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Mea culpa or mere racism?

Storming of the Bastille July 14, 1789

Mr. Rontjen Perera writes from Cairo (The Island July 14) that the mobs of July 1983 in Sri Lanka "were similar to the mobs in Los Angeles, Nottinghill or when the Bastille during the French Revolution was stormed or when Indira Gandhi was assassinated."

Mr Perera is not merely demonstrating staggering illiteracy concerning a landmark of history when he mentions the Bastille, but also insulting a great nation, France. This is especially ironic because we celebrated Bastille Day, which is France’s National Day, yesterday, June 14th. The French masses who stormed the Bastille were not attacking people of another ethnicity because of their ethnicity. They were revolting against their own ruling class, freeing the long standing prisoners of the French ancien regime, fired up by the ideals of the Enlightenment, the thinking of Montesquieu and Rousseau, which went on to inspire democratic revolutions and causes the world over, influenced the American Constitution, and one and a half centuries later, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

By contrast no one embraces and enshrines the ideas and ideology of the mobs of July ’83 and what they represented. Only a fascist would, but not even a fascist has come forward to do so.

The riots of Notting Hill and Los Angeles were against racism on the part of the authorities. The LA riot occurred because members of the law enforcement authorities mercilessly beat an unarmed black motorist, Rodney King, and despite the scene being on video, the policemen were acquitted. The dynamics of July ’83 were very different.

Nowhere in my article have I blamed the entire Sinhala nation (or "race" as Rontjen Perera puts it) for the "mob activity" of July 83. However, the mobs were motivated not only by greed as Mr. Perera implies (in which case they would have limited themselves to looting, not murder), but by anti-Tamil racism.

Dayan Jayatilleka

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