By Mahendra De Silva –
The feeling of patriotism – It is an immoral feeling because, instead of confessing himself a son of God . . . or even a free man guided by his own reason, each man under the influence of patriotism confesses himself the son of his fatherland and the slave of his government, and commits actions contrary to his reason and conscience. – Leo Tolstoy, Patriotism and Government
In a recent article in Colombo Telegraph Dr. Dayan Jayatillake has given some interesting descriptions of the dumb patriotism and smart patriotism. He has indirectly hinted that anyone who does not fit the above categories would be an unpatriotic. It appears that the purpose of Dayan’s article is to justify his actions in the last few years in politics of Sri Lanka. In this article I wish to contest some of his views on patriotism.
To start, I took following passage from his article;
There is dumb patriotism and there is smart patriotism. When the dumb patriot says “my country right or wrong”, he/she means that whether it does right or wrong in the moral sense, he/she will defend it. When the smart patriot says it, he/she means that whether it is in the right or in the wrong, it is his/her country; the only country she really has or belongs to. It is where he is coming from. It is the place he identifies with. It is where he is rooted. It is home. He will not defend everything its government or state does; but defend the country, he will. In that sense the smart patriot loves his/her country unconditionally though it may be a ‘tough love The dumb patriot thinks his country is the best in the world and even the greatest. The smart patriot does not and his love of country is not based on blind faith or an intrinsic, unwarranted sense of superiority. The smart patriot is constructively critical about his country but is fiercely loyal to it all the same. He will criticize it but will unconditionally defend his country from the hypocritical criticism of foreign powers and institutions responsible for or blind to far worse crimes.
My main disagreement with Dayan’s views on patriotism is that he failed to distinguish the difference between love for the country and love for the rulers of the country. He has taken the position that that defending the country and defending the rulers of country are the same. I would introduce a another category – intelligent patriots who believe that love for the country includes not only physical territory mountains, rivers and woods, but love for the entire people who live in that country. They believe real freedom and sovereignty of the country comes when there is communal harmony and respect of human rights of all the citizens of the country. They would cherish to achieve a Sri Lanka where all can live with dignity and self-respect and live without fear. Intelligent patriots believe that rulers are selfish and could always temp to abuse power and take away people’s rights. Intelligent patriots are ready to defend the country not only against the external threats but also against their own government. For Intelligent patriot, Country would stand above party affiliations and selfish personal interests. Their loyalty would be only towards the people. When a ruler does undemocratic acts and violate human rights, intelligent patriot would not hesitate to obtain the support of even external forces such as international community to their cause. I admired Mahinda Rajapaska when he protested the UNP governments of Premadasa against the human rights violations. He was bold enough to take a petition to International Human rights commission against Sri Lankan government. But as per Dayan’s definitions what MR has done in 1990 was and unpatriotic act against his country. Intelligent patriots are fully aware that it is his country but he is not prepared to defend the actions of corrupt selfish politicians who govern the country. He will not act against his consciousness. For an Intelligent Patriot, wrong is wrong even it is done by his own family or countrymen. Unfortunately in third world countries there are more dumb and smart patriots than in developed countries. This could be the main reason why there is lack of democracy and good governances in these countries.
Dumb or Smart Patriots are the people who believe that defending the country is defending the rulers. They have a blind loyalty to their chosen rulers. Whatever the rulers do, they believe it. .Regimes that violates human rights and misuse power thrives because of the dumb and “Smart” patriots. Such regimes usually use fear tactics such as western conspiracies against the nation to rally round masses to deviate attention from its own human right violations and abuse of power. They use State Media effectively to brain wash the masses. When the ruthless dictator of Germany, Adolf Hitler started implementing barbarous Nazi policies, including the pursuit of total war and the extermination of millions of people in the Holocaust, there were many Germans who disapproved actions of their government. Nazis used persuasion and huge propaganda machinery to brain washes the people. They would brand the resistance members including Communists and religious leaders as traitors and severely punished them History has taught us that, inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph
When Dayan was defending Sri Lanka at the Human rights commission in Geneva, just after the war in 2010, I believed that he was an intelligent patriot. Whatever the violations happened at the last stages of war, people were happy that peace was restored back after decades of landmines and bombs. Majority of the people including Tamils were willing to forget the past and move forward. Dayan was effective in convincing this to majority of the members of HRC. He assured on behalf the Sri Lankan government that a proper investigation would take place regarding alleged war crimes. He also assured normalcy would be restored soon. He requested more time for the work to be done. International community accepted that that Sri lank achieved a major victory in defeating ruthless Tiger terrorism. They wanted Sri Lanka to move forward. Unfortunately the attitude of the Sri Lankan government continues to be aggressive. Rather than restoring the communal harmony and helping the affected people, they drifted towards chauvinism and exhibited enthusiasm for military actions. Instead of realizing the sufferings of both Tamils and Sinhalese people they went on celebrating the glory of victory. They wrongly identified themselves only with Sinhalese nationalism with the belief that Sinhalese majority would be grateful to them for generations and they cannot be defeated. They conveniently ignored the grievances of Tamils and Muslims, delayed normalcy to people of war affected areas. They also ignored the demand for human rights and good governance from concerned citizens, NGO’s and International Community.
When Dayan continued to defend and support Mahindra Rajapaskse despite serious violations of human rights and abuse of power, I considered him as a loyalist or a dumb patriotic I personally believe that Dayan is not a racist, and he appreciated the recommendations of LLRT commission. But he kept quiet when recommendations were not implemented. Is it because he is a “Smart Patriotic” that he did not make a strong voice against extremist agendas of the then government including BBS? I do not believe that Dayan appreciated 18th Amendment which expands the powers of executive Precedency. Yet he did not raise a voice against it. I am sure that Dayan did not approve the unlawful and ruthless infringement of 43rd CJ Syrian Bandaranayke or jailing of the war hero General Sarath Fonseka at an unfair military trial. But Dayan did not raise a voice on any of these occasions. . As Mahatma Gandhi said Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.
It is an open secret that Dayan was close to former President. But because he was a “Smart Patriot” he could not do anything to change the attitudes of previous government. On the contrary pressure of western countries, NGO’s and the combined opposition at least managed to obtain some concessions and keep the some elements of democracy still alive in the country. If not for this pressure our country could have become a complete dictatorship or an isolated failed state like North Korea
Long time ago I remember reading an article from Dr.EW Adikaram under the title isn’t the Nationalist a Mental Patient? Most of us do not have that broader vision to understand the reality of the message. I agree that it is natural for a person to have a love for his birth country, community, religion, language, school etc. We should recognize that that even others different to us have the same love towards these ideals. It is ignorance that causes strong attachments and gives some people the belief that their country, community or race, religion or heritage is the greatest in the world. This could create prejudices and disharmony in the society. Hindus and Buddhists know very well that our present life in this world is only a temporally shelter in the never ending journey of Sansara. For anyone believing in rebirth concept, a Sinhalese in one birth could be a Tamil or Muslim in some other life. A child at the birth does not know his community, race or religion. The value systems given to us by our parents and environment determine who we are. When someone lives over 20 years in one culture he becomes conditioned accordingly. Communal minded or nationalist would be like a frog in the well. His world is confined to the little boundaries of the land or culture he is born. He would fight for this cause until he dies. We Buddhists believe impermanency in all subjects. Civilizations, countries, languages and religions have born and vanished over million years of human existence. A human being who understands this could still fight for causes which he feels just and right without being bias on any community, race or religion. Such a person would extend loving kindness towards all. They would feel the pain of not only Sinhalese but also that of Tamils, Muslims and others. They would think that they belong to the Universe and they are only a tiny particle in the universe. Such a person would invariably become a blessing to his her Country, Community or Religion.