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Friends, Enemies and Countrymen

November 15, 2006
Taken off the Asian Tribune. By Dayan Jayatilleka

Post war Italy’s most respected political and legal philosopher was Norberto Bobbio, who died a few years ago. A liberal leftist in orientation, he nonetheless endorsed and considered foundational, the work of a thinker of very different ideological persuasion, Carl Schmitt. The political theorising of Carl Schmitt, a conservative Catholic who initially opposed and then supported the Nazi state, was so brilliantly pioneering, that he is acknowledged (and taught) as a seminal political theorist, just as his contemporary Martin Heidegger, who had a similar political past, is widely respected as one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century.

Many contemporary Leftists – Marxists and post Marxists such as those around the journal TELOS and political theorist Chantal Mouffe- have rediscovered and appropriated Carl Schmitt’s insights, resulting in a school of thought dubbed ‘left Schmittian’. Schmitt’s best known conceptualisation is that the defining characteristic of politics and warfare is the distinction between friend and enemy. This definition is independently echoed by Mao Zedong around the same time, when he identified the key question as ‘who are our friends, who are our enemies?’

Norberto Bobbio refers to Schmitt and in his 1997 work Left and Right, develops this definition. According to Bobbio, there are only four basic positions which are possible in serious politics, deriving from Schmitt’s duality: friend/enemy. Bobbio’s fourfold categorisation is:

Enemy’s Enemy
• Enemy’s Friend
• Friend’s Enemy
• Friend’s Friend

What then is the picture that emerges when this matrix is applied to the contemporary Sri Lankan conflict?


The enemy is the LTTE which seeks to dismember Sri Lanka as a country and a state (and expand beyond what could reasonably be claimed as an ethnic homeland). The LTTE engages in terrorism of the worst sort, entailing assassination of democratic political leaders, suicide bombings and the witting targeting of civilians. The LTTE is also a formation which bears at least a family resemblance to fascism. It is therefore the enemy. This enemy is waging a war of aggression, an unjust war. (In his Just and Unjust Wars, the prominent, left-liberal, just war theorist Michael Walzer defines aggression as the violation of the territorial integrity or political sovereignty of a nation–state).


The country is kept together by the State. This would be so whatever its character. Sri Lanka is a sovereign democratic state, a legitimate authority and actor (unlike the LTTE). We are afforded a defence from anarchy, some form of representation and a minimum of civilised life by the state, which is a democratic state; a democratic republic.

At the heart of the state, any state, are the armed forces.

At the apex of the state is the executive.

The state is waging a defensive war to protect the country. For the reasons just mentioned – legitimate authority and defensive war – the war fought by the Sri Lankan state is a Just War.

When the state is at war and society stands threatened, the rights and freedoms that obtain in peacetime may temporarily be circumscribed or suspended. This is in a situation other than of normalcy; it is that situation described by Carl Schmitt as ‘the exception’. Who decides on which situation is exceptional? “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception” says Schmitt, referring to the Executive.

While it is greatly advisable, preferable and to be recommended, that war should be waged in a moral manner (and this, as Fidel would have it, is an imperative for liberation struggles and movements), the words of the great Karl Von Clausewitz, who (as Lenin acknowledged) knew these things, cannot be readily discounted:

“Of course moral scruples and legal principles may, by lucky accident, happen to coincide with the intelligent application of force to gain an objective. But of themselves, in the nature of things, they can have no direct effect on the conduct or the outcome of war”. (Clausewitz, On War)

That having been said, our common humanity demands as a moral absolute, the eschewing of deliberate – as distinct from accidental or coincidental – lethal targeting of unarmed, non-combatant civilians.

In Sri Lanka the executive is directly elected by the people. It is the most unmediated expression of popular sovereignty, unlike even the American executive in the election of which the Electoral College plays a crucial part.

Furthermore in Sri Lanka the executive can be elected only by a plurality i.e. 50.1%, unlike in many countries (say, Nicaragua) where one may be elected president with less than 40% of the vote.

In a distortion, President Jayewardene initially elevated himself to the presidency without an election (1978) and was re-elected while his main opponent had been disenfranchised. However this was not so in the case of his successors Ranasinghe Premadasa, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and now Mahinda Rajapakse, whose wielding of executive power was not lacking in legitimacy.

No democrat can therefore fail to classify the elected president of Sri Lanka as friend, and by the same logic, no one who classifies, regards or treats him (or earlier, her) as enemy, could in turn be classified as democrat or ‘friend’, and may indeed have to be regarded as objectively serving as ‘friend’s enemy’ or worse still, ‘enemy’s friend’.

The main duality that structures the Sri Lankan reality then, is the opposition – and it is an armed opposition- between the LTTE and the State.

Enemy’s Enemy

The enemy, the LTTE’s main enemy is the Sri Lankan state. Its secondary enemies are the anti-Tiger Tamil organisations, chiefly the Karuna faction (TMVP) and the EPDP, because these are the most consequential military and political opponents of the tigers. The other anti-Tiger groups, PLOTE and EPRLF are but residual, and the TULF is unarmed. Thus the enemy’s enemies are the Sri Lankan state – with the armed forces and the executive at its core – and the TMVP and EPDP.

Enemy’s Friend

Those who regard or refer to the LTTE uncritically: the TNA, some prominent elements of the UNP, the so-called peace lobby, one newspaper and perhaps an electronic media organization or two; externally some parties in Tamil Nadu.

Friend’s Enemy

The LTTE and those who, in this situation in which Prabhakaran prepares for his grand slam, treat the armed forces and/or the elected executive as the main enemy or the enemy or co-equal to the LTTE: the TNA, a stratum of the UNP, the so-called peace lobby, extremist Tamil Nadu politicians, some journalists local and foreign.

Friend’s Friend

According to all opinion polls, this would embrace the clear majority of the country’s citizens. Also the SLFP, many UNP MPs and most UNP voters (who probably identify with that party’s Deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya, a former volunteer Army officer who served in Jaffna), the JVP, the JHU, the bulk of the Buddhist clergy, most journalists in print and electronic media.

In this exceptional and extreme historical situation of existential threat it is incumbent upon all who are participants, observer-participants or simply commentators on the conflict to be aware that there are only these four standpoints or roles that can be played – deriving from the two main positions – whatever their subjective views and self-perceptions. There are no intermediate, neutral, or above- the-fray positions that can objectively, historically and concretely be occupied.

Four Thousand Traitors

Throughout this island’s recorded history, the recurrent and crucial factor in all defeats suffered, has been the presence of internal fissures and factionalism and the role of traitors. Therefore it is of critical importance to estimate the extent of this factor, as Prabhakaran sets the stage for his all-out offensive.

There are only 3,500-4,000 traitors in Southern Sri Lanka. The upper figure was the most generous estimate in the international media of Monday’s demonstration in Colombo. We should be thankful to the organisers of the march, ostensibly to protest the killing of parliamentarian Nadaraja Raviraj, but in actuality a demonstration marked by the most lurid charges against the Sri Lankan state and society: “stop killing Tamils! Open the A-9!” A garrulous woman even described the Southern areas such as Colombo as under fascism while denying that the Tiger controlled areas were!

These demonstrators, a conglomeration of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Trotskyist Left, the so-called Antiwar Front, an MP each from the UNP and SLFP, and the Free Media Movement (FMM), represent the sum total of treachery, behind our lines. The Trotskyist banner (which reminded me why Stalin chose to bury the hatchet so to speak with old Leon, just before he had to deal with the Nazi threat) characterised Mr Raviraj as one who “built an alliance with the Left and fought for Tamil liberation”. Now that would be an accurate description of many non-Tiger and anti-Tiger Tamils, ranging from K Pathmanabha right up to Kethesh Loganathan, all of whom were killed by the Tigers! Except for those who died in combat, all those Tamils who “fought for Tamil liberation in alliance with the Left” were assassinated by the LTTE and none by the ‘terrorist’ state! However I did not see these Trotskyists such as Dr Wickremebahu (bootha) Karunaratne carrying this banner at their funerals!

The ‘National’ Antiwar Front, or more accurately the Anti National Anti War Front, or even more accurately the Anti National Pro (Prabhakaran’s) War Front carried a banner which hailed Mr Raviraj as “one who would be vindicated as a patriot by History”. While that is debatable to say the least, I did not see photographs of these worthy citizens unfurling this same banner at Kethesh Loganathan’s funeral. Jehan Perera is quoted by Somini Sengupta of the New York Times as describing Kethesh’s style as ‘adversarial’ (which implies that Kethesh provoked his own death), but I have yet to read a line from him which describes Raviraj’s TV performances as being the same or even more so!

As we face Prabhakaran’s decisive ‘Final War’ over the coming weeks and months, we now know how large the Fifth Column is, how many collaborators with Tiger fascism we have amongst us and who they are. Luckily, they aren’t that many.

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