Delusions of (power) devolution: Searching post–Prapa possibilities

The elite based political debate in Sri Lanka once again appears to gravitate around the primordial issue of deciding the best mode of power-sharing between the centre and the periphery, primarily between the dominant majoritarian Sinhalas and the battle shamed minority Thamils. In a rather apolitical interventionist manner CPA has released an 800 page volume, a collection of related documents on the theme since 1926.  As a student of Political Science I look forward to having such a valuable collection in my library, irrespective of the possible biasness in justifying the selection as much as omitting process of any document, notwithstanding the order of chapter zing or the editorial preferences.  I have not seen the book yet. (My order inquiry has no reply yet) So this short essay is not about the book but on the paramount issue that precipitate around it: The need and the mode of Power Sharing.

Why should States share power?
The contemporary literature and the realpolitik in modern IR shows that the dialectical debate between the realists and liberals has come to one common agreeing point regarding power politics: that is, some twenty years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the world order is moving towards a post-state condition aptly fuelled by the globalized capital mobilization. Today there is no bi-polar cold war style power division. Instead we have multi polar and pluri centres. While the US is trying to dominate the order, EU is forming alternative and parallel positions. So as Russia, China and India at time collectively (the New East) often individually according to their interests and political profits. This universal power fragmentation trend is inevitably influencing the intra-power positions within almost all states in the world (Political Rights of the women in states like Saudi Arabia is hotly debated now)  After the third wave of Democratization (Huntington 1992) the demands for greater self polity is asserted by many otherwise marginalized identities under a majoritarian hegemonic state order.  Peripheral political dynamics are either vigorously negotiating or formidably challenging the centres for greater autonomy and self rule. Religion, ethnicity, territorial identity and cultural difference have become basis for these bargains. The classic regional example comes from India where over 15 new autonomous linguistic states (provinces) were carved out since 1956 (Agrawal 1995) some of them are as recent as 2001. And the process promises to continue. Currently there are about 200 sovereign states in the world but nearly 5000 different groups who identify themselves as distinct and unique. Whether all these identities are nations thus have the right to statehood is a different question. But the current agreement among scholars is that all 5000 identities cannot claim state sovereignty. (Taylor    the Fourth World debate) Thus the amicable alternative is to seek context specific creative ways of common ground between Separatists and (political) Unitarians. Power sharing therefore is a political evolutionary process and a historical condition forced on the unitary states particularly those who are still stuck in the dominant nation state paradigm like the leading ideology in current Sri Lankan polity. Sri Lanka will have to urgently engage in power sharing for number of ground realities.

  1. She is not a mono identity state – never has been. Even if  one dismiss the Eelath Thamilar, Muslims, Malayaha Thamilar and other identities as recent colonial constructs ( as some ultra nationalists from the south argue) there are undeniable evidence that even amongst the Sinhalas, a territorial/cultural  difference led to the formation of Kanda –Uadarata and Seethawaka kingdoms and they even fought against each other. (Devaraja 1977, De Silva 1997)
  2. Prior to the arrival of the European colonial powers SL was ruled from multiple territorial bases. (Mendis 1998, De Silva 1997) the unitary idea was a pure British administrative institute established in 1817 after the total surrender of Kandyan Kingdom in 1815.
  3. SL unlike any of her South Asian states has suffered due to the failure of the such power sharing in 1971, 1988 and a protracted bloody war from 1983-2009.  The collective result of these internal wars is that the extremely centralized post independent state has failed to fulfil her social contract. Further the economic opportunity cost that has robbed Sri Lanka her position among other multi ethnic states like India and Malaysia. Economic depravity has generated dissolution between the citizenry and the polity of the state.

To arrest this  haemorrhage , and to return to a path of democratic stability and economic development, Sri Lanka has no other alternatives but to engage in the process of power sharing with those who believe they are outside of the current power structures, unable to be what they wish to be and have decided to challenge the state. May this process be ‘home grown’, ‘acceptable by all’ and ‘peace with dignity’’ or any other form, the end day reality is for a democratic (united) Sri Lanka power sharing is an unconditional prerequisite.

Devolution, Decentralization or Federalism
If we manage to convince the cynics on the need to share power with the multiple identities in Sri Lanka, then we may enter the political debate on the form or shape of the power sharing that is suitable, acceptable and able to reverse the current abysmal failed conditions. Unfortunately for us given to the thankless enterprise of free education introduced by the British Colonial power, we are a literate crowd – at least in the sense of the ability to read and write. So, many of us write and almost all of us read. Anderson (1983) argued that print media (capitalism) was responsible for narrow nationalism.  I disagree with his ‘nationalism big-bang’ theory. Because for us nationalism was there well before Gutenberg found the printing machine. (Read any of our Vamsa literature, especially the Mahavamsa, starting from 6th BCE. Nationalism oozes out of every page) but print media helped form a kind of nationalism that we suffer from. One example is the very loose use and misuse of politically distinctive terms such as devolution, decentralization and federalism in our mainstream media and debates without the actual meaning attaching to them. Due to the word limits imposed, without elaboration,

Devolution (Balaya Bedaharima-note not Balaya Bedaganeema in Sinhala and Athigahara Paraval in Thamil) means to hold the final and all ultimate powers in one centre but delegate some tasks to be performed on behalf of the centre. E.g. the property tax collected by the local authority in Sri Lanka but it has no rights to use it. If properly functioned they will be very close to democratic centralism like some former communist regimes used to be. UK, the Mecca of parliamentary democracy has repeatedly suffered with arrangement. The Home Rule Bills of 1886, 1893 and 1912 failed leading a bloody separatist war in the Northern Ireland. In SL many of these 3rd tire institutions have become structures with minimal functional validities; they are light years away from the changing needs of a multinational/pluricultural society. How many TC/UC and MC offer their services in all three languages? It is faster to go to Colombo DRP for your national ID than to work through the local agent. My friends tells me that they could do the driver’s test in Thamil in London but not in Nuwara Eliya- the majority Thamil district in outside of Northeast

Decentralization (Vimadyagatha or Athigahra Pirivu), on the other hand, is to effectively transfer some identified powers currently held by a centre. Here the centre and the sub unit agree on the area, amount and accountability of such powers E. g. As road developments and education ministries in Sri Lanka under the Provincial Councils supposed to be. Centre originally had the power yet voluntarily hands over to the periphery with accountability and the ability to take it back. The much talked about 13th amendment crafted in the shadow of the Indian model, in theory supposed to achieve this. Here while a uniformed set of functions are devolved, there is room for asymmetrical devolution meaning some provinces will negotiate for specific responsibilities to brought under them.

Federalising (Unfortunately there is still no technically correct Sinhala term. The word Visandi that is often used means Confederated which is a very advance form of Federations.  Samshti in Thamil)  is where the centre will constitutionally recognize the equal partnership of the peripheral identities and their polity,  except for few key areas (such as National Defence, Central Bank and Citizenship) will volunteer to hand over most of the powers to the identified ‘covenant’ units. By this, the centre become the real guardian of those powers yet let the units work it out as best suitable for them. Very much like parents guiding their children to grow. Be there but not interfere. It is a bilateral based on mutual trust and respect as opposed to fear and envy.  There are various types and degrees of Federalisms practised in the world from quasi to Confederal because the guiding principles of Federalism are universal thus adoptable even without any labelling  (Karmis and Wayne 2005, and Burgess 2006 & 2008) The central elements that causes ontological insecurities amongst the contemporary Sinhala analysts whether  they are like Professor Santha Hennayaka, Dr Dayan Jayathilaka, or  Malinda Seneviratne (there are more, but to me these three opponents of Federalism in SL belong to three different dominant idea groups in the south)  are

  1. For federalism, the fundamental nuances are equality of citizenship in a very liberal sense. While the canonical Theravada Buddhism would certainly support such social position, in reality, postcolonial Sinhala Buddhism is opposed to such consideration.
  2. Federal constitution, once given such powers, the centre cannot grab it back without proper negotiation and agreements. The Federal -Provincial (or State) negotiations in the USA and Canada are an empirical example for this. The sophistication of the Federal principles is that a collective responsibility runs through the federated unit as well. Even while they have the constitutional guarantees, their freedom should be claimed only after democratic negotiations. The Quebec demand for greater autonomy and the subsequent Supreme Court ruling is a case to study. A functioning federal constitution like in Switzerland that is smaller than SL, but with multiple national identities and linguistic territories, constantly engages in consultation. Of course, for this fundamental is a political culture of equality –Without any hegemonic position for any particular group. Until pulverized, the LTTE did not display the political maturity nor build confidence for such responsibilities. They claimed a near confederation as a minimalist demand through their ISGA, which of course was far beyond the maximalist consideration the Sinhalas were willing to go.  LTTE in all its dealing did not move from the position of a separate state as their ultimate goal and the willingness to seek such end through military means. This political gap between the minimum supply and maximum demand padded with the ethnocentric militarism advanced by the LTTE and reciprocated by GOSL, has created an iron paradigm in the minds of the Sinhalas generously nurtured by their political and cultural power seekers making Federalism the ‘F’ word even among those who knows an F about Federalism.

    Which Way Forward?
    Obviously the devolution structure that is in place from the Gramasewaka, AGA, TC, UC MC often malfunctioning and invalid compared to the growing need and satisfaction level of the modern citizens. They have failed to deliver the socio-political and economic expectation even way back in 1971. Because resistance, be it JVP or LTTE cannot be inorganic.  First they grow in the minds of an unsatisfied people. The dead white elephant in the Provincial Councils system after 20 odd years of practice has not answered the central anxieties amongst many. Douglas Devananda and Pillayan, who have collaborated with the Sinhala governments for a long period and under unique conditions, have often ventilated their frustrations.  Then how do we go forward and reverse the present conditions before they devour our next generation?

    Federalism is demanded by the Thamils as a means of internal self determination even without the LTTE. But Sinhalas vigorously reject it fearing that as a step towards the separation. Between these end of the negotiation table is there is a common currency that would facilitate a culture of trust and respect that eventually will cultivate the wider political context where the gaps are reduced and reciprocal political accommodation is possible. I strongly believe in such possibilities.  Towards that end in the immediate run, the MR (or any southern) administration should

    1. Implement (vigorously implement not just talk of it) the language, cultural and social rights of the minorities as the present constitution guarantees.
    2. Minimize the dinosaurs size state corruption and implement a sustainable economic development in the North as well as in the deep South
    3. Strengthen the independence of core civic institutions such the judiciary and law enforcement
    4. Allow genuine multiparty politics and elections in the Northeast without the state imposed hegemony.
    5. Promote a nationwide education on multinational democracy  and HR

    Perhaps after a period of such honest political reforms one could re-enter the debate of Federalism vs. Unitary in a different environment with a different set of experiences and values. Insha Allah as my friends will say then the demands may be less while the willingness of the ruling Sinhalas will be abundant.

    • niranjan

      Suren,

      I read your article with interest. Your suggestions for reform given below are sensible and valuable. But I just cannot see the reforms mentioned below taking place ? Do you ?

      Implement (vigorously implement not just talk of it) the language, cultural and social rights of the minorities as the present constitution guarantees.
      Minimize the dinosaurs size state corruption and implement a sustainable economic development in the North as well as in the deep South
      Strengthen the independence of core civic institutions such the judiciary and law enforcement
      Allow genuine multiparty politics and elections in the Northeast without the state imposed hegemony.
      Promote a nationwide education on multinational democracy and HR

    • http://panhinda-samaga.blogspot.com Migara

      “Prior to the arrival of the European colonial powers SL was ruled from multiple territorial bases. (Mendis 1998, De Silva 1997) the unitary idea was a pure British administrative institute established in 1817 after the total surrender of Kandyan Kingdom in 1815.”

      Complete rubbish. It happened when the rulers are weak. Parakramabahu VI made this in to a unitary state. Under more than 40 kings it was unitary. The regional rulers started to appear when the king was weak.

      “She is not a mono identity state – never has been”
      Another load of rubbish. The up-country low country division started in late 1700s. Before that there was no such division. for nearly 1700-2000 years SL was a mono-identity state.

    • President Bean

      Suren…its just a waste of time and effort, trying to explain things to these majority chaps. You are better off hitting your head against a brick wall! All they know is ‘Baddaa genna kayma’ they will never understand ‘Bedda genna kayma!’

    • Oshadee Nirmala Iddamalgoda

      I fully agree with President Bean. His point is very, very, very true. Suren: you unarguably demonstrate a high dgree of scholarship, and if you are aspiring an academic career, my best wishes are with you.

      Don’t be bothered about comments made by readers like Migara. This attitude represents the attitude of a very large number of Sinhalese, whose reading of Sri Lankan history is quintessentially ‘majritarian’ in character. Here’s the bottom line: some people, Dutta Gamini, Parakumba I, and a few others did try to rule a united island state, but it is undeniable that this idea was not well received by many Sri Lankans throughout history. We are a people who like to do our own thing. Kandyans have their ways, so do the people of the West coast, the Southern folks, Northerners, Easteners, people of Rajarata and so on. That is the undeniable bottom line.

      Power-sharing and recognition of Northerners to have a big stake in their regional government – essential for Sri Lanka to come out of violence and the current economic nightmare, and become a rich, developed, modern country in the world.

      Any Sri Lankan opposed to extensive power-sharing is a total traitor, in the truest sense of the word. Such individuals do not want Sri Lanka to develop economically, and want her to remain a developing state with a national passport (including official and diplomatic ones) not worth the paper it is printed on, where the ‘galactic polity’ thrives, massive economic inequalities are the norm, where the majority of youth are deprived of sufficient opportunities, and where all those who can make it desperately try to (legally or illegally) immigrate….

    • Susantha

      Suren

      Dutch national archives not sinhala archives clearly state that in the 1600s elephnat pass(jaffna) was the border between the kandyan kindom and the dutch colony
      and that this area was populated with sinhalese ..

      following is a link to elephant pass details from the official website of the dutch national archives…

      trust Me THERE IS GOING TO BE NO DEVOLUTION in Sri Lanka….tamils in sri lanka are not entilted to any devolution..we will fight it till the end….sri lanka has a sinhalese identity and we will fight till the last drop of blood to protect it…

      http://www.nationaalarchief.nl/AMH/detail.aspx?page=dpost&lang=en&id=682#tab2

    • Resident Nutshell

      This is for Susantha,
      I can’t believe what you wrote.

      “tamils in sri lanka are not entilted to any devolution..we will fight it till the end….sri lanka has a sinhalese identity and we will fight till the last drop of blood to protect it…”

      [Edited out]. Keep on spreading your hate mongering.

      [Editors note: Dear Resident Nutshell, please refrain from using profanity in your comments. Thank you.]

    • Susantha

      Resident Nutshell

      dear sir/mam…..is it “hate mongering” to fight to protect ones heritage/culture/nation etc?

    • Disgusted

      Susantha,
      By the time Sinhalese have spilled all their blood trying to assert their Sinhalese identity, Sri Lanka will be Chinese!

    • wijayapala

      Niranjan,

      Your suggestions for reform given below are sensible and valuable. But I just cannot see the reforms mentioned below taking place ?

      There’s a far better chance for these reforms to take place than for federalism to be accepted.

    • wijayapala

      Oshadee,

      Here’s the bottom line: some people, Dutta Gamini, Parakumba I, and a few others did try to rule a united island state, but it is undeniable that this idea was not well received by many Sri Lankans throughout history.

      Like who?

    • wijayapala

      Power-sharing and recognition of Northerners to have a big stake in their regional government – essential for Sri Lanka to come out of violence and the current economic nightmare, and become a rich, developed, modern country in the world.

      IF the goal is to become a rich country, there are alternatives like the China model which has thrived through suppressing the minorities.

    • Susantha

      disgusted

      if u look at the sri lankan state and constitution careful u can see that the country allready has a sinhalese identity..we allready have it…we only have to protect it ..

    • doomed to repeat it

      Wajayapala has a very good point.

      It then becomes a choice for us. Do we want a multiparty participatory democracy with individual freedom, or a society based on command from the top down and no questions asked? Neither option is perfect, both have problems of execution, but right now those seem to be the two options available.

      This is one of the serious, fundamental issues facing us right now. Depending on which path we take as a nation, all other issues will resolve organically.

    • Ravi

      I understand the government is bringing 14th amendment to the constitution. The core idea of it is the integrity of the nation, to do that thamils going to have 4 votes and singalas going to have only one vote. I wonder, how can king mahinder himself win?

    • Atheist

      Susantha:

      You are not [Edited out] serious here, are you? I get it – you are the flip side of the LTTE. Your political stance on Sri Lanka is nothing more than a form of crass nationalism that will ultimately drag our island into more chaos and unnecessary bloodshed. If your kith and kin feel such an urgency to shed blood, please donate to the blood bank.

      We Sri-Lankans –Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and other – can draw strength from our ancient civilization. This is very different from engaging in crude nationalism that, sooner or later, enslaves people within a narrow worldview.

      This is the twenty-first century, and many barriers are coming down. Exclusionary politics, practiced by racists, always proves self-defeating in the long run. Shouldn’t the demise of the LTTE teach us a thing or two?

      Yes, for the 13th amendment! Our little island, Sri Lanka, is multi-ethnic and she will remain that way.

      Shanthi! Shanthi!

    • Atheist

      Oshadee Nirmala Iddamalgoda:

      Iddamalgoda the doppelganger of Susan Goon/Sandun, just drop the act will ya. I believe failed parodies are a hit with Banyan News Reporters – please contribute to the said site. Could it be that you are one of them? I won’t be surprised!

      “You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need”. The Rolling Stones

    • Disgusted

      Susantha,
      And what does that Sinhalese identity mean? Intolerance of others? Barbarism? A treacherous ethnic chauvinism that betrays the principles of its own religion? The inability to get your act together still after 60 years of independence, unlike many other non-Sinhalese nations that have done proud for themselves?

      For me, what Sinhalese identity means is bloodymindedness–a determination to spill one’s own blood for something that has absolutely no value. The issue is not to fight to maintain such a worthless identity but to create a new progressive Sinhalese identity–one that keeps up with modernity, that cares about justice and other people’s culture as well as one’s own, that values peace, that is able to foster a successful nation–an identity that people can be proud of.

    • SomewhatDisgusted

      Disgusted>>

      “For me, what Sinhalese identity means is bloodymindedness–a determination to spill one’s own blood for something that has absolutely no value”

      That blanket statement you just made proves what I’ve been trying to say all along – that mirror you are so eager to hold up to others only shows a reflection of yourself. When I told you this, you chose the intellectually dishonest route of filibustering your way out of it by accusing me of all sorts of things. Now, you’ve come out and made that sweeping generalization out loud, the very reflection of your own prejudice. Oh well, as Dickens said, “The truth will out!”.

    • Disgusted

      Somewhat Disgusted,
      I don’t think you would say that I was prejudiced if I spoke of German nationalism during the Holocaust in those very same terms. It is fair comment to speak of a nationalism in that way when it has been responsible for engendering so much violence, and unsettling a country for 60 years. Perhaps the incarceration of a quarter million war-ravaged people does not assault your morals. It does mine.

      I have no doubt that there are many Sri Lankans with a kinder, gentler idea of what it means to be Sinhalese. I certainly see many instances of this here in groundviews. Hopefully, one day, their vision will prevail.

    • SomewhatDisgusted

      Disgusted >>

      And I suppose you won’t mind me characterizing Tamil nationalism in a similar vein. To paraphrase your own words, “it is fair comment to speak of a nationalism in that way when it has been responsible for engendering so much violence, and unsettling a country for 60 years”. Perhaps stooping to terrorism, blowing up innocent people in buses, recruiting child soldiers, peddling drugs and using the poor people in the Vanni as pawns to create a racist Eelam does not assault your morals. It does mine.

      I’ve repeatedly tried to tell you that this is not a matter of scrambling for moral high-ground and making holier-than-thou proclamations that no one seems to have after 60 years of this nonsense. Why? Because, I, as an innocent bystander, who doesn’t give a hoot about either your Tamil Nationalism or some madcap Sinhala Nationalism, who just wants to see this country move forward, am continuously offended by your racial diatribes, because I see this country failing to unite as Sri Lankans in moving towards a common goal of equality and prosperity for all.

    • Disgusted

      Somewhat Disgusted,
      Yes, talking about Tamil nationalism, all you have to do to recognize the ugliness of Sinhalese nationalism is to look at Prabhakaran and his team of bandits. That’s your baby. You brought it to birth, you suckled it, you gave it horns. There wouldn’t have been the Tigers without Sinhalese nationalism.

      What message is your government sending out now that the war is over? Isn’t it saying in effect that if you don’t have guns and suicide bombers, forget about us treating the Tamils with any dignity? What choice do the Tamils have now except to think of violence? Do you think that quarter million of Tamils caged behind barbed wire are having kind thoughts now about the majority community? Once again, Sri Lanka has been given another chance. And once again, it will screw up. And then it will turn to the violence that is unleashed and cry about the villainy of other people’s nationalism and racism.

      At any rate, I’m not surprised by your response. What else can racists say in their defence but point fingers at the racism of their accusers? You can’t do that with me—I have never supported the Tigers, never ever gave a cent to them.

      This is certainly a time to scramble up to moral higher ground. This is a time for the majority community in Sri Lanka to stand up and be counted, to say no to the evil that is being perpetrated in their name.

    • SomewhatDisgusted

      Disgusted >>

      “Talking about Tamil nationalism, all you have to do to recognize the ugliness of Sinhalese nationalism is to look at Prabhakaran and his team of bandits. That’s your baby. You brought it to birth, you suckled it, you gave it horns. There wouldn’t have been the Tigers without Sinhalese nationalism.”

      You need to learn your history, preferably a non-Eelam version. And you need to have a less racist interpretation of it. Only ignorance and a non-academically detached look at history could prompt a statement like the one above. Your erroneous/racist interpretation of history is what’s fueling your one-sided thinking. Try this, it’s written by a qualified academic and he’s Tamil too, which will surely make him more credible to a person like you: http://www.pjeganathan.org/south-paw/2009/5/4/sri-lankas-conflict-an-interview-with-pact-part-i.html

      I do agree with this statement of yours: “This is a time for the majority community in Sri Lanka to stand up and be counted, to say no to the evil that is being perpetrated in their name.”

      The only problem is, this is a very easy statement to make, not so clear as to how it can be executed given the predicament we are in. Your interpretation and suggestion, which is to simply release the refugees, while correct from a moral perspective, has not been tempered by pragmatism. I’ve repeatedly said, the govt. has put in a massive amount of effort to defeat the Tigers. This was done while bringing the economy to the brink of disaster. Now that the war is over, and no more suicide bombs etc. are going off, the economy is recovering. There is no way the govt. will risk damaging that and/or suffer the resultant economic death spiral by allowing cadres mingling with civilians to revert things back to the previous status quo. So they are doing the only logical option available to them, finding all weapons caches and weeding out as many cadres as possible before letting the civilians leave. The govt. is merely ensuring its own survival and the motivations are not as racist as you would like to interpret. The closest parallel is the massacre of 60,000+ Sinhalese civilians during the JVP riots, again actions to ensure the govts. own survival, nothing to do with race. This time round, one can at least be happy that no one is being massacred, an improvement if history is anything to go by.

      I have no illusions about the morality of these actions. It’s wrong, period. But unlike you, I can understand why the govt. is doing it, whereas you only have a racial interpretation of it. That’s the difference I’ve been trying to highlight to you all along. The prejudice is yours, not mine.

    • Ravi

      I can see so much on sinhala nationalisum but I can’t see Sinhala rule which is just.

    • Heshan

      “This is a time for the majority community in Sri Lanka to stand up and be counted, to say no to the evil that is being perpetrated in their name.”

      I said elsewhere, all it would take is the JVP organizing massive strikes in conjunction with the labor unions to bring the country to a standstill. As useless as the present Government is, it still relies on the workers for its bread and butter. Unfortunately the JVP does not represent the interests of the Tamils.

    • Atheist

      SomewhatDisgusted:

      I fully agree with your stance on nationalism. Unfortunately, debating nationalism on GroundViews is futile as many of the participants on this site equate nationalism solely with Sinhala chauvinism by conveniently overlooking Tamil chauvinism. It looks like the mere mentioning of ‘Tamil chauvinism’ is politically incorrect on GroundViews.

      Also, it has come to a point where identifying oneself as a ‘Sinhala’ is shunned a taboo by the very same people who celebrate Tamil culture and politics via “cultural” conferences and “peace” activities. These conferences and various other get-togethers are attended by some university dons who decry Sinhala nationalism while promoting their own brand of nationalism. These get-togethers are not cheap affairs by any means: the guests and “esteemed” speakers while away the hours downing champagne and expensive food after passionate speeches about the plight of the IDPs in Sri-Lanka.

      Nationalism of any kind is a hindrance to humanity and our identity as global citizens.

    • undergroundview

      So Disgusted, who complains of Sinhalese nationalism also complains about “Prabhakaran and his team of bandits”, and makes it clear that he never supported the Tigers.

      He deplores what he sees as a bloodyminded sort of Sinhalese nationalism that values symbols over pragmatism, and calls for a more progressive Sinhalese identity – with modernity, justice and peace, multiculturalim. He does not seem to have given up on the Sinhalese community.

      Meanwhile Somewhat Disgusted agrees that “this is a time for the majority community in Sri Lanka to stand up and be counted, to say no to the evil that is being perpetrated in their name”.

      So far, they seem to be in violent agreement.

      Of course they disagree on whether the government means well, or has a racist policy. And on whether short term security gains from internment camps will lead to long term divisions. And perhaps on the degree of magnanimity one might desire or expect from the victors.

      But they are not so diametrically opposed as they sound.

      In general debate what does not help is an assumption that the other is racist, just because he sees things differently, or makes (sometimes valid) criticism of your own community.

      Nor does it help if you assume, because someone criticises you, that they are blind to the faults of their own community. If you make it clear that you’re not some kind of “my side right, your side wrong” political cyclops, it is easier for others to hear what you have to say, and harder for them to write you off as a bigot, to be ignored or fought.

      Perhaps it would be better to discuss how security can be balanced with justice, or when security precautions become collective punishment, or how short term goals of security can balance long term goals like building a nation where communities don’t hate and fear each other, and where new grievances and injustices are not added to old ones.

      Talk about the sort of society you’d like to see (ignoring for the moment the goons on both sides who will accept only death or total victory – usually in that order). And talk about how we can get there, from here. And about how the possible policies help and hinder a peaceful and just settlement.

      The country is not doomed yet. There are still some faint glimmers of hope — a light at the end of the tunnel as well as the lamp of the oncoming train.

    • President Bean

      Susantha says…we will fight till the last drop of blood to protect it”
      …the sad part is that its not people like Susantha who do the fighting and dying and shedding of blood…it’s the uneducated village boys who do so while people like Susantha spout their racist ideas. As long as you are not willing to devolve power, there will be plenty of Tamils who will go back to arms…and this time around they might come up with a biological weapon…which is much easier to build than a nuclear weapon. Read ‘The Faithful Spy’ by Alex Berenson. Sometimes fiction can become reality. Remember Orwells ‘1984’.

      ps: I’m not a Tamil. But I sympathise with their cause…if I had been a white South African I would have supported the blacks, and if I was a white American I would have supported Martin Luther King. I am a human being first…and second a Buddhist or Christian or Hindu or a Muslim. Guys like you Susantha, should go back and read what the Buddha taught from the begining.

    • Susantha

      the freedom won by sacrificing 26,000 lives WILL NEVER BE BETRAYED TO ANYBODY-SL President

      http://bit.ly/9sxTP

      Sri Lankan Defence Secretary says “There is No Need For Power Devolution”

      http://bit.ly/5LT8G

      SO GUYS FORGET THE IDEA OF POWER DEVOLUTION

    • Disgusted

      Somewhat Disgusted,
      I have read Jeganathan’s work; he’s a brilliant scholar. So, what are you trying to say? That we should blame the SL situation on the British? Many other countries in South and South-east Asia too experienced the colonial divide and rule policies. And yes, the British ‘racialised’ formerly multicultural polities. But why is it that these places got their act together, and SL hasn’t for 60 years? Are you saying that colonial history is the sole determinant of SL’s situation? That it has nothing to do with how convenient it is for a majority community to take power in a country–especially if they can get away with it? Why is whipping up a frenzy of Sinhalese chauvinism the most effective way to get into and keep power in SL? Why has Sri Lanka never thrown up a political leader who was a visionary in terms of inter-ethnic unification? Why is it that the discourse of equal rights is so underdeveloped in SL, even now?

      Refresh my memory—did the Tigers appear before or after declaration of Sinhalese as the country’s official language and Buddhism as its official religion, before or after the ethnicity-based standardization of university admission, before or after state-sponsored violence from the 1950s to the 1970s?

      As for your contention that the government’s treatment of Tamil war victims is based on political expediency rather than racism, let me just say that one can perform the same act out of vastly different motivations. I can kill someone today belonging to my own community in order to hold onto power, and I can kill someone tomorrow from another community because I have a vision of a mono-ethnic nation. So the government killing many Sinhalese doesn’t contradict their racist motivation in their treatment of Tamils.

      So, you think the government is taking the only “logical option” in incarcerating innocent Tamils until all the weapons have been collected and the cadres weeded out? How will you know when this has been completed? When the government tells you so? It’s been four months already since the end of the war. As I’ve asked before, when will the government know when all the cadres have been weeded out? Is there a list of cadres somewhere so they can tick off the names?

      Please don’t try to disguise your racism by referring to safety and security issues. The very fact that you can tolerate innocent citizens being kept behind barbed wire, all of whom belong only to one ethnic community, so that other people may be safe says it all for me. No doubt if tomorrow it is revealed that the SL Army killed a 100,000 Tamil civilians in order to defeat the Tigers, you would think that too is “understandable”.

      By the way, do you think it was acceptable for the American government to incarcerate Japanese-American citizens for the duration of the war (after Japan bombed Pearl Harbour) as a means of keeping non-Japanese Americans safe? I guess you could say America’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was “pragmatic” as it succeeded in taking Japan out of the war.

      I’m sorry to be so un-“pragmatic”. But in case you haven’t noticed, the worst racism in the world was justified by pragmatism. Hitler’s rationale to wipe out the Jews turned on economics.

    • Susantha

      President bean

      [Edited out]

      “As long as you are not willing to devolve power, there will be plenty of Tamils who will go back to arms”

      do you know that we have a military capability and surveillance to crush any insurgency like egg shells….unlike in the early 70s….[Edited out]

      just like the US,UK,Russia,Israel,India,China…we will manage our threats and not give in to the enemy but fight the enemy till the end and exterminate the enemy
      we have lived in a threat environment for so long…we have adapted to it…

    • undergroundview

      Disgusted, you make some telling points. But there are plenty of non-racist Sinhalese who have swallowed the party line that the internments are necessary “for security reasons”, and who are prepared to give the benefit of the doubt, for now, to a government that “defeated terrorism”. People who have not yet begun to think about what drives people to take up terrorism in the first place..

      What do you know about Somewhat Disgusted to suggest he is more racist than they?

      Can we debate the issue without attacking the motives of those who disagree with us?

    • SomewhatDisgusted

      Atheist >>

      I’ve regularly followed your posts on Ground Views and find you to be scientific/detached on the subject (indeed, being an atheist, you obviously must have independent thinking ;-)). I fully agree with your observation about debating nationalism here on Ground Views. It does seem a futile exercise and one which will only result in wasting one’s time.

      I persist for the following reasons (and I hope you will do the same).

      A lie, when repeated often enough, becomes the truth. Allowing these one-sided racial diatribes to go unchallenged as gospel truth will have exactly that effect, make people forget that there’s more to this story than the simple black & white truth that some would have us believe. Personally, it sickens me to be mistaken for defending Sinhala nationalism, when in fact, I am denouncing both. But given the one sided Tamil nationalistic rhetoric you get here, it’s hard not to sound just as one-sided when debating them.

      As Richard Dawkins highlighted, this is in the end a matter of memetic selection. And what a person like Heshan, the quintessential Nationalist, is doing, is to keep repeating these erroneous memes till they are implanted in people’s heads. It’s downright dangerous to allow them to go unchallenged, although I find it a tremendous waste of personal time to debate such people, because they will never even momentarily consider any other explanation. As the saying goes, a fanatic is a person who can’t change his mind, and won’t change the subject.

    • undergroundview

      Susantha, you say: “we will manage our threats and not give in to the enemy but fight the enemy till the end and exterminate the enemy”.

      Who, again, IS the enemy?

      Is it the LTTE? Or anyone who thinks that Tamils will not be safe in a Sinhalese-only state? Child soldiers conscripted by the LTTE? Anyone with relatives conscripted by the LTTE? Or anyone who grows to hate the state because of how they are treated? Or someone who criticises the policies of the government? Critical local and foreign journalists? The international community? NGOs? The UN? Evil colonialists who occupy territory by force of arms, and force its people to adopt their customs, language and laws? Astrologers who predict the end of his majesty’s reign?

      And how much “collateral damage” is acceptable while exterminating the enemy?

      Does it matter less if the victims are Tamil?

    • SomewhatDisgusted

      undergroundview >>

      Thanks for trying to reconcile our views. I agree that they may not be as diametrically opposed as you suggested, after all, what do we all want in the end? A peaceful country in which all can live in dignity. But I have to confess that I find “Disgusted”‘s racially biased interpretation of history to be quite odious (the debate did not start here, but on a different thread). I do not like to see such black & white, simplistic thinking go unchallenged, especially when considering the sheer complexity of this problem and the number of factors and actors that have brought us to this sad stage.

      His/her arguments are tantamount to saying: “The Sinhalese are solely responsible for starting it, so everything that happened afterwards is justified and is naught but a result”, which is about as silly and childish an argument as saying that “she stole my candy and beat me up, so I disemboweled him”. Not only is the phrase the “Sinhalese who started it” an undefinable one, the Tamils who continued it is equally undefinable. After all, following this kind of logic to its ultimate conclusion, all Tamils become Terrorists, and all Sinhalese become violent racists.

      This kind of simplistic thinking does no justice to a problem of this magnitude. It simply ignores the multitude of visible (and hidden) variables that influence the issue. Nor can I see anything even remotely constructive in his/her views in helping us to move forward.

    • SomewhatDisgusted

      Disgusted >>

      “Are you saying that colonial history is the sole determinant of SL’s situation?”

      Of course not. The reason I asked you to read Jeganathan is so you could appreciate the problem more in terms of the complex multitude of factors which affect the Sri Lankan situation, rather than boil it down to simplistic black & white elements. But once again, what you’ve done is exactly that, reduced things to amusing caricatures and quick reverting back to your original mantra.

      It’s a very easy world view when you have a single villain, in your case, the entire race of Sinhalese people and a single victim, the Tamil people and everything thenceforth is a “result”. No mention of the roles played by the elites in both factions who were hell bent on preserving their colonial legacy, when the underprivileged masses, both Sinhalese and Tamil, never did have any of the equality they were demanding for themselves. Heck, the lower castes in Jaffna were even denied franchise by the very elites claiming to represent them. No mention of Ilankai Thamil Arasu-Kachchi, 50-50 demands etc, all of which predated the Tamil Tigers by decades. Secession was on the agenda way before equality thanks to the elite Tamil Nationalists.

      In no way should the above passage be interpreted as exonerating the Sinhalese nationalists of blame. Of course they were responsible for their actions. But the whole point is that the real world is not the black & white picture you or I would like to have in our heads.

      Yet, it’s all so much simpler when the enemy is one easily identifiable entity, and the other is the victim, so let’s just play it that way. The fact that the Tigers for example, never did [care] about equality, but were out for secession from the start, needn’t be a factor in your calculations (the Sinhalese were untrustworthy after all). That equality was something anyone could agree to, but secession was not is, again, a piddling little detail.

      About your statement that “It’s been four months already since the end of the war. As I’ve asked before, when will the government know when all the cadres have been weeded out? Is there a list of cadres somewhere so they can tick off the names?”

      I’ve already answered this question several times. I drew attention to it on no less than 2 occasions (if you read the previous thread: http://www.groundviews.org/2009/09/01/a-travesty-of-justice-the-sentencing-of-j-s-tissainayagam/#comments) yet you simply chose to ignore it. It’s not only tedious, but also indicative of your disinterest in any “discussion” as such.

      The war lasted 30 years. During this time, the folks in the Vanni had no future other than surviving to achieve the dreams of a crazed despot. So to quote from my previous response to you ” Why is it that you are willing to endure 30 years of absolute horror for these people in an existence which held no future for them but you cannot abide a minute of the 6 months of incarceration till these people are resettled? Is it because, somehow, “freedom” under the despotic regime of the LTTE is superior to temporary incarceration under the “chauvinistic Sinhala Buddhist govt”? Can you give me a clear answer as to why you prefer one over the other for these people?”

      As I said earlier, I don’t think holding these people captive is a moral thing to do. They’ve suffered unimaginable horrors and they deserve to, at least now, have their lives restored to them. But, I think such solutions should be put in place while being pragmatic about it. You may clamour for their immediate release, but all hell will break loose if any remaining cadres get their hands on weapons stashes and disrupt the peace. Who do you think will be affected the most by that? The Sinhalese in the south (whom you despise anyway)? Or these very people?

      The logical thing to do is to pressurize the govt. to hurry on with their demining and clearing operations and actually lend them a constructive hand, instead of always assuming the worst. Furthermore, whether their motives are racist or not is immaterial (Personally, I think their primary concern is not losing face politically by letting the much-harped about victory be undermined), the outcome should be the restoration of normalcy to these people in a way that does not result in catastrophe. This is why I feel, after 30 years, 6 months is a reasonable amount of time to sort things out, considering the staggering complexity of this problem. Nevertheless, I mostly keep my mouth shut about this and am very grateful that people are pressurizing the govt. in this regard. The only thing I can’t tolerate is the sickening “oh-god-I-am-the-only-non-racist-here” and “everyone-else-is-such-a-racist” kind of BS. It only makes a display of the accuser’s own prejudice.

    • Susantha

      undergoundview

      dear sir/mam

      enemy is any individual/group/organisation/NGO/State that tries to destabilize Sri Lanka or tries to create any kind of ethnic enclaves in Sri Lanka ..

      “And how much “collateral damage” is acceptable while exterminating the enemy”

      collateral damage is very sad i agree..but is it only those who want the country unitary who should be blamed….those who want to separate the country should also be blames..if they were not present there would be no collateral damage right…

      “Does it matter less if the victims are Tamil?”

      No I don’t think so..all human life is valuable

    • Disgusted

      Somewhat Disgusted,
      You mentioned the “roles played by the elites in both factions who were hell bent on preserving their colonial legacy”. I still see those Sinhalese elites around—even today, only those from the Sinhalese political families get to power in SL, as we all know. But what happened to the elite Tamil nationalists who were also trying to preserve their colonial legacy? Oh yeah, I forgot–they had to skip town.

      You want me to consider Ilankai Thamil Arasu-Kachchi, 50-50 demands etc as that which led to the emergence of the Tigers when, as you yourself note, these “predated the Tamil Tigers by decades”. So we’re supposed to consider that VP and his band were motivated, not by the riots and state-sanctioned violence against Tamils, and Sinhala and Buddhism policies that took place in their own lifetime, when they were in their teens and their 20s, but by events that happened before they were barely born?

      And it is absolutely false to say that the Tamils demanded secession even before they asked for equal rights. So, can you tell me why equality was not given to Tamils and other minorities when they hadn’t yet spoken of secession?

      As for the IDP situation, “all hell” will NOT “break loose if any remaining cadres get their hands on weapons stashes and disrupt the peace” for the simple reason that there are no weapons stashes to be gotten. Do you seriously think the SL government and army would allow weapons stashes to be lying around the countryside, and for four months now, waiting for just any person to come along and grab them? You must be nuts. Either that or you just need desperately to believe that there is a justifiable reason for the continued incarceration of those quarter million Tamil civilians.

      And why again are we continuing to talk about the viciousness of the Tigers’ Tamil nationalism when they are all dead? Do you see Tamil nationalists running around now causing trouble?

      Since you like pragmatism, let’s use pragmatic principles. Which nationalism is more vicious? The one which won the war, don’t you think?

      I am not taking sides with the Tamils and excusing their nationalism. I focus on Sinhalese racism/nationalism because it is a majority community, the only community in Sri Lanka that can bring change if it wants to. And this change will not happen till the majority community acknowledges and addresses its nationalism. Tamils can choose to be nationalist or not—it doesn’t matter. Whatever they want, they have no chance of getting it.

    • undergroundview

      Thanks for responding, Susantha.

      A problem with defining enemy as people who want to destabilise the country is that some people seem to label any criticism as an attempt to undermine the country, and treat them as enemies. Thus we see journalists assassinated or imprisoned on the farcical basis that journalism is terrorism. The concepts of loyal opposition and legitimate dissent are lost, and evils flourish unchallenged.

      You’re right that one cannot just blame those who want a unitary state for the country’s problems – separatists have also caused much misery.

      It seems to me that the enemy is anyone who is not prepared to work by democratic and peaceful means, by legitimate policing and fair trials, by negotiation, by persuasion, and even – in extreme cases – by peaceful protest and civil disobedience.

      The enemy of a civil and humane society is anyone who believes in death squads, bombs and artillery, imprisonment without trial, and the suppression of free speech. Such enemies dress themselves in different flags – and disgrace them all.

    • Ravi

      What I think will happen in Srilanka is that for Tamil and Sinhalise Hindi and cant anise will become compulsory. Fortunately Tamil has been made an ancient language in India. I think, as unique as Sinhala language too must be made as an ancient language in the region.

    • undergroundview

      Disgusted, it occurs to me that you might get more people to listen to your concerns and grievances if you yourself were more willing to listen to theirs. You cannot expect anyone to abase themselves and confess their community’s evils while you focus exclusively on their evils and remain silent about those of your community. You cannot just sit back and wait for peace to happen – all sides need to move.

      Besides, if you take the time to understand how honourable “opponents” see the war (and, believe me, conflicts look very different from the other side – not every opponent is a goon given over to evil), you may understand your own experience a little better, and you may realise why they don’t see the things that are so clear to you.

      In some ways, Tamils and Sinhalese live in different worlds, while sharing the same country.

    • Disgusted

      underground view,
      I composed the post below in response to your earlier query, and don’t have the time right now to tackle your latest. But I’ll just post what I had prepared earlier if you don’t mind. Hopefully, it will also engage with what you said in your latest post.

      —————————————-

      undergroundview,

      I thank you for the courtesy shown in wanting to understand my position, rather than simply throwing unconsidered brickbats at it.

      In reply to your question as to whether I see Somewhat Disgusted as more racist than those other non-racist Sinhalese who think that the internments are necessary for security reasons, and who are prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the government, no, I don’t think Somewhat Disgusted is any more racist than them in their thinking.

      I am not interested in labeling people as racists, but rather in making them become aware of the racist assumptions that lie under their opinions and attitudes that, on the surface, do not appear to have any links to racism. For anyone to consider that one group of innocent, war-ravaged citizens should be incarcerated in order that another group may be safe and secure suggests to me that they have in their minds the notion of first class vs second class citizens. To these people, those in the camps are lesser citizens, even lesser human, than them. Race enters into this because those in the camps are ONLY of one race. So, here the idea of second class citizens can be linked to racial/ethnic identity—not in anything that these people have done. If there were any Sinhalese accidentally caught in these camps, do you not think SL citizens would cry to high heaven to let these citizens go? And would not their demand be based on race, with innocence linked to their identity as Sinhalese? On the other hand, it is implicitly acceptable to all these people who you mention that Tamil citizens can be presumed to be guilty until proven innocent. Again race is linked to guilt.

      Add to that, the lack of plain common sense in their claim that the cadres who are taking refuge among the innocent civilians will take up arms stashed away, and start the conflict all over again. Do you actually think the government is currently allowing such stashes to exist so that anyone (and not only Tamils, but, say the JVP) can find them? That is ridiculous. Besides, common sense tells me they have already killed or detained the main culprits. The ones still around are probably only those forced into it. Common sense also tells me that, given the current military build-up, if violence comes again at all, it will come from the outside into the nation, not from the inside. And this could come five years down the road. Will SL then keep these civilians incarcerated for all these years just to prevent communication with these outsiders? The security problem is for the government to resolve—it has no right to make some citizens pay over others because it is fresh out of ideas on how to deal with security issues.

      So why do these seemingly non-racist people that you refer to abandon their common sense and swallow the party’s ridiculous line? Because they prefer to think that they can resolve their safety issues by making Tamils the scapegoat rather than by giving Tamils and other minorities their equal rights. The granting of equal rights to minorities would be the very best way to guarantee the nation’s security. It removes the need for violence, and it wins international goodwill and support in case of a crisis. Does it not strike you that in all the discussion here about how SL should move forward now, there is never any discussion about what equal rights entails, and how SL could give the minorities their equal rights? Nobody talks about how the Tamils can be appeased—because now they have lost the war, it is no longer necessary. Instead, everyone talks about the pros and cons of devolution, decentralization and federalism—from the perspective of which would be better for most people (in a country where a clear majority community counts as ‘most people’).

      I obsess about racism because it is very often at the core of our beliefs about what is justice, what is equality, what is security and nation building—all the things you said we should talk about instead. Very often, it is unconscious. I am trying to raise it to consciousness. People say they are just being pragmatic in thinking of the IDPs and the needs of national security, and probably, they believe in their own reasoning. But such thinking is racist in its effects—it allows innocent people to continue to be incarcerated because they are of a certain ethnic community. Others think equal rights is about proportional rights—that if you are 15% of the population, you should get 15% of rights. That is racism and disguised domination. Another example of disguised domination—those who say we should go beyond race and forget about all ethnic claims, and think of national identity. That too is racism because it allows the issue of equal rights of the minority to become invisible; race-transcendance and “national community” becomes the alibi for minority oppression.

      Racism is not the simple thing that people believe it to be. It is not just about hurling foul names at each other, or killing or wanting to kill each other. It is about a relationship to power. A minority nationalism that seeks equal rights is not racist as a majority nationalism is, especially when the former is disarmed, and the latter is armed. They do not have the same access to political power. But here the two nationalisms are treated as exactly the same—a moral (immoral?) strategy that is designed to perpetuate the domination by one group. As far as I can see, it is only when Sri Lankans truly grasp what equality means, that the relationship to power of majority and minority communities should be equal or at least nearly similar, and that as citizens they need to agree to share power, that the country will come out of its current situation. Until then, justice, “security”, nation-building, even national identity, will be skewered and interpreted to serve and express the interests of the majority community while touting itself as neutral. And that, I think, is absolutely racist.

      Perhaps the Sinhalese community cannot entertain notions of sharing space with a people associated with such extreme violence as that of the Tigers. If there was freedom of information and the true horror stories now emerge about how Tamils have suffered these 30 years, being wedged between both State and Tiger violence, having to migrate, leaving family behind, regularly running from house to house looking for shelter as both the Army and the Tigers occupied their homes, the abductions of their children, the deprivation of economic resources, the senseless beatings and killings by both sides, they might start to see the Tamil community more sympathetically. They need also to objectively examine their own role in bringing the Tigers into existence. I applied the criteria you cited as that which makes somebody an enemy of the nation. Using your definition, the Tigers were not an enemy when they first came to power—they emerged because there were NO avenues provided for negotiation. Later, yes, when, drunk with power, the Tigers wilfully refused to negotiate, despite being given many opportunities. There needs to be some reckoning.

    • SomeOne

      Dear “SomeWhatDisgusted”

      “….Are you saying that colonial history is the sole determinant of SL’s situation?” Of course not….”

      Of course it is.

      Do you deny the fact that

      1. There was no border between “this island” and “India” before colonial period?.

      2. British were the one brought the Colombo administration?.

      3. There was a real possibility that when British departed, “this island” and “India” would have had become one entity.

      4. This island become Sinhala Buddhist country without firing a single bullet where as in earlier occasions there was a war costed several lives to achieve the same result?.

      The situation we are in now is one of many possibilities.

      We may have differences in opinion. However, if we don’t agree on core values (human rights) we all are wasting our time.

      Life is NOT black and white as you said. However, basic human rights are clearly defined and it is black and white. We cannot compromise on that.

    • http://www.pjeganathan.org Pradeep Jeganathan

      @SomewhatDisgusted & Disgusted: I followed parts of your debate here. D asks this question: “So, what are you trying to say? That we should blame the SL situation on the British? Many other countries in South and South-east Asia too experienced the colonial divide and rule policies. And yes, the British ‘racialised’ formerly multicultural polities. But why is it that these places got their act together, and SL hasn’t for 60 years? Are you saying that colonial history is the sole determinant of SL’s situation?”

      No, we shouldn’t blame colonialism, but we must understand its legacy. I disagree however that ‘Other places got there act together’ — as such. What you have, for example in the Malaya(isa) Singapore is a partition, with inequitable elite level deal at both ends; Malay dominance on one side, Chinese (Hakka) dominance on the other. It worked because it was a deal, possible because of minimum subaltern pressure. The opposite was true in Ceylon in 1950s.

    • undergroundview

      @Disgusted – thanks for that compendious response. Allow me a while to get my philosophical head on :-)

      @SomeOne
      >>> “Are you saying that colonial history is the sole determinant of SL’s situation?”
      >> Of course not
      >Of course it is.

      Actually, it isn’t — not the sole determinant of SL’s situation, that is.

      Yes, End-of-Colonial history set the borders. Colonial and pre-colonial history gave the land its various cultures.

      But unless ever since SL’s independence we’ve all been puppets whose strings are pulled by our colonial (or maybe colonised) ancestors, then it’s not the SOLE determinant of the situation.

      As well as what happened in earlier history, things happened after independence that contributed to communal strife and rivalry. Single language act. Communal violence and insurgency. Decades of terrorism. Exploitation of Plantation Tamils (those chickens have not yet come home to roost, but time enough for that). Corrupt government. Press restrictions. Human rights violations. White vans.

      Good things happened too – education, health care, development (however uneven). A legal system that occasionally checks the government.

      Things are happening now that powerfully affect the situation – think what sort of citizens will be produced by their experiences in the camps, and where the “one nation” rhetoric will take us.

      Things are happening on the international stage – SL is getting more involved with the People’s Republic of China, and who knows what influences and changes that will bring. And the international community may yet bring pressure on human rights. Then there are international loans, world recessions, and a large economically active diaspora that could some day be tempted back.

      So it didn’t start with colonial history, and it certainly doesn’t end there.

      It’s up to the people alive now – and sitting around blaming colonial history won’t help.

    • Disgusted

      Pradeep Jegananathan,
      Thrilled to hear from you. Yes, we need to understand colonialism’s legacy. But having understood that, we need to avoid continuing to be played by it. That’s the purpose of colonial critique, isn’t it?

      I can’t speak too much for Malaysia. It’s by no means an equitable situation there, but there is some level of power sharing, with the ruling alliance made up of parties representing the various races–and recently, an opposition alliance that also involved inter-racial participation. I wouldn’t say that their deal worked due to minimum subaltern pressure. The Malay and Chinese population are almost the same size, which brought the two communities head to head in race riots, through the 1950s into the late 1960s. There were also the Communists to deal with. I’d say the deal worked because there were some safety valves, some minimum give and take, to release some of the ethnic pressures. Right now, there seems to be another phase of readjustments being made with regard to power distribution. Not sure how this will play out. But, at the private level, you have to hand it to the Malaysians in terms of inter-culturalism. There’s a certain cultural dynamism that comes out strongly in their inter-cultural Malay language and English drama, their indie movies.

      As for the Singapore side, the Chinese dominance is more of a post-1980s’ development, urged by the growth of pan-nationalisms, now under challenge with the country’s opening itself much more to global labour and cultural flows. In the two decades immediately following independence, vernacular traditions and institutions actually suffered as English-stream education took over. The cultural focus then was on creating a melting pot rather than fostering separate traditions and English was seen as the language to unite the various groups. Our political leadership was then and still is multi-racial. Minimum subaltern pressure? No–lots of left-wing agitation, Chinese student and labour strikes, etc. Singapore was thrown out of the merger because of its insistence on the races sharing power.

      Of course, it’s not perfect–but it’s not a fragile union either.

      But I’m amused by the reference to Hakka dominance in Singapore. The majority of the Chinese are Hokkien. The Hakka are a very small group. Did you mean Hakka dominance because Lee Kuan Yew is Hakka? Actually LKY is Peranakan (Straits Chinese), who suddenly got it into his head in his old age that he was, not Hakka but a Mandarin!

    • smoulderingjin

      @Disgusted – I appreciate the long thought through response you have made here…thank you.
      @ Disgusted, Undergroundview – thank you for taking the discussion in direction that we can engage with and think through what is being said.

      Sri Lankan history is certainly not bloodless – we do not need the Colonials to ruin our nation, we can pretty much do it all by ourselves, and very well too. Take for instance one example that Undergroundview gives – the plantation sector; earning a high revenue for the nation, boosting its coffers, the governments of Sri Lanka couldn’t care less.

      Witness too the early history of bloody feuds and battles. I mean is this not the history of many nations? While many nations have moved on, Sri Lanka remains anal retentive and naval gazing, intent on combing history for every last shard of blame it can throw against somebody else.

      As far as I can see, the ending of the war has unearthed a dormant racism, and Disgusted you are quite right in your analysis of the racist underpinnings of this nation. It exists, and it is doubly dangerous due to its invisibility and its disguise as “national” loyalty and citizenship.

    • http://www.pjeganathan.org/south-paw/ Pradeep Jeganathan

      @Disgusted: My pleasure also, and you make many good, thoughtful points.

      But in the main, I don’t quite see it as you do, right now — even thought I will think more about it.

      Here is a recap, and some counter points. Both Singapore and Malaysia (remember, they are already partitioned entities, this is very important to consider, taken together they’d be Ceylon, no?) settled for the dominance of one community. (Yes, its a very small family group in Singapore, that runs the country. Many of them consider themselves “Hakka.” You can draw a kinship chart of the network.). By “CHinese” I don’t really mean language or culture in Singapore. I mean politics, as I do in Malaysia. Much of that kind of ‘politics’ has to do with the way capital is controlled. In S, who controls the control of capital? That relates to Malaysia where the Chinese are so well capitalized that they had a an explicit bumiputhra policy to capitalize Malays, that JRJ’s righthand racists Cyril Mathew used to cite in parliament, as an example to us all. (For example, if you were a Malay you were kinda smart, you got a government schol. to a US University. if you were/are Chinese/Indian you didn’t/don’t). No Riots on that one, ok (It was long after the famed riots there; this was thought to be answer) We tried educational quotas for about 5 years in 70s, and it led to a large scale, 30 year war. We didn’t have a deal. And arguably couldn’t do a deal.

      Of course there has been a give and take, in those countries and the minorities were “accommodated.” JRJ tried this as well. Perhaps MR is trying as well. But the issue is autonomous ‘ethnic’ politics. In Malaysia/Singapore isn’t allowed. Not at all. There is not even a terrain on which it can be produced. For example, NUS doesn’t even have a Tamil department (even though its an official language, because its politics might be ‘uncontrollable’). So they have a Malay department, and a South Asia Studies Department. Its like a living category contradiction that ‘makes’ their elite ‘politics’ work.
      Now try that here :)

      There was a communist rebellion in Malaya which was brutally crushed by the British Imperialist counter Insurgency operations. Yes, with torture and the works. They made Malaya ‘safe’ for the elites.

      But this communist rebellion was more a peasant affair. Urban /plantation working classes/unions were no where as developed as in Ceylon between say 1926-60. That has to be, since that’s the index of our comparative prosperity during that time, that the ‘oh god the natives pissed away the fruits of benevolent empire’ argument always points to. That very strong, urban working class was allied with an educated rural petty bourgeois by 1956, and they wanted de-Anglicization, and Sinhalization. And that’s true on the Tamil side as well; except comparatively, the movement has less force on the national stage, obviously.
      (You don’t have this kind of subaltern social movement in Singapore or Malaysia — even though you are right to point out, all politics is not elite politics in those spaces.) My point, in a coconutshell, is, I think, that these subaltern social movements, which was elite led of course, led us to near partition, unlike in the already partitioned, far more elite controlled, Sing/Malasia.

      be that as it may.

      Finally, I want to underline that I’m not trying to score ‘smart’ points over any one. I may well be wrong, and I may change my mind. But I want to do is think through the structure of things so that I can understand my country better.
      Dear Disgusted, thank you for helping me.

    • Disgusted

      Smoulderingjin,
      Glad to know someone actually went through my post! Kudos to Undergroundviews for valiantly trying to probe gaps in the debate here and moving the discussion forward. And now we have Pradeep Jeganathan joining us! Whoa!

    • Disgusted

      Pradeep Jeganathan,
      It’s really interesting to do this kind of comparative analysis, and I won’t miss the opportunity to engage you on this. While your representation of the Singapore/Malaysia situation is accurate in many ways, it doesn’t entirely capture my lived experience as a Singaporean from a minority community. What I’d like to do is tease out the differences in perceptions and, more intriguing for me, explore somethings you mention that are true but which I was not aware of, or not in those ways. Is my blindness caused by me having been ‘brainwashed’ by state discourse or by our using different frames? Or both?

      Re: Singapore not having autonomous ethnic politics. It doesn’t have it in official ways, as, for instance, in having ethnic political parties (there is a Malay party, but understandably it hasn’t been successful given a Chinese majority, unitary state). But it does have various ethnic organizations, and there are channels of communication with the government, including created feedback groups. Negotiations are behind closed doors and, unless you are in the loop, you won’t know that certain improvements for the Malay community, say, or for women were actually initiated by semi-government organizations or NGOs that represent their interests. It will be sold to the public as a government move. There is a minister in charge of Muslim Affairs, and ministers appointed to ethnic-based organizations who are responsible for feeding back ethnic concerns.

      But must there be this autonomous ethnic politics? Can it not take less recognized forms? If we look at the nature of the independence movement in Singapore, it was multicultural from the start, even though elitist. The rallying call was first for a “Malaysian Malaysia” and then later for a “Singaporean Singapore”, which focussed on creating an inter-cultural identity rather than one made of discrete ethnic identities. The first chief minister was a Eurasian, voted in by a Chinese majority, who chose him above other Chinese alternatives. An Indian woman who had worked with Gandhi led Chinese women in the fight against polygamy, a Chinese community, which eventually led to the Women’s Charter in 1961. In the 1960s and 1970s, the minorities were over-represented in Parliament, the Chinese population not quite enamoured of politics as a career. Recent scholarship is also looking at the multicultural engagements of the communist movement.

      I think there is a Chinese politics now in the way you mean it, which started in the mid-1980s. This has taken us back somewhat, to the extent that a non-Chinese could not hope now to be PM. But it wasn’t there during the early nation-building decades. Malaysia threw Singapore out because it was predominantly Chinese–it threatened to disturb the Malay-Chinese power balance. But that does not mean that Singapore came into being on the back of a ethnicity-based deal. If you look at the constitution, it is Malay rights and culture that are to be given special protection. I think we need to remember that Singapore has a history of inter-culturalisms, like the various Peranakan and Eurasian cultures. It was only in the mid-1980s that we started with all the racialization–which is quite a bit of a bummer!

      You asked about control of capital flow. Yes, I’d say that is in Chinese hands, but with increasing participation from other quarters, inevitable with globalization, and with the focus on the bottom-line. It’s class-inflected—the working-class Chinese don’t feel that they are in control of anything–but then again, all our middle-classes are growing.

      There’s an interesting new pressure developing in elite politics now though–an elite Chinese Christian push, which the government will need to negotiate with. It appears to be persuading government to distance themselves from Chinese politics since they can only combat it by citing our multi-racialism and secularism.

      It’s a dance; some say “wayang kulit”. Singapore fights with fancy footwork, not with guns and bombs. The government says one thing and does another—form vs content. But the politically-correct rhetoric has strong unifying power.

      Re: no riots regarding the bumiputra policies concerning education in Malaysia. I think in both Malaysia and Singapore, the migrant communities have been prepared to accept that the Malays do have special claims for being the original settlers. But of course you can’t push the inequalities, and recently the minorities have been getting agitated.

      I may be wrong here, but you kind of metaphorically sneer at ethnic “accomodation”. It keeps us here from violence, and when I see what has been happening in SL, it seems to be very valuable indeed. Could ethnic accomodation not have worked in Sri Lanka too? For eg, they could have declared Sinhalese the official language, but instantiated Tamil support organisations, etc?

      As for what you call the “partition” of Singapore and Malaysia, we refer to it as the “merger”, followed by an expulsion–and I think there’s a reason for why we don’t think of it as a partition. Given Singapore’s history as one of the Straits Settlements, we were not administratively and politically part of the Malay states. So the anomaly was in the union rather than in the “partition” or expulsion. We needed a referendum for the merger. You can’t fit it into the narrative of Malaysia and Singapore being like Ceylon, where the race chauvinism issues were resolved by chucking one race out–which supposedly Ceylon has not done, making the whole situation more difficult for it. Ceylon did not do it because domination of the minority was a feasible solution. Malaysia’s Malay elite would have had serious difficulties controlling the Chinese if Singapore’s Chinese numbers were part of the nation. So partition in Malaysia, and no partition in Sri Lanka were done to facilitate domination. What I’m saying is that you have to compare Singapore and Malaysia separately with SL for comparative purposes concerning race politics, rather than seeing Singapore and Malaysia as one entity.

      I’ve enjoyed this tremendously! Thanks for engaging me in discussion. Am also beginning to see more of the complexities of the SL ‘race’ situation, but need to think through this some more, esp. with regard to subaltern politics. Would race politics in Singapore be vastly more intense if the labour movement here were not muzzled? I don’t know.

    • undergroundview

      Disgusted – this is a quick initial response, since it has been a while since you replied.

      I’m intuitively uneasy with an approach that essentially says that although you may not REALISE you are racist, in fact you are, because X or Y or Z.

      Perhaps the outworkings of a policy may be racist in effect, without its proponents or apologists being themselves racist. On the other hand, perhaps it IS unconscious racism that makes the policy acceptable, or able to be rationalised. On the third hand (if I may be permitted a rhetorical mutation) maybe it’s just that old chestnut of “doesn’t affect me or anyone I know” that makes it easier to accept a more distant cost paid by other people, without requiring racism as a psychological “mechanism”.

      I’ve not quite managed to answer that question for myself – but thanks for raising the issue. It’s a difficult one – particularly as many of us practise a sort of psychological “defence in depth”, with layers of rationalisation that need to be carefully peeled back. Assuming there actually IS anything underneath… but maybe we’ll leave the nature of the self to a later discussion.

    • SomewhatDisgusted

      Well, the discussion certainly seems to have progressed. Thanks to everyone for their interesting contributions and apologies for not being able to keep up. I will address the issues raised by “Disgusted” soon.

    • SomewhatDisgusted

      Disgusted >>

      “I still see those Sinhalese elites around—even today, only those from the Sinhalese political families get to power in SL, as we all know. But what happened to the elite Tamil nationalists who were also trying to preserve their colonial legacy? Oh yeah, I forgot–they had to skip town.”

      How is that relevant to the point I was making? My point was about the *role* played by those elites in setting these events in motion. That the Sinhalese elites are dominant today does not automatically absolve Tamil elites of any role in it. Perhaps you will find this link informative: http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2008/10/how-first-class-tamils-promoted.html

      “So we’re supposed to consider that VP and his band were motivated, not by the riots and state-sanctioned violence against Tamils, and Sinhala and Buddhism policies that took place in their own lifetime, when they were in their teens and their 20s, but by events that happened before they were barely born?”

      And I suppose VP drew inspiration for his Eelam and Greater Eelam theories out of thin air, in a flash of genius, and not because of a corresponding and equally hideous Tamil racialism which had underlined ethnic politics up to that point in time? Why do you think I mentioned Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi? Oh yeah, you keep having to remind me, Tamil racism is just a “reaction”. Greater Eelam theories and the like were all the results of reactionary minds. Give me a break.

      My point is this: I see very clearly the problematic attitude of the Sinhalese and I detest, as much you do, the racist attacks in the past. But do you see how Tamil racism is also a very real phenomenon and has proven to be a significant problem throughout history? You can’t clap with one hand.

      Believe it or not, I had an attitude much similar to yours, having been repulsed by stories of attacks on innocent Tamil civilians during the riots of ’83, during which time some of my closest relatives, who are half-Tamil, had their houses set ablaze. As the majority community, I felt that the Sinhalese had a proportionately greater responsibility to protect the more vulnerable minorities. As a friend of mine put it very aptly, at least, when the Tigers attacked the Sinhalese, we had a police to go to and an army to “go get the tigers”. Who did they (the Tamils) have in ’83? This is one of the reasons, he argued, why many Tamils still overtly or covertly sympathize with the Tigers, and why, the vocal and radicalized Tamil diaspora consider it almost a duty to support them.
      What I later came to realize as I looked at this problem in greater depth, a relatively recent realization in fact, was that there was more to this story than the big giant gorilla like villainy of the Sinhalese nationalist and the Bambi-eyed vulnerability of the Tamil nationalist. I gradually came to understand the arguably more hideous and sinister racism which underlined the theories of Eelam and the concepts of Traditional Tamil Homelands, which cannot be dismissed offhand as “reactionary”, and how history is not as one-sided as it appears. It only appears that way because we all have a natural inclination to root for the under-dog. This is also why it’s instructive to understand our colonial legacy and the far-reaching effects it’s had in setting the stage for all this ethnic strife. Further, solving this problem requires tackling not just Sinhala racism, but Tamil racism also.

      ”And it is absolutely false to say that the Tamils demanded secession even before they asked for equal rights.

      Sorry, it’s not false. First of all, I wasn’t even referring to chronological order, but that secession was higher on the list of priorities than equal rights. Still, this statement is true either way. To quote: “On November 26, 1947, Mr. S. J. Chelvanayagam said ‘why can’t we, the Tamils, have a right to secede from the rest’. This was offered not after the Sinhala Only Act in 1956, but even before Independence in 1948.” (http://www.sinhaya.com/tamil_grievances.html)

      That’s a quick reference but since there’s so much propaganda floating around, I’ll give you a better reference to look at later. Read: A.J. Wilson, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947-1977, Honolulu: University of Hawai Press, 1994, p.128.

      As for the IDP situation, “all hell” will NOT “break loose if any remaining cadres get their hands on weapons stashes and disrupt the peace” for the simple reason that there are no weapons stashes to be gotten.

      I wish we had more clairvoyants of your calibre to explain these things to us mere mortals. The areas in the North are heavily mined and weapons caches are buried deep underground. They aren’t lying around in plain sight to be picked up on the way to the market. Clearing operations are still ongoing and it requires a massive effort to remove the millions of mines that have been strewn about during the final stages of the conflict. Even recently, the govt. acquired new demining equipment to speed up the process. New weapons caches are being discovered frequently; at least according to the govt. (http://defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20090923_06) I see no reason to believe these reports are false.

      “You must be nuts”

      Yeah, I could be. But the above statement might also relieve your puzzlement over why some might choose to “simply throw unconsidered brickbats” at your opinions, especially considering how “unconsidered” the sentence leading to your own brickbat was. Believe me, whatever brickbat was thrown back, it wasn’t “unconsidered”, but well deliberated ;-)

      I obsess about racism because it is very often at the core of our beliefs about what is justice, what is equality, what is security and nation building—all the things you said we should talk about instead. Very often, it is unconscious. I am trying to raise it to consciousness

      You want to raise consciousness on the racist presumptions of others, no doubt a noble quest and a scrutiny to which each should willingly subject oneself. The question is, are you willing to be held up to scrutiny yourself?

      Let me go on to mention a few gems you’ve quoted which may help you with this task: You asked whether Sinhalese identity was “The inability to get your act together still after 60 years of independence”. So what did the Tamil community do to get its act together? Stopped funding Prabhakaran and his death machine? Not march in Westminister square on the “Save-the-tiger” campaign? Curious isn’t it, as Dayan J. highlighted a few days back, how no one is marching to “free-the-idps”? But forgetting that aside, what’s interesting is that you expect so much from one community, but nothing at all from the other. Oh yes, you expect the majority community, the one with “all the power”, to make “all the change”. The only trifling little detail is, this same majority community didn’t have access to 1/3 of the country for 30 years and were afraid of having to concede perhaps even 2/3 had the Eelam theory gone to plan. There were some who joked about having to jump into the sea should the Greater Eelam theory be finally realized.

      Incidentally, this is the same majority community which is a minority in the country’s biggest city, who were constantly puzzled by what the heck more they could give to appease the Tamils without of course, conceding the one thing they just could not do: compromising the sovereignty of the country. Tamil was a national language (despite there being practical implementation issues), education was free for all and did not have an ethnic bias, the Sinhalese had paid overtime for crimes committed by only a minority of them, stoically enduring bombings and shootings, not even reacting when their most holy shrine, the temple of the tooth was attacked in VPs desperate bid for a reaction to bolster his cause and yet, somehow, the problem was persisting, and was even nearing 30 years.

      All the while, they did a reasonably good job of differentiating between “Tamils” and “Terrorists while people like you do not see it fit to extend that same courtesy to them, choosing to brand them all as “bloody-minded” and “barbarians”, your words. A racial bias to question perhaps?

      Perhaps before you pass damning judgment of such breathtaking scale, it would be instructive to actually gain an understanding of how the people you proceed to judge might be experiencing things?

      The bottom line is that all Sri Lankans have been victims of a multitude of events that have snowballed into the situation we have today. If you are willing to look at the situation without being ethnically biased and with some compassion for all human beings involved, perhaps you’ll be able to see that. These were not caused by just one all-encompassing evil as you would like to interpret.

      You also need to understand that one of the reasons that we’ve not been able to make progress is because half the fight was never for equality, but for secession. A fair fight for equality was hijacked by a racist fight for secession. Equality, we’ve already made great progress with to the point where what remains to be done are mainly adjustments to attitudes, a problem in even *developed* countries (http://www.sinhaya.com/tamil_grievances.html) . Read Pradeep J’s analysis also.

      Don’t think I’m saying everything is hunky-dory. I’m not blind to the problems which still needs to be solved. I just don’t think false generalizations will help and that progress will have to be gradual, one lunatic at a time.

    • Disgusted

      Somewhat Disgusted,
      I think you’re trying to write your own history of Sinhala-Tamil politics in Sri Lanka.
      You distinctly claimed that “Secession was on the agenda way before equality thanks to the elite Tamil Nationalists.” I interpreted that (correctly, I think) in terms of chronology— and said that was a false claim. Ponnambalam was the earlier leader of the Tamils, and he wanted equal representation, not seccession. Now you change your story and say that you meant that the stronger demand was for secession than for equality. That too is factually incorrect—seccession only entered the scene as a serious demand in the 1970s. A one-off comment does not a movement make.

      Chelvanayagam from Illankai Thamil Arasi Kachchi, the leading Tamil party after independence, wanted a sort of federalism or at least autonomy for Tamil areas, and only changed his mind in the 1970s. It was in the 1970s that the call for separatism gained strength. So Chelvanayagam said ‘Why can’t we, the Tamils, have a right to secede from the rest’ in 1947. It was a fair question. So, what’s the answer to that question? Why can’t they secede if they want to? Do only the Sinhalese have the right to sovereignty? At any rate, that appears to be a one-off statement, given that he belonged to the “Federal” Party.

      Your description of Tamil nationalism as seemingly rabid and racialist even pre-LTTE is extemely intriguing. You seem shocked that the Tamils dare demand anything. You demonise their demand for equality, for federalism, and for secession. Cheeky devils, aren’t they, these Tamil buggers, daring to voice their opinions and desires, daring to want to forge their own destiny? What would you have liked them to do? Demand 15% representation because they make up 15% of the population? Or would that too have been too much too?

      As a people with a very long history in Sri Lanka, they had a right to ask for their sovereignty. The land they had lived in for centuries was going to be part of a newly constituted nation—they had a right to have a say in the constitution of that nation, whether they wanted to risk being colonised again, this time by an indigenuous group, or make up a multicultural nation. The Muslims in India spoke up for their own land. But SL Tamils did not demand secession until the 1970s. They negotiated, from the 1930s to the 1970s, first for equal rights, then for area autonomy, to no avail.

      I, personally, don’t agree with secession, but I don’t think it is racist to demand a separate nation for your own community, especially so as to avoid or shake off racial/ethnic domination by another group. If that is racist, then de-colonizing movements are racist too. The community may have thought that it had a better chance for survival that way, and history has shown that it had good reason to think so. It is racist however to demand a whole country for yourself and to insist that the minority groups within it have no say, but to live (or die) at your pleasure. Remind you of another colonialism, eh?

      That they finally made their demand for secession with guns pointed was due to the cards history dealt out to them. But it doesn’t take away their moral right to ask for secession, or whatever else they felt would suit them.

      You said the majority community was unable to concede the one thing they just could not do: compromising the sovereignty of the country. They are conflating their own sovereignty as a people with the sovereignty of the “country”. That’s why it’s difficult to distinguish between Sinhalese chauvinism and patriotism. “A fair fight for equality was hijacked by a racist fight for secession,” you said. Who are you to decide what is a fair demand from the Tamils with regard to their own self-determination, and what is not? You talk as if the whole country belongs to you! Oops, my mistake—it does!

      It was the Sinhalese task to negotiate with this community, give them at least something they asked for, in return for your getting to keep the country intact. But your folks didn’t want to approach it as a quid pro quo deal. You thought you could get everything for nothing, until guns and bombs entered the picture. And then it was too late.

      As for your contention that there are weapons caches buried deep underground, I think they are more likely buried deep in MR’s and his brothers’ heads. I don’t easily believe the words of murderers.

      What did the Tamil community do to get its act together? They were scrambling around trying to find countries that would accept them, busy being refugees, and trying to save their own lives and that of their families from total wreckage. You’re asking a people in a war zone for 30 years what they were doing? Why is it remarkable that the diaspora is not out marching to save the IDPs? Why do such protest marches if you no longer have hope in the UN and the IC? Also, protest marches don’t work on a recalcitrant government, which has teamed up with China and Pakistan. Why don’t you ask why SL citizens aren’t out protesting the incarceration of fellow-citizens?

      The way you describe what Sinhalese did for Tamils—I’m so impressed! Now I’m really stumped about why all my cousins, and nieces and nephews and their families ran away to other countries, flushing their SL passports down the toilets of European and British and Canadian airports, and offering themselves up as refugees in alien lands. Free education, eh? I must tell them they missed a whopping deal! And Tamil a national language too (except, you say, they forgot to implement it)! Not to mention the many progroms you sent their way. You’re a real joker, aren’t you?

      Yes, the majority do such a good job of differentiating between Tamils and Tigers that they’ve got a quarter million Tamils locked up for the sins of the Tigers, and cite Tiger nationalism as the reason why they they can’t negotiate with the Tamils.

      What’s important now is not for Tamils to apologise for their nationalism but for the majority community to realise that they have a moral responsibility to attempt a real negotiation, that they always had this responsibility. And that doesn’t mean the majority community dealing with co-opted Tamil reps, and running fake elections.

      Tell your joking Sinhalese friends that what’s funnier than jumping into the sea is being on the run for your life for 30 years and winding up behind barbed wire.

      By the way, I did not call Sinhalese “barbarians” and “bloody minded”. I was referring to some fascist guy’s boast about Sinhalese identity and how they were prepared to shed blood to the last drop to protect that identity, that Tamils had no right to devolution, etc, and I asked what that IDENTITY consisted of. I was describing what impressions one gets of Sinhalese identity from people like him. I also acknowledged that others held more progressive notions of Sinhalese identity.

    • Disgusted

      undergroundview,
      The unconscious is easier to prove than God’s existence. But you don’t have to think of it in terms of something that is buried in the mind and irretrievable to consciousness. You can bring it out and verify it with questioning. One meaning is based on other meanings, and these on others. It’s a series of implications. For those who tell you that they are not bothered cos it doesn’t affect them or anyone they know, you might want to ask who they mean by ‘anyone they know’. Does that refer to just their family, their village or neighbourhood? Does it include acquaintances, those of other ethnic communities? You could ask them if 50 Sinhalese people who they didn’t know ended up accidentally behind the barbed wire, would they then protest? Or not? If yes, why would they break their proscription on interfering about people who they don’t know.

      Nobody’s going to come up to you and admit they are racist. Yet racism has a lot to do with SL’s situation. There has to be a way to approach it and tackle it. Otherwise, it will get in the way of real change.

    • undergroundview

      I feel I’ve learned a lot during this debate. But one thing strikes me. Everyone puts a lot of effort into proclaiming the truth about what has happened (and I’m grateful for the efforts). But even if Disgusted – or Somewhat Disgusted, or the good professor – had somehow been enlightened with a godlike knowledge of the deeds and motives of everyone on this island from the first arrival till now, and explained it all – it wouldn’t prove very much about today’s politics.

      For none of us acts on reality, on what really happened. What we act on is perception – what we THINK happened. And that is much more messy and – more importantly – is very different for the different communities.

      We get our view of the world from what we are told, and what we see. If we come across evidence (or charismatic persuasion) that conflicts with our model, we may change our mental model, or we may rationalise the evidence away. But our model influences who we believe, what we write off as propaganda (they would say that), to whom we give the benefit of the doubt (he probably didn’t mean it like that), and of whom we remain stubbornly suspicious. Bad acts from allies may just be an aberration, or one rotten apple who is not typical. Bad acts from opponents just show the depravity, the untrustworthiness of the other.

      And that’s the people of good will. The honest, well-meaning, moderate ones. The ones who live in a state that has just defeated ruthless terrorists with a minimum of unavoidable bloodshed, and the ones who live is a hostile and suspicious state that killed innocent members of their community and views them as traitors if they step out of line.

      So many people share the same island, but still live in different worlds. Not completely different worlds, since they have, so to speak, one foot in reality. But worlds that are different enough to make actions and words sometimes inexplicable to others. We may understand the words, but still be left wondering how can anyone possibly believe such nonsense? And if they don’t believe what they say, they must be lying, no?

      Even when we grudgingly feel they may have a point, where our side may have let itself down a little, it can be hard to hear our opponents over the sound of the things they are not saying – the grievances they are not addressing, and the harm they “won’t” acknowledge (or cannot see, buried beneath the harm we did to them).

      So I’m glad of the chance to listen to many views of the conflict.

      Thanks.

    • Disgusted

      undergroundview,
      That’s why freedom of information and the media is so important. I believe that if this freedom had been available in SL, more people would be on the same page because we would be able to see the situation more clearly, whatever it was. Perhaps that’s why the government’s curtailment of press freedom is so crucial to keeping it in power—it keeps people more strongly divided and polarised in their perception, and thus unable to affiliate and organize.

    • SomewhatDisgusted

      Disgusted >>

      My aim was to show you that racialism is not a phenomenon limited to one race. By simply saying that “A one-off comment does not a movement make”, you aim to dismiss the similar racialism that underlined Elite Tamil politics as well. All the better isn’t it, since it helps to demonize one race more than the other, when this kind of parochial thinking is a common trait to most people.

      You ask: “Why can’t we, the Tamils, have a right to secede from the rest’ in 1947. It was a fair question. So, what’s the answer to that question? Why can’t they secede if they want to? Do only the Sinhalese have the right to sovereignty?”

      We cannot forge a nation with each ethnic group getting its own little ethnic enclave. That kind of logic, carried to its ultimate conclusion, would require a mini-little Eelam for each individual in order to enjoy equal rights, after all, all human beings have some differences between them don’t they? If you don’t consider that racialism, I’m not sure what is? I’m completely against ethnic/racial politics, regardless of who is practicing it. The idea of “Sri Lanka” should certainly never be about one ethnicity only, it should be about breaking down those ethnic barriers to forge a united country. Some compromises are necessary by all races, but please, don’t go on with your usual extremist interpretation, your personal forte by the look of it, that I’m implying domination of one ethnic group by another.

      You also say: “Cheeky devils, aren’t they, these Tamil buggers, daring to voice their opinions and desires, daring to want to forge their own destiny?”

      Daring to forge a similarly race based destiny perhaps? I suppose that doesn’t buttress my point? It does seem quite cheeky also, when there’s a demand of 2/3 of the island as an exclusive homeland for 10% of the population. I suppose that’s not indicative of anything to you either? Oh yeah,the rebuttal, the Sinhalese consider the entire country to be theirs, which as usual, excuses all forms of racism in return. But nice try with trying to portray me as saying that Tamils don’t have rights. Well done!

      And you say: “I, personally, don’t agree with secession, but I don’t think it is racist to demand a separate nation for your own community, especially so as to avoid or shake off racial/ethnic domination by another group.”

      Here, we disagree. I think I’ve explained why earlier. I cannot form a consistent world view by endorsing any form of racialism, and to split up a country to which *all races* have rights to on a per race basis is, well, racist. I have already said on multiple occasions, that any person claiming that “Sri Lanka is for Sinhalese only” is flat out racist and wrong. Mind you I consider claims of exclusive Tamil homelands, Thesawalamai laws etc. to be equally racist. There should be no place in the country which is the exclusive ethnic ghetto of any community. Tamils jolly well should have a right to move to any place they please in the South, as the Sinhalese should to move to any place they please in the north. A citizen should be able to communicate with the govt. in the language of their choice. Those to me would all be signs of a true democracy.

      What I have tried to do, is to highlight the fact that racialism is not a one sided phenemenon, and tackling this problem is not a matter of tackling one community’s racialism only.

      What you have done, is to justify Tamil racism.

      So what is your logic? Any amount of racism is fine if the other party can be shown to be racist? Terrorism is fine if the other party is found to be terrorist? You can rationalize anything that way can’t you?

      Further, I have never tried to justify ethnic domination by the Sinhalese. What I’ve tried to do is to paint a picture of how an average Sinhalese might think about the problem, now, many decades later, where the people today were not even alive when these original events were set in motion. That’s of course, so you could gain an understanding of how someone else might be perceiving the problem, and I’ve clearly stated so. Of course, the whole point seems to have been lost on you, why understand the fears of another when it’s so much more easier to condemn them for crimes committed by their ancestors right? Oh yeah, they are “reaping what they sowed”. Sure, the little kids getting blown up in buses sure as hell deserve it.

      Unlike you, my concern is not for one race solely. I refuse to dehumanize even the so called “terrorists”. My world view is consistent, because I do not, and will not support racist politics, whichever faction it comes from.

      Having said all that, I do agree with you that Tamils have mostly got the bad end of the stick. As far as I can see, it’s not because they are on average any more or less racist, but simply because the Sinhalese are more dominant in numbers. Fixing the problem requires fixing attitudes of all communities and I personally believe this can only be done by forging a Sri Lankan identity. This does *not* mean losing one’s ethnic identity in the process, merely transferring allegiance from ethnic identities to a wider national identity.

      Here too, we’ve made a great deal of progress. More people than ever identify themselves as “Sri Lankans” as opposed to identifying themselves by ethnicity. Tamil is a national language, and you are welcome to point out instances where there’s ethnicity based discrimination. One main immovable faction which scuttled any further progress was the LTTE. I therefore support their timely demise without reservation. The next phase is tackling the increased nationalism that the LTTE’s “removal” entailed. I don’t see this as a good thing, but mind you, Sri Lanka is a far cry from what it was 50 years ago. Perhaps, if the Tamil diaspora now take on a responsible role, and actually utilize the billions of dollars formerly used for death and destruction, and instead channel it towards Tamil language education, cultural programs and the building of this ethnicity-independent Sri Lankan identity, we will be able to see accelerated progress.

    • Disgusted

      SomewhatDisgusted,
      Since you say that Tamils are racist in wanting to have autonomy for their own community, on what basis do we argue that seeking independence from the colonial European powers was not racist?

      Sinhalese are not only a dominant community in SL, they are an overwhelming majority. So to allow them to settle everywhere without placing any ethnic limits would mean that they will in actuality be forming Sinhalese ghettos all over the country, and getting all the benefits of that (support from the community, the ability to dominate and dictate district needs) while the minorities will get no chance to do so. In Singapore, for example, the government dismantled the kampongs where the Malays lived and forced them to live all over the country. That meant in effect that they could no longer exist as a community. In terms of ethnic-based businesses such as running food stalls and running sundry shops, the Malays cannot run viable businesses because there isn’t a large enough market, a critical mass, for them in any location, whereas the Chinese can set up shop anywhere and thrive because they are always surrounded by their community. The end of the kampongs led to the disappearance of much of Malay culture from the Singapore landscape. They now had to assimilate to survive. The Chinese lost none of their ethnic culture. Thankfully, they have ethnic-based organisations through which they can mobilise for their needs, but presumably, in your vision, you would not even allow that.

      I don’t agree that the Tamils should have 2/3 of the country, but there should be negotiations. Don’t use that 2/3 demand as an excuse not to negotiate because that 2/3 demand was not made by Tamils but by the Tigers as a terrorist force.

      Your perspective is that of a majority community. Majorities everywhere are famous for being blind to their own cultural domination. I have been a minority wherever I went. I survived, yes, and relatively well, but only by abandoning my own culture and assimilating.

      You think Obama would have won if he wasn’t half-white, if he hadn’t proven himself in top white institutions, and become quite Anglo in his thinking? I read an article that showed that he had a more elite white ancestry than even the Clintons and Bushes. That sure must have helped him win. It also helped that his father was a Kenyan immigrant and Harvard-trained, and that therefore he had no family history of slavery which would allow the whites to look down on him? And what happens every time he sticks up for his community, like in the Henry Louis Gates incident? He has to backpedal and apologise. Even though it was clearly a racist incident, he, even as President, had no right to say so. He is not allowed to be Black except in showing off his basketball skills. On the other hand, Bush could talk about a racial “axis of evil” in the world and get voted right back into power. Bush had to utterly destroy their economy before they would vote him and his party out. Ah, the silent privileges of being white in America.

      America has the kind of integrated system that you dream about. So how come the Blacks are an oppressed minority? Didn’t they have to deliberately start Affirmative Action programmes to allow Blacks to survive? But then you probably wouldn’t agree with that because it is race-based. You would argue for a meritocracy, but that meritocracy would always be majority race-based in actuality. That’s the reality of power.

      I wonder at you suggesting that the Tamil diiaspora should use their money to build Tamil language education and cultural programmes. Wouldn’t that be racist in your book–you know, Tamils helping only Tamils to build their own culture. And wouldn’t that contradict the building of an “ethnicity-independent” Sri Lanka? If you said, build a “multicultural” Sri Lanka, then I would understand. But your use of the term “ethnicity-independent” Sri Lanka suggests that all ethnic cultures must be abandoned to construct a national identity. Wouldn’t that be a very heavy price to pay for a national identity?

      In Singapore, for about 30 years, we had a very strong national identity, but it rested on the development of a fusion of all the existing cultures. It required a strong (authoritarian) leader who deliberately promoted this in his rhetoric, and who used English-language education to bind the various races together. At the same time, facilities were provided for the various languages, so we did not lose our ethnic cultures. The common English-language space allowed for various communities to fuse together and understand each other’s culture. It also allowed people from the ethnic minorities to have equal access to political power, for eg, in becoming political leaders. But would that work in Sri Lanka, where there’s little continuity in political leadership? What’s to prevent one leader from changing the game? Also, would Sinhalese agree to use a neutral language like English to provide a common space for all ethnic groups? Another option would be to make everyone learn Sinhalese and Tamil. That kind of sacrifice must be made if you want a really multicultural society without establishing all these Tamil and Sinhalese autonomous areas.

      There are all sorts of other ways to protect minorities without establishing ethnic-specific areas, for eg, providing quotas to ensure the minorities participate at all levels of life, providing them real legislative power within the political system so that when laws are tabled that go against their interests, they are able to vote them down. I don’t however see that happening in Sri Lanka. Lacking that political will, then protection must be given to minorities in terms of area autonomy. Personally, I would not choose to live in such areas because I enjoy mixing with people of other cultures. But perhaps these Tamil areas, given an assurance of security and their autonomy, will find their own way to be multicultural, to open up participation and habitation to other groups.

      I think there is a misunderstanding of my position. I am not saying Tamils MUST ask for secession, but that they should not be treated as vile and racist when they do so. Their demand can then be treated as a basis for negotiation. Because they do have a right to self-determination, just as much as Sinhalese have. Why do you give Sinhalese the right to demand that the country be intact, but Tamils not the right to secede? It is not written anywhere that the whole island must be one political unit. It never existed that way pre-colonialism, did it? It is only when they realise that there is nothing anywhere (except in terms of living up to a chauvinistic history) to say that Sri Lanka must be one political unit, that they will realise that they do have to make real offers to share power with other groups in order to keep the island as one political unit. There’s no justification to bring age old dynastic politics and ambitions into the creation of a modern, multicultural nation.

    • undergroundview

      @Disgusted: To be fair, I don’t think anyone in this debate is saying Tamils are “vile and racist”, least of all because of a desire by some for secession.

      On the other hand, it might remove some of the heat from this discussion if you felt able to concede that there HAS in fact been racism on the part of the LTTE, and on the part of “ordinary Tamils” — not just on the part of the majority community and the state.

      Some claim that racism is necessarily and only something done by a powerful group to a less powerful group. That’s nonsense – and dangerous nonsense to boot. I’m sure it’s not what you’re saying, but it might reassure people to hear you say it.

      That’s probably the easy bit though. I suspect we do agree on that. I hope so. It’s pretty basic.

      @Somewhat Disgusted, Disgusted & Pradeep J

      There is the more difficult discussion of which of our policies and actions are racist.

      There’s the discussion of whether Tamil secession implies a mono-ethnic homeland, and whether (if so) that’s a racist policy. Or whether advocating a less “pure” but still Tamil-dominated state or region with (therefore) a Sinhalese minority is a racist policy – or just a pragmatic reaction to a Sinhalese-dominated state which has failed (quite badly at times) to protect Tamil rights.

      And whether on the other hand a state which fails to protect the rights of its minorities is racist. And whether advocating its continuance (with or without reform) is racist.

      There is also the question of how well a Tamil-dominated autonomous region or state would respect the rights of its Sinhalese, Muslim , Burgher or whatever minorities. If that concern were justified (and one might point to the LTTE expulsion of Muslims and their ruthless suppression of dissent as giving grounds for concern), then the new arrangement would be morally no better – merely pragmatically better for a different group. Does this mean that any decision either way would be made on racial – or racist – grounds?

      Or do we think that a Tamil state would learn the lessons, and do better?

      But I think what is causing anger here a perception of hypocrisy. Here’s a question:

      Which of the following statements is racist:
      (a) both,
      (b) neither,
      (c) only one.
      And why is that?
      – it’s racist to advocate a Sinhalese-dominated unitary state,
      – it’s racist to advocate splitting such a state on racial lines.

    • undergroundview

      @Disgusted – lots of interesting questions on how race or identity can be protected, or can need protection. I’m not sure about the way you frame the question though.

      Your example is telling: “America has the kind of integrated system that you dream about. So how come the Blacks are an oppressed minority? Didn’t they have to deliberately start Affirmative Action programmes to allow Blacks to survive?”

      Firstly, ,survival (as individuals or a race or group) was never at stake there.

      I’m not even sure Blacks ARE an oppressed minority. Sure, poor blacks may well be. And that oppression comes from without (lack of resources, for instance) and within (penalising progress and self improvement as “acting white”) and from the very fact of being poor and oppressed (a lack.of role models, for example).

      But poor whites are an oppressed minority too. Can you imagine the outcry there would be if people referred to African Americans by the corresponding term to that used for these “White Trash”? There are white communities with little educational attainment, little migration, and poor employment.

      Interestingly, Asian communities seem to do rather well in the US. Something to do with a commitment to education, perhaps?

      I’m not convinced it’s actually about race, except insofar as race is just another visible division. Ireland and Yugoslavia were able to have deep divisions without any significant racial difference. And in the absence of anything else to fight about, some people will brutally attack fans of a rival sports team!

      So in Sri Lanka, though we may call the divisions “racial” or “racist” – or sectarian or bigoted – I suspect it’s just human tribalism at work. The need to belong and to exclude. An urge to compete and dominate.

      But there is another side to humanity. Our ability to cooperate, to organise, and form healthy societies. Empathy. Common feeling. Whether or not any colonised territory has completely “got its act together”, it’s clear that some have done better than Sri Lanka. So it is POSSIBLE to avoid war, communal violence, and maybe even institutionalised inequality.

      The question is how to get there from here. It probably isn’t by labelling each other as racist.

    • Heshan

      “On the other hand, it might remove some of the heat from this discussion if you felt able to concede that there HAS in fact been racism on the part of the LTTE, and on the part of “ordinary Tamils” — not just on the part of the majority community and the state.”

      Sinhalese ran the Government, Sinhalese came up with 2 Constitutions (both of which were failures), Sinhalese were in charge of economic policy, Sinhalese controlled the military…

      The list is endless. Anyone can see that Sinhalese ran the show. When you run the show for 60 years, and you fail miserably, there’s no point putting the blame on others, whom you treated as 2nd class anyway.

    • Heshan

      For the record, I am a Sinhalese who accepts these failures… I have gone so far as to have renounced my Sri Lankan citizenship in favor of a North American one. Long before Mahinda came to power, I saw that Sri Lanka was a failed state. There is no pride in failure; the best one can do is make a graceful exit and wait for a better day, or choose a different path altogether. Unfortunately, the myth of separation, the aura of the illusive “terrorist” has so been ingrained into the collective mindset of the majority community, that many do not see the failed State for what it is: a failed state. Hence, the “better day”, the day when the majority community would open its eyes and acknowledge its misdeeds in a real meaningful, proactive way – as opposed to a few articles by lone journalists – it is impossible to predict when that day would come. One would have thought that the tsunami would finally bring the country to its knees, but even that was not enough (even the tsunami was an opportunity to steal and rob). This, unfortunately, is the sorry state of affairs on the island.

    • Observer

      Heshan, I finally understand what you are. You are a quitter! I highly doubt you’re a Sinhalese but I’ll take your word for it.
      Sri Lanka can fail to the brink and I can’t give up. Because there are few million people there I refuse to give up on. They can betray me 10 times over but I couldn’t betray them once. Maybe it’s love….
      Kind like you are better off assimilating to other nationalities. Nothing of value was lost to us. Good luck!

    • Disgusted

      undergroundview,
      I realise my opinion on racism will annoy you, but it is my considered opinion, derived from studies in the area. Racism is (and must be) defined in terms of access to power if it is to have any analytical cache. Any community that has the reins to power, the ability to impact on another community is the one with the capacity for racism. It could be a minority community with access to power (like the Indians in Fiji or Chinese in Philippines) but usually this refers to majority communities. A community without power can be as racist as it wants (barring violence) but it cannot affect the dominant community’s life and the privileges that community enjoys. Most political and economic systems are racist in their structures (structural racism)–i.e. they work to sustain the power of one community.

      A majority community which refuses to employ members of the minority is being racist–it is using its dominant numbers to exercise racial power, to deprive minorities of jobs in a way that would cripple them, given the disparity in number. But minority communities hiring only their own kind are not being racist because they can’t dent the majority community’s access to jobs. They are merely attempting to redress their own group’s marginalization.

      The Tamil demand (separate from LTTE) to secede in order to escape domination by a powerful ethnic group is not in itself a racist demand (although it is based on race)–though it might well be an unwise demand. The majority community’s demand that they have control of the entire polity, and that all the land should come under their control is most definitely about attaining racial power at the expense of other groups–and is thus racist. If they show intent to share power (in a real way), then it would not be racist.

      The LTTE demand for a Tamil Eelam however is racist because here a minority group was using military power and violence to enforce their will on another group. Obviously a minority gang beating up members of a majority group is being racist.

      So that’s why I say racism must always be defined in relation to the possession of power and the intent to dominate.

      But yes, as you note, there are class issues too. In the US, there are oppressed whites–oppressed by class. But that does not mean that Black oppression does not take place on a racial dimension–even the Black elite have relatively less political power. With affirmative action programmes and progressive education, however, this situation has been improving.

      You can verify whether there is racial oppression in a country (for eg, between American Blacks and Whites) by comparing rates of performance between the groups, their rate of political representation, representation on the cultural scene, access to good education and other facilities, etc. You can also verify it through their representations in the media. For eg, Rev. White, the black pastor, was villified for saying that 9/11 was God’s punishment on Anglo American society and their imperialism. Yet for many years, white preachers had been saying exactly the same thing in those terms without being decried by their society. (In fact, Rev. White had been quoting a white preacher in his speech but that attribution was edited out in the media representations). Why the dissimilarity in response and treatment?

      You don’t want to consider race (and racism) as a determinant of a group’s performance, yet you suggest that Asians fare better in US because they believe in education. Are you saying all Asians believe in education (as opposed to other races, say Blacks)? Isn’t that racialising? Rather does it not have to do with the circumstances, the history of their presence in US? The Asians who migrated there were looking for a better life–they went in search of economic betterment. So obviously, they made the effort. There are lots of other Asians who value being in their ‘native’ land, and education and success are not their priorities. It is also a matter of class–immigration policies attracted the educated Asian classes to America. Blacks however were abducted to be slaves in US. You need to consider the racial history of their migration and the whole history of Anglo racism against them to consider their performance in the US. From where were Blacks supposed to develop a culture of belief in education when education was denied to them until relatively recently?

      With regard to the SL situation, the two battling groups, Sinhalese and Tamils are not racially different but rather ethnically different. They perceive themselves however as being of two different races. So issues of racism are relevant. You want me to say the two groups are equally guilty of racism. To say so would mean failing to distinguish between a majority community’s will as a group to dominate another group and the minority group’s will to resist such domination. In addition, the majority group has a state behind it and is armed, whereas the minority group has been disarmed and enjoys no political power. How anyone can equate them is way beyond my ken. I can only speculate that there is political intent behind such a false equation.

      I guess I’ve answered your question. Only the first statement is racist. The other is not if the decision to split a nation along racial lines is aimed at giving each group a fair share of power and access to rights and autonomy. It may be ‘racialist’ but not racist.

    • undergroundview

      @Disgusted: thanks for responding.

      Your view of racism does not annoy me – I don’t often get annoyed by differences of opinion or perspective. But I believe you are wrong. I don’t think that word means what you think it does.

      I’m aware of the academic and populist opinion that ties racism so closely to power, but it seems to me that you can only sustain such a claim by totally externalising racism – and that seems to evacuate the core meaning of the term. Maybe agenda is clouding analysis.

      You cannot divorce racism from attitudes, motivations, prejudices, and intolerance. If you want a term that simply means actions that harm another [racial] group, you’ll need to come up with a different word for it. This one is taken.

      You say: “Racism is (and must be) defined in terms of access to power if it is to have any analytical cache. Any community that has the reins to power, the ability to impact on another community is the one with the capacity for racism.”

      No. You can analyse motivations and attitudes as well as behaviour – and there are a number of well constructed experiments in the social sciences that attempt just that. And in the case of racism, there is value in understanding both how it is worked out in a power play, and what psychological and social landscape underlies it.

      Nor can you limit the capacity for racism to a community with the reins to power. You hinted at that yourself when you mentioned power relationships on a smaller scale. Power is not a unitary concept. There are many sorts of power, and people participate in a myriad of power relationships. Nobody is always and only the victim, or always and only the perpetrator of racial discrimination. It’s not like “Asimov’s laws of robotics”, whereby every robot must put his safety before that of any human. It’s complex.

      This truth is summed up in the saying that there is no oppressor like the oppressed. Sometimes when the shoe is on the other foot, the same human tribalist, group dynamic, communalist attitudes cause the same behaviour in reverse.

      What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If it’s racism when a person in a position of power makes blanket derogatory generalisations about a whole race and, because of their intolerance, acts or speaks against individuals or the group — then it must be racism when a person not in a position of power also makes similar unwarranted generalisations, and displays intolerance.

      The proposition that it’s only racism when the powerful do it fails.

      It fails linguistically – the dictionary (any dictionary) includes attitudes in the definition of racism.

      It fails in fairness. If it is racism to make unwarranted derogatory generalisations about whole racial groups, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s an employer saying “you can’t trust a Tamil” or a potential employee saying “you can’t trust the Sinhalese” – the attitudes are the same.

      Perhaps most seriously it fails pragmatically and rhetorically – there can be no meeting of the minds and no real dialogue if one community insists that its racist attitudes somehow “don’t count”, because of a relative lack of power.

      You cannot expect someone to agree that they are fully wrong and you are fully right, when there are manifest faults on both sides. And what conflict has ever had fault on only one side? Such agenda-led analysis can only hold back dialogue and understanding.

      It’s wrong morally, as well as factually.

    • undergroundview

      @Disgusted: “You want me to say the two groups are equally guilty of racism. To say so would mean failing to distinguish between a majority community’s will as a group to dominate another group and the minority group’s will to resist such domination. In addition, the majority group has a state behind it and is armed, whereas the minority group has been disarmed and enjoys no political power. How anyone can equate them is way beyond my ken. I can only speculate that there is political intent behind such a false equation.”

      I don’t want you to say both groups are equally guilty of racism. It might be better to say that [too many?] members of both groups are guilty, in various ways, of racism. And it’s hardly just those two groups.

      Again, I’m not equating the racist actions of members of both communities in numerical terms or in severity of effect. Clearly people with more power have greater scope for indulging their racism.

      Finally, a word of advice. Don’t go looking for hidden political intent behind every difference of perspective. If we can’t assume good faith (if only as a working theory) in a risk-free forum like this, then what chance is there for reconciliation in the country?

    • Disgusted

      undergroundview,
      I think I am perfectly justified in going looking for hidden perspectives, especially since I appear to be on the right track. Let me quote you:
      “This truth is summed up in the saying that there is no oppressor like the oppressed.”

      That says everything to me with regard to your hidden perspectives. I suspect your perspective may be hidden even from you. Please contemplate what you meant by that statement.

      At any rate, the comment you made about Asians doing better in America because of their belief in education already showed me that you believe in the concept of ‘race’ itself. I don’t. I think race is a fiction, something that people conjure up and imagine–it doesn’t actually exist as a real thing. Racism however is real.

      Since I don’t want to quote you out of context, here are your following lines where you explain your above comment:
      “Sometimes when the shoe is on the other foot, the same human tribalist, group dynamic, communalist attitudes cause the same behaviour in reverse.”

      I have no problems with that. Racism breeds racism. It can breed nothing else–that is the problem with it. But to consider an oppressed group to be more oppressive in its racism than the group that perpetrated the racial oppression in the first place–that really dents your credibility.

      Let me also say that it is sheer arrogance for you to assume that the SL Tamil group should come to the reconciliation table with good faith, given what they have had as a population to endure for the past 60 years, given too that they are now in IDP camps, guilty of being war victims, that even those not in the camps need passes to travel anywhere in the country. For these past 60 years, only one thing kept them alive–money from abroad; not from their gracious fellow citizens. On what grounds do you justify your demand for good faith from them?

      I will no longer trouble myself to share contemporary race theory with you. You can look it up yourself. Just click on ‘racism wikipedia’–that will bring you up to date on how racism has been thought about and theorised since the 1960s . Take a good look at where your concept of “motivation” features in racism theory.

      Perhaps you’d like to tell me too on what basis the Sri Lankan demand to break away from the British empire was not racist, whereas presumably the Tamil desire to secede from Sri Lanka is racist.

    • SomewhatDisgusted

      Apologies for not being able to keep up due to other commitments. I feel we’ve now started to address the core issues, as convoluted as they may be. Let’s see where we can go from here.

      Disgusted >>

      It’s a logical fallacy to question someone’s motives in order to dismiss his/her argument. You need to address the argument, and not (accidentally) throw up red-herring fallacies which serve no purpose in advancing the discussion. “Undergroundview” has mentioned several key points as to why racialism cannot be dismissed (nor justified) due to a relative lack of power. You need to address those points if you want to convince others that there is some merit to your argument and if not, probably reconsider your own position.

      Also, I will address the rest of the points you raised in a later post. I believe I should address some of the points raised by Undergroundviews first as I did not have an opportunity to do so for a while.

      Undergroundview >>

      Thank you for sticking with this debate. I’m indeed happy to read your perspectives on the conflict and would like to compliment you for maintaining a rational and balanced viewpoint. It’s a rare difference from the usual forceful and strident tones adopted by many on this forum, something to which I too confess to be guilty of at times. It’s an extremely welcome difference from the single-sided, black & white perspectives presented by many.

      You said: “What we act on is perception – what we THINK happened.”

      I agree. Even academic accounts tend to be somewhat biased because this is a very human/emotional issue for many, there’s way too much propaganda and the historical roots themselves go back beyond living memory. That’s why I believe that, regardless of who started it or who continued it, this is a humanitarian crisis and any solution to this must be based on a firm logical and moral foundation, resulting in a consistent world view that cannot be falsified by any party. The stance I believe is rational to adopt is that racialism of any kind should not be tolerated. Anything else simply flies in the face of all logic and all moral advancement we’ve made to date. The racialism that “Disgusted” is justifying as necessary in order to preserve Tamil culture, can IMO, be easily falsified and therefore cannot form the basis for a consistent worldview. Nor can the racialism of the likes of Gen. Sarath Fonseka, who fancy that Sri Lanka belongs mainly to the Sinhalese, be justified.

      You’ve raised some additional questions that I too would like to see discussed in order to gain alternative insights, particularly the one about whether or not ethnic partitioning constitutes racism. I’ve unfortunately only composed half a reply on my own viewpoint and will post the full one when complete.

    • Disgusted

      SomewhatDisgusted,
      You said, “It’s a logical fallacy to question someone’s motives in order to dismiss his/her argument.”

      That may well be. But it is NOT a logical fallacy to explore the implications of someone’s argument, to link it to a certain politics, and thereby dismiss the argument. Please don’t mis-represent what I am doing, and spare me the sophomoric argument.

      There isn’t a chance that I will re-consider my position. Also, if you guys want to talk about racism at the micro and personal level of prejudices, attitudes, motives, etc, do go on ahead without me. I find that to be a piddling matter, hardly crucial in discussing the SL political situation. Racism at that level is very easily extinguished by education. I’m only interested in discussing structural or institutional racism as that has direct bearing in talk about the distribution of power. Nor am I persuaded by liberal ‘colour-blind’ approaches to the sharing of power in pluralistic societies, but by a genuine multiculturalism, where the different ethnic groups are given national recognition and have equal access to power and to economic opportunity.

      I have found this entire discussion to be frustrating. I am beginning to understand now why the Tigers took up arms and why they insisted on a Tamil Eelam. When the group in power will not own up to the obvious fact that it has an unfair hold on power, and thereby shows no intention of rectifying that monopoly, then there is nothing else to be done. Sixty years, and an awful lot of waste of life on all sides has not changed your recalcitrance. You’re just finding new ways to continue with that monopoly, new disguises like wanting to get rid of ethnic politics. Unless you guys plan to talk about the need to share power and how this can be done, please don’t bother to engage me in discussion.

    • Heshan

      @Observer:

      It’s all about standing up for your convictions. Paying taxes to a rogue government is not something I would.

      Cheers.

    • SomewhatDisgusted

      Disgusted >>

      You said: “There isn’t a chance that I will re-consider my position. ”

      That sums up my experience with you also :-) If you had said so from the start, perhaps we could have both saved ourselves the trouble of listening to your monologue. Finally, not being able to defend your position, you choose instead to make ad-hominem attacks, throw up red-herrings, justify resorting to violence and terrorism and thereafter unilaterally declare the other as recalcitrant. Reminds me of a certain faction indeed. I’ve not been so amused in a long while :-)

      This statement of yours is patently false: “When the group in power will not own up to the obvious fact that it has an unfair hold on power, and thereby shows no intention of rectifying that monopoly, then there is nothing else to be done. ”

      The entire history of Sri Lanka has ample evidence of people bending over backwards to rectify that monopoly. What you want is to create your own monopoly.

      Good luck with that.

    • SomewhatDisgusted

      “Disgusted” >>

      You said: “That may well be. But it is NOT a logical fallacy to explore the implications of someone’s argument, to link it to a certain politics, and thereby dismiss the argument. Please don’t mis-represent what I am doing, and spare me the sophomoric argument.”

      Just FYI, it’s an Ad hominem circumstantial fallacy to claim such a thing. http://www.fallacyfiles.org/adhomine.html
      Calling into question the motives of the person making the argument does not render the argument itself fallacious. The argument offered was on why racialism cannot be justified. Claiming that “undergroundview” made that argument because he/she stands to gain by it, possibly by belonging to the majority community, cannot be used to falsify the argument. So no, I really haven’t misrepresented anything. In any case, why not directly attack the point instead of attacking the person? Considering how convinced you are of the logical soundness of your position, this should not be difficult.

    • undergroundview

      @disgusted – you said: “I think I am perfectly justified in going looking for hidden perspectives…”

      You have every right to – this is a place of free debate – but it will not lead to constructive discussion. Sooner or later even your closest ally will fail to spot some preconceived suspicion you hold, and will be “revealed” as someone who conspires, with all the rest of them, against truth and right. It’s a lonely furrow you’ll be ploughing.

      You scattered accusations rather widely, so I’ll just deal with a couple of the oddest misunderstandings:

      You said: “But to consider an oppressed group to be more oppressive in its racism than the group that perpetrated the racial oppression in the first place–that really dents your credibility.”

      You’ve said that a couple of times, but that’s almost the exact opposite of what I actually said. Go back and read where I said: “I don’t want you to say both groups are equally guilty of racism…. Clearly people with more power have greater scope for indulging their racism.”

      Then you said: “At any rate, the comment you made about Asians doing better in America because of their belief in education already showed me that you believe in the concept of ‘race’ itself. I don’t. I think race is a fiction, something that people conjure up and imagine–it doesn’t actually exist as a real thing. Racism however is real.”

      The concept of race as preached by racists everywhere is a nonsense. We’re all one species, and the differences within any racial group are vastly greater than any possible differences between some utterly irrelevant mid-point or average of one race vs another.

      What I do believe in is culture. Culture can help individuals and societies, or it can hold them back. President Obama referred to a cultural phenomenon of some African Americans labelling “one of their own” as “acting white” if they try to improve themselves. That’s not a helpful attitude. I mentioned a cultural emphasis on education in some Asian migrant cultures in the US, that stands them in better stead. Japanese businesses look for long term relationships. Americans and Chinese businesses can tend to take a shorter term view. You may have noticed a culture of “grab what you can for yourself” that some in Sri Lanka show. Judge for yourself how helpful that is to society.

      If you believe these difference are forced by our genes, you’re deluded. If you think that’s what I believe, you’re not paying attention – or jumping to conclusions.

      And that’s why it’s good not to go looking for hidden perspectives that might be influencing the utterly imaginary inference you made up all on your own.

      On the other hand, maybe I am an evil arrogant racist ogre, pretending to be all reasonable just to wind you up! And the sky could be green.

    • Disgusted

      undergroundviews,
      In case you don’t realise it, your discourse is riven with contradictions. Yes, you said “I don’t want you to say both groups are equally guilty of racism…. Clearly people with more power have greater scope for indulging their racism.” But you also said “What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” In addition you said, “It fails in fairness. If it is racism to make unwarranted derogatory generalisations about whole racial groups, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s an employer saying “you can’t trust a Tamil” or a potential employee saying “you can’t trust the Sinhalese” – the attitudes are the same.”

      So what am I supposed to conclude from this? What I conclude is that even though you accept that “people with more power have greater scope for indulging their racism,” you nevertheless do not think it is “fair” to hold them more to account. In effect, you’re saying the two groups’ racisms are equal.

      And you did not “mention a cultural emphasis on education in some Asian migrant cultures in the US, that stands them in better stead,” as you claim. I did that. I pointed out that you needed to take Asian migrant histories into consideration. What you actually said was “Interestingly, Asian communities seem to do rather well in the US. Something to do with a commitment to education, perhaps?” You said this within a context of comparing these Asian communities to the American poor black and poor white communities.

      I find it interesting too that you raise the question of whether Blacks are an oppressed racial minority in America. You must be aware that there are all sorts of statistics and studies that back this claim of Black racial oppression. Yet, you don’t seem to believe it. Instead, you say there are white oppressed minorities too, as if class oppression gives the lie to race oppression. And although Obama did say that there is a cultural phenomenon of Blacks blaming “one of their own” as “acting white” if they try to improve themselves, I doubt he was saying that accounted in any significant way for the lack of Black progress. Obama is trying his level best to identify and tackle psychological and cultural impediments to Black progress (for eg, talking about their record of broken families) so as to help them that way. But he knows very well that structural racism is the more crucial impediment, and that this impacts on Black culture and psychology. And great applause to his ingenuity in breaking through that glass ceiling. He needed several times the talent of the other white candidates to make that breakthrough. But then, America is a country that accepts citizen equality, at least on principle. Sri Lanka does not.

      I am not making “utterly imaginary inferences”. I follow your discourse very carefully, and consider the implications of what you say and the contradictions in your posts. With both African-Americans and with SL Tamils, both oppressed minority groups, you prefer to look at their “attitudes” rather than the structural forces at play in their oppression. I think it is a fair question to ask whether you have problems with accepting that there are oppressed racial minorities in the world, that structural racism does happen, and that it has happened and is happening in Sri Lanka.

      BTW, it has not escaped my attention that you have not explained this statement of yours: ““This truth is summed up in the saying that there is no oppressor like the oppressed.”

      All this while, you have kept targetting me for not wanting to admit to faults from the Tamil side (while, throughout, adopting this holier-than-thou attitude). Yet when those identifying as Sinhalese make exactly the same points as I am making, and even question your position, you don’t comment on their posts. So, hey, Mr or Ms “Halo around my head for being utterly free of racism”, is my view not acceptable solely because of the ethnic group to which I belong? Why should I have to tone down my expression while Heshan presumably doesn’t? Am I not allowed to make certain oobservations and claims simply because I am Tamil? You can’t trust Tamils, they’re always trying to get the upper hand–is that it? Have you been discounting my views because you have been reading “hidden perspectives” on my part (because of my ethnicity)?

      How honest is it for you to vilify me for openly declaring that I am reading what lies underneath people’s perspectives while you use your own undeclared presumptions of others’ bad intentions to paint them into a moral corner? Hmmm, don’t you think we should come to the reconciliation table with good faith? (Remember that line?)

      Here’s Heshan’s post, which says exactly what I have been saying, except he’s a self-declared Sinhalese. He starts by quoting you, and then responds to it:

      Your quote–‘On the other hand, it might remove some of the heat from this discussion if you felt able to concede that there HAS in fact been racism on the part of the LTTE, and on the part of “ordinary Tamils” — not just on the part of the majority community and the state.

      Heshan’s response: “Sinhalese ran the Government, Sinhalese came up with 2 Constitutions (both of which were failures), Sinhalese were in charge of economic policy, Sinhalese controlled the military…

      The list is endless. Anyone can see that Sinhalese ran the show. When you run the show for 60 years, and you fail miserably, there’s no point putting the blame on others, whom you treated as 2nd class anyway.”

    • undergroundview

      @Disgusted – thanks for bearing with me – I’m trying to understand where you are coming from on this. You seem to be conflating two or more of the following:
      1. Members of two groups both have racist attitudes
      2. One group has more power than the other, and thus more scope for indulging any racism
      3. Both groups should be held equally to account (this seems to be a new “inference” you just made. You rationalised it by saying that although I said the opposite, somehow I “effectively” said that instead, and thus that I am “riven with contradictions”).

      The first of these three is hard to deny, at least using any reasonable dictionary definition of racism. The second is clearly true. The third I have never claimed and don’t believe – yet you seem convinced I hold it. I’m not sure whence comes this fixed idea that I support, advocate, or condone racism, through which you seem to filter everything I write.

      Perhaps you are using a term of art – some specialised definition from a particular academic discourse, which evacuates any concept of attitude and motivation, and deals only with power structures – in which case I wonder how you expected to have a sensible conversation on racism with a community that uses the term in the conventional sense.

      I am happy to discuss both – but I object to a discourse that claims only one “matters”. That fails, as I said before, to engage with real people and the real world. It sets you up, as you must realise, to be misunderstood, and thus written off.

      It seems I also need to explain “there is no oppressor like the oppressed”. It’s an observation of many historical and social scenarios. Consider this “ha ha, only serious” definition of capitalism and communism. “Under Capitalism, man oppresses his fellow man – under Communism it’s the other way round”. Consider that after many revolutions, from the French onward, there has been a period of intense repression. Consider how all too often those who were abused as children become abusers as adults. Consider the treatment the abused Kapos in Nazi concentration camps in turn meted out to the other prisoners under their authority.

      I’m not saying that because Tamils are oppressed, then they are necessarily oppressors, now or in the future. I thought that was clear, but maybe not (Perhaps, if you suspend the search for hidden racism in all you meet, it may be easier to understand that). On the other hand, perhaps you can see the potential for oppression of minorities in a putative Tamil state – or remember the treatment of Muslims by the LTTE?

      Maybe I need to point this out again, to forestall misunderstanding. The Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan state has a very poor record of respecting minority rights – and the resentment some felt at the equal rights provisions of the failed peace process illustrates those attitudes. And they need to be held to account for that – but you cannot do that from a holier-than-thou position where you claim that the only racism that “counts” is theirs.

      “What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” does not mean that both sides are identical. But it does mean that you cannot in fairness highlight racism on one side, while pretending it does not exist (or attempting to define it out of existence) on the other. If it’s racism in an Anglo-saxon colonialist, or in an American white person, or in a Sinhalese nationalist, to tar all of another race or ethnic group with the same brush – then it must also be racist when blacks in America, or Tamils in Sri Lanka think the same way (whether or not they have the means at their disposal to discriminate or oppress).

      I probably need to say, before you assume I think the opposite, that groups and cultures vary, and individuals cannot be judged as though they were part of a monolithic bloc (whether Tamil, Sinhalese, or other). People can have complex, layered, mixed identities.

      I should also say that there IS racism in the US, as in Sri Lanka, Britain, and the rest of the world. And this racism can be both structural and internalised. But not all disadvantage is explained solely by racism. To pretend that is so, is to ignore other factors that can bring about real change.

      I hesitate before introducing another metaphor, but it has been said that if your only tool is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. If your only tool of analysis is race-discourse, then perhaps all oppression starts to look like racism? And if that’s what racism is, then what victims do and feel must be something else, no?

      Even the oppressed are not immune from similar motivations and attitudes to their oppressors. We are all human.

    • Disgusted

      undergroundviews,
      Nice strategy you have there. Accuse somebody of something, for eg, of making unwarranted inferences and assumptions. Then, when the person explains how those inferences were made, ignore that, and just continue to make the same old accusations. After all, the person must get tired sometime by all that to-ing and fro-ing, and just plain give up, thereby making it seem like yours was the stronger argument.

      You said: ‘Perhaps you are using a term of art – some specialised definition from a particular academic discourse, which evacuates any concept of attitude and motivation, and deals only with power structures – in which case I wonder how you expected to have a sensible conversation on racism with a community that uses the term in the conventional sense. I am happy to discuss both – but I object to a discourse that claims only one “matters”.’

      I explained quite painstakingly my own definition of racism as referring to “structural racism”, and explicitly pointed out that I was not using the usual definitions, that this was where I was coming from.The community I was speaking with knew very well that I was working with another definition, but wanted to topple that definition by pitting it against another, more conventional definition–and with no particular object at hand that I could see.

      I know that you object to a discourse where only structural racism matters. Good for you. That’s your business. But my object here was to discuss the sharing of power with ethnic minorities. In that context, ONLY structural racism is relevant, in particular, the expression of racial domination through political mechanisms, and the rectifying of that. One does not consider the private unorganized racisms (intentions, motivations, etc) or lack of them by all the individuals involved in this negotiation and by the general population.

      You said: “Maybe I need to point this out again, to forestall misunderstanding. The Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan state has a very poor record of respecting minority rights – and the resentment some felt at the equal rights provisions of the failed peace process illustrates those attitudes. And they need to be held to account for that – but you cannot do that from a holier-than-thou position where you claim that the only racism that “counts” is theirs.”

      On principle, a state is not supposed to practice structural racism, and that is what negotiations for national power sharing should address. That makes Sinhalese-dominated state racism the only relevant racism that needs to be addressed. As far as I know, Tamils have not been and are now not in a position to practice structural racism (unless you are referring to that of the LTTE–which is no more). You suggest that one “should see the potential for oppression of minorities in a putative Tamil state – or remember the treatment of Muslims by the LTTE.” Fair enough, and I would hope that the negotiations for power sharing would anticipate such possibilities and put legal measures in place to stop any group in power from oppressing another.

      Considering that the Tamils are now disarmed and generally defeated, the only group whose private racist attitudes could scuttle any state attempts for power sharing is that of the Sinhalese group.

      You said, “if your only tool is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. If your only tool of analysis is race-discourse, then perhaps all oppression starts to look like racism?”

      To say that the SL situation is not about racial politics would be disingenuous. There is class politics here too, but it has been subsumed into that of race by the powers that be.

    • smoulderingjin

      Disgusted, Somewhat Disgusted and Undergroundview…

      I have followed your discussions with much interest and appreciate your engagement. It is by far the closest thing I have seen on this forum that actually engages with the issues at hand. So thank you. I am sure there are others who have followed what is a difficult discussion through so far.

      I hope the discussion would continue further, despite the frustrations and misunderstandings, which are inevitable with issues such as this. It is the pointless invective and insults that are destructive. Genuine engagement that is difficult, frustrating, and at times infuriating…that I think is the only way people can discuss things!

      There are some points I would like to respond to,…but I will keep that for tomorrow.

    • undergroundview

      I’d better reply now or who knows when I’ll get a chance. I don’t want to leave the debate on the note we just saw:

      So… breathe deeply, and step back from the argument…

      It seems that we have been talking about different things, even if we both referred to them as racism.

      I’m sorry if you thought I had any animosity towards the Tamil community or Tamils as individuals – I have not, and it was not my intention to convey any such feelings. Nor do I have any animosity towards the Sinhalese community when I criticise the government, the camps, the rule of law, or aspects of culture. Occasionally I get irritated if I think I’m being misrepresented – sorry if I offended you.

      Nor am I trying to brush any issues under the carpet, or pretend race or ethnicity is not a factor.

      Structural racism is an important issue that needs to be understood. Sometimes “colour-blind” policies, which seem quite fair on the surface, but which ignore deep racial problems, can perpetuate the problem (if only by failing to address it). Consider whether a policy of treating all animals equally would help prevent extinction of the Panda or (careful now) the Tiger or the Lion? And sometimes there is no pretence that policies are fair, or that fairness matters.

      Even where there is agreement that inequality exists, there is debate to what extent it is either practically helpful, morally fair, or even counter-productive to treat individuals unfairly in order to rectify statistical, historical or communal imbalances. All of this is important.

      But I don’t think structural racism exists in a moral or intellectual vacuum. It seems clear that it is often created, nourished and sustained by individual, personal racism . Not just by racism it’s true (there are many reasons to resist change) – but to a considerable extent sustained by racism. Sure, in its turn that racism can be promoted by governments as a means to keep power, or distract the people from what they themselves are up to… but without the foundation of individual racism, the whole racist edifice that’s built upon it can begin to crumble.

      Which is one reason I think it can be misleading to restrict debate purely to structural issues, ignoring the individual – or to debate it in terms that can be misunderstood as a sweeping attack on individuals, especially when any such misunderstanding will be strongly resented. It’s bad enough when people resent what one IS saying – but it’s worse if they resent what one is NOT actually saying. We saw that here, I think.

      I’m sorry for any role I may have played in our misunderstanding. I suspect it may have gone somewhat like this (and apologies in advance for any “shorthand” or over simplification – I’m trying to give a flavour and will no doubt omit some of the complexities):

      You SAID something rather like: Sinhalese society is racist, and Tamil society is not.

      You seem to have MEANT: Sinhalese community, society, government or whatever is “institutionally racist” and oppressed the Tamil community, which clearly lacks the power to oppress in return, and thus is clearly not “institutionally” racist.

      That was initially HEARD (I think by both Somewhat Disgusted and by me) as: Sinhalese are racist [in motivation and outlook] and Tamils are not.

      You may appreciate that this could seem unfair, and I wondered whether it was likely to be true of the whole groups.

      Then you said: Racism only makes sense in structural terms (or power relationships, or something along those lines).

      You seem to have meant: “I am using the term in a specialised sense favoured by sociologists, because I want to talk about institutional racism, rather than get caught up in a discussion of motivations.”

      At the time I HEARD: “I am redefining the term with the result [or intention?] that I get to call “them” racist and deny that “we” are.”

      That is almost certainly NOT what you intended – but see how easily assumptions can drag a debate into a misunderstanding.

      I replied that this terminology was unhelpful to the discussion, incomplete, and misleading, for several reasons. I may have been quite robust.

      Perhaps you HEARD: “he’s trying to suppress discussion of problems experienced by Tamils, or to pretend that race is not a factor.”

      There are big issues with racism, and they need to be discussed. But I worry that by using the term in a way that positively begs to be misunderstood (as it was, and not just by me), in a place where that misunderstanding will effectively forestall any dialogue (as it has done for too many postings), then we do the cause we advocate a disservice.

      Thanks for listening.

    • SomewhatDisgusted

      Undergroundview >>

      I feel you are being quite charitable :-) I understand that you are trying to make the discussion progress and will follow your cue.

      I was intending to address some points you had raised for quite a while. I fear my reply is extremely verbose and I hope you will bear with its great length. First of all though, let me say that I too share the concerns you have raised in your last few posts and would like to discuss them further so as to decide my own stance on it.

      You said: “without the foundation of individual racism, the whole racist edifice that’s built upon it can begin to crumble.”

      I very sincerely believe this also. Like you, I do not intend to defend Sinhalese racism nor Tamil racism. I hope this has always been clear. My main goal was to show that racialism on all sides is a significant problem and I personally believe that Tamil racialism is getting inadequate attention and/or is dismissed as being “ineffective”. Instead, I believe it is a significant factor that has stalled progress on this issue almost completely. The most militant manifestation of Tamil nationalism, the LTTE, stands as open testimony to the fact.

      We see that the LTTE clearly had the power to hold over 1/3 of the country hostage to their ideology for 30 years. So why the nationalism that feeds it is not considered a problem by “Disgusted”, I am unable to fathom. This is why I stressed on the fact that, if the intent is to create a just and egalitarian society, the fight should be for equal rights. The fact that the fight is instead, for a separate racial la-la-land, I believe is clearly indicative of something. I think I’ve made it clear what I think that something is :)

      With regard to the following statement: ” Sinhalese community, society, government or whatever is “institutionally racist” and oppressed the Tamil community, which clearly lacks the power to oppress in return, and thus is clearly not “institutionally” racist.”

      I agree with the statement that the Sinhalese certainly have a greater capacity for institutional racism, as has been demonstrated in the past. I should be clear that I’ve never attempted to defend it and find it despicable. However, to use institutional racism in order to rationalize one’s own racialism is, in my opinion, disingenuous. But this is what I see happening most of the time. The racialism of the Tamil nationalist gets a free-ride by pointing to the racialism of others. In a truly vampiric fashion, it promotes racial disharmony in order to perpetuate itself. It portrays ethnic differences as primordial in order to justify itself.

      Consider this statement by “Disgusted”: Sinhalese are not only a dominant community in SL, they are an overwhelming majority. So to allow them to settle everywhere without placing any ethnic limits would mean that they will in actuality be forming Sinhalese ghettos all over the country, and getting all the benefits of that (support from the community, the ability to dominate and dictate district needs) while the minorities will get no chance to do so.

      The above statement clearly stems from racial paranoia rather than actual fact. The facts are as follows. 40% of Colombo, the financial hub of Sri Lanka, is Tamil. The Sinhalese themselves are a minority in Colombo. Tamils hold key positions in Sri Lankan society. The northern and eastern districts are Tamil dominated. Other ethnicities have since been ethnically cleansed from those areas by the LTTE. Many areas in the hill-country are Tamil dominated. Tamil culture is doing fine as evidenced by the multitude of Kovils etc. spread throughout the island. In fact, there are several Kovils surrounding the Temple of the Tooth, the most holy shrine of the much maligned and “racist” Sinhala Buddhists. So “Disgusted”s claims are naught but pure racial paranoia, much similar to the Sinhalese fear of identity loss due to regional insignificance, which led them to be characterized as “the majority with a minority complex”. Both these attitudes are reflective of mindsets that, even if the intentions are not malevolent, are still hard to differentiate from that of racialists IMO. The effects and external manifestation of such thinking eventually ends up being racist. “Disgusted’s” basic stance could probably be summed up as “I cannot live with the Sinhalese in the fear that they will dominate me through pure numbers, destroy my culture and therefore I must form my own racial ghetto. It is merely an act of resisting majority domination”. Would it be wrong to characterize that as racialism?

      I have no disagreement whatsoever with making sure adequate steps are taken to preserve each person’s culture. But I do *not* agree with refusing to live or integrate with others on account of race. This is taking ethnic differences to a primordial level and I believe it is morally and logically unsound. I do not buy “Disgusted”‘s argument that cultural domination by another ethnic group will cause him/her to lose his/her own culture, as a moral one. Actually, I believe it is immoral to refuse to live together with other human beings on account of race.

      I also think the concept is logically unsound. As we’ve discussed earlier, such thinking would automatically imply a mini-Eelam for each race. Taken further to preserve intra-racial differences, and to put it irreverently, we would have to further sub-divide ad-infinitum until each individual is left standing on a 10×10 foot Eelam, scratching their heads in puzzlement but nevertheless blissfully shielded from the irksome influence of the “other”. Just to illustrate the point of how intra-racial differences can come into play, we should recall that the Kandyan elites were the first to come up with a separatist agenda in 1925 through the Kandyan National Assembly. Imagine the ensuing merriment if they too had proven as persistent as the Tamil nationalists.

      Getting back to the issue of racism, “Disgusted” claims that no attempts have been made to correct institutional racism. This is incorrect. We all know that the Sinhalese polity has in fact relented and made many attempts to correct these imbalances. What then, has completely halted progress on correcting any remaining problems? Shouldn’t a significant portion of the blame fall on the uncompromising Tamil nationalists and their quest for Eelam?

      I do understand that largely, this nationalism has gained a dynamic of its own thanks to the LTTE. But let’s not forget who’s funding the LTTE and who’s fueling its international propaganda machine. As long as their ideology remains alive and they keep rabble-rousing in Sri Lanka, I do not expect this problem to fade away soon.

      You said: “There’s the discussion of whether Tamil secession implies a mono-ethnic homeland, and whether (if so) that’s a racist policy. Or whether advocating a less “pure” but still Tamil-dominated state or region with (therefore) a Sinhalese minority is a racist policy – or just a pragmatic reaction to a Sinhalese-dominated state which has failed (quite badly at times) to protect Tamil rights.”

      A good question and something I too would like to see discussed extensively. While the former claim of a mono-ethnic homeland is probably not defensible at all in a 21st century context, the latter claim seems more justified, at least on the face of it. Saying that the Sinhalese dominated state has failed quite badly on multiple occasions to protect Tamil civilians is putting it gently :-) I can understand why people who faced ethnic violence may quickly gravitate towards such a solution as a reasonable one, with the unfortunate side-effect of giving the racialism of the Tamil nationalist a free ride in the process, a thought I find quite odious. Odious or not, we need to rationally evaluate ethnicity based partitions. I would like to throw in a few points for consideration.

      1. I do not see how ethnicity based partitioning of any form can be morally or logically justified. I’ve mentioned why above. But if it’s touted as pragmatic, I have some reservations about that also, which I’ll mention next.

      2. It’s not clear to me how ethnicity based partitioning solves an equality problem. If there is no equality for Tamils in the southern Sinhala dominated areas, how does creating an ethnic enclave in the North provide that missing equality in the South?

      3. What about the other races? Are Tamils the only race suffering from an equality problem? Shouldn’t whatever solution that’s put into place provide equality for other races as well? Does this imply multiple ethnicity based partitions?

      4. Cementing of ethnic divisions constitutionally may actually serve to widen ethnic rifts than unite us as a country.

      5. In the final analysis, ethnic partitioning is a victory for racialism, regardless of
      who started it or who perpetuated it. I believe it’s a shameful failure on the part of both the Sinhalese and Tamil intelligentsia to throw in the towel and revert things back to such a medieval state of affairs. If there’s anything worth fighting for, that is to fight for equality, not for the constitutionalization of racism.

      I would be glad to hear your critique on this.

      You also asked a question early on:
      – it’s racist to advocate a Sinhalese-dominated unitary state,
      – it’s racist to advocate splitting such a state on racial lines.

      I hope my view is evident from my previous posts. I believe both are racist. This country should not be “Sinhala-dominated”. Not should it be split along racial lines. The ideal we must reach for seems clear to me, a just, egalitarian society.
      One thing worth mentioning however, is that there is no way to change ethno-racial demographics. The fact of the matter is that there are more Sinhalese than Tamils. This should not be confused with structural racism. It is not a fault of the Sinhalese that they are more numerous in numbers and it seems to me to be pure racialism to quake in ones boots at the thought of not being a numerical majority in one’s own right. However, it is perfectly reasonable to ask that adequate provisions be provided to protect one’s own culture in order to combat any actual structural racism. This is what happens in any plural society.

      As for structural racism itself. There maybe certain structural elements remaining that need to be addressed and I’m certainly open to knowing what they are and how they can be fixed. Unfortunately, many people point to problems in the past, which have long since been rectified and do not point to what the problems right now are. I personally have an uncharitable explanation for why that is. Nevertheless, I think this is something that needs to be openly discussed so that there is proper awareness on what the outstanding issues are and how they can be solved.

    • Off the Cuff

      The discussion on this thread is one of the best I have seen on groundviews so far. I wish that such discussions will overwhelm the slang matches that usually take place on most threads.

      Smoulderingjin, somewhatdisgusted and undergroundview please keep it up. I hope that Dr. Pradeep Jeganathan will continue to provide his perspective on what is being discussed. However Suren Raghavan is very conspicuous by his absence in a thread started by himself.

      I have noticed that with the exception of Dr Devanasan Nesiah, Dayan Jayatilleka and probably a few others the majority of writers shy away from discussing their own articles. This brings to question the motive behind what they write.

      Disgusted>
      As a person living in a state that has apparently successfully integrated a multitude of races into a cohesive problem free society could you enlighten us on the policies adopted in Singapore on..
      1) Land
      2) Housing, State & Private (with special reference to any govt funded schemes)
      3) Language
      4) Judicial review process
      5) Education (Govt as well as Private)
      6) Equality
      7) Power sharing
      8) Access to free Medical Care
      9) Media Freedom

      Thank You

    • Off the Cuff

      I was surprised at the face that appeared instead of the numeral 8 that I typed in my earlier post.

      Please do not interpret it as anything else.

      Thank you