By Izeth Hussain –
Why bother about Tamil casteist racism, the substantiation for which is to be found in attacks on this writer by only a few Tamils? Arguably they represent just a Tamil Islamophobic lunatic fringe and no more than that. However, the problem in Sri Lanka is that on the ethnic front the lunatic fringe is too often right at the center. Since the time of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact of 1957 every attempt at a solution of the ethnic problem has been aborted by the lunatic fringe moving to the center, a procedure that we might expect over the next attempt as well. The lunatic fringe is to be found on the Tamil side also, not just the Sinhalese one as commonly assumed. For instance, Balasingham and Karuna came to the sober conclusion that the Tamils had better settle for a federal solution. But the lunatic Prabhakaran was right there at the center and aborted that.
The LTTE – which began the attacks against this writer in the Colombo Telegraph – can be seen as a lunatic fringe that took power at the Tamil center. Arguably it began as a credible nationalist movement in response to State terrorism from 1977 to 1983, but it quickly degenerated into lunacy. That was shown by its extermination of the Tamil moderates – the best and brightest of the Tamils – the lunatic belief that it could establish Eelam through a military victory against the wishes of India, and the concomitant rejection of a federal solution. But what evidence was there to show that the LTTE attacked this writer? They were clearly co-ordinate attacks by seven to ten persons every week, all of them were well-written more or less in the same style, and they stopped abruptly after some weeks. Those facts suggest a group behind the attacks, and what could it be but the LTTE? Consider the fact that this writer would be regarded as a moderate, the kind of person who could help in promoting political solutions – the kind of person, in other words, who was utterly detested by the LTTE. There is the case of a friend of this writer, a Sinhalese tycoon and do-gooder who mounted several projects to help indigent Tamils in the North: expatriate Tamils made it clear to him that they hated his guts for doing that. Of course, there is plenty of evidence to show the LTTE’s Islamophobic hatred towards Muslims. It is pertinent to refer also to this writer’s article of some years ago analyzing the blatant display of racism in Hero’s Day speeches of Prabhakaran and Balasingham. The latter declared that the upper storey of the Sinhalese was entirely devoid of content, and that there was only one word that the Sinhalese could really understand, the word “hit”. A contact in London wrote to this writer to state that for the latter remark Balasingham could easily be convicted and punished in London for racist incitement to violence.
So it would be untenable to hold that the writer’s conclusions on Tamil casteist racism have to be dismissed because of inadequate substantiation. The attacks on this writer over weeks, months, and years provide ample material on that racism. It almost certainly afflicts only a minority of the Tamils but it could get to the center stage, very dangerously, should the LTTE ride again. In order to get fully to grips with the Tamil ethnic problem, it is important not just to recognize Tamil racism but to understand why it has a peculiarly horrible virulence. The writer has argued that belief in rebirth and the theory of karma provides a transcendental justification for hierarchy and the caste system, and therefore racism could have a peculiar virulence in the caste-ridden societies of South Asia. The Tamil caste system is much more rigid, much more inhuman, than the Sinhalese one, and consequently it might be expected that Tamil racism will have a peculiarly horrible virulence. Tamil responses to the writer’s recent articles certainly provide very convincing substantiation for that view.
In writing on Ifthikar Cader’s painting exhibition this writer announced that in his weekly articles he would be focusing more on the arts – on literature, film etc. There was nothing even remotely about the Tamils in the paintings or in the review, but a Tamil burst out in contempt and hatred declaring that this writer had engaged in a covert attack on Ifthikar and his brother because he envied their good looks etc. What was the explanation for that seeming bit of lunacy? One of Sri Lanka’s best known creative writers waxed lyrical about that review, which could be presumed therefore to have had a certain quality. The Tamil Islamophobe found the positive quality of that review unbearable. The writer’s next article was on a Hitchcock film, which again had nothing to do with the Tamils. The same Tamil burst out again, provoking a Sinhalese to ask whether he thought that no Muslim should write an article on Hitchcock. The Tamil replied that his position was a simple and straightforward one: films are forbidden under Islam, for which reason this writer could not have seen a single Hitchcock film, about which he knows “bugger all”. Tamil casteist racism is on obvious display: Muslims should stick to menial occupations or trade, and it is intolerable that one of them should dare to write on the high arts.
Another Tamil also thought it outrageous that I should write on the high arts. He conceded that I knew something about politics – “But European Art and the depths of the cinematic world!!! This is the giddy limit … Surely there is a limit to the patience and the courtesy of the readers in their thousands”. The same Tamil, Kettikaran, earlier wrote that the Muslims are breeding “like piglets” and when challenged on that declared that it is quite commonplace to say that the Muslims are breeding like piglets and rats, possibly having the BBS in mind. He declared further that the BBS had been provoked by this writer and similar Muslims. This writer challenged him to substantiate that charge but that has not been done up to now, obviously because the charge is nonsense. The reader will agree that the writer has not been excessive in describing the Tamil attacks on him in the following terms – “hysterical hatred and mad dog rage”.
Another Tamil has been bellowing like a mad bull for months on end that Muslim pretensions to being of Arab descent are nonsense, except for a tiny handful of them, and that they are really low caste Tamils – sometimes he has been explicit that they are the products of inter-marriage with Sakkilis, that is lavatory cleaners. This writer quoted the following from Lorna Devaraja’s book on The Muslims of Sri Lanka: “From a trading community with tenuous affiliations to the host culture, they developed paradoxically into a group which while remaining devoutly Islamic had a place in the most intimate and innermost recesses of Kandyan life: in the administration of the Dalada Maligawe which enshrined the palladium of Buddhist royalty; in the pomp and ceremonial of the vihares and devales and in the day to day functioning of the monasteries which were the hub of the spiritual and cultural life of the village”. The writer asked how all that was possible with the intense caste consciousness of traditional Sri Lanka. No reply. It was a clear case of Tamil casteist racism in action.
Before concluding the writer must point out that the attacks on him provide valuable evidence on the dehumanizing and bestializing power of racism – for the racist, not his victims. A couple of Tamils keep recurring to the charge that the writer advocated famine as an instrument to subdue the rebellious Tamils. Any reader who turns to Google and clicks on “Izeth Hussain’s reply to K. Arvind – 2006” will find that he has advocated the precise opposite. The writer declared that the LTTE and its clones should be extirpated from off the face of the earth. The Tamil racists insist that in fact what the writer advocated was the extermination of all Tamils. The writer has inveighed against Wahabism and its clones at great length but the Tamil racists insist that he is a notorious supporter of the ISIS. And so on, ad nauseam. The appeal to reason and the moral sense is of no avail with the Tamil racists. Could it be that they have reduced themselves to the level of the rat, the dog, and the pig?
What action should be taken? It is a significant fact that the concerted attacks by what was almost certainly the rump LTTE stopped after some months. Possibly the ripostes of this writer showing how ridiculous those attacks were could have led to that outcome. At present the writer and a Sinhalese who has been writing in his defense in the Colombo Telegraph have come to be convinced that one of the Tamil racists is the servitor of a fundamentalist Christian group. It is relevant to recall at this point that the BBS is believed to have had the financial backing of Norwegian fundamentalist groups. There could be a sinister force at work behind some of the Islamophobic attacks against this writer. Our authorities should look into the political dimension of Christian fundamentalist activity in Sri Lanka, particularly in the Tamil areas. This writer was revolted some time ago by a video showing a mass meeting of a Christian fundamentalist group in the Eastern Province in support of the expansionist policy of apartheid Israel.