Category Archives: insurrections

Debating Modern Ceylon History with Daggers Drawn: Roberts vs De Silva, 1986-91

Two Peradeniya colleagues from yesteryear, Professor Kingsley de Silva and Michael Roberts, took sharply different positions on facets of the island history in British colonial and post-1948 times in hardhitting essays in local journals and newspapers in the period 1986 to 1991. The series began with Michael Roberts’s article-length review of KM De Silva:  Managing Ethnic Tensions in Multi-Ethnic Societies: Sri Lanka, 1880-1985  (Lanham, University Press of America) ….. and continued with KM De Silva’s hard-hitting review of the book, People Inbetween (Colombo, Sarvodaya, 1989) where Roberts was the principal author in a triumvirate that included Percy-Colin-Thome and Ismeth Raheem.

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Political Crisis and Ethnic Conflicts in Sri Lanka: A Rejoinder to Michael Roberts

K. M. de Silva, being an article published in the Ethnic Studies  Report, Vol. 6/1, January 1988 …. a riposte to a Review of his book Managing Ethnic Tensions in Multi-Ethnic Societies: Sri Lanka, 1880-1985, (1985)

                                          I 

I have long believed that the author of a book under review should not bother to write replies to reviewers however perverse he believes the latter to be. After all he has had his say at greater length than the reviewer. My present departure from this practice, and the response I write to Michael Roberts’s review of my book Managing Ethnic Tensions in Multi-Ethnic Societies: Sri Lanka 1880-1985 stems from two considerations. Invited to write a short review (1,500 words or so) in the style of the present journal Michael Roberts writes a review essay of 20,000 words. It has been reduced to about 2/3rds its length for our journal but it is still the longest review we have published. Secondly, he proceeds to write two reviews of the same book, one for this journal, and one for another [see p. 61 above, Michael Roberts 1987 (a)]

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Portugal and Sri Lanka: The Historiography Today

Chandra R. de Silva,* whose original title runs thus: “Portugal and Sri Lanka: Recent Trends in Historiography”[1] … an article that was originally published in Re-exploring the Links: History and Constructed Histories between Portugal and Sri Lanka, ed. Jorge Flores, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2007, pp. 3-26

In a recent article entitled ‘Theoretical Approaches to Sri Lankan History and the Early Portuguese period,’ Alan Strathern points out that although historical writing in Sri Lanka has become ‘the site of vibrant controversy’ due partly to the ethnic conflict, by and large, it has contributed little to wider debates on post-colonialism and the nature of historical thinking.’[2] I would agree with this broad proposition. What I intend to do in this paper is to extend my gaze beyond the sixteenth century to which Alan consciously limits himself and look critically at the extent to which historical writing in the past half century has enhanced our understanding of the complex connections between Portugal and Sri Lanka in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, … I will concentrate largely on the area of social interaction and leave the other areas — political, economic and cultural – for detailed consideration at a later time.

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The SBS: Marine Commandos of the Sri Lankan Navy

Michael Roberts

A recent article by Dishan Joseph (see below) has marked the role of a commando outfit known as the SBS, or Special Boat Service, that was developed within the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) during the Eelam Wars.  The story is complex and demands an elaborate ‘companion piece’ that is attentive to time, combat locations, initiatives and the lessons derived from a remarkable and formidable enemy, namely, the Sea Tigers. In war one becomes like one’s opponent in order to survive. The innovativeness of the LTTE was monumental and its sea-faring capacities were one reason why it outdid-and-outbid the other Tamil militant organisations in the fight to lead the claim for independence for Thamililam during the 1980s/1990s.

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Boom! 3rd May 1986: Air Lanka’s Tristar 36 blown up on Runway by LTTE

Menaka Ashi Fernando, whose chosen title is “The Deadly Flyaway Kit: Explosion in AirLanka Tristar, Part 1 –The Explosion and Its Immediate Effects”

Johann Chunchee

Every 3rd of May, for the past 34 years, like a bunch of anxious surfers, we catch the rising wave of grief, glide on the intensifying emotions for a while and fall back to our senses as the wave of reality breaks. Although words can never remove the ache, I have worded this in memory of our dear friend Johann Chunchee who was killed that fateful day, and in honour of all my colleagues and other Air Lanka staff who survived the carnage” 

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A Critical American Reading of Lord Torrington’s Colonial Administration in 1851

Anonymous Author The English in Ceylon” … in The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, Vol. XXVIII, No. CLV,  1851 May, pp. 409-12.

From https://www.alamy.com/lord-torrington-british-colonial-administrator-and-courtier-1851-engraving-image60158321.html

BRITISH policy, or that system which the British Government has for ages systematically pursued, and by which it has acquired its vast colonial empire, is hut very imperfectly understood by the mass of the American people. Deriving our knowledge of English affairs, for the most part, from English sources, we are too apt to he dazzled by the contemplation of an empire upon which the sun never sets, and to ascribe to Divine destiny, that which, in reality, is the result of a system, more fiendish, and more detestable, because more extending and more extended in its operation, than that of Machiavelli. The conquests of old Rome were attended, at least, with glory; and, in modern times, those of our own country were laden with fruits, not alone of glory and renown to the conquerors, but better far, of freedom, of happiness, and of civilization to the conquered. England alone, of all the nations, ancient or modern, is the only one whose sword, while entwined with wreaths of cypress for the vanquished, has failed to reap one pure laurel to deck the victors brow. Survey her colonial empire; glance your eye athwart those boundless plains made fruitful by the young embraces of the god of day and point, if you can, to one rood of territory, whose acquisition was not conceived in selfishness and iniquity, and consummated in treachery, in perfidy and fraud. As the subject, however, of England’s colonial empire is one which could not properly be treated within the limits of a review article, we shall confine ourselves, for the present, to a condensed expose of certain occurrences of which the island of Ceylon has recently been the theatre and which have startled the propriety even of that most fastidious assembly, the British House of Commons.

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The Making of Wahhabi Zealots in Sri Lanka, 1980s-2019

Michael Roberts

All those addressing the fervour that promoted the killing work of the Zahran Hashim jihadist network in Sri Lanka in April 2019 must come to grips with the modern currents of Wahhabi political thinking that go back to the outpourings of the Egyptian intellectuals Sayyid Qutb[1] and Al-Zawahiri[2] in the latter half of the 20th century. This step will then take investigators to the Al-Qaida movement[3] and thence to the more recent brand of Wahhabism embodied within ISIS.

Sayyid Qutb  al-Zawahiri

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The Murder of Lional Silva by the JVP in 1984

Sanjeewa Karunaratne, whose favoured title is  “Stories from Sri Lanka’s Civil War – Lional Silva

During 1984-89, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (“JVP”) or People’s Liberation Front launched a clandestine attack against the Government of Sri Lanka. Since its fighters were mingling among the public, the military and its militia groups were struggling to cope with this invisible enemy. As a result, spies were everywhere—one wrong word, move or contact may bestow a gruesome death on top of a burning tire. It may be an “in-kind” response to the JVP, whose piece of paper was enough to close down an entire city; and who did not hesitate to execute a school principal, government servant, singer, politician, or an ordinary person who disobeyed their orders, in front of their loved ones. It was a crisis of epic proportions and a very uncertain time in the country.

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A German Scholar’s Incisive Review of the Western Powers’ Treatment of Sri Lanka, 2009-21

Mathias Keitle, a German scholar from Statalendorf ++

Sri Lanka eliminated a dreaded terrorist group, with intricate global links, but receives little credit for it! Unlike elsewhere in the world, Sri Lanka has succeeded in resettling 300,000 IDPs (Internal Displaced Persons). There are no starving children for the NGOs to feed but this gets ignored!

Sri Lanka has avoided mass misery, epidemics and starvation, but the West takes no notice of this. Sri Lanka has attained enviable socio-economic standards for a developing country while eliminating terrorism but gets no
acknowledgement.

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From Facing Elara to Vanquishing the Tamil Tigers at Nandikadal

Lynn Ockersz, in The Island. reviewing Siriweera’s Sinhala book Vijithapura Sita Nandikadal Thek Sri Lankeya Sangrama Ithihasaya’  ….

This book by one of Sri Lanka’s most eminent historians, Senior Professor Indrakeerthi Siriweera, gets into the hands of the public at a time when there is an urgent need for a clear, concise, and above all, enlightened understanding of Sri Lanka’s wars and their underlying causes. From Sri Lanka’s wars of antiquity, including the legendary Vijithapura armed conflict, to the contemporary landmark and decisive battle on the banks of the Nandikadal lagoon in northern Sri Lanka in May 2009, ‘Vijithapura Sita Nandikadal Thek Sri Lankeya Sangrama Ithihasaya’  provides us a detailed chronicling of Sri Lanka’s major armed conflicts and confrontations over the centuries and thereby proves a treasury of knowledge.

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