29 September 2016

The quiet and shout of the racist label

Wigneswaran is ok, really!
The Chief Minister of the Central Province has stated that Hindu and Muslim encroachment as well as Christianization has to end.  Right now.  The Chief Minister of the Western Province, not to be outdone, has echoed the same sentiments.  Rev Galagodaththe Gnanasara Thero, pointing out that a) the archaeological record clearly indicates that the Northern and Eastern Provinces (along with the North Central and Uva) was the heartland of the island’s Buddhist heritage, and b) claims about such remains indicating a thriving ‘Tamil Buddhism’ are not substantiated even in the highly contentious and mythical narratives in recent Tamil literature, not to mention the strange lack of any significant Tamil treatise on Buddhist philosophy, has called for the immediate end to ‘Hindu Occupation’ of ‘Sinhala lands’.   

Well, the aforementioned Chief Ministers haven’t said anything of the kind.   Rev Gnanasara Thero, perhaps due to reduced circumstances, has been quiet for almost two years now and has not issued utter ultimatums.

But what if they did?  Let me repeat, what if they did?  What would be the response?  Well, we can make an educated guess from the kind of responses we’ve witnessed to any identity assertion by anyone calling himself/herself a Sinhala nationalist or a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist.  

Racist.  Communalist. Chauvinist. Religious Fundamentalist. War monger.  Anti-Peace trouble-maker.  Anti-reconciliation what-not.  Extremist. 

And who would respond this way?  Let’s not name names, but let us make a quick list of the main categories whose members can’t stop themselves from crying out ‘FOUL!’ if Sinhalese or Buddhists even suggest a historical audit regarding ethnic or religious communities, object to the bandying of myth as fact, or whispered, ‘we are fine with the use of terms such as multi-ethnic or multi-religious but would you mind trotting out numbers and percentages?’  

We have the liberals who chant “multi-ethnic, multi-religious” at the drop of a hat, call for the removal of clauses in the Constitution that they believe privilege Buddhism in word AND deed (tosh!).  We have self-labeled Marxists and Leftists who have long since abandoned class struggle and cling to those label perhaps to feel good about themselves even as they live political and personal lives that would make Marx turn in his grave. We have religious groups that call for a secular constitution, but who would never dare call the leaders of countries that are in name and practice theocracies based on their faith to do likewise. How could we forget those who draw salaries (big and small) from rights-advocating NGOs?  They, like the liberals and Marxists, would not be quiet.  

Certain diplomatic missions would not hesitate to issue statements expressing concern.  The US Embassy in particular will brief the Secretary of State in Washington.  The Under Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs would have something to say, if not then and there, sometime later, perhaps during an official visit or on the sidelines of some multilateral conference.  The UNHRC will make note and include it in the carefully written (so as not to displease the Big Boys and Girls in the rights-abuse business) essays read out twice a year, once in Geneva and once in New York.  The Secretary General of the UN might also jot it down.  Channel 4 might even do a documentary!  

Racist.  Communalist. Chauvinist. Religious Fundamentalist. War monger.  Anti-Peace trouble-maker.  Anti-reconciliation what-not.  Extremist.  That’s how it is.    A lovely vocabulary for worthies from the above mentioned categories to draw from.  As and when, let us add.
Now let’s take C.V. Wigneswaran.  But wait, let me insert a necessary parenthesis here.  

[Wigneswaran is a politician.  He has to worry about elections.  Politicians like to promise what is impossible to deliver.  They will pray on anxieties.  They know what herd instinct is.  They will conjure specters made for foreboding.   They will say ‘We will demand on your behalf’ and that’s a fail-safe strategy: if demands are granted they can say ‘we did it’ and if not they will up the ante (remember the ‘little now, more later’ strategy of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam and Amirthalingam’s Batakotte (Vadukoddai) Resolution, and how it snowballed into a 30 year long war that delivered nothing except electoral victories for various ‘moderate’ Tamil parties?).  Wigneswaran needs to get elected.  He will say and has said ‘any old thing’.]

The issue here is not Wigneswaran doing the political thing.  It is about describing what he says and does, or rather a manifest reluctance do so by the part of the liberals, ‘leftists’, rights-fascinated NGO wallahs, diplomats with tender dispositions that threaten to fall apart at the slightest hint of the slightest hint of prejudice, important ladies and gentlemen in diplomatic and UN circles and the ‘liberal’ media of the West.  

Nothing.  Well, next to nothing.  At best they will express ‘concern’ and at worst they will use the term ‘extremism’ which was what was reserved for the Grandmaster of Terrorism, Velupillai Prabhakaran.  Shall we call them hypocrites?  Noooo!  That would be rude, noh?  Shall we whisper ‘complicity!’  Noooh!  They are gentlemen and ladies, noh?  Shall we say, ‘humbuggery’?  No.  Let’s just say, ‘we know’.  That’s enough. For now. 

But there’s another (new) ploy.  It goes like this: ‘there’s no point calling people names, it doesn’t help.  It’s the communalists who use those terms and they are a small number of people anyway.  The majority (of Sinhalese and Tamils, for example) are not intolerant. When some extremist does/says extreme things, we only make it worse if we call them racists, communalists or chauvinists.’

Wonderful.  But when last did these noble-of-heart step out of their comfort zones to call out those who call out those ‘rabid, extremist, chauvinistic, communal-minded racists among the Sinhalese or Buddhists’? When did they say, ‘please, let’s not use such ugly terms; it won’t help but will only make things worse’?  

Wigneswaran will do his thing.  He plays the script to perfection.  No issue.  Expected.  He made a lot of noise.  “Well, Prabhakaran made a bigger noise”, did someone say? He was outshouted, however, by the liberals, leftists, well-meaning (yeah, right!) diplomats, some loud people in Geneva, New York and Washington DC, and some high-minded ‘journalists’ operating from the UK.  I guess that's why it's called 'deafening silence'.  I feel sorry for him.  Sorry for Wigneswaran, that is.  

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer.  Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com. Twitter: malindasene.


Anonymous said...

Beautifully worded article but racial in its form. Person of your calibre should concentrate on upbringing communal harmony in the country not communal discord.

Malinda Words said...

it's about racism, anon. you want me to wish away what's obvious -- the racism AND the hypocrisy of the 'anti-racists'?