by Sumanasiri Liyanage
Many a remark has already been written on Minister Wimal Weerawansa’s resistance in front of the Colombo UN office against Ban Ki-moon’s decision to appoint a three-member advisory committee to look into the happenings in the final days of the war that resulted in a comprehensive defeat of the LTTE. The aim of this article is neither to defend Minister Weerawansa’s action nor to add one more interpretation, but to look at critically some of the comments, many, if not almost all, were adverse, made with regard to his resistance.
Does it mean that these commentators have grasped better the meaning of his action? Hannah Arendt once wrote: "Action reveals itself fully only to the storyteller…who indeed always knows better what it was all about than the participants…. Even though stories are inevitable results of action, it is not the actor but the story-teller who perceives and ‘makes’ the story." Story tellers are not innocent and neutral reporters; they are conditioned by different ideologies. Hence we can see the juxtaposition of multiple ideologies in the debate around and about Minister Weerawansa’s resistance.
Let me first list the four critical remarks that have been made with regard to Minister Weerawansa’s ‘fast unto death’ campaign.
1. This kind of actions would offend the ‘international community’ and as a result Sri Lanka’s international reputation that has been now at very low level would be further deteriorated;
2. Protesting and resisting Ban Ki-moon’s action are warranted, but it should be done in a more civilised manner;
3. This kind of protest and resistance would not produce any results;
4. The whole incident was a pre-planned drama closely orchestrated by the President.
I wish to avoid commenting on the fourth and the final argument as I do not have evidence to substantiate it. When an event like this happens it gives a space for all kinds of speculations. The third argument completely disregards the very idea of resistance. Resistance needs not to be result-oriented; it is an unleashing of a process against injustice. Of course, Minister Weerawansa’s fast did not produce many results, but it has demonstrated that some section of the Sri Lankan society is ready to resist actions even if they come from powerful international players.
Results in the case of resistance are just a possibility even if they go unnoticed to the people who are engaged in the resistance. Alain Badiou has made the following on enemy propaganda against resistance. "The goal of all enemy propaganda is not to annihilate an existing force, but rather to annihilate an unnoticed possibility of the situation. This possibility is also unnoticed by those who conduct this propaganda, since its features are to be simultaneously immanent to the situation and not to appear in it."
My main focus is on the first two criticisms. The first argument is that the resistance through this sort of actions would offend the so-called international community The term, ‘international community’ is of course a misnomer and it refers only to the Western capitalist powers. They were unhappy not about the way in which the war was conducted in Sri Lanka but about the fact that the Sri Lankan Government under President Mahinda Rajapaksa refused to follow the advice of the so-called international community as to how the government should deal with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Eric Solheim and David Miliband played a key role in campaigning against the Sri Lankan government’s military option against the LTTE. It was no secret that the US and the UK, behind the scene, had influenced the IMF decision on the Sri Lankan request for financial assistance of $ 1. 9 billion.
The loan was finally granted because of the intervention of and pressure from India. The UN intervention has to be viewed not as an isolated event by an international body, but as another attempt by the Western imperialist powers to use the UN against Sri Lanka for its noncompliance with Western advice on the issue of military action against the LTTE. Some even tend to argue that in the current global context a country like Sri Lanka should not attempt to maintain its sovereignty as it would adversely affect the country economically. As Noam Chomsky has shown, "in the contemporary world of state-capitalist nations, loss of sovereignty can lead to a diminution of democracy, a decline in the ability of states to conduct social and economic policy on their own terms." He says, "History shows that, more often than not, loss of sovereignty leads to liberalization imposed in the interests of the powerful."
The second argument refers to the notion of civility. These commentators accept and respect the right to resist, but they claim that it should be done in a civilised manner. If I remember correct, it was Tennessee Williams who once argued that there was no qualitative difference between so-called civilised behaviour and ‘uncivilised behaviour’. The notion of civility is invariably flagged when the lower segments of society decide to resist the totally undemocratic, dubious actions of the upper echelons of society. As Robespierre aptly put it during the French Revolution, there are people who want revolution ‘without a revolution’.
The strength as well as weakness of Minister Weerawansa’s resistance stems from his politics i.e. unconditional and extreme form of nationalism. On the other hand his critics seem to share the view that current world system fosters democracy, freedom and economic well-being of people. Hence, his critics believe that the world system is not dominated by any nation-state or group of nation-states. This idea is not confined to the right wing liberals, but it also shared by some left wing intellectuals. The theoretical argument for the leftists who tend to think in this way was provided by Hardt and Negri in their two companion volumes, Empire and Multitude.
As I intend to write a separate note on Hardy and Negri thesis in a forthcoming article, suffice it to note here this euro-centrist version totally neglects the dominance of finance capital in the world economy and the hegemony of London and New York in the flow of financial capital. Of course, the capitalist system has invented new forms and techniques of governmentality since the end of cold war. International bodies like UN multilateral financial and economic agencies like the IMF, the World Bank and the international non-governmental organisations, operate wittingly or unwittingly following the logic of financial capital. It was in this context that Chomsky has argued that ‘loss of sovereignty can lead to a diminution of democracy’ and not to a promotion of democracy.
The problem with nationalism stems from not its opposition to this new forms and techniques of governmentality but its opposition to ethnic plurality, power-sharing and decentralising of governance. Resistance against international dominance should go hand in hand with resistance against the centralisation of power, over-securitization of the state and national homogenisation. That is the core of the difference between left politics and nationalist politics.