By Rashantha N. de Alwis-Seneviratne –
Dr. Jayatilleka’s “Smart Patriotism and the Marginal Majority” was a good, thought-provoking read that made me revisit my own feelings about patriotism. Therefore, I could not help being curious about why Mr. de Alwis opened his reply entitled “Sein Kampf: A Fabricated History”, with a quote from Ambrose Bierce, the well known satirist – “Patriotism is fierce as a fever, pitiless as the grave, blind as a stone and as irrational as a headless hen” – curious, because flippancy does not sit too well on something as simple and profound as Patriotism: Simple because it is a matter of the heart that stems from loyalty and love for one’s country and profound because of myriad other reasons such as the feeling of belonging, community, history, welfare of the country, etc. that may inspire it. For me, patriotism signifies a sense of personal identification with and concern for, the welfare of my country. It is a kind of unconditional love – a ‘tough love’ as Dr. Jayatilleka calls it. This is why I do not believe that a loyalty-based virtue like patriotism, can be set aflame by Mr. de Alwis’ ‘fabricated history’ because it is not history alone that provokes patriotism but emotions that go beyond it. It is too glib, therefore, to aver that ‘smart patriotism’ was devised by Dr. Jayatilleka to appease the “existential angst of the Sinhala majority in the South”: On the contrary, I believe that patriotism may increase because the Sinhalese are, as Dr. Jayatilleka says, a “The Marginal Majority”. To a cynic, this will be gobbledegook.
The idea of patriotism is not a new one. In fact, its journey through history has not been easy, with many deploring it and some valuing it for what it stood for. The writer quotes impressively from satirists and philosophers but being a subjective emotion, it really does not matter what others say about patriotism; it is something personally personal to one, irrespective of the waffle. Because our ideals constantly demand more from us, patriotism cannot be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government policy, unless the circumstances also concern one’s country. Even though the writer refers to the Manichean moral duality of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, I cannot recall it being referred to in Dr. Jayatilleka’s essay and looks like he pulled a rabbit out of his own hat, for effect. However, it may be a good time to refer to the recent past when, in the face of a barrage of accusations against Mr. Rajapaksa and his regime at the conclusion of the war against terrorism, the patriotism of the people of this country was excited and showcased in many ways from satyagrahas to protest marches. At this time, the loyalty to a leader, government policy and to the country, were all in place making it an example of how, sometimes, patriotism may include aspects other than love for the country alone.
The writer seems to obsess over the Sinhalese in the South to the extent that he accuses Dr. Jayatilleka of ‘manufacturing’ their consent. Consent to what, is a good question in the light of his assertion that the article legitimizes political and historical distortions of the post-conflict years 2010-2015. I must sigh at this point to keep hold of my thinking cap as Mr. de Alwis has really let his imagination run riot and temporarily addled mine. Perfectly valid observations made by Dr. Jayatilleka, are purposely fractured into meaningless segments, for no other reason but to misrepresent facts which amount to “the geography and history of the Sinhalese” – facts which are at the crux of Sinhalese patriotism. If these are the facts that the writer says is ‘Fabricated History’ it is no wonder that he used Ambrose Bierce to open his critique: Had I known, I would have told him about Ho Chi Minh who said “It was patriotism, not Communism, that inspired me” which would have taken the cynic out of both of them!
To the cynic, these sentiments are an obvious anathema but isn’t Smart Patriotism found in all nations and does the term not encapsulate old ideas? My understanding of Dr. Jayatilleka’s theory, in a nut shell, is that it deals with love for one’s country; that it will criticize the government when it has to but it will defend the country at all times; that it will be nationalistic but be devoid of chauvinism and racism and will respect a collective identity; that it respects national borders and national sovereignty; that it respects the sovereignty of other countries and nations and celebrates diversity and opposes the hegemony, intervention and interference of the superpower; that Sinhalese patriotism wants the unity, integrity and territorial integrity of the country is subject to other salient considerations in relation to its position in “the sub-region and the region as a whole where the Sinhalese are a minority, dwarfed by the landmass and populace next door in Tamil Nadu from which incursions and annexations have originated many times in Sinhala history.” To make Mr. de Alwis happy I will take out Smart Patriotism from the Sinhalese. We will then have NO NEED to love our country; to identify ourselves with it; to criticize our government when it is wrong or clap it on the back when it does well; to stand up to the hypocritical criticism of foreign powers and institutions; to safeguard our territory and sovereignty and to love ourselves as Sinhalese or the Sinhalese nation. Perhaps Karl Marx and Alan woods were Mr. de Alwis’s old buddies; it was Marx who famously said that “The working men have no country” and Woods who was “in favour of tearing down all frontiers and creating a socialist world commonwealth”. It is not surprising, therefore, that Mr. de Alwis says “To me it makes no difference whether it is the 13th A of 1987 or a return to the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact of 1957 that is used to bring about national reconciliation.”
To such a man, the Resolution by the NPC, would be startling and outrageous only to Sinhalese ‘Fascist’ Patriots and would not undermine the national reconciliation he craves at the expense of Sinhalese Patriotism and Nationalism. The “Chief Minister of Northern Provincial Council (NPC), Justice CV Wigneswaran, on Tuesday called for real international investigations on genocide against Tamils committed by the successive governments since Ceylon’s independence from the British in 1948. Passing a resolution in the council that demanded international investigations on genocide, the Chief Minister has called for criminal prosecutions at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and urged the on-going OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) to investigate the claim of genocide and recommend appropriate investigations and prosecutions by the ICC. “This Council urgently calls upon the international community to create conditions suitable and sustainable to protect the Tamils of the NorthEast Provinces in Sri Lanka from genocide.”
Not only does the writer sneer at Sinhalese patriotism, he extends the same consideration to Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa also and uses the Presidential election to say that “For the first time since the Vaddukodai resolution, the TULF and its allies now under the TNA, insists on a collective ‘liberation’ from the tyranny of an autocrat who kept Pirpaharan pickled in the public psyche……”. If Pirpaharan was kept pickled in the public psyche, this resolution must be the heartfelt thanks of the Northerner, for giving him back his voice after being dumb for decades. The mind boggles but my deeply patriotic instincts rebel and rise to the occasion. These feelings stem from a fear of an impending intrusion on my country; of helplessness to act; an invasion of my privacy and that of the citizenry. Does this make me, then, by Mr. de Alwis’s definition, a Fascist patriot? Especially in extreme situations – what I call up-against-the-wall situations – Patriotism finds Nationalism for support and comfort but according to the writer, for a Sinhalese to do so would be “aggressive Patriotism” of a ‘fascist’ bent. As Dr. Jayatilleka avers, “The main motive force of Sri Lankan patriotism is Sinhala Nationalism but it is not the exclusive force or component with Sir Lankan patriotism.” Yes, it is a tough love which the Sinhalese have balanced admirably in the past but what it has taught us is that the post-conflict reconciliation that is much advocated cannot be achieved with a one-hand-clapping mode. With this type of NPC resolution, there is little chance of even that but this not our problem alone. Sinhalese patriotism has not closed its doors to others; especially after hostilities ended, there have been opportunities for negotiations of reasonable expectations. It would be on point to quote Dr. Jayatilleka that “Democracy cannot trample upon the rights of the minorities but nor can democracy be misused or overlooked to install the rule of a minority and to marginalize the Sinhalese majority and its interests ……… [it] cannot be manipulated to trample on the natural role and rightful status of the majority…… A majority on this island, in the modern world-system and its regional subsystem, the Sinhalese are a structurally marginal minority. This is their – our- existential situation.”
According to Dr. Jayatilleka, “Mahinda Rajapaksa’s great historical merit was to leverage the weight of a rising China and resurgent Russia to compensate for that structurally marginal situation of the Sinhalese and offset the systemic advantage that secessionist Tamil nationalism enjoyed owing to its number in Tamil Nadu and its embedding within the Western democracies.” He also believes that it was a triangle of factors (A) a strong leader from Ruhuna (B) the Executive Presidential System and (C) the alliance with China and Russia, that enabled the defeat of the fascist-separatist LTTE, warding off Western pressures for a cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiation. With (A) and (C) no longer in the picture and (B) being sought to be downsized, what repercussions will it have on the Sinhalese? The silence of Mr. de Alwis on this point is not surprising given his cynical jibes at Sinhalese patriotism: His Sinhala centric smart patriotism is ‘pernicious’ but the average Sinhalese is neither pernicious nor evil. It is the average Sinhalese that forms the backbone of the Sinhalese nation. Patirotism is about our heroes of the war; people as diverse as Gunanda Thero and Saradiel; and the ordinary man who gives of his time and energy to enrich us in his small way; it is intrinsic and fundamental to our attachment to this country and manifests itself in many ways – like when we raise our national flag or stand to attention to the national anthem; simple things that represent deeply personal expressions of loyalty but profound for what they represent. Patriotism is like a structure of a building that keeps the building strong; just as a country is only as strong as its patriots. That the NPC Resolution is hostile to our country and stems from a chauvinistic and racist Tamil Nationalism is clear: Against this, Smart Patriotism is like being differently-abled. Viva the Patriot!