The Curse Of The Hero
“The returning hero risks carrying the seed of violence into the very heart of his city”.
René Girard (Violence and the Sacred)
By Tisaranee Gunasekara
Heroes are like double-edged swords. Sane nations use them, with caution, and send them into honourable retirement once their deeds are done. The nation, which is seduced by the hero into giving him an endless carte blanche, places its present and its future in jeopardy.
Vellupillai Pirapaharan was a hero to millions of Tamils, as the man who restored to a bowed and beaten people a sense of self-respect, after the horror of Black July. All too many Tamils became so psychologically imprisoned in that memory of redemption that even after Mr. Pirapaharan graduated into full-fledged barbarism they continued to support/excuse him. Their consciences were quietened and their tongues were silenced by the Tiger Supremo’s undoubted military prowess which generated the hope that he will (somehow, someday) deliver the promised-land of Eelam. Enamoured of an illusion, snared by a dream they ignored the many omens bespeaking the monster.
The notion of what constitutes heroism depends on place, time and circumstances. As Victor Klemperer pointed out, “If someone replaces the words ‘heroic’ and ‘virtuous’ with ‘fanatical’ for long enough, he will come to believe that a fanatic really is a virtuous hero and that no one can be a hero without fanaticism” (The Language of the Third Reich).
The marriage of heroism and fanaticism to the point that one morphs into the other is not an exclusively Nazi phenomenon. It happened to the Tamils, under Tiger rule.
It can happen to us under Rajapaksa rule, as the omens warn.
Angered at losing several cricket matches to India, some Lankan spectators ensconced in the Minister’s Box reportedly threw things and mouthed obscenities at Indian supporters. Since not everyone would have entrée to the Minister’s Box, the obvious assumption is that the perpetrators of these ugly deeds were people with political connections. The fact that they were able to insult the supporters of the visiting team with total impunity establishes this point beyond doubt. When Indian fans in the President’s Box sought help “no Sri Lankan from the President’s box moved. An Army officer… moved away when he was requested to intervene… Police personnel, whose help was requisitioned, merely vanished from the scene… Similar incidents were witnessed at R. Premadasa… after the fourth ODI, where India wrapped up the series, Indian supporters faced the wrath of the Sri Lankan fans” (The Hindu – 8.8.2012).
Unruly sports-fans are hardly news; but unruly sports-fans enjoying political patronage and impunity are hot-news; they are also a worrying sign that Sinhala-fanaticism is becoming enthroned at the very heart of the state.
On August 6th a mob reportedly snatched an ancient statue of God Pillaiyar from the Sithi Vinayagar kovil in Panama, in broad daylight, and took it to the Buddhist temple in Panama. The mob comprised “thugs, homeguards and members of the armed forces in civil attire. The entire operation was masterminded and commanded by a Buddhist Priest” (dbsjeyaraj.com).
Sinhala-Buddhist fanatics are even more plentiful than unruly sports-fans; what renders political gravitas to the Panama incident is the reported involvement of servicemen and homeguards in it.
Politically protected Sinhala-fanatics invading the sports arena; armed forces joining Buddhist-fanatics against Hindus in the fragile East: they indicate a nation that is not only losing its bearings but also its sanity. And a leadership consciously using racial and religious fanaticism to ensure the success of its dynastic project.
Fanaticism as Cloak and Dagger
The Rajapaksas won the war. This is their only solid achievement. Their record in every other realm is abysmal. Just last week, the newly built Norochcholai power-plant broke-down, again; and two serious errors in the 2012 AL papers were discovered. Of course, neither of the subject-ministers (both virtuosos in verbosity) resigned. Malaises are so ubiquitous under Rajapaksa Rule, if ministers started resigning whenever colossal errors were discovered in their areas of responsibility, the obese Rajapaksa cabinet will become as thin as a reed.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa lectures to the world about Lankan successes in resettlement. According to the extremely anti-Tiger V Anandasangaree, “The resettled IDPs are virtually starving. They were given dry provisions for six months only and some money. With limited scope for employment, there is hunger and famine prevailing in the Vanni District… (The Island – 23.7.2012). Under Rajapaksa Rule, everything is a smoke-and-mirrors show, sans substance. The National Olympic Committee reportedly bought tickets worth Rs. 7 million for London 2012, and sent our entrants without a single coach! The sports sector received a massive allocation of Rs. 1,923million in 2011, not to develop Lankan sports but to hold as many international sports extravaganzas as possible (ideally in Hambantota) for the greater glory of the Rajapaksas.
So as disaster follows debacle, the Rajapaksas will have no choice but to cling to their heroic status, as the sole raison d’être for their rule. But ‘heroes’ need ‘enemies’ and ‘threats’ to remain relevant. Thus the rationale for the Rajapaksa-narrative, which interprets nation-building as a ceaseless struggle between the majority and the minorities (plus their foreign backers). If the Sinhala South can be flattered into thinking that they are overlords of Sri Lanka and frightened into believing that every minority (including Sinhala-Christians) is an enemy-alien trying to undermine this Mahawamsa-mandated dominance, the Rajapaksas would be able to rule supreme, despite economic calamities and administrative unravelling.
The Tamils allowed Vellupillai Pirapaharan to delude and denude them. From sports-personalities who worship politicians to artists who debase their talent to curry favour with rulers, we are contributing lavishly for our own debasement. According to an article by ‘A concerned music lover’ in Groundviews, the Chief Guest at the annual Sri Lanka Festival of Music, Dance and Speech organised by the International Institute of Music, Speech and Drama was neophyte-parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa. Why should an independent institution degrade itself by honouring as its chief guest a cub-politico whose sole achievement is his birth? Are we not hastening our downfall by opting to conduct ourselves not as citizens but as subjects?
Vellupillai Pirapaharan created the LTTE and nurtured it. In the end, he sacrificed it on the Alter of his unquenchable megalomania, because the only Eelam he wanted was an Eelam in total thrall to him. His unwillingness to depart even an inch from this fanatical vision resulted in the imposition of an unending war not only on the Lankan state, but also on the Tamils.
When a creator turns destroyer, he imposes a tragedy of Wagnerian proportions on the nation he was supposed to lead and the people he was supposed to protect. Though Mr. Pirapaharan’s commitment to his nation was total, his vision of what that nation should be damaged the Tamils far more than the ‘Sinhala enemy’ ever did. The Tamils, by ignoring the warning signs, contributed lavishly to their own downfall.
The Rajapaksas saved Sri Lanka from the Tiger threat; but their megalomania is driving the country and the people down the low road towards an economic, administrative, societal and moral abyss.
Will we heed the omens?
Or lost in a racist fantasy, will we follow the heroes, sleepwalker-like, to debasement and devastation?