Why Mix-up Nationalism with Racism?

“There is no significant movement of Sinhala Nationalism in Sri Lanka or elsewhere. In fact it cannot be “nationalism” as nations of South Asia are multiethnic. If at all anyone talks only about the Sinhalas as a nation, it is not about Sinhala nationalism but about Sinhala racism.”

By Thomas Johnpulle

(June 01, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Never did I think a friend would pick up the phone, dial me and ‘request’ me to stop writing; but it happened. Some are prepared to change my surname because I support Sri Lanka instead of Tamil Elam. In their book, only Sinhalas support Sri Lanka and all Tamils must support Tamil Eelam! This is just one more myth like the myth of Tamil Eelam itself; the nation that never was and never will be. However, this is a vast area worth exploring. Why mix-up nationalism with racism? Who gains?

What is nationalism? Simply it is the feeling for the nation one belongs to. Racism means racial prejudice.

As an example, the names United National Party and Sri Lanka Freedom Party connote a national stand whereas the "Tamil National Alliance" only refers to a race.

Nationalism is about the nation of many communities while racism is about one particular race. The two are completely different and do not overlay in the modern world. This is especially so in South Asia where hundreds of ethnic groups have only a handful of nationalities. Attempts by various racial groups to change this failed miserably. This is in contrast to Europe where the English, the Germans, the French, the Russians etc. have their exclusive nations. But even this has changed today. In simple terms the success of the South Asian model is world accepted.

President Rajapaksha made a historical statement when he said, there are no more (ethnic) minorities/majorities; the society is made up of those who love Sri Lanka and those who don’t. However, this is exactly what race-based agitators oppose. They firmly believe that each race equals to a nation. The answer to a simple question sets apart those who believe in nationalism from those who still believe in racism.

Was the bulk of recent celebrations and jubilations in Sri Lanka following the military victory about, (a) Sri Lankan nationalism, or, (b) Sinhala nationalism?

If one calls it Sinhala nationalism, he/she is still engrossed in the race-based view. In the celebrations people carried the national flag depicting all major communities and religions of the country and hence the celebrations were a show of Sri Lankan nationalism. It is definitely not Sinhala nationalism. If it were to be Sinhala nationalism, they should have carried a flag of the exclusive “Sinhala Nation”, just like the Tamil Elam flag, which they didn’t..

There is no significant movement of Sinhala Nationalism in Sri Lanka or elsewhere. In fact it cannot be “nationalism” as nations of South Asia are multiethnic. If at all anyone talks only about the Sinhalas as a nation, it is not about Sinhala nationalism but about Sinhala racism. Thankfully there is no significant movement of Sinhala racism. Similarly, if anyone talks about the Tamils as a nation, it is about Tamil racism. There is nothing called ethno-nationalism in South Asia.

However, Tamil racism is misspelled as Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka. It is found only in relation to Sri Lanka and not elsewhere; not even in India with a 60 million Tamil population compared to 3 million in Sri Lanka! It must be emphasized that there is nothing called Tamil nationalism and Sinhala nationalism as these are only races, not nations.

The other side of the mix up is also interesting. Accordingly, Sri Lankan nationalism or the love of Sri Lanka goes as Sinhala “nationalism”. This hilarious assumption is based on a copy of Tamil nationalism according to which, Tamil is both the race and the nation. It was with this assumption in mind the LTTE almost created a Tamil only mono ethnic de facto state. The stupidity of this assumption is omnipresent. There is nothing called Tamil nationalism. Tamil is only a race.

However, peaceful supporters of the Tamil Eelam struggle will continue to defy the truth and mince words favourable for their struggle. They are living in a mythical world. The sooner they come out their myth, the better. For peace, everyone has to make sacrifices. Peace is a process of give and take. Unless we give up the mono ethnic Tamil only North for a multi ethnic society, the Tamil Eelam demand for a united Sri Lanka, ethno-nationalism for Sri Lankan nationalism, we will never receive peace in return. The historical statement by the President blocks all avenues of racial haggling and directs everyone to adapt to a Sri Lanka-centred solution.

A few decades ago elected governments of Sri Lanka ran after the LTTE and peaceful Tamil Eelamists with an assortment of political solutions, begging them to agree to a solution. Not any more!

Hopefully at least this time peaceful Tamil Eelamists will realize the futility of running after a mirage and take part fully in the reciprocal process of give and take. If they don’t, they will be the losers, again.

In summary, the following facts must be put straight.

1. Sri Lankan nationalism is not at all Sinhala nationalism.
2. Tamil nationalism is Tamil racism, nothing else.
3. Sinhala nationalism is Sinhala racism, nothing else.

It is time these issues are put into the right perspective. Similarly those who deliberately mix nationalism with racism need to be identified for what they are.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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Tamils had plenty of Sri Lankan nationalism prior to 1958. Sinhala Racism first striped upcountry tamil citizenship and then wanted 'sinhala" as the sole language for all 'sri lankans'.. was it nationalism or racism? remember darwinian theory survival of the fittest ( and majority)?
Book cover,

Not entirely true.

Remember the 50%: 50% demand based on race and language?

That was in 1931.

Even before independance.
bodhi Dhana said…
In answer to "book-cover-design" comment, let me note that the Donoughmore commission had included citizenship to the Indian Tamils, but the caste conscious Tamil leaders and the Kandyans got together and got Governor Stanley to stop that in the 1935-38. So a group of "stateless" people arose in Ceylon. In the first parliamentary elections the "stateless" people also voted as this was not effectively controlled. But the citizenship laws (drawn up mostly by Kandiah Vidyanathan and presented by D. S. Senanayake recommended citizenship to only those who had 7 years residence in Ceylon ( a very progressive piece of legislation even by today's standards for citizenship for Hispanics in USA or Turks in Switzerland). Ponnambalam supported this legislation, and it was then that Chelvanayagam tried to take advantage of this and attempted to split Tamils who were behind Ponnambalam. Chelvanayagam even took the citizenship debate to the Privy council but the privy council concluded that no inuustice had been done. It actually commended the legislation. All this has been touched by various articles that appeared in the Guardian recently (e.g., those by Gam Vaesiya in the Guardian).
mumbo700 said…
I agree wholdheartdly with your views.
However, what peturbed me was that on the 18th of May, by evening I noticed that on both sides of Flower Road (Sir Ernest De Silva Mawatha)had put up Buddhist flags and not the national flag.
Taking into consideration that the Prime Ministers Office is also situated down this Road, Ifelt that it was in very bad taste.
I hope and pray that it was a stupid oversite and not deliberate.
Liberal Lanka said…
I do get the message, but accordingly to this logic Sri Lankan nationalism should be Sri Lankan Racism, nothing else.
manuri said…
After so many articles been written on the issue there seems that still many that do not 'get ' the point.

holding the sri lankan flag does not portray 'racism'I do nto understand how this people get this.

Never mind people have the right to think the way they want but one thing
'Dont stop' writing for godness sake.

the problem with this mass communication is that there are many 'made up writers'who know nothing but want to see their writing in print.and one such is with a diploma from a college is making all the fuss in UN by the name of 'deshapriy'thanks to free media.

In a world of 'fake'we need people like you.Your writing is important whether you write for or against is irrespective.

rest assured that 'born writers' always serve the mankind nor a specfic race therefore what you write is improtant.
Hasha Herath said…
I like your article, but why is this issue still up for debate???

There are hundreds of thousands of people suffering on this tiny island!!! We should have dialogue about helping them; not talking about the issues that have separated us for so long.
Why is it so difficult to stop the debates of old, and start talking about making some positive changes in Sri Lanka?

For those people who still want to rage on about the debate of nationalism and all issues of Sinhala vs. Tamil, or Tamil vs. Sinhala; then, by all means, build yourselves a time machine and return to 1983. If you do, convince the SL government to invest in Microsoft, that way it will have enough monetary investments to help its economy in 2009-2010.