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Sinhala speakers socially fail in moral responsibility: Peter Schalk

[TamilNet, Sunday, 15 November 2009 15:27 No Comment]

Peter_Schalk_1_83553_200 “We all know there will be no apologizing. It may come only when Lanka’s intellectual and political elite among Sinhala speakers faces its judges in an international war tribunal after an international (military) intervention by the UN or a cluster of states, or when the Lankan economy suffers a breakdown. We should not delay any effort to bring these criminals to justice. If they do not acknowledge any moral responsibility we can teach them legal accountability,” writes Professor Peter Schalk opining futility in expecting change and improvement for the Tamil people to come from the Sinhala society that is structurally not prepared by its mindset to accept responsibility and tactically considers pleading guilty is costly.

“What is the moral responsibility – not legal accountability – of Sinhala speakers for the Tamil speakers in the ongoing conflict” asking the question the academic says, “many – not all – firmly believe that the Government of Sri Lanka and its supporters among the people have no responsibility for the well documented disaster of civilians among Tamil speakers.”

“Questions of responsibilities of intellectuals have been put before in several other conflicts in this world and have to be put again, now with special reference to present intellectuals among Sinhala speakers,”

But Peter Schalk is sceptical justice would come from them: “Having this attitude of denial of guilt we cannot expect from these intellectuals an insight or recognition of failure, especially not at present when the leadership of the country still celebrates its triumph over terrorism (…) consequently there will be no change and improvement for the Tamil speakers.

Peter Schalk, professor of religious history whose areas of specialisation include Buddhism in Sri Lanka, considers the crisis is structural, shaped by “Mahavamsa mindset” and says “its most negative aspect, the evaluation that a war fought with the blessing of Buddhist monks in the name of the Buddha, is just, has to be highlighted by us again and again”

“We read on 19 October that the Sri Lanka President lays foundation for first of nine stupas to mark war victory, accompanied by a picture,” Peter Schalk writes, continuing, “The Buddha’s name is here exploited to justify the war in the island whose nine provinces shall be sealed as parts of the island of the dhamma. Mahinda Rajapakse completes what Dutthagamani has started more than 2000 years ago. Just-war-theory is, however, an aberration of the teaching of the Buddha. He grieves today at his lost Lankan disciples.”

The academic in his article also draws attention to a shrewd and tactical stand of the Sinhala nation: “There is an important obstacle to plead guilty of specified crimes: It is regularly followed by demands of compensation by the victims. To plead guilty is costly.”

Full text of the article by Prof. Peter Schalk follows:

On the Moral Responsibility of Sinhala Speakers

What is the moral responsibility – not legal accountability – of Sinhala speakers for the Tamil speakers in the ongoing conflict? I am aware that this question is provocative and incomprehensible to leading intellectuals among Sinhala speakers. Many – not all – firmly believe that the Government of Sri Lanka and its supporters among the people have no responsibility for the well documented disaster of civilians among Tamil speakers. All responsibility lies with the LTTE. The Government’s use of violence is allegedly justified being a war for peace.

Questions of responsibilities of intellectuals have been put before in several other conflicts in this world and have to be put again, now with special reference to present intellectuals among Sinhala speakers. The same question has to be put to intellectuals among Tamil speakers and to Western intellectuals, diplomats and politicians who have been involved in the conflict in Sri Lanka. Here I only focus on intellectuals among Sinhala speakers.

We cannot expect to find a Jean Paul Sartre, a Noam Chomsky or a Karl Popper among them, but are there at least smaller copies of these within the island? Where do find among Sinhala speakers a courageous intellectual of the calibre of a Willy Brand, one who repeats Willy Brandt’s Warsaw genuflection from 1970? Has any religious body among Sinhala speakers confessed complicity with the war crimes of the Lankan Governments? In 1945 the Confessing Church of Germany pleaded guilty of complicity with the war crimes of the Nazi Government (=”Stuttgarter Schuldbekenntnis”).

True, among Sinhala speakers we find a small group of dissidents. There is the dissident who has gone into internal emigration: he is oppositional, but keeps his criticism for himself out of fear. His fear is justified facing the iron fist of the Government. There are also those who stand up for human rights and therefore are persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and murdered. Their names fill a long list. Many of them have to choose outer emigration, away from their beloved Lanka where they cannot continue their opposition. I want to mention especially journalists having given convincing evidence of the human rights violations and war crimes of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. Their fate is well-documented by ) Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka. They deserve all our support during their stay in exile.

Dissidence in Lanka has emigrated, internally or externally. There is in the island among some Sinhala intellectuals a strong and long tradition of ideological historiography that functions as an interpretative device on actual events, as a guiding lamp on the history of the island. Much has been written on the Mahavamsa “mind-set” expressing itself today in haughtiness and obstinacy by intellectuals and politicians as response to criticism. This mindset is of course not an autonomous actor, a Hegelian Geist that creates and maintains itself by its own force. It is constructed, upheld, developed, manipulated and transmitted from generation to generation by intellectuals and politicians whenever they considered the interests of the Sinhala speakers to be endangered. Its most negative aspect, the evaluation that a war fought with the blessing of Buddhist monks in the name of the Buddha, is just, has to be highlighted by us again and again. Just-war-theory dominates the mind-set of intellectuals and politicians among Sinhala speakers. It appears in a traditional Sinhala-Buddhist form retrieved continuously from the Mahavamsa, chapter 25, but also in a contemporary modern form that links the present war with the preceding pax americana of the Bush administration. It justified war as a war against terrorism, as a kind of crusade for peace. Both forms alternate or appear together in the process and context of war mongering.

Having this attitude of denial of guilt we cannot expect from these intellectuals an insight or recognition of failure, especially not at present when the leadership of the country still celebrates its triumph over terrorism. Without insight of guilt there will be no shame. There will be no politics of regret. Consequently there will be no change and improvement for the Tamil speakers. Reconciliation is based on an insight of guilt, shame, and regret. How often have I heard violations of human rights being excused by reference to the other side that also violates human rights! German human rights activist today criticising the Lankan Government are reminded of the Nazi past of their grandfathers as if that would pardon Lankan perpetrators’ war crimes.

In the case of Germany and Japan, a military defeat was needed, also the summoning of an international court of war crimes, and an intensive re-education of civilians to make German and Japanese civilians conscious of their war crimes. Without the support of civilians the German and Japanese Governments’ regular armed forces would not have been able to perform mass murders on civilian Jews and Chinese. The same is the case in Lanka where civilians cannot blame politicians and intellectuals only for their crimes against humanity. These politicians and intellectuals are elected by a majority of civilians and they acted in concord with their voters. They demonstrated in open and democratic elections their just-war-theory as motive and legitimisation for their actions.

One SLFP-leader has admitted complicity in the burning of the library in Yalppanam, but only to blame the UNP as perpetrator. Some politicians among Sinhala speakers have admitted that Tamil speakers have just grievances, but these are cleverly never specified. This confessing is of course no genuine realisation of guilt. There is an important obstacle to plead guilty of specified crimes: It is regularly followed by demands of compensation by the victims. To plead guilty is costly.

The patience of the world with the present Lankan regime is cooping out, but knowing its constructed, re-constructed and modernised mindset I do not expect a public performance by the President apologizing and admitting guilt of violations of human rights and of war crimes against Tamil speakers. If it happens it would be a new way of demonstrating Sinhala-Buddhist heroism including of course the preparedness to pay compensation to the victims.

We all know there will be no apologizing. It may come only when Lanka’s intellectual and political elite among Sinhala speakers faces its judges in an international war tribunal after an international (military) intervention by the UN or a cluster of states, or when the Lankan economy suffers a break-down. We should not delay any effort to bring these criminals to justice. If they do not acknowledge any moral responsibility we can teach them legal accountability. All they have said and done in public is recorded and can be used against them. A Government that lets children rotten away in concentration camps has lost its moral integrity. A de-sinhalatva-fication on all social levels is needful starting with teachers in day care centres and elementary schools. It should be made clear on all stages that just-war-theory which is brought to dominate the mindset of the present Sri Lankan Government is part of war mongering.

We read on 19 October: “Sri Lanka President lays foundation for first of nine stupas to mark war victory”, accompanied by a picture (see below). The Buddha’s name is here exploited to justify the war in the island whose nine provinces shall be sealed as parts of the island of the dhamma. Mahinda Rajapakse completes what Dutthagamani has started more than 2000 years ago. Just-war-theory is, however, an aberration of the teaching of the Buddha. He grieves today at his lost Lankan disciples.

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