Commemoration controversy and the accountability trap
Monday, 19 May 2014 00:00
If Germany can celebrate its Reunification Day, when the Berlin Wall fell and the two halves of Germany were reunited, why should Sri Lanka not celebrate the day when the LTTE’s Iron Curtain was destroyed, a radical evil defeated, a monster (a South Asian Hitler) slain and the island reunified after decades?
Not every reunification is peaceful. In most cases the unification or reunification of the national territory and state required civil wars, as we know from Bismark’s Prussian unification of Germany through “blood and iron”, Italy’s Risorgimento and the history of most of Europe, not to mention the military campaigns of Sun Yat Sen and the Kuomintang which reunified China.
Which collective political formation/entity, be it state, nation, community, or peoples, would not celebrate a mere half a decade later, the reunification of its territory; the return and repair of its borders so that its sovereign territory is coextensive with its natural boundaries?
As for the liberal-pacifist argument in Colombo that the unification of peoples is far more important than the ‘mere’ unification of territorial borders, it demonstrates a complete ignorance of the history of the modern era. The magnificent democratic revolutionary awakening of 1848 dubbed ‘The Springtime of Nations’ saw the unification of territories and creation of nation-states by the shattering of the separate kingdoms or principalities (as Tamil Eelam was), and the unification under the language and often the religion of the group that constituted the majority. 1848 was a majoritarian phenomenon which left behind or kindled many a Nationalities or Minority Question throughout Europe.
Commemorating civil wars
Those who argue that civil wars are not commemorated are ignorant of the historical fact that when there is a liberating aspect to a civil war and when a civil war has ended in victory, it almost always is commemorated. Every revolution including the French and Russian is/was celebrated —and every victorious revolution was preceded, accompanied or followed by bitter civil war. The defeat of the Tigers and the felling of Prabhakaran the Monster-King, were felt to be an emancipation; an authentic liberation from decades-old terror.
As Regis Debray, philosopher Louis Althusser’s student, Fidel Castro’s acolyte, Che Guevara’s comrade, Francois Mitterrand’s advisor and one of Europe’s most renowned thinkers says:
"To open an inquiry prematurely would cause a psychological eruption among 300,000 armed men, veterans of a bitter and victorious war. Who are we to judge them? That is the task of another generation or other generations. Certainly Western states and societies have no right to judge them, or us, who experienced these harsh and bloody decades. This is why I remain as unalterably opposed to an international inquiry into the war as I did in 2009 and before. We shall not permit it; we must and shall resist"“‘In the beginning was War’. The demand for security (of people, property, and ideas) constitutes political ‘need’, for the state of war is the horizon of the social and societies can never see beyond it except in terms of juridical mirages of humanitarian pacifism...War is a universal and recurrent fact of history of societies because...it is inherent in the existence of social groups and actually conditions their constitution and dissolution...Everyone knows that war is waged so that we can have peace, but that we cannot have peace without making war.” (Regis Debray: ‘Critique of Political Reason’ 1981: 276)
I am glad we won the war. I am proud of it. If as Nietzsche says, there is a pattern of eternal recurrence in existence, I would gladly do it all over again. If the only choices available were the victory of the Tigers, or a return to negotiations with them or the outcome that we had with all the horrors that are coming to light, I would support that final offensive all over again.
LTTE was a racist and fascistic force
The LTTE was a racist and fascistic force which had dismembered sleeping women and children and child monks, exploded bombs against wholly civilian targets in the South and serially murdered many leaders of the Sinhalese and Tamils. It is hardly surprising that in the last stage of the war, the motivating spirit of the Sri Lankan soldiers, some of whom would have come from villages which experienced atrocities, would have been a blood lust to exterminate the leadership and hard core of such an enemy which had engaged in a decades-long orgy of unbridled Nazi-like exterminism against the Sinhalese nation.
When one fights radical evil, one is tempted to eliminate any chance of its revival. It is “human, all too human” to borrow Nietzsche’s phrase. It happens to the most rational and literate of us: who after all, has not heard of the Jacobin Terror after the French revolution and the elimination of the Tzar’s family— which Regi Siriwardhana termed the Original Sin of the Bolshevik Revolution?
It is a testament to the humanity of our armed forces that specialised units lost men and limbs in penetrating the bunker-bund complexes, engaging in bitter trench warfare, to rescue 200,000 Tamil civilians who were with the Tigers. It is evidence of their humanity that 11,000 Tiger fighters were taken into captivity unharmed.
As Nietzsche cautioned, when one looks for too long into the abyss, the abyss looks into you. We, my generation, had to look into the abyss for three decades (four if you date it from the April ’71 insurrection) and the abyss has looked into us. We are the products of that two-way gaze. Someday, we as a society, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, shall settle accounts with our traumatic, terror filled past. We shall decide when that is. That choice and timing will not be imposed upon us by Western governments driven, among other things by the same elements of the Tamil diaspora who supported the Tigers and materially contributed to the carnage they inflicted.
Opposed to an international inquiry
To open an inquiry prematurely would cause a psychological eruption among 300,000 armed men, veterans of a bitter and victorious war. Who are we to judge them? That is the task of another generation or other generations. Certainly Western states and societies have no right to judge them, or us, who experienced these harsh and bloody decades. This is why I remain as unalterably opposed to an international inquiry into the war as I did in 2009 and before. We shall not permit it; we must and shall resist.
It is ludicrous of soi disant liberals and radicals to advocate or excuse an intrusive, lacerating external inquiry into the war while at the same time lamenting the closure, as I do, of the Sri Lankan state, society and mentality. These academics, commentators and critics lament the consequence while supporting the cause! As Regis Debray points out: “the besieger creates the ramparts...There would be no circumscription if there were no encirclement.” (Debray 1981: 276)
Thus only among those who oppose the external siege are consistent opponents of closure, paranoia and the siege mentality, to be found.
To leave the last philosophical word to Regis Debray: “The political world is a world in which there are always two of us; the enemy and me...War itself is a principle of delineation. There can be no really open society, no society whose essence or identity (or both) is not to some extent threatened by a neighbouring or more distant society. Enclosure is the basic category of the political world, since the opposition between inside and outside establishes both its identity and its necessity.”(Debray, 1981: 277)
Let no one repeat the mistake of underestimating the resolve of a people-nation which did not surrender to decades of terrorism but decided instead to fight and win.
[Dayan Jayatilleka, PhD, was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva (2007-2009) and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to France and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO (2011-2013).]