SRI LANKA: The banality of evil, a rejoinder to Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka 

September 16, 2010

An Article by the Asian Human Rights Commission

SRI LANKA: The banality of evil, a rejoinder to Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

A strong ruler and weak institutions as the current formula for national progress and the phantom limb complex

Basil Fernando

That the nation needs a strong ruler is the current slogan. On that basis all the earlier objections to the executive presidential system as found in the 1978 constitution have been withdrawn. To strengthen the ruler even limits to the power recognized in the 1978 Constitution has been nullified by the 18th Amendment. Mahinda Rajapakse has become J.R. Jayewardene’s true successor.

What is implied in the idea of the ‘strong leader’? It is simply that independent institutions are a threat to the strength of the leader. To make the leader strong all other institutions must be weakened. Thus, strong national intuitions are seen as a threat to progress. The giant must not be obstructed by these interfering intuitions.

Thus, the judiciary must not have any power against the strong leader.

The parliament should not have any power against the strong leader.

His own political party should have no power over the strong leader.

The opposition should have no strength to oppose this strong leader.

The policing system should have no independent powers to deal with whatever this strong leader does.

No corruption control agency should have any power to inquire into whatever the strong leader does directly or indirectly.

No press or media must be allowed to question what the strong leader does.

No electoral authority must interfere with his future reelections.

And the list can go on like that.

This experience is not new. Since 1978 the people of Sri Lanka have experienced it and now they will have more of it.

Now someone who refers to himself as a political scientist comes and asks a question; a question that has been asked over and over again in nations where such strong rulers have ruled: “Here’s my problem: If we don’t respect the decision of the courts and disagree with those of the people at repeated elections (which Mahinda Rajapakse wins handsomely), what do we have left, and who is the ultimate arbiter whom the citizens of Sri Lanka should follow?”

I have answered this question earlier in a booklet entitled The Phantom Limb: Failing Judicial Systems, Torture and Human Rights Work in Sri Lanka. It is an established medical fact that many people who have lost arms or legs continue to feel pain, discomfort and other sensations in the amputated limp.

Such is the fate of Sri Lankans who have sacrificed their independent institutions in favour of the strong leader. To maintain their pride, even in a pathetic way, they must keep on believing that nothing really has changed and they are still so very free. This state of mind is very similar to that of the fox in folklore who lost his tail.


That question raised by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka reminds us of the defense taken by Eichmann when he was tried in Israel in the famous trial after he was abducted from Argentina by Israeli Mossad agents and made to answer charges for his role as Adolf Hitler’s henchman. His defense was that he was merely obeying the orders of his leader and at the time Hitler’s word was law.

Hanna Arendt called this the banality of evil. That the intellectuals of Sri Lanka had to seek refuge under such a pretext demonstrates the depth of the complexity the people face under the circumstances.

Please refer to previous articles:

SRI LANKA: Nations may not die but freedoms do – a reply to Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka 
SRI LANKA: The mindset of denial is the “It is not that bad” attitude
SRI LANKA: Nations don’t die, they are murdered!

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-097-2010
Countries : Sri Lanka,