caged blue bird

An excerpt from my latest column for the International New York Times on what attitudes to identity and free speech among Sri Lankan audiences can teach those in the West. It was published under the headline ‘A Sri Lankan Lesson in Free Speech’.

The festival provided a space for engagement with a wide variety of ideas in a way that does not often happen in a place like Jaffna. It opened with a discussion of Tamil literature, which has a long and important history that has helped shape and define Tamil identity.


Acknowledging the sensitivities involved, the festival organizers held the session in Tamil. Strikingly, though, every panelist and many Tamil writers in the audience objected, insisting that it should have been in English. ‘We don’t want to be talking just to ourselves’, one said.


That is not a sentiment I have often come across — and I’ve taken part in many discussions about identity, in Europe and America. ‘Talking to oneself’ all too often seems to be the aim of identity politics in the West.

Read the full article in the International New York Times


The image is from the New Statesman.

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