nation’ in opposition to the Rajapaksas.
That is a nightmare the Rajapaksas would want to avoid at all costs.
Blood-and-faith nationalism is their weapon of choice, as is obvious from the Grandpass attack, just a week after Weliweriya.
According to American psychologist Dr. Bryant Welch, “religious fundamentalism plays three psychological roles which reinforce one another to fundamentalist religion very appealing to millions…. First, it fills in important gaps in our reality sense….and eases the perplexity that the mind feels from uncertainty. Second, religion provides support for the mind as it struggles with the three battleground emotional states – envy, sexual perplexity and paranoia. Finally…..it provides an esoteric experience that is a powerful antidote to the fears and stresses of modernity”[ii].
Little wonder that despots, across the world and over time, see in extreme-religion an invaluable ‘Emperor’s Coat’.
When religion is married to ethnicity and turned into blood-and-faith nationalism, it becomes a particularly noxious brew which can drive entire communities out of their good senses.
Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism,Sri Lanka’s blood-and-faith nationalism, created a language issue, prevented its resolution and enabled its metamorphosis into an ethnic problem. It is a fundamental law of politics that the manifestation of one type of fundamentalism encourages and fosters fanatics of every other sort. Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism created Tiger fascism and helped it to defeat moderate/progressive strands of Tamil nationalism. In its turn, Tiger fascism blocked a negotiated settlement of the war and murdered many Sinhala and Tamil moderates who stood for a devolution-based political solution to the ethnic problem. Together, these two extremisms rendered reason and moderation obsolete and pushedSri Lankainto a morass of violent disunity, irreconcilable enmity and brutal war.
And eventually installed the Rajapaksas at the helm of the Lankan state.
Tiger fascism is no more, but Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism reigns supreme, as the premier façade of the Rajapaksa dynastic project. It has become a cloak to hide the naked power-hunger of the Ruling Siblings, a soporific to keep the South quiescent and an intoxicant to incite the South against this or that minority, whenever necessary.
The Rajapaksa response to Weliweriya was threefold. They lied about the protest and the protestors. President Mahinda Rajapaksa undertook a meet-and-greet-the-people-blitz in several Sinhala-majority provinces[iii].
And the Grandpass mosque was attacked, no sooner than Ramazan was over.
The marriage of convenience between Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism and the Rajapaksa dynastic project is creating a fertile breeding ground for fundamentalisms of every variety. What happened with Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism and Tiger fascism might become replicated with Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism and Islamic fundamentalism. That might suit the Rajapaksas quite well, because it will give them an enemy to replace the Tiger, a justification for every crime and excess, misdeed and error.
Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism, like all political-religions, advocates government of, by and for the ‘chosen people’, chosen on the basis of primordial identities – ethnicity and religion. It advocates the creation of a hierarchical society, in which the minorities can survive only by accepting their (majority-allocated) subordinate place. This way, even the poorest, most powerless Sinhalese can feel that he/she is superior to even the richest Tamil/Muslim/Christian. This illusive sense of superiority – and the fear of losing it – can keep the Sinhala South in thrall to the Rajapaksas, despite growing economic hardships. It can also prevent the Sinhalese from looking reality in the face and asking some necessary questions – including the real role of the military (especially post-Weliweriya) and the connection between military expenditure and economic hardships (for instance, did post-war Sri Lanka need to buy 14 Mi-171 helicopters from Russia at the cost of US$11.5 million each?[iv]).
A new anti-minority phobia can take the Sinhala-Buddhist mind away from really existing problems. When one is blinded by the fear of the ‘Other’ one has little time or inclination to care about prices or pollution, bad governance or despotism. One is too obsessed with halal or conversions, Sharia or the 13th Amendment to care about real problems.
And any issue/horror which cannot be blamed on some minority or the other can be shoved out of our collective-mind, easily.
A five-month old baby-girl had been raped, in our Sri Lanka[v] – a horror symbolic and symbiotic of the moral-ethical malaise affecting our society. That is a non-political issue, one which should concern all of us, irrespective of every difference. The fact that it has not engaged the attention of political and civil society and the religious leaders of all faiths (who seem obsessed with morals in general) is indicative of how far we have fallen, as individuals and as a country.
[ii] State ofConfusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind.
[iii] According to the ITN news telecast of 10th Saturday, the ‘Proud Father’ (Adambarakara thaththa) gave students some handy hints about studying for exams, a week after his troops murdered twoAL students in cold blood.