21 June, 2024


Tribal Nationalism At Nugegoda: A Reaction From A Critic

By Sarath De Alwis

Sarath De Alwis

Sarath De Alwis

Ambrose Bierce’s Devils Dictionary is out of date. Dr. Dayan Jyayatilleka’s Patriots’ dictionary is more  contemporary and far craftier.

The thing about being 72 years old and having studied in the Indian subcontinent and Europe and later lived and worked in the Fareast, Europe and Africa and experiencing the agony of seeing three off spring through College in North America I am bemused at the attempts of Dr. Jayatilleka’s to evangelize evil .

His masterly reconstruction of the persona of Mahinda Rajapaksa parallels Milton’s efforts in Paradise lost, to portray Satan who thinks, despite the loss to God in the battlefield “all is not lost” because his “unconquerable will” will never submit or yield!

Hurrah! Cone one come all to Nugegoda.

La Marseilles invokes ‘Blood’ as a marker of nationhood.

I am not pontificating. I am only crying out my anguish at realizing that I cannot as a 72 year old Sinhalese who has a first name Mahendra in addition to the middle name Sarath and a last and definitive Portuguese moniker De Alwis cannot claim to be as good a Sinhalese as Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa. At this discovery I don’t smile wryly. I weep out loud to be heard by the four guardian deities who protect our Motherland that is reclaiming land in the Port of Colombo with loans from China at some indefinite percentage above LIBOR.

I make bold to criticize the vain Wimal Weerawana and Ghoulish Gunadasa Amaresekera without once mentioning Prabhakaran or the Tigers. As far as I am concerned one is dead and others are extinct.

Wimal Weerawansa

I criticize Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sinhala nationalism and the mass hysteria at Nugegoda without once mentioning the Resolution of Wigneswaran and the Northern Provincial Council. I understand its contents and its pathos.

On reading it, far from feeling a revulsion I feel defiled and disgraced for being a Sinhalese Sri Lankan. The Sinhalese Sri Lankans have to confront the grief and despair of the Tamil Sri Lankans.

Our present predicament is due to past neglect and indifference. We failed to ask how Rohana Wijeweera and his companions were murdered after their arrest by the State Security Apparatus. My pragmatic nationalism expresses revulsion at hearing the whispered title tattle that some of them were alive when thrown into the oven at Kanatte. We failed to insist on closure at that terrible point in our history. We now even take pride of our indifference to slaughter and cruelty because when young articulate political leaders of the JVP ask inconvenient questions we accuse them of past protests which may have been primitive in form.

I am yet to hear Dr.D.J accusing Devananda, Pillyan or Karuna of any unspeakable atrocities.

I shall not deal with Debray’s duplicity on nationalism and internationalism. I consider myself more politically forthright than Regis Debray who provided theoretical albeit fraudulent cover to Mitterrand the ‘socialist’ and Vichy collaborator.

However at risk of provoking a further debate, I assert that the two are mutually exclusive. Implicit in the rise of one is the decline of the other.

The history of the 20th century is replete with examples who have come to terms with the technetronic age of ‘Glass Nations in a Glass Age ‘‘at varying paces of discovery. The terms glass nations and glass age I borrow from Zbigniew Brzezinski who should be more familiar to Dr. D.J than the other scholars he has quoted.

Now, to give but a single example, Deng Xiaoping said “To get rich is glorious.” It demonstrates Deng’s genuine patriotism. That single quote unleashed a revolution that “transformed a nation of Mao jackets and people’s communes into a land of Starbucks-drinking, Gucci-loving techies.”

It is indeed encouraging to note the manifest innocence of Dr.D.J’s remark that ‘Smart Patriotism’ is classifiable as political existentialism. It is indeed so. Basic to the existentialist philosophy is the depiction of existence as being fundamentally irrational in nature!

It is gratifying to discover Dr.DJ’s residual respect for the two outstanding success stories of national building, those of the USA and India. Both nations recognize ‘diversity’ an essential feature of all 21st century societies but a principle incompatible with ‘Smart Patriotism’ and its canonical script crafted at the “Nugegoda ecumenical council.”

Both the US and Indian Constitutions share what scholars describe as ‘Living Orginalism.’ Instead of freezing human enterprise on parchment both nations thanks to their respective founding fathers made provision for future generations to be flexible to change and progress.

Sujit Choudhry Professor of comparative constitutional law at University of Toronto identifies Living Originalism’ as a shared virtue of both US and Indian Constitutions. Of India he writes that in the “Indian constitutional imagination, the Constitution marks a decisive and sharp break with the past and was a central element in the formation of the Indian polity. To this day, the Indian Constitution remains a site of organic self-understanding and provides a platform for politics. By making firm rules but also deliberately incorporating flexible standards and abstract principles, the Constitution’s authors constructed a framework for politics, which later generations could build on.

The operative phrase is that the “Indian Constitutional imagination makes a decisive and sharp break with the past.”

When Professor of History at the Catholic University of America, Jerry Z. Muller explains “Why Ethnic nationalism will drive global politics for generations” he is very catholic about progress. He has not read Hegel.

“History of the human race is produced by the dialectical contention among conflicting ideas of freedom and recognition. The movement is dialectical because each stage of history contains the conditions for its own demise and replacement by the next. Human history concerns the dialectical development of mind, and its stages proceed from the world in which it is thought that one man is free and all others are not, to one where it is thought that a few are free and all others are not, to a world where it is thought that all are free.”

Hegel found human history as the story of progress and also regarded Napoleon as progress!

These are some random observations. ‘Smart patriotism’ as explained and justified by Dr.D.J. with copious details is a smart attempt to rewrite our post-colonial history. The purpose of this grand design is to provide a moral and psychological basis for vainglorious Rajapaksa chauvinists to repose in denial.

“Politically speaking, tribal nationalism [patriotism] always insists that its own people are surrounded by ‘a world of enemies’ – ‘one against all’ – and that a fundamental difference exists between this people and all others. It claims its people to be unique, individual, incompatible with all others, and denies theoretically the very possibility of a common mankind long before it is used to destroy the humanity of man.” Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, p.227

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Latest comments

  • 2

    Why stop at being ashamed and disgraced at being a sinhalese, please be proud of killing all the sinhala kids, men and women by bombing, and smashing them on tree trunks and massacring them in border villages. Please be proud of all the sinhala blood that you and your friends could spill

    • 5

      And then remind our selves the scores of Tamils killed in the ethnic riots, with ’83 riots being the catalyst for the fully fledged war that we fought for 30 years and still fight in our heads.

      And then the scores of our Sinhala youth killed in the South and the attack on our Muslims and Christians by our Govt backed Holy Men.

      Jeez! we can’t live in peace, no ?
      Always looking to hammer the other bugger, for not being like me/us.

      I give it Sirisena, we mourn the loss of all, children of the motherland.

      • 0

        hey how did the payment go?

        Did you make the payment on annual basis or on the number of suicide bombs? 1000 bucks for bombing urban sinhalese? How did you mark the rating? Number of people killed or the number of high profile leaders killed?

        Did they charge differently for bus bombs?

        100 bucks for massacring tree hugging stupid sinhalese in villages?

        Is that how the payment go?

        So tell us about your happy days!

  • 9

    Very well written article. DJ has stooped to unbelievably low levels… but then even Mahendra Percy and Vasu were all very affable youngsters and see where they are now !!

    • 4

      Sri Lankan politics since independence is a slippery slope where the Sinhalese politicians slip from being young and principled to end up as opportunists to fatten their purses by whatever shot cut they can take before their time runs out and the Lord calls them back.

      What better short cut than to pander to Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism that is fostered by the Buddhist hierarchy from the mahanayakes downwards and nurtured in people’s minds?

      Why else should all political leaders pay homage to these prelates?

  • 0

    The writer want show that he is person of Omniscient. What I reading that of short article which I realized he nothing to delivered himself in his outlook of mindset.
    He is Only good for that knows quoted from many prominent persons, that he seems be like jack of all trades.

    I do not want further discussed with person, that who has no intellectual capacity or back ground of that derived by elites roots.

    I concluded my comment as; when will the West understand or try to understand ,the East? The Book of Tea by Tenshin Okakura 1905;

    “We Asiatic are often appalled by the curious web of facts and fancies which has been woven concerning us. We are pictured as living on the perfume of the lotus, if not on mice and cockroaches. It is either important fanaticism or else abject voluptuousness. Indian spirituality has been derided as ignorance, Chinese sobriety as stupidity, Japanese patriotism as the result of fatalism. It has been said that we are less sensible to pain and wounds on account of the callousness of our nervous organization..” Tagore agreed
    with Okakura on most counts.

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