Jun 4, 2018

Fasting & A Farcical Feast



By Sarath de Alwis –    
Sarath De Alwis
In his ‘Theses on Feuerbach’ in 1845 Karl Marx wrote on the question of objective truth. 
“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the this-worldliness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.”
Gotabaya Rajapaksa may or may not have read Karl Marx. But he is certainly proving that Marx is right about power and the reality of power.
He is in a quest for power. The people in general have a pretty good idea of how he would use power, if he gets it and when he gets it.  
The Muslims gathered for an Iftar event at Beruwela, last week, encountered firsthand, what Karl Marx meant in stressing that Man must prove the truth- the worldliness of his thinking and practice – relating power to reality.  
The Beruwela event demonstrates that Gotabaya Rajapaksa is not only as clever as the devil but is   twice as pretty.
Just as he reached out to the merchant princes at the Shangri-La, he has now made a convincing overture to the Muslim middle class. The intent was to repair and restore his ties with the Muslim community, disastrously ruptured by his early open and later clandestine support for extreme groups such as BBS and Ravana Battalion. 
The immediate goal was to allay any lingering Muslim apprehensions over his presidential bid. Beruwela was a masterpiece of political icebreaking. 
If progress is getting nearer to the place you wish to be in, we must be unidealistic and hardheaded enough to concede that he is making progress.  Knowing why he makes progress this fast and at this speed early enough may help us avert the catastrophe of a Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency. It looks as if his best allies are in the current government.     
A video recording of Presidential aspirant Gotabaya Rajapaksa ushered to a grand ‘Iftar’ function at Beruwela has gone viral. Pundits who poo poohed his candidacy on the premise of his ill-favoured repute among Muslims are thunderstruck and stupefied.  
The sight of a saintly Gotabaya daintily keeping step with white robed Mullahs chanting panegyric poems in praise of the prophet was enough for the eyeballs of his detractors to pop out of their crevices. The pundits who poo poohed a Gotabaya candidacy on the premise of his alienation from Muslims are still busy adjusting their dumbstruck eyeballs.    
The Beruwela occasion has sent an unambiguous, perspicuous message to both Prime Minster Wickremesingha and President Sirisena. Their parade is pattering to its presaged expiry. The Muslim minority is not to be taken for granted.   
How did he manage the feat? The élan with which he pulled off the electrifying encounter attests to the man’s managerial nimbleness. 
Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the ultimate repository and authority on conceptual power. He is the kind of man about whom Antonio Gramsci wrote profusely while incarcerated by Benito Mussolini. He is the master of the art of manufacturing coerced consent.
More than a billion Muslims of the world observe the blessed month of Ramadan. It is the month when the Koran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. During daylight hours, it’s a month of fasting, no food and even water. It is a process of purification and the month devoted to reflection both spiritual and materiel. After sunset the fast is broken.
This writer asked an eminent Muslim academic and an Islamic scholar to explain the meaning of Iftar. Is it a custom or a ritual? 
He responded “Iftar is neither a ritual nor a custom. You break the fast in the evening preferably with a couple of dates and porridge. Iftar is no more than an Arabic name for breaking fast.” 
Today, Iftar has become a high profile social event for the Muslim middle class. This is not a study of the evolution of Muslim Middle class social behaviour.  This is an attempt to understand how this present government  in the short span of three years has admirably succeeded in alienating a core components of the coalition that made 8th January 2015 change possible. 
 Beruwela -is a place of ineradicable remembrances with excruciating echoes. To the hosts, they remain gut wrenching recalls. Their honoured guest made no direct reference to the traumatic past. He exuded the bonhomie of a baron Munchausen.  
‘Muslims were grossly misled during their government. Many elements connived in creating distrust and doubt between Muslims and the Rajapaksas. Now they know better. Muslims have now realized that the rumours spread in the past were absolutely false. Muslims could live in peace and harmony under a future Rajapaksa led government. ‘ 
So, it is the Muslims who have been misled. The Muslims have been the victims of mischief makers who wished to drive a wedge between them and Rajapsakse led government. 
There is no expression of remorse. Only a matter of making the record clear and erasing misconceptions. The Muslim middleclass will buy his proposition because it is proposition they cannot refuse.  
In a velvet voice, he narrated his story. It was clever and imaginative. That it defied logic and commonsense is not relevant. The audience was ready to listen to his story. 
In human history story telling has always been a profound tool that allowed both the narrator and the listener to capture and live in illusions. The affair was arranged by a Muslim politician in the ‘Pohottuwa party. While the organizer had his own agenda, the participants were certainly in a mood for adjustments and reconciliation.
The Rajapaksa regime was always committed to the safety and wellbeing of Muslim people. When he was handling urban development, he rendered untold assistance to them. Today, the Muslims have realized that they were misled by conspirators and schemers whose only purpose was to alienate them from the then ruling family.  
He had a receptive audience. Violence unleashed by ethnoreligious prejudices in the central province and the eastern province has severely dented minority confidence in the current administration.
Indecisive governance usually provokes a yearning for non-democratic forms of authority. Amidst the chaos in Kandy and Ampara, the Muslim middle classes in affluent Beruwela have found non democratic authority not only tolerable but as a desirable alternative. 
Antonio Gramsci – the seminal Marxist thinker who focused on culture, while incarcerated by the fascist regime of Mussolini has beautifully described how we humans often unwittingly give our consent to be oppressed. When we perceive power as the capacity to instill fear, we become willing collaborators in the game of top down authority. 
The Gramsci thesis can be echoed in terms of present day compulsions. People are not routinely forced to submit. Instead, powerful actors with the right resources can manufacture consent. Caught in their grip people forgo their right and forfeit their ability to question. Then they turn in to willing collaborators of their own subordination. 
That is the essence of the fast and the feast at Beruwela.  
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