10 August 2017

Let the Court of History summon all perception-peddlers


Dayan Jayatilleka is absolutely opposed to any move that goes beyond the 13th Amendment (in terms of power-devolution).  ‘Not even a single millimeter!’ is he ready to concede.  He adds a caveat: ‘even the implementation of the 13th amendment must be gradual and conditional on conduct.’

The ‘conduct’ element has been prompted by a recent speech by the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council, C.V Wigneswaran, delivered in Jaffna to an audience that included some British parliamentarians and members of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. 
Percipere: seize, understand

In that speech, speaking on ‘reconciliation,’ Wigneswaran makes the pertinent point that it is ‘mind-oriented’ as opposed to reconstruction, which is physical.  Therefore, he argues, that one has to appreciate the role of perceptions.  Thereafter, he proceeded to list the relevant ‘percepts.’  Let us note, parenthetically, that the word ‘perception’ derives from the Latin ‘percipere’ which means seize or understand.  

Perspective, in the sense the word is used, is about regarding, understanding or interpreting something.  Objectivity is not assumed, naturally.  In other words, we are not talking about claims that can be or need to be substantiated. 

Anyway, Wigneswaran proceeded to lay out the percepts which, as per his own preamble, would permit others to dismiss as ‘sheer lunacy,’ given different perceptions (if we are to be generous to Wigneswaran).  Dayan has picked the appropriate Voltaire quote here: “if you believe absurdities you will commit atrocities”.   Appropriate because Wigneswaran is not calling for an audit of perceptions in terms of historical evidence (including, if he so wishes, community-glorifying literature, but certainly not limited to such ‘tracts’).  Appropriate, also, because he is essentially mimicking his predecessors in the line of Tamil chauvinists — drawing heavily from the politicizing script of tall tales, creations and/or exaggeration of grievances and the painting of myth and rank falsehood as truth and historical fact.  But let’s put all that as ‘perception’.

Wigneswaran’s exercise clearly and unabashedly is one of setting up preamble to the statement of objective, namely ‘federalism’.  This is how he puts it:

The Sinhalese are allergic to the term federalism since the politicians of both communities have created the belief that federalism is separation or federalism leads to separation. Both ideas are incorrect. Federalism joins together disparate entities of peopleThis perception of the Sinhalese that Federalism is separation and/ or leads to separation has stood in the way of reconciliation.”

Now the above can be dismissed as ‘perception’ or can be countered by a painting of ‘Tamil (chauvinistic) beliefs’ and relevant ‘allergies’.  We can then demonstrate that Tamils and not Sinhalese have stood in the way of reconciliation.  But if we were to strip the federalist ‘imperative’ (couched inside a narrative about perceptions) of its racial frills, we have to contend with the issue of ‘disparate entities’.  That, of course, makes imperative a historical audit or a comprehensive assessment of all claims, ‘perceptions’ if you will.   It will, for example, force us to examine the ‘logic’ of provincial boundaries; i.e. whether or not they contain ‘historical communities’.  All of Wigneswaran’s claims (and of course the claims of other chauvinists, Tamils and also Sinhalese) would have to be ‘strained’ through such an audit to obtain something rational to frame reconciliation with.  

It is clear that Wigneswaran would not want this for if he did (because, say, he was actually convinced that his claims would stand the test of scrutiny with respect to historicity) he would have been the first to call for a historical audit.  Instead, he wriggles around it.  He says, quite pompously and self-righteously, “Lots of our Tamil leaders would shudder to say these truths (sic) for fear they would hurt the feelings of the Sinhalese,’ and adds, ‘by not informing the truth we are consolidating the wrong perceptions fed into the Sinhalese mind.’   

He would have to concede the equal pertinence of a perception along the following lines: ‘Tamil leaders would shudder to utter such preposterous claims for fear that they would be called out for lunacy.’  And this: ‘in truth Wigneswaran is consolidating the perception that Tamil chauvinists such as himself are not interested in reconciliation because they are not interested in eliciting the truth of history-claims.’

This brings us back to Dayan’s ‘conduct clause’.  If Wigneswaran (or anyone else) conducted him/herself in non-lunatic ways (let’s say), should the 13th Amendment be implemented?  The problem is that if we were to probe ‘conduct’ on the basis of lunacy (and there can be many strains to this malady) and the truth-value of history-claims, then we should begin with a review of the 13th Amendment itself by questioning its preamble which, we all know, was obtained from Tamil chauvinist narratives and not from the outcome of a historical audit. 

Of course there are grievances which were and still are real, but for the solution to be a map-based one, then lines have to have history-worth especially since the overall narrative is history-laden.  In any event, quite apart from history, the relevant geographic, demographic and economic elements need to be factored in.  The 13th clearly did nothing of the kind.  

My contention is that a sober laying out of facts would necessitate a review of the 13th Amendment.  Such sobriety would have to include a consideration of claims, tall or otherwise, uttered by the sober or by the lunatics.  Wigneswaran, as things stand, doesn’t seem to be interested.  He is not engaging with the Sinhalese.  He is not interested in the truth. Perceptions dressed up as biblical truth constitutes political bread and butter, one might conclude.  He can peddle absurdities because he can afford to do so.  

He can crank his fairy-tale machine and serve these to a naive audience of foreigners predisposed to a) believing minorities never lie and b) terrorists are actually freedom fighters if they are doing the killing in some other country.  He can do that because it costs him nothing.  He is no fool.  He knows what is what.  He is not interested in reconciliation. He would go with ‘atrocity’ if that’s what it takes to remain politically relevant.  

However, if anyone is truly serious about reconciliation (reconciliation peddlers please note!) then why should there not be a serious discussion about claims?  Why not call for it?  History, as I have argued frequently, ought to chair the reconciliation process if not for anything because (let’s humour him!) Wigneswaran is clamouring for it.  Let the man and his words stand trial before we talk ‘reconciliation’.  The issue of ‘conduct’ would no doubt be resolved in the process along with the the more important issue of conflicting claims (perceptions, if you will).


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