12 June 1999
What is the point of all this?
A visitor to the tamilnation website,
Pratap wrote : "What is the point of all this! After constant wars and carnage
based upon racial divisions have created our nightmarish history, a relatively peaceful
world has come about. Why try to promote tribalistic divisions for race-based web sites? I
can understand a place for a scientific, anthropological examination of a culture, but
'Tamil Nation' reminds me of names like 'Aryan Nation' (one of the names used by the
neo-Nazi movement). Perhaps you should make an effort to make your website more scientific
rather than nationalistic. Some of the 'articles' I read sound like emotional
It is true that two world wars have contributed to our 'nightmarish history'. At
the same time, it is also true that more bombs were dropped on Vietnam than during the
entirety of the war against Germany. Jean Paul
Sartre's statement at the International War Crimes Tribunal in
1967 reflected the reality of the so called 'relatively peaceful world' that
had 'come about'.
"Therefore, the Vietnamese are fighting for all men ....Not just in
theory or in the abstract. And not only because genocide is a crime
universally condemned by the rights of man. But because, little by little, this
genocidal blackmail is spreading to all humanity, adding to the blackmail of atomic
war. This crime is perpetrated under our eyes every day, making accomplices
out of those who do not denounce it. (Jean Paul Sartre's Statement 'On Genocide' at the Second Session of the Bertrand
Russell International War Crimes Tribunal on Vietnam, 1967)
The continuing genocide of the Tamil people
by the Sri Lanka armed forces is a modern day example of the 'relatively peaceful
world' that 'has come about'. Again, the Gulf War and the present conflict in Kosovo show that though we may all yearn for
a peaceful world, undivided by considerations of language, race and nationality, we seem
to be no closer to it. How then do we move towards the ideal that we long for? Many
years ago, Aurobindo wrote:
"Man's highest aspiration - his seeking for perfection, his longing for freedom
and mastery, his search after pure truth and unmixed delight - is in flagrant
contradiction with his present existence and normal experience. Such contradiction is part
of Nature's general method; it is a sign that she is working towards a greater harmony.
The reconciliation is achieved by an evolutionary progress."
We live in a world which is quick to promote the free movement of goods, money and
information but criminalises the free movement of humans
across state boundaries. The nation state, backed by the power that flows from the
barrel of a gun (and the nuclear bomb) remains
the central pillar of the world order. The remarks of Jeremy Seabrook, bear repetition:
"Globalisation permits money and goods to move around the world
unimpeded, yet criminalises the other indispensable element of production, labour, when it
seeks to move to where it can command a decent livelihood. ...The story of labour holds
sober lessons. It shows that it is not only as workers that people need emancipation from
the totalising dogmas of neo-liberalism, but as consumers too, as
complete human beings. There is a new urgency to the need to formulate a richer form of liberation than that envisaged by the
revolutionaries and pioneers of labour... (Jeremy Seabrook in the New Internationalist,
Those who preach 'internationalism' to the Tamil people are rarely prepared to give up
their own national identity. It is true that a time will come when the separate national
identities of the peoples of the world will be transcended by a greater unity. But it will
be romantic to imagine that we have reached that stage today. To those who advocate
internationalism for others, whilst holding fast to their own nation, the words of Sun Yat
Sen, written more than 70 years ago, serve as a continuing reminder of today's political
reality - and the ever present need to match words and deeds:
"At present, England and France are advocating a new idea which is
proposed by the intellectuals. What is that idea? It is an anti nationalist idea which
argues that nationalism is narrow and illiberal; it is simply an idea of cosmopolitanism..
Cosmopolitanism will cause further decadence if we leave the reality, nationalism, for the
shadow, cosmopolitanism.... First let us practise nationalism; cosmopolitanism will
follow." (The Triple Demism of Sun Yat Sen, 1924)
We cannot live in a world which has not yet arrived - though we can certainly work
towards it. To work for the flowering of the Tamil nation is to bring forward the
emergence of a true transnationalism. A true transnationalism will come only from
nationalisms that have flowered and matured - it will not come by the suppression of one
nation by another.
It is true that the growth of nationalism will
eventually lead to a voluntary pooling of sovereignties, in a regional, and ultimately
in a world context - but the crucial element must remain the voluntariness of the
'Tamil Nation' may remind some of names such as 'Aryan Nation'. But, unlike the
neo-Nazi movement, the Tamil people lay no claim to be better than any other people. They
simply say that they are as good as any other people. They do not seek to rule others -
they seek to rule themselves.
"Nationalism is first and foremost a state of mind, an act
of consciousness .. the mental life of man is as much dominated by an ego-consciousness as
it is by a group consciousness. Both are complex states of mind at which we arrive through
experiences of differentiation and opposition, of the ego and the surrounding world, of
the we group and those outside the group .
It is a fact often commented upon that this growth of nationalism
and of national sectionalisms happened at the very same time when international relations,
trade, and communications were developing as never before; that local languages were
raised to the dignity of literary and cultural languages just at the time when it seemed
most desirable to efface all differences of language by the spread of world languages.
This view overlooks the fact that that very growth of nationalism all over the earth,
with its awakening of the masses to participation in political and cultural life, prepared
the way for the closer cultural contacts of all the civilisations of mankind, at the same
time separating and uniting them." (Hans Kohn: The Idea of
Nationalism , A Study of its Origins and Background. New York. 1944)
The effort to acquaint the world of the important contributions of Tamil culture, is
not the expression of an exaggerated nationalism. Tamil culture is a culture of great
antiquity and it has made, and will continue to make, a rich
contribution to world civilisation. At the same time, admittedly, Tamils have gained,
and continue to gain, by their interaction with other peoples and other cultures -
particularly those of the Indian sub continent. No people are an island unto themselves.
The Tamil people are not chauvinists.
The question that nationalism poses is not so much a
question about 'division' but about 'association' - about the need for structures
where different peoples speaking different languages, tracing their roots to different
origins, and living in relatively well defined and separate geographical areas, may
associate with each other in equality and in freedom.
The struggle of the Tamil nation is
not unique. The comments of Bernard Q.
Nietschmann help to point the direction of the future:
"It is sometimes said that to accord international
recognition to these separate national formations will lead to instability in the world
order. The argument is not dissimilar to that which was urged a hundred years ago against
granting universal franchise. It was said that to empower every citizen with a vote was to
threaten the stability of existing state structures and the ruling establishment. But the
truth was that it was the refusal to grant universal franchise which threatened stability
... Self determination is not a de stabilising concept. Self
determination and democracy go hand in hand. If democracy means the rule of the
people, by the people, for the people, then the principle of self determination secures
that no one people may rule another - and herein lies its enduring appeal." (The Fourth World: Nations without a State)
"Increasingly, the Fourth World is emerging as a
new force in international politics because in the common defence of their nations, many
indigenous peoples do not accept being mere subjects of international law and state
sovereignty and trusteeship bureaucracies. Instead, they are organising and exerting their
own participation and policies as sovereign peoples and nations."
What is a nation? A
nation is not a 'race' - though it is rooted in kinship. Neither is a nation a 'tribe'
leading a nomadic existence, without a homeland. Nor is a nation simply a cultural
togetherness, an ethnic group. In the end, it is political freedom, which secures cultural
integrity. A nation is a political togetherness consolidated by struggle and suffering, and directed to secure the aspirations
of a people for equality and freedom - and to secure the institutions necessary for that
purpose. A nation is a deep and horizontal togetherness which cuts across the vertical
divisions which exist amongst a people.
Tamils have no cause, to be apologetic about their togetherness as a people. History
and politics cannot be made without passion. We are not desiccated calculating machines. We are not creatures of the mind alone. We have heart as well.
A 'scientific anthropological examination of a culture' is not an end in itself and the
words of Gramsci offer an useful caution:
'The error of the intellectual consists in believing that it is possible
to know without understanding and especially without feeling and passion.. that the
intellectual can be an intellectual if he is distinct and detached from the people-nation,
without feeling the elemental passions of the people, understanding them and thus
explaining them in a particular historical situation, connecting them dialectically to the
laws of history, to a superior conception of the world... History
and politics cannot be made without passion, without this
emotional bond between intellectuals and the people-nation. In the absence of such a bond
the relations between intellectuals and the people-nation are reduced to contacts of a
purely bureaucratic, formal kind; the intellectuals become a caste or a
priesthood...' (Gramsci, quoted in James Joll's
Gramsci, Fontana, 1977)
Yes, some of the articles at the tamilnation
website may well sound like emotional outpourings - because in fact they are. They are the
out pourings of a people who continue to suffer because they continue to assert
their democratic right to rule themselves. They are
the out pourings of a people who continue to resist a genocidal war being waged against them in their homeland.
They are the outpourings of a people
who have had their kith and kin, their udan pirapakul, tortured and raped and buried in mass graves, They are the outpourings of a people living
in many states but without a state of their own.
The question: 'what is the point of all this?' does not
admit to an easy answer. It is a question which many of
us ask (and perhaps, should ask) from time to time. Each one of us will need
to see the world as it is, and seek to do that which to each seems to bring a measure of
harmony and peace. We ourselves subscribe to the post modern vision that -
".... we are not simply the products of our natural and social environments. We
are, to be sure, deeply constituted by our relations to these environments. But in each
moment, we create ourselves out of these relations in terms of our desires, purposes,
meanings, and values - in short our spirituality. Because of
this element of autonomy, individuals are not only shaped by their society; they can shape
it in return ".
Having said that, in the end, the words of Mahatma
Gandhi will, perhaps, help to put all our actions in context:
"Whatever you do will be
but it is very important that you do it." - Mahatma Gandhi