Newspaper nationalism: Sinhala identity as historical discourse

Thursday 21 December 2023

Tennekoon, Serena. In Sri Lanka: History and the roots of conflict, edited by Jonathan Spencer, 205-226. London:Routledge, 1990.

This book chapter, written by Serena Tennekoon, is part of the book ‘Sri Lanka: History and the roots of conflict’, edited by Jonathan Spencer, and looks at the role the past plays in shaping and influencing the recent Civil War in the country. Tennekoon examines the impact of political events and how they influence national identity and politics through three newspaper debates from 1984-5 in the Sinhala language newspaper Divayina. The newspaper debates were situated within the context of the anti-Tamil riots of July 1983 and the ensuing guerilla war between Tamil militants and the mostly Sinhala government forces. The riots and following violence prompted a reassessment of the Sinhalese identity and nationalism, and Tennekoon examines the nationalist trends in Sri Lanka through contemporary controversies in Divayina, arguing that the newspapers are an example of the cross-section of views of the Sinhala intelligentsia as well as the media’s participation in generating and maintaining a type of nationalist discourse. She looks at three controversies: disputed Tamil claims to traditional homeland, disputed roots of a ‘modern Sinhala culture’, and the debate around the use of past cultural figures and myths to inform nationalist ideologies. Tennekoon uses these debates to illustrate the connection between politics and culture and this engagement is tied to a bolstering of nationalist sentiment. Analysing the intricacies behind these debates highlights the need for a nuanced comprehension of the interweaving of political and cultural narratives, revealing the importance of inclusive dialogues for a more cross-sectional peacebuilding.  

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