Occasional Papers

Paper 1

Thinking Now Making Sense: Some Socio-political and theological areas to think through during the self- imposed Quarantine period (March/April 2020)

  1. God of wholesomeness as found in the Biblico-Christian tradition in the face of callousness of the pandemic
  2. Whose care to depend on (God’s care and Gota’s care: (head of state Sri Lanka)
  3. The diseased, the sick and the quarantined 
  4. Wuhan to Europe – shift of epicentres of Covid 19 globally
  5. Closure of cities, curfews, no go areas and red zones
  6. Fierce continued battle for global trade between Beijing and Washington
  7. The rest of the world made to rest or arrested in a power gamble

The task for activists, academics, theologians, cultural critics, artists, scholars and those critical thinkers to reflect on the current health crisis in the light of their specific praxis and thinking. Some of us are able to actively engaged with the crisis at different levels while some others will be able to help all of us to make sense of the mess around us. It’s an act of faith, a social responsibility and a theological pursuit as we struggle through. Hope for people is fundamental.

What you can do with these seven areas (of course one can add to the above litany) is to share some of your thoughts, ideas, counterpoints through a system that you are most comfortable with. Hence, let this A4 be considered a working paper only, while your reflections be written and copied to others both in the light of the original list of names in the email and the network with which you are already working.

Paper 2

‘Identity Politics’ Belittled in the Face of Covid 19 Global Assault

Francis Fukuyama in his Identity:  Demand for Dignity and Politics of Resentment (2018)  from particular perspective is a ‘soft apology’ for a ‘ miscalculated and misinterpreted’ narrative in his End of History and the Last man  (1992). Some argue that he more or less provided the ideological foundation to the basically unsubstantiated information in Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington, originally proposed in a lecture by him at the American Enterprise Institute (1992), in the same year that Fukuyama published his book (1992) above.

Subsequently Huntington developed the lecture notes into an article and published it in Foreign Affairs as Clash of Civilizations? (1993) as if a response to his former student Fukuyama. However, Huntington’s actual book appeared four years later to Fukuyama’s, as Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of the World Order (1996).  

Five years later the shia Muslim leader of Iran, the then president Mohammad Khatami in 2001, introduced the concept of Dialogue among Civilizations at the global level. Later the United Nations proclaimed the year 2001 as the United Nations (UN) Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, and was welcomed as a conceptual counterpoint to the neo liberal ideological camp but by then were already devising the new world order by the ideologues including Fukuyama and Huntington, later joined by many others in the United States and their ideological allies across the globe. 

Interestingly what I view as Fukuyama’s ‘soft apology’, Identity, it seems  to me might also have been on behalf of his late guru Huntington, but appears 25 years later in 2018, too long for an apology, however better than never. Here, we are in 2020, 2 years after Fukuyama’s Identity (2018) discourse as a self-emulating factor politically and socially for identity politics and his well-argued politics of resentment. Both discourses in the same book are once again displaced now with the priority of the assault of Corvid 19 in the heart of Europe. Now across the Atlantic in the (in)famous ‘America First’, resulted in the obsessive compulsive behavior of most political leadership of the United States.

Fukuyama’s thesis (2018) looks like is made redundant, because the identity and politics of resentment is gone to the back burner and it is very clear as to what really are the failed states might be at point in time. The US State department’s jargon continued and was  campaigned by the INGOs to the rest of the world had been to point specific nations as ‘failed states’ and ‘rouge states’. If a nation cannot protect its people with all the technology and the intellectual capacity in their highest position then what more can be the definition of a failure, gross negligence and complacency. What was being risked is the ‘mandated political will’ by the people and not ‘politics of resentment’ but ‘politics of power gambling’ impeding the lives of the people. Both competing power mongers of China and the United states over trade and the European Union for its apathy, negligence and political dissension especially that of the Brexit and the wasted time, resources and energy  were under the spot light. As much as this is not a time to point one’s finger at each other, at least something ‘close to the truth’ must be recorded, so that it could be proven wrong as not the truth.

It seems not an end of history but almost apocalypse (but for some actually now is the end of history not early 1990s as per Fukuyama, I would like him to respond to this crisis as a political scientist and as an ideological fodder supplier to the neo liberal pandits of both among the obstinate Republicans as well as the failed Democrats) this time, certainly calling for an end of a cumulative and solely market and trade led human and their institutional conduct.

Yuval Noah Harari in his recent publications such as Sapiens (2017), Home Deus (also 2017) then more poignantly in his 21 Lessons for 21st Century (2018), where he refers humbly to the 10 articles written by 10 worlds scholars during 2000-2018 in the New York Times, accepts and acknowledges their insight adding his own to the final production of the book. He brings some sense to the mess, and certainly we must put all our heads together for a sensible future for all, not definitely to recommence the old version because that version is already fractured.

Corvid 19 is before us, alive and kicking in most insidious ways, hidden but active bypassing all scientific discoveries and G5 technology with artificial intelligence prepared to take over many areas in human activity. All such plans are on hold. The ordinary lives among us are taken over by the overwhelming fear of disease and death. The virus is silently attacking all sophistication hitherto considered human progress and development. Humans must pause as most of them are stuck without answers, locked and quarantined. This ‘shut down’ could sharpen human imagination to rethink human behavior anew and set priorities right here and now.

Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi 30 March 2020

Paper 3

Silent Enemy

I watched every single day during the self-imposed quarantine period that a flock of ‘great white pelicans’ (migrating birds) settling on a Banyan tree (ficus Benghalensis)  about 30 meters across from my window. My count of them on their way to settle for the night was at least 20+. I had tried my level best to hear their call, but disappointingly I could only hear the resounding call of the noisy city crows, and the mynahs (which belongs to the starling family). These local breeds dislike the ‘pelican presence’ and there is a constant commotion over the space of this Banyan tree for the local settlers. Given the size of the pelican there is no way either the crows or the mynahs could possibly have a chance for the night park. Pelicans take priority.

This pelican community is really scrupulous about their setting out for food which is about 5.45am and settling back on the tree commences about 5pm. The community it seems to me is on the increase by the week. All this happens on their part with a sense of purpose and silently while the rest of the locals make a hullabaloo of the situation. The pelicans with no pandemonium take their place for the night, and by 6pm all is silent but at least a bird population of over 200+ birds might be resting for the night on this Banyan after a difficult compromise. While the silent migrating birds settle down before they make their morning beeline to the Diyawanna Oya (a large water reservoir that connects most of Colombo’s water paths), yet a silent enemy seems also has migrated and settled, as Covid 19 among the human population of this island nation, Sri Lanka.

The roads are made silent, hustle and the bustle of the cities are dormant. The dominant political voices are numbed and made dumb. The priests, bhikkhus Mavlavis and other religious leaders have opted belatedly to engage in real social responsibility beyond the church, temple and the masjid. The Silence of the Sacred is communicating to the religious that they must not only preach but practice, and this is the real time to work silently for the defeat of the silent enemy among us.

Silent enemy is creeping through our beloved land and our people, teaching us that humans might be rational but irrationally lived with greed of the market and trade: investment and profit before people. Humans might have created supersonic instruments but have not listened to the wailing of the natural world. Humans progressed perhaps to a pinnacle of achievements but failed to care for the ones ejected by the very system and institutions operating more powerfully than the elected governments.

Silent enemy still strong and robust, warning the humans right across the globe, obstinate and hard hitting, paralyzing the systems with no mercy. The great white pelicans require no quarantine, no health curfew, no road blocks, they silently fly back and through, gliding, frolicking and seeking their feed to survive. Silent enemy, the Covid19, decides who survives and who succumbs to its intricate maneuvering of the mechanism of the human body – the respiratory system. 

Silent enemy is attacking the vociferous nations big and small and their people with a weapon of ill health in an unprecedented way. A silent enemy with equal and unknown ways, unselectively taking the toll on the most vulnerable population. Human intelligence and its sophistication is as if halted because the enemy is also within. All human wars for land, religion, power sharing, nationhood, caste, class, trade, finance are all silenced by the silent enemy. Isolation, physical distance, not visiting grandparents and parents have become paramount activities and non-activities. Strange relationships are being cultured by the silent enemy.

We have to defeat this enemy publicly because the assault is so public. The culture of scientific research with special attention to biochemical and witness-less laboratory experiments, knowledge creation, information dissemination and the callous handling of that information as power, will have to be mended in all the different modes, from trade to international relations. Values, virtues, cultural norms, religious affiliations and beliefs must be revisited and re-examined thoroughly. We cannot simply go back to the ‘old edition with its hard cover’ of any of these paradigms.  Even though treasured and venerated some of them, may be revisiting and revisioning them will become imperative if those paradigms to be relevant in the remainder of this century. The banyan tree has the capacity to hold all the local and migratory birds and still be relevant and effective as a tree.

Silent enemy, humans will defeat obviously, provided they are willing to learn some bitter lessons at a terrible cost of forty thousand + dead worldwide at the time of writing. About forty Great white pelicans I think are resting tonight on that Banyan tree. The entire tree is in deep silence…

Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi/ 01 April 2020