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Tue Dec 2 20:40:44 UTC 2008
American People Make History, Can We Sri Lankans Ever?By Muttukrishna Sarvananthan⋅December, 2008 ⋅
In April 2008 I met an American national in Colombo who works for theWorld Bank in Washington, DC. At that time both Hillary Clinton andBarack Obama were contesting the Democratic Party Presidentialnomination and John McCain was already the sole contender for theRepublican Party Presidential nomination. When we conversed about theupcoming American Presidential election he told me that, although inhis opinion John McCain was too old for the office of the President,he believed American people are still not "ready" for a woman ornon-white person to become the President of the United States.
His prognosis was proved wrong on November 04th when the Americanpeople made history by electing their first African AmericanPresident. I was fortunate to be just a few blocks away from the WhiteHouse to witness this historic moment of the American people; minoritycommunities in particular who overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama.My thoughts went back home; can we Sri Lankans ever make the same epichistory? I remembered the pronunciations by heads of two pillars ofthe Sri Lankan state, viz. the chief executive and the head of thearmed forces. In 1994, the then President of Sri Lanka claimed thatthe minority communities are mere branches of the majority Sinhalesecommunity. Just a couple of months ago, in September 2008, the Chiefof the Sri Lanka Army said that Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese(majority community) and minority communities should not demand "toomuch".
It is not that this kind of racial supremacy exists in Sri Lankaalone; it is all over the world, but America crossed this supremacistdisposition on November 04th 2008. United Kingdom is an example of thesupremacism of the majority community, viz. the English. I stillvividly remember the national elections of 1992 when John Major of theConservative Party (incumbent Prime Minister) and Neil Kinnock of theLabour Party (Opposition Leader) were contending for Premiership,while I was a postgraduate student in the UK. Whilst most opinionpolls showed a very close run between the two parties, on the day ofthe election (April 09th) The Sun newspaper (the most popular tabloidat that time) had a banner headline and lead story that was widelybelieved to have contributed to the loss of the Labour Party and itsleader Neil Kinnock at that election. The Sun asked the British peopleto switch off their lights in order to mark dark times ahead if a"Welshman", Neil Kinnock, was elected. Despite !
moving his Labour Partyaway from leftwing politics, Neil Kinnock lost to John Major largelydue to his ethnicity, I believe. Even now, there are undercurrents ofracism whipped up by certain media (and perhaps by certain sections ofthe Conservative Party as well) against the incumbent Prime MinisterGordon Brown who is a Scotsman. These experiences indicate that it isa Herculean task for a person other than English to be elected PrimeMinister of the United Kingdom. In this respect, American people haveproved to be above the rest in the world.
The case of Sri Lanka is different from the United States or theUnited Kingdom at least in one important respect. In the case ofAfrican Americans, Scottish or the Welsh, they by and large speak thelanguage of the majority community and their religion is by and largethe same as that of the majority community (different denominations ofChristianity notwithstanding). Whereas in the case of Sri Lanka, Tamiland Muslim minority communities by and large speak a differentlanguage and follow different religions than the majority community.Thus, whilst the majority community speaks Sinhalese and is largelyBuddhist, Tamils and Moors speak Tamil and are largely Hindu andMuslim respectively.
Nevertheless, the demographic composition of the United States isalmost the same as in Sri Lanka; in the former the majority communityaccounts for 73% of the total population (minority communities accountfor 27%) and in the latter it is 74% (minority communities account for26%). In spite of the differences in ethnicity, a common languagebinds the people of America (religious sectarianisms notwithstanding),which is not the case in Sri Lanka. Having said that, the differencesbetween the United States and Sri Lanka go beyond the differences inlanguages or religions of the peoples of these two countries. It ismore to do with the fundamental differences in the governancestructures of the two countries: for example, America is a federalstate while Sri Lanka is a unitary state; America does not have astate religion whereas Sri Lanka does. Moreover, affirmative actionprogrammes have made America an inclusive society (notwithstandingenduring discrimination in many respects even now),!
whereas in SriLanka lukewarm implementation of the dual official language policy anddiscrimination in education and employment opportunities havealienated the minority communities. These are some of the fundamentaldifferences between the two countries.
Ironically, by and large it is the Western educated and/or domiciledelites of the Sri Lankan society (from both the majority and minoritycommunities) who have been and are insular and retrogressive. Theforegoing is evident when one reads the views and opinions of thewriters to the Sri Lankan media (or the diaspora media – bothelectronic and print – in Europe and North America), both English andvernacular language ones. Remember that person with a Doctorate fromthe London University who crafted the Republican Constitution of 1972,which proclaimed Buddhism as the state religion of Sri Lanka. Manyracist propagandists, bureaucrats, policy advisors and members ofparliament of the current Sri Lankan regime are either citizens ordual-citizens of Western countries, particularly America andAustralia. Similarly, by and large, it is the Tamil citizens ofseveral western countries who were/are advisors to and apologists ofthe LTTE fascism. It is these exclusivists who are prominentco!
ntributors to popular Tamil newspapers in Sri Lanka and diasporamedia.
Both the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and theChief of the Sri Lanka Army have sent their children to Europe(England & Ireland) and United States respectively for highereducation. The children, siblings and relatives of top leaders of theLTTE and the State are citizens or permanent residence of one of theEuropean, North American or Australasian countries. While it wasreported that the Chief of Sri Lanka Army is an American green cardholder and the Defense Secretary is an American citizen, I wouldn't besurprised if the LTTE leader (along with some other top rung leaders)has an open invitation to be a citizen of Norway and/or any otherScandinavian country.
Barack ObamaThe world should also remember that the widow of the chief ideologueof the LTTE and self-confessed perpetrator of crimes against humanityand war criminal, Mrs. Adele Balasingham, is a British citizen. Shehas confessed publicly, both in writing and verbally, that she was theone who set up the women's brigades of the LTTE, largely drawn fromunderage girls conscripted from schools in the Eastern and Northernparts of Sri Lanka. In spite of these self-confessions, AdeleBalasingham lives and continues to propagate the fascist ideals of theLTTE from her South London residence (most probably bought withcriminal money). Would this not make the British State complicit incrimes against humanity and war crimes in Sri Lanka? Parents ofinnocent Tamil children crucified in the battlefield in the name ofliberation, spouses and parents of Tamils who have 'disappeared', andothers from both the majority and minority communities who haveendured violation of their fundamental rights !
in the cause of"humanitarian war" would one day seek justice from the American andBritish States whose citizens or residents could have been complicitin such heinous crimes against humanity.
Can the offspring of the supremacists of both the State and thenon-State in Sri Lanka convince and free their respective fathers outof their insular mindsets? Could the enigma of Barack Obama prick theconscience of the State and the non-State powers that be in Sri Lanka?Can the exemplary message of the American people inspire the generalpublic in Sri Lanka (irrespective of ethnic affiliation) to break outof the shackles of parochialism, communalism and fascism?
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