Colombo, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

‘Long War, Cold Peace’ & the Return of Dayan Jayatilleka

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After what seemed to be a brief but palpable and conspicuous absence from serious public engagement (in late 2012), Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka has returned from Paris; a return marked by his characteristic interventions in the press and the release of a book, titled ‘Long War, Cold Peace: Conflict and Crisis in Sri Lanka’ (Vijitha Yapa, 2013). The book, his second major publication on Sri Lanka, brings together most of his writings on Sri Lankan affairs which were published in the papers during the past few years.

This is a timely intervention; not only because the author was a former diplomat who had staunchly and successfully defended the country overseas, but mostly because his views on numerous domestic and foreign policy matters seem to run counter to the dominant ideological positions adopted by the present regime. The confluence of these factors makes Jayatilleka’s intervention a coruscating and critical one, with the delightful (or dangerous?) potential of irking the regime; especially a firm and unflinching political administrator like Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, than a seemingly indecisive political leader like President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

But how does Jayatilleka’s approach differ from the regime’s, on some of the critical problems confronting the country? Is there a mismatch in these two approaches, or is it a mere chimera?

Armed conflict, investigations and human rights

The regime’s understanding about the consequences of the armed conflict, about what had to be done to avert international pressure, was always problematic. Its propagandists considered the bloody and necessary confrontation with the LTTE to be a ‘humanitarian mission’, with zero-civilian casualties; therefore, investigations were considered wholly unnecessary, and calls for human rights protection were often dismissed. But these were never going to be convincing arguments in the diplomatic arena, especially in the long term. The conflict was, at best, only partly ‘humanitarian’, and a policy of ‘zero-civilian casualties’ was simply that, a policy.

Jayatilleka, to be sure, was a staunch defender of the crushing of the LTTE. He had advocated the need to defeat the LTTE for a long time (even in his 1995 book, ‘Sri Lanka: The Travails of Democracy). And he argues in his latest book, rather unsurprisingly, that “at no time were civilians wittingly targeted as a matter of policy” and that issues pertaining to “accountability will be dealt with by each society at its own pace” (p. 348). But Jayatilleka begins to adopt a different and useful stance when he advocates the need to carry out investigations into specific incidents or allegations of crimes (as he once informed Radio France Internationale). The war, as the LLRC Report showed, was not squeaky clean; and Jayatilleka has had no problem in endorsing it. This is unlike the regime’s approach; a regime which is determined to undermine the relevance of the LLRC. Ironically, the regime has decided to appoint a member of the LLRC as Jayatilleka’s successor to Paris at a time when the country is being censured for not properly implementing the LLRC’s recommendations.

Jayatilleka also rejects cultural relativism. He writes: “Human rights are not a Western invention or booby-trap, to be decried and shunned like the devil. Though there is a constant attempt to use human rights as an instrument to undermine national sovereignty, the answer is not to shun human rights or to pretend that these are intrinsically inscribed in our culture and therefore automatically observed, but to protect them ourselves and to maintain verifiably high standards of human rights observance nationally” (p. 351). Therefore, there is support for “a strong, independent Commission on Human Rights, Equality and Elimination of Discrimination headed by a person with international credentials and of acknowledged international stature” (p. 349). Furthermore, Jayatilleka seeks to uphold international law while continuing to regard state-sovereignty and sovereign states as the cornerstones of the world order (an approach similar to the late Lakshman Kadirgamar’s).

Sri Lanka, the West and the UN

The current regime has a dubious relationship with the West, wherein the latter configuration is often regarded as an ‘enemy’. The regime despises the West, but it also wants to impress them. Sri Lanka is part of the UN, but it is also famous for its mindless and insipid attacks on the UN and its representatives, who come to be often viewed as ‘terrorists’ or their foreign representatives.

Jayatilleka is an anti-imperialist – a strong admirer of Che and Castro – and a believer in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). He was also a most forceful critic of the West’s attempt to pass a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in May, 2009. Yet, he advocates the need to avoid being polarized on Western-centric and isolationist lines, and thereby attempts to chart a middle course which is globalist (especially in its outlook on politics, security and culture). Adopting a more pro-NAM, pro-Asian approach, he argues for a “successful project of Sri Lankan social democracy” which needs to synthesize Asian concerns with uneven development into “an Asian social democracy, which is marked by a communitarian inflection, not a deracinated transplant of pro-Western liberalism” (p. 64).

More importantly, Jayatilleka recognizes that the West does not constitute an ‘enemy’; however divergent the views and interests of Sri Lanka and certain members of the West may be. This approach has many advantages. It helps the country to be both critical of the West or the UN, but not be seen as an ‘enemy’; to be mindful of the politics of its representatives, but without relapsing into inelegant and unnecessary attacks which antagonize them; to be critical of selective, Western-inspired, attempts to hold Sri Lankan leaders accountable, but also be clever to ensure that by rushing to hold the Commonwealth Summit it is only attracting increased scrutiny and attention (as Jayatilleka has pointed out in a recent interview). There is, in such an approach, a realistic appreciation of the strength of the country, its size and place in the world; an appreciation that is totally lacking at present. 

India and 13th Amendment

Sri Lanka and India are currently in a tensed relationship. Sri Lanka believes that China will be there to rescue her, even if it means that China has to jeopardize its relationship with India; but what Sri Lankan policy makers fail to realize is how deluded they are, or how more intelligent China is. Furthermore, the regime’s views on devolution are confusing; wittingly or unwittingly. The President promises the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, while Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa rejects the need to do so; and at present, it is inconceivable how the President of the country can override the wishes of the Secretary of the Defence Ministry. The regime’s current policy is to remind India about how it provided arms and training to the LTTE and other groups promoting secession in Sri Lanka in the 1980s; a useful reminder no doubt, but not in the form of a daily mantra.

Jayatilleka’s, to be sure, has been a very contrasting approach; which is partly why he got sacked from Geneva. He has not denied India’s responsibility for exacerbating the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, and there is a useful critique of the understanding of the Sri Lankan conflict by Indian diplomats and policy makers such as KN Dixit (p.167-77). Yet, Jayatilleka believes strongly in the continuing relevance of India’s goodwill, and the need to ensure that the Indian centre does not capitulate to the whims of Tamil-Nadu. He understands more clearly the dangers confronting the country, in the context of BJP’s threatening stance and the 2014 Indian elections. For Jayatilleka, this is a diplomatic game which needs to be played with the 13th Amendment; i.e. by implementing it, not simply by promising to do.

Jayatilleka correctly acknowledges that Sri Lanka “is the only homeland that the Sinhalese as a collective, have” (p. 365). But he also points out: “What we must prevent is the break up of the country based on monopolistic ethnic ownership of the North-east… we cannot deny the Tamils right to co-ownership, and such recognition is the only means to prevent separate ownership” (p. 263). It is necessary to have a Sri Lanka “which remains unitary but contains an irreducible autonomous political space for the Tamil people of the North and East” (p. 265).

Within this overarching plan, Jayatilleka believes that the “struggle to implement the 13th Amendment fully remains as progressive a task as it ever was” (p. 267) – that the implementation of the 13th Amendment is to be regarded as a progressive task perhaps tells us where we are. Adopting a realistic and practical approach, he notes that his support for the 13th Amendment is largely because “it is already in place and does not have to be (re)negotiated” (p. 268). Why? “Anything else would be too risky. Open up the issue again and the Sinhalese may offer less, the Tamils may ask for more and the world may see an even more divided island” (p. 271).

But Jayatilleka is not blind to the nature of Tamil politics which, according to him, has failed to adopt a realistic approach. Given the TNA’s dismissal of the 13th Amendment and its belief that a solution even within a united Sri Lanka may not be possible, he argues for “both the retention of the 13th amendment and the freeze, pause or slow-motion movement of the electoral process to the Northern Provincial council unless and until there is verifiable proof of a change of paradigm on the part of the ITAK/TNA” (p. 297). If there is a greater threat, it would even be necessary to dissolve the Northern council; as he points out in a recent article (‘TNA President’s Avurudu Gift to the Hawks’, Daily Mirror). It is only later then that there can be any compensation for the loss of the de-merger by suitably amending the concurrent-list (p. 420).

And, such a policy has to be implemented only in a way that safeguards Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; a matter which is non-negotiable by any means whatsoever (p. 298). Security, therefore, is of utmost importance; reform of the Sri Lankan State should be “underpinned by a prior guarantee of security” (p. 65).

Sri Lankan Identity

Finally, what of Sri Lanka and its identity-crisis? Here again, the regime cuts a pathetic figure given the political patronage it provides for groups such as Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) which are increasingly whipping up anti-Muslim hatred. The regime is confused on the question of how a Sinhala-Buddhist majority should accommodate the minority communities within the country.

Jayatilleka is opposed to the present trend; he was never your Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist, anyway. Therefore he has been comfortable in critiquing the BBS, and usefully so. And in broader terms, Jayatilleka points out that “‘we’ had failed to become ‘us’”; therefore, building an “overarching Sri Lankan identity” and belonging to “an extended Sri Lankan family” needs to take place “while we belong to our particular ethno-national ones” (p. 23). The inability to build a truly Sri Lankan identity, Jayatilleka believes, is “the key, the most crucial problem” confronting Sri Lanka today (p. 429); with the “only pathway to build a successful Sri Lankan identity” being “equality of citizenship” – “the idea that Sri Lanka belongs equally to all of its citizens” (p. 432). Here too, Jayatilleka’s attempt has been to tread a middle course, between what he often describes as Sinhala chauvinism and Tamil chauvinism.

Realist approach

Jayatilleka’s, then, is a ‘progressive realist’ approach, and he believes that a “progressive Realist must work with what exists, not what might have existed – and he/she must do so precisely in order to transform that reality for the better or to avoid its turn for the worse” (p. 294). In adopting such an approach, Jayatilleka strives to show consistently the “reality within which one [has] to situate oneself and work” (p. 296). It is such a realist perspective that he urges the Left to adopt: a “radical realism” which is also ethical.

But Jayatilleka is also a pragmatist; and there seems to be much of Rortyan pragmatism in his work. Perhaps he would agree that apart from Antonio Gramsci, a critical and more pragmatic left and/or social democratic formation would do well to read Richard Rorty too. And one reaches the zenith of Jayatilleka’s realist-pragmatic approach when he writes: “the Tamil ethnic/national question can never be resolved. It can only be addressed and managed i.e. partly co-opted, partly accommodated, partly contained, partly confronted and combated” (p. 424). It is a statement which throws up a number of questions that cannot be discussed here, even though it is one statement of the book which I fully endorse.

Limitations and concerns

The first limitation of Jayatilleka’s account is also his strength: the realist approach, one which he is extremely fond of. The problem here is that like most ‘realist’ approaches, Jayatilleka’s too is one which is constructed and determined by his own political preferences. Now, this is fine; for no political approach is neutral or objective (and any political analyst who calls himself ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’ should not be trusted). But given the uncertainties of politics and the flexibility with which a realist-approach needs to be constructed, such an approach will tend to be seen as an ever-shifting one.

This is perhaps best exemplified in an important essay titled ‘Tamil politics’ (p. 278-301); wherein Jayatilleka advocates the implementation (and freeze) of the 13th Amendment (p. 297), but also goes on to advocate a policy of ‘LLRC first, 13th Amendment second’ (p. 301) [I believe this has happened due to the fact that this particular essay is a synthesis of a series of articles Jayatilleka wrote about the TNA, and the two policies came to be highlighted in two different articles]. Also, Jayatilleka was somewhat supportive of the government’s intention to establish a Parliamentary Select Committee to address the Tamil question (p. 277); a policy which he may view with greater suspicion today than he did when serving in Paris.

If then, what is necessary is not the abandonment of a realist-approach; rather, it is to realize that there is no inherent advantage in adopting the realist-approach given that it needs to constantly shift in an ever changing political environment. Jayatilleka’s claim that his is a realist-approach therefore need not be uncritically endorsed, however alluring the call for ‘realism’ tends to be.

Secondly, even though Jayatilleka is perhaps the best foreign minister President Rajapaksa never had, he was one of the best diplomats the latter had. This, however, reminds one how marginal Jayatilleka’s voice has been, even unsuccessful, in bringing about any kind of serious reform of the regime’s domestic and foreign policies. That even the likes of Jayatilleka who were close to the powers that be have failed in this regard reminds one of the unimaginably complex and gargantuan task of reformation that confronts the people.

Thirdly, this in turn suggests that Jayatilleka now has to take his critique to another level wherein he will need to argue that this current regime is indeed unable and unwilling to reform itself. But here, I admit that Jayatilleka has initiated such a critique; the best piece of evidence being his speech at the seminar organized by the Young Journalists Association in which he both critiqued the regime and noted the impending necessity of a possible (peaceful) regime change at the next election.

Yet, wouldn’t Jayatilleka’s advocacy of regime change be conditional? And understandably so, because any serious claim for regime change would need to be mindful of, for example, the kind of opposition that confronts the regime, the kind of threats the country confronts especially from external forces, and whether the oppositional formation is to be perceived as being in a better position to meet such challenges than the current regime. It might even be necessary to factor-in the hopeless choices one gets to make during election time. What, also, of the schisms within the regime itself? Given, for example, the way in which certain Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists seem to be rallying behind Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, would Jayatilleka feel that the first call needs to be for a change within the regime and not the regime itself, given also the hopelessness that has come to define the opposition? These are perhaps questions that can only be answered as and when they arrive.


Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka is one of Sri Lanka’s most prominent and eloquent political analysts; a scholar who has also made a useful contribution to the global debate on ethical violence. And engaging with Jayatilleka’s work has been an interesting and challenging enterprise. I have supported some of his views, while also critiquing him on certain occasions; an approach I will continue to adopt. As with the writings of any analyst or political commentator, vigilance, or constant revaluation, is required when following Jayatilleka’s work. As is the case with many of us, he too has come to change some of his views over the years, and might continue to do so in the years to come.

Yet, ‘Long War, Cold Peace’ is a useful reminder that one can, while defending the defeat of the LTTE, still adopt realist and pragmatic approaches to problems confronting the country which are different from those adopted by the current regime. Jayatilleka’s critique, in a sense, unmasks the mediocrity that has come to define this regime. But precisely because it does so, the title of the book might also define the very nature of Jayatilleka’s relationship with the current regime. It might not be a long war, but most certainly a cold peace, as always.

For now, however, Jayatilleka is back after a few years of thankless service in the diplomatic arena, back in Sri Lanka where it all began, and perhaps back with the feeling: this is how the ship sinks.

  • Padraig Colman

    “a scholar who has also made a useful contribution to the global debate on ethical violence.”

    Do you really mean “ethical” violence?

  • Sarath Fernando

    Dear Kalana,

    I note that you were quite careful and apt in summarizing as “Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka is one of Sri Lanka’s most prominent and eloquent political analysts” – prominent, given the volume that he churns out, and eloquent, for the way-better than average use of the queen’s tongue.

    What caught my eye in particular was the fact that you very carefully avoided using anything close to “intellectual” or “intelligent” in your characterization – that alone says a lot about what you truly think of Dayan’s “prominent and eloquent” contributions! And you are absolutely right!!

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Dear Padraig, I know you were trying to take the mickey, and fair enough, but more seriously and to provide some context, here’s something that may interest you by Prof Nick Hewlett of Warwick:

    ‘Recent events on the world stage have led to a renewed interest in the question of political violence. To take some of the most obvious examples, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, and the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, show that violence in countries and regions characterized by profound political upheaval is a highly topical issue. Wars, revolts and resistance will no doubt continue to be part of the foreseeable future, not least because of the continued shift of global economic and political power away from the United States and towards China and elsewhere, and the substantial shifts in geopolitical power these changes will bring with them. Amongst the many ethical issues raised by changes involving violence are those that apply to the violent overthrow of an existing regime, and/or more broadly an existing socioeconomic and political order. The ethical questions raised in such contexts include: Under what circumstances (if any) is violence justified? Who is justified in pursuing violence in revolt? If and when violence is legitimate, what are the limits to permissible violence? Do some radically different ends justify extreme violence? Does the nature of violent revolt affect the nature of the goal? Is pacifism or quasi-pacifism an appropriate means of effecting change in some (or all) circumstances? None of these questions is new, and responses to them are bound to be complex, but these are the sort of questions which will remain relevant for many years to come and will continue to require a framework for debate.

    In an important and concrete contribution to the debate on violence and revolt, [Dayan] Jayatilleka examines the ethics of violence of Fidel Castro. Via a detailed study of Castro’s writings, speeches and revolutionary practice, Jayatilleka suggests that the Cuban leader resolved the disagreement between Sartre and Camus regarding violence and morality; Sartre was critical of Camus’s disapproval of the violence of the oppressed. Whether, or to what extent, Jayatilleka is right in identifying Castro as the bearer of a correct moral stance on this question is less important for our purpose than what in effect becomes his (Jayatilleka’s) position on the ethics of violence, which is concerned with the actual practice of revolt. It might be argued that in light of the human rights record of the Cuban regime since the early 1960s, Castro cannot be held up as a moral arbiter of the ethics of violence in revolt. It might also be argued that any code of ethics that was adhered to during the 1958 revolution has been overshadowed by the abuse of human rights since the revolution. However, for the sake of highlighting Jayatilleka’s contribution we will bypass this debate.
    Castro, writes Jayatilleka, is the ‘‘modernist, rational, internationalist; fighting full-scale wars when necessary, but never resorting to targeting of non-combatants, physical torture and execution of captives’’. Castro’s main contribution to Marxism is the introduction of an ethical and moral dimension, which is ultimately based on Christianity. The moral superiority of the freedom fighter is ‘‘cultivated not by abstinence from violence as in the case of Gandhi, nor by the tactical use of violence as in the case of Mandela, but by conscious restraint in conduct, methods and targeting within the practice of armed rebellion, liberation war and revolution’’.

    Jayatilleka then suggests three attitudes to violence: there are those who contend that violence is always wrong, those who defend it if it is in pursuit of a just end, and those who argue that not only should the end be a worthy one but that the means of achieving this end must be subjected to ethical scrutiny. It is the latter attitude to violence that he considers the correct position and which according to him Castro embraces. More specifically, a bad use of violence is ‘‘terrorism targeting unarmed, non-combatant civilians; torture and arbitrary execution of prisoners; executions within the organization; and lethal violence against political prisoners’’. One of the merits of Jayatilleka’s work is precisely that it does not shy away from specifics. He argues convincingly that Sorel, Fanon, and Sartre did not go beyond:

    “the understanding of the effect of dehumanization of the violence of the oppressor on the oppressed and the effect of humanization on the oppressed of the exercise of counter-violence, to an understanding of the effect of dehumanization of violence on the oppressed (which the Gandhians and other pacifists understood), when used by them without limits. There is no dialectical understanding of the violence of the oppressed, encompassing its contradictory aspects, both liberating and dehumanizing. This, however, was a concern of Camus, though his attempt to resolve the contradiction was unsatisfactory”.
    Jayatilleka’s point is that Castro’s approach to violence is superior in that it combines morality and ethics into a discourse and practice of freedom fighting, in what becomes a synthesis of utopian-idealist socialism with both the scientific approach of Marxism and the praxis of Leninism. It is not necessary to endorse Castro’s views and practices, and certainly not in their entirety, in order to recognize in Jayatilleka’s argument a most welcome contribution that advances the debate on the relationship of classical Marxism and its legacy and the ethics of violence in revolt. At the very least, it defines a framework for discussion and offers highly concrete examples in an area where one is in danger of remaining either in the realm of abstractions or in the pragmatics of cases as they arise, without a middle way that offers an ethics based on both principle and practice.

    Modern treatments of the ethics of violence in revolt fall into three broad categories. First, there are those who are best described as pacifist of quasi-pacifist, associated with Gandhi in particular, but also with certain feminist writers. The second group is that which, broadly speaking, seeks to justify violence when it is used to defend liberal democracy (which group, I suggest, includes Waltzer and to some extent Arendt). Finally, there is the group that attempts to justify violence when the ultimate ends of a violent campaign are viewed as just (i.e., the ‘‘just ends’’ approach, with which Sorel, Fanon, Marx and Engels are often associated).

    My basic claim is that the exploration of the ethics of violence in revolt should combine the salient elements of all three approaches, particularly those of the first and the third approaches. My contention is that certain aspects of classical Marxism provide a useful framework within which to develop an ethics of violence in revolt of this kind, which is appropriate for the twenty-first century.

    I argue that in constructing a framework for the study of the ethics of violence in revolt we should look at concrete examples of revolt in order to temper the more idealized approach. The balance of these two elements is perhaps the greatest challenge for any ethics of violence, and is found in Jayatilleka’s fascinating examination of Castro’s thought and practice. His approach is an attempt to combine warm stream and cold stream theories of radical change, when applied to actual historical change, which is always more complex, and often harsher and more unpalatable, than debate in the abstract.

    What I am arguing for is therefore both an interpretation and an augmentation of Marx and Engels that allows for an eclectic use of the work of thinkers who postdate them. Rather than interpreting the Marxist view of violence mainly as it is expressed in the Sorel-Lenin-Fanon/Sartre lineage, which often concentrates on justified violence as a form of self-defence, we should add and combine other, less obvious, influences. These might include not only the authors mentioned above but also, for example, the theory and practice of Gandhi and in particular his notion of nonviolent struggle through satyagraha. Another would be Martin Luther King and his practice of nonviolence, and also Malcolm X, who held that in the struggle for civil rights some violence was inevitable. This might seem impossibly eclectic, but only, I suggest, because new, even hybrid forms of thinking are urgently needed when it comes to the use of violence in revolt.’

    *Prof Hewlett is at the Dept of French Studies, University of Warwick, UK. This is excerpted from his essay ‘Marx, Engels, and the Ethics of Violence in Revolt’, in The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms, Routledge, 2012

    • Padraig Colman

      Not taking the mick at all. Just seeking clarification. Thank you for taking the trouble to give such a lengthy reply. I will check out Nick Hewlett. Looking forward to reading Dayan’s book.

    • Padraig Colman

      Dear Dayan,

      I am at a disadvantage because I have not yet been able to get hold of your book and am relying on reviews of it.

      The phrase my brain could not cope with was “ethical violence”, used by Kalana Senaratne in the Groundviews review of your book.

      Reading Nick Hewlett on Colombo Telegraph I have copped on, because he uses the phrase “the ethics of violence”. That seem to me somewhat different and my feeble brain can compute that.

      Nick Hewlett’s comments provide food for thought.“The ethical questions raised in such contexts include: Under what circumstances (if any) is violence justified? Who is justified in pursuing violence in revolt? If and when violence is legitimate, what are the limits to permissible violence? Do some radically different ends justify extreme violence? Does the nature of violent revolt affect the nature of the goal? Is pacifism or quasi-pacifism an appropriate means of effecting change in some (or all) circumstances? None of these questions is new, and responses to them are bound to be complex, but these are the sort of questions which will remain relevant for many years to come and will continue to require a framework for debate.”

      Although most ethical systems enjoin one not to kill, and I am personally averse to violence, I can understand that passive resistance may not always be effective. I wrote a series of articles in The Nation about the democratic deficit in most of the world. There are places where the parliamentary and civil society route is just not going to work for oppressed minorities. A couple of obvious examples that spring to my mind are the apartheid states of Israel and the old South Africa.

      Less extreme examples would be the inability of ordinary voters in EU countries like Ireland or Italy to influence their fate beyond voting out the scoundrels who ruined their lives. The ejected scoundrels continue to live well on the taxpayers’ funding and the new men are unelected eurocrats.

      Many Sinhalese would deny that Tamils had any grievances. More moderate people might question whether the violence unleashed by the LTTE was proportionate to the grievances.

      Similarly, in Northern Ireland, there is no doubt that Catholics suffered severe discrimination. Was the violence unleashed by the Provisional IRA proportionate to the injustice suffered?

      I have written on Groundviews about the cult of martyrdom among Irish and Tamil nationalists. See:

      I would welcome your comments on that article.

      If we accept that violence is inevitable in some situations, we may be being realistic but it does rather let the genie out of the bottle. I might be able to understand why Martin McGuinness in his particular circumstances as a young man in Derry might come to the conclusion that he had no other option but to join an organisation that was prepared to use violence. Someone, I respect very much regards McGuinness as a friend who is today doing good work in the interests of peace and reconciliation.

      However, if we are to talk about “ethical violence” or “the ethics of violence”, we have to take note of how violence is used. Attacking military targets is one thing. What about the ethics of lobbing grenades into Israeli pizza parlours full of children? What about hacking to death Muslims at prayer?

      Some foreign tourists and a woman pregnant with twins were blown to giblets in Omagh. They did not choose to die for a united Ireland. How many Irish people would be willing to die for a united Ireland? How many would agree with Bernadette Sands McKevitt that it would be worth dying to object to the arrangements making up the Good Friday Agreement which brought a measure of peace which most of “the people” so deeply craved?

      The Real IRA has few members and zero popular support, but it still has bombs and it still kills innocent people. It gives itself permission to do this by calling on the example of previous martyrs.

      I remember in the heady days of my youth in the late 60s reading Marcuse, Fanon and Regis Debray. I shared the intellectual atmosphere also breathed by middle class revolutionaries in Italy and Germany who thought they were justified in killing civilians because the system was oppressive and “the state” was “violent” in many ways. The system is even more oppressive today. How helpful , how ethical would it be to kill civilians?

      Hewlett quotes Dayan as saying a bad use of violence is ‘‘terrorism targeting unarmed, non-combatant civilians; torture and arbitrary execution of prisoners; executions within the organization; and lethal violence against political prisoners’’.

      How do you put a lid on that?

      Can’t help thinking about Isaiah Berlin on ends and means.

      Hewlett concludes: “This might seem impossibly eclectic, but only, I suggest, because new, even hybrid forms of thinking are urgently needed when it comes to the use of violence in revolt.”

      • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

        Dear Padraig, I am in near-total agreement with you. At the moment I can do no better than contribute to further explication and clarification by quoting a renowned Israel strategic thinker’s evaluation and summary of my perspective.

        Dayan’s book on Castro merits attention

        A top Israeli scholar-analyst, who served as adviser to several Prime Ministers, has described Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka’s book on Fidel Castro as a ‘fascinating book’ that ‘deserves attention by all concerned with global norms’ in a review posted in January 2013 on

        Yehezkel Dror, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was Senior Policy Planning and Analysis Adviser with the Israeli Ministry of Defence, a consultant of the Israeli Cabinet Office and advised several Israeli Prime Ministers.

        Professor Dror served on the Israeli Government-appointed panel that investigated the military’s performance in the 2006 Lebanon war. The Harvard educated academic is the author of ‘Israeli Statecraft: National Security Challenges and Responses’ (Routledge).

        He has served as a senior staff member of the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California, directed the Strategic Studies Section of the Davies Institute for International Relations at the Hebrew University and is a member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies and of the Club of Rome.

        In the review entitled ‘Realistic Ethics for Revolutionary Violence’, Prof. Dror wrote:

        “This is a fascinating book discussing the author’s understanding of the ‘ethics of violence’ of Fidel Castro. I am not qualified to express an opinion if and how far the book correctly describes the actual behaviour of Castro. But the book does present impressive ethics of violence fitting bloody revolutionary situations, as developed and expressed, at least verbally, by one of the most interesting and relatively successful revolutionary leaders of the 20th century.

        In essence, the suggested ethics justifies the use of violence, including extreme forms, if essential for making a revolution succeed, while restraining unessential violence not justified by evil acts which justify retribution. Thus, violence was not condoned against soldiers fighting on the battlefield against Castro’s troops, but was regarded as fully justified against those torturing revolutionaries, murdering them after they capitulated, and engaging in violent anti-revolutionary actions after the victory of Castro.

        Comparing such ethics of revolutionary violence with the barbarism of deliberate mass killing by Germany’s National socialist regime, or Stalinist Soviet Russia, or mass killing terrorists, or African tribal ethnic killings, demonstrates the importance of developing a realistic ethics for revolutionaries – fitting, for instance, the Syrian revolution.

        Trying to apply the norms of international humanitarian law to such situations is inappropriate and cannot work, while the absence of realistically applicable rules abandons the domain to normless behaviour. As revolutions are sure to characterize humanity for quite some time, because of transformative historic processes, there is much to learn from this, discussion of Castro’s explicit normative thinking, however probably idealized.

        Therefore, this book deserves attention by all concerned with global norms, who should take into account the realities of revolutionary processes so as to limit violence to what is realistically necessary and morally justified in such extraordinary situations.”

        Emeritus Prof Yehezkel Dror awards Dayan Jayatilleka’s book five out of five stars, the highest possible rating.

  • karl singham

    Fernando says

    “What caught my eye in particular was the fact that you very carefully avoided using anything close to “intellectual” or “intelligent” in your characterization – that alone says a lot about what you truly think of Dayan’s “prominent and eloquent” contributions”

    I don’t know whether Senaratne deliberately avoided using the words “intellectual” and “intelligient” in describing Jayatilleke and his work.I would however add these words on my own.Without doubt heis the most astute and well-read public intellectual in a country, and bold intrepid one at that, which can boast only of nit-pickers and verbal scavengers.
    I may add that Senaratne’s essay is a very fair and well-informed, indeed intellgient and intellectual, analysis.Every poitical commentator should surely study Rorty’s work.

  • Orion

    Kalana Seneratne,
    You write.
    “And one reaches the zenith of Jayatilleka’s realist-pragmatic approach when he writes: “the Tamil ethnic/national question can never be resolved. It can only be addressed and managed i.e. partly co-opted, partly accommodated, partly contained, partly confronted and combated” (p. 424). It is a statement which throws up a number of questions that cannot be discussed here, even though it is one statement of the book which I fully endorse.”

    I would also agree with DJ’s statement if he would have said. “the Tamil/Sinhalese ethnic/national question …”

  • georgethe bushpig

    Dear Senaratne,

    Thank you for a neat analysis of Dr. Jayatilleke’s book; saves me the whole hassle of having to read it myself.

    When reading your analysis what struck me was the incompatibility of Dr. J’s positions. On the one hand Dr. J argues that we have failed in building an “overarching Sri Lankan identity” …. ” and that it is “…the most crucial problem ” confronting Sri Lanka today (p. 429).” You quote him stating that the “only pathway to build a successful Sri Lankan identity” [is through] “equality of citizenship” – “the idea that Sri Lanka belongs equally to all of its citizens” (p. 432)”.

    (BTW, it is important to note that in February he was proposing a “hybrid solution“ of “very strong anti-discriminatory legislation” as a substitute to “absolute equality of citizenship” and presenting it as the “ethically appropriate” way to go; his change in position on this is most welcome.)

    On the other hand, he contends that from a “realist” and “pragmatic” perspective the “struggle to implement the 13th Amendment fully remains as progressive a task as it ever was” (p. 267)” on the grounds that “it is already in place and does not have to be (re)negotiated (p. 268)”; that in trying to do so the “Sinhalese may offer less” and the “Tamils may ask for more”.

    Dr. J reaches the conclusion that “the Tamil ethnic/national question can never be resolved. It can only be addressed and managed i.e. partly co-opted, partly accommodated, partly contained, partly confronted and combated” (p. 424)” (a statement that you say you “fully endorse” – looking forward to further elaboration on this). Not surprisingly, this is the only logical conclusion you can reach if the 13th Amendment is the primary vehicle put forward for addressing the Tamil communities’ legitimate grievances.

    Having identified the problem of a lack of an “overarching Sri Lankan identity”, and then to circumscribe the visioning of a new inclusive identity to the confines of the 13th Amendment, is like putting someone in a straightjacket and asking them to paint a landscape (I guess if you are Christy Brown you’d do it with your left foot but we are looking for something a little more crisp I would presume). The reason why the 13th Amendment won’t resolve the “Tamil ethnic/national question” is not because it provides too much or too little to the Tamil community but because it is a bad piece of legislation for Sri Lanka as a whole regardless of whether you are Tamil, Sinhalese or anyone else other than the President.

    Much has been written on this but I think M C M Iqbal (one of the secretaries of the first Provincial Council of the Western Province) provides a first-hand analysis on GV of the bogus devolutionary nature of the 13th Amendment.

    If you are too lazy to read the whole article, which I believe should be compulsory reading for all Sri Lankans, here’s a conclusion you might want to digest: “The defeat of the LTTE has provided President Rajapakse a golden opportunity to settle the problems of the Tamils once and for all. His current popularity among the Sinhalese could make them accept whatever solution he puts forward to the problem saying that it is the need of the hour to bring about lasting peace and prosperity to the country. He could achieve this expectation only by putting forward a solution that would ensure a devolution of powers to the Provinces which would in fact be a true devolution and not a fictitious one [referring to the 13th Amendment]. One that leaves no room for any community to feel discriminated or treated as second class citizens.”

    Based on Iqbal’s analysis of the 13th Amendment, Dr. J’s support for “equality of citizenship” and the 13th Amendment are in fact irreconcilable.

    I’m rather demoralised with the “realists” and “pragmatists” leading the discussion on the path out of this morass considering that they were the ones who brought us to this point in the first place. Isn’t it time we began a process of visioning an inclusive Sri Lankan identity together with a true devolution of power to all Sri Lankans? Wouldn’t a “radical humanism” be more appropriate under these circumstances? Reality is mutable!


    p.s. BTW, the specter of separation by stealth even if the 13th Amendment were to be implemented is shown by Iqbal as having a snowballs chance in hell of becoming reality. Basically a non sequitur.

    • Padraig Colman

      “The reason why the 13th Amendment won’t resolve the “Tamil ethnic/national question” is not because it provides too much or too little to the Tamil community but because it is a bad piece of legislation for Sri Lanka as a whole regardless of whether you are Tamil, Sinhalese or anyone else other than the President.”

      I used to write for Lakbima News on a regular basis and still tremble to recall blistering three-way battles on this subject between Dayan, Malinda and Rajpal (with Kumar David sometimes joining in, only to be called a “loser” by the editor who was paying him).

      I would stand aside from such battles but would humbly ask how “devolution” on a geographical basis would help “minorities” who are scattered all over Sri Lanka’s geography?

      Not fighting, just asking. Not taking the mick. Just trying to advance my education. To quote the American philosopher Hilary Putnam: “Ain’t got no hound in this race.”

      • georgethebushpig

        Dear Mr. Colman,

        I do sympathize with the trauma you have undergone being exposed to Dayan, Malinda and Rajpal battling it out. BTW, I have enjoyed reading your stuff over the years.

        While I’m no expert on this topic here’s my 2 cents worth anyway – keeping in mind that I said a “true devolution of power”.

        Devolution and decentralisation is supposed to provide more opportunities for participation and consequently more opportunities for determining how public finance will be apportioned for development work. Where “real” devolution and decentralisation is instituted, it follows that effective mechanisms will be established for all communities to participate in priority setting and decision making.

        In this context, the likelihood of ethnicity becoming subordinate and common interests becoming the driver of community development becomes more of a possibility. I think it is safe to say that livelihood issues of a fisherman, farmer, shop owner or professional etc. are the same regardless of their ethnicity. Development would begin to reflect more the realities of social stratification rather than ethnicity.

        As a safeguard however, a system of representation will also need to be built into decentralised structures and institutions to avoid a capture of the process by the majority. This would apply equally to all provinces based on the specific composition of minorities in each province. This would also mean that minorities and majorities will have to elect their respective representatives to the provincial posts rather than being appointed by some supreme entity. They would also need to enjoy a certain level of authority/autonomy to advance the development agenda of their respective provinces.

        I don’t believe however that devolution and decentralisation solves minorities’ “collective rights” issues and I presume that would have to be dealt with using other instruments at the central level.


        • Padraig Colman

          Thank you GBTP. I will read, mark and inwardly digest.

      • Off the Cuff

        Dear Padraig Coleman,

        These are my views on the question you raised which I think is appropriate.

        “how “devolution” on a geographical basis would help “minorities” who are scattered all over Sri Lanka’s geography?”

        My view of devolution is that it should not be based either on Ethnicity, Religion or Language but only on the population, (any other method being divisive) a head count of those residing in the area that is to be devolved powers of governance. This means the devolved unit will have a mixed population and will neither be mono ethnic nor mono religious nor monolingual. Thus it will have a majority and minorities within it. Depending on geographic location some units will have a Tamil majority while others would have a Muslim or Sinhala majority.

        It is also my view that the control of public resources within the devolved area should be in proportion to the head count within that area to the head count of the whole Island. This means that the Land area that forms the unit of devolution would contain all private property within that area plus the allocated proportionate Public held land, as detailed above (based only on the head count). This devolved unit should have complete and unfettered powers over such land for any development the governing body of that unit decides as long as it would not jeopardise the rights and security of the rest of the island and does not use Central Govt funds.

        Since all devolved units will have, as the Supreme Law the constitution of the land, they would be subject to the Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution. Every citizen irrespective of domicile will have her/his rights protected (assuming the Supreme Court will be independent and not subject to encroachment of its powers, vested on it by the Constitution, without a duly carried amendment to the Constitution).

        Geographical devolution will allow those who are living in the unit devolved, to manage its own affairs in accordance to the needs of that area which may or may not have priorities that would be different to the country as a whole. It will also allow National minorities to have a decisive say in the governance of the devolved areas.

        It will allow any citizen living anywhere in Lanka and who feels s/he would be more comfortable living under a govt ruled by her/his own ethnicity to do so at will.

        A problem arises when development is funded by the Central Govt. In this case all the citizens of Lanka becomes stake holders. The burden of investment (and debt) would be carried by each ethnic community in proportion to the National proportions and hence the fruits of that investment should be distributed to all in the same proportions and not restricted to those who reside within the Unit as envisaged by the 13A.

        Gal Oya commissioned in 1952 (800 000 acre feet) required an investment of Rs 75 million (exclusive of downstream cost), which was 10% of the annual export earnings from tea.

        Accelerated Mahaveli Development Project, commissioned in 1978, with the intention of utilising the 7 billion acre feet of water that flowed in the Mahaveli river to irrigate the dry zone. Cost was Rs 55 billion (up to 1989), more than twice the annual export earnings from tea.

        Restricting the fruits of such massive investment which has mortgaged the future of all citizens of the country to a small population residing within the area where the development took place cannot be justified in anyway. River basin development would occur where the river basins are located and not elsewhere.

        There are times when National Funds should be used in development that will mainly (and sometimes only) benefit the local people of that area. Projects that are aimed at providing basic facilities for the people will fall into that category.

        Jaffna has a shortage of fresh water. A brilliant Tamil Engineer, Sanmugam Arumugam, devised an ingenious scheme to solve this eternal problem of the people of the North. Mr Arumugam, while being an Engineer of the Irrigation dept (he retired as Senior Deputy Director of Irrigation) conceived the idea of catching the freshwater that flowed into the lagoon at Elephant Pass when Iranamadu tank spilled over. An article describing this was published in a newspaper which caught the eye of the minister of irrigation (in 1956) C.P. De Silva, resulting in the Elephant Pass Lagoon scheme which later developed to the River for Jaffna or the Arumugam Plan.

        The work involved installation of one way gates at Elephant Pass, Earth Dams, Barrages at Thondamanaru, Arialai and a canal connecting Vadamarachchi Lagoon to Elephant pass lagoon. All but the canal was completed and improved the Fresh water availability of the peninsular. It fell into disrepair but restoration work was restarted in 2003 when it stopped again due to the LTTE. Probably the cost of completing the project today would be over a billion Rupees. The full project cost (including the cost of completed works) would today cost several billion.

        • Padraig Colman

          Thank you Off the Cuff. I will read, mark and inwardly digest.

        • Mapa

          I think, all ethnic groups should live in areas dominated by them. It is only when they have their own areas with their own admiistration that there will be peace and harmony.

          I am yet to read Dr. Jayatilaka’s book. Some people say it looks unfiished. Perhaps I should wait till it is finished. Hopefuly Dr. Jayatilaka who I believe is a leading public intellectual in the world will finish it here on Groundviews treating us to his wisdom and saving us from buying the book. An ebook would also be good.


          • Off the Cuff (M.N.I.N. Perera)


            “I think, all ethnic groups should live in areas dominated by them”

            Rubbish in Rubbish out.

    • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

      In order to further assist in saving you the hassle of reading — or, God forbid, actually buying–the book, here’s another review which critically summarizes the volume:

      ‘Long War, Cold Peace’ – The Unfinished Story Of An Unfinished Conflict
      April 22, 2013 | Filed under: Colombo Telegraph,Opinion | Posted by: COLOMBO_TELEGRAPH

      By Lasanda Kurukulasuriya –

      Lasanda Kurukulasuriya
      Dayan Jayatilleka’s Long War, Cold Peace – Conflict and Crisis in Sri Lanka’ appears at a moment in history when Sri Lanka stands at a crossroads.The war is over but there is yet a crisis of reconciliation and a crisis of state to be resolved, and so a stable peace still eludes us. These are the issues that Jayatilleka primarily worries about in his new book. It runs into several sections and sub sections on the historical record of how we came to be where we are.

      The first aspect of the crisis of reconciliation is located, as it has been by many others, in the need to forge an overarching national identity that includes all communities. A less obvious aspect of the crisis that the author identifies is what he calls “the crisis of post war consciousness and discourse.”

      “Those who call for a just peace refuse to admit that it was a just war and therefore face a crisis of domestic legitimacy. Those who maintain that it was a just war fail to call for a just peace, a peace with justice for the Tamil community.

      The Tamils for their part have failed to make a clean break from their recent past of support or sympathy for secessionism and terrorism.There is no post war discourse which combines a strong position in defence of the war with a strong drive for a sustainable peace on a new basis of a fairly redrawn ethnic compact. This is the crisis of post war consciousness and discourse.”
      It is in this important area that the book makes its main contribution — one of its objectives, by the author’s own admission in the preface, being to provoke the debate and discussion that is needed. ‘Long war, cold peace’goes headlong into the narrative without detaining the reader with the niceties of a foreword or intro written by some other scholar etc. If the book comes across as having been produced in a hurry, it is because it was.

      The author and publisher (Vijitha Yapa) were keen to “send the manuscript to the press in time for the March 2013 session of the UN Human Rights Council and the discussion on the event.”

      The book combines documentary, analysis and opinion (at times all rolled into one) drawing on the author’s multifaceted experience as a political scientist, academic and diplomat. He was also briefly a minister of the ill-fated North East Provincial Council (NEPC) formed in 1988 under EPRLF’s Varadharajah Perumal. Chapter three(‘Conflict and Negotiations’) that deals with the formation of the NEPC and the reasons for its failure is one of the book’s most detailed and nuanced sections. This is no doubt owing to the author’s degree of proximity to and involvement in the events chronicled.

      Starting from the genesis of Tamil separatist violence this section traces the trajectory of the Eelam Left, the shifting balance of power between its constituents, the LTTE’s rise to pre eminence,the bloody serial massacres tha teliminated its rivals, the Indo Lanka Peace Accord of July 1987, the developments leading up to the outbreak of war between the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and the LTTE in Oct 1987, the formation of the NEPC and the factors leading to its eventual collapse.

      The seemingly intractable interplay of forces at different levels – inter-state as well as intra-state, is made comprehensible,aided by reference to the “unchronicled and undocumented processes that were going on at that time.”

      ‘Long war, cold peace’ does not pretend to be a complete historical account of the war, and its narrative does not proceed in a straight line. While it deals withthe important landmark events and issues(the Eelam wars, July 1983, the Indo Lanka Accord, the Ceasefire Agreement, the P-TOMs, the military victory over the Tigers, post war politics, the international dimension) the book’s interest lies more in the author’s analytical approach and ability to place things in perspective.

      There is an ethical dimension to the discussion that runs through it like a sub text, and this is where the book’s appeal would lie for those with a philosophical turn of mind. The author’s encyclopedic familiarity with political theory,conflict situations and armed struggles elsewhere in the world allows him to make comparisons at every point (Columbia’s FARC, Central America’s FMLN and URNG, the MNLF in the Philippines, SPLA in Southern Sudan, the PLO and the IRA).This constant cross-referencing helps the reader to understand the particularities of Sri Lanka’s crisis and its manifestations. It also helps to separate criticisms that are valid from those that are not.

      In the latter part of the book that deals with the international dimension, Jayatilleka refers to the ongoing discourse on war crimes and says “the assertion that the endgame that actually took place needs to be investigated as a war crime” is baseless.The reasons he gives, briefly are, firstly, the Tigers were a fascist force that had to be decimated. Secondly the Sri Lankan forces had to operate according to a tightening timetable not of their own choosing. Thirdly at no time were civilians wittingly targeted as a matter of policy, nor were they boxed in and deprived of an exit by the state.
      In no way does this argument amount to a dismissal of human rights as “a Western invention or booby trap.” Though there are constant attempts to use human rights to undermine national sovereignty, Jayatilleka pleads that the answer is not to shun human rights but to protect them ourselves.

      It is imperative to realise that the international pressures “are a symptom and byproduct of something that has gone wrong in our external relations and our ability to communicate with the world.” The only real antidote against these pressures he argues is to have “strong, credible, NATIONAL institutions and mechanisms.”The author offers pointers as to how, in his opinion, the crisis of reconciliation can be resolved. Central to that project is his belief in the 13th Amendment and the urgent need for devolution of power.

      If this book has an ‘unfinished’ feel to it, this is probably not unrelated to the fact that the conflict itself remains ‘unfinished’. Having been rushed to press, the manuscript’s main weakness is an element of repetition, duly apologised for in a note by the author. Some sections have been drawn from his previous publications. This creates a certain unevenness in the text, as the reader has to constantly shift gear so to speak, adjusting to varying levels of intensity of analysis and slightly different stylistic approaches adopted in different sections.

      However, consistency of philosophical approach is maintained throughout and this gives the work a binding coherence.’Long war, cold peace’ may be a bumpy ride, but worth it for the reader who, at the end of the journey,will arrive at a better understanding of the most urgent issues of our time.

      *This article is first appeared in Sunday Times Sri Lanka

  • Kalana Senaratne

    @ GTBP

    Thanks very much. But oh dear, will you not buy the book now?!

    I agree with much of what you’ve said. It would be great if we can evolve a more meaningful framework for devolution (a view I supported in a previous piece on GV). And I also think the spirit of ‘radical humanism’ has much to offer under present circumstances. But I also believe that the ‘realist’ perspective is somewhat accurate when it says that it’s simply difficult to move beyond 13A at present. The best that can be done under the present regime is the implementation of 13A and its gradual modification (eg. shifting more powers from the concurrent list to the provincial one while retaining the former, etc – as proposed by the likes of Asanga Welikala). So I share your concerns, and I think the search for something better should not be stopped. But I believe, if we can talk about something beyond 13A now, there’s no reason why we cannot talk about it later. Political solutions will never be satisfactory for a lot of people, so the point is to reform, revaluate, rethink; and that too on a continuous basis.

    @ Karl

    Thanks for that kind comment.

    @ Sarath Fernando,

    A very interesting reading, Sarath! Even though I am more careful today in the use of words, I have to disagree with you on this as I consider Dr. Jayatilleka to be a leading public intellectual in Sri Lanka (my first public defence of Dr. Jayatilleka, in March 2009, would be of some interest: see ‘Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka: A Balance Sheet’, SL Guardian and Daily Mirror). Of course, this does not mean that I fully agree with everything he says (not even with certain things contained in his book); and I am more inclined to be critical/deconstructive than realist/pragmatic (or rather, seek a fusion of them – which I agree can be somewhat problematic in politics!). In fact, it is such a critical approach that I adopt towards the writings of any one (be it a religious figure, be it my favourite philosopher named Siddhartha Gautama, or even a mentor I’ve worked under, Judge Weeramantry!).

    @ Padraig,

    Yes, what I referred to was ‘ethical’ violence, and Dr. Jayatilleka’s comments may have explained the matter. I do share your views on violence. However, I will not say much here as I hope to review his book on Fidel’s Ethics sometime later; a book which has been ably reviewed even in SL, by Liyanage Amarakeerthi, Asanga Welikala, et al.

    • Padraig Colman

      Thanks Kalana. I will look forward to reading that.

  • Padraig Colman

    We are certainly having a wonderful selection of wonderful reviews made available to us. It would have been difficult to dig these out for ourselves. I still intend to buy, with my own money, the book when I take the eight-hour trip to Colombo next week.

    As this seems to be a space for sharing reviews can I take the opportunity to direct attention to a rave review of work by myowngoodself? The subject matter is relevant to the discussion of the ethics of violence.

    If I may be so bold?

    Comments and correction and (civil) criticism welcome.