The Demons within Sri Lanka: Long-Term Methods of Abatement?

Michael Roberts

Here I reproduce the second half of a longer article presented in October 2018 where I pinpointed the hidden dangers to Sri Lanka resting within the implications of Mark Field’s visit to the island then — conveying a message that was one part of the continuing Western nation-cum-UNHRC project to punish Sri Lanka and foist a devolutionary political system on the island. Obviously, this essay was coined before the explosive manifestation of another divisive time-bomb within the Sri Lankan body politic: that of Islamic extremists motivated by the Wahhabi ideology hostile to specific ‘pinnacles’ in any Westernized body politic – such as (a) the Papacy and (b) high-rise hotels marking wealth and ‘debauchery’.**

This traumatic moment on Easter Sunday 21st April 2019 reminds us of two earth shattering moments: the LTTE attack on the Central Bank in Colombo on 31st January 1996 and the Al-Qaida attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on 9th September 2001 (9/11 in shorthand).***

But, facing the immediate future in Sri Lanka, concerned Sri Lankans and others must address the issue how we can combat and reduce the sharp ethnic divisions that exist within the land (treating the “Muslims” as an ethno-religious body in competition with the Sinhala and Tamil peoples).

Hence: one part of my old article becomes sharply pertinent and thus presented separately here. I note, here, that the ideas embodied here arose in my mind when I addressed the deficiencies within Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Victory Speech in May 2009 – a momentous occasion where he could have initiated potentially beneficial pathways.


Given the demographic configuration of the different communities in Sri Lanka and its present provincial maps, can the devolution of power serve as magic panacea? Roughly half the SL Tamil population live outside the Northern Province. Their heart may be in the north, but their feet, vote and clout are in the south … and sometimes beyond in London and elsewhere.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Eastern Province was cut out in arbitrary fashion by the British in the 19th century and serves as a bone of contention because the leading Tamil forces have falsely depicted it as “traditional homelands”[10] a specious claim[11] pursued to this day in dishonest style by a long line of Tamil intellectuals.[12]

To this one must add the complication of those identified as “Indian Tamils” (or “Plantation Tamils”) who have –with important exceptions – been at the socio-economic bottom of the ladder, but whose circumstances have improved somewhat and who now constitute a majority in Nuwara Eliya District within the Central Province.

The issue I pose is simple: is devolution extended to the Northern Province likely to be a time-bomb? Something that will push Sinhala chauvinist extremism still further? Something that stokes the fears of a Sinhala majority that feels itself a minority in the context of looming Tamilnadu next door?[13]

I am directed here by the long view of a historian wary of well-meant ‘solutions’ that generate fresh and/or deeper problems. From this naïve position I suggest that what Sri Lanka requires is an ingenious constitutional scheme that provides the SL Tamils of the north, those of the Eastern Province and those in Colombo District some clout in the centre and in the Cabinet so that they are brought into the heart of power in an integrated manner. They must reap the benefits (and shortcomings) of any political system so that they develop a stake within it.

This line of gerrymandering must also be bolstered by policies that address identity and subjectivity. The tendency for some Sinhala-speakers to equate the category “Sinhala” with “Lānkika” must be undermined.[14] The categorization of “ethnic’ in the census compilations and National Identity Card bureau must be re-jigged in radical fashion to generate a selection of labels that enables each individual a choice from; viz.

sihala lānkika

demala lānkika.

marakkala lānkika

ja lānkika

lansi lānkika

kolomba chetti lānkika

mishra lānkika

AND last but not least


Without addressing and reforming the political vocabulary in the vernacular, we cannot expect constitutions to yield the fruits fondly imagined by their framers.

Again, the national anthem must be re-jigged for state occasions so that it is sung in Sinhala and Tamil in the alternate style favoured by the Kiwi and South African rugger teams. The unveiling of this operation to the Sri Lankan people should be at Premadasa Cricket Stadium where a trained choir as well as the pre-prepared cricket team introduce this scheme of patriotic commitment to the public.

Such measures will not produce immediate results. Collective identity and belonging are subjective conditions of being – moulded over time by many factors. There is no quick fix here.

baila natamu

 Dharmasiri Bandaranayake advocating peace and unity 

The steps that I have indicated here have to be backed up by intelligent use of cartoons and by the work of such playwrights and film-makers as Dharmasiri Bandaranayake  as well as leading musicians in all three languages. Baila, in particular, is a medium for cross-communal togetherness.[15] I note, here, that during the height of the Sinhala Buddhist movement in the third quarter of the century featured by the slashing criticism of the Catholic schools, such artistes as Sunil Shantha, Lester James Peries and Ivor Denis (all Catholic) collaborated innovatively with a range of other artistes to create music and film in erudite and meaningful styles attuned to indigenous sensibilities. More recently, Vasuki Amunugama and others at the advertisement agency, Triad, showed us how an intelligent programme such as Api Wenuwen Api can mobilise personnel to commit themselves to the deadly professions encountering fight and death.[16]

Thus, many hands and many modalities of expression must be deployed in the hard yards required for the mind-work that is involved in moulding subjectivity in ways that will assist reconciliation.  There is no quick fix.

*** ***


** On Wahhabi thinking (also called Salafi), see David Cook, Understanding Jihad, 2006; Peter Bergen, Holy War Inc., 2001 and google the words “Said Qutb”; “Salafi”; and “Mohamed al-Zawahiri”.

**** The literature on the Al-Qaida attack in New York is extensive and the books by Bergen and Cook will lead readers to more citations. It surprises me that no one has remarked on the number of deaths and injuries caused by the LTTE’s truck-bomb attack on the Central Bank buildings in the heart of Colombo on 31st January. Note this summary in Wikipedia:As gunmen traded fire with security guards, the suicide bomber in the lorry detonated the massive bomb, which tore through the bank and damaged eight other buildings nearby. The lorry was followed by a three-wheeler, carrying two LTTE cadres armed with automatic rifles and an RPG launcher. The blast killed at least 91 people and injured 1,400 others. At least 100 people lost their eyesight.” This strike was a political act in line with the TamilTiger demand for an independent state. Accordingly, the choice of moment was symbolic: just before Sri Lanka’s Independence Day on 4th February –which happened to be on a Sunday [when the Fort area would have been less populated].


[11] Its historic and cartographic basis has been comprehensively decimated by Gerald Peiris in his article in the Ethnic Studies Report in 1991. Also see my essay “Ethnic Identity in Sri Lanka’s Pre-capitalist Past: Shanie, Darshanie and Roberts,” 2010. Those interested in this knotty issue should also scour D’Vincent 1882.

[12] Thus, several Tamil writers (abroad) have written whole books that pretend that the Peiris article does not exist and promote the concept of “traditional homelands (see  Gunasingham  2012: 9, 21). They do not attend to the fact that the boundary lines of the Eastern Province drawn up by the British in the 19th century are quite arbitrary and encompass regions along its western border that were sparsely peopled – and these were either Vädda hamlets or purana hamlets with Sinhala villagers.

[13] Note this statement from an MP in 1962: “the problem of the Tamils is not a minority problem. The Sinhalese are the minority in Dravidistan. We are carting on a struggle for national existence against the Dravidian majority.” (quoted by Kearney 1973: 267). Robert N. Kearney’s two books should be compulsory reading for all students of modern of Sri Lanka.

[14] This merger is evident in the Anagarika Dharmapala’s writings (Roberts 1978: 365) and has been a strand in the Sinhala campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s directed at the English-speaking middle class. I have identified it in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s populist presentations of self (Roberts

[15]  Note Kulendiren 2017. However, as medium, baila and songs can cut both ways.

[16] Roberts “Winning the War ………,” 2014,


Carey, Sean 2009 The UK’s role in Diego Garcia: green fingers or red faces?., 7 September 2009, https://

Bergen, Peter I. 2001 Holy War Inc. Inside the World of Osama bin Laden, New York, The Free Press.

Cook, David 2006 Understanding Jihad, University of California Press.

Cook, David 2015 ‘Jihad’, ‘Matyrdom Operations’, and Mohammed Atta’s Injunction in the “last Night’, before 9/11,12 May 2015,

D’A Vincent, P. 1883 Forest Administration of Ceylon, Colombo, Govt Printer, being Sessional Paper XLIII of 1882.

Donaldson, Tony 2016 “Tony Donaldson to introduce SunIl Santha and His Sinhala Music to Contemporary Lankans,” 26 October 2016,

Field, Mark 2018 “British Minister stresses Importance of Reconciliation.” 4 October 2018,

Gamage, Daya 2014 “The American Agenda for Sri Lanka’s National Issues, 1970s-2014,” 5 July 2014,

Gunasingam, M.  2012 The Tamil Eelam Struggle. State Terrorism and Ethnic Cleansing (1948-2009), Sydney, MV Publications.

Gunasingam, M. 2014 Tamils in Sri Lanka: A Comprehensive History (C. 300 BC – C. 2000. Sydney.

Hattotuwa, Sanjana 2018 “Identity, Belonging, Dignity. Lessons from Francis Fukuyama for Srri Lanka Today,” 2 October 2018,

Kearney, Robert N.  1967 Communalism and Language in the Politics of Ceylon, Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press.

Kearney, Robert N. 1973 The Politics of Ceylon, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.

Kulendiren, Pon 2017 “Where Music transcends Ethnic Divisions: Sinhala Nona,” 21 March 2017,

Kunanayakam, Tamara 2016 “A Tour de Force by Tamara Kunanayakam …,” 23 February 2016,2016 

Peiris, Gerald H. 1991 “An Appraisal of the Concept of a Traditional Homeland in Sri Lanka,” Ethnic Studies Report, Vol IX, pp. 13-39.

Roberts, Michael 2007 “Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, vol 30: 857-88.

Roberts, Michael 2013 “Ethnic Identity in Sri Lanka’s Pre-capitalist Past: Shanie, Darshanie and Roberts,” 15 August 2010,

Roberts, Michael  2013 “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,” 8 December 2013,

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014,

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: US Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE,” 27 August 2014,

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Saving Talaivar Pirapāharan,” 6 April 2016,

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Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Roberts, Michael 2014 Winning the War: Evaluating the Impact of API WENUWEN API,” 1 September 2014,

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Encompassing Empowerment in Ritual, War & Assassination: Tantric Principles in Tamil Tiger Instrumentalities,” Social Analysis, sp. issue on “War Magic and Warrior Religion,” ed. by D. S. Farrer, 2014, pp. 88-106

Michael Roberts 2015 “Targeting Sri Lanka by playing ball with Tamil Extremism,” 24 July 2015,

Roberts, Michael 2015 “Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009,” 26 August 2015,

Roberts, Michael 2015 “American Action and Inaction on Sri Lanka, 2008/09: A Critical Evaluation,” 15 September 2015,

Roberts, Michael 2018  “Where USA sought to arm-wrestle Sri Lanka in March-April-May 2009,” 11 May 2018 ,

Roberts, Michael 2018 “The Lines of Fire within Mark Field’s Paternalist Message,” 7 October 2018,

Roberts, Michael 2019 “Slippages: Where ‘Muslim’ is An Ethnic Label as well as a Religious Typification,”  3 May 2018,

Wickramaingha, Kamalini 2018 “Dharmasiri Bandaranayake’s Message for Reconciliation and Oneness,” October 7 October 2018,

Wikipedia n.d. “Colombo Central Bank Bombing,”

Yalman, Nur  2017 “Wahhabi Ideology is the Root of Islamic Extremism,” 8 October 2017,


Filed under Al Qaeda, atrocities, centre-periphery relations, communal relations, conspiracies, cultural transmission, education, ethnicity, governance, heritage, historical interpretation, Islamic fundamentalism, jihad, landscape wondrous, language policies, legal issues, life stories, Muslims in Lanka, patriotism, politIcal discourse, power politics, reconciliation, religiosity, security, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, social justice, sri lankan society, suicide bombing, Tamil Tiger fighters, terrorism, the imaginary and the real, truth as casualty of war, unusual people, vengeance, world events & processes

2 responses to “The Demons within Sri Lanka: Long-Term Methods of Abatement?

  1. Pingback: The Making of Wahhabi Zealots in Sri Lanka, 1980s-2019 | Thuppahi's Blog

  2. EMAIL COMMENT from BRIAN VICTORIA, 16 February 2023:

    “Dear Michael, ….. Thanks for sharing these wonderfully intelligent proposals. Albeit from afar, I pray these proposals find a receptive audience.

    With warmest greetings, ….. Brian

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