Feature Article

Metanarrative of Mu'l'li-vaaykkaal, geopolitics and secularism: Jude Lal Fernando

[TamilNet, Sunday, 19 May 2019, 00:28 GMT]
The outside powers, be it USA, UK, China or India, are always pre-occupied with the geo-strategic location of the island. During the British colonial period, the Sinhalese were made to believe that they were closer to the British than to the Tamils (Tamils were the ‘invaders’). This resulted in a religiously defined Sinhala Buddhist unitary, which sought to consolidate itself after the ‘independence’. The genocidal process was the outcome. The Tamil liberation struggle, which was a secular nationalist struggle, culminated into the Tamil Eelam state and stopped the genocide. The 2009 onslaught not only destroyed the human lives, but also the secular nationalist liberational ethos. After the Easter Sunday attack in 2019, religious conflicts have been imposed with global implications. Professor Jude Lal Fernando explains the metanarrative and proposes an action to overcome the challenges.

Full transcript of the narrative provided by Dr Jude Lal follows:

What we see on the island at the moment is something that has not happened before.

For the first time in the history of the country, a Muslim-Christian conflict has been created. It is an externally imposed conflict on the whole of the island. This conflict fits neatly into global, deadly and destructive narrative of Islam vs Christianity; or Islam vs the West; or Islam vs the rest. This destructive narrative was created by the very same powers who built, formed and heavily protected the unitary state structure of the island against the Eezham Tamils.

As we commemorate the tenth anniversary of Mu'l'livaaykkaal massacre, it is important to reflect on what is unfolding in the country at the moment.

Even after ten years, the Eezham Tamil people’s consent could not be fully taken by the Sinhala state.

Even after such a massive massacre the Eezham Tamil people continued to resist in so many ways: demanding their lands back, demanding de-militarisation, demanding to know what happened to their loved ones who were abducted, voluntarily surrendered or who were made to disappear, demanding the north-eastern contiguity of the homeland – basically, demanding justice.

Mu'l'livaaykkaal 2019 Tenth Anniversary

But, now after Easter Sunday, what has happened is, some amongst the Tamil national leadership have asked the Sri Lankan state to keep the military in the North and East because a ‘common enemy’ has been created. Through this ‘common enemy’, Sri Lankan unitary state has become more and more a tool: a strategic and a military tool of the American, the British and the Indian powers. In that sense, a brutal unity is being forged.

I would like to call it a brutal unity between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, the Buddhists and the Christians, against the Muslims.

This is totally a new experience for the people of Sri Lanka. This moment therefore is very crucial for us to think about the future.

After 60 years of the collective struggle of the Eezham Tamils, we reached Mu'l'livaaykkaal and over 70,000 people were massacred according to the UN reports. According to the estimates of the former Bishop of Mannaar over 140,000 people have been unaccounted for. What we could see is a total destruction of the Tamil Eelam state and the military structure of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which resulted in such a mass massacre by the Sri Lankan state.

Mu'l'livaaykkaal Remembrance 2019
What was the role of the major powers in the world in this massacre?
Both the Dublin Tribunal report and the Bremen Tribunal report found that the British and the American state are complicit in committing this mass atrocity against the Tamil people. Not only that, this crime constitutes genocide: a deliberate, coordinated, systematic destruction of the essential foundations of a nation, of a people, and their political leadership and the critical mass of people who were part of this struggle, ranging from nursery school teachers to top political leaders who were annihilated.

Why this happened?
Historically, the island of Sri Lanka was seen always as a strategic military foothold, first by the British, and now by the British and the American states. This island cannot be used as a military strategic foothold in the Indian Ocean Region without maintaining it as a single state structure with a powerful military.

The imperial powers were attracted to Sri Lanka not because of its beautiful beaches, not because of its cool climate especially in the central hills, not because of its ancient Tamil and Sinhala civilisations, but simply because of its geographical location at the end of India in the heart of the Indian Ocean by which major naval routes are located.

In fact, during the British colonial period, the Sinhalese were made to believe that they were a superior race and the Tamils were an inferior race. The Sinhalese were made to believe that they are closer to the British than to the Tamils.

Ironically, it is the British Raj which was occupying the island, whereas the Sinhalese were made to believe that it was the Tamils, who were the invaders. As a result, Tamils were in fact discriminated even before the so-called independence was given. Sri Lankan national leadership, especially the Sinhala national leadership never ever fought even to the extent of Indian national leadership for independence.

In fact, the Sinhala national leadership asked for Dominion status opposing Swaraj of Gandhi whereas Tamil Jaffna Youth Congress demanded Swaraj following Gandhi. So, Indian independence movement home-rule ethos was more predominant in the Tamil areas than in the Sinhala areas.

The Sinhalese themselves did not know what was happening to their own collective consciousness; what was happening to their own land. After so-called independence we see re-consolidation of the unitary state. It was as a result of this, the Tamil struggle started firstly as a non-violent struggle, following Gandhi's Satyagraha methods for the first thirty years and for the second thirty years an armed mode.

Mu'l'livaaykkaal 2019 Tenth Anniversary

What is being propagated by the powers of the world about the Tamil struggle is about its means by which the struggle is put forward: that they are wicked; they are masters of suicide bombers; they are terrorists, and so on and so forth.

It is not simply the means by which the struggle is put forward is that being opposed. The very struggle itself is being opposed. The very struggle for homeland, for nationhood, for self-determination, is opposed no matter whether hat struggle is being put forward violently or non-violently; or whether that struggle is put forward in a militant way or not. What the Tamil Liberation Tigers did was to create a state by concretely transforming the mandate that the Tamil people gave to the Tamil political leadership through Vaddukkoaddai Resolution and the subsequent general elections. They built this state.

Mu'l'livaaykkaal Remembrance 2019
Building this state helped to mitigate and stop the long ongoing genocidal process against the Tamils. The Tamil liberation struggle stopped the genocidal process and the military achievements reached a political consensus with the Sinhala state to discuss and negotiate the transformation of the state, which was accepted mostly by the EU countries, but from the very beginning opposed by the US, the British and the Indian states.

The armed phase of the Tamil national struggle converted the military achievements into a political, democratic phase. That was what happened in 2002 peace process. It was this political, democratic space that was really destroyed with the massacre of 70,000 people and over 140,000 have been unaccounted for. Since then, what we find is an ongoing genocidal process where the entire demography and the landscape are being changed through Sinhalicisation, Buddhicisation, land grab and militarisation.

The Tamil liberation struggle was a secular nationalist struggle. It was not a religious nationalist struggle. This secular, nationalist struggle emerged as a response to the religiously defined Sinhala Buddhist State which was created by the British. In fact, in Sri Lanka among the Buddhist populace there were other secular strands, whereas what was promoted by the British was the racialised Sinahala-Buddhist form of nationalism which really permeated across all the social classes as it went on amongst the Sinhalese and it became the mindset among the Sinhalese against the Tamils.

The Sinhala Buddhist nationalism is a religiously defined nationalism. The Tamil nationalism is a secular nationalism.

What was the place the Tamil national leadership gave to religion?
They were not anti-religious like in the communist regimes like in the French model. They were somewhat closer to the Indian understanding of the secularity, meaning pluralism and equidistant approach to all the religions. Also, taking the most progressive liberative aspects of religion. Thanthai Chelva comes from a Christian background; the Tamil society is mostly Hindu: but it did not matter for them because the struggle was secular nationalist.

During the period of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, there were no religious conflicts in the areas that came under their political and civic control. The whole conflict was revolving around the unitary state structure.

Mu'l'livaaykkaal 2019 Tenth Anniversary

If you read Balakumar, who was a prominent political leader of the LTTE, he clearly states that Buddhism is a national heritage of the Tamils, historically. But, when Buddhism comes to us, particularly Buddhist statues, shrines, with invading, oppressive military, then we resist it. We don't resist Buddhism per se. We resist Buddhism as Sinhala oppressive state ideology. That has to be made very clear.

This was how the Tamil liberation struggle contained, mitigated, arrested certain forms of fundamentalist trends in religion. During that period, we did not experience fundamentalist evangelical groups arising in the Tamil areas; nor did we see strong versions of Wahhabism, even though Wahhabism was exported from Saudi Arabia with the support of the USA and Israel to the Eastern Province, it did not rise up.

What was the relationship that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had with the Muslim community during the peace process?
Many might have forgotten it.

In the most important days of the peace process, the LTTE and most of the other political parties who had experienced historical oppression under the Sinhala majority state formed a grand coalition, including the Muslim political parties. At the same time after Karuna defected, Kowshalyan who took over the leadership of the Eastern province worked very closely with the Muslim communities who had a huge set of grievances against the Sri Lankan security forces, who were occupying the lands of the Muslims.

I am very much aware Kowshalyan's political office was often filled with Muslim farmers who had lost their lands. If you remember, who were there for Kowshalyan's funeral? Not only the Hindu Tamils and the Christian Tamils, but also the Tamil-speaking Muslims – that was the pluralistic, secular, nationalist stand of the Tamil liberation struggle. It was this achievement that was destroyed.

We have not only lost 70,000 lives. We have not only lost so many areas of our land. We have also been deprived slowly of a pluralistic, national consciousness where we respect – not only respect – but, embrace, celebrate different religious strategies without allowing the religious traditions to get fundamentalist.

After the 2009 massacre, the Hindutva forces highly encouraged by the Indian state have come into the Tamil homeland; Wahhabi tendencies have been accentuated; evangelical Zionist groups who are operating in the USA and Israel have come in. Of course, the Sinhala Buddhist nationalism has reached a triumphalist, victorious mode. Now we have religions that have been formed into fundamentalist sectarian blocks. The entire relationship of the different religions has been reconfigured after the Mu'l'ivaaykkal massacre.

Mu'l'livaaykkaal 2019 Tenth Anniversary

We have not only lost the lives, but also the secular nationalist liberational ethos which was meant to humanise our relationships. That is the tragedy we are going through at the moment, particularly after the Easter Sunday attacks on the Christian churches: Tamil and Sinhala, Catholic and Protestant, Southern and Eastern.

What is the outcome of this attack?
The fundamentalist trends in Islam was first promoted by the US during the cold war, by heavily supporting Mujahideen guerrillas in Afghanistan against the communist regime in Kabul and the Soviets. Bear in mind, at that time under the communist rule, Afghanistan had the highest number of female doctors in any third world country on earth. The gender equality was quite high.

But the British and the American powers, who talk about women's rights, promoted Mujahideen guerrillas who had embraced Wahhabi Islamic ideology given by Saudi Arabia so that Mujahideen guerrillas would fight the US and the British states’ war against the Soviets and the Kabul regime.

From where does the Wahhabism come?
Like the Sinhala Buddhist racism was initially created by the British, Wahhabist strand in Islam, which was a small strand embraced by one of the Saudi dynasties, was promoted by the British against the Ottoman empire during the First World War and Saudi Arabia was created giving leadership of that country to the Wahhabi monarchy, and that Wahhabi destroyed all the other progressive Muslim strands in the Middle East, mostly in the Arabian peninsula.

We can see that in India the Hindu fundamentalism is growing and it is being overtly and covertly being supported by the major powers in the world. We can also see that Israel is formed in the similar way with a very strong Zionist ideology against the Palestinians, and we can see Sinhala Buddhist state, for strategic reasons, was carved in Sri Lanka against the Tamils.

Mu'l'livaaykkaal 2019 Tenth Anniversary

What we see here is that all these powerful nations who are historically Christian nations now claiming to be secular nations, are on the other hand, especially in the US, becoming home of the Christian fundamentalism – particularly the Bible Belt in the US, is a major constituency that backed George W Bush and many other war mongering US presidencies. Under this imperial agenda, religions have been put into a very fundamentalist mode. Not only that, religions have been pitted against one another.

Sri Lanka, after Easter Sunday attack, has become a theatre of a global destructive religious narrative that was created by the US and the British powers themselves. Whoever did the attack has very clearly served the British and the American imperial interests on South Asia, particularly on the island of Lanka.

After ten years of continuous struggle, the Tamils also seem to say “don't take the military from our areas”. There is a consent given to the Sri Lankan State. For the last ten years, the Sri Lankan State was seen as a perpetrator against the Tamils, but now the Sri Lankan State is seen as a ‘victim’ state. Therefore, this victim needs more power to fight the others – this is the logic that has been created.

What is the role of China in this whole geopolitical configuration?
After the Mu'l'li-vaaykkaal massacre, the Sri Lankan State became closer to China more and more, and the British and the American states started, through the UN, to send warnings to the Sri Lankan state. It was not necessarily done to give justice to the Tamils.

Mu'l'livaaykkaal 2019 Tenth Anniversary

The UNHRC Resolutions that were really pushed forward were: to the Sri Lankan State. “don't get closer to China”, and to tell the Tamils, “get closer to the West, we will deliver you what you want as justice”. In fact, these resolutions never ever opposed the unitary state. Instead these resolutions reduce the entire mass massacre, collective destruction of Tamil people’s lives into individual human rights violations. It gave a false promise to the Tamils about juridical justice, at the same time, asks the Tamils not to speak about the political justice; the historical rights for self-determination; nationhood.

These powers also mediated the regime change in 2015, and what happened?

New promises were made, but these promises too were not met at all. The Tamils were realising more and more on the ground that they need to resist on their own without trusting or depending on these major powers and their promises. They were about to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Mu'l'livaaykkaal collectively, not only on the soil where the massacre took place, but also in many parts of the world. It is at that moment the Easter Sunday attacks take place, that attack has tragically claimed hundreds of lives.

But, these lives and the lives that were claimed by the military victory of the Sri Lankan state have been claimed to further strengthen the unitary state and bring Sri Lanka into the global arena where Sri Lanka becomes a militarised strategic place for the imperial powers who want to contain China in the Indian Ocean and drag the whole island into another theatre of war.

Mu'l'livaaykkaal 2019 Tenth Anniversary

The only moment that the island of Lanka became independent, sovereign was the moment of the 2002 peace process. The two parties agreed to talk the historical and political issues that were created by the British. It was achieved to the collective resistance of the Tamil people.

Even the Sinhalese could become independent because of the Tamil struggle at that moment. It was not imposed from outside. It became as a result of the parity or the balance of power between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan State, which was translated into political negotiations, meaning changing the character of the state and accepting the Tamil people as a distinct nation: whether it is going to be two nations one country or whether it is going to be a confederal state, these are secondary. But, to stop the major powers getting hold of the whole island to be used as a strategic location was stopped.

Mu'l'livaaykkaal Remembrance 2019
In fact, Anton Balasingham in the last peace talks which were held in Tokyo said, when he was interviewed, that the Tamil leadership would seek declaring the Indian Ocean as a Peace Zone in the future. He was also very clearly stating that the world should learn from us.

The Sri Lankan State and the Tamil liberation leadership who had fought for 30 years, now shaking hands with each other, seeking a negotiated, peaceful, democratic solution, whereas the world is split into two blocks over Iraq: the US, British states are pushing an invasion; the Europe led by France and Germany was opposing the invasion.

It was at that moment the peace process was also dismantled by the British and the Americans states, because invasion of Iraq also needed another strong buffer zone in South Asia. That is Sri Lanka.

The Tamils had to pay the price. Tamils, even after paying the price, continued the struggle to create a pluralistic, national, progressive state. Now, the religious conflict has been imposed on the country with global implications.

Unity of the oppressed people in Sri Lanka, particularly the Muslims and the Tamils, is extremely important to overcome the imperial powers, Sinhala Buddhist nationalism, Hindutva forces, Islamic fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism. For that we have to resist what the state is proposing to us.

We have to resist what different religious forces are proposing to us. It is important to push forward the secular and religiously, pluralistic nationalism for the Eelam Tamils along with the Muslims, to resist the Sri Lankan State and the external powers who are using this state as a tool to control the whole of island, and thereby to convert the whole of the Indian Ocean region into a battle ground.

Mu'l'livaaykkaal 2019 Tenth Anniversary

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