19 July, 2024


Let Us Get (Ourselves) Closer To Our Country!

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Modernity is not opposed to nationalism. This we should know. The confusion or rather dichotomy between the two has come about because many of us are clueless about what they represent. This too we should know. Fact is, there can’t be modernity without anchoring oneself in the past. Fact is, there can’t be nationalism (and there are many nationalisms) without preparing oneself for the future. The two are coterminous: the one can’t thrive and flourish without the other. This is not a political statement, rather a truism cuts across the political and the social.

There was a time, not too long ago and in my generation, when those who purported to speak on behalf of Sinhala Buddhists were silenced. To speak of that collective was tantamount to being a racist, which was rather duplicitous given the carte blanche which the articulators and propagandists of Eelamism were given. There seemed to be a manifest lack of understanding about historical realities, or about the difference between speaking on behalf of one collective and speaking on behalf of that collective AGAINST another. The latter was incendiary, hardly condonable. The former, however, was not. Those who tried to prevent it, needless to say, ended up constricting any space for the representatives of Sinhala Buddhists.

At one level, this confusion is more than mischievous, anti-historical, and ontological. What is nationalism and where does it end? How is it different to racism, and how is racism (which is negative and depends on the repudiation of the legitimacy of “the Other”) different to racialism (which falls somewhere in-between)? What is positive, if at all, and what is not? A single writer can’t set the record straight. It takes a general sammuthiya to agree on which is what and what is not, in this respect.

It’s not easy being a nationalist. It’s easier being a racist. The reason is obvious. Racism drives on self-labelled superiority and on what is perceived as inferiority on the part of the Other. It doesn’t take much to spout hatred: burn a few shops belonging to one community, vandalise a temple, kovil, church, or mosque, and you’ll be soon hailed by extremists as their hero. That is why chauvinists from both sides have won and prevailed for so long, and why someone like Gnanasara Thera is (regardless of his credentials as a monk) deified despite the fact that no one voted for his party. “He has something important to say,” is the commonest excuse given by his supporters.

It’s tougher being a nationalist. This is elementary. It takes rhetoric to hate. It takes heartfelt sincerity to love. Racism thrives on rhetoric. Nationalism, at least to a certain extent, thrives on sincerity. Emotion bests reason in more ways than one, which is why the former tends to best the latter as far as debate is concerned. That is sad.

Take the subject of independence. How many of us, never mind the flag and the usual chest-thumping words about freedom, appreciate what it stands for? Perhaps decades of cynicism has conditioned us to be cynical with everything. Perhaps those decades have taught that we haven’t really clinched independence. Either way, the mere fact that we are not subject to another foreign power is in the least worthy of contemplation. But we toss it aside with the remark, “It is just a word.”

We don’t produce nationalists like we used to, come to think of it. Taken in itself, there’s nothing to bemoan in this: the fact is that the deficiencies of one epoch are compensated by the promises of the next, which means that sooner or later, the voice of the people, of true, genuine patriotism, will prevail. But this is just scratching the surface. The real problem, which goes deeper, is that far from not being able to produce nationalists, our country will be taken over by an entire generation whose love for their country is at best conditioned if not tempered by a rootless variant of cosmopolitanism: the kind of uprooted cosmopolitanism that runs riot in Colombo. Which in itself is bad enough, since much of our self-labelled intelligentsia hail from this part of the country, and they continue to exert influence everywhere.

Long, long ago, this wasn’t a problem. Our schools and curricula built in love for one’s country and people from an early age. We woke up every day to deshabimana gee or patriotic songs on radio, none of which encouraged us to hate other collectives. By deshabimana gee I am of course thinking of Amaradeva, Mahagama Sekara, and Chandrarathna Manawasinghe, among others. These were not racists. They couldn’t have been. The fact is that they were rooted in their societies, so what they wrote, composed, and sang, they felt. And they made us feel what they wrote.

We read the poems of Tibet S. Mahinda Thera and P. B. Alwis Perera without feeling any antipathy towards other races or faiths. We sang them in gushes and torrents, with gusto, because we intensely felt what they were trying to say. “Me Rata Mage Rata Ma Ipadunu Rata,” Miranda Hemalatha wrote, and as we recited those words from memory, the poetry hit us. That kind of literature, at once rhythmic and rousing, is hard to come by today. No wonder most of our children go through even our public schools without the slightest smattering of love for their land of birth. No wonder they end up being biased against history, even culturally insensitive.

The culture of prudery that has seeped into our people, from god knows where, has aggravated this issue. We don’t teach our children to understand their faith: we force them to attend Sunday school. We don’t teach them our history: we force them to read and unconditionally accept it. Our government textbooks aren’t helpful in this respect either: just the other day, for instance, I came across a chapter detailing the biographies of some of our foremost artistes, which had erroneously interchanged the details of Lester James Peries and Ediriweera Sarachchandra. I know for a fact that we are force-fed to accept these texts. How do we progress with that?

The truth is that love for one’s country (of the genuine sort) is predicated on what one picks up from childhood. If that childhood is warped, if it isn’t surrounded by an environment which makes it amenable for someone to understand where one is and how came to be there, the outcome is obvious: an entire generation of distorted, culturally uprooted citizens. Without the strength or the resolve to stand up for one’s land of birth, without the ability to assess history, no one can progress. Martin Wickramasinghe wrote on this. When history dies, so does the conscience of a nation.

So what are the preconditions for a healthier citizenry? First and foremost, the ability to take in and absorb the best of the rest of the world. This is elementary, again, but then we have confused between absorbing and imitating. We are constantly told to move on, to do away with patriotism, to consider ourselves as citizens of the world. The problem with globalisation of that sort, however, is that those who force us to accept ourselves as citizens of the world (à la Diogenes) are themselves representatives of countries and polities which vehemently (and rightly) rebel against that line of thinking. Like the United States.

Secondly, we need to revaluate the way we teach our children our history. History is not about dates. That is obvious. It’s about aligning the one with the other, about inferring parallels and understanding how communities progress and flourish. Speaking from experience, my best history teacher (in Eighth Grade) taught us more than what happened when and what led to what else. She taught us how to connect the dots, to infer the causes behind an incident or event. As I grew up, and as I read into history, I realised how, even in a mild form, she was emulating the incomparable Fernand Braudel, that historian who taught us that his subject was best taught not through memorising bundles of data, but by making the connections necessary to glean cause from effect, and effect from cause.

We’re barking up the wrong tree, I believe. Until and unless we nurture our children, and make them more sensitive to their surroundings, without discouraging them from learning about them owing to that culture of prudery which runs riot in this country, we’ll be fermenting a generation that’s cut off from their environment. That is bad. Not because nationalism is cast in stone and is a must, but because no country in this godforsaken, globalised world of ours has progressed without anchoring itself in its past, its way of life. Without history, without heritage, put simply, we are nothing.

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  • 0

    Good article Uditha.

    • 3

      Uditha Devapriya,
      SWRD from Oxford brought in Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr race religion in his Sarema and called it modern.
      SJVC from Malaysia countered it with Rrrrrrrr race and language in his Sarema and called it modern.
      Moroccan Bad U Din standardized education and topped it with imports- exceptional chilies and onions and called it emancipation.
      Then came 3 bank heists from Imperial University London – The Burglars- modern.

      1998 Old Tate Gallery – A very thick manila rope was anchored to a massive Roman Sculpture of a Lion and the English artist called it Contemporary. In came two smart Chinese artist who stripped themselves to the nude on a bed and had a pillow fight calling it contemporary.- neither won but received compliments for stealing the show.
      First para of your write up and those touching eyebrows says it all that you are doped as in semiconductors with Rrrrrrrrrrrr Sarema hitan.
      No man is a damn fool all the time.
      In Laotse’s words the wise man does not contend so for that very reason no one under heaven can contend with him.
      Show me a dictator that can dispense with the services of the secret police and I will be his follower.

      • 2


        “my best history teacher (in Eighth Grade) taught us more than what happened when and what led to what else. She taught us how to connect the dots, to infer the causes behind an incident or event.”

        You have learnt your lessons well; all kudos to your teachers.

        I can hardly spell, let alone write! No affront to my teachers ……. Oh! how hard they tried to mould me in a another culture’s image. Put me in blazers; get me up on stages mouthing Shakespeare ………… Yeah, that thought me lessons alright. Lessons I had to teach me, myself. To be a raving nonconformist. ————

        “Sinhala Buddhists”

        ———— The problem with “Buddhism” – as distinct from the philosophy Buddha practiced – is, there is no clear-cut criterion/criteria to judge/gauge how well one is practicing Buddha’s philosophy. ……… To illustrate my point let’s get away from highly contentious “practice” of Buddhist-philosophy and examine another philosophy – the philosophy of investing.

        ————– There are hordes that try to practice Warren Buffett’s philosophy of investing – the philosophy, by the way, is his very own and only he can practice it. And like Buddha’s will die with him because everything they do/did go/went to make up their respective philosophies. And only they can live their lives; no one else.

        • 1

          “”Put me in blazers; get me up on stages mouthing Shakespeare “
          reason my only lover why do you shy when i use thee?
          all she did was present 7 tragedies of a simple man who never defined anything for that matter because it was all in the body A man who understood life itself than all the books you read.
          “And only they can live their lives; no one else.”
          Not a Rand my friend for it’s all in practice- the virtue of selfishness- Bill gates a roark, Murdoch as Wynand, your one and only DJ as Toohey – The villain……..
          Still continues with the GOP.

        • 1

          “”To be a raving nonconformist.””
          you read with a sense of obligation with no taste for what you read nor understand the art of reading I suppose so therefore all the time was wasted- To Be or Not to Be. (the japs follow it to the core)
          You can me Honey Jar.???? or are we ???
          There is a level of cowardice lower than that of the conformist: the fashionable non-conformist. Ayn Rand

          • 1

            Zorro buddy,

            So Ayn Rand, eh? :)) …… I think the medication is finally working and done wonders! ————- Of all the things you have ever written the above two make sense and are pretty good. ………… Ah! the positive vibes! :))) …… It’s a slow path to recovery my friend; dont rush take your time. I’ll do my part to help ……….. After all what are friends for? :))

            • 0

              “” I think the medication is finally working and done wonders! —”
              I read all the Rands starting 1968 atlas shrugged before a Jean-Paul Sartre you never had access nor comics. It was spare time reading (to understand culture) as I never offered literature because my interest were technology that runs the world. today a doctor has to go back to victorian period of saw, chisel without our wonder tools that let him have his hands in his pocket and pass on thought waves- nuclear medicine. and here you are prescribing – vedda mahataya guli- Michael White might be your 1/2 brother.
              Toady, cast in stone keep to the tree and enjoy your pol gedi koluwa.

      • 0

        Well, for some strange reason the following part got cut off from my earlier post ………. :))) This is the rest and …….. the continuation of it …………….

        —————- Judging by the hordes that descend on Omaha for the annual “convention,” Buffett-ism would have easily turned into a religion if it had half a chance, if the criteria that judged the success of the practitioners were wishy-washy. The criteria that judge the success of the practitioners of Buffett-ism is clear-cut and concrete – the money in the bank.

        In the absence of clear-cut criteria to judge/gauge the “success” of “practitioners” of Buddhism, it veers into, not practice, but propagation/conversion, guarding/defence, what-have-you ………… The problems with “Buddhism” in Lanka is not cultural/racial/patriotic/nationalistic ……. or anything else …………. but psychological – lies in the dark recesses of the unexamined subconsciousness.

        ———- More than anything what we need is Freud, Jung, …………… Well, that is, if they can first get past Dayan to the rest of the 22 million.

        • 0

          fishtail what a soup!
          wishy-washy. once again plucking pol geddi by the beach while Goni Billas go cherry picking in the hills.
          Buddhism was conceived to keep the mass majority emotionally possed so that the ruler may rule easily. The Chinese are very clear about it because the 8 wise men sat under the useless tree that was never cut and stood as shade
          Therefore the Laughing Buddha in the land with the maximum number of buddha sculpture in the world.
          2More than anything what we need is Freud, Jung,” ?? Impossible method ?
          Called or not called, the god will be there!
          The majority Islanders are beyond repair and can only be herded primarily because they are not nomads who look outside their domain and were transported by the portuguese corporate raiders from 1498 and a few by the moor traders from the north of africa.
          fedo; koko- keep on keepin on.- COCO.nut pol geddi you might beat it.

  • 2

    Uditha Devapriya >>>>>here are some extracts form your article>>>>”History is not about dates. “>>>>then you go on to say >>>>”Without history, without heritage, put simply, we are nothing.” >>>There was a time, not too long ago and in my generation, when those who purported to speak on behalf of Sinhala Buddhists were silenced>>>you forgot to say by whom>>>>>which was rather duplicitous given the carte blanche which the articulators and propagandists of Eelamism were given. >>>>>hmmm>>>you poor soul>>>>>go and have a cold shower>>>>ask your mum to feed you and go to bed.

    majority with a minority complex comes to mind

  • 1

    Well written Uditha! Once Lankans of all races lose their arrogance and become more humble, blending into the Lankan spirit of their ancestors will only too naturally. Buddhist priests preach aggregation of the self before the releasing of it (there must be a Buddhist term for it). But it stops at the aggregation of the self, and the ego never gets released. Cause and effect only pertains to one’s own conglomerated self. It never became effusive and lighthearted, with a releasing of the spirit to others (or even to the air). It has become mean and bitter beyond the personal individualized space. Intelligence and common sense evades us at national level, at every level.*************Lankans are forefront of nurturing their children to gear them up for the generic global community model, to do things like creating eternal life in cyber-space, minus a body (“Year Million”). Other odd things are, reducing the earth’s population in all kinds of strange ways, colonizing Mars, and creating space-station “Elysium.” Present GoSL, together with their Westernized form of the LGBTQIA push, is very much into this new cultural scenario. Creepy! Trouble is, it is people like the Americans that will do all of these, after a country and people like ours, have been reduced to nothing (they will be using our cultural models for their eternal life in cyber-space).

  • 3

    This young critic is thoughtful and thought-provoking as usual. Uditha must next deal with the difference between patriotism and nationalism, and the triangle patriotism-nationalism-internationalism. After all, Fidel did say he was never a nationalist but was a patriot and an internationalist.

    • 4

      DJ kotti walige like George W. Bush probably provides the least imaginative reason for starting a war when he does away with euphemistic niceties altogether.
      Patriotism is food that you eat as a child. Similar to religion, patriotism is an emotion, as opposed to a rational thought process. Patriotism is the incubator of wars.
      Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others, merely because you were born in it.

      Arty Farty,
      Salaried for life built on nepotism and theft of opportunities, scholarships the civil servants of lanka the oxford, harvard the arts graduates are the Goni Billas.
      If you have a child and can win an open competition at graduation in US state or UK then we are talking of a degree of intelligence. you artist are the future terrorist of the state.
      Tell me how come a village lad of 18 from Nadu could win the world competition for making the smallest satellite and NASA has sent it to space recently. Reason national competition for IIT and the intake is 0.01% the toughest in the world- no chit for indians.

      • 0

        Patriotism is food that you eat as a child.
        Desmond De Silva of Bama brought a shipload of baila from London. SWRD brought race and religion distinctions from oxford in his sarema so he got killed by priest like Gandhi.
        Even though Nigerians with the common language fight about faith eat the same food in the same way.- all wars are economic in nature.

    • 3

      DJ refers to his hero, the Dictator Fidel’s, words on Patriotism.

      Here are a few more quotes on the same subject:

      Samuel Johnson’s quote on ‘patriotism’ is perhaps the most famous of them all “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”.

      Theodore Roosevelt, one of the better loved American presidents said in 1918, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is also morally treasonable to the American public”.

      Mark Twain said, “Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You can not shirk this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let them label you as they may”.

      Howard Thurman – “During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable, even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism”.

      And finally, Hermann Goering (he should know about this!) “Naturally the common people don’t want war, neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country”.

      So much for ‘Patriotism’ (and Fidel and DJ)!

  • 4

    Uditha Devapriya,
    “”Without history, without heritage, put simply, we are nothing.”” his_story??

    Postprandial Dope! Shameless pride of the pudhu!! Structural unemployment.

    What the island of tears needs pronto is `zero unemployment and make in lanka` not sending your women as menials to fetch $$$ for a goni billa culture of acrobats that is turning into cannibalism.

  • 0

    What about the generation daily exposed to Rajitha Senaratne and SB Disanayake?——–

    • 1

      Sinha_le Somee!
      “Che” Guevara JVP retaliated with arms because SriMao refused to keep promise of jobs for all grads and was unable to capture colombo thanks to India’s military assistance. Amteka vela de??

  • 1

    A nationalist sets national goals devoted to self interest – often short term. An internationalist will set collective goals. EU may be considered an attempt albeit clumsy. Commonwealth was not.
    Brexit was a result of nationalism and indications are that nationalism has become old fashioned. Nazis were nationalist and dreamt of a superior-Aryan-race “fatherland”. Trump’s nationalism is chaotic.
    Uditha opines “…..Nationalism, at least to a certain extent, thrives on sincerity…..”.
    No Sir, it thrives on bigotry.
    Uditha uses the word “Eelamism” in the usual way which masks the fact that Eelam liberation movements were but cries for freedom from the oppressive use of pogroms.
    Nationalism and patriotism are intertwined. Commenter Netizen here has presented independent views as to what makes a patriot.
    The article in wordy gymnastics says “…….no country in this godforsaken, globalised world of ours has progressed without anchoring itself in its past, its way of life………”
    Dayan’s approval is no big deal Uditha.

    • 0

      “”The article in wordy gymnastics says “…….no country in this godforsaken, globalised world of ours has progressed without anchoring itself in its past, its way of life………”

      Beat it salaried staff you never invented the wheel or broke the world record like
      Usain Bolt. all that your demala man did was win a gold at asian games like a cow jumped over the moon and never repeated it again.

      No Asian can win a track event because of DNA. though barefoot Rosa won Asian gold but never could repeat.
      But you win Reader’s Digest special edition – 10 greatest Conmen of the World -1968
      Wall Street Journal Insider Trading -Galleon Group, Greatest Inside Trader and longest sentence.-Oct 2011.

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