Original image by J. Adam Huggins for The New York Times

Every mayoralty in Paris has tablets on which are inscribed the names of those from that locality who died in the many wars which France fought. Many are the works of art in the glorious buildings in Paris, which depict these battles, from Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) onward. Many are the military parades in remembrance.

This is so of most countries, not merely the hub of Enlightenment thinking. Russia recently celebrated with its parade in the Red Square, the victory over Nazi fascism. Thus we must be suspicious of the argument that Sri Lanka must not commemorate its victory over the terrorist separatist army of the LTTE. It is our legitimate entitlement which we must continue over the generations.

Is the war worth commemorating with celebration? The answer to that question resides in the answer to another: how many citizens of all ages are dying violently each week, compared to the average body count in the war years?

The cunning counter-argument is that the killing had stopped during the ceasefire (CFA). This is of course a blatant lie. Not only was our distinguished foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar killed during that period, so were a senior police officer inside a police station in Dehiwela, an Army colonel in Polhengoda, and 48 operatives of military intelligence – all with no price paid or penalties imposed on the Tigers by the government of the day or the so-called international community.

No less specious an argument is the one that contrasts the surgical character of the hit on Osama Bin Laden with the termination of the Tigers. The cold fact is that the Sri Lankan armed forces were surgically taking down the Tiger command structure with deep penetration LRRP operation, when the Prime Minister at the time (the present leader of the opposition) aborted the project by signing a lopsided ceasefire agreement, to the applause of the West. That surgical option aborted, the next time around, the endgame was bound to take an Old Testament character.   As for the point that the dead Osama’s photographs were not shown, unlike those of Prabhakaran, the answer is that the irrational Al Qaeda swiftly admitted the death of its leader, therefore making photographic evidence unnecessary, while the pro-Tiger Tamil Diaspora demonstrated greater irrationality and delusion by refusing to admit the death of its leader, therefore rendering imperative the release of the photographs.

Another piece of propaganda masquerading as argument is that Sri Lanka merely liberated or reunified territory but more important is the people. Throughout world history, which is also the history of warfare, territorial control/recovery has been an objective in and of itself. Still more important is the primal existential urge to defend oneself from an enemy that is tormenting one’s collective, one’s community and to prevail over that enemy. This Sri Lanka has done. That alone makes the war a valid and legitimate one, and the victory worth celebrating. It is after all, the signal victory of our generation, on par with and possibly surpassing any contemporary ones anywhere in the world.

Post-War Debate

As a democracy let us by all means disagree, even vehemently, over the post war paths taken and not taken. Indeed the debates I have engaged in, in print, in the wake of the war, make interesting revisiting in the light of recent developments and prospects. These debates must not entail a rejection of the war and its legitimacy and a revalidation of the Tigers or those who prevaricated during the war. It remains a legitimate and valuable debate regarding the aftermath of a just war, a necessary war, and a victory which was grim but glorious.

This necessary debate on post-war policies must not be confused with or become a smokescreen for a de-legitimisation of our victory, for undermining it and rolling it back. The debate on the post war order is needed precisely for the consolidation of the military victory. The discussion must take into account the changed sub-regional, regional and international situation which constitutes our external strategic environment.

Where does the challenge to that victory come from and who drives it? Pre-eminently, the embittered element of the Tamil Diaspora. How is this Diaspora to be viewed? What should be its recognised role and how should it be regarded by host societies, mainly Western democracies, and the international community of states?

Fred Halliday (1946-2010), Professor Emeritus of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Research Professor at the University of Barcelona, published an essay on the website ‘Open Democracy’ entitled The World’s Twelve Worst Ideas, of which worst idea Number Three was that “Diasporas have a legitimate role to play in national and international politics”. He went onto explain his point saying that “the notion that emigrant or Diaspora communities have a special insight into the problems of their homeland, or a special moral or political status in regard to them, is wholly unfounded. Emigrant ethnic communities almost always play a negative, backward, at once hysterical and obstructive, role in resolving the conflicts of their countries of origin: Armenians and Turks, Jews and Arabs, various strands of Irish, are all prime examples on the inter-ethnic front, as are exiles in the United states in regard to resolving the problems of Cuba or policy-making on Iran.”

Especially sad is the phenomenon that some elements of the Sri Lankan polity and intelligentsia seem to take their cue from the Tamil Diaspora, reinforce its ‘hysterical’ (to use Halliday’s adjective) if not hallucinatory (Mahinda Rajapaksa as Adolf Hitler, Sri Lanka today as Nazi Germany) propaganda, and is indistinguishable from it.


‘Unacknowledged ignorance’ is the most dangerous thing in the world, according to philosophers. The dominant discourse regarding Sri Lanka, both within and without the island, reveals precisely such unacknowledged ignorance. The polarised debate between human rights and national sovereignty is a major symptom of that ignorance. One side holds that human rights trump all, and that national sovereignty is a mere fig leaf for repression by the state. National sovereignty is seen as an ideology upheld by narrow minded ethnic or ethno-religious chauvinists. The other holds national sovereignty is sacrosanct and human rights subordinate. These elements define the nation in narrow ethno-religious terms. Not only are both sides wrong, they are also ignorant.

Few are aware that in the intellectual history of the Enlightenment, human rights and sovereignty – precisely national sovereignty—are inextricably, demonstrably intertwined.  Few know or acknowledge that the landmark document on human rights, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, prepared and proposed by the Marquis de Lafayette and adopted by the National Constituent Assembly in Paris on August 26, 1789, as the first and most universalist and universalising fruit of the French Revolution, has as its third article, the following unambiguous pronouncement on sovereignty: “The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation”.

Irrespective of one’s opinion about this or that political leader, party or policy the defence of the historic gains of the war, as well as of democracy, requires the defence of the principle of national sovereignty.

A Luta Continua!

In the movie ‘Man on Fire’ Denzel Washington says with deliberate emphasis, spacing the words as he walks away through an underpass in Mexico City from a guy cuffed to an engine block of a car with a ticking time bomb beneath: “I wish you had the time”.  I wish we had the time. With new developments in the politics of the sub-region, we need to extricate ourselves fast because the clock is ticking.

Today, danger is of external pressure building up to encirclement and siege. How best to resist it and roll it back? How to secure time and space for Sri Lanka? Lessons can be learnt from the experiences of states in similar or far more onerous circumstances in contemporary history.

For decades, Cuba has been under siege, economically blocked by its giant Northern neighbour. It has survived not only because it obtained the support of the USSR, but because notwithstanding the disappearance of the USSR, it earned the respect of and has built support and influence in its neighbouring region of Latin America.

When China felt threatened by the West it tilted to the USSR (Mao called it ‘leaning to one side’), and when it felt enveloped by both, it neutralised one front by allying with the West against the USSR. All the while it cultivated what Mao had called the intermediate zone of Third and Second world states.

Just a few years ago, Zimbabwe was in dire straits internationally. Today one hardly hears about it. The secret of Zimbabwe’s success is the buffering role played by its respected and influential neighbour, South Africa. Without that shield, Zimbabwe would have been wide open to its enemies.

Because of the unreasonable and escalating external pressure exerted upon us, today, two years after the war, the watchword of the African liberation movements fighting (Portuguese) colonialism springs to memory and suggests itself as apposite: A Luta Continua! The struggle continues!

  • Dear Dr DJ,
    You’ve previously stated (correctly, in my opinion) that India is our indispensable ally. Yet Indian support must surely be predicated on GoSL at least pretending to take the post-war political solution seriously, which it has not yet done.

    Many people in SL assume that China will shield SL forever, regardless of the costs to it’s own position. I don’t.

    “As a top Chinese diplomat and official once told me “You must help us to help you. Sri Lanka must give its friends something to help Sri Lanka with”.

    What is Sri Lanka giving and doing to help our allies help us?


  • myil selvan

    Dear Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka,
    While you raise many good points with your article the main point is, is it reconciliation that is being fostered by the celebrations of the war victory?
    Are all Sri Lankans celebrating the war victory?
    Is not the celebration for the Sinhala people’s benefit?

    You are equating the Russian celebration of victory over the Nazis as similar to the one in Sri Lanka. The big discrepancy that you fail to mention is the fact that the Nazis were foreign to Russia. In other words an outside enemy. But in the Sri Lankan situation it is a civil war/ethnic conflict fought between different ethnic groups of the same country.
    A better comparison of Sri Lanka’s conflict, is the civil war of the United States. In the civil war of the U.S. the South wanted to cede and declared themselves as the Confederate States of America. The war brutally kept them within the U.S. fold by (the U.S. govt – mainly Northerns) sending in the army and destroying the Southern economy, etc,etc. But the White Southerners have memorials for their war dead and monuments commemorating their fallen heroes in many southern towns. While the Sri Lankan government is destroying memorials of Tamils who have died in our civil war. The confederate flag is still flown in some Southern state capitals. The U.S. government doesn’t go on celebrating this victory over their own. Does it? But the GoSL or more appropriately the Sinhala govt wants to celebrate this war. Why? Because it is a Sinhala victory and probably the only victory that they(GoSL/Sihalese) can celebrate.

    You cite Cuba leaning on the USSR and thereafter Latin America and China leaning to USSR and then playing the intermediate role. If Sri Lanka is to do that today it would have to be India. When India threatens then would it be China? Does China have enough of a vested interest in Sri Lanka? Does China have more vested interest in Sri Lanka than Libya, whom they seemed to have disowned?

    We have been down this path before. What we need is ‘genuine reconciliation’ not racist gloating! GL Peiris has agreed to genuine reconciliation with India, now implement it!
    Thank you.

  • myil selvan

    Dear Dr.DJ,
    In answer to your question “How many people are dying violently today…..” Let me ask the following questions

    How did this cycle of violence originate in the first place? Was it Ellalan vs Dutugemunu or the Colonial period? or was it the sad reality of Sinhala state terrorism from 1956 onwards that created the LTTE and led us to May 2009?
    Thank you

  • SD

    Dear Dayan,

    RE: “Because of the unreasonable and escalating external pressure exerted upon us, today, two years after the war….”

    Echoing Mango’s statements, and your own, can you please define “unreasonable”?

    What meaningful reconciliation process has taken place in the aftermath of the war? What happened to the 13th? Is it unreasonable to be alarmed in the absence of an honourable and dignified course of action?

    Secondly, how much time and and space do we need, and assuming we do get that time and space, what is your realistic estimate of our future trajectory, given the present actions of the govt?

    I would love to see a ray of hope here, but all I’m seeing is a damn big cloud.

    • Out of the Almirah

      Dear SD,
      You are being a devil’s advocate simply to show that you are not a racist. If you give vent to your true feelings, at least we would know that you are not a fence sitter. You want us to believe that you are open-minded. This is great! But it should not come at the expense of genuine facts. I think you are pedantic.

      • SD

        Dear Almirah,

        Please clarify. I cannot respond to such a vague critique.

  • Sri

    Dayan , This is a very interesting article.

    I shall now make a comprehensive response!

    France,Russia Sri Lanka celebrating victories

    France and Russia were celebrating victories against foreign invaders and LTTE too was a foreign invader as it was the army of a sovereign Republic of Tamil Eelam.

    It is a valid parallel.

    In this article there are several “We”,” our” and “us”

    Does this “We” all inclusive?

    It includes Sinhalese no doubt, but does it include UNP? or to the present Leader of opposition Mr Ranil Wicramasinghe? because his action against the deep penetration units?

    Does it include Tamils including 40000 civilians who were killed during the last days of war.

    Do not enter with a stupid argument challenging 40000caualities? Because you had every opportunity to verify the figures physically by having a census soon after the humanitarian operation with zero civilian causality when the 300000 refugees were confined to refugee camps for months.

    Does ‘We” includes LTTE and the LTTE RUMP and the Diaspora Tamils.

    They also should celebrate for generations the victory of the army against LTTE?

    Or this “We’ refers only to the exclusive club of Patriots as defined by Dayan.

    Dayan talks about “primal existential urge to defend oneself from an enemy that is tormenting one’s collective, one’s community and to prevail over that enemy”.

    What you had quoted is about tribal wars. The enemies are from another tribe.

    Sinhalese is one tribe and Tamils are another.

    Dayan talks about “One’s community” thereby he refers only to Sinhala community.

    The Tamils are excluded!

    The cat is out of the bag!

    This is a war between communities, tribes, nations over territory and the Diaspora Tamils are right after all not to concede defeat.

    Another claim of Dayan, “democracy, requires the defense of the principle of national sovereignty”

    Democracy has nothing to do with sovereignty

    Cuba,Iran and Libya are all sovereign countriesbut are they democracies ?

    Democracy and sovereignty need not go together.

    In Dayan’s vocabulary democracy is a word to hide all genocide and human rights violation and to defend majoritarianism as democracy.

    What I expect is not a selective response but a full all inclusive rejoinder.

    Thanks Dayan for clarifying your stand on a number of issues.

    • Sovereignty may not be dependent on democracy, but democracy is certainly dependent on sovereignty.

      • Sarath Fernando.

        Dear David,
        Democracy is certainly dependent on sovereignty, but so are dictatorship, hegemony, autocracy, tyranny, despotism, totalitarianism – the list goes on. Could they survive without sovereignty? Isn’t North Korea sovereign?

        The question then is whether sovereignty is sought to further democracy or towards establishing one of the others.

        Dayan, not withstanding his prolific, inexhaustible drivels, is still struggling to point out a single policy, program or any such that should help convince the Sri Lankans that the current regime is moving towards Democracy and not in the opposite direction — the singular, but pathetic, response was that “they won the war” – that perhaps echoes with the need/right for sovereignty, but has little to do with Democracy.

      • Sarath, my comment was in response to Sri’s comment that “democracy has nothing to do with sovereignty”, where he points out that undemocratic countries also are sovereign. Your list that includes tyranny, despotism, etc are also connected to sovereignty, no doubt, but that doesn’t change the fact that democracy cannot exist without sovereignty.

        The argument for sovereignty isn’t that it automatically engenders democracy, but that without the former there can never be the latter.

    • The way of the Dodo

      “”Do not enter with a stupid argument challenging 40000 caualities? Because you had every opportunity to verify the figures physically by having a census soon after the humanitarian operation with zero civilian causality when the 300000 refugees were confined to refugee camps for months.””

      And here i thought the burden of proof lies with the side making the claim.

  • ravana

    Dr DJ,
    C’mon! Give us break!! Have you hear of a guy called Gobbles?

    • Dear Ravana ,

      What would you do, if you were given a political appointment as an ambassador, you will have to justify your existence, there you are, DJ is doing just that!

  • ordinary lankan

    Yes Dr. DJ

    you are still ‘glorious’ to yourself

    of that i have no doubt

    but some day you can contemplate whether we (here I mean the country) actually lost to

    LTTE (ideology)

    dont know much history but pl enlighten us with your superior knowledge if there were talented people like you who paved the way for Hitler in Germany, Pol Pot in Vietnam etc etc

    killing fields 2 is what I am seriously anticipating now

    yes – death to all ‘traitors’

  • myil selvan

    Dear Dr.DJ,

    You quote Prof. Fred Halliday (Professor Emeritus of ………., published an essay on the website ‘Open Democracy’ entitled The World’s Twelve Worst Ideas, of which worst idea Number Three was that “Diasporas have a legitimate role to play in national and international politics”.

    What you haven’t said is that Prof. Halliday went on to say – Worst Idea Number 2:The only thing “they” understand is force
    And went on to explain:
    This has been the guiding illusion of hegemonic and colonial thinking for several centuries. Oppressed peoples do not accept the imposition of solutions by force: they revolt. It is the oppressors who, in the end, have to accept the verdict of force, as European empires did in Latin America, Africa and Asia and as the United States is doing in Iraq today. The hubris of “mission accomplished” in May 2003 has been followed by ignominy.

    What does this worst idea number 2 say about Sri Lanka’s war? What does it say about the Rajapakses? What are the repercussions for the future?

    Once again I say – we are taking the same path that has been trod before. The Sinhalese reliance on the Vijaya, (we came first myth) will not take this country very far towards happiness and equality

  • Dear Myil Selvan,

    All it tells me is that Prof Halliday’s ideas aren’t necessarily applicable in all situations.

    For instance, in 1979 the truly genocidal Khmer Rouge regime (at the time supported by the US & UK for geopolitical reasons), was ‘crushed’ by the armed might of the North Vietnamese Army. Force really was the only thing the Khmer Rouge understood.

    The darkest and bloodiest period in modern Cambodian history was ended by the hard military power of the NVA and not by ‘conflict resolution paradigms’, ‘equality workshops’ and NGO activists holding ‘sustainable peace-building’ seminars.

    I particularly like this description of what happened:

    “In spite of a preemptive attack by Cambodia, Vietnamese forces, using six coordinated corps-sized combined arms mechanized columns, along with a division-sized amphibious assault along the coast and air strikes conducted by captured American-made attack aircraft, quickly crushed the fanatical Cambodian resistance in a swift, blitzkrieg-like campaign. Within three weeks the Vietnamese controlled all major roads, harbors, airfields, and population centers in Cambodia, forcing the remainder of Pol Pot’s Cambodian armed forces to flee to the Thai border for sanctuary.” http://tinyurl.com/yznq7zb

    Even better, not a single HR activist was involved in the crushing of the Khmer Rouge.

    Rajapakse & Co gave the LTTE the war they wanted. They have yet to deliver fully on the resulting peace.

    And as much as I hate to admit it, the US/NATO will occupy Iraq for the foreseeable future. They can still afford to do so.

  • Bundoora

    Dear ordinary lankan

    Here are some of the REAL intellectuals/leaders who supported Hitler during his Nazi regime.

    Theologians and spiritual leaders:
    Ludwig Müller (1883-1945), Jakob Wilhelm Hauer (1881–1962),

    Scientists and physicians:
    Hans F. K. Günther (1891–1968), Alfred Ploetz (1860–1940), Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer (1896–1969),

    Philosophers and sociologists:
    Alfred Baeumler (1887–1968), Alfred Rosenberg (1893–1946), Martin Heidegger (1889–1976, Robert Michels (1876–1936), Lothrop Stoddard (1883–1950 )

  • ordinary lankan

    mundane thought
    mundane people
    mundane lives

    scholarly talk and
    supra mundane slogans
    that keep us deluded

    TISL – this is sri lanka

    the time that scholarly smoke screens helped to foster hope about nationalism, a national economy, even peace and other original home grown things is long past – Dr DJ is far too intelligent to believe in all that now

    but he has to idulge his scholarly habits – we have nothing against that

    now apart from the dictatorship all that we can hang around our necks is a MADE IN CHINA sign ….

    however – people have lived under all kinds of other people in this and other countries – and WE will SURVIVE …

    and have the last laugh

    No we have not had PEACE yet in this country

    but I hope to see it b4 I die