By Romesh Hettiarachchi –
Writing in 1908, the English communitarian and contrarian, G.K. Chesterton, defined the madman as one who sees too much of cause in everything, whose intellect was rarely delayed by things that go with good judgment, such as humor or charity. To Chesterton, the madman’s most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail, reading conspirational significance into every activity, connecting one thing after another in a map more elaborate than a maze.” While most assert the madman is one who has lost his reason, Chesterton concludes by arguing the mad man has lost everything except his reason.
The Sri Lankan Patriot: A Chesterton Maniac?
The characteristics of the Chesterton madman come to mind when reading recent writings by Dayan Jayatilleka. Engaging with Dayan is clearly fruitless; his quest for public affirmation is insatiable. Complicating matters is that the many circular arguments Dayan develops are difficult to respond to. When detractors deny the conspiracy, Chesterton posited that the conspiracy theorist would assert that denial of the conspiracy is evidence of the conspiracy i.e. “only conspirators would deny the conspiracy.” Similarly, in this instance, the failure of critics to take a public stand against the “Genocide Resolution” is perceived by Dayan as evidence that critics are attempting to “lull the majority of this country into a false sense of security.”
Dayan should rest assured: most Sri Lankans aren’t going to feel more secure simply because they read an article in the Colombo Telegraph. Most Sri Lankans are more intelligent than Dayan gives them credit for. That said, opinions can be held without writing publicly about it. One does not need to demonstrate they have a political opinion by treating every flight of political fantasy as something that ought to be published, using the Colombo Telegraph as their personal diary.
Simply because one has many opinions and expresses all these opinions publicly doesn’t make those opinions more or less true. it simply means he/she is a loudmouth.
The Sri Lankan Diaspora: A Second Layer in the Sri Lankan Reconciliation Process?
As Dayan’s recent writings ably demonstrate, local perceptions of the influence and opinions of the Sri Lankan/Tamil Diaspora Sri Lankan add a second layer of complexity in a Sri Lankan reconciliation process already fraught with complications. Dayan should rest assured the global experience suggests that effective “reconciliation” processes and solutions must be internally created and context-driven. Any diaspora assistance or involvement in the Sri Lankan reconciliation process will likely be secondary in nature. Or as Archbishop Tutu said in his preface to the United Nations Handbook of Reconciliation:
Reconciliation cannot be imposed from outside, nor can someone else’s map get us to our destination: it must be our own solution. This involves a very long and painful journey, addressing the pain and suffering of the victims, understanding the motivations of offenders, bringing together estranged communities, trying to find a path to justice, truth and, ultimately, peace. Faced with each new instance of violent conflict, new solutions must be devised that are appropriate to the particular context, history and culture in question.
Such complexities contribute to my deep reservations in publicly opining about the affairs of the Northern Province. I don’t speak Tamil and have spent nominal amounts of time in the region, immersed in communities that rightfully see me as a foreigner. Representing my uninformed opinion as one which is credible is hardly responsible – in the same way Tamil Diaspora critics who have never visited Sri Lanka are not acting responsibly by criticizing local community leaders. In this instance, I admit I have so much to learn and take much pleasure in learning from those more experienced and wiser than I, such as Radhika Coomaraswamy (link) and the University Teachers of Human Rights in Jaffna (link).
The Sri Lankan Sage vs. Dayan
Expressing reservations in commenting out of acknowledging what one does not know will hardly satisfy DJ’s quest for affirmation. Perhaps he should listen to the Sri Lankan Sage who outlines the duty of all Sri Lankans to fight for the “equality of citizenship for all citizens, irrespective of whether they happen to be members of ethnic, linguistic or religious majority or minority.” Perhaps Dayan would demonstrate, like the Sri Lankan Sage asked, the “wisdom, sagacity and generosity to build a united Sri Lanka which is not a synonym or disguise for the dominance of this or that community.” Dayan could alternatively recognize that the constituent peoples of Sri Lanka will continue to drift apart from each other if Sri Lanka is only another name for a Sinhala country or Sinhala rata or even more narrowly “Sinhala Bauddha Rata” (Sinhala Buddhist country).
Dayan should recognize the Sri Lankan Sage. After all the Sri Lankan Sage is simply an earlier incarnation of Dayan from his tome Long War Cold Peace (2013). Anticipating allegations statements are made out of context, read Dayan’s own words here: pg. 432-433. This incarnation of Dayan Jayatilleka continues by asserting:
- The translation and transposition of a natural demographic and cultural preponderance into political and constitutional primacy, pre-eminence and hegemony departs from the principle of equality of citizenship, of equal rights and principle of merit. (pg 434-5)
- Sri Lanka’s post war crisis is one of the inability, unwillingness or delay in making the transition from a Just War to a Just Peace (456-7)
- Sinhala and Tamil nationalism have to be accommodated to build a Sri Lankan national identity and consciousness. Tamil nationalism can be contained only by a sufficiency of devolved power and resources. We must share power with one another so as to build a nation with and for us all (459)
- Full implementation of the 13th amendment is an essential part of the minimum political programme (461)
Clearly written when Dayan’s intelligence was more acute, Long War, Cold Peace is notable for its recognition of the need for Sri Lankan identity to become “broadly inclusionary, based on equality and merit” if only to ensure the safety and security of Sri Lanka. In his guise as the Sri Lankan Sage, Dayan Jayatilleka acknowledges the Sri Lankan government of yesteryear could not reflect a Sri Lanka of the 21st century while it remained in the grip of a “closed minded cultural conservativism and traditionalism”. I echo Dayan’s remarks written two years ago: Sri Lanka can only fulfill its potential as a country and nation by “modernizing and democratizing Sri Lankan identity” through amongst other things, attracting and enlisting young Western educated Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims” (441 and 442).
Its always tragic to see those you respect rescind into shadows of their former selves. Nevertheless, while Dayan has proven to be unable to break free from the attraction of Sinhalese nationalism, its safe to say that the majority of the Western educated Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, while looking for opportunities to give back to the communities they call their own, will not have anything to do with the toxic politics of the Sri Lankan Patriot.
*Romesh Hettiarachchi is a lawyer and mediator in Toronto, Canada. A former director of Sri Lankans Without Borders, Romesh can be reached @romesh_h.