By Kumar David –
Ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa is on record that Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s arrest on trumped up charges is imminent. Joint Opposition-cum-Rajapaksa (JO-Pak) mouthpieces, hoping to stave off an arrest, warn of an almighty Sinhala-Buddhist backlash if he is locked up. This implies that a strong case which will hold up in court exists and JO-Pak is endeavouring to stampede the Sirisena-Ranil duumvirate – not a difficult task – to halt action. If burn-loot-rape gangs are let loose by JO-Pak or the BBS counter-mobilisation must clear the streets. Let the appropriate authority arrest Gota or not as obligated by the evidence; the scourge of racial extremism must not be allowed to panic society. Extremism, is my topic today, this panic mongering is a useable starting point.
It is disconcerting that the country is agog with “news” that President and PM, due to blue-blue loyalties, green-blue back-scratching, or because both are as nervous as mice, are staling the AG from making an arrest. I have no inside information, but I do have eyes and ears and know what is talked about in yahapalanaya circles. The duumvirate must keep out and let law enforcement get on with its business. On the other hand, if Gota is in the clear and there is no problem, why not the AG state that no action is being contemplated? I don’t like Gota but that’s beside the point; he is entitled to his rights and relief from whispering campaigns.
Fundamentalism and its relatives
Fundamentalism, especially the Islamic version, and ethnic extremism, like the appalling Burmese Buddhist variety if you use ethnic broadly to include religion, are marked off from populism by their blood-lust. Populism sets itself economic (“give us more, give them less”) objectives. Usually though not always, money, jobs, property and business gains drive populism. In what way does a half-starved, marginalised and citizenship denied Rohingya threaten the wellbeing of the 88% Buddhists and the creaming-the-fat killer army? Clearly, deracination in Burma is not populism, it is religious extremism. Real world Buddhism, like other religions, can sometimes be a force for good, sometimes for evil. Nobel Peace laureates like Mandela may be icons, or like Suu Kyi, smokescreens for killers.
Before the expulsion of Burmese Muslims and the carnage in Yemen grabbed the headlines, “political” Islamic-Fundamentalism occupied top spot in the global brutality index. Why the adjective “political”? Fundamentalism as a doctrine that advocates a return to the roots and to original texts has little to do with this essay. It is bad luck for philosophical fundamentalists (evangelicals, Sufis, chaps in Himalayan caves) if slayers, too, claim to pursue the same objectives. Religion, in the real world, is not what a founder advocated but what practitioners do in the here and now. There was Mother Theresa, but the headlines belong to Hindutva mobs, BBS Muslim-haters and Burma’s hard-line Buddhists intent on deracinating the Rohingya. (Aside: Pope Francis could have safeguarded his moral stature if he had not gone to Burma at all, nor spoken in soft, muted and muddled tones. Holy Father, didn’t you know that these people call themselves Rohingya?).
Racism is more prevalent than fundamentalism because, thankfully, there are only a few religions. Every Tom, Dick and Harry is expected to be proud of being English, Han Chinese, Greek, born in Timbuctoo, or descended from some animal. Take a step back to see how bizarre racial and national pride are. It is horrific; Sinhala-Tamil, Tutsi-Huthi, Ndebele-Shona, Serb-Croat, and Croat-Bosnian, all at one another’s throats. Arson, murder, rape, and in the case of ISIS theologically sanctioned sex-slavery cum rape, are the stock in trade of proud nationalists, jathika veerayas and god’s chosen.
If an ethnic group wishes to isolate itself into a nation state, ok that’s its business, but recent examples Catalonia, Scotland and South Sudan have been flops for diverse reasons. But this right in no way validates hatred driven by mass psychosomatic pathology, first researched by Freud under the name “madness of the crowd”. Racial hatred is not new; the Greeks “burnt the topless towers of Ilium”, the Mongols razed the cities of Termez, Urgench and Bagdad and erased their populations. It was easy since these populations were “other”. Fear and hatred of the “other” is endemic; humans have a long way to go before they dispose of this hominid version of the Darwinian survival struggle.
Though the superficial consequences of religious fundamentalism and racial extremism seem similar, their core value systems are different. In fundamentalism, a code of belief takes the place of primordial fear of the “other” of nationalism. The hallucinations stirring ISIS leader Abu Bakr Ashin al-Baghdadi’s ravings and the odium of Ma Ba Tha hardliner Ashin Wirathu are of different texture. Fundamentalism fantasises gods and heavens; it thinks differently from ethnic (racial, religious or linguistic) extremism motivated by a desire for exclusivity of power and land. It is not a question of which is worse; it is that they function differently. This is clear in ISIS strongholds, and its terrorism in far flung places (fundamentalism has universality), in contrast to the more localised uprooting of Burmese Muslims by extremist Burmese Buddhists. The latter are not ideologically misguided reps of a belief system; they do what races do in a ruthless grab of territory from other races.
Donald Trump is not a neo-populist
I have described the tide that swept Donald Trump (DJT) onward as neo-populist, but DJT personally is an imposter; a racist not a neo-populist. The trends in the US, UK (Brexit), France (Le Pen), Germany (Alt-Right) etc. that I call neo-populist are socio-political. People are fed up, the rich get richer, youth don’t have hope or work, services and welfare decline, the economy seems hopeless and there is alienation everywhere. I have written about this often and sum it up with the statement that “the system” seen through the eyes of the white working class, urban and rural petty-bourgeois and even the middle-class, is broken. The US Democratic Party was too elitist, too divorced from this reality and failed to win the confidence of the working-class in the rust-belt. This is the source of neo-populism and the swing to the far-right. The beneficiary an opportunist crank called Donald J Trump.
The interesting thing is that DJT is not a neo-populist, he does not empathise and represent that movement; he simply cashed in on it. It has become increasingly clear in the year since the election that he is something else. He is an exemplar of that phenomenon which is the topic of this essay; DJT’s personality is racist, not populist. He loathes Muslims, Mexicans, Blacks, Asians and Native Americans. I don’t need to, nor can I within the purview of this piece, sketch the mountain of evidence already in the public domain.
The most recent example will have to suffice. On 29 of November DJT retweeted three anti-Muslim hate videos (one already dismissed by Dutch police as fake) originating from Britain First far-right, neo-Nazis. PM Theresa May rebuked him, global media was outraged and Home Secretary Amber Rudd said in Parliament that he was all but looney. The consensus is: Mentally unstable, cranky, idiosyncratic and incompetent. “The President of the United States is using his power and platform to mainstream the vile ideologies of racist neo-fascism. This isn’t coming from the political fringe; it is coming from the political centre; the Oval Office”; Brian Klass on CNN.
Outrage misses the point. To say DJT is playing to his base and the base laps it up neglects the point that DJT is intrinsically a racist and it emanates naturally from within. This is what relates him to the theme of this essay; racism is a slice of DJT and it is intrinsic to those who revel in his antics. With some humans, racism is an inner drive and a passion. Though the base laps it up, it is counterproductive. For each vote he consolidates in the base he loses two nationally. Mayoral, gubernatorial and state elections last month were a disaster for the Republican Party. The irrational fury driving that part of mankind which is intrinsically racist blinds it to the downside.
The government of Lanka needs to recognise that there is no way it can pussyfoot in the face of racist threats. Intimidation must be repulsed; if JO-Paksa and the BBS threaten, the challenge must be met squarely and defeated. The conviction of Slobadan Milosovik and suicide in court of Slobadan Praljak may send tremors through the Burmese military, but but there is no parallel with allegations against Gota which are about corruption. There will be no backlash if an arrest warrant is issued in accordance with the law. The curious thing is that the far larger MIG corruption case seems to be languishing in the courts somewhere.