Ali Shariati was the ideologue of the Iranian Revolution. It was Shariati’s liberation theology- a rationalization of Marxism through the lenses of Islam that propelled Ayathollah Ruholla Khomeni’s take-over of power in 1979 overthrowing the Pahlavi dynasty. Shariati’s politics was anti- imperial and Marxist with a firm base in Islamic liberation theology, distinct from the theology ‘Islamism’ has since come to be known for.Since the overthrow of the Socialist Oriented Prime Minister Mohommed Mossadeq by a CIA-sponsored coup in 1953 and the re-imposition of the dynastic rule, Shariati was destined to have a following. His lectures and writings remained a part of the Iranian psyche until they were violently crushed.
For Shariati, the ‘Battle of Karbala’ led by the Grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Hussain, against the Umayyad Caliphate was the epitome of revolutionary battle. The Umayyads represented everything that was cruel, inhuman and dispossessing of the vulnerable lower classes. The battle by the fourth Caliph Ali and thereafter his son Hussain against this sycophancy whose leaders were also relatives of the Prophet, for Shariati, was the epitome of a ‘real revolution’- for and on behalf of the masses.
It was a classless and free society that Islam envisioned according to him, and to this end a synthesis between Marxism and Islam was inevitable. Where Marxism failed, Islamic theology could take over. Horr, the greatest fighter on the side of the Umayyad dynasties- defection to Hussains camp during the ‘Battle of Karbala’, was to Shariati, what Keppetipolas defection in the Uva-Wellassa uprising was to Sri Lankans.
Shariatis synthesis between Shia Islam as a politically liberating ideology and his view of a classless society- non-servile and progressive was so profound and liberating that Jean-Paul Satre said “I have no religion, but if I were to choose one, it would be that of Shariati’s.”
Although Khomeni remained the symbol of the struggle against the imperial dynasty, it was Shariati who provided the fodder. However, unbeknownst to Shariati and the intellectual class, who were fighting for social reform under an oppressive and servile system of governance, Khomeni had other plans. After assuming power he usurped and crushed everything that brought him and the revolution to the streets of Tehran. Shariatis ideology soon became only spoken of in secret. Khomeini made the legal age of marriage for a woman to be 9, and imposed the Hijab on what was a free and open society, much before the ‘West’ assumed that role. Dissenters were imprisoned and murdered. The main victims were the very same ones who were the catalysts of the revolution. This included Shariatis ideology.
Dr. Jayatilleka together with his intellectual class, which broadly include the likes of Prof. Nalin De Silva Prof. G. L Peiris, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe and by default former Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva are no different. They don’t have the traction or the widespread readings that Shariati and his like enjoyed, but nevertheless, they form an inherent component of the political intellectual class in the country.
In his recent essay to our sister newspaper, Dr. Jayatilleka tells the reader that- the Gotabaya he has come to know now is a different man. He puts forth the proposition of a Gotabaya Presidency and a Mahinda Rajapaksa Premiership. He also remains apologetic telling the reader that his previous critique of Gotabaya is “outdated and irrelevant”.
For the sake of brevity let us not get into semantics on the four reasons he gives to us prior to his ‘Presidency proposition’. Let us take the immediate sentence after. “Though I must admit that I hope Kumara Gunaratnam can make it and usher in a progressive and socially just Sri Lanka devoid of racism and religious chauvinism,” he writes. It does not take a political analyst to see the disconnect in political identification between these incompatible spectrums.
Gotabaya was taken off guard in a recent interview conducted under very casual circumstances. In it he admitted for the first time that it was under his orders that Gunarathnam was taken into “custody”. Abducted is the term that he seemed to have been alluding to. Gunarathnam and his comrade Dimuthu Artigala were abducted by a gang of unidentified assailants on the 6th of April 2012. Blindfolded and bundled in they were transported to a safe house at which they were questioned. The then Police media spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana was on record saying the duo were not in police custody and that the Police were not aware of their whereabouts. The Military said they were unaware too. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs went to delusional lengths in denying the government’s hand saying the duo had “staged” the abduction. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was on state television saying he had no knowledge about the duo or their whereabouts. After three days of what Gunarathnam and Artigala described as “torture and questioning” and intense pressure from the Australian government they were released on April 9, 2012. Gunarathnam was dumped in front of the Colombo Crimes Division headquarters in Dematagoda, while Artigala was blindfolded and dumped close to the Frontline Socialist Parties’ office. ‘Custody or arrest’ don’t seem the words with which any reasonable person could describe the events.
As has always been the case, such an admission was not to make headlines, for who is Gunarathnam except at best a“failed vandaliser” to the media and the liberal elite?The interview conducted by the non ‘mainstream’ website and its corresponding newspaper was thankfully video recorded. Gotabaya says that it was “Anura Kumara who gave me the picture of Gunarathnam” before going on to admit that it was because of that picture that the forces commanded by Gotabaya were able to abduct him. This is after continual denial by Gotabaya himself during the abduction saga,that the security forces had got anything to do with it. Now the counter has been that Gotabaya was right because there was no person by the name of Gunarathnam who Gotabaya and the security forces knew of. Childs play, yes. But let us give the former Secretary of Defence the benefit of that technicality. However such graciousness could not extend elsewhere. What of Dimuthu Artigala? The woman who was abducted along with Gunarathnam? There is no technicality to hide behind there, except ignorance and mass veneration, which hold Gotabaya above reason.
Why do Gunarathnam’s and Artigala’s abduction become pivotal one may ask in this current discourse? If not for Gotabaya’s admission, this could also be another ‘allegation’ and given the politics of the abducted duo, it wouldn’t have even been an issue warranting investigation. It still seems like it isn’t.
However, to the discerning of the readers it doesn’t take Dr. Jayatillekas acumen, or Shariati’s grounding in theology and sociology to make justified assumptions. What of Lalith and Kugan? What of Lasantha? What of Keith and what of the countless others abducted never to be found alive again? All of the crimes in which the forces under Gotabayas command are accused of having a hand in. We only have one admission and that is of the abduction of Gunarathnam and Artigala. Deductions are left for the discerning.This is the Gotabaya we are told is “a man who has matured to the point of being able to rescue and uplift his country if he is elected leader”. But for the sake of argument let us agree to Dr. Jayatillekas posit.
Selective amnaesia is a funny kind of diagnosis. Although not forgotten Dr. Jayatilleka tells us that it is time to forget his scathing critique of Gotabaya’s role in creating mass hysteria against the Tamils and Muslims. We are told that such critique is “outdated”. A trip to the North would be a grim reminder of the chauvinism, but such travel is too much to expect. The name boards in all train stations and most roads in the North have a language disparity. Sinhala is always at the top and in fact a few roads in Puthukudiirppu- the names are only in Sinhala. I wondered why this was, for again it doesn’t take the politically astute to tell us what symbolism means and how it works in the mindset of a society. We were to learn that Gotabayas chauvinism extended that far- that even a symbolic concession like putting the Tamil wording on top of the Sinhala wording, in areas which 95% of the population or over speak only in Tamil, was too much. But that’s for symbols.
Let us speak of actions instead. The Bodu Bala Sena led campaign which today, has festered and created a massive disconnect between the Muslim polity and the majority Sinhalese was the direct result of Gotabayas chauvinism. Gotabaya was the ideologue then. Dr. Jayatilleka tells us as much in his earlier writings although it would be interesting to see, if he stands by the same today. The mass hysteria which drove and continues to fuel hatred, which also resulted in the burning down of an entire town, and the deaths of at least 4 youth- the culprits of which are still enjoying the spoils of their loot, is not a part of his discourse today.
The moral hypocrisy extends. We are told “GR potentially is our Deng Xiao Peng, Putin or Raul Castro”. How he makes these comparisons are only known to him, but in this rather simplistic categorization, there also needs to include Trump, Geet Wilders and Nigel Farage among many others in that grouping. To draw parallels between Putins fascism and Raul Castros social policy goes beyond the comparison of “Chalk and Cheese” . But Dr. Jayatilleka is right. Although Gotabaya is no Deturete he certainly has the same tendencies of Erdogan and the many others that fall within the Erdogan -Trump spectrum. Dr. Jayatilleka is not unknown for these gymnastics.
For Dr. Jayatillekas and his band, the iron fist of Gotabaya is the panacea of all ills that is the UNP. They will be quick to remind us and list down the mess the UNP led ‘Yahapalanaya’ has created. Hardly could any rational human being disagree. The Yahapalanaya governance is a complete mess and is taking this country further down the same road the Rajapaksas intended, albeit in Colombo-7 cloaked gear. But that same rational human being expected and foretold this mess - the triumvirate were to create, even prior to January 8, 2015. The need of the country at the time however, was to take the country back from the clutches of fascism sprouted and spearheaded by Gotabaya himself. This included the Sinhala middle class, nationalists and the educated. The minorities sought the change enmasse. Only the naïve may have believed in the 100 days and the utopia that was created on stage.
It is this same fascism that is being sprouted out now. We are sold a narrative that the perfect replacement to the current predicament is the former. World over, from Le Penn to Wilders, from Farage to the AFD in Germany, from Hofer in Austria to Kaczynski in Poland and Hansen in Australia among many others- to Gotabaya are all speaking the same language. To the same economically deprived polity. The ‘ Dog Whistle’ is heard- some loudly and some subtly but the base remains the same. Nativist, regressive, and fascist. Gotabaya seems to know this more than any other.
Dr. Jayathilleka will do well to take out his pretence of being a “progressive”, whilst promoting a cloaked brand of chauvinist ideals. One is inherent, the other is acquired. I can’t be sure of which one is which. The world Gunarathnam stands for is a world of diversity, inclusivity, freedom and equality. The same world Shariati incidentally stood for. The world Gotabaya stands for is of nativism, tribalism, authoritarianism and supremacy. The ideologues to this realm are but anyones guess. The two ideologies aren’t mutually compatible. The battle lines have to be drawn on these clear,
contrasting and distinct ideological differences. For as Shariati reminds us so potently, “Ideology says:it must be thus, Philosophy and science says: thus it is”. It can’t be meandering in between.
The catalyst of this critique is not Gotabaya, or his policies. His positives and negatives are for discussion on another day. Instead it is this nonsensical identification and the disconnect in the justification that is at moot. The good Doctors parading of Trotsky in this chauvinist jaunt is heresy. However if for a moment we are to take the far lefts critique against Trotsky to be true- that he was in fact a turncoat pretending to be of Marxist zeal all the while parading the agenda of his western masters, we could draw parallels. It doesn’t take an Ali Shariati to draw them. The observant must, and call out these hypocrites for what they really are.