By Izeth Hussain –
I have argued for many years that the Sinhalese side can safely give any amount of devolution to the Tamils without that leading to separation by a supposedly ineluctable linear progression. Separation can take place only if the Sinhalese side is unable to prevent it, because of defeat in war or intervention by a foreign power or for some other reason. I never had a reply to that argument, obviously because at the theoretical level that argument is unassailable. But what about the practical level? The ground realities can change in such a way that what is valid at the theoretical level can become invalid at the practical level. That indeed, I must acknowledge, has happened to my argument.
I refer firstly to the new geopolitical configuration of Sino-Indian rivalry in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, which was the subject of the first part of this article. Let me add briefly to what I wrote there. Since 1948 India has postulated its relations with Sri Lanka on one unvarying principle: Sri Lanka by itself can pose no serious threat to India, but it can do so if it gets together with some foreign power. The important point is that China cannot withdraw from this region without jeopardizing its commercial and other vital interests. That should mean that China would want to secure a permanent foothold in Sri Lanka, and that could lead to complications in Indo-Sri Lanka relations. It has already done so in fact. We can assume that for the most part Sino-Indian relations will be conducted with pragmatic good sense and a spirit of mutual accommodativeness because both sides know that today wars between big powers can benefit no one. But we can never be certain about the future, something that futurological exercises have taught us very clearly. India could want a predominant or dominant position in Sri Lanka, or a North East enclave in which the Tamils are dominant. It could even want – as a worst case hypothesis – to impose a Cyprus style solution, on which I have written two articles. H.L. de Silva, some months before he passed away, wrote that he had thought my argument to be fanciful but he changed his mind after he wondered why India was so insistent on a North East merger. We must now wonder why Prime Minister Modi suddenly vaunted the attractions of federalism, which had for long been an “f” word in India.
The second reason why it is no longer tenable that any amount of devolution can be given without that leading to separation is Tamil racism, which was always there but the intensity of which I had failed to grasp. The explanation for that failure is to be found in the generational gap. For decades I knew only thoroughly Westernised Tamils of the solid middle class, for the most part born and brought up in Colombo, who could transcend their ethnicity just as much as their Sinhalese counterparts. Today a very different type of Tamil prevails. They include a solid segment of Tamils who are intensely racist, who could possibly be even among the worst racists in the world. I doubt that such Tamils will be capable of the mutual accommodativeness and willingness to compromise that are requisites for a wide measure of devolution to work smoothly. I have come to this belief partly because of the Tamil attacks against me in the Colombo Telegraph, sustained over a long period, attacks which I find impossible to account for except on the ground of intense Islamophobic racism. I must emphasize before proceeding further that my view that Tamil anti-Muslim hatred is much greater than that of the Sinhalese is shared literally by every Muslim with whom I have discussed this matter. It is not a case of a broad consensus but of unanimity.
I will now deal with the material in the Colombo Telegraph that points to Tamil Islamophobic racism. That material acquires its significance, its explosive significance, in the perspective of the fact that over several decades I was firmly established , among non-Tamils, as one of the most pro-Tamil Sri Lankans on the ethnic question. That reputation was earned through many articles in the Lanka Guardian, the Island, the Weekend Express and elsewhere, as well as through my participation in the seminar and lecture circuit. As I cannot go into many details I will mention only that I delivered the second Kandasamy Memorial Lecture sometime in the first half of the ‘nineties – the first was by Regi Siriwardene. Obviously I would not have been chosen for that lecture by Rajan Hoole, the late Desmond Fernando and others who were on the organizing committee if I had always had the reputation of being rabidly anti-Tamil, as is made out, insistently made out, by the Tamils who attack me in the Colombo Telegraph.
I will now put down a few details to indicate the extent to which I have been pro-Tamil on the ethnic problem. 1) I have always insisted that we have a Tamil ethnic problem, not just a terrorist problem. Accordingly I have not used the term “terrorist” even once about the LTTE in articles written over several decades. On the contrary I have written more than one article arguimg that we had on our hands a Tamil national problem, not a terrorist one. 2) I have been emphatic that the Tamil ethnic problem was created by the Sinhalese side, firstly by grotesque anti-Tamil discrimination which reached its apogee in 1971, and by State terrorism from 1977 to 1983. 3) I have virtually justified the Tamils taking up arms after 1983 by pointing out that they had been treated as worse than pariah dogs: Tamils were burnt alive in 1983 with total impunity, pariah dogs never were. Tamils had to fight to preserve their human status. 4) I have expressed understanding over the Indian support for the Tamil rebellion on the ground that Delhi could not ignore the fall-out in Tamil Nadu of what was done to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. 5) I have been outspokenly critical of Muslim politicians for having abandoned all moral standards in backing the Sinhalese in every bit of racist idiocy against the Tamils. 6) I have even gone to the extent of suggesting that we should build a mausoleum in honour of the war dead on both sides since, whatever wrongs were committed, both sides fought heroically. And so on. I must add that all along I have been excoriating the Sinhalese power elite over its anti-Muslim racism.
In that perspective the question that arises is this: how on earth has it come about that Tamils have been attacking me – in ways that have have frequently shown hysterical hatred and mad dog rage – in the CT columns over a long period on the assumption, endlessly repeated, that I have always been a rabid anti-Tamil racist? I will acknowledge that certainly I have not been in unanimity with the Tamils on every issue. I was very critical of them for their failure to respond in an adequately positive manner to the overtures made by former President Kumaratunga from 1994 to 2000. I was very critical of them over their making an utter farce of the Norwegian-sponsored peace process, because it was obvious to me that they would be satisfied with nothing less than a confederal arrangement which would amount to de facto Eelam. Many moderate Tamils would have agreed with my positions at that time, and retrospectively many more would do so today. It cannot be said that my positions were inimical to legitimate Tamil interests. Certainly there was nothing to justify the hatred and rage shown in the Tamil attacks against me.
It was not surprising therefore that, in keeping with my solidly established reputation as pro-Tamil, I started receiving encomiums from Tamils soon after my articles were published in the CT, including one from Fr. S.J. Emmanuel of the Global Tamil Forum. A Tamil expatriate paper in Canada published one of my articles in Tamil translation. A Muslim friend of mine told me recently that enthusiastic Tamil responses to my articles were far more than that. But suddenly my articles were subjected to attack. It was not a case of this or that article being criticised over errors of fact or judgment. Every single article was subjected to scornful withering attacks by around seven to ten persons. I noticed that practically all of them were by writers using nom de plumes that declared a Tamil identity. I asked why there was so much hatred in those attacks, considering that my articles were not polemical and most certainly not anti-Tamil in any way. I used the phrase “ a total annihilating hatred”, which was not excessive as some of the attacks showed hatred of a genocidal order – I had in mid the mass expulsion of Muslims from the North. The attacks went on week after week for several months and suddenly stopped, possibly because the objective behind those concerted attacks could not be accomplished: it was to stop me being published. A Tamil declared that since an article of mine had been subjected to near total demolition, it was time for the Island to stop publishing me. Since then quite a few Tamils have indicated that they are in agony of mind over the fact that both the Island and the Colombo Telegraph have continued to publish me.
To be continued..