Dayan Jayatilleka, courtesy of The Island, 21 June 2017, where the title is “The issue is incitement: The BBS, Champika & the Gota factor” … with highlighting being the work of The editor, Thuppahi
The entire discussion or debate about the BBS, Gnanasara Thero and extremism is missing something. The discussion confuses ultra-nationalism, chauvinism, Islamophobia and extremism with the real issue: incitement to violence. Whether an ideology is extremist or not is one issue, but it is an issue that is difficult to resolve. What is far easier to resolve, legally and morally, is the issue of whether or not an action or statement constitutes an ‘incitement to violence’ against an individual or a collective.
It is morally slippery to avoid the central issue that is present before our very eyes, namely incitement, and instead to shift attention by merely equating all forms of chauvinism and denouncing them all equally.
It is still worse to brush under the carpet the issue of incitement by stating that the BBS extremism is but a “reaction” to Islamic extremism.
Not every “reaction” is justifiable or else domestic violence could be justified as a “reaction” to a child’s or spouse’s behavioúr. “Extremism” and “provocation” are in the eye and ear of the beholder or listener. Incitement is not. Again, intentionality is not the issue, because it is difficult to prove that someone intended to incite violence. However, since ignorance of the law is no excuse, the courts can deliberate on the basis of the weight of evidence, what does and does not constitute an act of incitement, and the guilty party/parties can be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Nor is the main issue Islamophobia. While Islamophobia is in and of itself reprehensible, what should be focused on is incitement to violence. And here, the matter is very clear. Much as I have harshly criticized Wigneswaran and Tamil chauvinism, and am opposed to the growing (quite visible) fundamentalism within Sri Lanka’s Muslim communities, and also disappointed that there is no moderate Muslim fight back against it, there is no equivalence between Wigneswaran, Hakeem, Rishard Badiuddin, Azad Sally and Ven Gnanasara for one very simple reason. After the war, some politicians representing the minorities have resorted to sectarian ultra-nationalism, chauvinism, covert and latent separatism, borderline threats and even provocation (‘genocide’ resolution, Sivajilingam, Sritharan, Gajan, Suresh), but no one has resorted to incitement of violence. As a stack of video footage can prove, the same cannot be said of the BBS or Ven. Gnanasara.
While fascism is extremist and chauvinist, not every extremist and chauvinist is fascist. The BBS and Gnanasara Thero represent, as I wrote years ago, “ethnoreligious fascism”. Those who try to equate fascism with every kind of chauvinism or extremism, are only covering up for fascism. All else apart—and there is no point making moral arguments to people who don’t seem to know right from wrong or have a conscience—the fudging of the issue of ethnoreligious fascism will only plunge this country into a religious civil war in which all will lose, including, and perhaps most especially, the Sinhalese (given that there are 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet).
I write about these matters not without some recognized credentials. In 2001, Nelson Mandela hosted in Durban, South Africa, the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance which issued the famous Durban Declaration and Program of Action. Ten years later there was the Review conference. The preparatory work was done in Geneva at the UN Human rights council and the report presented by me in Geneva was presented to the UNGA in New York under my name (though I had been sacked by the Rajapaksa administration and was not present on the occasion). I had been elected the Chairperson of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
Though I had been Chairperson of the ILO and handled contentious issues between labour, employers and governments of 193 countries sitting in a single assembly, the task of managing the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Durban declaration required even more concentration because the issues were of Islamophobia, defamation of religions, freedom of expression etc. where even the matter of the European cartoons on Prophet Mohammed had come up. Passions ran high. Under my chairpersonship we broke the deadlock by isolating the main danger—that of incitement to violence. We were able to reach consensus between regions, civilizations, cultures and religions of 193 countries, on that basis. It is with this experience and achievement that I make the point that what we should focus upon is not Sinhala and Tamil racism, chauvinism or extremism, but precisely and specifically the incitement to violence, i.e. the rousing of mob violence or individual attacks.
As a founder member of MIRJE (the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice & Equality) in 1979 and someone who has fought against Sinhala racism for decades—indeed the very term “ethno-religious fascism” to define the BBS was originally mine—I am quite aware of the main wellspring of Sinhala Buddhist racism in our society in general and the post-war order in particular.
I also write as one who was interviewed by the BBC while marching against the BBS. What I pointed out repeatedly in public at that time was the strange anomaly that the USA, which refused Narendra Modi a visa for years, even while he was Chief Minister of the economically powerful Gujarat, due to his alleged role in anti-Muslim rioting in that state years ago, granted the BBS leader and his team five-year multiple entry visas even after the BBS had been controversially associated with Islamophobic violence!
Whn there was violence at the Shah Rukh Khan show after agitation against having it, when there was a hate campaign against so-called ‘forced conversions’, when President Kumaratunga had to post armed police guards outside and even inside Catholic – not just Evangelical—churches on Christmas Day 2003, the BBS wasn’t formed, Gotabhaya was in LA California and Mahinda Rajapaksa was not even the PM let alone the presidential candidate.
During MR’s Presidency, who opposed the BBS in Cabinet and called for the banning of its Maharagama meeting? Dinesh Gunawardena and Wimal Weerawansa! Who was present on stage at that meeting which was dotted by BBS goons in black T shirts? Champika Ranawake. Whose name was disclosed by the LSSP’s Prof Tissa Vitharana as opposing in Cabinet any action against Gnanasara though the report which was commissioned by Mahinda Rajapaksa and chaired by Tissa Vitharana recommended such action? Champika Ranawake.
At a recent media briefing which was amply reported on TV news, Champika Ranawake named and hoped to shame, the person who had wanted to ban the BBS meeting in Maharagama, which Champika says he objected to on the grounds that the BBS had not broken any law. That person was President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mao once said derisively to a group of young militants: “You say you want to make a revolution but you do not know where the bourgeoisie is! The bourgeoisie is in the Party!” Similarly, Sri Lanka’s cosmopolitan liberals and liberal leftists say they want to oppose racist extremism but they do not know who the Godfather of Sinhala racist extremism is and where he is! He is in the Yahapalana Cabinet!
I was bemused to read just the other day, a high-minded polemic against religious violence and its backdrop, littered with references including several to Mahinda Rajapaksa/the Rajapaksas, but none whatsoever to Champika Ranawake!
In 2013-2014, I criticized the rise of Islamophobia and the BBS. I have written a book entitled Long War, Cold Peace in which these points are made. I criticized then Secretary of Defense Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s presence at an occasion on which the BBS monks were present and worse, his (passing) defence of the BBS in his speech. I retract none of what I said. However, contrary to some social media sites which have rushed to lay blame for the BBS phenomenon at the feet of the Rajapaksas and especially Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and invokes that particular speech to give credence to this falsehood, I never said or believed that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was behind or was responsible for the BBS!
It is precisely as someone with those credentials and that legitimacy of having been a critic of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa when he was at the zenith of power and influence, that I openly advocate that in the absence of effective action on the part of the Yahapalana government to deal with either this dangerous phenomenon of incitement or any of the myriad of other daily crises faced by the people from Dengue to garbage to rising cost of living, Gotabhaya is not the problem but is actually part of the solution. During wartime when Gotabhaya was very much part of the solution I supported him, even when I dissented — and we clashed sharply–on Gaza. Then, when he became part of the problem (postwar) I criticized him. Now when he is the last best hope I see to overcome this utter degeneration and decadence under the Ranil-CBK government, I support him.
Let me clarify my position on Gotabhaya as simply as I can since (with inexplicable or perhaps impeccable) timing certain sources seem to want to distort my views to further an agenda of diversion, away from the real sources of danger. Just as a medical doctor may oppose a strong medication and even more so, a surgical intervention plus a chemo shot, at a certain point of time, but urgently recommend it later for another disease, or because the original disease has become cancerous, so too will a political scientist do the equivalent. I criticized Gotabhaya Rajapaksa during Mahinda’s second term because he was to the Right of Mahinda and on the Right of the regime, which made its policy direction lopsided. Today the whole context has changed. Gotabhaya is not the most reactionary, right wing figure in this country. There are far worse and scarier things out there than Gotabhaya. Gotabhaya is not the enemy and in fact is not an enemy. He is not the problem or part of the problem—unlike [the state of affairs during] MR’s second term—but is very much part of the solution.
What was far too strong a dose of medication then in 2014, is just what the doctor ordered now. More: before the cancer that the pro-imperialist, pro-Indian annexationist, Ranil–CBK elite and puppet government represents in our body politic metastasizes, we need a surgical intervention and an implant – and Gotabhaya is just the person for the job.
This government and what it is doing to our country is classifiable as “political evil” – and Mahinda and Gotabhaya can combat it. Gotabhaya is also the only one with a vision to rescue and modernize Sri Lanka. Looking around at the garbage, seeing the suffering of people during the spreading dengue epidemic, I know that Gotabhaya would solve such problems expeditiously. Looking at what he achieved in Colombo and other cities such as Nuwara Eliya, I imagine what he could do for the whole country and how it could look like.
This is the worst, most dangerous, most unconscionable government I have seen in my country in my lifetime. Whatever their past and present errors, only Mahinda as Prime Minister and Gota as President can get us out of this deep, stinking pit, and put us back on track.
If Gotabhaya does not or cannot intervene to stop the spreading cancer, then even more radical methods of intervention by the people themselves—such as in August 1953— may be embarked upon, supplemented by the emancipatory upsurge that we saw in Russia in 1917, Portugal in 1974-75, Iran in 1979, the Philippines in 1985, and Venezuela 1992. Gotabhaya is our last chance to have a peaceful, mainstream, systemic electoral intervention. He is not our Donald Trump (we don’t need one); he is potentially our Vladimir Putin.