Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Futury instead of History

Ethnic Identity in Sri Lanka’s Pre-capitalist Past: Shanie, Darshanie and Roberts drew a comment (Go to comments in that site). This is in response

Futury instead of history! How progressive. But with this talk of banning and silencing aren’t we actually going backwards in time, to a less enlightened era, which saw knowledge as dangerous needing to be contained, restricted, and even suppressed? Aren’t we retracing our steps along a trail strewn with such dismal landmarks as the banning of the teaching of Evolutionary Biology in schools, only teaching it along with Intelligent Design, poisoning of Socrates, sentencing of Galileo, witch burnings and etc? Both the Vatican and the Church of England have gone forward now haven’t they, expressing regret about Galileo, apologizing to Darwin, decreeing that only human error created the impression of incompatibility.
Everyone has gone forward everywhere in the world. Do you think we have?

In 1919 Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes said
“The White Australia is yours. You may do with it what you please, but at any rate, the soldiers have achieved the victory and my colleagues and I have brought that great principle back to you from the conference, as safe as it was on the day when it was first adopted.”

He said this in a spirit of achievement after successfully blocking at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, a move which would have threatened the White Australia Policy.

In 1957 S J V Chelvanayakam said
“State-aided Sinhalese colonization of the Northern and Eastern Provinces will be effectively stopped forthwith.”

He too said this in a spirit of achievement and hope after negotiating and signing the Bandaranaike -Chelvanayakam pact.

Prof K. M de Silva in his ‘Separatist Ideology In Sri Lanka A Historical Appraisal’ says about this statement by Mr. Chelvanayakam;

‘This last was aimed at reassuring its adherents, and was at the same time an expression of hope at the possibility of achieving this objective through a pact which the then Prime Minister, S.W.R.D Bandaranaike, had negotiated with the Federal Party leader, S J V Chelvanayakam, and signed only two days earlier. There
“…It was agreed that in the matter of colonization schemes the powers of the regional councils shall include the power to select allotees to whom lands within their area of authority shall be alienated and also power to select personnel to be employed for work on such schemes. The position regarding the area at present administered by the Gal-Oya Board in this matter requires consideration.”

This pact was not implemented, but in compelling the then government to confront this issue, and to do so on terms satisfactory to the FP the latter had won a major victory. A theory of dubious historicity had been elevated to the level of a fundamentally important principle that should guide relations between the two disputants in the ethnic conflicts of post-independence Sri Lanka. In less than a decade of its first enunciation this theory, now refined as “the traditional homeland of the Tamils” had become an indispensable and integral part of the political ideology of the Tamil advocates of regional autonomy and separatism.’

Australia moved on from ‘White Australia’.

“The policy was dismantled in stages by successive governments after the conclusion of World War II, with the encouragement of first non-British and later non-white immigration. From 1973 on, the White Australia policy was for all practical purposes defunct, and in 1975 the Australian government passed the Racial Discrimination Act, which made racially-based selection criteria illegal.”
– Wikipedia/White Australia Policy

But have we moved on? No after the B/C pact came the D/C pact which contained the proviso that in distributing State land in the North and the East preference should be given first to people living inside the District, second to people living within the Province and third to people of the Tamil ethnicity living outside the Province.
An International Crisis Group report SRI LANKA’S EASTERN PROVINCE: LAND, DEVELOPMENT, CONFLICT Asia Report N°159 – 15 October 2008 (that can be found at makes the following recommendation to the SL Government;

“Ensure economic development in the East is equitable and inclusive and perceived as such by all communities by ….”
Wait for it Perin
“…making a public commitment not to allow development to alter significantly the existing ethnic balance of the province”

Now it’s next to impossible not to allow development to alter significantly the existing ethnic balance of anywhere. See what happened to Colombo, to London, France….unless one adopted measures as the International Crisis Group suggests. Just imagine this conversation Perin

GOSL – “Oh measures?”

International Crisis Group (says with decisive and grave finality) – “Yes measures”

And in an ideal world someone would be smart enough to say
“You mean measures like the USA Immigration Act of 1924, which introduced the National Origins Formula?
(The National Origins Formula was an American system of immigration quotas, between 1921 and 1965, which restricted immigration on the basis of existing proportions of the population. The goal was to maintain the existing ethnic composition of the United States – Wikipedia)
End of conversation. Because systems that sanctify the ethnic and religious status quo at a point of time most attractive to the proponents of the system and seek to preserve it are past their expiry date. That expiry date was officially reached on October 3, 1965 when USA President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation which eliminated National Origins as a consideration for immigration into law saying

“This [old] system violates the basic principle of American democracy, the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man. It has been un-American in the highest sense, because it has been untrue to the faith that brought thousands to these shores even before we were a country.”

Do you think we have reached that level of human progression yet? Have we managed to outgrow the tendency to look at a human being and only see a statistic in the demography chart?

History then Perin is not without its lessons. World history teaches us that sanctifying a demographic status quo at a point of time is ludicrous but it is to the HISTORY OF THIS COUNTRY we have to turn to learn exactly how monstrous such a concept would be when applied in our context.
What’s also monstrous is to think that you have to have a racial or cultural link to a history of a land in a particular period to empathize, appreciate and feel proud of it.

Even though you say that historians should be silenced I think our historians have done a good job in an atmosphere where reality has been hopelessly dislocated ever since the Goebbels’ big lie technique of propaganda was successfully introduced to Sri Lanka around 1949- 1951 by the Federal Party gentlemen.

Big Lie- A propaganda technique, the expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, for a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels Third Reich propaganda minister perfected the “Big Lie” technique of propaganda, which is based on the principle that a lie, if audacious enough and repeated enough times, will be believed by the masses.

Around 1984 Dr Gamini Iriyagolla said
“K. M. de Silva, a professor of history is the chairman of a limited liability company styled “International Centre for Ethnic Studies”. It is a recipient of foreign funds and promotes the idea of regional autonomy for minorities.”

Yet in ‘Separatist Ideology In Sri Lanka A Historical Appraisal’ first published in 1987 he was more effective than any ranting nationalist.

Also in his essay ‘Narrating Tamil Nationalism: Subjectivities and Issues’ ( ) you can see even Dr. Michael Roberts acting like a text book illustration of Professor Leonard Thompson’s dictum that

“‘Historians have a responsibility to discredit false and noxious myths and, with vigorous regard for the truth, to respond to the general public’s doubts about the utility of their specialized skills and knowledge”

Of course historians can and do have agendas and visions and ideologies. But objective truth is like ideals or stars isn’t it? You may never attain but you have to keep reaching and there’s enough evidence that our historians have conscientiously kept on reaching, consistently gone on trying to proclaim objective truth to a hostile, indifferent and unappreciative world.