By Prof. Kumar David / Colombo Telegraph
As those of you who do me the honour of keeping in touch with my columns know I have been a critic of American capitalism and imperialism, but on one point I have been firm. America (and some other liberal democratic countries) are less racist, bigoted, and culturally primitive on these matters, than Sri Lanka, India, Burma, Japan and Islamic majority states. (I use the word racist for racial, ethnic or religious differences).
This thought came back to mind again today (7/11). The US had, and re-elected for a second term a black president (though hated by intellectually challenged pro-Trump people) and now elected a person of colour of Indian Tamil origin as vice-president. It has now also elected its second ever Catholic president; Kennedy was the first. Can you imagine the day when a Muslim non-Buddhist will be president of Sri Lanka or a Tamil not a Sinhalese prime minister? If you can imagine the day your imagination is more fertile than mine – good for you.
Nor can I foresee the day when something like Black-Lives-Matter which mobilised tens of thousands of whites, unfolds in the majority community in Sri Lanka against carnage such as the 1983 massacre or violence against Muslims. MIRJE (Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality) was led by Father Paul Caspersz a Burger Catholic and his principal lieutenants were a Tamil Catholic and a raceless Marxist. The radical monk of recent times, Sobitha Thero with whom I have worked did not actively intervene against anti-minority pogroms – apologies to the late Thero if I am wrong.
On an allied matter, once again I renew my call for a National Cabinet to defeat covid. Biden has risen above partisanship and gone all out in a quest for national unity. He is facing a far worse covid and other challenges. By National Cabinet I do not mean “national government” but something like Churchill’s War Cabinet to meet an existential challenge after which parties resume their identities. There have been, and probably there will be no takers for my suggestion. Gota, Mahinda, Sajith and Sampanthan are too small minded to see the point.
I sent a shorter version of this as an email to some people with the note “The purpose of this email is to motivate you to never condone racism in Sri Lanka and not give up the fight to defeat it. There are things on which we Marxists can form alliance with liberals”. I had three responses reproduced below. (My comments are in parenthesis in italics).
“We have always recognised that advanced capitalism or industrially well-developed capitalist societies are the most progressive socially speaking; you comment is wobbly around this point.”
“I agree fully with your observation about the US that it is far less racist, bigoted and culturally primitive than most South Asian, Japanese and Islamic states. I cannot imagine a non-Sinhala/Buddhist becoming president or prime minister in Sri Lanka in my life time. (The writer is a Sinhalese and a nominal Buddhist). We are far too feudal and tribal yet. Sad and tragic. I consider myself neither a Marxist nor Liberal. I prefer to call myself a humanist. I confirm that I will continue to do whatever I can to fight racism in Sri Lanka until I die”.
“Can you imagine a Muslim or a Buddhist ever becoming president in the USA? (Yes, I can; if a black, a Catholic or an Indian can, I think a Buddhist certainly can. Even a liberal minded Muslim may one day). This county (US) is so steeped (sic!) in religious bigotry. You have little understanding. Granted Americans are much more liberal; mainly because they are a nation of immigrants. Sri Lanka, India etc have a mainly indigenous population. On another issue: See what’s happening in France. By allowing huge Muslim immigrant population they are now taken over by them. There is no ‘French’ identity now. Police fear going into Muslim areas. I’m not criticizing any group but Europe is being taken over by the Muslims and being radicalized”.
(India is a mixed bag; its most famous Prime Minister was an avowed atheist and a Sikh has been Prime Minister. Two Tamils, several Muslims and Sikhs and a Malayali Dalit have been Presidents.)
This column was originally published in Colombo Telegraph