History is a cake you can’t have and eat at the same time
Posted on July 13th, 2009

By Malinda Seneviratne

Dayan Jayatilleka has recommended to me a set of observations on “ƒ”¹…”history’ penned by Nietzsche (see his piece “ƒ”¹…”Devolution debate and historicism’ in The Island of July 11, 2009).

What Nietzsche is recommending here is “ƒ”¹…”moderation’ with respect to history and historical referent and this is a goes-without-saying that doesn’t really necessitate lengthy quotation from philosophical tracts.

This is by the way Dayan’s response to my insistence on a historical audit to resolve once and for all the matter of hanging grievance and aspiration to history. Now, if “ƒ”¹…”history’ is version, a reading, then we have to debate the matter, don’t we? We can’t say “ƒ”¹…”no’ to a particular reading and “ƒ”¹…”yes’ to another. If we have to move from “ƒ”¹…”extreme’ to “ƒ”¹…”balance’ in terms of what we make/take of history, that too requires a consideration and debate of version, predicated, ideally, on tangible, defensible, evidence, do we not?

Dayan believes that this exercise has already been done. He refers to scholars whose political positions are diametrically opposed to mine and who have not opposed the 13th Amendment. He does not mention the fact that some of these scholars and others too have actively argued for Eelam and/or “ƒ”¹…”resolutions’ that took the form of federal and even confederate arrangements. He is selective in his history and picks and chooses historian to reference.

The task of historian is to read and interpret evidence of what has happened. That reading can and should inform societies as they consider the present and envisage the future. What is happening here is that Dayan is privileging one version of history while demanding that I drop my version. He claims that “ƒ”¹…”Sinhala chauvinism results from exaggerated notions of Sinhala identity and notions of homeland but not every notion of Sinhala identity and homeland are chauvinist’. He adds, “ƒ”¹…”the same goes for the Tamils’. And yet, he wants us to resolve in favour of the “ƒ”¹…”exaggerated notions of Tamil identity and notions of homeland’. That sums up his “ƒ”¹…”ethics’ pertaining to the use and abuse of “ƒ”¹…”history’, that is his “ƒ”¹…”philosophical and historical sleight of hand’.

The point is that the Neitzschean antipathy to a hardening of “ƒ”¹…”historical sense’, its contention that such a hardening does not conserve life but mummifies it, is equally applicable to all “ƒ”¹…”hard’ versions of history. How does one soften the historical sense if not by debate, if not by reconsideration of version, an unraveling of tangible from myth etc?

Dayan is upset by what he believes is my overdose of history. He does not acknowledge that the 13th Amendment came from and is defended by those who suffer from an overdose, not necessarily of history but myth.

Historians read and read differently and not only in ways that are devoid of ideological preferences. The political unfolding sees a picking and choosing of historical reading. The same goes for political science. We had a number of political scientists such as Jayadeva Uyangoda, Navaratne Bandara and historians such as Gamini Keerawella who insisted that the LTTE cannot be defeated militarily. Their “ƒ”¹…”science’ was proved faulty. Historians too have their preferred political outcomes. They are not averse to picking and choosing from historical evidence. For example, a historian can, like Dayan, refer the demographic status-quo as the point of departure in considering “ƒ”¹…”resolution’. They can pick the year 1815. Or 2100 AD. History and historical reference therefore warrant scrutiny and demand debate especially if one is determined to resolve on the basis of territory-based claims.

If it is all about the here-and-now, we need to consider that 54% of Tamils in this country live outside the North and East. If we resolve for the here-and-now, then we have to understand that today’s here-and-now will not be tomorrow’s. We will then be resolving every moment for new realities, new demographic situations, new balance of political forces etc.

Sri Lanka, after having defeated the LTTE cannot afford to submit to Eelamism in whatever form. We are now in the post-conflict age and one where the demand for development and democracy override all other parochial (and to my mind, ahistorical) considerations. If you want “ƒ”¹…”history’, by all means, but we will have to agree on two things: a) the history embedded in the 13th Amendment is version and should be revisited, reconsidered and debated, and b) a historical audit that can resolve for a Nietzschean “ƒ”¹…”balance’.

If you want to abandon history (and I do not see this as practical because politics is too pregnant with history), then let’s stop talking about “ƒ”¹…”traditional homelands’ and dump the 13th on the basis of irrelevance.

Alternatively, we can move beyond the parochial and indefensible notion of ethnic enclave. We can instead move towards arrangements that make for development, true participatory decision-making and the full flowering of citizenship rights. In this sense too, the 13th Amendment is a huge stumbling block.

It is a part of the constitution, yes, and as such there is nothing wrong in implementing it subject of course to parts that were deleted following Supreme Court determination. But does the 13th really do the job it was meant to do? It has been a wasteful and inefficient mechanism and one which is made for the proliferation of parasites, political and otherwise. Quite apart from the history-referencing objection, the 13th should be dumped for these reasons alone. The onus is on Dayan to tell us what the 13th achieved in terms of tangible benefits accruing to the people and to prove that such benefits would not accrue in a Sri Lanka that didn’t have the 13th Amendment.

We are at an important juncture in our history. This is the time to leave behind parochialism and this includes a certain insufferable fascination with Marxist-Leninist notions. We have to rehearse and beckon the Age of the Citizen. The 13th takes us back, not forward in this regard.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has stated that a new constitutional arrangement will be formulated and one which is “ƒ”¹…”home-grown’. The 13th Amendment was certainly not “ƒ”¹…”home-grown’. Marxist-Leninist formulas are not “ƒ”¹…”home-grown’. It empowered regional politicians, more often than not, thugs, thieves and murderers, not the people.

The President is silent on the process of formulation. He first set up the APRC and now a similar committee for “ƒ”¹…”Development and Reconciliation’, both hampered by the absence of relevant experts. The President has to take steps to correct this flaw. A Constitutional Assembly that is made of politicians alone is unlikely to produce anything that is of lasting value to the general citizenry. It will not embody history, culture, human rights etc., but will ensure only the survival of political parties, political parasites and political pirates. That’s the stuff of the 13th Amendment. Surely, we can do better? Surely, we must do better, in a post-LTTE Sri Lanka?

 Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malinsene@gmail.com

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