By Dayan Jayatilleka –
When I am criticized on the same subject within a week by Profs Laksiri Fernando and GH Peiris, who occupy antipodal political and ideological positions, I know I must be doing something right.
In his lengthy presentation on Islamophobia and allegations thereof, entitled ‘A reappraisal of evidence and claims: Emerging Buddhist-Muslim Rivalry in Sri Lanka?’ (The Island, July 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 2017) Prof GH Peiris has chosen to conclude with a three paragraph reference to an idea I had advanced. I would have thought this gratuitous but it is dwarfed in that department by his range of references with relation to Ven. Gnanasara’s rhetoric, which include Jesus Christ, Mark Antony and JFK.
I had recommended that instead of a flailing about at all forms of racism and extremism, and risking greater polarization and instability, the state authorities focus on the most dangerous issue, that of incitement to violence and prosecute Ven. Gnanasara on those grounds, given that there seems to be ample audio-visual evidence accumulated over time, on that score.
In an attempt to dismiss my view, Prof Peiris argues that the same charge may be levelled against Jesus Christ’s denunciation in the Temple, Mark Antony’s oration, John F Kennedy, et al. In effect, Prof. Peiris does not see a qualitative difference between the discourse of Jesus Christ and that of Ven. Gnanasara. Prof Pieris probably sees a congruency between Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto, not to mention Hitler’s torchlight Nuremburg speeches and Fidel’s address to the courts, “History Will Absolve Me!”
Prof Peiris’ problem seems to be that of a classic “category error”: the inability to distinguish between an exhortation to resistance and rebellion against injustice, and a fascist or neo-fascist exhortation to violence against a community. In his spree of mixing apples, oranges, chalk and cheeses, I am thankful he did not suggest that the Sermon on the Mount could be considered in the same category as Herod’s injunction on the newborns! Certainly, Prof GH Peiris’ line of argumentation would sit well with those such as Zeid al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who place Mahinda Rajapaksa in broadly the same category as Velupillai Prabhakaran, and the Sri Lankan state’s war on the same plane as that of a separatist-fascist, terrorist militia! Is there ‘No Limit’ (so to say) to Prof Peiris’ ridiculous exercise in moral equivalence?
Prof Peiris also assumes that the law will be unable, or will find it gravely problematic, to observe the distinction. If ever a government prosecutes the likes of Ven. Gnanasara on the grounds of incitement to violence, I trust that his lawyers will press into service Prof GH Peiris’ helpful references to Jesus Christ, Mark Antony and JFK in his defense. I wish them luck in that endeavor in logic, law, ethics and moral philosophy.
Prof Peiris concludes with a sideswipe about “duumvirates”, implying that my suggestion of a Mahinda-Gotabaya ticket is doomed to fail and arguing instead for a Mahinda-led project, pure and simple. The problem there is not so much one of desirability but of possibility. The 19th amendment prevents Mahinda from contesting the Presidency and the Presidential election precedes (2019) the parliamentary one (2020).
The UNP-NGO solution, namely to abolish the executive Presidency, only transfers power to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the Chief Ministers, chiefly Wigneswaran, and is therefore far worse than the problem.
This leaves a “duumvirate” as the only option. It is incumbent to pick the best possible “duumvirate”, electorally and from the standpoint of the country’s main needs in the context of the current crisis. I have advocated Gotabaya plus Mahinda.
As for Prof Pieris’ statement that “duumvirates” are almost always disasters or failures, I have only to point to Russia, which is hardly a failure (Putin-Medvedev), and to Cuba in its most glorious decades, which was a “duumvirate” of Fidel and Raul Castro, as Sandinista Nicaragua was of Daniel and Humberto Ortega.