Cosmopolitan Nationalism — Sri Lanka isn’t ready

One of the articles that was discussed at the last Study Circle session was this one by Dayan Jayatilleke. Dr.Jayatilleke’s piece for groundviews titled Politics of winning in the vanni, goes into a discussion about the so called “Cosmopolitan Patriotism”. He Writes,

Why are our modernist cosmopolitans unpatriotic and unconcerned about national security, while our patriots are parochial and chauvinist? In a recent book which he was kind enough to mail me, Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus at Princeton, draws a distinction between “tribal patriotism” – which he condemns– and “cosmopolitan patriotism”-which he commends. As our thoughts are with our troops on the dark night before the final bitter battles, we should commit ourselves to the construction of such a “cosmopolitan patriotism” or “internationalist nationalism” (as I prefer to call it), on the morning after victory.

There was much emphasis at the discussion, about that last line; why does Dayan want such “cosmopolitan patriotism” to be constructed only “on the morning after victory” ?. There was speculation as to whether Dayan Jayatillake would very well like to ride on the ‘tribal patriotism’ for now, and only consider this cosmopolitan or ‘internationalist’ version later, “after the victory”.  This could well be the case, but this is not my specific point of  bother.

My concern, or question rather is whether such cosmopolitan nationalism either before or after the ‘victory’ is ever possible in the Sri Lanka we live in. Admittedly, more tirbalist sentiments of nationalism would subside in the absence of a common enemy, as perceived by the tribe (the tribe here being the Sinhalese community)

But the realist scenario is that victory, if that is ever possible, is never going to be clean. Unless (or even with) some part of the LTTE is accommodated within a political process, some elements of the organization will survive and continue to engage in acts of terror, like the various armed terror groups in so many other countries. Simply removing the main element of the tribe’s perceived enemy, the LTTE, might not be enough. Especially given the fact that we will have to still face up to the challenges of a multicultural society in a post-war situation and eventually deal with forms of communalism and most probably continued acts of terrorism.

So what can we possibly change in Sri Lanka to make this cosmopolitan nationalism more plausible?

Incidentally, I happen to write on the same topic couple of years ago at the  very same Groundviews site.My prime example then, was India. The country, despite it’s many difficulties — presence of extreme forms of communalism, persistent poverty and a diversity that no one person can quite comprehend — still manages to stick together. One big part of that story is India’s pluralist constitution. Which allows the Indian state to be both secular and allows for the countries’ diversity to be accommodated through the governance process which includes  devolving substantial power to states, which are largely based on linguistic identities.

Nation building is a very complex science where there are no silver bullets. I’m not saying a more pluralist/cosmopolitan nationalism is impossible without quasi-federalism or secularism nor am I saying it is guaranteed under a federal secular republic; but it would sure make the whole thing much easier.

— Deane J

Deane is a frequent blogger and a Core Group Member of Beyond Borders. The views expressed are his own.

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5 responses to “Cosmopolitan Nationalism — Sri Lanka isn’t ready

  1. Indian constitution is getting reduced to piece of paper day by day. I can see people are getting politically and communally motivated as per the success of failure to catch the ladder of Indian Economy. It will reshape the Indian clusters/castes very soon but getting India to a Nation is still a hundred years job.

  2. pluralist

  3. Corrected. Shit spell-checker..

  4. I live in India and I can see how much the federal state system has managed to respect linguistic/racial/cultural differences between its people and at the same time promote patriotic feelings. While there still exists hostilities and tensions, especially with the Seven Sister states in the North East, the govt tries to make an effort to bridge them. They may not have been successful a lot of times, yet they attempt to settle the situation in a little more sensitive and secular manner (or atleast make a show of it) than our wonderful little government back home who prefer going all out with a pretty clear racial agenda in mind.

  5. dayan jayatilleka

    Why only on “the morning after”? Its in the opening line of the para you have quoted, dummy…
    “…our modernist cosmopolitans [are] unpatriotic and unconcerned about national security, while our patriots are parochial and chauvinist”.
    That’s the unfortunate reason why it couldn’t be before the morning after.

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