Tag Archives: prejudice

A Set of Four Book Reviews

Michael Roberts

In a separate section of this web site accessed by clicking on the section title on the menu bar on the home page, readers can access some book reviews reprinted from academic journals courtesy of the reviewers. Apart from gaining information about the books, this series provides lay people with some sense of the academic circuit. The books reviewed initially by Bastin, Clough, Rogers, Neloufer de Mel and Speldewinde respectively – the items will be changed from time to time – are:

Mark P. Whitaker: Learning Politics from Sivaram: The Life and Death of a Revolutionary Tamil Journalist in Sri Lanka. Continue reading

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Understanding Zealotry

Michael Roberts

 Anthropology, University of Adelaide

PREAMBLE One

The first part of this article was written when I was a Senior Visiting Fellow at the International Centre for Asian Studies, University of Leiden, Netherlands from September to December 1995; and was published in one of their Newsletters under the heading “Understanding Zealotry & Questions for Post-Orientalism.” The emphasis then was informed by my interest in the embodied emotions that have spurred assaults during pogroms and riots. This section, now designated Part I under the sub-title “From 1991-95,” has been modified in minor ways for this publication, while citations and footnotes have been added. Its arguments have then been elaborated in a second part that also reflects upon my journeys in the interim. In thus underlining the temporal ‘progression’ of my thinking, this article underlines the continuities in position within the shifting context of academic production, while yet marking new developments in my experiential understandings. A bibliography has also been added. Obviously, this list has been cast in 2006.

 

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Encountering Extremism: Biographical Tracks and Twists

Michael Roberts, 6 March 2010

One’s academic trajectories and journeys are invariably subject to vagaries and contingencies. The events and researches leading to my interest in “communal violence” and “zealotry” in the 1990s, and thereafter to what I have called ‘sacrificial devotion” (embracing the topics of “terrorism,” suicide bombers and Tamil Tigers),[1] were shaped by such contingencies. Since my web site will present some short essays on both these topics in the course of this month, let me detail some moments during my research work that resulted in the journeys that produced such outcomes.

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History-Making in Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese

The following short essays have been posted within this site. It is feasible for readers to pen comments, though this site lacks the vibrancy of such media outlets as transcurrents and groundviews.

Lanka without Vijaya by Michael Roberts

Writing History and Myth by Shanie’s Notebook of A Nobody

Sinhalaness and Sinhala Nationalism by Michael Roberts

Primordialist Strands in Contemporary Sinhala Nationalism in Sri Lanka: Urumaya as Ur by Michael Roberts

Burden of History: Obstacles to Power Sharing In Sri Lanka by Michael Roberts

These pieces were penned several years back and did not have the benefit of a thoughtful article by ALAN STRATHERN entitled “The Vijaya Origin Myth and the Strangeness of Kingship,” Past & Present, 2009, No.  203(1): 3-28.

We hope to present a summary version of this article for the benefit of readers who do not have access to the journal on web at some point in the near-future.

A renovated stupa at Dakkshina Vehera a few miles south of Sigiriya — also dating from the latter part of the first millennium AD.

Photos by Michael Roberts, August 2008

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Writing History and Myth

Shanie — in Notebook of a Nobody

This essay appeared first in the Island, sometime back — alas, date misplaced

Many years ago, I remember reading Professor A F Pollard’s Tudor England. One statement by this eminent historian in his Preface to the book still remains etched in my memory. He stated that a Headmaster of a school had once made a statement to the effect that any classical scholar, with common sense, would be able to teach history. Pollard’s comment was that statement probably explained why history was taught so badly in schools and produced such poor results at public examinations. Professor Michael Roberts in an excellent essay in The Island this week (Mid-Week Review 16 April) makes the same point. He says that it is not only classical scholars but any Tom, Dick or Harry feels capable of writing history. He refers to nondescript charlatans, including academics, inventing history to suit a particular political agenda, and in today’s context, to re-write the history of the Sinhala and Tamil people. One academic, a teacher of Mathematics, finds no compunction in venturing into a discipline other than his own and making definitive historical assertions, without a shred of empirical evidence to support them.

The professional historian generally tends to confine his writing to that aspect of history where his academic training lies. But there is certainly a case for a scholar to write a more general history for the lay reader. Professor Lyn Ludowyk, a scholar but not in history, has written a book which narrates the story of two thousand years of our history. But he makes no pretence to it being a work of historical scholarship. His task in The Story of Ceylon, he says, was that of a humble narrator, depending on the work of the scientist for the facts.

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Caste in Modern Sri Lanka Politics

Michael Roberts

This essay first appeared in http://www.transcurrents.com on 24 February 2010 and readers will see blog comments therein.

 

In a recent intervention in the web-site http://www.transcurrents.com (10 Feb. 2010), Lakruwan de Silva has conjectured that caste rivalry between the Govigama and Karāva contributed in a secondary manner towards the rift between the Rajapakse clan and General Fonseka.[1] In his broad survey of caste undercurrents in the history of the Sinhalese, he also refers to the Kara-Govi rivalry that surfaced during the contest for the “Educated Ceylonese Seat” in the Legislative Council in British times in December 1911. In serendipitous coincidence a gentleman named Nadesan recently alluded to this famous occasion when the Govigama elite of that day is said to have backed Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s candidature and helped him defeat Dr. Marcus Fernando for this coveted post.[2]

Let me begin by clarifying the background to this contest. A coalition of Ceylonese activists from the Burgher, SL Tamil and Sinhalese communities had begun to exert pressure on the British rulers from circa 1906 seeking devolution of power. The British authorities responded in miserly fashion in 1910 with the Crewe-Macullum reforms conceding a modicum of expansion in the advisory Legislative Council and introducing the electoral principle for the “Burgher Seat” and the newly-created “Educated Ceylonese Seat;” while still maintaining the existing nominated seats.

Members of the Orient Club, circa 1907 Amadoris Mendis & the Senanayakes in relaxed mood, latter photo courtesy of Kumari Jayawardena

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Of Traitors and Patriots

Anura Gunasekera

Courtesy of the Island, 8 February 2010

PREAMBLE from Michael Roberts: Anura Gunasekera’s essay is truly important and is inserted here because some threads mesh with contentions I have presented earlier. When in Sri Lanka in May 2009 I penned an article “Some pillars for Lanka’s future” in response to a request from an Indian periodical which addressed the import of President Rajapakse’s version of patriotism. I repeat it here as Preamble to Gunasekera’s intervention largely because it also represents a questioning of the position adopted by the head of state albeit in a less direct manner than Gunasekera. This questioning, and for that matter Gunasekera’s telling commentary, is in line with my opening essay SINHALA MIND SET which stands as frontispiece to my web-site.

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Killing Rajiv Gandhi: Sacrificial Metamorphosis?

Michael Roberts

Preamble: Journals use Abstracts in order to provide readers with a distillation of the argument in an article. Where theoretical concepts are deployed, this presupposes that readers have some familiarity with the literature. Faced with the summary below, some readers of transcurrents may rush to the conclusion that this essay is featured by abstruse and esoteric nonsense.

After all, what does “transvaluation” connote? I derived the concept from SJ Tambiah’s Levelling Crowds. I understand it to refer to the re-working and transformation of pre-existing ideas and/or practices in meaningful ways that carry weight; and thereby sustain both continuity and change within the specified cultural/political arena. This is my interpretation of the term and it may well be challenged or refined by other scholars versed in the anthropological literature.

Having identified a problem area via one illustration, let me stress that this article is not replete with such academic terminology. It is mostly filled with empirical detail about the LTTE’s killing operation. This attention to detail encompasses cultural specifics.

Many of these particulars will be meaningful to those familiar with the Hindu faith and its devotional activity. Those nominally “Hindu” and all those from other faiths who are adamantly secular and/or materialist in orientation may be puzzled by the weight I attach to these specifics. Hopefully, this emphasis will pose a challenge to their mode of thinking.

Finally, let me stress that my essay expressly notes that it is presenting “a speculative argument that cannot be empirically substantiated” (p. 29 of full article). This may come as a shock to those readers, such as the blogger “Belle” commenting on one of my articles in http://www.groundviews.org recently, who seem to think that the social sciences should not indulge in surmise. Such a perception seems to believe that the world of scholarship should only deal with “facts” and definitive conclusions of the sort demonstrated in laboratories. This is a rigid schoolmaster’s view of the humanities or what, in academic jargon, will be read as a “positivist” form of thinking.

Dhanu & Sivarasan wait with Kokilavani on right Kokilavani reads poem, while Dhanu –head in foreground–awaits her moment

ABSTRACT

Set within the context of the Sri Lankan Tamils’ liberation war dominated by the LTTE, this article clarifies the motivations behind Pirapāharan’s decision to eliminate Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 in order to pre-empt his election as Prime Minister. The details on the LTTE’s intricate killing operation under operational commander Sivarāsan sets the scene for a focus on facets of the attire adopted by suicide bomber Dhanu. Saffron-green outfit, kanagambaram in hair and sandalwood-pellet garland may have been directed by pragmatic reasoning. But circumstantial contentions also point towards cosmic reasoning. Taken together with the kill team’s preceding supplications to the god Ganapathi at a temple in Chennai, these indications suggest that Dhanu’s explosive transformation into ash was geared towards a transvaluation of self in the cycle of rebirth. Information on Hindu practices taken from the researches of Mines, Fuller and Tanaka amplify the significance of the details deployed during this operation as supplements to plastic explosives, ball-bearings and suicide vest.

KEY WORDS

transvaluation; enchantment; assassins; Hindu substances; Tantric encirclement

This article will appear in Vol. 1, Number 1 of South Asian History and Culture. GO To http://www.informaworld.com/rsac

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Symbolic Postscript: A Terrible Violence

Michael Roberts

 Courtesy of http://www.transcurrents.com. This essay was first drafted on 23 Dec. 2009, as a sequel to the short note on “The Eelam Struggle,Tamil Tigers and Their Commemoration of Māvīrar (Great Heroes)” under the thuppahi cover.

The photographic images that have been deployed on web in my essay on “The Tamil Tigers and Their Practices of Homage” (httt://thuppahiwordpress.com) as well as a host of less accessible academic articles convey the importance placed on the commemoration of the fallen by Pirapāharan and the Tiger leadership. The institutionalisation of mortuary rites of burial for their fallen from circa 1989 – in a radical move away from the cremation for those of Saivite faith[i] – was a way of sustaining meaningful bonding between Tiger personnel and those who had sacrificed their lives for the cause of Eelam.[ii]

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