By Izeth Hussain –
Ethnolunacy is a neologism coined by me to designate a phenomenon that has been, and continues to be, frighteningly destructive in Sri Lanka. If it is not curbed, it can even lead to the disintegration of Sri Lanka. In my view there are two defining characteristics of the racist. One is an essentialising habit of mind which makes the racist believe that ethnic groups have essential characteristics that never change or change only very slowly. The other is a stereotyping habit of mind which makes the racist believe that what is true of the part is also true of the whole: if some Sinhalese and Tamils are racist, then all of them must be racist, and so on. These defining characteristics of the racist are of course totally irrational, for which reason I regard irrationality as an integral part of racism, not something accessory to it.
It is important to note that there are different degrees of irrationality in racism. Sometimes racist objectives could seem quite rational. I suspect that the present Government’s racist anti-Muslim project includes the taking over of Muslim business interests and putting them into Sinhalese hands – which some old-timer Muslims like myself might see as the maturation of the program of the anti-Muslim racist D.S. Senanayake. Some Sinhalese might see that program as quite rational because, after all, this country belongs to the Lion race and it is meet and proper that the Lion’s share should go to the Lion. On the other hand, infinitely more irrational is the widespread belief that there is Muslim extremism against the Sinhalese, and the less widespread belief that the Muslims constitute an existential threat to the Sinhalese. Symptomatic of advanced ethnolunacy, showing an extreme irrationality, was the story that Muslim businessmen were distributing confectionary that induced sterility among Sinhalese females. That kind of advanced ethnolunacy is not peculiar to the Sinhalese. For instance, many white Americans believed after the Civil War – as shown in Griffith’s classic film The Birth of a Nation – that the blacks though a small minority could take power from the whites.
I will now make a few comments to show how ethnolunacy has been operating in Sri Lanka. By 1970 the Sinhalese had firmly established their supremacy over the minorities; any remaining asymmetries in majority/minority relations resulting from 450 years of colonial rule could be corrected without difficulty; and Tamil political aspirations could be met by a modest measure of devolution. But the JRJ Government unleashed its State terrorism on the Tamils, which after the 1983 holocaust led to the 26-year war. That surely was a masterpiece of ethnolunacy.
The present Government after winning the war in 2009 proceeded to relentlessly wreck the peace. It kept promising 13 A plus for about four years and finally offered 13 A minus. When the Northern Provincial Council was set up there were hopes that a success might be made of it, and that a political solution might grow out of it. That hope has practically vanished by now. But, to be fair, we must acknowledge that this Government did attempt a political solution though without avowing it. Its major components were the following: massive infrastructure development instead of focusing on the grass roots needs of the Tamil people; demographic change to ensure that there is no predominantly Tamil or Muslim area in Sri Lanka, so that separatism will never again raise its ugly head; a massive military presence in the North, far in excess of security needs, so that the Tamils will be permanently reminded of who’s boss in this country. It was an extreme irrationality on the part of the Sinhalese power elite to expect that our proud Tamils would ever accept so humiliating a political solution, behind which was majoritarian racist arrogance compounded by the arrogance of the conqueror. The failure to achieve a political solution after 2009 – when the conditions were so propitious for it – was yet another masterpiece of ethnolunacy.
I come now to the third masterpiece, which has a mind-boggling grandeur about it: the creation of a Muslim ethnic problem. As I have pointed out many times, you cannot imagine a more abjectly submissive a minority than the Muslims, who since 1948 supported the Sinhalese in every bit of ethnolunacy against the Tamils, and contributed to the war effort to the extent of incurring a genocidal expulsion from the North. They never asked for a separate state, and even their case for a Muslim enclave in the Eastern Province is an offshoot of the Tamil demand for devolution. And yet, over the last two years there has been a Government-backed hate campaign against them, with much propagandist garbage bellowed forth on the microphone. And now, after the Aluthgama/Beruwela outrages, we have on our hands a major Muslim ethnic problem. It would have been unimaginable if our lords and masters had just a modicum of good sense. Their racist irrationality made that impossible, so that we are now witnessing a masterpiece of ethnolunacy of mind-boggling grandeur.
In this article I will make some comments on only one point in that propagandist garbage that displays grotesque irrationality: the alleged Muslim extremism. Practically all over the Muslim world there are two movements going on: an attempt to return to a pristine form of Islam through Wahabism and its off-shoots, and the other what might be called “political Islam” which has spawned monstrosities such as Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and now the ISIL. The spread of Islamic fundamentalism has been mainly due to the expenditure of Saudi oil billions, since the Saudis seem to have a deep commitment to keeping the Muslim masses in a backward state so that the entire Muslim world will be submissive to brutal tyranny, as in Saudi Arabia. As for “political Islam”, there seems to be strong evidence pointing to some Western powers fomenting it, because in devious ways it could be made to serve brutal and greedy Western imperialist ends.
In Sri Lanka Islamic fundamentalism has been spreading for decades but as far as I am aware there has been no attempt to spread political Islam. There certainly has been Muslim extremism through the spread of Wahabism and its off-shoots, but that extremism has been directed against fellow Muslims and never against the Sinhalese. Some years ago in the Eastern Province the corpse of Pailuwan, a mystic and theologian of real ability I am told, was desecrated by the fundamentalists, and there have been several clashes between the fundamentalists and the orthodox Muslims. Later there was a lethal clash involving the Buhari mosque in Beruwela after orthodox Muslims were intolerably provoked by fundamentalists. But all these outbursts of Muslim extremism had no extra-Muslim dimension to them at all, and nothing whatever to do with the Sinhalese. The notion that Muslim extremism constitutes a serious problem for Sinhalese-Muslim relations is nonsense, and signifies only that ethnolunacy has gone intolerably far among Sinhalese racists.
I have much more to say on this subject but that is not possible within the space of this article. I will conclude this one by making some clarifications because what I have written above could offend some Muslims. I hold that Wahabism is a caricature of what Wahab originally preached in his attempt to return to Islam in all its pristine purity. Above all Wahabism must not be confused with the simple faith of simple Muslims, which I hold in awe and respect, and I am not the first to do so. Charles Doughty, in the great prose of his Arabia Deserta which is full of the horrors of life among the desert Arabs, wrote something like this: “The Arab has his feet in a cloaca, but his brows touch heaven”. During my time in Paris in the first half of the ‘sixties there were moves among the Catholics to have Charles de Foucauld canonized. He was an army officer of aristocratic descent who, at the time he went to serve in Morocco, led the easy-going hedonistic life of the upper class French. He suddenly became devoutly religious because he was so deeply moved by the intense faith of the desert Moroccan. Peter Brook, the theatre director, wrote after going to Afghanistan that he had never imagined that a people could be so close to God. I seem to recall that the great Catholic poet Paul Claudel wrote similarly of Muslims more than once. So, as attested by those great figures, the simple ordinary Muslim can rise gloriously to the transcendental. We don’t need the Wahabis.