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Abiding by Sri Lanka: On Peace, Place, and Postcolonality

Qadri Ismail
Series: Public Worlds
Volume: 16
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 300
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  • Book Info
    Abiding by Sri Lanka
    Book Description:

    Abiding by Sri Lanka examines how the disciplines of anthropology, history, and literature treat the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict. With close readings of texts that “abide” by Sri Lanka, texts that have a commitment to it, Ismail demonstrates that the problems in Sri Lanka raise fundamental concerns for us all regarding the relationship between democracies and minorities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9543-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Abiding by Sri Lanka
    (pp. xi-xlvi)

    Newton Gunasinghe, in his 1984 essay ʺMay Day after the July Holocaust,ʺ made a cortical, if now almost forgotten, intervention into the Sri Lankan debate on peace. He contended, about what was beginning to be called the ʺethnic conflictʺ:

    It is now clear that the anti-Tamil riots of July ʹ83 constitute one of the most important turning points in the recent history of Sri Lanka. A particular equilibrium within the Sri Lankan social formation has been irrevocably lost and a new equilibrium is yet to be achieved. Within the context of a heightened ethnic consciousness among the masses, the left...

  5. 1 Better Things to Do: (Dis)Placing Sri Lanka, (Re)Conceptualizing Postcoloniality
    (pp. 1-33)

    At the beginning of his narrative, Valentine Daniel lets the reader know how he stumbled upon Sri Lankan violence as an object of study. When he thought up his project in 1982, he had planned to write about UpCountry Tamil workers and to produce an alternative account of their history. He wanted to listen to their songs and use the lyrics to challenge the official, and quite abject, version of their story. He arrived in Sri Lanka a year later, in 1983, ʺon the heels of the worst anti-Tamil riots known to that island paradise to find that none of...

  6. 2 Majority Rules: Reading a Sinhalese Nationalist History
    (pp. 34-103)

    Crushed culturally and politically for some four and a half long centuries by three Christian Western powers (Portugal, Holland, Britain), attacked incessantly by Tamils (Hindus from southern India) in the even longer centuries before colonialism; in short, subjugated, dispossessed, victimized, and wounded by history itself, the Sinhalese Buddhist majority in Sri Lanka, a world-historically unique people, is simply trying, according to its autobiography, to redress the balance, heal those injuries, correct those wrongs, attempting to finally live in peace and security in the post-colonial period. All it seeks is nothing more, or less, than to enjoy the universally recognized rights...

  7. 3 Minority Matters: Reading a Tamil Nationalist History
    (pp. 104-168)

    The autobiography of Tamil nationalism produces the transformations in its political demands—beginning with enhanced legislative representation and constitutional protection from discrimination by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, and disregard from British officialdom in the late colonial period, through a federal polity for Sri Lanka soon after independence, to Tamil insistence that only an autonomous, sovereign, majority-Tamil state can bring peace to its people—as a reluctant, purely defensive response to the Sinhalese nationalist demand for hegemony, a prolonged series of broken Sinhalese promises to end seeking such hegemony, and consistently and escalatingly aggressive, if not genocidal, Sinhalese oppression. The Tamils,...

  8. 4 What, to the Leftist, Is a Good Story? Two Fictional Critiques of Nationalism
    (pp. 169-223)

    First, some brutal summaries of the French critique of history that perhaps belong in a previous chapter but could also serve as an introduction to this one. To Foucault (1973), history is not the working out of an objective process that the discipline merely reflects but the ground of, that which enables, the modern episteme. Take for instance, biology, a historical discipline if there ever was one: since its object is understood to change through time, it would be impossible without this ground (arche). To Althusser (1997), radically rereading Marx, the historicist notion of time as single/homogenous and continuous is...

  9. Conclusion: Does Democracy Inhibit Peace?
    (pp. 224-246)

    This study has approached the question of peace in Sri Lanka, perhaps somewhat insistently, not just from a postempiricist and postcolonial but also from a leftist perspective. The script the study is produced by—its inheritances, convictions, and commitments, whether theoretical, ethical, or political—has enabled no alternative, no other ʺchoice.ʺ Upon reading the texts, the histories, of Tamil and Sinhalese nationalisms from these perspectives and positions, many conclusions have been reached, some more important than others. Obviously, the first of these is that there are texts that abide by Sri Lanka and texts that donʹt. The latter texts are...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 247-260)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-270)
  12. Index
    (pp. 271-273)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 274-274)