04 September 2011

The pathways from Democrazy to Ethnocrazy

It is fashionable at times to compare apples and oranges.  It is convenient to blur differences.  It is easy to use blanket terms.  For example, ‘The Arab Spring’, which implies that all Arab nations suffering political convulsions can be spoken of in one breath.  Egypt, however was not Libya and neither Saudi Arabia nor Bahrain will be allowed to be Egypt or Tunisia, let alone Libya. 
‘Libya’ was different because a degree of international approval for the NATO invasion was arm-twisted off the Arab League (which has since expressed misgivings), not to mention tacit approval by China and Russia.  Libya was different because of oil-wealth and a long history of being unbending to the will of Western thug nations.  Gaddafi didn’t do his case any good, sure, but then again, worse offenses have not provoked the same kind of invective backed by military invasion either.  The world is not fair, this we know. 
‘Libya’ has naturally invited comparisons with Sri Lanka.  Well, we don’t have oil; not yet anyway and even if we did, not in comparable quantity or quality.  Sri Lanka and Mahinda Rajapaksa are not exactly ‘unbending’ in the Gaddafiesque sense.  Neither does the tyrant-tyranny argument hold much water.  Still, when it is convenient truth can be fudged, realities manufactured and gonibillas conjured too. 
I read two comments which referred to Libya in the Midweek Review of the Island (August 31, 2011): Dayan Jayatilleka’s ‘Libyan lessons for Lanka’, and Fr. J.C. Pieris’ ‘Government lapses and the patriotic trap’.  Fr. Pieris’ chides Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera for going easy on the lapses of the Government.  He faults Dr. Amarasekera for not going far enough with his regime criticism, pointing out that they ‘cannot be disregarded as inevitable irritants we must put up with for the sake of the country,’ i.e to stop it from being the next Iraq or Libya. 
To be fair, all those who spoke at the symposium where Dr. Amarasekera called for the defence of the President, Dr. Amarasekera included, have on numerous occasions leveled scathing criticism on the man and his government; i.e. all those associated with the particular organization, the Strategic Initiatives for the Protection of Sri Lanka.  In my short presentation at the said symposium, I did refer to issues of corruption, flaws in governance and so on (elaborated in an article titled ‘Offensives and counter offensives’, Sunday Island of August 28, 2011), for example, and that was certainly not a one-off footnote-like comment.
Fr. Peiris is right, however.  This regime knows that to the extent that it is seen as a bulwark against separatism and bullying in a country where the stronger sections of the ‘alternative’ are as compromised morally and worse, have shown themselves to be ideologically and politically as thick-as-thieves with separatism, it has the patriots in the kind of bind that Fr. Peiris describes.  If, for example, there’s any Libyanization attempt or some external attempt at illegal regime change, then for reasons or morality and the need to mitigate threats on sovereignty and territorial integrity, Mahinda Rajapaksa will not find support lacking from the nationalists.
On the other hand, as Fr. Peiris rightly says, ‘A patriot does not steal from his own disadvantaged brothers and sisters; a patriot does not waste national wealth; a patriot does not sell our land, our assets and our resources to foreigners; a patriot loves all the people of the country and is just and fair to all not nepotistic; a patriot establishes law and order in the country and lives according to it’.  It is incumbent on patriots to call for patriotism on all counts, and tell those who would conjure the threat of a Sri Lankan ‘Libya’ that warding off the devil calls for putting the house in order as a necessary prerequisite on all the counts Fr. Peiris has enumerated and others besides. 
Dayan Jayatilleka
Dayan is different.  He’s a beneficiary of regime largesse.  True, he was extremely effective as Permanent Representative at the UN in Geneva in warding off anti-Sri Lankan initiatives, but has nevertheless abused the office and the prestige of title to tout his own brand of separatism.  He does rant and rave about Tamil grievances and does champion the Chelvanayakam plan of ‘little now, more later’ by arguing for ‘resolutions’ that will in effect fix the boundaries conjured by Eelamist myth-making.  He does not rant and rave about regime flaw.  His sycophancy was quite evident in his multi-newspaper defense of his boss, G.L. Peiries at the time the latter was facing a vote of no-confidence in Parliament. 
What is most striking, however, about Dayan’s piece is that he deftly (yes, he’s good at this) throws in selective realism to inflate the threat, making the devil blacker than he/she is.  He argues ‘Libya’ was made possible by the approval obtained from the Arab League, Organization of the Islamic Conference, and Gulf Cooperation Council.  Now, are we to believe that had such approval been absent, ‘Libya’ would not have happened?  By-your-leave is not part of the culture of global thuggery, Dayan knows this.  Indeed, he knows enough world history to give his readers a lengthy list of these R2P-like operations without any such approval from regional groupings. 
So why does he bring all that into the story? Simple: India.  Sri Lanka must please India, is and has always been this political quack’s line, frilled of course with lots of Marxist mumbo-jumbo.  He contends that ‘de-stabilisation, hegemonic intervention and regime change are possible only if there is a breach in the wall of neighbourhood solidarity’ and warns, ‘already in the sub-region, comprising Sri Lanka’s ‘greater Northern’ neighbourhood, voices of redolent of ancient animosity are being raised’.  He doesn’t have to say ‘India’ any more.  The thesis is clear: surrender to India’s will and the President and the regime will be safe.
It’s not about regime or president, though. It is about sovereignty and territorial integrity with or without regime or president.  The man goes on to re-define patriotism as all those things that win support from the neighbourhood (only one neighbor counts here, India).  Fr. Peiris’ criteria for patriotism is not even footnoted.  Dayan sweeps it all away with a clean India-made, for-India broom. 
He lets it all out by claiming that there is an ‘imperative need for compromises and concessions on the secondary and the tactical, so that a strong protective ring can be reconstructed on our perimeter, i.e., our neighbourhood, thereby protecting that which is essential: Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and the gains of the historic military victory’.  In other words, we need to please India, and pleasing India means giving into Eelamist demands pertaining to devolution, not because it resolves any ‘grievances’ but because it is a ‘tactical imperative’.  We need to, according to Dayan, agree to a course of action that asserts a falsehood and affirm claim that cannot be substantiated in order to, marvel of marvels, ‘ensure sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and gains of a historic military victory!’
So, we give up all that or pave the way for giving it all up and then pat ourselves on the back for having not given it all up?  The key word in his argument is ‘compromise’ and ‘concessions’.  This means, that we yield something that we should not because we believe it is wrong to give it up.  It is an admission that India is being grossly unfair and so too the Tamil chauvinists; that they don’t have a case, but that anyway, we will go along with the lie because that’s the only thing we can do to stop a Libyanization.  And to make it sweeter, we can have a celebration later for having secured ‘sovereignty’, ‘territorial integrity’ and keeping intact the gains of a historic military victory! 
Dayan says ‘the final analysis is closer than one thinks’ (Dayan’s fear-mongering has a long history) and that in this final analysis, the most durable defence (apart from groveling at India’s feet) is to repair ‘internal fragility’.  Now here he may have had a point if he was on Fr. Peiris’ page, which is far more real than that which Dayan offers, ‘discontent and disaffection of the minorities’.  He then drops some names of books and personalities (again, Classic Dayan), and says the way to go is ‘to replace or transform an ethnocracy into a modern democracy’, elaborating the latter as ‘a state in which belonging to a particular ethnic group ensures you of privileges over the other inhabitants of a country; in a democracy, all citizens, whatever their origin, language, religion or customs enjoy the same rights’.

Well, we already have that to the extent that territories containing multiple ethnicities are ‘democratic’ anywhere in the world.  Carving out one-third the land mass and offering two-thirds of the coast is not ‘democratizing’, it is pandering to land-theft and expansionist intentions of chauvinists.  If this is an ‘ethnocracy’, then what is Norway, Britain, the USA, France, Pakistan, India, Bangladhes, the Maldives, Indonesia and other countries where either ethnicity or religious faith is privileged in pernicious ways that are totally absent here in Sri Lanka?  What Dayan is offering is not ‘ethnocracy to democracy’ but ‘democrazy to ethnocrazy’.  Both don’t get the general public anywhere. 

What’s most amusing about his piece and why it contrasts so much with Fr. Peiris’ comment is that he asserts that nothing can be more patriotic than his proposition.  I’ve heard people say that patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel.  Well, looks like the scoundrel has named himself.  I believe Fr. Peiris’ piece helps undress Dayan and it came on the same section of the same edition of the same newspaper, which, tellingly carries the name ‘The Island’!  

Courtesy: The Nation - Sunday 4 September, 2011