SOME PILLARS FOR LANKA’S FUTURE

Posted in SACRIFICIAL DEVOTION IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE, VIRULENT POLITICS IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE on June 3, 2009 by galleonroberts

by Michael Roberts
22 May 2009
from:
FRONTLINE VOL. 26, No 12, 6-19 June 2009.
[Note: The article is based on a talk/presentation before the Sri Lanka America Association on 26 May as part of a Forum that included Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu and Mangala Samaraweera. The topic addressed was : “Post-War Scenario.”]

Orient Club - 1907

Orient Club - 1907 -Founded in 1894 the Orient Club represented the peak of the indigenous social order in Colombo in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its members were those doctors, lawyers, "landed proprietors," businessmen and administrators who were attracted to the recreational facilities around bar, lounge, billiards and bridge. The chat embraced politics and it is likely that many a memorandum in the struggle for constitutional devolution was drawn up within its portals. Indeed, this picture includes such key figures as EJ Samerawickrame, FR Senānāyake, James Peiris, Walter Pereira and Frederick Dornhorst.The Orient Club was trans-ethnic and cosmopolitan in orientation. Its minutes from the period prior to 1912 indicate a membership of 78 Sinhalese, 4 Moors, 12 Tamils, 25 burghers & Eurasians, 4 Colombo Chetties, 1 Parsee, 1 West Indian (TW Roberts) and one whose ethnicity could not be ascertained. There was one significant exception to its openness however: Europeans were specifically debarred from membership in what was clearly a counter colour bar, a form of anti-colonial resistance.

“One can win the War, but lose the Peace.” Cliché this may be, but it also a hoary truism that looms over the post-war scenario in Sri Lanka. The triumphant Sri Lankan government now has to address the human terrain rather than the fields of battle.

In facing this challenge both government and concerned people must attend to another truism: as Sinnappah Arasaratnam pointed out long ago, extremisms have been feeding off each other and undermining political compromise in Sri Lanka over a long period of time. Now, apart from the well-known Sinhala chauvinist forces outside and within the Rajapakse government, we must attend to the Tamil chauvinist forces in the TNA and elsewhere in Sri Lanka, in Tamilnadu and in the ranks of the vociferous SL Tamil diaspora across the world. These forces have to be corralled and undermined.

This is not an easy task. It calls for a multi-stranded strategy involving many moderate forces. One element is already in place: under the initiatives taken by the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs under Dew Gunasekera Tamil has been made a compulsory subject at school in the Sinhala-speaking areas since mid-2007; while proficiency exams have been introduced at various levels of the public service that give incentives to those with bi-lingual capacity. It remains to be seen whether these steps on paper reach deep and become implanted as effective practice.

 

Banda-Chelva Pact

Banda-Chelva Pact

 

Government’s Will and Political Reform

As clearly, all observers are wondering if President Rajapakse’s sweet words will be matched by substantive reforms in the political dispensation which institutionalize devolution and reach out to Sri Lankan Tamil hearts and minds. When some three lakhs of Tamils in the northern Vanni chose in the course of year 2008 to move east with the retreating LTTE forces, they did so because they distrusted the Government and believed the LTTE was their protector. So, President Rajapakse’s advisors have to ask two related questions. “How was this so?” “And why are the Tamil peoples, including many in the Jaffna Peninsula and in Colombo District, so alienated and distrustful of the present regime (and past regimes)?”

In addressing this issue they must thank the Tigers for their parting ‘gift’. By turning draconian around January 2009 and holding roughly three lakhs of Tamil people in “bondage”, to use DBS Jeyaraj’s term, till they eased constraints on the remnant 50,000 on the 10th May 2009, the LTTE alienated most of these people – sometimes to the point of virulent opposition.

But note, too, that the feeling of bitterness extends beyond the LTTE. “I do not know the purpose of my life. I wonder why and for what the LTTE and military fought the battle and what was achieved in the end. We believe the Tigers, Sri Lanka government and Indian people with whom we share a special bond are all responsible for our fate today,” said one 67-yearold named Aryanathan when he was interviewed at Manik Farm Zone IV by a body of foreign journalists (see Muralidhar Reddy article in Hindu, 27 May 2009). Aryanathan spoke in English and presented this view as a distilled statement embodying the views of some 21 IDPs assembled at one spot.

Subject to the caveats encoded within Aryanāthan’s statement, the feelings of the Tamil refugees towards the LTTE represent a reality check to the Tamil communalists in Lanka and abroad who are marooned within their very own island of rage and fantasia. The sentiments of such Tamil IDPs are also a potential boon for the government of Sri Lanka. But will the government demolish this opportunity by being too draconian in its treatment of the IDPs in what are effectively internment camps rather than “welfare centres”? Screening the IDPs is certainly called for and de-mining is an essential operation in the war-ravaged terrain of their old villages, but military adjutants who bark orders will undermine the political project of the government. The administrators, whether military or civilian, must be individuals with a humane touch. Their rule must also be transparent and marked by the registration of all IDPs.

While the Tamil IDPs are an immediate issue, the long-term question of constitutional reform cannot be postponed. This is not my field of expertise. The draft 2000 constitution is widely regarded as a good foundation which specialists in Sri Lanka can build on for this purpose.

But from the outside I suggest that these specialists should be ready to (a) think outside the box and go beyond the 13th amendment in the constitutional reforms that are put in statutory place; and to (b) insert some measures of asymmetrical devolution within these plans.

Ongoing Obstacles: Authoritarian Big Men, Anti-Democratic Practices
Suppose, then, that by some work of genius a wonderful new constitutional scheme of power-sharing is worked out and put in place. Will it last? Can it work? I foresee two major problems that will undermine this project, problems that have in fact undermined the working of democratic institutions in Lanka for six decades. In a nutshell these are (A) the overwhelming concentration of power in the President’s office in the De Gaulle constitution set up by J. R. Jayewardene in 1977 with advice from Professor A. J. Wilson; and (B) anti-democratic practices in electoral processes and party organization that are of endemic character. Both these facets are sustained by (C) a set of cultural practices that I have described as the “Asokan Persona” in the course of four essays in Exploring Confrontation (Reading: Harwood and Delhi: Navrang, 1994).

My path to this theory was accidental and began at Peradeniya University in 1970. I had placed an application for research funds in late 1969. Having no response by early 1970, I asked the deputy-registrar why no decision had been taken. Answer: “we could not meet because Professor HA de S. Gunasekera is too busy” (he was electioneering for Mrs Bandaranaike’s ULF alliance). I buttonholed HA de S at the earliest opportunity when no one else was around. He said: “Yes, yes, yes, I will attend to it.” Not easily fobbed off, I utilized his bosom-friendship with Dr. AJ Wilson within his own department to present an alternative pathway: “Why can’t Willie attend in your place?” The immediate and instinctive reaction was” No, no, no. I have to be there.” QED. I had to wait till the year never-ending.

That, in a nutshell, is what I conceptualize as the Asokan Persona. The Big Man (invariably male) has to control every fiddling little thing. My theory therefore highlights a deeply-rooted cultural tendency towards the over-concentration of power at the head of organizations and a failure (if not an ingrained inability) to delegate power.

Apart from generating administrative bottlenecks, such practices sustain a top-down flow of authority in ways that stifle initiative among higher-level and middle-level officers. This strand of interpersonal organizational practice, in turn, is shored up in Asia’s hierarchical context by cultural practices that encourage subordinates to kow-tow (significantly a Chinese word incorporated into English) to superiors in ways that encourage them to think themselves God-Almighty. This tendency is accentuated by standard practices associated with ministers of state at public functions: the ministerial or presidential persona is always pirivarāgena, surrounded by an entourage (or preceded by beeping security cars on road). The concept pirivarāgena is deeply etched within Sinhalese thinking: images of the Buddha are surrounded by disciples and followers in many temple wall-paintings; and it is known that chiefly journeys in Sinhalese kingdoms past were invariably pirivarāgena.

Where such practices pertain to the head of state, that is to President or Prime Minister, the Asokan Persona has one additional ingredient denied to, say, a head of department. At the apex the Persona not only embodies concentrated power with all the force of legitimised authority, but is also vested with the aura of sacredness. In brief, the position combines the roles of Pope and King (or Queen) with an Asian twist. Righteousness envelopes the person and his (her) acts. It follows that challenges from below are likely to be deemed to be unrighteous (or unpatriotic), a form of heresy.

Disturbing Thoughts
One does not need to be a Newton to conclude that what the Sri Lankan President gives as constitutional gift, he can withdraw too. Or his successor can. Ergo, it follows that constitutional transformation must also curtail the existing presidential powers. Is this likely? The short answer is: rivers do not flow backwards. In effect, any scheme of reform is vulnerable and on shifting sand.

Add to this the character of the two main parties: the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party. Neither have internal democracy. Worse still, whispers from around suggest that elections in the past decade or so have been widely marked by intimidation, vote-rigging, denial of voting rights by clerical acts and all manner of chicanery. If these tales are valid, once we set them within the context of over-centralized organizational practices of the Asokan type, what we have in Sri Lanka is a form of democracy that is riddled with caverns and dungeons.

A Critical Issue: Part-Whole Relationships
Such concerns aside, many have welcomed the President’s parliamentary address on Tuesday 19th May. His symbolic deployment of a few sentences in Tamil was, indeed, as innovative as welcome. His dismissal of ethnic identity as irrelevant was also applauded widely.

This assertion was concomitant with an emphasis on the overwhelming importance of two categories of being in Sri Lanka: those patriotic (rata ādhara karana aya) and those unpatriotic (rata ādhara nokarana aya). Rata ādhara nokarana aya was used in the sense “un-Sri Lankan” – that is, in the manner “un-American” in Yankee-speech. For this reason, it is feasible to interpret the argument in dark ways as a warning to critics of the government.

I prefer, here, to dwell on the benign reading of this viewpoint as a rejection of the pertinence of ethnic identity and thus of ethnic differentiation. But I do so in order to argue that such a contention is beset with pitfalls and lacks substance.

For one the President’s stirring message was (and continues to be) contradicted by popular depictions of the triumphant war as a re-enactment of the Dutugemunu Elāra episode in Sri Lanka’s history, a trope now for indelible Sinhala-Tamil conflict. The President himself catered to this understanding by garlanding a statue of Dutugemunu a few days later.

As problematically, at the celebration honouring the war heroes on Friday 22nd May, the President spoke of the jātika kodiya, sinha kodiya (national flag, Sinha flag) in the same breadth. In this critical conceptualization a part of Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese people, is equated with the whole of Lanka. This ideological act of merger is presented in taken-for-granted manner, thus, insidiously and powerfully.

Let me clarify the relationship of part to whole via a comparative excursion that addresses the relationship between the concepts “England” and “Britain” and thus English” and “British”. Let me focus on this issue over the long period 1688 to 1945, a period when the British Empire was built up and sustained.

England was the central force in the regional and institutional complex that came to be known eventually as Great Britain. In the result it was common in the 19th and 20th centuries for English persons to use the terms “English” and “British” as synonyms. I have evidence of General Hay MacDowall (as Scot a name as you can get) doing the same thing unthinkingly as he sat atop Kandy in 1803. Since the Scots and the Welsh benefited immensely from British strength and expansion it would seem that they went along with the taken-for-granted hegemony of England within Britain. Thus, while ‘roaming in the imperial gloaming’ some Scots accepted English dominance – till recent decades when their nationalism has sharpened and taught new generations of English persons not to equate “England” with “Britain”.
I shall return to this facet, the incorporation of whole by part, within the Sinhala mindset at the concluding moment in my essay. But I must also explain why the President’s benign emphasis is impractical and lacking in substance. This calls for an excursion into the foundations of ethnic identity and patriotism, a complex subject that can n only be clarified incompletely in brief comment.

Identity and Patriotism
Endowed with speech and memory, human beings classify the world around them. Vernacular language schemes develop in the course of human interactions with different others in contiguous space. These relationships are inter-subjective and self-referential. Labels define “Us” in distinction from named “Others.” Though boundaries are not watertight and few peoples are totally homogeneous, the transgression of boundaries, say, by boy-girl affairs, sometimes generates an emphasis on the sanctity or worth of a group. Needless to say, the cluster of factors and practices that sustain the boundaries of named groups over an extended period of time can vary from place to place and, in any specific case, can alter over time.

Family and familiar locality is often of central significance in the nourishment of loyalty to group and its associated territorial space. Thus, in most instances a Sri Lankan’s patriotism to his island entity is built upon local experiences and sentimentalities. I conjecture that President Rajapakse’s Lankan patriotism is founded upon his love for his gama (village) and his pride in being a Ruhunu kollek (a lad from the Ruhunu South). My own profound Sri-Lankanness is built upon deep sentiments around the Fort of Galle, my life-memories around my alma mater, St. Aloysius College, and such beautiful landscapes as Peradeniya Campus and its Hantane Range.

To erase such pillars and familiar roots in any individual’s memory-bank is both impractical and silly. Likewise one must allow for the fact that among many individuals their Sri-Lankan-ness has been generated through their ethnic identity as Burgher, Malay, Sinhalese, Tamil et cetera. In other words, a pyramid of ethnic and other identities can strengthen patriotism and nationalism.

The Sri Lankan cricket team in the 1940s onwards was bolstered by the likes of a Sathasivam, a Heyn or a Coomarawamy. When Sri Lanka faced Tamilnadu (or Madras CA) for the Gopalan Trophy from the early 1950s, the Tamils of Sri Lanka faced up to the “Other” as sturdy “Ceylonese” to a man. The tragedy of Lanka’s history is that so many Sri Lankan Tamil patriots of yesteryear were led (for reasons I cannot tackle here) to discard their Lankan-ness and adopt a separatist Eelam identity or to discard their island roots altogether.

On these solid grounds of sociological theory, therefore, I assert that Sri Lanka today has to recognize that its patriotic identity “Sri Lankan” must be built upon a confederative principle that recognises the existence of several communities as well as three nations within the entity Lanka (Ceylon). The three nations are the Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims. The communities are the Malays, Burghers, indigenous Väddās, Colombo Chetties, Borahs, Sindhis, Parsees and Memons.

For this pyramid of loyalties and sentiments to be sustained, it is imperative that the Sinhalese=Sri Lankan equation must be undermined and split asunder (witness the manner in which the English=British equation has disintegrated in the last 40 years). A scheme of constitutional devolution directed by goals of appeasement is obviously vital to such a process. But my argument here points to the vital need for ideological work that seeks to undermine the hegemonic swallowing of the Sri Lankan whole by its Sinhalese part.

This is not an easy task. Constitutional fiat cannot transform minds, especially entrenched mindsets. Categorical subjectivity is a hard nut to crack. Multiple strategies are required. Let me suggest one that is designed to work over two generations.

Briefly, my intent is to develop hyphenated categories of self-identity. By that I mean such labels as “Italian-Australian” and “Greek Australian,” labels that are deployed in Australia both as self-referential terms and as pertinent descriptions of a third persons.

Towards this end I would like to see the process of creating identity cards, driving licenses and census enumeration organized in terms that have it as said that all citizens are “Sri Lankan;” and, within that premise, for the forms to have separate boxes with the following categories for each person to tick (or have ticked): Vädda Lankan, Sinhalese Lankan, Burgher Lankan, Borah Lankan, Sindhi Lankan, Tamil Lankan, Parsee Lankan, Malay Lankan, Colombo-Chetty Lankan and, last but not least, Samkara Lankan (mixed descent).

The latter category is particularly important. For one, it is a step that gives equal place to matrilineal ancestry and thus enhances female rights. For another, it will register the important phenomenon of hybridity that is otherwise lost in the political weight carried by census enumeration. There are a significant number of Sinhalese-Tamil marriages even today, especially in Colombo District and in the low-country plantations districts; taken together with the mixes between other communities, it would not surprise me if the category Samkara amounts to anything between 7 and 10 per cent of the total population of Sri Lanka. If this conjecture is valid, then the Tamils, Muslims, Samkara and other tiny communities will add up to almost thirty per cent of the total population.

But the point of this proposal is not primarily devoted towards marking and assessing relative demographic clout (the census is not politically-neutral). The goal is to reform and transform the categories of self-identity so that hyphenated thought takes root and destroys the insidious incorporation of the whole, Sri Lanka, by the majoritarian dominant part, Sinhalese. My suggestion is quite fundamental. It will call for political imagination for the rulers of the land to accept it.

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GROUND REALITIES IN SRI LANKA EXPOSE COLOSSAL NAIVETE AMONG THE WORLD’S LEADERS

Posted in SACRIFICIAL DEVOTION IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE on May 9, 2009 by galleonroberts

 by Michael Roberts, 28 April 09

This essay was drafted in Sri Lanka on the 27/28th April at a stage where I had no access to the latest internet news on those two days. It was then submitted to Frontline (on assignment) and has now appeared in issue No 26/10  that appeared on 9th May. The focus is on the events within and alongside the last LTTE redoubt beside Nanthi Kadal Lagoon between the 19-23 April when roughly 110,000 Tamil “civilians” (including some hardcore Tigers as well as recently conscripted auxiliary soldiers) streamed across to the government side of the battlefront. Obviously the processes at play in the period before that also come into the picture, whereas te events after 24 April do not. Even at several leagues distant the escape of so many said to be held hostage by the LTTE was a heart-warming development for those with empathetic anxieties about the plight of the civilians proper. This marvelous outcome inspired my article. It is a critique of those who continue to espouse the demand for a ceasefire from both parties (as distinct from those agencies who have asked the LTTE to cease firing and to lay down arms). Their position is deemed both simpleton and utopian. However unintentionally, such a demand is also partisan in its impact. This criticism can be augmented by adding a simple hypothetical note of a post facto kind: Let’s assume that a ceasefire of a month’s duration had been applied from, say, the 17th April. Would that have assisted the Tamil civilians? While assuaging the hearts of those Lankans and internationalists who had been insisting on such a ceasefire, whom would it have aided most, the Tamil civilians or the LTTE network in Lanka and abroad? What would the 110,000 Tamils who struggled out of the LTTE prison on foot say about the strategies of the humanitarian exorcists peddling the ceasefire mantra?

 

With the LTTE cornered and restricted to a tiny patch of isthmus beside Nanthi Kadal Lagoon ever since 6 April, the world has witnessed a menagerie of world leaders playing the game “throw egg on my face.” 

    On 22 April Hilary Clinton told the world that “a terrible humanitarian tragedy” was taking place in Sri Lanka and demanded a halt in the fighting so that “we could secure a safe passage for as many of the trapped civilians as possible.”

    Remarkably, for a superpower leader with access to up-to-date information Clinton appears to have been some 48 hours behind breaking events: namely, the escape of some 107,000 Tamil “civilians” (doubtless including Tiger cadres who had given up the fight) from their hell-hole situation after a commando operation carried out by the Sri Lankan army on the night of 19/20th April. Alternatively, one must conclude that Clinton read this miraculous tale as something that spelt a humanitarian disaster — hence my use of the egg metaphor.

    She was not alone. Various world leaders, the UN and its agencies and some human rights organizations reiterated the call for a ceasefire that they had been parroting for months as a solution to the hard realities around the LTTE’s end-game. It is this mantra that I challenge here.

    Let me stress the marvelous character of the outcome. As I arrived in Sri Lanka on 17th April, I told Kumari Jayawardena that the ground situation facing the army was labyrinthine. I could not, I said, see how they could move forward without generating disastrous death rates. Yet, today, we know that the commando operation was one for the text-book: it resulted in relatively few non-combatant deaths and created a path for streams and streams of Tamils to cross lagoon and beach over the next 2-3 days, roughly 110,000 making this little epic journey. This, for me, was better than the tale of Moses crossing the Red Sea. It was both elevating and saddening.

  It was distressing because of the condition some of these people displayed so starkly on camera, bespeaking the privation they had undergone in the immediate past. Indeed, as one or two died of dehydration or starvation while being bused or airlifted by the military to the nearest hospitals in Vavuniya, one knew, now, why the people of Thāmilīlam had turned their back on Eelam and the LTTE.

    Reports from journalists such as Murali Reddy confirmed that this existential plight had been aggravated by the draconian measures taken by the LTTE during the last two months or so. Again, the facial expressions of those prepared to speak (in Sinhala) on camera constituted a message in itself: “may a pox befall the house of Pirapāharan and the Tigers” was what visage proclaimed. Kannaki had arisen again.

    These outspoken Tamil individuals would surely be among those who would cast rotten eggs at Hilary Clinton! Perhaps we should not be surprised at Clinton’s insouciance. Nor am I surprised by the pantomime, a Dance of the Seven Veils, being performed at the electoral platforms in Tamilnadu. In similar fashion Sri Lanka’s democratic process has often revealed how vote-gathering inflames ethnic passions. The LTTE’s demise has sparked off an upsurge of pan-Dravidian sentiment (an issue demanding specialist treatment). The shameless exploitation of this current by Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi seems par for the course in populist politics.

   But how can Tamil dissidents who are fully aware of the character of the LTTE also fall into the same simpleton stance: namely, believing that ceasefires will help a “trapped people?” Take Nirmala Rajasingam’s passionate appeal in the Independent newspaper in Britain on Friday 24th April. While denouncing the LTTE for its “atrocities” and asserting, validly, that the “LTTE’s exclusivist Tamil nationalism and extreme militarism have led the Tamil community to this political dead-end,” Rajasingam also insisted that the government’s claim that there were few civilian casualties “defy reason,” and spoke of “huge civilian losses through indiscriminate fire.”

    Indeed, she began her essay with these words: “The world has watched aghast at the level of bloodshed and the horrific plight of the civilians who have now been under siege for months.” She seems to have been accepted as an authority by the Economist of 23 April (Anon 2009a) which has another anonymous article on “Dark victory,” which notes unequivocally that “in its rush to exterminate the Tigers—partly in justified fear of their skill at manipulating foreign opinion—the army has shown a cruel disregard for Tamil civilians crowding the battlefield” (Anon 2009b).

   But what exactly is the count of those “civilians” killed as against those who have fled the coop in the last 5-6 months? An UN report dated 24 April estimated the death toll among civilians as 6,432, with those injured being estimated as 13,946. These figures must be qualified by two sets of facts: (a) they include individuals who stepped on LTTE mines and those shot by Tigers (or killed by suicide bombers) as they fled; and (b) a few of these civilians would be new conscripts who had not been issued with uniforms.

    Our adjectives must be relative. So, let us place these numbers in comparative context beside the figure of 175,714 people who reached the government lines by 24 April, with roughly 68,000 having escaped before 20 April and 107,000 in that remarkable moment between 20 and 23 April.

    The dead 6432 make up roughly four per cent of those who have survived. Add the injured, some 13,000 according to the self-same UN report, and one has 20,000 casualties [caused by both sides] set against roughly 170,000 freed. While the figures are not to be laughed at, the death score is not “huge” while talk of “extermination” by Rajasingam’s accomplice, Dark Victory, displays mind-boggling bias and/or credulity.

    So what we see here from Rajasingam is an emotional outburst from a Tamil heart. That is understandable. But, here, the combination of inaccuracy (re the large number of deaths on 20-23 April – not true according to Reddy) and stridency in her outburst suggest that it is a voice of someone who has been imprisoned in a medieval monastery for centuries and has no awareness of the devastating power of modern weaponry (or medieval crusades for that matter). If there had been no restraint at all in the army offensive during the past six months, I can assure her that we would have had a death toll in the 30-50,000 range. As caveat let me stress that this claim does not mean that there was no cavalier bombing and artillery fire on some occasions.

    But the more immediate issue NOW is this: given that between 15,000 to 50,000 “civilians” are still trapped within the remnant LTTE patch of 5-6 square kilometres is the demand for a “humanitarian pause” (that is, “ceasefire” in ethical clothes) presented by concerned agencies a pragmatic course that will aid the Tamil people in Rump Eelam?

   This is not a novel issue. Strident NGO and human rights voices demanded a ceasefire from January 2009 onwards. It prompted my initial essay on “Dilemmas at War’s End: Thoughts on Hard Realities” in mid-February 2009. So, we have before us a conundrum that has been faced over 4-5 months. In addressing the dilemma now, we can benefit from the experiences in this period.

    But to fully grasp the ramifications we must (A) understand the ultra-nationalist ideology of the LTTE and (B) undertake a brief historical summary that delineates previous peace-talk failures as well as the steps leading to this present Eelam War Four (see TIMELINE below).

Tiger Ideology

Here I am in agreement with Rajasingam in her characterization of the LTTE as “militaristic” and fascist. Fuller elaborations have been provided recently in cyber-space and a capsule version suffices here.

    Every LTTE fighter takes an oath to sacrifice “life and soul” to the talaivar Pirapāharan and the cause of “Tamils’ freedom.” This gifting of life as weapon, or uyirayutam, secured widespread admiration among the SL Tamil people from its inception in 1982/83 because it bespoke the quality of arppaNippu (dedication). The LTTE’s capacity to withstand the IPKF (1987-89) and then the SL government forces from 1990-2000 compounded this admiration. From then on the LTTE was widely regarded by many Tamils as their best bulwark against Sinhala domination.

    From late 1989 the LTTE took the innovative step of burying all its dead, the māvīrar, in tuyilam illam (resting places) — sites considered “holy.” This martyr cult not only served to inspire and mobilize support, but also legitimized the LTTE. As one poem in a Tiger publication presented matters “the martyr sacrifices himself for the whole by destroying the I” (Hellmann-Rajanayagam 2005: 134).

    Thus, the LTTE embodied the philosophy of ultra-nationalism that has been such a pernicious force in the contemporary world, pernicious because it encourages wars in which “human bodies are sacrificed in the name of perpetuating a magical entity, the body politic” (Koenigsberg 2008:  42).

    Both Nazi Germany and imperial Japan were prime instances of this philosophy. The fascist Japanese regime of the 1930s and 1940s “inculcate[d] in the minds of the people the idea that all the Japanese, but especially the soldiers-to-be, must sacrifice their lives for their country” (Ohnuki-Tierney 2006: xiii). “You are nothing, your nation is everything,” said Hitler on one occasion (Koenigsberg 2009: 13). This leads Ecksteins to the conclusion that in Nazi thinking “the individual was the nation…. The nation had been telescoped into the dynamic individual” (1989: 195, emphasis his).

   In encouraging and enforcing an exodus of people from the Western half of the Jaffna Peninsula in late 1995 and now, again in late 2008/09, in effecting a similar programme for the peoples of the northern Vanni, the LTTE was adhering to its self-conviction that Pirapāharan, the Tigers and the people were one.

   Before evaluating the recent dilemmas posed by this strategy, it is wise to consider the temporal steps that brought about this situation. This Timeline is relegated to a Box (see TIMELINE below). One of the lessons emanating from this process is the fact that whenever war resumed after a period of talks/ceasefire, at points B, F and Q/R in our Timeline, it moved to a higher pitch of weaponry and death than previously. That is, escalation of death and destruction was the end result of each failed ceasefire.

   As clearly, one significant development during Eelam War Four was the stage when the overwhelming superiority in manpower and weaponry available to the GOSL began pushing the LTTE into retreat at points U, V, W and X, that is, from roughly April 2008. Under extreme pressure, the LTTE repeated the strategy they had adopted in Jaffna in late 1995: in metaphoric terms one can say they became “sharks who took the sea with them.”

    While some do-gooders and government spokesmen claim that this was a coercive step, that verdict is as uncertain as it is doubtful. As Murali Reddy has noted, the Tamil people distrusted the government and looked up to the LTTE. In effect, there is strong support for my contention that a substantial proportion of the migrant body was attached to the Eelam cause and the Tigers – at least initially.

     This was an exodus of biblical proportions. However, no one knew the exact proportions. As the mass of people were squashed into smaller portions of Tigerland the UN, NGOs, and other human rights activists became understandably anxious about the prospect of large-scale deaths in the furnace of war. Agitated voices peddled figures ranging from 250,000 to 400,000 in definitive tone. The compassionate goal of human care was not balanced by any ‘care’ of caveat. Propagandist goal and frenzied voice ensured that their picture was a prophecy of doom with maximal figures for maximal impact. These figures were the platform for strident demands that both parties in this vicious war should agree to a ceasefire and do so immediately. The blame game usually pointed equally at both parties to the conflict.

   The ethics promoting such claims without any qualifying caveats regarding the numbers quoted was one aspect that I questioned in my Dilemmas essay (Roberts 2009a). But that was a minor quibble. The main issue raised then in February 2009 was embodied in a simple question: “how would a ceasefire [implicitly a bilateral one] help the body of civilians in the immediate future if they continued to remain in Tigerland by choice or under duress?” My question was then backed up by the simple note that a resumption of war would find the civilians in similar danger. Or, one can add, in the light of past experience, in even greater danger.

   Supporting this critical question was a clarification of the character of the LTTE state and its ideology together with a series of pictures that graphically revealed the LTTE’s extensive programme of mass mobilization and paramilitary training for its civilian population from the year 2007 at the very least.

   One did not need to be a rocket scientist to conclude that an authoritarian command state such as the LTTE would value its civilian mass as a source of new conscripts and a labour pool, as well as a source of some food supplies (however inadequate) sent – what weird generosity – by the GOSL because the government considered them citizens and not Eelam Tamils. But as critical was the fact that the civilians on the one hand and the outsider prophecies of doom about their fate on the other together provided the LTTE with a large stack of bargaining chips. Always bold in their militarism, the Tigers hoped to gamble their way to a peace table with this body of people-chips. It is this bargaining power as much as the “human shield” they provided for Tiger fighters that I consider to be the main reason for this brilliant, if callous, policy of people-exodus.

   None of these considerations were addressed by the bevy of voices directed against my original article by both Sinhalese human right activists and Tamils. The moral high ground of future political ends, and the doom awaiting the downtrodden Tamil mass in Tigerland, subsumed reasoned response to my central questions. Not one person indicated how they could persuade the LTTE to release the civilians. Instead both my critics, the UN and its agencies, human rights activists and Tamil dissidents such as Rasalingam have continued to press for “ceasefire” as if it will save the Tamil civilians’ thosai for the days to come.     

    Even though two unilateral government ceasefires (of admittedly short duration) produced no beneficial results and only led to a military setback for GOSL in the first instance (circa 31 January) “ceasefire” remains a mantra in many circles. No thought is given to the long-term and fundamental issues attached to a continued military stalemate. It is as if the shout of “Ceasefire” will provide some form of Immaculate Salvation to the civilian mass within the LTTE fold. But I, for my part, do not have such faith in divine intervention.

    No one has challenged subsequent articles where I explained my readings of LTTE ideology and why they would expect the civilian mass of Eelam Tamils to “come die with us” — as one IDP who got away told a reporter some time back (Roberts 2009c). Thus guided, I even feared that the LTTE and people would indulge in a devotional pact of mass suicide in the manner Japanese at Saipan and Okinawa. Thus far, thankfully, that conjectural fear has been shown to have no foundation. I am pleased that I was wrong.  In the conditions of privation they have been forced to undergo in the last 2-3 months the Tamil peoples of the exodus have revolted against the LTTE and voted with their feet (or boat in a few cases).

    It would be far too harsh to say they have moved from frying pan to stove. Their conditions now are a distinct improvement of welfare from their state in the last few months. But internment camps and second class status together do not comfort make. It remains to be seen whether the Government will seize the moment and convert sullen Tamil ‘citizens’ into normal complaining citizens of the variety one finds everywhere.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

(TIMELINE)

Abbreviated History in Point-Form

A. Peace Talks 1989-90.
B. June 1990: Eelam War Two begins after LTTE launches surprise move against police stations in north and east.
C. Late 1994 Presidential Elections sees Chandrika Kumaratunga elected on a peace platform.
D. Jan-April 1995 Peace talks.
E. Mid April 1995: mini-Pearl Harbour sees 2 gunboats sunk in Trinco by LTTE frogmen.
F. April 1995- late 2000: Eelam War Three.
G. Early 2001: New UNP government of Ranil Wickremasinghe signs CFA with LTTE.
H. 10 April 2002: Pirapāharan & Balasingham hold grand media event for world press at Kilinochchi.
I. Peace talks at different venues were held from December 2001 to 2004: with key points being (a) Sattahip, Thailand, 16-18 Sept 2002; (b) Oslo, Nov. 2002; followed by the Oslo Declaration of 5 Dec. 2002 – all confirming LTTE’s de facto demi-nation status.
J. 2001-04: Wickremasinghe’s policy of consumer materialism begins to penetrate the fun-starved terrain of Tigerland and some Tiger cadres display a fondness for the “good life” – a process that frightens Pirapāharan no end.
K. Late 2002/Early 2003(?): When Balasingham, Tamil Chelvam and Karuna return with the Oslo principles for a political settlement that secures what can be called “pragmatic Eelam,” namely, autonomy for the north & east within the Sri Lankan state (Roberts 2002a, b, c), Pirapāharan goes off the deep-end and tears up the document. Thus, against the sentiments of his leading advisors Pirapāharan directs the LTTE to prepare for war – a course I can confirm from my findings in the course of a visit to Jaffna and Kilinochchi in late November 2004 (sources cannot be divulged).
L. April 2004 et seq: Karuna defects and the Eastern Province is swept by faction firefights. The LTTE emerges as winner, but is clearly weakened as a result.
M. 26 Dec. 2004: tsunami decimates Sea Tigers and delays LTTE plans.
N. 12 August 2005: Kadirgamar is assassinated as the preliminary step in the LTTE policy of assisting Mahinda Rajapakse and the UPFA to win the Presidential election – thereby removing a potential PM and a dangerous Tamil foe.
O. Dec. 2005: Mahinda Rajapakse scrapes in as President with the abstentions of Tamil voters serving as one factor influencing his victory and the support of the JVP and JHU as another factor. Thus, by early 2006 one has two sets of hawks facing each other, the ultra-nationalist Tamil Tigers and the chauvinist UPFA regime, the one totalitarian and the other restrained by electoral demands, but leaning towards extra-parliamentary methods.
P. Late 2005: intifada tactics by the LTTE in Jaffna Peninsula West where the GOSL is seen as an “occupying army.”
Q. 6 August 2006: Māvil Aru intervention by LTTE sees undeclared war breaking out in Trincomalee District. This moment eventually escalates into full-scale war on all fronts although the major focus is the Eastern Province. So we have Eelam War Four.
R. 2007: the GOSL forces gradually prevail in the east: with (a) the capture of Vakarai on 19 January 2007 and (b) the final ascendancy at the Toppigala redoubt on 11 July 2007 marking two central victories. After Toppigala Tiger power in the east is confined to isolated units in the deep jungle.
S. 2007: over the course of the year the Navy intercepts and destroys 10 LTTE supply ships in international waters (with the aid of Indian intelligence networks)
T. Early 2008: the army begins to chip away at the LTTE frontline defences in Mannar District while threatening them on all other fronts as well.
U. May-November 2008: army breakthroughs see the LTTE lose control of the north western coast, severely weakening their supply lines from India.
V. Late-2008: the LTTE is squeezed in by a three-pronged pinzer from south, west and northern edge above Elephant Pass
W. 1/2 Jan. 2009: The strategic Paranthan junction town falls to army and the LTTE abandons its capital Kilinochchi.
X. 25 Jan. 2009: The military HQ of the LTTE at Mullaitivu is captured.
Y. 2008/09: as the LTTE withdraws in orderly fashion at different stages during the moments U to X in the Timeline Box, it persuades and/or forces the Tamil people to move with the LTTE into the remaining Tiger territories.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anonymous 2009a “The Sri Lankan army could turn triumph into disaster unless it shows restraint”

Economist.com, 23 April 2009, http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13527659.

Anon 2009b “Dark victory,” Economist.com, http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13527366

Ecksteins, Modris 1989 Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, New York: Anchor Books.

Hellman-Rajanayagam, Dagmar 2005 “ ‘And Heroes Die’: “Poetry of the Tamil Liberation Movement in Northern Sri Lanka,” South Asia 28: 112-53.

Koenigsberg, Richard A 2009 Nations have the Right to Kill. Hitler, the Holocaust and War, New York: Library of Social Science.

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko 2006 Kamikaze Diaries. Reflections on Japanese Student Soldiers, University of Chicago Press.

Roberts, M. 2002a “The many faces of Eelam,” Daily Mirror, 8 August 2002.

Roberts, M. 2002b “LTTE’s ideological retreat,” Sunday Observer, 13 October 2002.

      Roberts, M. 2002c “LTTE pragmatism: at two moments” Lanka Monthly Digest, May 2003

Roberts, M. 2009a Dilemma’s At War’s End: Thoughts on Hard Realities,” http://www.groundviews.org, 10 Feb. 2009 and Island, 11 Feb. 2009.    

Roberts, M. 2009b “Dilemmas at Wars End: Clarifications & Counter-Offensive,” www. groundviews.org, 17 Feb. 2009. 

Roberts, M. 2009c “Suicidal Political Action,” in four parts, www.transcurrents.com, from1 April onwards.  

Roberts, M. 2009d “LTTE and Tamil People,” in four parts, www.groundviews.org from circa 21 April.

———————————————————————————————————————————-

[LETTER ONE from Richard Koenigsberg, dated Mon, May 4, 2009]
Dear Michael,
 
           Really enjoyed your article, “LTTE and People III: Nationalism and Living Religion:” Your most concise statement so far.
 
You state that LTTE is not “unique in its sacrificial emphasis,” and that you will soon embark on a “comparative excursion in search of further insights into the phenomenon of nationalism.” 
 
           Thank you for citing my work on World War I as providing insight into this relationship between nationalism and sacrificial death. I hope you don’t mind if I work through a few of my ideas on this topic in this note. You don’t have to agree with me, but perhaps my reflections will set the stage for your own “comparative forays (qualified analogues) in an essay to follow.”
 
           I’ve come to the conclusion that we are dealing with a single underlying dynamic: a relationship between sacrificial violence and devotion to a sacred ideal. The word “fungible” has come up in relationship to my theory of collective violence. I won’t try to define this word, but what is being suggested is that while the OBJECTS to which people may devote themselves are interchangeable, the mechanism through which people prove their devotion to the object is constant.
 
           One may embrace a country (such as Great Britain), or an ideology (such as communism), or a God (such as Allah), but what is constant is how people prove the truth or reality of these entities, namely by killing and dying in their name. The fundamental dynamic is sacrificial, although a smokescreen is placed above everything by pretending that the fundamental dynamic is aggression.
 
           In addition to asking one’s own people to sacrifice their lives, leaders of nations and ideologies (and religious men attached to a God) also ask OTHER PEOPLE to die in the name of their country or ideology or God. One proves the greatness of one’s ideology by compelling other people to die in its name. 
 
           The best statement of this fundamental dynamic comes from Ali Benhadj, a revolutionary Islamist leader from Algeria: “If a faith, a belief, is not watered and irrigated by blood,” he says, “it does not grow. It does not live.” Principles, Benhadj says, need to be reinforced by “sacrifices, suicide operations and martyrdom for Allah.” Faith is propagated by “counting up deaths every day, by adding up massacres and charnel-houses.”
 
           I think that the dynamic Benhadj articulates lies at the heart of the history of civilization: Collective forms of violence function to bring into existence some sacred ideal, be it the idea of a nation, an ideology, or God. The point is that it doesn’t matter WHAT the concept is. And it doesn’t matter if we conceived the idea as “good” or “bad.” The idea may be “Hitler and Germany” or “freeing the slaves.” In any case. a constant sacrificial dynamic is operative. 
 
            This why historians constantly write about the numbers of people killed in relationship to a given war or episode of genocide. These numbers testify to the “historical significance” of the nation or ideology in the name of which the killing and dying occurred. There’s a direct relationship between the number people killed and the “significance” of an event in history (unlike gravity’s inverse law). 
            How ugly this all is: the human creation and attachment to “history” as a testimonial to the significance of various ideas, ideologies and entities. Life may be a tale “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” but mass-murderers and the historians who keep their names alive seek to pretend that the sound and fury is eminently meaningful. The sound and fury testifies to the REALITY OF THE EXISTENCE OF THE IDEA OR ENTITY IN THE NAME OF WHICH ALL THE KILLING AND DYING HAVE OCCURRED. The logic is: Surely human beings cannot have killed and died in the name of nothing. That for which we have died and killed must be real. 
            Thus it would appear that a common dynamic links violence, death and belief, regardless of the cultural context. Human beings seek to confer power upon the ideologies that they embrace by making sacrifices in their name. Ideologies become real for us when they are “irrigated by blood,” that is, to the extent that human beings are willing to die and kill for them. Surely we assume, an idea for which thousands or hundred of thousands have died must be valid. Death and bloodshed–the sound and the fury–persuade us that our sacred ideals signify something; that they possess reality.
            Have you begun to write your paper on comparative forms of nationalism/sacrifice? When do you expect to complete it? Where do you plan on publishing it?
      
Best regards,
Richard Koenigsberg
 
P. S. Yes, after a while, “relentless privation with little reward” leads one to abandon attachment to sacrificial fantasies that only cause “suffering in the body of a people.”
 
[LETTER TWO from Richard Koenigsberg, dated Mon, May 18, 2009]
Thanks very much for these.
 
    You say, “I even feared that the LTTE and the people would indulge in a devotional pact of mass suicide in the manner of the Japanese at Saipan and Okinawa.”
 
    That’s precisely what occurred in the case of Nazi Germany. Please see my paper POLITICAL VIOLENCE AND THE CONCEPT OF COLLECTIVE PSYCHOPATHOLOGY at http://www.ideologiesofwar.com/docs/rk_collective.htm This is one you have not previously read.
 
    Perhaps “losing” a war or “surrendering” means that the victorious side PREVENTS THE OTHER SIDE FROM ACTING OUT ITS SUICIDAL FANTASY. 
 
    You note that an “escalation of death and destruction was the end result of each failed ceasefire.” The greatest number of deaths for Nazi Germany occurred in 1945 AFTER HITLER AND THE GERMAN LEADERSHIP KNEW THAT THE WAR ALREADY HAD BEEN LOST. This was Hitler’s fantasy from the beginning, based on his attraction to the plays of Wagner: Götterdämmerung, world destruction. 
 
    Of course, people don’t often see this because they buy into the fantasy of “rationality” and “winning” and “male aggression.” It’s all a delusion. We live in the midst of a collective delusion.
 
Best regards,
 
Richard K

[LETTER ONE from Richard Koenigsberg, dated Mon, May 4, 2009]

 

Dear Michael,

 

           Really enjoyed your article, “LTTE and People III: Nationalism and Living Religion:” Your most concise statement so far.

 

You state that LTTE is not “unique in its sacrificial emphasis,” and that you will soon embark on a “comparative excursion in search of further insights into the phenomenon of nationalism.” 

 

           Thank you for citing my work on World War I as providing insight into this relationship between nationalism and sacrificial death. I hope you don’t mind if I work through a few of my ideas on this topic in this note. You don’t have to agree with me, but perhaps my reflections will set the stage for your own “comparative forays (qualified analogues) in an essay to follow.”

 

           I’ve come to the conclusion that we are dealing with a single underlying dynamic: a relationship between sacrificial violence and devotion to a sacred ideal. The word “fungible” has come up in relationship to my theory of collective violence. I won’t try to define this word, but what is being suggested is that while the OBJECTS to which people may devote themselves are interchangeable, the mechanism through which people prove their devotion to the object is constant.

 

           One may embrace a country (such as Great Britain), or an ideology (such as communism), or a God (such as Allah), but what is constant is how people prove the truth or reality of these entities, namely by killing and dying in their name. The fundamental dynamic is sacrificial, although a smokescreen is placed above everything by pretending that the fundamental dynamic is aggression.

 

           In addition to asking one’s own people to sacrifice their lives, leaders of nations and ideologies (and religious men attached to a God) also ask OTHER PEOPLE to die in the name of their country or ideology or God. One proves the greatness of one’s ideology by compelling other people to die in its name. 

 

           The best statement of this fundamental dynamic comes from Ali Benhadj, a revolutionary Islamist leader from Algeria: “If a faith, a belief, is not watered and irrigated by blood,” he says, “it does not grow. It does not live.” Principles, Benhadj says, need to be reinforced by “sacrifices, suicide operations and martyrdom for Allah.” Faith is propagated by “counting up deaths every day, by adding up massacres and charnel-houses.”

 

           I think that the dynamic Benhadj articulates lies at the heart of the history of civilization: Collective forms of violence function to bring into existence some sacred ideal, be it the idea of a nation, an ideology, or God. The point is that it doesn’t matter WHAT the concept is. And it doesn’t matter if we conceived the idea as “good” or “bad.” The idea may be “Hitler and Germany” or “freeing the slaves.” In any case. a constant sacrificial dynamic is operative. 

 

            This why historians constantly write about the numbers of people killed in relationship to a given war or episode of genocide. These numbers testify to the “historical significance” of the nation or ideology in the name of which the killing and dying occurred. There’s a direct relationship between the number people killed and the “significance” of an event in history (unlike gravity’s inverse law). 

            How ugly this all is: the human creation and attachment to “history” as a testimonial to the significance of various ideas, ideologies and entities. Life may be a tale “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” but mass-murderers and the historians who keep their names alive seek to pretend that the sound and fury is eminently meaningful. The sound and fury testifies to the REALITY OF THE EXISTENCE OF THE IDEA OR ENTITY IN THE NAME OF WHICH ALL THE KILLING AND DYING HAVE OCCURRED. The logic is: Surely human beings cannot have killed and died in the name of nothing. That for which we have died and killed must be real. 

            Thus it would appear that a common dynamic links violence, death and belief, regardless of the cultural context. Human beings seek to confer power upon the ideologies that they embrace by making sacrifices in their name. Ideologies become real for us when they are “irrigated by blood,” that is, to the extent that human beings are willing to die and kill for them. Surely we assume, an idea for which thousands or hundred of thousands have died must be valid. Death and bloodshed–the sound and the fury–persuade us that our sacred ideals signify something; that they possess reality.

            Have you begun to write your paper on comparative forms of nationalism/sacrifice? When do you expect to complete it? Where do you plan on publishing it?

      

Best regards,

Richard Koenigsberg

 

P. S. Yes, after a while, “relentless privation with little reward” leads one to abandon attachment to sacrificial fantasies that only cause “suffering in the body of a people.”

 

 

 

[LETTER TWO from Richard Koenigsberg, dated Mon, May 18, 2009]

 

Thanks very much for these.

 

    You say, “I even feared that the LTTE and the people would indulge in a devotional pact of mass suicide in the manner of the Japanese at Saipan and Okinawa.”

 

    That’s precisely what occurred in the case of Nazi Germany. Please see my paper POLITICAL VIOLENCE AND THE CONCEPT OF COLLECTIVE PSYCHOPATHOLOGY at http://www.ideologiesofwar.com/docs/rk_collective.htm This is one you have not previously read.

 

    Perhaps “losing” a war or “surrendering” means that the victorious side PREVENTS THE OTHER SIDE FROM ACTING OUT ITS SUICIDAL FANTASY. 

 

    You note that an “escalation of death and destruction was the end result of each failed ceasefire.” The greatest number of deaths for Nazi Germany occurred in 1945 AFTER HITLER AND THE GERMAN LEADERSHIP KNEW THAT THE WAR ALREADY HAD BEEN LOST. This was Hitler’s fantasy from the beginning, based on his attraction to the plays of Wagner: Götterdämmerung, world destruction. 

 

    Of course, people don’t often see this because they buy into the fantasy of “rationality” and “winning” and “male aggression.” It’s all a delusion. We live in the midst of a collective delusion.

 

Best regards,

 

Richard K

LTTE and TAMIL PEOPLE, IV: DEDICATED TAMILS

Posted in SACRIFICIAL DEVOTION IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE on April 24, 2009 by galleonroberts
In the previous essays within this cluster I have dwelt on the dedication to cause displayed by the Tamil Tigers and identified various inspirations or conditioning factors: namely, the Cankam poetry, the warrior tales from Indian history, the embodied practices of self-punishment exercised by religious devotees and the ‘everyday’ acts of surrogate sacrifice that are integral to Saivite Tamil life ways. It was noted that the LTTE leaders marshaled and deployed symbols associated with these practices in the course of their propaganda and indoctrination work. Such processes sacralized the project of Eelam, rendering it “holy.”

    But I surmise that in this work of propaganda the Tiger leaders made their choices as true believers. Their selections gained energy (a) from the context of threats posed by the government of Sri Lanka, (b) the subjective engagement of the leaders themselves in the practices (e. g. māvīirar liturgies) they espoused; and (c) a self-belief in the virtue of their goals, a conviction that was, indeed, entrenched to the degree of dogma. An implicit force that facilitated a responsive reception of their work of inculcation was the medium of Tamil and the overarching ‘parasol’ provided by the concept of Tamilttay, or “Mother Tamil.” In consequence there was a fruitful interflow between people and cultural producers.

    The argument, then, is that patriotic sentiments bound LTTE leaders, their cadres and the SL Tamil people in both the territories they controlled in the period 1990 and 2008 (Tigerland in short-hand) and those outside their immediate reach within Lanka and abroad.

    From early-mid 2008, as we all know, the overwhelming superiority of men and armaments deployed by GOSL forces, now working far more intelligently that in the 1990s, began to take effect. The LTTE forces were rolled back by this juggernaut both northwards to Pooneryn and then eastwards towards the shores around Mullaitivu. Thus threatened, indeed, probably from way back in 2007, the LTTE increased its range of conscription. In this policy it was exercising its legitimate rights as a de-facto state — though it has been infringing modern restraints by incorporating children (that is, in my book, those under 15 years) into its ranks.

    An army does not consist of fighters alone. The catering corps, the supply corps, engineering corps, etc are essential cogs in a complex machine. It is probable that the new LTTE recruits, especially middle-aged men and women, had minimal combat capacity and mostly worked in these critical support services, especially the work of constructing bunds and ditches.

    It is also evident that due to the exigencies of context and retreat these new conscripts did not wear uniforms. Though these elements were (are) by any definition part of the LTTE army, I chose to call them “auxiliaries” for this reason – the full meaning in implicit intent being “auxiliary soldiers” (Roberts 2009a and 2009b). It also follows that the “civilians” in the shrinking space of Tigerland were continually reduced in number by this ongoing process of recruitment.

     That said, there is no doubt that a significant number of “civilians” who had been induced and/or coerced into an exodus by the LTTE were under severe threat to life as a result of the furnace of war and the bombardments by state artillery and aircraft. While the numbers circulated in, say, early 2009 by NGOs, Tiger spokespersons and media outlets everywhere have clearly been overblown, the fact of potential catastrophe was undeniable.

    But, equally undeniable, in my argument is that the LTTE was the primary agent behind this awesome and critical scenario. From a military and pragmatic point of view the LTTE policy of the sharks (themselves) taking the sea of people with them was a strategic move that was (and is) as brilliant as ruthless. It set up an unprecedented scenario in the history of warfare. This strategic innovativeness had its flip side. In creating conditions that invited the GOSL forces to create civilian carnage in the process of their advance, the LTTE was enacting a “war crime” as both Kumar Rupesinghe (Sunday Island, 5 April 2009) and Rohini Hensman (2009) – neither of whom are Sinhala Buddhist extremists, indeed, anything but – have asserted.

    On a priori grounds we can conjecture that the Tigers have adhered to this heartlessly brilliant strategy because (1) the “civilians” provided a labour pool and a source of news recruits; (b) restrained the GOSL forces in some measure (but not completely) by serving as a protective screen; (c) providing a mass of potential war-victims whom the LTTE propaganda machine could use effectively so that the civilian body became a bargaining resource towards a potential political ‘settlement’ that would enable the LTTE to remain as a major player in Sri Lanka itself; and (d) providing a source of food and medical supplies because the GOSL were ready to send such goods via ICRC channels even in the midst of demonic warfare – a  “weird” phenomenon in the estimate of a Welsh-Aussie historian with whom I play tennis regularly (though apparently this is quite normal for human rights activists).

    My present set of essays, complemented by those in the transcurrents site, has attempted to emphasise another factor that impacted on the LTTE’s policy of enforcing a peoples’ exodus: the LTTE’s ultra-nationalist ideology of regarding the Tamil individual and the Tamil people-nation-state as ONE, inextricably bound to each other in ways that demanded the gifting of self – uyirayutam, or “life-(gifted)-as-weapon” – for the collective. So, self-negation in this instance is deemed a form of fulfillment, rather like an arduous pilgrimage or rolling on the ground for miles in the course of a meaningful religious festival invoking a deity’s beneficial power.

                                    *          *          *          *          *          *

There has been just a touch of this type of excess in the course of the agitation mounted by Sri Lankan Tamils in migrant circles beyond Sri Lanka, though the protests also replicate the energy and practices of mass political agitation on behalf of a wide variety of causes, say, anti-G20, anti-nuclear, green environmental issues, anti-Israeli atrocities, et cetera, witnessed in agitations during the modern era.

    Viewed in sum, the protests in Toronto, London, Sydney and other venues have all been fierce; indeed, they have bordered on the hysterical. The frenetic character of these responses is compounded by some of the commentary from pro-Tiger spokespersons entering responses in various web sites. The vision is Manichean: it is the GOSL that is responsible for the potential catastrophe, the LTTE has no hand in the producing the setting.

    The tunnel-vision is further compounded by gross exaggeration: the government is said to be pursuing a policy of “genocide.” This is, of course, an emotive and powerful slogan, bound to catch media attention, and, more vitally, stir other Tamils, both Sri Lankan and from elsewhere. No thought is given to the fact that the scales of civilian death bear no comparison with the figures surrounding the ‘exemplary’ victims of genocide in the recent past, namely, the Jews of Europe in Hitler’s time, the Khmer under Pol Pot and the (mostly) Tutsi people of Rwanda in the 1990s. That such a profligate use of the term for smaller figures of victimization belittles the large-scale massacres and is a form of unintended defamation of these peoples is not a concern among those who wield this propaganda weapon. But, as the general thrust of my essays anticipates, such rhetorical excess is to be expected from ultra-nationalist thinking in its crisis moments.

     We need, however, to reflect on the conviction with which these one-sided, Manichean perspectives are voiced by Tamil migrants, sometimes young first or second generation students. They seem to be genuine in their views. I take them at face-value. Their expressions reveal both authenticity and depths of anguish. But their tunnel-vision and bloated exaggerations also bear the imprint of dogma rooted in nationalist sentiment and wholly partisan dedication to cause.

     This degree of commitment has, as we know, also witnessed dedication to privation in the course of their lengthy protests (e. g. overnight vigils). Such vigour, of course, is a universal aspect of protest agitation. Some greenies, for instance, chain themselves to trees in the path of logging work. But among the Tamils on behalf of LTTE and people today one has seen a specific “Asian” (and thus Tamil) touch, viz., the tactic of hunger fasts – though these have not yet been taken to the ultimate point pursued by Tilīpan and Annai Pūpati.

   A fast is just one method of protest suicide. In the medieval practice of “navakandam, (or avippali)” described by Sivaram, “a warrior … slice[ed] off his own neck to fulfil the vow made to korravai – the Tamil goddess of war – for his commanders’ victory in battle;”[1] while Jayabarathi’s description of this act and its preceding rites contends that it was protest against an unjust act by a king or the marking of unjust humiliation.[2] Varnakulasingham in Geneva and a few Tamils in Tamilnadu and Malaysia took one of these paths of protest: a majestic death by fire. They negated their being in this world as a gift in aid of the Sri Lankan Tamil struggle and the Tiger firmament. That is why I began the first set of articles in transcurrents with Varnakulasingham’s action and attention to the appreciative response that it generated among Tamils in Britain (2009c).

   All along, and as I began the second cluster of essays on 2 April, I had no doubt that the Tiger fighters would mostly fight to the bitter end (an easy prediction that).  But I was beginning to consider, with awe and apprehension, the possibility that we might witness some mass suicides among the pro-LTTE civilians remaining on the coastal fringe north of Mullaitivu. This was before the military debacle suffered by the LTTE at Aanandapuram (Jeyaraj 2009). That may have reduced the scale of possibility, but the end-point of war has not yet been reached, so ….

   In all such thoughts I have been informed by my desultory knowledge of the suicidal Japanese resistance and acts of mass suicide that occurred during World War Two. The brief comments in my “Preamble” now require some summary clarification of that setting by drawing upon a few instances. That requires another article on that topic, one that will serve as a long footnote to my principal focus.

    But it is appropriate to conclude this article with details of a Japanese protest suicide that bears comparison — in broad terms that admit difference too — with the acts of Chinnasāmi (in Tamilnadu January 1964), Varnakulasingham, Tilīpan and Annai Pūpati. That is the case of seppuku by Yukio Mishima.   

    Mishima is (was) the pen name of Kimitake Hiraoka, one of Japan’s greatest novelists and a right-wing extremist steeped in the samurai traditions. On 25 November 1970 he led a tiny private army and seized the headquarters of the Japanese Self-Defense Force in a hopeless enterprise which was the precursor to his protest act: namely, standing on a balcony and reading a manifesto advocating rebellion and, then, in theatrical gesture, committing seppuku – an act against self that was capped, literally, by a compatriot chopping his head off.

    Significantly, though Mishima’s political philosophy has been described as “essentially Nietzschean and nihilist” (Starrs 1994: 94, 6-9), there seem to have been strands of Zen thinking in his perspectives. His novel Yūkoku (Patriotism) centred on an abortive rebellion of an extreme right-wing group of military officers on 26 February 1936. In brief, Mishima was a fascist or, in Asian terms, a chauvinist (rather akin to Gunadasa Amarasekera on the Sinhala side and, perhaps, Pudhuvei Rathnathurai on the Tamil side).

     As pertinent to this instance is the fact that Mishima’s The Way of the Samurai is an appreciative commentary on the Hagakure, the famous eighteenth-century text written by Zen priest Jocho Yamamoto, which is widely regarded as an embodiment of the bushido code. Cast as a critique of modern society, The Way of the Samurai contends that the Hagakure is “a living philosophy that holds that life and death [are] the two sides of the same shield” (quoted in Moeren 1986: 109-10). Thus, in effect, Mishima celebrated a powerful theme in Buddhist-influenced Japanese aesthetics and philosophy, namely the “transcience of life,” an understanding encoded in popular culture by the image of falling cherry blossoms (Moeren 1986: 107, 111) — which, as Ohnuki-Tierney has revealed (2002), were a powerful metaphor for the kamikaze pilots.

    Fascist he was, but Mishima also lived by his dogma: he implanted his body, so to speak, within the texts inscribed by his pen.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hensman, Rohini 2009 “Who is Responsible for the Civilian predicament in the Wanni?” Daily Mirror, 18

    April 2009, p. 49.

Jayabarathi, S. “Self-sacrifice or Navakantam,” http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/Choir/4262/

     navkantha.htm.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009a”Top Tiger leaders killed in a major debacle for LTTE,” http://www.transcurrents.com, 6 April.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009b “Theepan of the LTTE: Heroic Saga of a Northern Warrior,” Daily Mirror, 11 April 2009.

Moeren, Brian 1986 “The Beauty of Violence: Jidaigeki, Yakusza and ‘Eroduction’ Films in Japanese Cinema,” in D. Riches, ed., The Anthropology of Violence, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 104-117.

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko 2002 Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms and Nationalism. The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History, University of Chicago Press.

Roberts, M. 2009c “Dilemmas At War’s End: Thoughts on Hard Realities,” http://www.groundviews.org, 10 Feb. 2009 and Island, 11 Feb. 2009.    

Roberts, M. 2009d “Dilemmas at War’s End: Clarifications & Counter-Offensive,” http://www.groundviews.org, 17 Feb. 2009.  

Roy Starrs, 1994 Deadly Dialectics. Sex, Violence and Nihilism in the World of Yukio Mishimo, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

 


 [1] Sivaram cites the Kalingathu Parani as his authority. The latter is “a work which celebrates the victory of the Chola king Kulotunga and his general Thondaman in the battle for Kalinga [and] describes the practice in detail” (Lanka Guardian, 1 June 1992).

[2] S. Jayabarathi, “Self-sacrifice or Navakantam,” http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/Choir/ 4262/ navkantha.htm.

LTTE and TAMIL PEOPLE, III: NATIONALISM AS LIVING RELIGION

Posted in SACRIFICIAL DEVOTION IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE on April 23, 2009 by galleonroberts

Michael Roberts,

5 April 2009

 

The emergence of the LTTE was an outgrowth from Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism. Tamil nationalism in its turn was an outgrowth from SL Tamil communitarianism in the centuries prior to 1949/50, the moment when an explicit theory of nationality was presented in a sustained manner (Roberts 1999). Note, however, that Tamil nationalism in the period 1949 to the 1970s was a “sectional nationalism” nestling within “Ceylonese nationalism” (Roberts 1979a, 1979b).

   Tamil nationalism turned secessionist in the 1970s for reasons that have been widely canvassed in the historical literature and which do not need reiteration here (Wilson 2000; Sabaratnam 2001; De Votta 2004; Wickramasinghe 2006: 171-99, 252-301; Roberts 2007). The LTTE was among those who advocated such a goal, working initially with loose affiliation to the TULF. In the late 1970s and early 1980s radical socialist vocabulary figured prominently in LTTE propaganda – to a degree that even captivated some Indian media outlets. But we now know that the LTTE was quite fundamentally nationalist and that its socialism was largely veneer (though its anti-caste credentials were certainly sustained).

   The circumstances of secretive underground activity and war rendered its structures authoritarian. Once a de facto state was established from 1990 this feature developed into a totalitarian one-party state of fascist character (Manikkalingam 1995), albeit one that probably enjoyed considerable popular support. In other words, the ideology of the LTTE was ultra-nationalist, which is to say “chauvinist.” In effect they were a mirror image of the Sinhala chauvinists who were an important force in the political dispensation that the Tamils and the LTTE confronted from 1976 onwards – Sinhala chauvinists (encompassing Christians as well as Buddhists) who were a multi-stranded ‘front’ who secured ascendancy in southern politics in late 2005 with the election of the Rajapakse regime (partly courtesy of LTTE strategy).

   In contrast with the Sinhala extremists (and also the other Tamil fighting groups) the LTTE, as I have argued (2009c, 2009d), explicitly committed their personnel to gifting their lives in self-negating manner as a means towards their goal of Eelam. This measure of dedication (arppaNippu) secured the admiration of many SL Tamil people.

                                    *          *          *          *          *

The introduction above sets the stage for a comparative excursion in search of further insights into the phenomenon of nationalism, especially in its ultra form. The point here is that the LTTE is not unique in its sacrificial emphasis — at least in broad terms.

    An emphasis on sacrifice on behalf of the nation, with idioms drawn from a Christian lexicon, was pervasive among most of the European countries participating in the First World War. The heroic acceptance of potential death by so many males was preceded by the euphoria expressed when war was announced and the fanfare surrounding marching bodies of troops as the public in all major cities on both sides of the war acclaimed their patriotism (Koenigsberg 2008: 65; Ecksteins 1989: 197, 306). Even in the distant antipodes Australians joined the war effort with pride and trumpet: they wanted to show the world that they were worthy of nationhood by proving their worth in a “baptism of fire” (Toowoomba Chronicle, 30 April 1915 and Argus, 8 May 1915).

    In a slashing denunciation Richard Koenigsberg argues that “nationalism is a living religion” (2008: xiii). This theme meshes with Bruce Kapferer’s critique: the “nation,” he says, “is created as an object of devotion and the political forces which become focused upon it are intensified in their energy and passion. The religion of nationalism [shrouds] the political in the symbolism of [a] “higher” purpose …” (1988: 1). In this manner, he adds, nationalism can be “among the most liberating, but also the most oppressive … political energies” of our time.

    How true, one can immediately say with a sigh, this comment is for the story of both Sinhala and Tamil nationalisms in Sri Lanka over the last fifty years! But there is a further, critical embellishment in Kapferer’s work: he stresses that the “political nation [as] the object of devotion [can assume] messianic and proselytizing dimensions” (1988: 136).

    This dimension, the apocalyptic strain in LTTE ideology, has come to the forefront in the last six-to-eight months as the Tigers, so successful previously as conventional army, have been pushed into retreat and been besieged in their shrinking territorial spaces in the face of vastly superior numbers and armaments deployed by the government forces. They have responded not only with what must count as one of the most remarkable defensive retreats in the annals of modern warfare — given the degree to which they are outnumbered and outgunned; but also by persuading and pressing the Tamil peoples (those not conscripted) of the northern Vanni to move with them in an enforced exodus of near-biblical proportions.

    Indeed, if one of the reports from the governments propaganda engines can be believed, some Tamil “civilians” who have managed to evade this demand or to escape from the Tiger fold have reported that the LTTE leaders urged civilians to “come die with us (the LTTE fighters)” [see http://www.strategypage.com/qnd/srilank/articles/20090305.aspx%5D. This specific news item emanates from government sources. While such reports must normally be regarded with extreme caution, this demand is precisely the type of action that my studies of LTTE ideology would have led me to anticipate. Indeed, the role of the kuppi and the manner in which it is treated as “a friend” (Roberts 2009a), as well as the extraordinary degree of dedication (arppaNippu) to cause revealed by so many Tigers over the years, is rooted in the same body of thought, an ideological corpus of ultra-nationalist sentiment with apocalyptic strains.

    While revealing similar strands to ultra-nationalism elsewhere, that of the Tigers and Sri Lankan Tamils nevertheless carries threads that are region and country specific. The veneration of Pirapāharan and the devotion to cause drawing inspiration, as I have indicated earlier (Roberts 2009c), from the warrior motifs in the Cankam poetry was meshed with the devotional energy of the bhakti religious movements of southern India. These orientations have also drawn sustenance from the practices of surrogate sacrifice that are commonplace in Tamil Saivite worship (Roberts 2005).

    Likewise, the pervasive practices of propitiatory offerings to deities and the attendant fulfilling of vows lead a few Tamils to indulge in extreme forms of self-punishment (e. g. rolling on the ground for miles, fire-walking) at festivals. While the numbers who resort to such self-flagellation may be small at any one festival, they add up to a significant minority over any one year. Such demanding acts of devotion, moreover, occur in the midst of a teeming crowd that exhorts and acclaims those pursuing such acts of ascetic mortification. The mass energy displayed by devotees at a Vel festival or Amman water-cutting ritual simply cannot be captured in words.

    To those of us who are agnostic or of secular orientation, such devotional fervour is perhaps as awesome as puzzling-strange. We may also be encouraged in our scepticism by (a) the findings of anthropologists who tell us that, just occasionally, vow-makers and devotees turn nasty and curse the very deities they venerate because calamitous happenings have not been prevented; or (b) by reading Robert Knox’s statement about 17th century Sinhalese villagers in the highlands whose fortunes had turned bad: “I have often heard them say, give him no sacrifice, but shit in his mouth, what a God is he” (1911: 132). Such stray counter-notes may even induce us sceptics-cum-outsiders to exclaim in ironic parody: “praise be to the lord (simple l).”

    Again, we outsiders may be comforted by the thought that the religious fervour displayed at a Kumbha Mēla, a Badrakāli Festival or a high moment at Lourdes is not a threat to other people. Our awe may gather volume and develop into distaste when a body of 909 devotees commit mass suicide in the manner of the People Temple, a Christian evangelical sect that made Jonestown into a horror story on 18 Nov. 1978. Awe turns into antipathy, however, when religious movements take up an explicitly political project in the manner of the Hindu Sangh Pariwar forces in India or Al-Qaida worldwide. In the face of such forms of explicitly religious nationalism (or “fundamentalism”), ironic parody of the type essayed in the previous paragraph is as puny as disingenuous.

    But, just as the odd devotee turns on the deities and curses them, it would appear that there are some civilian Tamils of the recent exodus who have turned their backs on the LTTE. Just the other day an “elderly man wearing a grimy T shirt and sarong and clutching a single bag” after he had struggled out of Tiger territory told (presumably via a translator) a Daily Telegraph reporter named Nick Meo, “angrily,” that “the people do not like the Tigers any more.” “They are trapped by them and they are scared. They want the Sri Lankan army to rescue them” (Island, 3 April 2009).

    This man was furious and his sweeping generalisation must be immediately modified. Patriotic sentiments have a capacity to capture the commitment of civilians as well as fighting cadres in ways that involve the fusion of self within collective – a topic that I will be elaborating upon through comparative forays (yes, qualified analogues) in an essay to follow. This is a capacity that cloistered intellectuals such as Shanie of the Notebook (Island, 28 March 2009) simply cannot comprehend. Nationalism is a powerful powder and there will be several true believers among the remnant civilian Tamil population hemmed in with the remnant Tigers. But relentless privation with little reward has also, quite clearly, reaped its little revolts among a suffering body of people.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

.

Ecksteins, Modris 1989 Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, New York: Anchor Books.

De Votta, Neil 2004 Blowback. Linguistic Nationalism, Institutional Decay and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka, Stanford University Press.

Kapferer, Bruce 1988 Myths oif state, Legends of People, Washington: Smithsonian Instituion  

    Press.

Koenigsberg, Richard A. 2009 Nations have the Right to Kill. Hitler, the Holocaust and War,    

     New York: Library of Social Science¸

Manikkalingam, Ram 1995 Tigerism, Colombo: a pamphlet.

Roberts, Michael 1979a “Meanderings in the Pathways of Collective Identity and Nationalism,” in M. Roberts (ed.) Collective Identities, Nationalisms and Protest in Modern Sri Lanka, Colombo: Marga Publications, pp. 1-90.

Roberts, Michael 1979d “Problems of Collective Identity in a Multi-Ethnic Society: Sectional Nationalism vs Ceylonese Nationalism, 1900-1940,” in Collective Identities, Nationalisms and Protest in Modern Sri Lanka, Colombo: Marga Publications, pp. 337-60.

Roberts, Michael 1999 “Nationalisms Today and Yesterday,” in Gerald Peiris and S. W. R. de

    A. Samarasinghe (eds) History and Politics. Millennial Perspectives. Essays in honour of  

    Kingsley de Silva, Colombo: Law and Society Trust, pp. 23-44.

Roberts, Michael 2006b “The Tamil Movement for Eelam,” E-Bulletin of the International

    Sociological Association No. 4, July 2006, pp. 12-24.

   Roberts, Michael 2009a “Suicidal Political Action I: Soundings,” http://www.transcurrents.com &

       http:// sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/

    Roberts, Michael 2009c “Suicidal Political Action III: Imperatives,” www. transcurrents.

       com & http:// sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/

Roberts, Michael 2009d “Suicidal Political Action IV: LTTE Power & Popular Support,”

       www.transcurrents.com & https://sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/

Sabaratnam, Lakshmanan 2001 Ethnic Attachments in Sri Lanka: Social Change and Cultural

    Continuity, London: Palgrave.

Wickramasinghe, Nira 2006 Sri Lanka in the Modern Age. a History of Contested Identities,

     Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Wilson, A. J. 2000 Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, London: Hurst and Company.

LTTE and TAMIL PEOPLE, II: INTERFLOWS

Posted in SACRIFICIAL DEVOTION IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE on April 22, 2009 by galleonroberts

Michael Roberts

2 April 09

 

During the halcyon years of the LTTE, besides Māvīrar Nāl on 27 November, the Tigers conducted nine other māvīrar or tiyaki ceremonies every year. These were, on the one hand, subjectively meaningful engagements and, on the other, political propaganda. I have argued that the māvīrar rites — within the context of past grievances and memories, as well as the sufferings of war — contributed substantially to the support for the LTTE project among SL Tamil peoples residing in the territories under their authoritarian sway (Roberts, “Suicidal,” 2009 c, d).

    The māvīrar ceremonies included the deployment of pictorial imagery, whether as backdrop scenes, pandals, billboards or sculpture. The Tamil cultural heritage has been nourished for centuries by the colourful (sometimes florid) artistic expressions produced by specialists, known in English-Tamil as scenekāra, usually drawn from pupillary lines of kalaignan or siththirakkalagnan. The scenekāra usually painted the backdrop scenes for the lively dances and folk theatre known as kūttu (kuththu) that was a vital pillar within Tamil life ways.

    The LTTE deployed these artistes in their activities, while at the same time encouraging their own personnel to develop their capacities in both traditional fields as well as modern modes of ideological transmission – as Trawick’s empirical material from the Eastern Province reveals from time to time (2007). Thus, DVDs, cassettes and videos supplemented kūttu in the propaganda activities of the LTTE.

   So did music, a mode of communication that is integral to folk theatre. Martial, lyric and lament (oppāri pattu) music was pervasive during the days leading up to Māvīrar Nāl; while DVDs and cassettes have been produced and disseminated widely in order to glorify the achievements of the Tigers. A well-known virtuoso in musical composition named Kannan was among the artistes contributing their skills to these new productions – in ways that were highly innovative in the opinion of the Leftist poet, Ponnampalam (my interview in Dec. 2004).

    Among outside observers the standard response to the argument that the LTTE had considerable support among the Tamil residents in the north and east is to refer to “brainwashing” and “indoctrination.” This is an interpretation that concentrates on instrumental manipulation by powerful leaders. Insofar as my essays have spoken of “deployment,” this viewpoint has been accepted. But I stress here that I only accept it in part, presenting it as one factor among others.

    Where I object to the indoctrination thesis is with its claim to catholicity, that is, I question the full stop introduced after the viewpoint is presented. The theory renders a quarter-truth into the only truth. It also treats all followers as cultural dopes, mere plasticine in the hands of leaders, to a degree that I cannot accept (indeed, I wonder if the same observers will not consider all Catholic devotees who attend mass every Sunday or all Buddhist devotees at Poson as brainwashed robots).

     I have a third objection to this thesis. It places the leaders outside the cultural symbols and political grievances they deploy. In opposition I hold that the Tiger leaders were not in outer space, but working from within their experiential cultural milieu. Their force of voice, choice of symbols and own individual practices developed from speaking as true believers.

    Thus, in counterpoint, I insist that the māvīrar ceremonies were not simply staged manipulations by opportunistic leaders. I believe that there is deep emotional investment in their comrades among the LTTE leaders themselves. Pirapāharan wept when Sellakili died in action on 23 July 1983. He fasted for one day every year prior to the moment marking Shankar’s death (Schalk 1997). Schalk presents a perceptive contention when he conjectures that at twilight every 27th November since 1989, Shankar “is made a collective focal point for re-experiencing the mourning experience of Velupillai Pirapākaran” (2003: 400).

    The LTTE cadres continuously affirmed their commitment to their goal via reference to their fallen. For instance, once the practice of burials was initiated circa 1989 the final rite of planting saw those present reciting the following phrase as a troop fired guns in the air: “Now we have lost you. But in the place of the gap you have created, we will follow the path you have taken and we will achieve Thamilīlam” (information from S. Visahan). In brief, a profound current of subjective self-affirmation among its personnel has been one facet of the ‘martyrology’ and mass state liturgies that the LTTE has developed as a means of motivation, mobilization and legitimization of cause. If my outsider-voice does not carry conviction, then readers should digest DBS Jeyaraj’s powerful essay on the topic of Māvīrar Nāl (2006).

    Thus, on these grounds I argue that the Sri Lankan Tamil peoples’ homage to the dead on 27 November every year since 1989 has been a gathering of strength and an act of renewal. This set of practices respects, remembers, legitimizes, transcends and inspires. As such, the ceremony has been a binding moment between the Tigers and the people in Tigerland (and beyond one can add).

                                                *          *          *          *          *

By late 1990 the LTTE were widely admired by SL Tamil people because of the manner in which they had withstood the massive IPKF forces and because they were seen as bulwark protecting them from a threatening SL government. As Dayan Jayatilleke told a BBC team in late 1991, Pirapāharan was “a living legend” (BBC, 1991).

    Our evaluations of the relationship between SL Tamils and the  LTTE regime-cum-leader are best served by attending to the four broad constituencies among the latter in the period 1990-to-2008: (A) those in Tigerland; (B) those in occupied territory in the north, that is within the Jaffna Peninsula and in Vavuniya North; (C) those in Colombo and the Sinhala-majority regions; and (D) migrants abroad.

     The point here is that the Tamil people in Tigerland were fully alive to the severity of the LTTE regime and the limitations on free speech. But they were also caught in a structural pincer: between a rock (the LTTE) and a hard place (the government of Sri Lanka, or GOSL). In this bind I conjecture that even SL Tamils who had reservations about the LTTE preferred their ethnic own, that is, the Tigers, to the GOSL In partial contrast, I surmise that many Tamil migrants in the diaspora were not experientially versed in the difficulties of the LTTE regime. Thus, many were (and still remain) far more starry-eyed about the talaivar Pirapāharan and his LTTE than those subject to LTTE rule (thanks here to Devanesan Nesiah for stressing this). Just the other day some Tamil dissidents from the diaspora who had been brought to Lanka by GOSL to review the IDP situation and mediate political compromise were asked whether Pirapāharan was a hero in migrant circles. Their response was honest: “To some, he is a divine figure, as someone who had come to save Tamils. According to Hindu belief, there are Avathara pursusha, someone born to defend and save them. This image has come in [that is, taken deep root] and it will be very difficult to get rid of it” (Daily News, 6 April 2009).

    Subject to these caveats, let me provide evidence of the awe in which Pirapāharan was held by the people within the regions commanded by the LTTE. To begin with a note by Anita Pratap, one of the few journalists to have interviewed Pirapāharan several times: “the Tiger credo has two parts – to fight for Eelam and to be loyal to Pirabhakaran till the last breath. By the time training is over, young Tiger recruits venerate Pirabhakaran. It is a carefully orchestrated indoctrination” (2001: 102, emphasis mine). Yes, indoctrination again! Pratap’s emphasis on indoctrination carries the imprint of the instrumentalist reasoning that dominates our world today. It should be qualified by Pratap’s own emphasis on the devotional regard for Pirapāharan as a brother (annai) with god-like qualities among LTTE personnel of all ranks and ages (Pratap 2001: 102-04 & 70-72).

    One should note too that several female fighters in the Batticaloa region described Pirapāharan as “beautiful” and “a man of goodness, intellect, sacrifice” (Trawick 2007: 68, 81, 183). From her intimate interactions in 1997/98 and 2002 Trawick is led to this verdict: “The adoration of Prabhakaran is in line with the adoration (bhakti, pattu) offered to many human beings who are perceived as harbouring something divine, whether it is great musical talent, rhetorical power or the strength to keep a family together” (2007: 81).

    This veneration was voiced even more forcefully at higher levels of LTTE officialdom. Brendan O’Duffy’s interviews with senior Tiger leaders at Kilinochchi in May 2003 “reinforce[d] the [evidence of] mythic reverential perceptions of the leader.” Indeed, Sanappah Master insisted that “he and others considered Prabhakaran as ‘God become man’.” (2007: 265). Elsewhere at the grass roots among the Tamil people one has the instance of an old lady who was found in the ghost town of Sampur in late 2006 as the Sri Lankan army marched in; she had been abandoned by her sons and was carrying a photograph of Pirapāharan. She called him “Ishwara” (Jayasuriya 2006). For Tamils, Ishwara denotes Lord Sīva (though in northern India the term stands for “the One and the Supreme God”). 

    In other words, our materialist, rationalist and instrumental reasoning must be diluted by attentiveness to experiential life and the sentimental chords that can bind leader and follower, while yet nourishing and animating patriotism – sometimes to the point of ultra-nationalist excess.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

BBC 1991 “Suicide Killers,” in Inside Story Documentary Series, late 1991

Jayasuriya, Ranga “Military gains which went obscure,” Sunday Observer, 29 Oct. 2006.

O’Duffy, Brendan 2007 “LTTE: Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Majoritarianism, Self-

  Determination and Military-to-Political Transition in Sri Lanka,” in Marianne Heiberg, Brendan

     O’Leary, and John Tirman (eds.) Terror, Insurgency, and the State. Ending Protracted Conflicts, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 257-87.

Pratap, Anita 2001 Island of Blood, New Delhi: Viking.

Roberts, Michael 1999 “Nationalisms Today and Yesterday,” in Gerald Peiris and S W R de A

    Samarasinghe (eds) History and Politics. Millennial Perspectives. Essays in honour of  

    Kingsley de Silva, Colombo: Law and Society Trust, pp. 23-44.

Roberts, Michael 2006b “The Tamil Movement for Eelam,” E-Bulletin of the International

    Sociological Association No. 4, July 2006, pp. 12-24.

   Roberts, Michael 2009a “Suicidal Political Action I: Soundings,” http://www.transcurrents.com &

       http:// sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/

   Roberts, Michael 2009b “Suicidal Political Action II: Ponnudurai Sivakumāran,” www.

      transcurrents.com & https://sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/

   Roberts, Michael 2009c “Suicidal Political Action III: Imperatives,” http://www.transcurrents.com

      & http:// sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/

Roberts, Michael 2009d “Suicidal Political Action IV: LTTE Power & Popular

       Support,” http://www.transcurrents.com & http://sacrificialdevotionnetwork. wordpress.com/

Schalk, Peter 1997a “Resistance and Martyrdom in the Process of State Formation of Tamililam,” in Joyce Pettigrew (ed.) Martyrdom and Political Resistance, Amsterdam: VU University Press pp. 61-84.

Schalk, Peter 2003 “Beyond Hindu Festivals: The Celebration of Great Heroes’ Day by the

     Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Europe,” in Martin Baumann et al. (eds.)  

      Tempel und Tamilien in Zweiter Heimat, Wurzburg: Ergon Verlag, pp. 391-411.     

Trawick, Margaret 2007 Enemy Lines. Childhood, Warfare and Play in Batticaloa, Berkeely: University of California Press.