CLASSIFIED | POLITICS | TERRORISM | OPINION | VIEWS





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Joint Mechanism and Religious Overdetermination

Tisaranee Gunasekara
Courtesy The Island 24-04-2005

Rauf Hakeem is the Ranil Wickremesinghe of the Muslim community; he maintains a deafening silence about the daily harassment of Muslims by the Tigers (inclusive of acts of murder, extortion, abduction and expulsion). Mr. Hakeem neither represents an Eastern electorate nor has he got a majority of Eastern Muslim representatives with him. His statement about Buddha statues was obviously an attempt to bolster his waning political fortunes by playing the role of the defender of Eastern Muslims while continuing to ignore Tiger atrocities. The JHU should have exposed the hypocritical nature of Mr. Hakeem’s concern for Eastern Muslims; instead it marched against the entire Eastern Muslim community thereby playing right into Mr. Hakeem’s hands.


"...blind men who are blindest when they suddenly think they can see".

Elias Canetti (Crowds and Power)


Fear us and favour us, if you want to stay alive. That is the message the Tigers are sending government officials of the North and the East.

The assassination of Thirukkovil Divisional Secretary, T Tavaraja is the latest incident in what seems to be a Tiger campaign targeting government officials (the two previous victims being Mr. Kailainatha, Director, Vocational Training, Batticaloa Technical College and Mr. Arulpalam, a Samurdhi official). It is believed that Mr. Tavaraja was killed because he refused to put up a picture of Vellupillai Pirapaharan in his office. The implication is clear — the LTTE will not hesitate to murder any official who disobeys any one of its commands, from the seditious to the ridiculous.

The LTTE’s message is being reinforced by regime’s spineless reaction to this obvious attempt to force administrative officials in the North and the East to submit to Tiger diktats through the use of terror. Government politicians were conspicuous by their absence at the funeral of Mr. Tavaraja. At least the Minister of Local Government should have attended the funeral or sent his representative. That would have been the decent thing to do; it would also have sent a signal to the Tigers that the government is treating this matter with sufficient seriousness.

Admittedly it is not possible to provide security to all government officials. But it may be possible to retard this latest terror campaign by making it politically costly for the LTTE — as the EPDP once did. Last year the Tigers carried out a spate of assassinations targeting EPDP members; finally a desperate EPDP threatened to leave the coffin of the next victim outside the Norwegian Embassy. And miraculously there was a lull in the murders, a lull that lasted several months. True, the Norwegians cannot influence the Tigers on strategic issues; not all the international pressure could compel the LTTE to go to Tokyo. But in matters tactical Norwegians (and a few others) can exercise a strictly limited influence over the LTTE. When the EPDP threatened to make the Tigers’ serial killings an embarrassment to the Norwegians, they did manage to restrain the LTTE for a while. Similarly British pressure forced the LTTE to release Rajasingham Jeyadevan who was incarcerated in Vanni because of his refusal to obey Tiger orders.

The government should have brought the Tavaraja murder and its implications to the notice of the Norwegians and other Western countries involved in the peace process, persuading them to persuade the LTTE to cease and desist from targeting civilian officials. Unfortunately the opposite is happening. From the UPFA to the SLMM the focus is on implementing the joint mechanism as soon as possible. Instead of being punished or even reprimanded the Tigers will be rewarded. Imagine how a joint mechanism in the context of a Tiger campaign to murder ‘disobedient’ government officials will work. The murderers of Mr. Tavaraja will march into his office in triumph. Which government official is going to resist the Tigers after that?

Rewarding Terrorism

In 1933 the German establishment thought it was taming Hitler by giving him responsibility. The Conservative leaders who paved the way for the Nazi takeover believed - with reason - that they were ‘caging Hitler’. The Nazis were given only three of the eleven Cabinet portfolios; they were denied the Defence and the Foreign Portfolios and all the key economic ministries. The real decision makers were supposed to be President Hindenberg (who had the constitutional power to dismiss Chancellor Hitler at will), the deputy chancellor Pappen and the conservative cabinet ministers, backed by the armed forces. This assumption would have been correct in the case of any normal political party. The Nazis were different. They moved with ruthless rapidity and single mindedness to use their limited authority to win over/force into submission the entire state. Those who believed that they were caging Hitler by ‘bringing him in’ found themselves caged. A similar transformation will happen in the North and the East if the Tigers are handed over some administrative power via a joint mechanism.

The Tigers are past masters at winning the confidence of gullible outsiders (be they Sri Lankan leaders or foreign do-gooders) by pretending to be ‘reformable’. The ICRC is supposed to have given its approval to a newly established Tiger Police interrogation centre in the Vanni because it meets ICRC standards. As Rajasingham Jeyadevan points out in a letter to the ICRC the Tiger prison in which he was held under the most inhuman conditions was only a ‘stone throw’ away from one of the ICRC offices; and the well meaning ICRC knew nothing of this: ‘I note with regret that ICRC offices in Vanni are not informed about the arbitrary arrests and detention of persons by the LTTE’ (Asian Tribune — 19.4.2005).

This incident is demonstrative of how the Tigers will dissemble in order to gain some legitimate authority and then use that authority to pursue and cover up their murderous aims. The joint mechanism will enable the Tigers to march into the government controlled areas triumphantly, with formal authority to intervene in the administration and an enhanced image as the internationally accepted co-partner of the regime and the sole representative of the Tamil people. Very few government officials will resist the LTTE after that; the few who do will be murdered. The government writ will cease running and the Tigers will come to dominate the entirety of the North and the East. That is why it is necessary to ensure that any aid distribution mechanism is a pluralist one, which includes the representatives of not just the LTTE but of all other Tamil and Muslim parties (at least the ones represented in parliament).

In the name of Religion

If the JHU has its way ere long the Sinhala Buddhists will find themselves isolated nationally and internationally, facing the hostility of Tamils, Muslims, Sinhala Christians and a large part of world (which will conclude from our conduct that we are still the same race which perpetrated Sinhala Only and the Black July). Having sown dissension between Buddhists and Christians, the JHU is now turning its attention to Muslims. On April 12th it demonstrated against Muslims in the East — a community whose support is vital to prevent the LTTE from reclaiming the East.

Rauf Hakeem is the Ranil Wickremesinghe of the Muslim community; he maintains a deafening silence about the daily harassment of Muslims by the Tigers (inclusive of acts of murder, extortion, abduction and expulsion). Mr. Hakeem neither represents an Eastern electorate nor has he got a majority of Eastern Muslim representatives with him. His statement about Buddha statues was obviously an attempt to bolster his waning political fortunes by playing the role of the defender of Eastern Muslims while continuing to ignore Tiger atrocities. The JHU should have exposed the hypocritical nature of Mr. Hakeem’s concern for Eastern Muslims; instead it marched against the entire Eastern Muslim community thereby playing right into Mr. Hakeem’s hands. The glee with which the pro-Tiger Tamil Net carried the story of the JHU march proves how much the LTTE stands to benefit from this attempt to sow religious dissension in the East.

The JHU is a part of a global trend that is gathering momentum - that of religious revivalism. This religious revivalism is temporal rather than spiritual in nature because it is more to do with earthly power than with salvation after life or liberation from samsara. It seeks to make the state more religious and religion more political. The aim is to remarry the state to religion and to use this new fusion to guide and control society. This revanchist movement which seeks to reverse and nullify one of the most important legacies of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution — the secularisation of politics is not limited to one religion. Every major religion has staked out what it considers as its ‘natural/hereditary’ territory and aims at reclaiming it for its beliefs and values. Whether it is the evangelicals of the USA, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the BJP in India or the JHU in Sri Lanka the goal is nothing less than the total transformation of society and polity. The following words by US evangelist Rev. Dr. James Kennedy are equally applicable to this ‘temporal’ religious revivalism across the world, across the religious divides: ‘As the vice-regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighbourhoods, our schools, our government, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavours.’ (Christian Science Monitor — 16.3.2005). Similarly the JHU’s Dharma Rajaya is an attempt to use executive and legislative authority to restructure the state and refashion society in accordance with its particular interpretation of Buddhist beliefs and values.

The JHU also espouses a religious patriotism; Buddhist images and terminology together with the national flag were ubiquitous in the JHU’s election campaign — another trait it shares with other religious revivalists - from the US evangelists to the BJP and the Taliban. There was a direct correlation between the rise of modern nationalism and the decline of religion as a political factor in the Age of Enlightenment. This modern inclusive nationalism which is a legacy of the French Revolution is on the decline today; what is in ascendance is a religious nationalism in which religion is as much of a determinant factor as race/country of origin in deciding one’s ‘true’ nationality. The example of Iraq is a telling one; what we see in response to the US invasion is not a resurgence of Iraqi nationalism but the emergence of competing and contending and mutually hostile Sunni and Shia ‘religious nationlisms’.

If unethical conversion is a problem, the President should appoint a multi-religious council with representatives from all four major religions, to come up with a solution that is Sri Lankan rather than Sinhala Buddhist. Such a pluralist solution would not antagonise religious minorities; nor would it present a superb politico-propaganda weapon to the Tigers. Thanks to our insistence on a Sinhala Buddhist rather than a Sri Lankan response, the proposed anti-conversion legislation will prove to be counterproductive to Sri Lankan and therefore Sinhala-Buddhist interests. Prosecutions under this law will be seen as persecutions by the most powerful component of the international community as well as by a section of our own people. The outcome — the creation of some famous ‘prisoners of conscience’; the exacerbation of the sense of alienation on the part of the minority communities; and an opportunity for the Tigers to discredit Sri Lanka by saying, with some degree of credibility, that the Sinhalese Buddhists are as incapable as ever of treating the minority communities as equals.

This religious overdetermination has given us a new enemy who is more dangerous than the Tiger - the missionary and the Moulavi. Consequently there is a redrawing of priorities; conversions have to be prevented even if in the attempt we help the LTTE. The resultant re-alignment of forces will gradually weaken the anti-Tiger camp, present the Tigers with some key allies in the midst of the Sinhala heartland and tip the balance in favour of the LTTE in the vitally important East. If there is a religious clash in the East it will discredit the idea of a united, pluralist Sri Lanka and weaken those who stand against Tiger Eelam - from the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to Col. Karuna. An East divided within itself will be an easy pray for the waiting Tiger who will re-conquer it and use it as a bridge to Tiger Eelam.


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