Most people who go to Sri Lanka never see its dark side; most people who don't, and only read about it in their newspapers, see little else.
One of its faces is that of an island paradise: palm-fringed tropical beaches surrounding spectacular highland landscapes; magnificent archeological monuments; happy, well-fed, smiling children; generous hospitality; hardly any beggars.
Yet, it is also a country where the majority still believes that there really is such a thing as the "Aryan race" and that belonging to it is something to be proud of--to the point that Sri Lankan Tamils, who have been there at least as long as everybody else and cannot be distinguished by any physical characteristics, are treated as hostile interlopers and sporadically massacred in outbursts of ethnic rioting. All this, moreover, in one of the few ex-colonies where the Anglo-Saxon traditions of democracy, the rule of law, and the impartial administration of justice really seemed to have taken root and to have survived for decades after independence.
No wonder, then, that the bibliography on Sri Lanka's current troubles grows apace. The present contribution comes from the pen of a distinguished expatriate Sri Lankan anthropologist. Like everyone else's, S. J. Tambiah's view is personal. As it happens, he is a Tamil, but much of what he says could have been said with equal credibility by an enlightened Sinhalese. Nonetheless, it is a curiously uneven work. The author calls it an "engaged political tract," yet most of it is laudably scholarly, blemished only by the occasional use of words like "diabolical" to qualify something that has more to do with short-sightedness or stupidity than with the malevolent works of Satan.