By Farhaan Wahab –
“What the far right visualizes and prepare for is not a frontal seizure of power but a hurricane from below, carried out by a widespread and pliable mass of the wretched of this earth led by a well-disciplined counterrevolutionary elite.” ~ Aijaz Ahmad; In theory, Class, Nation, Literature
The rejuvenation of far-right in the Western Hemisphere was contagious.
Ethno-nationalist authoritarian-right are rampaging across the world. Dictatorial figures who have appalling past of advocating race supremacy, xenophobia are being elected. One democratic country after another comes in the hands of the proponents of ethno-nationalist cults which similarly emulate each other regardless of geographical and cultural factors.
In the post-colonial nations and the western democracies, nationalism has become a seductive antidote offered to the societies that are exposed to suffering. The failure of post-colonial nation-building, mimicry of modernity, Neoliberal seduction and the rising inequality that is created by the so-called free-market capitalism have been the major contributing factors to this increasing trend. This idea is often interpreted through an exclusive nationalist language.
As Pankaj Mishra writes in his book Age of anger “Nationalism is more than ever before, a mystification, if not a dangerous fraud with its promise of making a country “great again” and its demonisation of the other; it conceals the real condition of existence, and the true origins of sufferings, even as it seeks to replicate the comforting balm of transcendental ideals within a bleak, earthly horizon “.
As a result, highly diverse nations polarised on a specific basis which eventually turning them into a moronic inferno. This picture is similar to Max Weber’s despairing diagnosis of the modern world as an “iron cage” in which those who are subjected to immense suffering, seek escape only through the false promises of a charismatic leader.
In the case of Sri Lanka, despite their bitter nightmarish experience with Mahinda dynasty, once again the majority have chosen to prolong their reign. This time, racial and cultural anaesthesia blended with nationalism – boosted after Easter Sunday tragedy -was dripped to collective conscious by media pundits and prominent hate peddlers.
Consequently, the majoritarian society that had been in a long search for a strong Sinhala man found its Dutugemunu over the demise of minorities political aspirations.
Now We have a president who is an alleged war criminal responsible for the slaughtering of more than 40,000 Tamils in Mullivaikal and hundreds of forced disappearances along with the murders of journalists.
The problem with such leadership at the national level is you get people to talk and behave in a violent manner. Needless to say, that goes along with rioting impulses against those who are considered as excluded or the ‘other’.
At a point, these secondary characteristics are likely to define the collective conscious. We have already seen how this particular aspect has worked after the election victory of wannabe despot Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Attacks on minorities and the supporters of the opposition increased in many folds.
The so-called strong man is the embodiment of popular racism and majoritarian chauvinism. Existence of his power gives shape to such widely shared attributes (read it as insanities). The man and his family got a great penchant for corruption and illegal wealth accumulation.
Some might disagree with this point but from the beginning, this particular family has exhibited its extreme lust for greed. The new money with irresistible urge to display and excise power. Unlike Modi in India or other right-wing macho counterparts, he has no deeper dogmatic roots, a family with politicians and bureaucrats that managed its way from its middle-class background to all the way up to find itself in an affluent position. Now it is forced to breathe power so that it can protect its wealth, but that’s not the end of it. Fascism is a parasite that always finds its incubator in figures like Gotabaya who are inherently accommodative. Already Neo liberal bubble is further fueled and seen a smooth track to carry out its economic onslaught.
When such misadventures badly backfire in order to consolidate their power, figures like Gota who hold significant tendencies for Militarised Totalitarianism would tend to ease the situation through nurturing constant hostility towards the minorities and other disfranchised people.
Characteristically Gotabaya does not fit into the typical definition of a demagogue, but his political presence has been the embodiment of demagoguery that is carefully nurtured to alter the political landscape of Sri Lanka. Rhetorics of Sinhala nationalism found its long searched-finest a grade strong man to demonstrate its majoritarian power.
When a self-proclaimed strong man with authoritarian tendencies seize power,
1. They wipe out the opposition with a significant margin and make them vulnerable.
2. They give most seductive speeches about development, infrastructure and economy, to the insecure middle class that is endlessly dreaming of joining the elite club.
The lumpen proletariats as Chris hedges write are more often the enemy of the revolution and the natural ally of fascists. They gravitate to the reactionary armed vigilante groups, lured by the intoxication of violence, and build their warped ideology around conspiracy theorists and hate-mongering nationalists.
We see this among some Trump supporters and white militias and hate groups all over the world.
They (strong man) represent the desires that are residing on the subconscious mind of the middle class. So the strong man continues to feed such neon light dreams. Sometimes they carry out particular development projects which have no relevance to working classes or underprivileged classes. Nothing adds any value to them but the middle class would continue to get this euphoric pleasure from a distance, remember how middle class celebrated the inauguration of lotus tower and highway projects. As Walter Benjamin said “Our alienated middle class experienced its destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of first order.” the ostentatious trash was a personal insult to the poor. What middle class forgets to notice is while they are at this euphoria, the government is dismantling the democratic institutions and gradually, the state is moving towards a military regime.
Every day tabloids carry the news of former army personnel being appointed to democratic institutions. Once you establish yourself as an influential person who brings fortune to the country, you get a free license to act upon your own desire. Freedom of expression or civil liberties loses its characteristics in the system.
The middle class do not worry about losing them because those have no meanings in the alienated middle-class apolitical life.
Our insensitivity toward the violence on minorities is appalling. Apathy is a collectively shared national trait of Sri Lanka at large. In the post-colonial Sri Lanka, we have been through many riots, slaughtering and mob violence.
None of the victims of pogroms received any justice. Justice for victims of mass violence is not luxury that a tiny country like Sri Lanka cannot afford. But as customary and international law, binding all the states, the international human rights system defines justice as redressal for victims and survivors.
Thousands of people are still weeping for their loved ones, lost in the treacherous political conflicts.
Whenever we face a national crisis, euphoric youth on Facebook often shout out for one nation, one country. They have been repeatedly told by the so-called patriotic forces that Sri Lanka has to be homogenised to be united.
This notion was imported from India. RSS’s slogan has been about the homogenisation of India on the Hindu nationalist line. Enthusiasts think this is a call of an epochal revolution that will change the country. But what their euphoria prevents them from seeing is the true meaning of the slogan ‘One nation’ which is an outright calling for minorities to give up on their uniqueness and embrace sinhalisation.
This proto-fascist slogan that radically denies the difference and multilateral social arena have found its place among urban youths and rural communities.
This particular slogan has replaced the word solidarity, even minorities also sometimes use this phrase to express their loyalty toward the country ( often after being subjected to pogrom ) But the question is what defines the one; Is it the national identity that is set along the line of shared values or is it just the majoritarian identity and culture which is considered to be Indigenous and Sri Lankan?
The answer is in the post-colonial Sri Lanka the majoritarian culture and preferences tended to define what Sri Lanka is. The gist of such a slogan is outright sinhalisation of everyone and everything.
Native informers and Sinhala intellectuals find Muslims of Sri Lanka to be a highly exceptional and backward bunch who are alien to Sri Lankan Sinhalese culture. Therefore people like Ali Sabry calling Muslims to embrace the identity “Sinhalese Muslims.” To legitimise his pronouncements, he brings bogus and patronising anthropological references.
Upul Shantha Sannasgala in an interview after Easter attack expressed his displeasure and accused Muslims of not being open like their counterparts; The culture talk is the basis of the emergence of popular fascism as Robert Paxton best describes it in his book Anatomy of fascism “Fascisms seek out in each national culture those themes that are best capable of mobilising a mass movement of regeneration, unification, and purity, directed against liberal individualism and constitutionalism and Leftists class struggle. The themes that appeal to fascists in one cultural tradition may seem merely senseless to another. The foggy Norse myths that stirred Norwegians or Germans sounded ridiculous in Italy, where fascism appealed instead to a sun-drenched classical Romania.”
This Sinhala-centric cultural anaesthesia was often injected by people who tend to justify pogroms; therefore, very covertly one would defend the attacks and subjugation of minorities. Using cultural logic to justify the political conflicts, socilogised the violence and rioting impluses Manupilate the of the democratic aspiration and pluralism. Such normalization of violnece creeps up on the day to day life, where the collective political memory tend to embrace fascism as a natural position in crisis and this helps vicious forces justify their existence. Often it is established as a positive attitude towards the minorities.
When the European notion of the mono nation-state was imposed on highly diverse Asian societies just after the colonial experience, led those societies into a dilemma in adapting to highly centralized nation-state. The countries which were liberated from the colonialism have greater tendencies for the civil war. Because of the unsettled questions which are left to be answered, such as who belongs and who don’t, who rules and who should be ruled etc.
Right after the independence the native majoritarian elites sought to secure the power by pushing the virtue of their ethnic majority. Consequently, newly emerged nation-state adapted series of majoritarian measures to establish their ethnocratic dominance. And it was the tipping point that gave birth to the interdependent communal based politics. Socialist republicanism was interpreted through the Sinhala supremacy. Majoritarian elites begun nation-building project by excluding a community. New rulers revoked the citizenship of upcountry Tamils that was the very first inauguration of institutionalized majoritarian chauvinism.
In the post-colonial world, a lame reason is always given whenever a third world authoritarianism comes to be questioned. Former subjects needs a little dose of dictatorship to be disciplined and modernised. Set aside neocolonialism, even the subjects firmly believe in this great wisdom. Political elites’ logic of authoritarianism interprets that chaotic third world needs an authoritarian figure and an undemocratic system to build a nation has historically resulted in violence and caused unimaginable calamities. Establishing such notions gives birth to nationalist leaders from Hitler to present-day Modi.
The argument of development serves as a free pass for the political elite to generate wealth while the entire society is being polarised and exploited economically, morally and politically. Neocolonialism can boost such impulses for the sake of free-market capitalism. The societies that have been exposed to years of colonial subjugation find themselves in a dilemma. It creates the most humiliating and degrading position where the unsettled questions of post-colonial time stimulate further certain impulses; that weed out minorities and those who considered as aliens – eventually bigotry and internal operations flourish.
Talk of development becomes a mobilising slogan that unites the majority behind the leader. Negative solidarity plays a huge role that helps out those who propose a robust nationalist project. To establish the credibility; the establishment would compromise democracy and prioritise the majoritarian identity; therefore that the existence of a common enemy is inevitable. Scapegoating of disfranchised people is must which is the driving force of radical nationalist politics.
In the case of Gotabhaya, the man himself is a fanboy of all the despots who emerged in the wake of Neoliberal free-market capitalism. He often talks about Lee Kuan Yew and others, regressive anti-democratic figures who established inherently toxic political systems. Such political culture has been the cause of many civil wars and slaughterings in Asia and Latin America, authoritarian politics is not something that one could be toying with, history has shown us how dangerous it can lead us to moral bankruptcy. This self-serving rationalisation of elites always covers up the despotic tyrants, and the middle class moralised it with their mob logic.
The election victory of Gotabaya has in someway rejuvenated the fear-mongering psychotic majoritarian chauvinism. Just after the victory of SLPP, the Language of people utterly changed though it existed before,It was exclusively used by the prominent hate peddlers and bigots like Iraj and his counterparts who backed the so-called strong man. But the communisation of this Language begins just after the election. A working-class girl in Colombo suburb tweeted calling out her proud president to put a restriction on the reproduction of Muslims because according to her muslims are about to take over the Buddhist nation (?). A nazi style endorsement that echos universal bigotry which you can hear from every part of the world often pronounced by right-wing activists and demagogues.
Social media is a shrewdest gutter of modern time that emits a disproportionate amount of hatred and diatribe. Sri Lankan bigotry is not exceptional. Social media is flooded with hate-mongering posts and comments targeting the minorities – Tamils of North and the Muslims in every part of the country.
Anti minority rhetorics was the driving force of Gotabaya‘s election campaign bandwagon that paraded advertising that there would be no place for dividing forces.
Easter attack had boosted the campaign, the topic of defence was the epicentre that called for the necessity of a strong Sinhala man. Minority grouping was labelled as the dividing force. From Soap-opera’s low paid actresses to Native informers like Ali Sabry came down to peddle fear and promote the strong man. Ali Sabry even went further to politely and sarcastically threat Muslim minority to vote Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The aberrations like Zahran was the mantra that floated in the mouth of those demagogues and hate peddlers to promote GR. The previous government’s failure to conduct a thorough interrogation on the Easter violence had created a ground reality for those forces to promote their sales pitch. Repeatedly the fear of terrorism was fed to the public memory to the point where the majority considered the minorities as an imminent threat to their Self proclaimed Buddhist fiefdom. On the other hand, minorities were fearing of such rule that would subjugate them in future. So they were in search of a lesser evil that would protect them from the future onslaughts. But the election results arrived to display the proportion of 70 years of polarisation of Sri Lanka as a country, full-blown fear-ridden society where people are scared at each other.
Fear mongering and normalisation of propagated lies had landed the island into a realm of a xenophobic dystopian nightmare – The wholesale sabotaging of democracy and fear-mongering have their own consequences; When you keep feeding fear about one potion of people, you reap a fully blown fear-ridden society that is made up of both sides because as human each gets the instinct to protect themselves from the other. Even though the fear sensed by the minority is different from the fear borne by the majority. The underlying notion is “fear “ as humans that makes them a single entity of victimhood of one particular horror, the horror of fear.
They not only demonise one but also successfully end up demonising both for both of them. Polarisation might have manifested its long existence in this election and made itself look unprecedented but this has been nurtured carefully for the past 70 years by our institutions and politicians.
Communal based politics further helped it to be embedded in the political culture. The notion of majoritarianism had led itself to manifest its strong existence in every social arena; even a child from minority community grow up learning that it is a Sinhala Buddhist country. In the public sphere where Buddhist Sinhalese identity In big display at every public institution, post office, roundabouts etc.
When majority identity becomes the symbol of oppression, it is very natural for a person from minority to sideline with the lesser evil who would at least stopped the hand that holds the sword but in the past, the lesser evil didn’t do it’s committed job.
Whenever a racially triggered unrest emerges in the social arena, neoliberalism is often blamed, the blame is ever ready to be unleashed by the singhala leftists. The eruption of fascist polarisation has always been considered by the eurocentric left as the outcome of the manipulation of capital or big business, fueled by the Neoliberal seduction.
I partly agree with this notion but the problem is majoritarian chauvinism has its gradual growth in the post-colonial Sri Lanka. By culturally and administratively establishing its identity, majoritarian claim found its legitimacy. This particular endeavour of ethnocracy is not accidental or by-product, not even a volcanic eruption emerged out of nowhere as they consider. The deeper root of majoritarian politics has a long history, which is often overlooked.
The catastrophic ambitious political notion of the seizure of power solely by the majoritarian elites was a carefully nurtured political project that begins even before the independence. The Sinhala nationalist leaders and intelligentsia began to incubate this notion in the political consciousness of majority during 1900. Without speaking about the historical role of majoritarianism and blaming Neoliberalism for present-day racial polarisation is a very undercooked understanding of Sri Lankan political sphere, as I have mentioned before neoliberalism factor is the stimulus for misdirected recentment but we cant neglet the long excisting entho-centrism.
In the last election results, the majority elected the strong man whereas minorities disproportionately refused Gotabaya out of fear. This visible manifestation of polarisation is a symbol of a budding xenophobic society where the democratic credentials are erased from the political imagination. The media pundits and hate peddlers repeated the same language with the same contents. Buddhist monastery went along with these two entities to further strengthen the view that the majority is facing an imminent threat from the minorities. Therefore the need for the strong macho man arises.
In the case of Doctor Shafi and few other instances, fake allegations were brought in by the people even though the majority had known these are fabricated lies. The repetition of lies had made them possible to become proven facts in public memory. The most crucial thing about the collective adaptation of such language is that normalise the violence, hatred and bigotry. The ultimate end of this particular type of language is to demonise whoever is targeted-the other. this trend is potentially leading the masses to embrace what Hannah Arendt called banality of evil ‘unconscious acceptance of evil’. In such a context, the regimes And leaders with totalitarian tendencies extract justifications to legitimise their genocidal impulses. Therefore those forces with the support of the majority would dismantled the democratic institutions, so the institutions that are supposed to protect the people would also collaborate in sabotaging the democracy to nurture fascism.
The one particular thing that strikes about majoritarian society is that it externalises the evil and tend to use the Us vs Them, patriot vs traitor. This particular notion is often expressed by the charlatans who appear in upbeat YouTube channels. Top of everything this nationalist aspiration tend to define the minorities as a permanent threat to its existence while comfortably forgetting about the evil that is embedded in the Sinhala nationalist politics. From the perspective of Sinhala majoritarianism, Zahran and Prabhakaran are unforgivable horrible men who emerged in the history of Sri Lanka. One should not forget that the most cheered war victory still celebrated was won at the cost of slaughtering according to UN more than 70,000 people. Not only that, to suppress the JVP upheaval, Sinhala majoritarian government murdered more than 15,000 youth from all the communities.
The abductions, extrajudicial killings, torture and forced disappearances had swallowed hundreds of thousands of people from all communities. These highly contradicting facts are completely hidden from the general consciousness.
The war and victory talks have overlapped the real discourse of how the establishment won the war. Majoritarianism has a long history of pogroms; the first incident that took place in 1916 where Sinhala thugs attacked the Muslim businesses. From that onwards, Sri Lankan minorities are being subjected to mob violence.1983 was the tipping point that provoked the deadliest civil war.
Liberal elites and déclassé intellectuals of Colombo got no saying about the recent developments. They are well aware of the fact that their classism. Moral bankruptcy and lack of empathy were the aphrodisiacs which fueled this exclusive luring for a strong man. On the other hand, highly sectarian-ridden left that is lost in the stupor of settling the unfinished businesses of the past among themselves. The tragedy of Sri Lankan people is, they are deprived of popular left representation.
Gotabhaya Rajapakshe hated listening to people who spoke of the residuals of past when asked by a journalist about what happened to those who were subjected to forced disappearances, with a humiliating smirk on his face he shut her down that ‘do not dwell on the past and think about future’
Kundera ‘writes “People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It’s not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.
I don’t think Gota can change the past of those who lost their loved one in the carnage of Mullivaikal. You need a great extent of audacity to say something like that, and all the authoritarian leaders are good at justifying their past crimes.
The recent victory of Gotabaya is a textbook example of how fascism works, as scholar Jairus Banaji writes fascism operates through three levels:
- First invoking the idea of the nation, drawing upon widely accepted ideas which predate fascism;
- Second through the authoritarianism and repression existing in school, family, workplace, and ideology,
- Finally, through the popular participation in violence targeting a specific group
It is fascinating to note that the long history of Sinhala nationalism has this exact trait in its functionality.
Gota’s political presence materialised the deep-state notion of Sinhala supremacy, and its boisterous resentment of the minority that have been simmering throughout the post-colonial Sri Lanka.
The hate-fueled political future of the country is going to be a disaster that would follow an assault on democratic institutions, freedom of expression and the existence of the minority. Not only that, and it will put the ordinary human decency in question. Consequently, as Rosa Luxembourg wrote; Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element.
Asia is in great turmoil, Hindu supremacist government is building concentration camps and all set to outcast more than three million people and send them to the detention centres. Chinese counterparts the great ally of Mahinda Dynasty and the self-proclaimed secular communist state has already in the process of stripping the dignity of Uygur Muslims in the pretext of de-radicalization. Therefore, re-education camps, a perfect Stalinist cue.
As we have been witnessing in the late-capitalist world, from turkey’s Erdogan to India’s Modi along their western counterparts’ glorification of hatred gets ostentatious reception in the popular political imagination. The growing epidemic of hate-based politics is a curse of our time. Indeed it is going to be an inauguration of savagery- the savagery of stripping the human dignity and the resurgence of bigotry
that world thought it had got over long ago, after World War II.