Monday, August 08, 2005

Origin of a catastrophe

Sri Lanka's problem, as [the Sinhalese political scientist and newspaper columnist Dayan] Jayatilleka sees it, is the absence of an overarching sense of national identity. Nobody in public life really talks about being Sri Lankan; there are only Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims. By way of contrast, he cited India, a state held together by a political understanding of itself as secularist and federalist. "Unlike Nehru, who had an idea of India, we went the other way, " Jayatilleka said. "Our nationalism wasn't national in the sense of pan-Sri-Lankan. Our nationalism took a cultural form - cultural, ethnic, religious." And, he said, "Anybody who looked like a true nationalist unifier got shot".

- from Tides of War (Letter from Sri Lanka) by Philip Gourevitch, The New Yorker, 1 August

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