19 May, 2022


Way Down Home: The View From The South

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Human rights, dissidence, antiracism, SOS-this, SOS-that: these are soft, easy, post coitum historicum ideologies, ‘after the orgy’ ideologies for an easy going generation which has known neither hard ideologies nor radical philosophies. The ideology of a generation which is neo-sentimental in its politics too, which has rediscovered altruism, conviviality, international charity and the individual bleeding heart. Emotional outpourings, solidarity, cosmopolitan emotiveness, multi-media pathos: all soft values harshly condemned by the Nietzschean, Marxo-Freudian age…A new generation, that of the spoilt children of the crisis, whereas the preceding one was that of the accursed children of history.” – Jean Baudrillard, ‘Cool Memories’

“The law was something to be manipulated for profit and power. The streets were dark with something more than night.” – Raymond Chandler, ‘Trouble is My Business’

No, this is not a trick question: What is the difference between Radhika Coomaraswamy and Romesh Hettiarachchi, both lawyers with liberal views?

Radhika thinks that the Genocide Resolution passed by Chief Minister Wigneswaran and the Northern Provincial Council, read together with other recent moves and utterances such as that of ‘one country two nations’, warrants a rare critical intervention by her, on the public record, because it indicates a dangerous trend in Tamil political discourse; a trend which is on a continuum with an earlier one which brought or contributed to so much suffering for the Tamils and the entirety of Sri Lanka.

Romesh Hettiarachchi — and judging by contributions to this website, he isn’t quite alone in this—-think that it is no big deal; it is a molehill out of which a mountain shouldn’t be made, and silence on this matter is not a test of intellectual and moral character (as I think it is).

Radhika and I disagree on a whole spectrum of issues, especially on sovereignty and human rights, and she laments that I have “gone over to the dark side” (as she puts it), but I respect her for recognizing the importance of the discordant tone in Tamil discourse, just as I respect Prof Rajiva Wijesinha for criticizing from within, the discordant behavior of the new UNP government, just as he, Tamara Kunanayakam and I did during the tenure of the earlier administration. Radhika, Rajiva and Tamara have sounded warnings and indicated the right direction. In short, though I disagree with them politically, I respect them for their public interventions on important issues.

One difference between the two lawyers Radhika Coomaraswamy and Romesh Hettiarachchi is that the former has had friends and mentors who have died violently. She lived and worked in Sri Lanka during some of the worst of the war. The other difference between her and Romesh, is that like some of us (I met another at a wedding last night—Dr. Piyasiri (“Siri”) Wijesekara, ex-political prisoner, first class degree from Sorbonne, ex-ambassador), Radhika, with and despite her extensive international experience and opportunities, chose to come home. She lives here. Therefore the stakes are much higher than they can ever be for Romesh Hettiarachchi. She has a different perspective and she cares enough.

It is difficult to summon up any respect for Romesh Hettiarachchi for other reasons too. One, to put it quite plainly is outright intellectual deceit. The other is his sheer inability to comprehend.

The intellectual deceit is plain from the get go, with the Chesterton quote. Hettiarachchi uses the quote, in which Chesterton rightly links mania with the ubiquity indeed centrality of the notion of conspiracy, and then attributes conspiracy theory to me. Now the unintended humor of this all, is that if one were to put all my published writings from the late 1970s to date onto a ‘word cloud’ or better still, do a search for keywords, the term ‘conspiracy’ would hardly appear!

Conspiracy presupposes something clandestine, secret. A hallmark of my political critique over the decades is to base it on material in the public domain. My point, including on the Chandrika ‘packages’, the Ceasefire Agreement, the PTOMS, Genocide Resolution, the 19th amendment etc. has always been that these are NOT a clandestine conspiracy; that the facts are quite plain to see.

What I have always engaged in is political and ideological critique; what Fidel Castro, echoing Jose Marti, calls “the battle of ideas”. It is not possible to have written and spoken so extensively for so many decades, if one were accustomed to pinning the rap on conspiracies and conspirators, rather than on political stances, strategies and ideas.

One of Romesh Hettiarachchi’s many intellectual blank spots is that he cannot understand the difference between an accusation of a conspiracy and a strong opposition to and sharp critique of a political project and/or strategy. For instance I do not think that Chief Minister Wigneswaran or even the pro-secessionist current of the Tamil Diaspora is engaged in a conspiracy. I do think that they have a project and a strategy stemming from that project, which is inimical to the interests of Sri Lanka, its State and the overwhelming majority of its citizenry.

Beneath and behind this intellectual blank spot of Romesh Hettiarachchi, there is another. In his mental universe there are no enemies, friends, and threats. There are no wars, no battles. This is entirely understandable because the biggest danger that Hettiarachchi probably faced and still faces in life as a lawyer in Toronto is getting carjacked or mugged. That’s not the way things are down here in the Global South. That’s certainly not the way things have been in Sri Lanka, where high intensity violence has been a condition of life from 1971. As Marx so famously said, ‘social existence determines social consciousness”. Hettiarachchi just doesn’t get it because he just doesn’t know it. In the Global South, ‘Across 110th Street’ in a planetary sense, conflict is the essence of existence. All my political writing, my entire oeuvre, is writing in the crisis, of the crisis, for the (resolution of the) crisis; political writing in conflict, of conflict, and for (the victory over the enemy, especially radical evil) conflict.

It just ain’t so in Toronto (I loved the place though, the poets and the parks). Hettiarachchi’s universe is one of law in the First World. Let’s call it ‘Toronto Legal’. He cannot understand where I am coming from. I belong to a very old theoretical tradition or more accurately a confluence of two old traditions, one extending at least from Thucydides, Kautilya and Sun Tzu through Hobbes to Lenin, the other from the Old Testament through Homer through to Mao, Fidel and Che, which are predicated on the assumptions that the world is a dangerous place, that communities and countries have threats based on geography and deducible from the long sweep of history; that there is such a thing as Evil; that existence is a struggle, battle, a war even; that there are causes worth fighting for.

These two great traditions are informed by the categories of friends and enemies. These are not incidental or accidental but quite basic to the framework. It has nothing to do with conspiracy theory.

When Sun Tzu says “know yourself, know your enemy; a thousand battles, a thousand victories”, that is where he is coming from. When Lenin queries “Who-whom? Who prevails over whom? Who wins?” and Mao picks up Sun Tzu a millennium later, posing the question “Who are our friends? Who are our enemies?” and they are continuing in that same tradition.

Romesh Hettiarachchi indulges in an infantile exercise of cherry picking from my third book ‘Long War, Cold Peace’ and attempting to contrast it with what I am saying now, positing a ‘Sage vs. Patriot’ dichotomy of archetypes. He does not bother to point out still less argue, where and in what way, my statements of 2013 contradict mine of 2015. They do not. Perhaps Hettiaarachchi is of the view that it was ‘The Sage’ of 2013 rather than “the shadow of his former self”, ‘The Patriot’ of 2015 who supported Premadasa against the impeachment in 1991, opposed CBK’s 1995 and 1997 ‘union of regions package’, campaigned against the Ceasefire Agreement and the PTOMS of Ranil and Chandrika, supported Mahinda Rajapaksa in the election campaigns of 2005 and 2010, and fought in the Geneva UN arena in May 2009.

What is important is that while Romesh Hettiarachchi is correct in spotting a contradiction between ‘The Sage’ and ‘The Patriot’, his theoretical literacy doesn’t extend to an understanding that the Sage/Patriot contradiction is dialectically contradictory, representing two aspects—two ‘moments’ of a dialectical antinomy. The one or the other comes to the fore, depending on the context; on the perception of the dangers and the tasks at hand, guided by the Maoist questions of the primary contradiction and the main enemy of the given stage of history. Less grandly, either the Sage or the Patriot comes to the fore depending on the underdog who deserves support at that moment—the exception being when the underdog goes rabid.

Romesh Hettiarachchi’s literacy obviously doesn’t extend to the possibility that the coexistence of The Sage and The Patriot archetypes may not be a bad thing. After all F. Scott Fitzgerald, paraphrasing Blaise Pascal famously said that “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

That doesn’t exhaust the list of the afflictions of Hettiarachchi’s thinking. He fails to see the possibility either of a synthesis or of a third term rather than a binary opposition between two archetypes (‘Sage’/‘Patriot’). Here’s a hint: it was neither the Sage nor the Patriot who was present in Geneva in 2007-2009 and Paris in 2011-2013, but a third or a synthesis, namely an internationalist, Third-Worldist Sri Lankan patriot, respected as a diplomat and an intellectual.

In his latest book World Order, Dr. Henry Kissinger condenses the perspective of Kautilya, the Asian founding father of one of the two traditions I belong to, that of Realism: “…Its moral basis is identical with that of Richelieu who lived nearly two thousand years later: the state is a fragile organization, and the statesman does not have the moral right to risk its survival on ethical restraint”. (p.195)

Sri Lanka has real enemies. The core and majority of this island nation, the Sinhalese—let me say it again, the Sinhalese – have real enemies, and they aren’t the Tamils or the Muslims. In fact had I been Muslim I would definitely have voted against Mahinda Rajapaksa. But there is a (Pan) Tamil secessionist project and a Western geopolitical hegemonic project which are inimical to Sri Lanka and to the Sinhalese.

The Sinhalese are the core and main force of resistance to hegemony on the island. It cannot be accidental that there wasn’t a single shot fired in anger against the British colonialists in the North, by the Tamils. This is a point that Emeritus Professor KM de Silva, past President of the Association of the Historians of Asia, has made more than once in his scholarly writings. It is also not accidental that liberal-pluralists do not mention that fact in their potted revisionist histories.

My perspective is not a search for enemies, still less an invention of them—it is merely recognition of their existence and the threat they pose. It is a refusal to be lulled or to purvey falsehoods and tranquilize the masses or the nation. It is a refusal to go along with the psychological warfare of the enemy; to play the game, however unwittingly of the enemy. It is the duty of the intellectual, most especially the political thinker, to man the watchtower, or less martially, the lighthouse.

In the spirit of critical self-awareness (‘reflexivity’) though, I must admit that Nietzsche was right. When you look for too long into the abyss, the abyss looks into you. I have looked too long into the Lankan crisis and conflict and it/they look into me. But who cares? This isn’t and shouldn’t be about me–and nobody should be writing my (intellectual) biography on someone else’s website just as I shouldn’t be writing my autobiography on it.

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Latest comments

  • 5

    Dayan the Catholic [Edited out]:

    Way Down Home: The View From The South should be reworded ” Screams from the South”

    1)We call it Maduba Thavakai: When its natural habitat is flooded it screams in chorus all night and dies.

    Frogs are very susceptible to environmental changes to their habitats such as changes in rainfall and hydrology (water flows, flooding regimes and soil moisture), temperature, and water chemistry (water quality, pesticides and turbidity). The principal threats to wetland frogs and their habitats in NSW are:

    altered flooding regimes
    draining of waterbodies
    predation by exotic fish such as carp, goldfish and gambusia
    climate change
    infection by chytrid fungus
    pollution of water bodies by chemicals and runoff
    removal of fallen timber, leaf litter and other ground cover.

    2) The Sinhalese are the core and main force of resistance to hegemony on the island. It cannot be accidental that there wasn’t a single shot fired in anger against the British colonialists in the North, by the Tamils. This is a point that Emeritus Professor KM de Silva, past President of the Association of the Historians of Asia, has made more than once in his scholarly writings. It is also not accidental that liberal-pluralists do not mention that fact in their potted revisionist histories.

    *** Your distorted view about the freedom strugle is against the weight of evidence and just read the following.

    First the Uva rebellion was put down without a shot being fired
    then the
    Kandyan rebellion
    and so on

    I am sure even you know Sri Lanka that gained Independance following the Indian struggle so dont talk rubbbish.

    Here is what happend in Sri Lanka and the Tamils were part of history even though we we were the Bhumiputhras.

    The Youth Leagues and the struggle for independence

    The young people who stepped into the shoes of Dharmapala organised themselves into Youth Leagues, seeking independence and justice for Sri Lanka. The first moves came not from Dharmapala’s ethnic group, but from the Tamil youth of Jaffna. In 1924 The Jaffna Students’ Congress, later renamed the Jaffna Youth Congress (JYC) was founded. Influenced by the Indian Independence movement, it was secular and committed to Poorana Swaraj (Complete Self-Rule), national unity and the eradication of inequalities imposed by caste. In 1927, the JYC invited Indian independence movement leader Gandhi to visit Jaffna. The JYC led a successful boycott of the first State Council elections in Jaffna in 1931, arguing that the Donoughmore reforms did not concede enough self-government. [2]

    In the 1930s the Youth Leagues were formed in the South, around a core of intellectuals who had returned from education in Britain, influenced by leftist ideals. The Ministers of the CNC petitioned the colonial government to increase their powers, instead of demanding independence, or even dominion status. They were forced to withdraw their ‘Ministers’ Memorandum’ after a vigorous campaign by the Youth Leagues.[3][4]

    The South Colombo Youth League became involved in a strike at the Wellawatte Spinning and weaving mills. It published an irregular journal.


  • 1

    If living outside Sri Lanka makes you unqualified to have opinion of Sri Lanka
    what makes GOTA and BAsil such experts

  • 0

    Dear Dayan

    pl continue to write and enlighten and guide us , depite being attacked in the most derogatory language by extremist Tamil racist,while casting aspersion on you.I like to make clear only less than 1% fall into this category.
    The very fact that they are trying to deny (there is no threat our unitary state and there are no hidden agendas in passing Genocide resolution by NPc under leadership of Vignesveran ), is further confirmed by the way they get annoyed when you write articles on the subjects and the way the same fellows praise ,Romesh Hettiarachchi (guy from canada) when romesh denigrade you comparing you to a mad man.
    Although more than 99% are happy to live together with, It looks like about 1% or so Tamils (consisting mostly elite/so called ruling class of tamil) still plotting and conspiring to make their dream reality.

    What i can not believe is even some sinhale and muslim fellows had forgotten the terror unleased by our friends LTTE fellows.I can remember before 2009 when when we went to work in the morning or when our children went to school whether they will return home alive or in a coffin.
    I am happy that I had the privilege to graduate from the same University that you graduated and a contemporary but from the faculty other side of Mahaweli.
    wish you every success in your untiring effort to guide our Sri Lankn nation despite many challenges and pit palls with blessings of almighty God and with the blessings of Triple Gem .

  • 1


    “Of course, Douglas Devananda is also a Tamil but dumped into the rubbish bin by the Northern voters. You are a Tamil from Jaffna, so what. You can join the ranks of Douglas or AS. In expressing our views in CT, you, I or anyone represent anyone but voice our concern over the treatment of Tamils. Dayan’s position is slightly different. He has to earn his living and MR has plenty of stashed money. He is writing piece after piece just to make sure the oil continues to flow.”

    I have spent virtually all my long life in Jaffna. After what I have experienced I will not support Douglas nor the rabid members of ITAK. I hope that you know enough to understand why.

    I believe in democracy. Lets allow Daya, Thiru etc to write what they like. We don’t have to read it.

  • 0


    “Hear haear jansee, Tell the quislings as it is!”

    quislings?? Now you are trying to imitate Daya!:)

    I admit that your English is very good but how about capital letters and spell check?

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