By 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Ambrose Bierce’s Devils Dictionary is out of date.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 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