Sri Lanka: Ethnic problem after Trump

The crucially important point here is that there are powerful factors impelling a close Indo-US rapprochement. The populist surge in the US is part of a surge in several European countries, which should be seen in relation to the appeal of identity politics and neo-Fascism in a good part of the third world.

by Izeth Hussain

( February 11, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Soon after Trump’s triumph at the US Presidential elections, speculation began in Sri Lanka that the Government’s position could become easier at the Geneva UN Human Rights Council. It has been known that the US was the main mover behind the UNHRC Resolution of 2015 that has been causing so much turmoil in Sri Lanka. Trump has been emphatic both in his election campaign and thereafter about his America first policy: he would make the NATO allies pay up for the facilities provided by the US, the US would withdraw from unnecessary foreign entanglements, and so on. The important point is that none of the vital interests of the US are involved in the Tamil ethnic problem. Therefore an easing of US pressure at the UNHRC seems quite feasible, and the Government should obviously try to avail of opportunities that might arise as a consequence. However we should not be over-sanguine about what might be achieved thereby. US pressure could ease, but that could be replaced by pressure from others.

I will now make some observations on the significance of Trump’s triumph, which could spell changes of an epochal order. It has been widely noted, and indeed accepted without demur, that his triumph is the consequence of an upsurge of populism in the US. It has also been widely noted that populism represents an important strand in American politics. I wrote earlier about Robert Pen Warren’s best novel All the King’s Men based on the populist Governor Huey Long, which led to two Hollywood films, and I wrote also about Thurber’s satirical story based on the aviator Charles Lindberg who was notoriously an admirer of the Nazis. I now find that Philip Roth, one of the best-known contemporary American novelists, published in 2004 The Plot against America in which he depicted an alternative history: Lindberg takes power in 1940, comes to terms with Hitler, and institutes an anti-Semitic program. So, populism is something that is deeply ingrained in the American political psyche. All the same, liberal democracy is far more deeply ingrained and can be expected to reassert its predominance after some time, though it will have to undergo some transformations if it is to prevail as the wave of the future in the US and elsewhere.

The other significance of Trump’s triumph is that it shows – clearly enough to my mind – the demise of American imperialism, which seems to have escaped popular notice unlike the factor of populism. Though hardly noticed, it is certainly change of an epochal order. It is that because the US has had dominant power over the globe since 1945. In fact it has been the predominant power in the world since 1919 because of its economic power. Trump’s America first policy signifies a desire for withdrawal from an excessive involvement with the affairs of the rest of the world, from imperialist over-reach, a desire for isolationism which is also an important part of American political tradition as shown by American semi-isolationism from 1919 to 1941. There are two major reasons for the demise of American imperialism. The US simply does not have the economic resources to impose its dominance on other countries on a wide scale. In 1965 the CIA started a program to engineer coups and install military dictatorships in several African countries, and the first act of the dictators after assuming power was to ask the Chinese Embassies to fold up and get out. Today the Chinese cannot be treated in that way because those African countries have to depend on Chinese investments which cannot be matched by the US. That situation is replicated in Sri Lanka where our only way of escaping pauperdom – the result of the last Government’s folly – is to change Chinese loans into equity. The Americans and the Indians can only watch. The other major reason for the demise of American imperialism is that for complex factors the peoples of the third world are more resistant to imperialism than ever before. I saw President Marcos and the fair Imelda behave like servants to the American Ambassador. Today that is unthinkable with President Duterte. I must add that as for US military power, the truth is that the Americans can destroy the world but they cannot dominate it. This single paragraph will have to suffice in this brief article to bring out the essential facts about American imperialism today. The interested reader can turn to books on that subject by Chalmers Johnson, Noam Chomsky, George Soros etc., and above all Emmanuel Todd’s 2004 classic After Empire.

What is the relevance of the two preceding paragraphs on the significance of Trump’s triumph to the subject of this article which is on the impact of that triumph on our ethnic problem? I have argued in earlier articles that our Tamil ethnic problem is not a purely indigenous problem but an Indo-Tamil one. If not for the possible fall out in Tamil Nadu of what is done to the Tamils here, Delhi will have no legitimate concern about it nor will the rest of the international community. If not for the Tamil Nadu factor, our Tamils will be just another defeated minority whose fate will not rouse international concern unless their human rights are violated on a horrendous scale. Consequently, the questioned that should be posed is this: What might be the impact of Trump’s triumph on Indo-US relations, more specifically in relation to the Tamil ethnic problem?

The crucially important point here is that there are powerful factors impelling a close Indo-US rapprochement. The populist surge in the US is part of a surge in several European countries, which should be seen in relation to the appeal of identity politics and neo-Fascism in a good part of the third world. It seems to me that the two most powerful ideological trends in the world today are liberal democracy and populism or neo-Fascism, though the latter is not properly understood nor even recognized. The two trends can co-exist in the same country, and probably do in most countries. In the US today we have a populist leader who has to function within a liberal democratic framework and that seems to be true also of India. Trump is indisputably Islamophobic and Prime Minister Modi stood accused of backing the Gujarat massacre of Muslims. There could be some measure of ideological common ground between the two leaders.

Far more important than the ideological factor however is the geopolitical one. Trump’s isolationism is really semi-isolationism because he is resolved on countering China, which for obvious reasons impels close Indo-US rapprochement. This geopolitical factor is so well known and so well understood that I will not say anything more about it here. Because of that factor there is reason to wonder whether the US will agree to ease the pressure on us at the UNHRC. Certainly Trump has deplored US insistence on the observance of human rights abroad when its own record stinks to high heaven. That could dictate an easing of the pressure at Geneva but we cannot be sure. I believe that it all depends on India, which can easily get other Western countries to lead the exercise of exerting pressure on us, if that becomes necessary.

What should we do? The Government most injudiciously went to the extent of co-sponsoring the 2015 UNHRC Resolution. The Pathfinder Foundation has made out an excellent case in the Island of February 8 for asking for a revision of the 2015 Resolution. For this purpose the country that has to be persuaded is India, far more than the US or any other. I have my ideas on the case that should be advanced by us but that will require a separate article. I will conclude this one by pointing to a recent development that should make us think. India’s Supreme Court ruled against the Dravidian practice of taming the bull on the ground that it involved cruelty to animals. That provoked huge defiant demonstrations in the Dravidian South, at some of which there were posters portraying Prabhakaran. The moral that I draw is that we should not allow the ethnic imbroglio to be protracted indefinitely.



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