Feature Article

Sri Lankan Weltanschauung

[TamilNet, Monday, 13 January 2014, 01:38 GMT]
The accumulating woes for Sri Lankan State in the international scene can be attributed to two distinct and inter-related phenomena. One, the continuing denial of the history of injustices inflicted by the State on the Tamils, culminating in the Mu'l'livaaykaal massacres of civilians and the refusal by the Sinhala rulers and the elites to acknowledge the killings, and second, the locally prevailing "Weltanschauung" (worldview) cultivated as an instrument for the ruling autocracy to stay in power, which accepts that, to eliminate the Tigers, any atrocity against any Tamil is acceptable. However, the Sri Lankan weltanschauung does not apply in the international arena. Colombo's refusal to respond to the accusations of war-crimes, and genocide, partly arises from the tolerance for Tamil injustice that is intrinsic to Sri Lanka's weltanshauung.

In evolving autocracies like in Sri Lanka, the ruling families develop restricted and regime-friendly weltanschauung as one of their tools necessary to sustain power.

Retooling the media to dominate all means of mass-communications is one key element of this nefarious exercise. While many authoritarian regimes do not seek total domination of all means of mass communication, in Sri Lanka, total domination of media prevails, enforced by intolerance to dissent including threat to lives of journalists who dare to challenge Rajapaksas.

The result is, selective censorship of political expression, constant torrent of pro-government narratives, and the use the subservient power of editorial omission to limit criticism of official policies and actions. After the Mu'l'lvaaykaal massacres where, according to U.N. estimates between 40,000 and 80,000 Tamil civilians were killed by State's military, the narrative still is that there were no casualties.

However, this media effort assures longevity and feeds the demanding hubris arising from defeating the Tigers, at the expense of building a society with an outward looking weltanschauung, consistent with the view of the rest of the democratic world, political observers note.

Besides the international political decision makers who would have access to credible independent information streams from the local embassies, and are unlikely to be influenced by the propagandist versions of State narratives, the autocrats might wish to seek influence from three different audiences: regime elites, mass audiences, and the political opposition/independent civil society, according to Robert Orttung of Elliot School in Washington D.C.

According to Orttung, the first is regime elites: Authoritarian governments must always worry about their elites because any split among this group could lead to regime collapse. State-controlled media make it a mission to reassure these regime mainstays that the incumbent ruler stands secure. Clear media dominance signals to members of the ruling coalition that defections will be punished, including through smear campaigns.

In the island of Sri Lanka, this group is virtually entirely absent, and many "elites" have unashamedly been forced or fallen within the State's weltanschauung. The few who are troubled by the moral deprivity of this stand, attempt to write neutrally, but even here, they advocate Government response enough to avoid international opprobrium. These intellectuals advance the inferior 'hypothetical imperative' driven by the desire to benefit, not worthy of the "elite" label, instead of taking the moral high ground advancing Kant's superior 'categorical imperative,' acts driven by duty and not desire.

A former Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando, writes in the Sunday Leader, elucidating the tactics to counter international pressure. For those pushing for accountability, Mr. Fernando's response is, "[t]he danger in this kind of attitude is that it pushes ‘war managers’ and/ or the ‘political leadership’ against the wall, causing them in turn to utilize nationalistic sentiment, in order to stave off potential atrocious punishment. This is why patience is virtue, in post-conflict reconciliation." Mr. Fernando appears to ignore "[un]disciplined, [un]wise and [ir]rational behavior" of the State the past five years and wants Tamils to be still patient.

The second crucial audience, according to Orttung, is the populace at large. State-dominated media work to make mass audiences respect and fear the regime, but breeding apathy and passivity is just as important, Orttung says. Rajapaksas' media successfully keeps in the dark, the regime-fearing masses who are inebriated with victory, but reel from meeting daily financial struggles of making their ends meet.

The third group, the political opposition and independent civil society, is controlled in the island, almost exactly as Orttung outlines. "In democracies, open media are the lifeblood of politics. In authoritarian regimes, state-controlled media seek to isolate activists from society at large, with the idea of preventing them from organizing and mobilizing. To this end, state-run media try to discredit in the public’s mind any notion of a political alternative. State media attacks de-legitimize civil society and the opposition, paving the way for other repressive measures, while accusing oppositionists of wanting to cause chaos, a charge that may resonate widely in societies with histories of political instability," according to Orttung.

"Until Sri Lanka, encouraged by its 'elites,' moves away from the currently prevailing blinded weltanschauung, engaging productively with liberal democratic power houses of the West including premier Rights organizations will face challenges, many insurmountable," political observers note.

External Links:
WP: Why autocrats need media
Wiki: Weltanschauung


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