22 July, 2024


Sri Lanka At The Cross Roads Again

By Izeth Hussain –

Izeth Hussain

Izeth Hussain

The more it changes the more it’s the same thing – French proverb.

According to widespread Sri Lankan perceptions, we came to a cross roads by 1989 and in 1994 we chose what seemed to most of us to be the right road, which would lead to definitive solutions of the two major problems bedeviling us: that of restoring a fully functioning democracy and establishing unity through a solution of the ethnic problem. Today, twenty years later, many Sri Lankans, perhaps most, share the perception that we have again come to a cross roads at which it is imperative to choose the right road that would lead to definitive solutions of the two major problems bedeviling us: the restoration of a fully functioning democracy and the establishment of unity through the solution of our ethnic problems. It looks like the more it changes the more it’s the same thing. Or rather it’s the same thing but worse, because we now have two ethnic problems – the Muslim one as well – instead of just one. That fact suggests that the major problem underlying everything else in Sri Lanka is that of establishing national unity – which is the main case that I will be advancing in this article.

It should be useful to chart the salient points in the political trajectories that led to the two cross roads because that could enable us to spot common factors between them. When the Jayewardene Government came to power in 1977, it was the confident expectation of most of us that problems that had been bedeviling us for decades would be set right. In the economy there was a turning to the market leading to phenomenal economic growth, a change that has established itself as irreversible. JRJ showed himself to be more prescient about our economic future than any of our other leaders, and wrought the bourgeois revolution that traditional Marxism saw as the necessary penultimate stage before the establishment of socialism. That was a major achievement, but it was his only one. Since he and his Government had overwhelming popular support, hardly anyone expected that he would want to deviate even one jot from democracy, but he quickly made himself a dictator. On the ethnic front, we confidently expected that the promised all-Party Conference would be held without much delay, resulting in a definitive solution to the ethnic problem. Instead he unleashed a program of State terrorism which reached its apogee in the holocaust of 1983, resulting in the thirty-year war. The record was as follows by the time he relinquished office in 1989: there were two rebellions going on simultaneously in this small country; the IPKF troops were here behaving like conquerors; and the Government had lost control over a third of the national territory and half the coast line. Premadasa also continued the dictatorship and could not solve the ethnic problem.

Mahinda-and-ChandrikaIn 1994 we chose an alternative road. The market oriented economy was continued with – for the most part – very satisfactory growth rates. The economic difficulties we are experiencing, along with many other countries, can be seen – partly at least – as following from the defects inherent in the capitalist system. Democracy was restored. On the ethnic front our Governments were over a long period very accommodative but a solution eluded us mainly because of the intransigence of the LTTE. However, with the assumption of power by President Rajapaksa the road has been veering in a totally different direction. But we must first acknowledge his two mighty achievements. If not for the military victory over the LTTE we would today almost certainly be living under a confederal arrangement amounting to a de facto Eelam. The other achievement is that with consummate political skill he has saved this country from one of the worst scourges that could have befallen it, a military government, though that has been at the price of allowing an excessive intrusion of the military into the civilian realm. On the negative side, he is clearly veering towards an absolutist dictatorship with the eighteenth amendment, the ridiculous impeachment of the Chief Justice, and much else. On the ethnic front there has been no political solution for the Tamil ethnic problem, which could have fateful consequences in the future, and he has allowed the eruption of yet another ethnic problem, the Muslim one. Sri Lanka could be moving towards another doom-laden 1989. It is understandable that many Sri Lankans should feel that we have arrived at a cross roads again.

There are several common factors in the two political trajectories that I have outlined above. All our Governments since 1977 have followed market-oriented economic policies, but that is not seen as a factor leading to a political cross roads in which we have to turn desperately to an alternative road. Two other common factors are seen as leading to the present cross roads: dictatorship and the failure to solve ethnic problems. We are still a quasi-democracy, but the drive towards absolutist dictatorship could become irresistible because a known fact about power, differentiating it from victuals, is that the appetite grows in the eating. As for our ethnic problems, there has been a failure to solve them but there have been no mass murder of minority members. That however could follow because Islamophobic extremists – who indisputably have a privileged position with the Government -profess to believe that the Muslims pose an existential threat to the Sinhalese. We could be well on the way to another 1989. It should be understandable that many Sri Lankans today feel that we desperately need to turn towards an alternative political road.

The burden of this article is that the desideratum over-riding everything else in Sri Lanka is the unity of the nation. This article is not being written from a partisan political standpoint. A new President, or for that matter a Prime minister under a Parliamentary system of government, can make himself a dictator if the conditions are propitious for that. And of course our politicians can go on mucking and wrecking our ethnic relations as they have been doing since 1948. We need new thinking about building an inclusive nation. We need, not necessarily a new Party in power, but a new road in our politics. Hitherto the majority assumption has been that there is no need to build a nation because it already exists: this is the land of the Sinhala Buddhists, or it is the land of the Sinhalese inclusive of the Christians, while the minorities are no more than visitors. This has led to a deep sense of alienation among the minorities. It has also, I believe, aggravated the divisiveness among the Sinhalese themselves.

What could be the reason? I have identified two factors – the drive towards dictatorship and the failure to establish ethnic harmony – as having led to the disastrous situation that prevailed in 1989, and those same two factors are threatening to lead us again to another 1989. I suspect that those two factors are really one and the same. A dictatorship can be assumed to have a tendency – not inevitably so but a tendency – towards division and hierarchy. A dictator places himself above the people, and he and his coterie constitute an elite that is above the people, which means that the tendency to division and hierarchy is at the very core of dictatorship. Furthermore, that tendency applies not just to the minorities but to the majority ethnic group as well. That is why under the dictatorship of President JR the ethnic problem got completely out of hand, the result of the hierarchical principle being taken to an extreme, and that is why after the IPKF troops came here the Sinhalese slaughtered each other, showing that the divisiveness extends to the majority as well as the minorities. Sometimes a dictatorship puts up a meretricious show of unity, but the ethnic and other divisions erupt violently once the dictatorship breaks down, as in Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, and the former Soviet Union. Sri Lanka’s ethnic problems can be solved only under a fully functioning democracy.

I have raised issues in this article that evidently require in-depth treatment. As that will not be possible within the ambit of a single article, I will conclude by merely mentioning some facts that we must bear in mind about national unity. How did the West gain its ascendancy so easily over Asia? Contemporary scholarship rejects the familiar notion of Western dynamism and Asian decadence because the evidence shows that Asia remained economically and culturally dynamic in the eighteenth century. Pankaj Mishra in his book The Revolt against the West and the Remaking of Asia argues that the ascendancy was due to the West’s superior skills for “industrial civilization”, more simply for organization, for acting as members of corporate groups, churches, or governments. In my view behind it all was the nation state which enabled a far higher degree of unity than was possible under any other state formation.

The interested reader should take a look at the DVD of the film Invictus. Under apartheid the South African blacks used to cheer any foreign team playing against the legendary white South African Springbok rugby team. After apartheid the Springboks were faring miserably and didn’t seem to have the faintest chance of winning the World Cup. Nelson Mandela took charge and resorted to concrete measures to make the South African blacks support the white Springboks, who proceeded to win the World Cup spectacularly. It was a victory that had behind it a deep sense of national unity. All our politicians should view that DVD.

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Latest comments

  • 6

    “The interested reader should take a look at the DVD of the film Invictus….All our politicians should view that DVD”

    I am not sure if this DVD is available with Sinhala sub title for the current crop of Sinhala politician to understand.

    Perhpas you could facilitate this and distribute it free?
    I am happy to finance any number fo copies you need. conatct me via CT

    • 0

      Rajash – thanks for the offer.I wish the DVD can be subtitled in Sinhala and shown on TV in addition to being commercially available. The DVD I bought is subtitled in English and should be comprehensible to most politicians who know some amount of English. – Izeth

  • 3

    Izeth Hussain –

    RE: Sri Lanka At The Cross Roads Again

    Indeed. At the cross Roads Again.

    That means, there is a great opportunity for a Sri lank Writer or writers to Come up with quickly, write, print and publish the Sri Lankan version of the Conmon sense pamphlet and expose the Mara Dynasty and Dictatorship.

    The opposition politicians have done their job and selected the Common (Sense) Candidate.

    Do you any writers who can help ? It needs to be in all three languages in the same pamphlet.

    Common Sense (pamphlet)


    With the Common sense Phamplet, Medamulana MaRa can be deposed by Mr. Maitripala Sirisena by 75% to 25%.

    • 2

      Izeth Hussain is still saudi concentric like the vast majority of the stupid muslims of lanka- perhaps its to do with the fact that they always held both sides of the coin and the stupid tamils sold themselves. Every government had several muslims as ministers because they represented the tamil language because of the terror of JT’s

      Now read this which Alavi Moulana (he is always cleaning his ear but is a very nice from the heart)- in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country is quite historic,
      Islam was taken to Indonesia by Gujarat not by the sword so why are the muslims supporting terror of the arabs and creating tension for all other faiths like the sihala buddhist??


      Indonesian politics has thrown up some surprises of late, not least the election of Jakarta’s new governor. Meet the Chinese Christian who will step into Joko Widodo’s rather sizeable shoes

      By Nithin Coca

      History was made in Jakarta last month. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, an Indonesian Christian of Chinese heritage, took over from his former running mate Joko Widodo to become governor of Indonesia’s capital, a teeming, Muslim-majority city of nearly 10 million people.
      While most eyes are on Widodo and his ascension to the presidency, Ahok’s rise is arguably even more astounding, not least as it comes less than two decades after Jakarta was rocked by anti-Chinese riots.

      Indeed, some believe this is not only an historic moment for Indonesia, but for the world as a whole. Candidates from religious minorities are rarely elected into positions of power.

      “The fact that you now have an ethnic Chinese Christian in charge of the capital and most populous city in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country is quite historic,” said Tamir Sukkary, an expert on Islamic politics at Sacramento City College in California. “Many in the Muslim world will be watching Ahok. If he performs well, then it sends a powerful message of religious and ethnic acceptance and coexistence.”

      Though the Chinese have been part of Indonesia’s diverse cultural tapestry for centuries, for much of the country’s history they were perceived as outsiders. Though Sukarno, Indonesia’s founding president, included Chinese politicians in his administration, the purges of the 1960s impacted on Chinese Indonesians in particular, as they were seen as being close to the banned and brutally repressed Indonesian Communist Party. Subsequently, under General Suharto’s nationalistic, strongman regime, Chinese culture, language and identity were repressed.

      “The effect of these bans and purges on ethnic Chinese politics was traumatic and long-lasting,” said Jemma Purdey, an expert on contemporary Indonesian history and politics at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute in Australia. “Not only was an overt political role for ethnic Chinese out of the question, the ethnic identities of Chinese Indonesians were also eroded and erased, reinforced by discriminatory legislation banning Chinese symbols and cultural practice.”

      These laws lasted until the 1997-98 economic crisis, which was followed by the fall of Suharto. During this period of turmoil, another wave of violence affected Chinese Indonesians. Back then reconciliation seemed far off, and few, if any, could have predicted that just 16 years later Jakarta would welcome a popular
      Chinese Indonesian governor.

      “Indonesia has come a long way since 1998 in terms of its political and democratisation process, though of course there are still many things that need to be changed and reformed,” said Yosef Djakababa, director of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies in Jakarta, adding that tensions certainly still exist between Chinese and indigenous Indonesians. “For me, Ahok is phenomenal, not only because he is Chinese Indonesian and Christian, but he also came from outside Java. He is someone who embodied all the ‘wrong’ factors to become a leader in Indonesia.”

      While Jokowi’s image portrays him as a man of the people, Ahok is a pragmatic man of action, known for his curt comments to the media and his disdain for wasting time. For a nation that has suffered decades of politicians spouting lofty ideals but delivering little progress for the man in the street, Ahok’s style is a refreshing change.

      “Ahok is very popular not only in the Chinese community but also in the majority community, where many see him as a role model,” said Benny Setiono, founder and director of the Jakarta-based Indonesian Chinese Association.

  • 2

    Country maybe at crossroads but will the voters vote wisely also we cannot jump from the frying pan into the fire as well

    • 3

      Peace Lover

      The people are already in the Frying pan.

      They will fall into the fire when MaRa losews, and he tries to di a Military Coup.

      Will the People tolerate MaRa, mara? I do not think so. People are already tired of the MaRa Medamulane Dynasty.

  • 0

    Izeth Hussein:

    Do you the story that no one talked while Mandela was alive.

    That was he undersold the blacks to Afrikaners and because of that even to date Africans are suffering.

  • 0

    Peace and ethnic harmony is the mantra that all people of goodwill on this blessed island would chant. We thought that all our problems were solved by defeating the odious LTTE; well think again! All that has really happened is that the ‘victory over terrorism’ has set free again those same evil forces, and their attitudes, that had caused some of our Tamil brethren resort to arms in the first place. The rabid Sinhalese element – alas, as always, it only takes a few – has been nourished by the success of THEIR Sinhalese-Buddhist Army. They have been nurtured by opportunistic politicians who see their activity as manageable and bringing political advantage. The saffron scourge will not rest until they have subjugated each and every of the hapless minorities that have been destined to share this island with the Sinhalese-Buddhists. The Tamils have been broken, the Muslims are work in progress. The Sinhalese-Christians are on the back burner right now, but as sure as night follows day, they will next in line.

    Mr Hussain writes “…there have been no mass murder of minority members…”. Some consolation I suppose, given that they feel like this is a living hell.

    Invictus aside, what we desperately need is a metamorphosis of the Sinhalese-Buddhist community that will bring about a purging of the pus that has infected them. That lead must come from the Sangha who surely must know the damage done internationally to Buddhism and the Sinhalese people.

    IF you think victory over terrorism has brought us a peace-dividend, then wait until you see the wonders that will accrue to us all IF and WHEN we achieve true peace and harmony among the races that share this blessed land.

    We urgently some heroes!

    • 2

      ` That lead must come from the Sangha who surely must know the damage done internationally to Buddhism and the Sinhalese people.`

      sorry mate you are dreaming on this Sangha. having associated very closely to tibetan monks and the french who support them. We see the virtue of selfishness ponder on that please.Then you realise SL monks give a toss and don’t see the damage. most dont like DJ but what is important is he mentioned that monks expect special favours at all embassies like gypsies of europe and more like duty free transport of items that are luxuries not meant for monkhood but would reach the commercial market- why are the pews empty in the west and just foreigners fill it not that locals don’t have faith.
      How many have joined to become a monk and once they find they have the necessary edu have come into society as laymen?

      If you conduct this election peacefully and win thew fist thing that happens is that your SL passport a single plus worldwide. its the public that can make it move or you would be like thailand which has had more military rulers and buddhist monks.

  • 0

    If fairplay and justice is maintained and the ordinary mases could feel the law of the land applies equally whether big or small, and the cost of living is maintained within an affordable level, the people will be quiet and when they see the opposite of this they would rise up.

    You cannot fool the people all the time.

  • 3

    This chap used to write a series “Muslims at Cross Roads” now he says iSri Lanka is at cross roads.
    Seems to be a muddled man. I think he is speaking out for the Muslims when he implies that Muslims regrets that they are Tamils as well and face the double whammy of two ethnic issues

    • 1

      “ .. we now have two ethnic problems – the Muslim one as well – instead of just one…” has become the standard fare of Muslim political writers in recent times. The reality is the Muslim factor was a subtle instrument by Sinhala supremacists to weaken the legitimacy of the Tamil struggle during the 1980s/1990s. Selected Muslim political leaders were used as pawns – easily bribed through Ministerships, jobs etc., to confer validity to this spurious claim. It certainly served the Sinhala cause and weakened the Tamil struggle – although the Tamils were fighting for the rights of all Tamil-speaking people. The ethnic conflict began on the language issue more markedly from the 1950s and remains so today between the two antagonists – the Sinhalese and the Tamils. In the post-2000 period the element of land, more specifically the thievery thereof, has entered the fray with tens of thousands of acres belonging to Tamils displaced from their homes, farms and properties finding the hands of government and army favourites. The Muslim political problem is centred around religion. They have no valid claim on land. Now and then, one hears of Muslim writers claiming they were here in large numbers supposedly having settled here thousands of years ago and so on. Both suspect claims arise from their fear of being evicted – in the background of recent events against them. Let it be placed in record, however, in fairness to them and to allay their fears Muslims are now part and parcel of the country. Sri Lanka is their home – as it is of the Sinhalese and Tamils – the two original inhabitants of the Island for several millennia.

      “ … On the ethnic front, we confidently expected that the promised all-Party Conference would be held without much delay, resulting in a definitive solution to the ethnic problem. Instead he (JRJ) unleashed a program of State terrorism which reached its apogee in the holocaust of 1983, resulting in the thirty-year war….” What cannot be denied is even the otherwise anti-Tamil JRJ appeared inclined to find a solution to the Tamil Question – during his early 1977 tenure. The problem then, as it is now, is the unyielding politicised Buddhist clerical hierarchy. During the pre-7/83 period their pernicious influence had infiltrated powerful UNP Ministers like Premadasa, Mathew, Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, Ranil Wickremesinghe and others in the JRJ Cabinet. They used the Tamil issue to weaken JRJ’s grip on his own Cabinet. JRJ was not the same powerful leader he was in 1977 after the 7/83 events. Remnants of this unholy religious cabal are now very much around. They are unlikely to allow Rajapakse or any other Sinhala political leader to come to a settlement on the National Question with the Tamil political leadership.

      “ …. As for our ethnic problems, there has been a failure to solve them but there have been (sic) no mass murder of minority members…” Clearly, Izeth Hussain suffers bouts of memory loss. Is he not aware the Rajapakses are now suffering sleepless nights about their fear of being imprisoned and sent to The Hague. Surely this is in respect of the mass murder of multiple thousands of Tamil civilians in 2009. The only area of dispute is in the numbers – where the State claims it is in the 30,000 region whereas the Tamil side claims it is more in the 150,000 region.


  • 1

    these stupid muslims are forever at cross-roads…get a life

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