Wednesday, July 23, 2008

some thoughts on remembering and writing about black july

it is right that we remember and never forget what happened on july 1983.

other bloggers have written about this yesterday and today. mostly in the form of personal recollections but with some reflections, more or less, on broader concerns (i have written about my personal experiences of 83 somewhere else sometime ago, i may write more fully again in the future).

however i have several moral concerns about how we write about it and our motives. because i believe that most of the writers had the best motives, i am not accusing anyone, but i will point out what i consider wrong and should be avoided when writing and reflecting about 83. readers and writers can read the articles and posts concerned and others of similar ilk, and judge for themselves. (all these judgments of mine are of course, as with all moral judgments, completely subjective. while i consider them wrong that does not mean i am urging bans on people who express them, rather i am pointing out why i find them morally unacceptable)

when we write about july '83 (or anything else for that matter),

we should not indulge in generalizations, such as, "sinhalese" did that or "tamils" this etc etc. people who do that are racists and only marginally different from racist rioters who attacked innocents. if we accuse, we should be specific; either naming people and/or their specific actions. for instance it is wrong and racist to accuse "sinhalese" in general, for '83.

we should not exaggerate, either to increase the emotional impact of suffering or to ... boast ( i think that is the right word, tough i gave it some thought before using it ) about "good deeds". it is completely ok to describe suffering, and write about people acting with common humanity and helping others. but please do not exaggerate. exaggerations unless done by a great creative artist, are not hard to detect.

do not speculate about "lessons for people" and other such nebulous stuff.
major point brought up when people reflect on '83 is about what majority of people "learn" (or did not learn ) by it. such questions are by nature unfocused, superficial, and unanswerable, and do not contribute to rational discussion. writers who ask this then generally tend to go on a tangent and indulge in unfounded speculations. "people" is a big word ,do not speculate about people's knowledge or actions because they are by definition unknowable. instead give your opinion after clearly indicating it as such. in doing so stick to facts if you can, and in this case observe what happened when similar preconditions for july 83 prevailed later.

finally do not commit the major error of believing and implying in those writings, that ltte terrorism resulted from july '83 or that it was a major contributing factor in intensification of that terrorism.

that is false causality.

atrocities of ltte do not necessarily flow ( as some believe) from grievances of its members even if some of them have suffered grievously during 83. (imo what happened was that some criminals without any moral base used 83 as excuse to join ltte and ltte used 83 as a propaganda justification for its crimes).

to believe such a lie is a grave injustice to all those who have suffered and did not take out their anger on innocents. do people take out their fury on others unjustly? yes (this is not limited to ltte cadres) .but they are doing so by their own free will and as such are criminals no matter what they suffered. (to put it in another way, poverty is no excuse for theft.).

people choose to kill and commit other crimes. imo we are human beings because we have free will. (if you do not believe in free will and think human beings to be automations reacting blindly to events, you should ask yourself why you are writing about july '83 on the first place, beacuse by such reasoning everything, including riots, were inevitable).

killings of 13 soldiers by ltte is not an acceptable excuse for rioting. killings of innocents and other crimes on july '83 by rioters is not an excuse for joining ltte.

individuals who commit crimes (either rioting , joining ltte, or stealing, etc) giving some grievances or other ( real or fake ) as an excuse, would have committed those crime or something similar anyway; by choosing to commit crimes they betray their lack of a moral base for making such decisions, nothing more.

additionally some people have reflected about indifference (or not) of majority of people in '83. that too is a generalization, but if applied to specific individuals it is a valid question.

in this regard it is more relevant to ask such questions about the present. we should all ask from ourselves as individuals what we are doing, now,about the existence of criminal ltte (which is incompatible with principles of human rights, justice, peace, and democracy, as the existence of criminal rioters on the streets was). are we willing to appease ltte and sacrifice fellow sri lankans to ltte terrorist pussies' mercy, and be indifferent to their suffering to get a (unsustainable) "peace", that does not respect human rights, justice, peace, and democracy? what makes that diffrent from being indifferent in 83 ?

ngo peacenik criminals, that is people like paikiasothy saravanamuttu, jehan perera, jayadeva uyangoda, sunila abeysekera, sunanda deshapriya, sunila abeysekera, nimalka fernando, rohan edirisinha, jeevan thiagarajaha, and their ilk (and their underlings like sanjana hattotuwa), some of the most vocal commemorators of '83 have indicated by their actions that they willing to be "indifferent" to others' suffering in order to appease ltte, as some politicians in 83 government were indifferent to sufferings of victims to appease the rioters. once again peacenik prove themselves to be professional hypocrites.

anyway are you indifferent now?


SL1st said...

Was glad to read your blog, because I am tired of people preaching bana about Black July.

TheWhacksteR said...

Good post, you raised some valid points. yet you brand the ltte 'pussies' and NGO peacenik 'criminals'. im just curious and voicing my thoughts mind, but that kind of ending does not ring quite in tandem with your very respectable moral sentiments (expressed in points 1 to 4)

Naleendra said...

I was unfortunate enough to witness Black July. So this is based on firsthand experience.

1. Riots were NOT purely a reaction to the killing of 13 soldiers. That might be the immediate reason, but anti-Tamil feelings were prominent within Sinhalese society for sometime. (nurtured by the government and Sinhalese racists)

2. The first incidents happen in Panadura few weeks before July 24. In my opinion it was the 'spark'.

3. Riots on July 24 night (Esala poya day) started from Borella obviously by a small group. (this group is unknown. I do not deny the possibility that it was headed by a minister)

4. Riots happened only on pockets (mainly Borella) on July 24 night and 25 morning. They did not look like organised. (First point of control)

5. By about midday 12 noon organised mass scale looting started. Anti-Tamil expressions were always there, but obviously the key objective was not racial. To be fair, govt could control this too to a certain extent by night. (Second point of control)

6. Virtually nothing happened on July 26, Tuesday. Things were under control. People were glued to TVs or radios. (Third point of control)

7. The biggest damage to property was done on the "Koti Wednesday" (July 27) in the second wave of looting. In my opinion the rumours were purely an excuse to loot the abandoned Tamil houses. (Most of the Tamils were at camps then)

8. Many middle class Sinhalese saved the lives of the Tamils, but that was because their class feelings were stronger than racial feelings.

Whether Sinhalese can be blamed as a race for the riots is subjective. It was certainly not a centrally organisaed crime. However, if the Sinhalese as a society acted a bit more responsible – not during the riots, but before it - the damage could have been minimised.

Sinhalese leaders including Madihe Pannasiha acted too irresponsibly. Not a single Sinhala nationalist leader made a clear public plea to stop riots. Hardly anyone tried damage control.

If anybody seriously wanted control, it would have been possible at any of the three points I have shown. Nobody (including government) gave a darn. Silence of the majority of Sinhalese was exploited as an excuse to continue pogrom.

Anonymous said...

Naleendra, you seem to have missed the entire point of the post.

To add, almost all your points seem highly subjective, and the tilted opinion you try to project is not subtle in the least.

Naleendra said...


Nobody has done a planned research on July 1983 events. Everybody talks either their experience or what they have heard from others.

I admit the subjectivity in my point, but that is the most one can do. I try to keep that as minimum as possible. If anyone has better information, I am ready to listen.

I know the writer's political biases (in spite of claiming to be a 'libertarian') and I know the point he tries to make. I made my comment to address that point.

If you find something wrong with that you are free to point out with examples and evidence, instead making generasised statements.

Ashan said...

I agree with everything you said, but i am sure the people who work in NGOs can find a more comfortable job than being at the butt end of the Government, and that too in a society where journalists disappear by the day, if they were in it for the money.
Many suggest that people in NGOs are better off than many others. That is of course true. But most responsible NGOs employ people with a certain list of qualifications, experience and perspective, which would be well, and more than equally rewarded in the commercial world.

I know a couple of friends of mine who head NGOs who have no intention of taking over the Sri Lanka for the LTTE, but are anxious to do their bit for a more righteous country, and this is the only reason they have these cushy jobs (one of them so cushy that he lives in a little room down a run down lane while his position is associate director, a guy who can easily head any top corporate in the country)

It is the fact that they stand up, that makes people believe they have a hidden agenda, a reward as such, and i guess they do; it is the reward of contributing significantly to democracy: to be a libertarian, in the way they too know best.

By the way, as someone who has been in a morgue, and told a mother about her daughter who just got killed, and having to answer her (please refer the General Hospital post on my blog), I personally don't think war is worth anything. but who am I to say that.

Btw libertarian, you are right, there are sinhalese, tamils, and racists. I am half sinahlese, half tamil (my mom is) so i have no room to be racist, in case you think I am Tamil and a terrorist sympathizer. Peace. (at any cost:))