14 December, 2018

Blog

So When Shall We Stop Stereotyping?

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

When the House Leader indulges in racial stereotyping it is a serious matter. The man has a poor track record on most counts, but this takes the cake given the context in which he has shot his mouth.

Lakshman Kiriella has said “a resolution should be brought in parliament and Buddhists should apologize to the Muslims in connection with the violence in Digana and Teldeniya”. A lot can be said about this, but let’s leave that for later.

Kiriella first needs to be praised to the heavens for his confession about intelligence services. He said ‘the state intelligence services had collapsed resulting in the violence in Digana and Teldeniya.’

Now when did the state intelligence apparatus collapse? Overnight? Just because something happened somewhere? That’s hardly possible. No, what Kiriella is acknowledging is that the intelligence services were and are out of order.

He has not expressed surprise and this should not surprise anyone. This Government from Day One vilified and harassed the entire intelligence service. Whereas in a post-war de-militarizing effort intelligence should be enhanced, this Government spared no pains to demoralize and cripple it.

That’s the service. How about the Government and its intelligence? Do we even need to talk about it? No. It probably explains Kiriella’s statement, but let’s not go there.

Let’s move on to this business of ‘Buddhists apologizing to Muslims.’ What is being implied here? That all Buddhists did some wrong to all Muslims? What kind of rubbish is that?

Interestingly Kiriella, in this, is like a fellow traveler of the Bodu Bala Sena and the Ravana Balakaya, both being organizations that make totalizing claims and which have made stereotyping an article of faith. They target in their rhetoric an entire collectivity. It’s the hambayo or thambiyo
that they rant and rave against.

We’ve seen all this before. At a Galle Literary Festival the late Sunila Abeysekera claimed that there were people conflating the LTTE and the Tamil community. It was duly pointed out during the Q&A that followed that when some people say ‘The LTTE is the sole representative of the Tamil people’ then we need to ask ‘who is doing the conflating here?’

Sunila, like many of her ilk, had forgotten that there’s a flip side to things. However, if one is lachrymose enough, makes some ‘all-of-humanity’ noises and mix a few measures of feigned objectivity, one can hoodwink a lot of people. Tisaranee Gunasekara does it often but rarely as cleverly as she has in a recent piece titled ‘The beast rides again’.

The word ‘beast’ comes up only in the title. It is appropriate. Anyone who attacks an unarmed person is a beast. What happened was beastly. Thisaranee offers an interesting argument which expands that definition.

She has used Black July and of course what followed as convenient and even reasonable historical and political points of reference to dissect what happened Teldeniya, Digana and elsewhere. This is what she says.

“The majority of Sinhalese did not take part in Black July. They didn’t have to. All they had to do was to shrug a shoulder, turn a blind eye. Indifference is neither neutral nor benign. Indifference kills and destroys.”

It pins responsibility on an entire community. She says, quite rightly, ‘if the government is too timorous to do so, the demand and the pressure should from come from those Sinhala-Buddhists who retain enough sanity to see the deadliness of the future that is being made.’ She’s done her part as a ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ since she says ‘Kandy was set in fire in our name’ and later uses the phrase ‘ff we, the Sinhalese, fail Muslims as we failed Tamils…’

And yet, she stumbled into the classic dialectical trap, ‘if you are not with us, then you are with them.’ So, in this case, if you don’t speak up against something then it means that you condone it.

She is right when she says that ‘the extremism of the majority community’ is the most dangerous kind of extremism. At least, here, she has acknowledged that there are other kinds of extremism, not just the Sinhala-Buddhist variety. But this if-you-don’t-condone-you-support thesis can be applied to other situations and communities. Leads to conflation doesn’t it?

Then she descends into an ancient half-truth: ‘Sinhala-Buddhist fanatics strengthen fanatics in minority communities’. True. The ontology is tendentious. It’s like blaming Sinhala-Tamil tensions on Bandaranaike’s ‘Sinhala Only’. Never mind that it was switched to ‘Swabhasha’ not too long after, but if you talk about ‘Sinhala Only’ (as you should) and not talk about G.G. Ponnambalam’s ’50-50’ or Chelvanayakam’s ‘a little now, more later,’ or the ‘Tamil State Party’ or Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s Tamil chauvinism that detracted from his struggle with the Sinhalese and others against the British, if you talk about Anagarika Dharmapala and are silent about Arumugam Navalar, all of which preceded ‘Sinhala Only,’ then you are being mischievous at best.

If you talk of multi-ethnic and multi-religious (as you should) but don’t talk numbers and percentages, you are being mischievous, at best. Thisaranee, in this article at least, trots out the numbers but quickly slips to tired totalizing claims. We’ll get to that.

If you talk about all the failed agreements between Sinhala and Tamil politicians (as you should) but don’t talk about the implementation of important articles despite these ‘failures’ then you are being mischievous, at best.

If you talk about ‘Sinhala Only’ (as you should) and ignore the ‘English Only’ that preceded it for more than a century, if you talk about alleged ‘Buddhist hegemony’ and ignore the ‘Christian hegemony’ that had existed for 450 years and which included the destroying of temples and Kovils, murdering of bikkhus and the burning of manuscripts, you are being mischievous, at best.

If you talk about secularism (as you should) and leave out the fact that there are more holidays for Muslims than for Buddhists and that the number of Christian holidays are four times more than that for the latter and that the Hindus have just 3, then you are being mischievous, at best.

If you talk about a Sri Lankan identity (as you should) but balk at the idea ‘one country, one law’ you are being mischievous, at best.

If you talk about the contribution of all communities to the achieving of independence (as you should) and forget that in terms of percentages (since percentage-free numbers can be misleading) it was the Sinhala-Buddhists who sacrificed most by way of lives lost and properties destroyed, you are being mischievous, at best.

If you talk about the heroism of Muslim members of the security forces (as you should) in the defeat of the LTTE and ignore the fact that the freedoms enjoyed in a terrorism-free land were obtained at the cost of much higher percentages of the majority community giving their lives and limbs, you are being mischievous, at best.

And so you get claims such as the following: “The triumph of violent Sinhala extremism in the South led to the triumph of violent Sinhala extremism in the North.” This is picking up the narrative at convenient points so that you can pin the blame on your preferred enemy.

We’ve seen that a lot. We have seen terms such as the following: Sinhala State, Sinhala-Buddhist State, Majoritarianism etc. All Sinhalese (or Sinhala Buddhists) are lumped together. A monolithic proposition, then, and a language trick that is used selectively.

We’ve seen how people started talking about ‘Colombo’ and ‘Kilinochchi’ in the way that capitals are used as proxies for nations (e.g. London for the UK, Washington DC for the USA, Delhi for India). We’ve noticed how it became ‘North’ and ‘South’ and thereby giving an implicit horizontal split of communities leaving a neat 50-50 to be imagined by the mis-educated who have also been fed the numberless multi-ethnic and multi-religious story. And of course they also talked of ‘Border Villages’ which implied there WAS a border.

Not innocent. Not by a long shot. Put it all together and we are left with one beast, namely ‘Sinhala Buddhist’. That history is several centuries old. When a community thus vilified for so long in this mischievous (at best) manner is pushed against the wall, something can give, somewhere. Then if you act surprised, it’s simply because you’ve been slothful in reading event and nuance in the long history (as opposed to chosen slices of it).

No, this is not to say that the BBS or the Ravana Balakaya are products of that pinning against the wall; that would be giving respectability to the beasts. What is strange however is that those who said Prabhakaran was a product of a particular social, cultural, political and economic history, are refusing to talk about such ‘factors’ in understanding ‘products’ such as the BBS. It is easy, I know, to say ‘Wijeweera was a megalomaniac’ than to investigate how the JVP became what it did. The same with the LTTE and Prabhakaran. Delve into all that and you come up with stories that are resistant to one-line capture.

Thisaranee is obviously more sophisticated than Kiriella. Both, however, express the same conceptual error, that of treating communities as monoliths. Kiriella is crude, Thisaranee is clever. At least Thisaranee indulges in tokenism when talking about extremism other than the Sinhala-Buddhist variety; Kiriella does not.

In the end, however, anyone who identifies with a community (as she has and as I do) must recognize that he or she can do something. We can stand up and say ‘no’. We can help our friends who feel threatened or anxious, in word and deed. We can refuse to participate. We can refuse to stereotype.

Thisaranee ends her piece this way: ‘If we, the Sinhalese, fail Muslims as we failed Tamils, history will not forgive us, and will punish us with a new and a worse war.’

The verdict of history (such things don’t really figure in the thinking of extremists; even a murderer in most cases has absolved him/herself of guilt before the act) and convictions of outcome are poor incentives when contending with the ‘demands’ of the moment.

The choice is for the individual and in a sense the collective or at least segments of the collective. We can call upon our humanity. Regardless of all that, perceptions count. We are not arahats or saints; we are human and therefore frail. We can rise about all that and we should try to; but we can fail. If we fail, I believe, it is in part because we are stopped by the vicious, politically and ideologically malicious and deliberately misleading stereotyping that has marked the discourse on identity in this country.

Conflate Tamil with LTTE and it is an insult. Among the insulted, after a while, there could be some who will say ‘alright, then I will be what you think I am!’ Conflate ‘Muslim’ with ISIS and you’ll get similar results. Not all of them of course, but why lose those who can make a difference? It’s the same with all communities, the Sinhala-Buddhists included.

So while we do the best we can to counter the extremisms of the communities we identify with, we can also resolve not to stereotype. It could mean something as simple as the insertion of a few simple caveats to the claims we make.

Kiriella wants me to apologize, I will not. Thisaranee I believe wants me to not to fail Muslims; I will do my best not to, because she’s right about this even though she’s tendentious and Kiriela-like in her general position regarding Sinhala Buddhists.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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  • 12
    5

    Malinda,
    This is rather hitting a new low in your usually low standards of discourse:
    “If you talk about secularism (as you should) and leave out the fact that there are more holidays for Muslims than for Buddhists and that the number of Christian holidays are four times more than that for the latter and that the Hindus have just 3, then you are being mischievous, at best.”
    Are you unaware of the 12 Poya holidays? If the Christian have 4 times as many as the Buddhists, according to you, then the Muslims must have at least 55 holidays a year. Would you be kind enough to list out these holidays, or stand exposed as an unmitigated liar?
    As to Christians having more holidays, why not point out that these Sundays are holidays for the rest too. Perhaps you are not old enough to remember that the excessively sanctimonious Dudley Senanayake ditched the Saturday/Sunday system with disastrrous results for the economy. It might interest you that the Gulf states, which could afford to operate a Thursday/Friday weekend, have been forced to opt for Friday/Saturday.
    I suggest that if you really want to help the Sinhala Buddhist community, you ought to present real arguments, not something re-hashed from a Grade 6 debating session.
    Give us a break, please!

    • 6
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      oldcodger

      ” I suggest that if you really want to help the Sinhala Buddhist community, you ought to present real arguments, not something re-hashed from a Grade 6 debating session.”

      Are you suggesting Malinda
      starts at the very beginning a very good place to start
      when he reads he begins with abc when he sings he begins with do re mi do re mi,
      When he counts he begins with one two three ?

      Well knowing him no chance of him ever going to learn to read, write, speak, count, add multiply, divide, …………

      • 5
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        Malinda Seneviratne,

        Gezze man Malinda…………the solution to all your problems is very simple!

        Kill all the Muslims and the Tamils ………….the Sinhalese will live happily ever after. ………..well, as long as the Sinhalese don’t find divisions among themselves ……and bring forth their killing-instincts ………until no one is left …………the story of the human race in one line ………End of story…… समाप्ति

        Don’t worry ……….Sure as the day follows the night ………..SL will be the same SL ………..tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…………….

        Reason…………… the nearest mirror………………in my house I have a hall of mirrors to observe from every angle………a better perspective…………

        Have a long tall glass of cool water and go to sleep…………you’ll feel better in the morning…………….That’s what I do when my primordial murderous instincts take over and I want to kill my neighbour ……….after all we are all humans; aren’t we?

        Hope ye are already feeling better?

        What are friends for……..if we can’t compare notes eh?

      • 5
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        PS

        Malinda,

        “So When Shall We Stop Stereotyping?”

        Dunno about the typing business ………..NV says everyone is just typing…………probably he is right………….

        But if you don’t like Stereo, go Mono……..much better………ever heard The Beatles’ Mono recordings? ……..The Rolling Stones’ Mono recordings on Decca are classics! ……..Mono Gramophone records are even better…….Martinelli, Lauri-Volpi, Rethberg, Pinza …..et al …….

        The next time I’m back home, you’re welcome to come and have a listen……….. there’s a bigger world out here ………”The Light Cone of Event” is greater than the Rajapakses’ posterior………..

  • 3
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    conflate Sinhala Buddhist with BBS?

    • 2
      1

      Or Islam with IS or Hinduism with Shiv Sena?

  • 5
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    “This Government from Day One vilified and harassed the entire intelligence service. Whereas in a post-war de-militarizing effort intelligence should be enhanced, this Government spared no pains to demoralize and cripple it.”
    says Malinda.
    Well then, if the intelligence services were so great in Gota’s day, how come Alutgama happened?. Malinda himself had a lot to say in the “Nation” about who was responsible.
    The real reason is that the mono-ethnic security forces simply will not take any action against their own kind.Unless , like the JVP, their own kind threaten their families.

    • 1
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      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

      • 0
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        I cannot fathom as to why this post was deemed as transgressed the rules! I did not use any derogatory terms at all neither towards Oldcodger nor towards anyone.

  • 0
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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 3
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    Seriously, Editor CT! I spent a good 15 minutes reading this and re-reading to figure out what was being said. That’s 15 minutes of my life I’m never getting back.

    • 2
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      Shyam – are you an idiot.? No one reads Malinda for 15 minutes!! and re read ? for gods sake?

      • 0
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        No, total time was fifteen minutes for the first and second read . I miss those 15 minutes. Really. Shyam .

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  • 1
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    Malinda Senevirathne: Sri lankan are paid highly. It is well known that it is the old folks who goes to the temple and not the young couples or men. So, Certainly Sri lanka can cut down so many holidays. On the other hand, Many develioped countries, developed by giving less holidays. In the UISA no o fmaximum holidays are five days per year. Germany and china as a govt policy pay lower salaries in order to promote exports. Besides, If muslims and christians say we want the exact no of holidays that Buddhists say, then there is no reconciliation. then use the importance of universal franchise. It is the 70% sinhala buddhists who are the majority. those who say no can notbe helped. Just taake it if not go where think you can get it.

  • 2
    3

    Malinda, I would not respect Thisaranee enough to write a rebuttal, [Edited out] In the said rant that you refer to TG mentions an event that was observed from a bus. Buses don’t fly, you don’t have to jump out, TG could have got out at the next stop and walked up to the incident, No, instead TG speaks of this imaginary incident 45 years later, did TG mention this in one of the previous rants, I don’t recall, then again I no longer bother read the diatribe either. More importantly many Sinhalese did what TG did not do that day, they took great risks of life and limb not just to protect Tamil lives but also to protect their valuables. You could see the same thing happening during the recent riot as well, as described by a person named “AttackedOnMonday” under TG’s rant. [Edited out]

    • 2
      3

      Forgive the sinner. Jesus Christ did not say the woman did not commit adultery. She probably would have been a whore. Like TG with words. She gets carried away by her own literary impetus and truth, facts and logic are malleable clay in her pursuit.
      Soma

      • 1
        2

        Soma,

        You really are a low level so and so! My word you cannot stomach the truth can you? TG’s account of 1983 is a bitter pill for you that you cannot handle!

        My word you are indeed a complete bigot to say the least.

      • 2
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        somass

        Are you tired being tired?

    • 0
      0

      35 years that should be

    • 1
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      wannihami

      ” More importantly many Sinhalese did what TG did not do that day, they took great risks of life and limb not just to protect Tamil lives but also to protect their valuables.”

      Had the Sinhalese genuinely made an effort to put the growing Sinhala/Buddhist fascism in its place in 1956 they wouldn’t be risking their life now after 60 years of the first large scale riots to protect Muslims.

      Stop your bull and start thinking seriously to address deeper issues. I know it is too much to expect you to think, think about deeper issues when you are complacent and in denial. Your motive is self serving leading to the destruction of this island. You don’t seem to miss an opportunity to justify all forms of racism, war crimes, bigotry, …. Sinhala/Buddhist fascism.
      Is it to do with your training from early age?

      The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.
      -Albert Einstein

  • 3
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    Malonda Senevirathen, Very good article by keepiong things in Perspective. [Edited out]

  • 0
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    “Tamil tensions on Bandaranaike’s ‘Sinhala Only’. Never mind that it was switched to ‘Swabhasha’ not too long after, but if you talk about ‘Sinhala Only’ (as you should) and not talk about G.G. Ponnambalam’s ’50-50’ or Chelvanayakam’s ‘a little now, more later,’ or the ‘Tamil State Party’ or Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s Tamil chauvinism that detracted from his struggle with the Sinhalese and others against the British, if you talk about Anagarika Dharmapala and are silent about Arumugam Navalar, all of which preceded ‘Sinhala Only,’ then you are being mischievous at best.”
    That’s a lot of history in a nutshell. History that’s being consciously ignored by self proclaimed ‘intellectuals’ and ‘acedemics’ in their favourite pastime of Sinhala Buddhist bashing. That’s the only veil behind which these embeciles can hide their mediocrity. In “The Beast Rides Again” I was left with the picture of TG riding her old and hackneyed horse. Sinhala Buddhists are pushed to the wall. We have only a few like Malinda Seneviratne trying to put up a patient defence. Be warned – most will behave erratically with their natural reaction. Probably that’s what is happening – not to defend their violent acts of course. As MS has pointed out those who defend LTTE as a natural outcome of circumstances should only extend their logic to other areas too.
    Soma

    • 0
      1

      Soma,

      The 1948 constitution was accepted by all parties and GGP was part of the first ever cabinet. It was the Kandians who advocated federalism first and GGP’s ill fated 50:50 was about 50% for Sinhala Buddhists and 50% for rest of the minorities including the Sinhala Christians. All those battles were settled by the 1948 construction.

      The Sinhala Only came in after 1948 constitution in violation of the common trust! You can talk about all sort of excuses to justify the Sinhala Only but the history smacks on your face as if to say that you are talking complete nonsense.

      The fact remains that the 1948 constitution was accepted by all stakeholders but the Sinhala betrayed the minorities and messed up everything. This is the truth and you cannot deny this!

    • 1
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      somass

      Are you tired being tired?

  • 0
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  • 0
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  • 1
    1

    Milinda Seneviratne
    In 2007, Gota said that Tamils are terrorists, proceeded to white van Tamils in the South. How is that for stereotyping?
    The recent Muslim crisis was caused by the ‘Wanda Peti’ rumour. Instead of calling it a canard you are saying that ‘Lankan Muslims have more holidays than Buddhists, Christians four times as many as Buddhists and Hindus just three’.
    This is a canard too. By the way you said this in an earlier article and some irate commenters faulted you – alas to no effect.
    .
    You are presidential material alright. Good luck.

    • 1
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      K Pillai

      “You are presidential material alright. Good luck.”

      Are you planing to apply for a franchise to operate a fleet of white vans?

  • 1
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    Thank you Malinda for a very well written article. You are absolutely spot on.

    If Buddhists were as violent as some people make it out to be, they would be rioting now after kiriella’s statement in parliament.

    • 1
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      What Buddhists? There are’nt any Buddhists in Sri Lanka. That’s why the world’s foremost Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, can’t get a visa to come here.

      • 1
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        oldcodger

        Why do you want to invite Dalai Lama to this island?
        He has nothing in common with Sinhala/Buddhism nor has he anything to do with it.

        Aren’t you proud of Ashin Wirathu’s holy visit to this island of which Sri Lankan government happily supported. Aren’t you grateful to Gnanasara who made it possible .

        • 0
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          NV,
          “Why do you want to invite Dalai Lama to this island?”
          Well, the Buddhists might get another holiday if DL gets a visa. That would make little Malinda happy.

  • 0
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  • 1
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  • 0
    0

    MS has a point regards to stereotyping…….which none of us like to be in that shoes when this is done to us when we are innocent ??

    In Sri Lankan context
    -if we do not like SWRDB desicion for Sinhala only act then we need to be specific and qualify each time what we say in that regard
    -If we want to be specific on the horrors of those who committed the racial riots we need to be specific on that regard too………

    (1) It is true now we have become custom to say “Sinhala Buddhist” for any trouble related to thugs who happened to be Sinhala and Buddist by birth or claim to be so because they justify their act by saying they are acting in the interest of all the Sinhala Buddhist people??? Then the world take this as most of the majority of Sinhala Buddhist are thugs? bad people sponsoring/supporting criminal activity etc?? It is seriously a criminal way to generalise anyone too???

    (2)Additionally being a “majority” does not mean majority are thugs or bad people only means majority will have a greater number of people in proportion to the bad apples in other minority communities correct? so it is relative referencing but still misleading is what was stated too by MS?

    We need to qualify each time to avoid any hurt is the point as we have unfairly used these term and alienated those who are fair and just as others in other communities too. This is a disservice to the cause of uniting too.

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