26 October, 2020

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The Resurgent Spirit Of Black July

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“….anyone who dresses or speaks differently is not simply a different person, but a different animal from a different sty with whom there can be no accommodation, and who must be hated and hounded out”. – Victor Klemperer (The Language of the Third Reich)

The spirit of Black July is not dead. It is alive; triumphantly, confidently and self-righteously alive.

The politico-economic and socio-psychological premises which enabled the shameful carnage of Black July did not emerge from a vacuum, instantly. The actual killing and the pillaging may have been the work of a criminally-inclined minority; but these miscreants could not have indulged in their fanatical desires with such brutal and deadly abandon, without the consent of state-entities and the approbation of a societal-majority. Had the state made a serious attempt to impose order, had society not discarded basic humanity and ordinary decency, no minority, however fanatical, however intoxicated by hate, could have continued that orgy of Tamil-hunting, day after day, for almost two weeks.

Black July 83 - Boralla | Photo - Chandraguptha Amarasingha

Every society has extremist minorities. But sans an enabling environment, the havoc such minorities can wreak is strictly limited. The key is therefore the extent to which the state and the larger society are infected with the pestilence of hate.

The spirit of Black July consists of two main components. One is what I call the hosts and guests theory ofSri Lanka, the a-historical belief that Sinhala-Buddhists are the only true owners of the island and all ethnic/religious minorities are aliens, here on sufferance. And the concomitant belief that Sinhala-Buddhists have the right to keep the minorities in line, and the duty to punish them if they overstep the boundaries.

The second component is subtler and thus more lethal, potentially. It reinterprets anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism and progressivism from a Sinhala-Buddhist perspective. According to this rendition, every minority (including Sinhala-Christians) is a wholly reactionary community, viscerally. They pose a threat not only to national security but also to ‘national culture’, ‘national values’, economic progress and developmental justice.

According to this majoritarian-narrative, the minorities were given preferential treatment by the colonialists; consequently they are pro-imperialist. They have become rich by exploiting the majority; consequently they are pro-capitalist. They uphold alien values; consequently they are immoral. Nation is degraded to race, anti-imperialism to xenophobia and anti-capitalism to National Socialism. Enlightenment teachings which could have staunched the march of retrogressive ideas become transformed into their antithesis, and used as enablers/justifiers of racism.

As ethno-religious differences become translated into political, economic, socio-cultural and moral wedges and gulfs, minorities are decried as not just a-national (videsheeya) but also pro-imperialist (adirajya-gathi) and bourgeois (daneshwara). National unity is consecrated as the unity of all Sinhala-Buddhists against these inimical alien forces and influences; and national liberation coterminous with liberating Sinhala-Buddhists from those colonial and international shackles which restrain them from consecrating Sri Lanka as a Sinhala-Buddhist paradise. The legal and illegal, peaceful and violent efforts to disempower and dispossess the minorities are seen as nationalist/patriotic and anti-capitalist/anti-imperialist necessities.

And the idea of the ‘good riot’ is born.

The Good Riot

In a piece on generic fascism, Umberto Eco argues that “Ur Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or a prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against intruders…. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies…..by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak”[i].

That has been the perspective of Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism (of both the right and the left wing variety), since beforeIndependence.

Ceylon’s very first anti-minority riot, in 1915, was informed and ignited by many of these beliefs. The Muslims were seen as ethno-religiously alien, politically privileged and economically rich, unlike the poor, right-less and defenceless Buddhists. In a letter to the Colonial rulers, from his refuge in India, Anagarika Dharmapala opined that the riots and their aftermath resulted from the absence of a Buddhist representative in the legislature, who could have fought for and defended Buddhist rights: “By custom, language and religion, the Buddhist community is isolated, and it is most necessary that a pure Buddhist Representative should be appointed to represent Buddhist interests in the Ceylon Legislature”[ii].

In the subsequent writing of history, the shameful and deadly deeds of 1915 were justified as a project to protect Buddhism and oppose colonialism/oppression, a right step in the direction of national (Sinhala-Buddhist) emancipation.

This atavistic notion of national emancipation was propagated not just by Anagarika Dharmapala but also by popular cultural figures such as John de Silva and Piyadasa Sirisena. They interpreted independence not only as freedom from colonial rule but also as emancipation from alien religio-cultural influences and economic oppression. In this version the enemies to be defeated were not just the British – or not predominantly British – but Tamils, Indian-Tamils, Muslims, Malays, Burghers and Christians. These alien minorities were depicted as far more dangerous to national (Sinhala-Buddhist) interests, because of their exploitative activities and corrupting influences.

After 1915 and before 1956, this concoction of ideas and beliefs were used against Indian Tamils and Burghers. The disenfranchisement of the Indian Tamils and the Sirima-Shastri Pact which paved the way for their mass-repatriation were hailed as nationalist and even progressive measures[iii]. The Burghers, constantly decried as uniformly bad, decided to migrate, before they could be violently targeted as a community.

The Tamils thus became the main stumbling block to the dream of Sinhala-Buddhist liberation. Once the left succumbed to ‘Sinhala Only’, and Lankan socialism degenerated into National Socialism, there was nothing to counter the spread of the racist meme across the length and breadth of society. The left’s embracing of ‘Dadlige bade Masala wade’ (Masala wade inDudley’s tummy) variety of socialism fathered the deadlier brand of socialism propagated by the JVP, which was anti-upcountry Tamil in its first incarnation and anti-Tamil in its second.

This was the Zeitgeist which enabled the Black July –  the perception of Tamils as not just separatist and a threat to national security, but also as inimical to developmental justice and social progress and a fifth column for regional and global imperialism. It was this contradictory and elastic concoction which enabled people of diverse political beliefs – and none – to approve the carnage of Black July. Many in the Sinhala South saw in the Black July not just an act of patriotic-vengeance, but also an act of socio-economic retribution, a revolt of the economically exploited against their evil (Tamil) exploiters.

Thirty years on, the spirit of Black July pervades the polity and society. The echoes of that abomination can be heard clearly in the anti-Muslim hysteria, the howling about ‘unethical conversions’ and the intemperate attacks on the TNA’s Chief Ministerial pick.

As economic problems worsen, the Rajapaksas will feel an ever greater need to scapegoat the minorities, to depict ‘rich and exploitative’ Tamils/Muslims/Christians as the real authors of Sinhala economic hardships, the true obstacles to the developmental Shangri La of the Southern-dreams. In this context the likes of BBS/Sinhala Ravaya will enjoy an increasing relevance and importance.

And the idea of a ‘good riot’ will be alive and well.


[i] Eternal Fascism:Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Black Shirt

[ii] Quoted inCeylon and Her People – NE Weerasooriya

[iii] The Sirima-Shastri Pact would be the envy of anti-immigrant reactionaries in theUS andEurope, if only they knew about it.

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    Tisaranee Gunasekara,

    You have hit the nail on the head:
    But this truth doesn’t get into the heads of superficial, biased, prejudiced or kept writers who constantly peddle garbage as respectable articles in newspapers, the internet, TV, radio and the social media.

    These mercenary or biased writers contribute directly or unwittingly to reinforce such fascist concepts.

    People must not fall prey to such brain-washing from the media.

    Thiru

    • 0
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      It’s her job to write about these garbage. Otherwise she isn’t paid.

  • 0
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    if only… if only the dutch never came.

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      If the Dutch never came, people could be still wearing Amude as National dress, going in Bullock Carts eating Beetle and living in Cadjan houses with Coppra lamps drinking Kotta Malli…..Koriender water.(not tea or coffee)

      If Dutch never came both Kandy, North and East would be still under Indian Rulers.

      If Dutch never came we would still be having Kekille Court system with Mervin Silva type Tye to tree punishments.

      Yes fake crook Morons talking socialism while going about in Mercedes Benz cars, drinking Wisky.

      Fake monkeys can’t even put up a two mile road without foreign borrowed loans.

      Why don’t you go back to your villege Vedda’s nature park to live and keep boasting about the past high class of living and your high race.

      The Only race that cut the arm that fed and helped to build Sri Lanka, now getting it’s own wrath.

      Keep selling our women to Middle East to get Foreign Exchange for cheap Maha Eka to go in Rolls Royce cars.

      Also keep eating your national diet …..Punnakku.

  • 0
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    Most of the Sri Lankan and Indian media echo the views of the respective establishments. I can’t think of any English media in this region owned by persons with Tamil or Muslim interests.

    Hence most of the writers and columnists in the Sri Lankan mass media propagate the entrenched views of their pay masters – the Sinhala Buddhist supremacists, and the lay people fall prey to these opinions.

    Tisaranee, on the other hand takes a detached view of the madness happening in Sri Lanka for many decades now. I can’t see any rationally thinking person rebutting her arguments.

    The only hope for people in Sri Lanka is that more and more people like her come to realize the folly of the majority of the society.

    Sri Lanka needs a revolution in thinking.

  • 0
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    Bob,if that happened we would not have “mini skirts”

  • 0
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    As long as Budhism and its Stanic preaches, Sinhala people will be low as forever. Budhism says NO GOD, so the New Israel Embassy is in full swing of their Illiminati ideas which matches the Budhism says that No God. The Free Mason is their first step swearing is ” Fight GOD” and this is where Sri Lanka will go down to drain. Take the Budhism off from Sri Lanka, then this will be the best place to live. Lord Buddah had 40,000 women, then he restricted other monks to have sex, now monks become gays or rapists, so this is where I prove that Budhism is dangerous philosohpy in all. Lord Buddah is a sing of Satan.

    • 0
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      Are you talking about the “God” who created all of us
      sick and then commanded us to be well?

    • 0
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      A great Analysis Tisaranee. Yes the Old Andarae still alive in Sri Lanka.

      If all have herd how Andarae ate sugar. The new Andarae Alibabas have never lost their taste of stolen food, now making easy money from all sorts and all corners of Sri Lanka which has now joined also by BBS.

      But I think this time playing the same old 1983 drama could end up in disaster as many countries are keeping their eyes open and with drones in their hands.

      Going all over including to Uganda to get help will not solve anybody’s problems, where India is so close by watching the 1983/ 89 drama unfold.

      Let’s see how the 83 and 89 stage drama going to end.

  • 0
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    Again Thank you Tissaranee for saying the unpopular, remembering what others want to forget, for speaking for those who aren’t heard anymore.

    I am surprised by CTs leniency with lunatics like The self styled “Rod Atkins” wasting space on such a forum.

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    Responsibility…..
    Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds. The mission of People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL) is to end the systemic human rights abuses against the Tamil population in Sri Lanka, and promote equality, rights and justice on the island and situation in Sri Lanka is questionable to The world community “IC,EC and UN”.

  • 0
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    Tisaranee, This is as fair a summary as anyone could produce of the current Sri Lankan condition – and how we came to be here. The simple fact of island life is that the majority vote rests with the the sinhala-buddhists and this is what any aspiring politician knows well and never forgets. The political future of this country is determined by the fatal inter-twining of buddhism and the state; the constitution making it a duty of the state to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana.
    Here is the elephant in the room. We all know it is there, but few will talk about. The rabid protectors of this status quo will never let the minorities forget their place in the scheme of things.

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