A Tribute to Adrian Wijemanne on his 80th Birthday

by Sanmuga Suntharam

Adrian Wijemanne deserves to be considered a patron saint by the Tamils of the island of Sri Lanka.  As a Tamil who is intensely aware of the Tamil suffering in all its dimensions, it is a natural sentiment to be grateful to Mr. Wijemanne, who has taken up the Tamil cause with such great intellectual honesty and has written so assiduously.  What is remarkable and lovable about his exertions is his evident empathy with the struggle of the Tamils, despite what one would assume is a contrary cultural conditioning.  It takes a truly great spirit to rise above the limitations, constraints and ethnocentric programming, which have been the bane of his country, to be able to do what Mr. Wijemanne has managed to do so far.

I have, over a period, read many of Mr. Wijemanneís articles on Sri Lankan political shenanigans and the concomittant decline of the country.  The style, cogency, contents and analytical power of his presentations have been uniformly admirable.

As a Tamil I have to be clear in my mind whether my praise of Mr. Wijemanne is an objective one, or is it simply influenced by his views being consonant with mine.  There is also the phenomenon of the homologous example of Kadirgamar who is the darling of the JVP and the hardcore Sinhala partisans.  It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming a moral quasi-equivalence between the two, purely on the basis of ethnicity.  But, clearly, one is a true humanist and a liberal, dispassionately impassioned about injustice.  The other is a self-seeker who is (even if for job security) working against any equitable solution to the Tamil grievances, the more resolutely the better; he is pretentious, pompous, shallow and devoid of a moral anchor - and he is a politician with too many vested personal interests in keeping the conflict alive.

Mr. Wijemanne is not motivated by any expectations of personal gain - with his considerable skills he could have written to please a larger readership - nor does he make any concessions in the face of what is assumed to be "political realities" in his vision for a just solution to the ethnic crisis.  Political realities are what we create for ourselves and it is in the power of the people and their leaders to shape them if they have the will.

Having cleared my own thoughts about the insidious fallacy of assuming any similarity between Mr. Wijemanne and the Tamil-born few who indulge in venality and violence against those it is simply human nature to feel sympathy, if not empathy, for, I can feel less constrained to shower Mr. Wijemanne with the deeply felt encomiums that he richly deserves.

I understand that Mr. Wijemanne lived for a time in the Netherlands and possibly continues to live there.  This fact brings to mind a great Jewish philosopher, Spinoza, who also made his home in the Netherlands, having moved from Spain (or Portugal) his place of birth.  Bertrand Russell, in his History of Western Philosophy,says of him, "Spinoza (1632 - 77) is the noblest and the most lovable of great philosophers.  Intellectually some others have surpassed him, but ethically he is supreme... He was born a Jew, but the Jews excommunicated him...".  Mr. Wijemanne apparently, does not subscribe to Spinozaís philosophy of looking at misfortunes suffered by people in the context of the universe (if I am right, I am with Mr. Wijemanne), but his nobility, stand-up courage, and utmost intellectual honesty reminds one of that great philosopher.

[Mr. Kadirgamar, though totally bereft of nobility, is, however, not free from pretension to lofty intellect.  Once, recently, when introducing an Indianís work of poetry, he compared his own use of words as a diplomat to that of a poetís!  We know better.  Whereas a poet attempts to bring out our lifeís hidden truths in their work, Mr. Kadirgamar attempts to hide the truth from the world in the course of his work.  Poets deal in universal truths, whereas Mr. Kadirgamarís universe is one of untruths.]

Just as my link to Mr. Wijemanne is through his writings, my link through my occasional writings is with Mr. Sivanayagam, most recently editor of Hot Springs (now defunct).  I have never met either of them personally, but their personalities can be seen through their writings, which are, of course, of excellent quality timeliness and usefulness.

Mr. Sivanayagam like Mr. Wijemanne went far beyond the call of duty to espouse the cause of the Tamils.  That he himself is a Tamil does not diminish in any way his laudable contributions on many occasions at great risk to his own life.  He underwent much physical and mental ordeal for the cause of Tamil freedom that makes him a martyr many times over.  (Martyr: a person who chooses to suffer or die rather than give up his faith or principles.)  It is a great irony and a double misfortune that both these stalwarts are afflicted with the same illness at the same time!

All of us Eelam Tamils on whose behalf they have contributed so much of their time, energy and intellect owe it to humanity to reflect on these endeavors and to wish a speedy recovery and a reinvigorated lease of life for both of them - for their own sake, for the sake of their families and for the sake of Tamil Eelam, which is their extended family.

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Posted May 31, 2005