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Myths of Construction

Anuradha Chenoy

By Neloufer de Mel
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 329, Rs. 475.00


Sri Lanka, emerald isle and home to diversities has hurtled into an abyss of civil war again. The delicate ceasefire agreement brokered tenuously by the Norwegians is over. For some it was barely in place. Why has this ethnic diversity turned on itself? And what are the implications of this long civil war on daily life and practices? Neloufer de Mel takes a deep and insightful look at cultural sites to analyse how militarization intersects with ethnic identity; impacts people’s memory, narratives and cultural productions. Militarization is viewed as the ascendancy (hegemony) of militarist ideas in ideational systems that includes the press, media, advertisement, film, political and public policy, institutions etc. It infuses production, labour and capital. Militarization intertwines with gender, race and ethnicity and the nation is sustained by its material and ideological manifestations.   Neloufer shows the multiple roots of war and how ethnicity, neo-liberal economic policies and religious nationalism have intertwined with militarization to provide a base for the war. She believes that the ethnic identities in Sri Lanka overdetermine the policies and strategies of ethnic groups and in the process of this assertion are militarized, providing the spiral for the war. The central Sinhala ethnic identity she argues is pitted against the Tamil community in mutually exclusive ways. The Tamil militancy and the LTTE strategy and practices against the state and their ethnic cleansing of the Muslims from the north east have moulded the counter-ethnic militancy. The exclusion of the Burgher and Malay communities from the discussions on ethnicity and power reveal how these polarities constitute the ethno-nationalist militancy that has become the base of the Sri Lankan conflicts. Further, the confluence of ethnic and religious nationalism in the South has reshaped Buddhism into a militant form as it serves the state and the war effort.   Neloufer looks at film, media, local tales, discourse and testimonies to reveal the intersection of militarization, patriarchy, nationalism and capitalism in six chapters that are almost like complete essays on these specific themes. The constitutive element of militarization which is martial virtue is not an inherent category but brought into being by the processes that define the socio-political order. In a system which is militarized this martial virtue is not just self sustaining, neither is it just restricted to combatants, but is encouraged in the populace as a whole. This wholeness as writers like Foucault showed, have the capacity to ...

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