BY H. L.D. MAHINDAPALA
Israeli bombing of Gaza was relentless, heartless and disproportionate compared to the primitive rockets fired by Hamas.
It is disgusting to watch on TV a first world Army firing live bullets at boys throwing stones. It is equally obscene to witness far-right Jews trying to evict Arabs in Sheik Jarrah in order ethnically cleanse East Jerusalem to make the whole of Jerusalem the capital of Jews only.
Equally horrendous was the first Israeli airstrike which hit Gaza on Monday (May 10, 2021). Nine children and 13 others were killed, according to the Washington Post. (Monday May 10, 2021).
By Saturday the death toll had risen to over hundred and 33 of them were children. Simultaneously, Taliban bombs exploding in Kabul on Tuesday (May 11, 2021) killed 85 Muslim school girls, according to CNN. What’s the difference?
How can we condemn the Israelis when the Muslims are committing the same crime of killing Muslims? Can Muslim violence descend to a more inhuman level than in Kabul? In Africa? In Sri Lanka?
How can we condemn the Israelis when our own Tamils committed the biggest crime of their history, they killed more Tamils than all the others put together?
How can we condemn the Israelis when the Sinhala terrorists in the fascist JVP showed no mercy in killing the Sinhalese? One has to expect beastly behaviour from the enemies but not from your own kind. In moral metrics, the crime of Muslims killing Muslim children is greater than the Israelis killing the children of their inveterate enemies. This principle applies to Tamils and Sinhalese as well.
This is written not to exculpate the Israelis of their heinous crime of deliberately killing civilians to punish Hamas sending rockets to Jerusalem.
Those who watched the Israeli airstrikes bringing down civilian high-rise buildings where civilians, including children, live will agree that Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, has been and continues to be a cold-blooded killer.
The Jews who were the victims of ethnic hatred throughout Christendom – just not under the Nazis — have no moral right to engage in war crimes, crimes against humanity and, specifically, crimes against another ethnic community. They were victims who suffered continuously in Christian Europe because the Christians hated the Jews as Christ-killers.
The irony is in the way the Jews have turned their wrath against the Muslims who are not guilty of such crimes against the Jews and with whom they have to live in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine, whether they like it or not.
Ethnic crises invariably remind us of the central issue that is plaguing global politics: how can communities competing for territory, power, dominance, equality, dignity, justice, liberty etc., co-exist peacefully? Invariably it boils down to a minority versus majority issue.
Is there a recipe to resolve the tensions and conflicts between these two competitors? Each zone of conflict comes with causes and personalities specific to its time and place. History repeats itself in each case but with variations.
As for Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of a minority that became a majority, is going down the same path of the Nazi majority that oppressed and persecuted his minority when they were living in the holocaustic past.
Of course, he is displaying not his power but the power of his ally, America. American morality stinks to high heaven when it says that Israel has the right to defend itself. Does that right include killing children and non-combatant housewives indiscriminately?
Also, why didn’t America apply the same principle to Sri Lanka? Why did Ambassador Robert Blake ask the Rajapakse regime to stop the war or face charges of war crimes? Will the American ambassador in Israel apply the same bullying tactics to restrain Netanyahu?
Besides, why is it vindictively pursuing a policy of punishing Sri Lanka for restoring peace and ending a brutal war saving thousands of lives? Why hasn’t the foreign minister of France and UK jointly rushed to Tel Aviv to stop the war like the way they did when the Sri Lankan forces were at the gates of the Tamil Tigers?
Why is Israel, condemned umpteen times by the UN and yet face no serious consequences? Why is Israel given favoured treatment and why is Sri Lanka given the middle finger by the US? Is American foreign policy driven by morality or by stupid — not enlightened — self-interest?
In all this what is most unbearable and heart-rending is the plight of the children. Why must children pay for the sins of the adults? Why must children be abducted from schools in Africa by Muslim terrorists? Why did the Tamil terrorists too go to the extreme of forcibly abducting Tamil children and throwing them as fodder into the frontlines of their futile war?
Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, that vexatious litigant, never took the Tamil leadership to court holding them accountable for committing war crime and crimes against humanity.
The paper Tigers in the Tamil Diaspora are passing resolutions of genocide in Ontario, accusing the GOSL, when the killer of the greatest number of Tamils was the leader they backed all the way. They financed the biggest massacre of Tamils by Tamils.
The genocide of Tamils is unacceptable. But that was committed by the Tamil Pol Pots with the consent of Tamil Diasporans who financed it from the beginning to Nandikadal.
Boosted by the backing of the Diaspora, Tamil Pol Pots ran berserk with blind hatred of the “other”. They began by decimating the established, conservative Tamil leadership and unable to face the horror of it the Tamil Diasporans have accused the “Sinhala state” of killing Neelan Tiruchelvam and even Appapillai Amirthalingam.
They also financed the massacres of Muslims and Sinhalese. They knew that S. C. Chandrahasan, the son of S. J. V. Chelvanayakam had said that Prabhakaran had killed more Tamils than all the others put together. V. Ananadasangaree, the head of the TULF, too had confirmed that Prabhakaran had killed more Tamils than anyone else.
And now that their guilt has caught up with them, after losing the war they financed, they are making a desperate bid to wash their guilt away by passing the buck to the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL.)
Muslims targeting their co-religionists in divided sects, or perceived enemies like the Christian worshippers on Easter Sunday 2019 in Sri Lanka, too are driven by blind hatred which knows no limits.
In their minds killing is the pathway to heaven and virgins therein. Killing is pursued as a signature sign of their prowess to dictate terms to their enemies. It is a mindless strategy that has taken them nowhere, so far.
For instance, where has it taken them in Sri Lanka except into the bad books of the nation? They have successfully degraded the respected word “Muslim” into the equivalent of Tamil Tigers – a dirty word.
Killing because they have money to buy the wherewithal and mobilise fanatics willing to kill or die in the process of killing is not a tactic that will deliver them their caliphates or glorify Islam.
Glorification of Islam with territorial conquests is a thing of the past. Israel too is employing this tactic. The latest explosion in Palestine was caused by the far-right Jewish activists moving to capture Sheik Jarrah, the territory occupied by the Muslims in Jerusalem.
They were out to evict the Arabs forcibly from East Jerusalem in the hope of making the whole of Jerusalem their capital, freed from Arabs. It is pure ethnic cleansing. It is unacceptable. It is unpardonable. They became the Wandering Jews because they had no home, or territory to call their own. Now that they have some territory, they are doing to the Arabs what the Christians did to them. How fair and just is that?
Once I spent one night in the kibbutz of Kiryat Shmona. In the morning my Jewish escort told me, pointing quite proudly, to the open fields without any people, that the Jews opened fire on the fellaheen who were farming in the neighbourhood and drove them away. The Jews then took over their lands.
Well, that is similar to the expulsions of the Muslims from Jaffna by the LTTE in 1990. The Muslims did not go to Maldives, or Saudi Arabia. They came to live with the Sinhalese in the south – and they still do.
This is not an essay to explore the whole gamut of the ethics of violence.
Dayan Jayatillleka has made a daring attempt to do so in his book Fidel’s Ethic of Violence, exploring, as he says, the moral dimensions of the political thoughts of Castro.
That, of course, needs a separate chapter on another day. But this theme of violence being played out in Palestine right now opens the opportunity to explore some aspects of the violence that had rocked Sri Lanka in the post-independent period and even before because it is a theme exploited by the intellectuals to add fuel to fire with their tendentious theories and partisan politics.
It has been a very controversial issue in which some schools of thought have identified only one party — namely, the Sinhala-Buddhists — and flayed them as the sole provocateur, promoter, perpetrator and pursuer of violence.
The general argument of these schools goes like this: Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country and why is there so much violence in it? It is this question that launched the controversial book from Harvard University written by Prof. S. J. Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics and Violence in Sri Lanka.
Coming with the imprimatur of authoritative Harvard it had a clout which other public intellectuals did not. It was to be the definite reference point for other scholars and they did fall for the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist line spelt out by Tambiah.
By the time he wrote his text demonising Sinhala-Buddhist history and culture, there was nothing original in his selected theme.
The original authorship of demonising Sinhala-Buddhist culture goes to G. G. Ponnambalam who caused the first ethnic conflagration in 1939 with his crude denunciation of Sinhala-Buddhist culture.
All Tamil politics and ideologies operated within the framework laid down by him. No Tamil ideology operated outside his triad of (1) demonising Sinhala-Buddhist culture (2) demanding disproportionate territory and power and (3) crying their heads out, claiming to be victims of majoritarianism.
Tambiah too adhered to this pattern. In other words, he fell in line with the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist politics of the NGOs, left-wing academics, and the applauding Tamil clique.
He was aided and abetted by Lal Jayawardana and his wife Kumari Jayawardana, the inveterate anti-Sinhala-Buddhist academic.
Lal Jayawardana, who was then the head of the World Institute for Development Economic Research (WIDER) of the United Nations University rewarded Tambiah handsomely, with funds from WIDER.
Tambiah did a cheap job which any sophomore could have done. Putting together anti-Sinhala-Buddhist data was not a difficult task considering the fact that most of the research was done for him partly by Kumari Jayawardana and her fellow-travelers like H. L. Seneviratne and C. R. de Silva.
They saw a Sinhala-Buddhist under every bed waiting to spoil their political honeymoons. Everything went wrong, everything that failed was blamed on Sinhala-Buddhism.
Here’s what a fairly competent historian like Nira Wickramasinghe wrote about the failure of the Left movement:
“The trajectory of the left, as movement and as idea, can also be read as the gradual decline in ideological terms of a democratic and secular project unable to sustain the assault of the hegemonic forces of Sinhala Buddhist exclusivism.” — Pathways of the Left in Sri Lanka, Marshall Fernando and B. Skandakumar, Editors.
This ignores the basic fact that the Left died of self-inflicted wounds. The splits that divided the Left into micro-mini fragments on fake theoretical differences, which, in reality, were masks to cover the self-serving power struggles of the aspiring leaders, were one of the primary bases that led to the collapse of the Left.
The working class too were led astray with strikes of rival unions that were politically oriented more than feeding the economic needs of the workers.
Marxist leaders were hoping to climb into power on the back of the workers. Their revolution was confined to paralyse elected governments with strikes. In the end the Marxists joined the very capitalist class they condemned. They misled the workers from the beginning.
The promised revolution never came and when the perverted version of the revolution came through the fascist JVP the Marxist fathers of the revolution condemned it as a CIA plot.
When the revolution came they were hanging on to seats in the SLFP cabinet and they were naturally inclined to protect their ministerial position than the revolution. The people disillusioned with their alliance with the capitalist class threw them out lock, stock and barrel. But our Left-wing intellectuals, wearing tinted glasses, blame it on the “hegemony of Sinhala Buddhism”.
Demeaning and demonising the majority has been the standard stock in trade of our public intellectuals. It was not so all the time. There was a time in the pre-Vadukoddai Resolution period when some leading Tamil theoreticians recognised the value, power and glory of Sinhala-Buddhism.
Understanding the past
Prof. A. J. Wilson, for instance, commended Sinhala-Buddhism as the force that sustained democracy. It was Calvin Woodward, an American scholar, in his review of Wilson’s book, Politics in Sri Lanka, 1947 – 1973, states: “The uniqueness of Sri Lanka, Wilson points out, is that it (Sri Lanka) has faced challenges without veering from the democratic path.
Certainly then, the key to the future lies in an understanding of the past. How and why, in other words, has the democratic experiment been able to work so well in Sri Lanka?
The author investigates this and concludes that the political stability so far maintained in Sri Lanka is due mainly two factors, one of indigenous origin and the other the result of Western implantation.
Primary is the Buddhist ethos and the doctrine of tolerance. This, according to Wilson, has acted to dissuade the majority community from unduly imposing itself on the minorities and encouraged it to respect the fundamental rights and distinctions of others in the plural society.” (p. 72 – The Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies – Vol III, July-December, 1973, No.1.)
But he too flipped. He too later joined the mob and blamed Sinhala-Buddhism as a force inimical to minorities, peace and progress.
Another one who somersaulted was Prof. K. Indrapala, the first professor of history in Jaffna University. He obtained his Ph. D by writing a thesis on history in which he acknowledged that the Jaffna settlers arrived in 12 – 13th centuries from S. India.
This was not acceptable to the Tamils who claimed in the Vadukoddai Resolution – the most authoritative political manifesto of the Tamils – that they were there from the dawn of time. He was virtually chased out of the Jaffna University. He later attempted to make amends by producing another history in which the Tamils go back to prehistoric times.
They were re-writing history according to the needs of contemporary politics and not according the way it happened. History has been an explosive force both in Sri Lanka and Israel.
For instance, the move to evict the Arabs by far-right Jews began when the courts declared that the land occupied by the Arabs in Sheik Jarrah belonged to the Jews before 1948.
Disentangling the knotted threads of history is not an easy task even to the courts or the experts. History looms large in politics.
Netanyahu’s military manoeuvres are aimed at erasing the history of the Arabs and make Jerusalem the exclusive capital of the Jews. Each move he makes is also to diffuse and derogate the two-state solution for the two communities. Inch by inch he has been gaining ground. Donald Trump gave him the greatest gift that any Jew could expect: Jerusalem as their capital. Now the far-right Jews are moving to clean up the whole city.
They are bent on ethnically cleansing Jerusalem to make it the exclusive sacred city of the Jews. Each crisis in Palestine is exploited by Netanyahu to grab as much territory as possible from the Palestinians and diminish the possibility of arriving at a two-state finale.
The Palestinians have been retreating reluctantly and helplessly accepting each gain of the Israelis as the new normal. Not all the crimes committed against humanity and the countless war crimes has moved Biden administration to mete out the kind of punishment it has imposed on Sri Lanka, for instance.
America’s double-standards makes Biden look like the toy boy of Netanyahu. Israel has succeeded in normalising relations with a string of Arab states to the dismay of Palestinians.
Trump administration did the backdoor work to strengthen Israel’s position in the Middle East. The emerging scenario, particularly with Netanyahu’s vindictive attacks aimed at getting his pound of flesh, is not the most promising sing for an early solution or peaceful co-existence.
The Palestinians end up getting the worse end of the deal with each military offensive. Their misery increases. So, does the glory of Israel. To be an Arab in Israel today is like being an insect in one of Kafka’s novels.
It is nightmarish, humiliating and positively oppressive. Muslims in Sri Lanka should go down on their knees and thank God that they are not in Israel, in particular Jewish-occupied Palestine.