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September 15, 2010

Nations don’t die, they are murdered! (A response to Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka)

Nations do die, in fact they get murdered despite all the claims on the contrary. Only problem is that one needs to have a little understanding of both the social sciences and the society in its everyday life to see that happening. This is no mean task though, especially, for the academicians living in their ivory towers. It helps, also, if the ivory towers have been provided to them by the powers that may. No wonder then that such academicians keep coming up with justification for unjustifiable atrocities committed on people and institutions alike.

If not for this selective amnesia, all of the twentieth century has been an evidence for the birth and death of nations. After all, what is a nation if not an ‘imagined community’ in the words of Benedict Anderson. He calls it imagined because “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their community.” And yet, he asserts that this imagined community is no less real, and no less legitimate.

So what is that which makes such imagined communities real? It is the feeling of a shared history, a sense of solidarity and a sense of belonging to the same nation, with equal rights I would assert, that turns a people into a nation. Yet, the idea of the nation still remains in the domain of the abstract. The closest this idea gets in material physical senses is the constitution of the nation. Constitution becomes the embodiment of all that is shared, the past, the feelings of bondage, the beliefs and even the hopes.

The constitution, in that, does not remain just another book. It turns into the soul of the nation, achieving something miraculous in the process. Having a constitution marks a fascinating journey of the nation, from the abstraction to real, from being just a belief to a material reality inhabiting the physical world. It is thus a journey back into the realm of abstraction while making it real as well.

It goes without saying that the constitution can exist only in democracies. Autocracies and dictatorships, of any types, do not need to derive their legitimacy from a book, however sacrosanct. They operate out of force, sheer brutal force and impose themselves upon the people inhabiting the area of their operation. These autocracies, for the same reason, do never become nations. They remain stuck in times gone by, remaining the monarchic aberrations in today’s world.

An attack on the constitution, precisely for this reason is an attack on the nation itself. Killing a constitution, as an extension of that, is killing a nation. It is killing that democratic contract which people had made in order to emerge as a nation. It is a usurpation of the sovereignty of the people by an individual or a collective of undemocratic bunch. It does not require being a political scientist to understand this simple fact that a nation comes out of all individuals democratically surrendering their sovereignty to a universal sovereign through a social contract. Needless to say is that this happens through a social contract achieved through democratic means.

Democracy, thus, emerges as the soul of the constitution and anything that compromises democracy compromised the nation. The 18th amendment to the constitution of Sri Lanka does not merely compromises this but in fact kills that democracy. It is an attempt to usurp all powers and consolidate that into the person of one man. This is why it kills democracy and the nation in the process.

A changed constitution does not merely mean a changed book. It means much more than that. It means a new system which does not remain the same as old.

And yet, it does not mean that we can let the nation die just like that. The whole nation needs to resist this. And the resistance is, as Edward Said had put it, a struggle of memory against forgetting. After all, no autocrats can erase a people. They need them for cheap labour. They need them to toil. And for that, they need to keep them alive. And a living people cannot accept anything just like that. They recreate all those they have lost in their memories. They commit the killed nation to their dreams. Then, as they say it, dreams keep the hopes of a resurrection alive, forever.

Published in The Island,Leading English newspaper of SriLanka. Can be accessed at
http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=6916


First published by the Asian Human Rights Commission.

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