(AP Photo/Manish Swarup, from JDS)

The 2011 MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture delivered by Kumar Sangakkara was indeed a very thoughtful, courageous and passionate one. Much has been written about the lecture, and it is not necessary to repeat how inspiring it was. But there is that poignant final paragraph in Sangakkara’s lecture which has contributed in numerous ways to a resurgence of an old debate concerning our Sri Lankan identity and what it ought to mean in our contemporary post-war Sri Lanka. The relevant paragraph is as follows:

“Fans of different races, castes, ethnicities and religions who together celebrate their diversity by uniting for a common national cause. They are my foundation, they are my family. I will play my cricket for them. Their spirit is the true spirit of cricket. With me are all my people. I am Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burgher. I am a Buddhist, a Hindu, a follower of Islam and Christianity. I am today, and always, proudly Sri Lankan.”

The above words did, undoubtedly, touch and move many people. But it needs to be acknowledged, that the above words are that of a cricketer who represents the Sri Lankan cricket team. It is obvious then that Sangakkara had to stress the obvious: that in representing Sri Lanka he is Sri Lankan, today, always, proudly. That sense of being Sri Lankan is a feeling that all of us who are proud Sri Lankans share and feel when supporting our cricket team. So while Sangakkara’s words were indeed inspiring, they meant something we all understand, something quite obvious.

Yet, when it comes to the issue of addressing problems affecting diverse ethnic groups within that very same multi-ethnic country, adopting a Sri Lankan approach or approaching the problems as Sri Lankans would indeed sound noble and laudable but mean very little in practical political terms.

Now, this popular demand – think like Sri Lankans, act like Sri Lankans, adopt a Sri Lankan approach when resolving Sri Lankan problems – can be one which stems from a genuine and honest idealism, and it needs to be acknowledged that there are numerous good-intentioned individuals who make that demand. And the efforts made by such individuals and the idealism that drives them to adopt such a position should be appreciated. But this demand can be made with different motives in mind and for different reasons too, especially by a government faced with mounting criticism on various fronts internationally. It could also well be a demand which comes not because of any genuine concern for the people, but very simply because of the hidden frustration of having to address demands which are made, and have been made over decades, by a particular ethnic group.

There are a number of questions that arise here. For example: what is so unique about approaching problems from a more Sri Lankan-oriented perspective?; is this a meaningful demand or suggestion given the complexity of the problems inherent especially in a multi-ethnic State (as opposed to a mono-ethnic State)?; is this Sri Lankan identity an all-embracing multi-ethnic identity which overcomes problems posed by other more narrow ethnic-based identities, and are there any specific and distinct solutions one who is adopting such a special Sri Lankan identity can offer?; who interprets or defines this Sri Lankan identity and what that identity-holder should advocate or stand for in the realm of politics?

A number of factors need to be borne in mind.

Firstly, it is incorrect to suggest (if indeed this suggestion is sought to be made by any one) that you inherited your Sri Lankan identity before any other ethnic, religious or linguistic identity. Those who do tend to make this claim, and it is a very rhetorical one, never explain how exactly this happens, especially at the moment of birth.

Secondly, it needs to be realized that one cannot claim that one particular ‘identity’ is good, and another ‘identity’ is essentially bad or dangerous. Deep attachment, pride and glorification of any identity can lead to much suffering, and there is absolutely no guarantee that a Sri Lankan identity is far more peace-loving than a Sinhala or Tamil identity, and vice-versa, unless they all are based on a moral and ethical foundation that promotes peace and tolerance. Importantly, much depends on what you make of whatever identity you espouse.

And all identities are defined and formulated according to one’s own political predilections, and one cannot in all seriousness expect any objectivity in engaging in that exercise of definition or formulation. As Prof. Michael Roberts once pithily observed: “there is no such thing as hundred percent objectivity” (Michael Roberts (ed.), Sri Lanka. Collective Identities Revisited, Vol II, p. xiv) – but what this assertion should help one realize is that even one percent of subjectivity can make all the difference concerning how one approaches and attempts to resolve a problem. As many would know, this is also an observation that naturally flows from the teachings of the Buddha. As the Buddha noted: “Led by one’s own wishes (chanda) and established on one’s own likes (ruci), how can one go beyond one’s own views? Acting upon what one has perfected, as one knows, so one speaks.” (quoted in David J. Kalupahana, The Buddha and the Concept of Peace, 1999, p. 99). So if the argument is that a problematic identity should be replaced by another, we need to quickly realize that by attempting to create a new identity what we are doing is actually the recreation of those very same problems of subjectivity we wish to resolve.

This is quite obvious, when one takes note of the manner in which various people have defined what it means to be Sri Lankan over the past decades and in relation to the current conflict. For some Sri Lankans, there should be no talk about the need to accommodate different ‘nations’ within the Sri Lankan nation-state, because some genuinely fear that such talk would only polarize the people. There are those Sri Lankans who are extremely skeptical about devolution, and within that broad category there are those who believe, while advocating democracy, equality and human rights, that if devolution is indeed necessary, it should be realized by fully preserving Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity (see for example, CG Weeramantry, A Call for national Reawakening, p. 144). Furthermore, there are those who favour a federal solution and they too are indeed Sri Lankans. The difference here being that for those who advocate federalism, their understanding of what that Sri Lankan identity ought to mean necessarily involves a reference to, inter alia, the sharing of power in the form of federalism. And within that broad category of federalists, there are the numerous sub-categories as well, such as liberal federalists and those who might be called social democratic federalists or confederalists (see for instance Rohan Edrisinha, ‘Federalism: Myths and Realities’ in Rohan Edrisinha/ Asanga Welikala (eds.), Essays on Federalism in Sri Lanka, 2008, p. 106).

Hence, the varied interpretations of being Sri Lankan or what that ought to mean. So what then does one mean by being truly Sri Lankan and approaching problems as Sri Lankans? What happens if one wants to be considered a Sri Lankan Sinhalese, or a Sri Lankan Tamil?

Thirdly, it is well to realize that while there are problems common to all peoples belonging to a State, there are critical problems affecting specific peoples within a State too. A broad, all embracing, vague and abstract Sri Lankan identity which does not attempt to address critical ethnic problems is, unfortunately, a somewhat useless identity, because the moment someone tosses the simple question – how do you resolve the issue of devolution? – you inevitably fall back on an essentially ethnic problem. And the problem here is that the ethnic problem is within the State, and the ethnic groups are, indeed, Sri Lankan. And the answer – let’s approach the problem as Sri Lankans and resolve it as Sri Lankans – does not, unfortunately, mean anything substantive or useful, since you can do the same by approaching the problem as a Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim if necessary.

Consider for instance the approach adopted by the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, who, when interviewed once by the NHK in September 2004 stated the following:

“I am first and foremost a citizen of Sri Lanka. I don’t carry labels of race or religion, or any other label. I would say quite simply that I have grown up with the philosophy that I am probably, kind of a citizen of the world. I don’t subscribe to any particular philosophy; I have no fanaticism; I have no communism. I am not impressed by any body’s claim to the race… I believe there should be a united Sri Lanka. I believe that all our peoples can live together, they did live together. I think they must in future learn to live together after this trauma is over.”

Now, here was a ‘quintessential Sri Lankan’. But what was his approach to the ethnic demand for power-sharing? His Sri Lankan identity did not lead him to argue that there was no ethnic problem, or that there was no ethnic-demand for political power-sharing in Sri Lanka (while he was opposed to the use of the term ‘civil-war’ which was employed to describe the armed conflict). He never evaded the question hiding behind his Sri Lankan identity. His position was very clear. While he believed that there should be a “just, fair and equitable” solution and that “it is the establishment or re-establishment of democracy with the participation of the people that is ultimately the best guarantee of all against secession or separation”, he had argued quite forcefully, before pointing out why the 13th Amendment failed (because it was “not allowed to work” and was “not being implemented in any meaningful sense”), that:

“If true democracy is re-established there and the people are given the autonomy, which they deserve and which is common now in so many parts of the world, they will respect it. They would be grateful for that. They will work for it” (See speech made in Parliament during the tabling of the Constitutional amendment proposal on 8th August 2000).

My argument here is that you can think the way the late Lakshman Kadirgamar thought about it (and arrive at a pro-devolution based solution), or you can think from the perspective of a Sinhalese or Tamil who thinks power-sharing is absolutely essential – and still arrive at the same conclusion!

So, that demand exists and it’s a demand which has to be addressed, and it doesn’t matter to the people whether one calls himself a Sri Lankan first, or a Sri Lankan Tamil, or a Tamil Sri Lankan or a Sinhala-Buddhist, as long as a solution is provided because that is what the people expect.

Without digressing too much, it should also be noted here that interestingly, Lakshman Kadirgamar was the most favoured politician of some who have been opposed to the idea of devolution, but it is rather strange that some of them completely ignore how Kadirgamar approached the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. While it is necessary to recognize the concerns of those who are genuinely skeptical about devolution, it is well to realize that the genuine advocacy of devolution of powers is certainly not a ‘Tamil Eelamist’ position to take: unless of course one argues that Kadirgamar was a Tamil Eelamist too.

Fourthly, and finally, I believe what is necessary is not some vague and idealistic Sri Lankan identity (even though there is great potential in idealism and we all are driven by some form of idealism), but rather a more rational and critical Sri Lankan identity, if it is indeed a truly Sri Lankan identity that is sought to be created and is thought to be necessary to resolve problems in post-war Sri Lanka. No identity or label should retard one’s ability to think beyond that label when and where necessary. Even when treading the political ‘middle path’, such labels should not hinder a person’s ability to critique rationally the injustices meted out to people belonging to any single ethnic group. Protecting national sovereignty is necessary, and that is considered by some to be the defining characteristic of a Sri Lankan identity; but it needs to be realized that protecting sovereignty can be done in numerous ways and that there cannot be any suffering caused to the people in the process of protecting and safeguarding sovereignty.

No identity or label that is defined and imposed by others should stifle an individual’s voice where it is seen that grave harm is caused to another who, as Jesus Christ would have taught, should be treated as your brother. This is especially so concerning the specific and serious problems affecting the people in the North. It is deplorable in this respect if any attempts are being made by this regime or responsible individuals representing it, to belittle the seriousness of the attacks directed at Tamil politicians and the Tamil people in particular who have, for decades, undergone enough suffering due to an armed conflict. It is not only action but also words which can go a long way in recreating the wheel of violence which should be avoided.

Furthermore, it is perhaps important to remember that any Sri Lankan identity should fundamentally be one which celebrates the diversity of opinions, views and ideas that people genuinely and ardently hold on to in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural polity. Whether one is comfortable with a view or not, it needs to be recognised that no progress of any kind will take place unless the people are guaranteed the freedom to raise their voice and opinion on what they believe to be the ideal political solution to the conflict within a united Sri Lanka, whether or not that opinion is popular within the State and among its people. Unless and until that happens, our much proclaimed Sri Lankan identity will be a classic case of ‘being nobody, going nowhere’, meaningless, useless. We will be card-carrying Sri Lankans, with our freedom and ability to think critically, rationally and logically sucked out; in short, a Sri Lankan who is not worth the card he is carrying.

  • Tony

    Talk,talk,talk,,,,,,,,, ENOUGH.

    Anybody for a Trail to good governance ??

    March to Kilinochchi and stop foundation stone-laying ceremony to build a sports stadium – the country should stop ”election-winning” projects. Let’s help each PC draw up a forum to plan for sustainable development drawing the services of people of that area and some good samaritans like Friday Forum who can help PC fora till they take root.

  • Nanthakumar

    We are all Sri Lankans!

    Genuine attempt for equality, justice for All Sri Lankans are welcome.

    However, why Rajapaksa Regime do it so soon after the screening of the C4 – Sri Lanka Killing Fields?

    To divert attention from the horrific war crimes ?

    We are all witness how Rajpaksa Regime is bludgeoning democracy, freedom of speech and people alike.

    Recently, the beloved pet of the opposition politician in Jaffna was brutally killed and decapitated, human faeces were flung on another Tamils’ walls, funeral wreath placed in front of TNA candidate in Kodikamam house, Tamil woman candidate for Sandillipay have had the words ‘Death’ written in front of her houses and Rajapaksa’s goons in “white vans” are busy tears down opposition election posters and replaces them with posters of the government campaign.

    Rajapakse regime is not really interested in justice ; they are only interested in maintaining their hold on power. To this end they are keeping the Tamil people suppressed under military rule, and the Sinhala people mesmerized by triumphalism.

  • myil selvan

    Sadly the GoSL is pushing a sinhala identity as the Sri Lankan Identity. In such a scenario there is bound to be problems. Unless the Sri Lankan government pushes a multi-ethnic identity as a Sri Lankan identity there will always be problems. When you exclude rather than include you will have problems.

    Will the sinhala writers on this forum, who believe in a truly multi-faceted Sri Lankan identity, meet the President and ask him to sincerely push for reconciliation instead of militarization. I ask the sinhalese writers because the GoSL maybe more receptive to them. If they see Thamils involved they may think this is a Thamil project. But the Sinhalese people should make their voices heard that they want genuine reconciliation and a multi-faceted Sri Lankan identity promoted.

    Writing is the first step, a meeting with senior government officials could be the next?

  • davidson

    My suggestion:

    Let us please start making the practical steps:

    1. Development plan for the Northeast is most urgent (- haphazard vote-catching projects will push us further into the past) – probably will help other PCs too check their plans and actions.

    2. Many conscientious people and experts in their fileds who went up to LLRC and who spoke about the urgency of a development plan for the Northeast may press the button for 1. Perhaps Friday Forum may take certain initiatives to help the Eastern PC and soon Northern PC.

    …………
    …………………….

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Kalana, Bravo! You have pushed the argument forward, opening it up further. Kadirgamar, Weeramantry, Sangakkara are markers of a Sri Lankn identity, but you have pointed out the need to problematise the issue i.e. examine it problematically, not simplistically. This is good conceptual work.

    May I suggest that the discourse of Vijaya Kumaratunga and Ranasinghe Premadasa be also closely revaluated as potential building blocks.

    The trouble with contemporary cyber-cosmopolitan ‘Sri Lankanism’ is that is elitist and alienated from the millions on the ground who will have to buy-in. By contrast, Vijaya and Premadasa stood for a grounded, grassroots, ‘organically’ pluralist Sri Lankan identity.

    • Dr Jayathileka
      Would you be kind enough to enlighten us on the specifics of what Mr Kumarathunga and Mr Premadasa were proposing

      Thank you

      • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

        Hi Thilina,

        Vijaya Kumaratunga was both rational and passionate. He once said at a public meeting in Kandy that there was no such thing as ‘Sinhala blood’ (‘Sinhala ley’) and that he knew only of the blood types A , B, AB and O. He was outspokenly anti-racist and openly critical of Sinhala chauvinism. He was passionate about a Sri Lankan identity, but that was not an identity that ignored Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher identities, which he often referred to. He believed in dialogue and interaction between the communities and cultures. He was also a modernist and a cosmopolitan.

        What makes him different from those who are engaged in this interesting discussion/debate on GV, is that he was (a) passionately patriotic, anti-imperialist and supportive of liberation struggles and (b)was no less passionately pro-poor and could be described as a radical populist AND a social democrat.

        He would have been utterly at home with the new left governments of Latin America today.

        I wrote four cover stories for the Lanka Guardian about Vijaya. We travelled together to Moscow for the World Festival of Youth and Students in 1985, he gave me shelter during part of my ‘underground existence’ and after his death I was among those who produced a documentary on him which was shown on Rupavahini for several years running. His library, his office and his residence ( plus his rooms at his mother’s) revealed that his main heroes were Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.

        Vijaya’s project was that of a New Left, but one which brought together the old and new lefts as well as progressive student and social organisations.

        On Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue, his programme was unambiguous. He supported the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact of 1957, advocated devolution and provincial autonomy, defended the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th amendment but opposed the permanent merger (without a referendum) of the North and East.

        Though he attempted a dialogue with the LTTE for the release of Sri Lankan army captives, his political alliances were with the Eelam Left, namely the PLOT and EPRLF, which he wished to bring together in a single front, with the Southern Left.

        While he was totally opposed to the Pol Pot like radical nationalism of the JVP, he remained a patriot to the end and in his last speech at Campbell park Borella he said that he would fight at the risk of his life to prevent Sri Lanka from becoming a satellite of Western imperialism and neocolinialism or another state of India.

        President Premadasa described his vision (in an extended interview given to Neville Jayaweera, later published as an official pamphlet) as that of A MULTI-ETHNIC DEMOCRACY. A maestro of the Sinhala language, a recognised writer and poet in that language, and a knowledgeable and practising Buddhist (Prof Peter Schalk wrote an essay defining his Buddhism as deriving from that of the Theosophical society and also as being Asokan), he insisted on a policy and actual practice of multilingualism and multireligiosity. The militant idelogues among the Buddhist clergy condemned his discourse as “bahu kathawa” , meaning “Multi Talk” or “Pluri Talk”.

        It is not that he was not a Sinhala nationalist. That he was, as his novel ‘Golu Muhuda’ would reveal, but that was a depiction of Dutugemunu’s struggle as against a foreign invasion and beach-head. Yet he was not mainly or primarily a Sinhala nationalist. His was a pluralist Sri Lankan patriotism.

        Again, unlike those referred to or debating on GV, he was almost obsessively focused on social upliftment of the masses and the eradication of poverty. He was no less passionate about the safeguarding of national sovereignty, as his stand on the return of the IPKF, his shutdown of the Israeli Interest Section and his throwing out of UK High Commissioner David Gladstone demonstrate. On the record, he expressed great admiration for the massive modernisation and assertive independence from the West, of Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammed.

        As the voluminous record of the All Parties Conference at which he presided shows, as did his patronage of the North Western Provincial Council under Jayawickrema Perera against an obstructionist bureaucracy, he supported provincial devolution which would be supplemented by a touch of subsidiarity and strong small unit devolution( Pradesheeya Sabhas at AGA division level).

        I have always firmly believed that the Vijaya-Premadasa (or Vijaya-Premadasa-Kadirgamar) project of national identity contains an essential ingredient that all the well-meaning cosmopolitan projects, however ‘ecumenical’, ‘liberal’ or ‘ radical pluralist’ lack. Those are the crucial factors that Antonio Gramsci calls the ‘mass’ , the ‘organic’ and the ‘national-popular collective will’ that is necessary for modern nation building.

        Gramsci wrote:“an effective Jacobin force was always missing, and could not be constituted; and it was precisely such a Jacobin force which in other nations awakened and organized the national-popular collective will, and founded the modern States.”

        • Dear Dr Jayatilleka

          Thank you kindly for your response.
          If one charts the points you make on a rudimentary biaxial spectrum with the X axis indicating a measure of Cultural focus with polar opposites being the community and the Individual and the Y axis measuring Economic focus with its polar opposites too being the Community and the Individual, based on what you alluded as Late Mr Kumarathunga and Mr Premadasa were suggesting, they would pitch on communitarianism; More economic and cultural focus on the community than the individual. (Please correct me if I am wrong) This could exist in a government that would provide for the welfare of the community, and restrict individual freedoms? If yes, in building our National Identity, based on the above ideas, wouldn’t one have to sacrifice individual freedoms?

          Secondly, you indicate that one need to embrace 1) passionate patriotism, and 2) a sense of anti-imperialism. On a related note, scholars seem to indicate that ethnic people seem to ‘wear’ their National Identity more when they are posed with an external threat and at other times to be ‘wearing’ their cultural identity within a multicultural society . Considering the present level of military occupation in the North, would it be fair to assume that the Tamils may be left to feel threatened by the presence of the military as the Jacobin Force and further solidify a Tamil Nationalism?

          Sincerely
          Thilina Rajapakse

          1. Li Gong, Ethnic identity and identification with the majority group: Relations with national identity and self-esteem, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Volume 31, Issue 4, July 2007, Pages 503-523, ISSN 0147-1767, DOI: 10.1016/j.ijintrel.2007.03.002.

          • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

            Communitarian yes, well said, but with several qualifiers. Liberal Communitarianism would not imply a dimunition of individuality. The ‘Communitarian’ ASPECT of my perspective would be the ‘moderate nationalism’ of communitarian thinkers such as Charles Taylor and Michael Walzer. I believe I have said this before in an essay on GV.

          • Red Lines and Historical Realism, published as a Long Read on Groundviews. Relevant excerpt:

            “Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Gramsci have highlighted the difference—unflatteringly–between West and East (especially the West and Asia) in terms of state and social formation, and Stalin once argued heretically but accurately that in the relationship to imperialism “the Emir of Afghanistan is more progressive than the British Labor Party”. (I venture the same case for Mahinda Rajapakse). A successful project of Sri Lankan social democracy has to incorporate this recognition of uneven development and the specificity of Asian concerns and consciousness into a new synthesis: an Asian social democracy, which is marked by a communitarian inflection, not a deracinated transplant of pro-Western liberalism.

            In no way do I intend this as an adoption of the ‘Asian cultural values’ perspective or a rejection of universalism in political philosophy and thought. A group of quite outstanding thinkers have staked out a position distinct from the antipodes of liberal individualism and collectivist fanaticism. These theorists stand for a ‘moderate patriotism’ and a ‘communitarian’ perspective. They include Richard Rorty, Charles Taylor, Alasdair Macintyre, Michael Walzer and (if you revise the formulation to ‘left patriotism’ or ‘left republicanism’ instead of the ‘communitarian’) Regis Debray.”

          • renu

            Can you please bring your wide and deep knowledge to prevent the vote-catching projects by Rajaoakses and to make them agree for proper planning of sustainable development of the Northeast by appropriate people?

  • ordinary lankan

    Walking
    Talking
    Thinking
    Doing nothing

    All these things are important when handled with intelligence.

    It is intelligence we lack and this is compensated by violence – of all sorts….

    We are in deep shit – I cannot put it more graphically.

    Getting out requires some truly deep work – and long term stuff.

    Those inspirational quotes from Kadi and Kumar have something to do with the nation building work of the Trinity Principals Fraser (1904-24) Rev WS Senior (Call of Lanka) and Campbell (1924-35). They moulded the soul of a liberal environment at Trinity. Other schools have benefited likewise but it requires an intelligent youth to reap in full measure the legacies coming from the past.

    They were also preceded by what Karen Armstrong calls KENOSIS or emptying of the soul. Realizing experientially that our identities are made up of bits and pieces of what we have picked up and a whole lot of other things running right back to the first homo sapiens that we know precious little about. So when Sanga says I am S/T/M etc he is probably right! The more you keep hitting reality like hitting the ball with the meat of the bat the faster those competing pseudo realities of race – religion – class and caste fall away. That hard reality is made up of basic things like pain, sorrow and happiness and an awareness of the poignancy of this human condition.

    So long as you hold on to a trace of conventional identification you cannot embrace diversity. Paradoxically being empty also means that you can include ALL.

    For those who cannot make it to Kilinochchi I would recommend a walk down the road in your own neighbourhood – to notice things you never noticed before; and make it a daily walk!!!

  • Kamaya

    Essential questions are raised throughout this article which makes it analytically interesting. However, one particular paragraph raised my attention:
    “My argument here is that you can think the way the late Lakshman Kadirgamar thought about it (and arrive at a pro-devolution based solution), or you can think from the perspective of a Sinhalese or Tamil who thinks power-sharing is absolutely essential – and still arrive at the same conclusion! So, that demand exists and it’s a demand which has to be addressed, and it doesn’t matter to the people whether one calls himself a Sri Lankan first, or a Sri Lankan Tamil, or a Tamil Sri Lankan or a Sinhala-Buddhist, as long as a solution is provided because that is what the people expect.”

    Isn’t it wrong to say that what really or only matters is to arrive to a solution? This suggests that if X takes path A to get to a certain solution and Y takes path B to arrive to the same solution than the path one chooses does not really matter as long as the solution is reached. Yet, what matters is not merely to provide a solution but a “sustainable” solution. Depending on the path one takes, the mindset we build along the way and the sustainability of the solution might/will be different.

    Identity is not necessarily something we inherit but something inherent to us. To say that one inherits a certain identity –whether it is the Sri Lankan identity, the Sinhala or Tamil identity- is wrong. Identity is something that we actually built within ourselves. Depending on each individual, there will not be one but various Sri Lankan, Sinhala or Tamil identities. Hence the importance of (re)defining a Sri Lankan identity, one that will incorporate ethnic differences/similarities and that will ultimately give us a stronger sense of national yet multi-ethnic solidarity. It is as Sri Lankans that we need to solve our ethnic issues and if we don’t we might actually end up doing the same mistakes as in the past…

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    1. In order to pre-empt a ‘primordialist’ vs ‘constructivist’ debate on identity, let us adapt Marx who reminded us that ‘man makes History but not under circumstances determined by himself’. We can/may/must make our own identity but not ex nihilo; we make our own identity out of the raw materials given by concrete history/histories.

    2. Affiliation with a higher, broader identity is to be commended and aspired to over narrower and ‘lower’ ones. The latter cannot be obliterated, only transcended. Transcendence may entail synthesis.

    3. Thanks, most recently to Amartya Sen and Anthony Kwame Appiah, we are conscious that we have more than one identity. So far , so good, but how do these multiple identities operate?

    4. What is the ‘shape’ of identity? Is it layered, with one identity as base? Or is it in concentric circles, with one identity at the core? Or is it conical, with one identity at the bottom and the others radiating outwards and upwards?

    5. I suspect that identity is not static, but dynamic, even protean. This or that one of our various identities come to the fore depending on stumulus/response. In so far as one feels existentially threatened IN THAT IDENTITY or that dimension of one’s identity, e.g. one feels existentially threatened AS a Sinhalese or Tamil, or man or woman, that is the idemtity that is pushed to (re)assert itself. ( Hence my last article to GV, entitled ‘Enough!’)

  • Tony

    63 years and socio-economic-environmental fabric of the Northeast gone.

    Many good ideas were aired at LLRC sessions by eminent Sinhalese experienced in many aspects of civil service. On top priority was laying public a plan for systemic/sustainable development.

    This week some vote-catching projects that are an impediment to systemic/sustainable development are going to be started. It’s only the Sinhalese who have the power to stop them. What is good for the Northeast is good for the country.

    First things first please.

    A lot of theorising has been done here – now some practical steps please.

  • ordinary lankan

    Interesting Dayan. Thank you.

    These are valuable sources. But they are secondary and external sources.

    In asking the question ‘who am I’ the primary source is the self. And within that self there is a child who wants to be recognized and respected and who wants to have influence over others.

    In this regard our basic enabler or disabler is our primary caregiver…not Vijaya, not Premadasa or Che Guevera.

    Of course I am not expecting to be understood. This is a one way street – meaning everyone is heading outwards (not inwards); and the usual reaction to someone going the wrong way on a one way street is “hey you fool, where do you think you are going? can’t you see the signs”.

    Well all the people we are looking at had rich inner lives and depth. that is the common denominator. We must look more at determinants of greatness than their external manifestations. If I lack depth I will not be able to understand the depth of feeling displayed by another.

    I am also passionately Sri Lankan – but I have seen so much imitation, superficiality and inauthenticity and seen so much simplicity across the palk straits that I have sometimes wondered how many centuries behind India we are….

    It is at a time like that when Sanga struck his boundary. So we take heart and gird our loins once more….

    • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

      Ordinary Lankan,

      Interesting. Well said.

      Now one has to define ‘primary’and ‘caregiver’.

      • Ravana

        DJ,
        Primary Caregiver should be read as one, not separately. In social and psychological sciences this is a technical term used to identify the mother. It is recognised that the mother-infant relationship is primarily important in the emergence of a secure sense of self.
        I presume what Ordinary Lankan refers to is that it is ones parents who make you or break you at the start. This then determines the rest of the course of your life until you have a therapeutic experience which allows you to give up the false sense of self.

        Interestingly, some sources appear to believe that “therapeutae” was derived from “thera putta”=”sons of the elders”, an ancient name for followers of theravada. : )

  • Dayalan

    Dear Dr.Dayan,

    Reading your artcles is so refreshingly resourceful. Moderately educated Sri Lankans, such as I, can only read and listen with open minds, at your command of contemprory thinking. My question is, who would be the implementers of the creation or nuturing of the “New Sri Lankan that Vijaya, Premedasa,Kadirgamar and Sanga” have in mind. How can we make this happen. We have the theory the, intelectual power, as in yourself, but where do we go from here ? any ideas doctor ?

    • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

      Dear Dayalan, take a leaf from the French Revolution. Before a major, positive transformation is possible, enlightening and inspirational ideas have to achieve a position of prominence, even dominance. The work of the French Encyclopaedists provide a model. So, simply put, these ideas, of a moderate, pluralist, inclusionary patriotism, willing and able to defend national sovereignty and the gains of our military victory over secessionist terrorism, while building a different and better Sri Lanka based on a New Social Contract and a more ethical politics, have to be elaborated, developed and popularised. They must take hold at a mass level. This is what Fidel Castro calls ‘the battle of ideas’.

  • Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam

    Groundviews
    I have followed threads of numerous articles and comments on groundviews on “The Problem”. They all end up in the deep recess of our and your hard drives and fade away when the next topics is introduced. Some are worthwhile to follow and others best left alone. In the recent discussions on “Identity” – Sri Lankan or otherwise, much apparent sense and non-sense is said, but both are important to be analysed not just in words but also visually to determine the consequence of adopting the sense or non-sense ideas. Many readers are wanting practical ideas.

    I used to and still use the software “Inspiration” for Mac. I am told that it is also available in Windows format. It has many Templates for all topics that can be modified to suit various topics. Each box has buttons that lead to boxes to write notes or give references.

    May I suggest that Groundviews staff use the software,”Inspiration”, choose the diagram from it that would fit the topic of discussion and document in short topics the ideas expressed. In the Social Studies file there is Template on “Conflict Resolution”. The current topic is Sri Lankan identity can be summarised in that Template. Much has been written but where does each of the positions take us?

    The space provided for comments now does not permit the diagram to be displayed. May be your Tech people can find a way.

    • Will an intrepid reader take up this offer?

  • ordinary lankan

    Dayan and Ravana

    thanks. In a couple of words “close relationships” throughout your life will make or break you. they have been described as sites of psycho social destruction and also reconstruction.

    If we work hard at supporting a change of consciousness – a shift that is taking place and has taken place in Arab countries for example the transformation will happen

    This is my contribution – the inner work is always complemented by a study of great personalities with whom you can enter into a kind of silent communion through their writings …. this association can also be another close relationship – the way St Francis related to Jesus…

    • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

      Ordinary Lankan, I think you are on the ball.