The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

04th August 1996



Who should apologize to whom?

V. L. Wirasinha's main grouse against Dr. Peiris (in The Sunday Times, July 28), is in giving "foremost place for Buddhism". The "Wirasinha logic" tries to make out that if Buddhism is given the "foremost place" as stated in the Kandyan Convention then democracy goes out of the window.

In the same breath he says that the giving of the "foremost place" for Buddhism (Sinhala Buddhism) has remained largely innocuous (except for the ominous prohibition of inland fishing), just as Christianity, the "established religion" in Great Britain and the United States of America, has been in those countries for generations."

If Buddhism is as innocuous, as he says, (and there is no doubt about it) what is his beef? In little England (it is no longer the Great Britain for anyone who is in touch with modern reality) the constitutional head of the state (i.e. the King or Queen) must be from the Anglican Church. This makes Anglicanism the "established religion", as he says. And yet democracy has functioned as best as it could in WASP (Western Anglo-Saxon Protestants) England despite the privileged position granted to Anglicanism.

Hasn't Buddhism in Sri Lanka functioned on the same democratic plane as in England? Besides, if the WASPish colonial masters who recruited Mr. Wirasinha into the Civil Service in 1935 found that there was good reason to give Buddhism "the foremost place" during the British raj, why is it wrong for the Sri Lankans in the post-independent era to follow that conventional (Kandyan or otherwise) wisdom? Where is the Aristotelian logic in this?

Mr. Wirasinha's diatribe against Dr. Peiris, which is sprinkled with bits from the Gettysburg oration, the Bible, the two-tiered democracy in the city states of Greece (democracy for the upper-class males and tyranny for the slaves), the Swiftain yahoos from the Country of Houyhnhnms, a Latin tag or two, sounds superficial because it lacks coherence, analytical inferences or respect for historical facts and developments.

Mr. Wirasinha, for instance, fails to make comparative evaluations, or relate the consequences that flow from his assertions about flawed democracies to the Sri Lankan situation. If he accepts that all democracies beginning from the slave-based Greek city states to the Lincolneque model in America - are flawed, then doesn't it follow that a comparative evolution is necessary to assess whether Sri Lanka has managed its democratic structures and events in a manner fair to all communities? Radhika Coomaraswamy has openly declared that the so-called Sinhala dominated state had advanced substantially to redress "the grievances of the Tamil." This, of course, is not admitted by Neelan Tiruchelvam or Sivasithamparam for obvious political reasons. They continue to stoke the dying embers of 1983 to keep the fires of Tamil chauvinism burning in the Tamil psyche. They will be most reluctant to concede that Sri Lanka, despite its many political upheavals, has been a resilient and vibrant democracy.

The test of a democracy, however, depends on the degree of tolerance of dissent and minorities. Now, according to Mr. Wirasinha, like other Tamil propagandists, claim that there has been no space for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. The Sinhala-Buddhists have been "kicking and bullying them (Tamils) from before 1933!" he says. Without going into the odious excrescence of Tamil chauvinistic politics from 1920 when they broke away from the Ceylon National Congress - doesn't he know that the attempts of the Board of Ministers were directed at redressing the imbalances created by the British raj and redirect resources to the vast majority of the people who were deprived of their legitimate share under colonial favouritism. Statistics speak eloquently on this aspect. "From 1900 to 1931," says Jane Russell, "the Northern and the Eastern Province had received 50 per cent of the total government expenditure on major irrigation works" (Page 170, Communal Politics Under Donoghmore Constitution.)

Surely, this disproportionate share given to a 12 per cent minority cannot be Mr. Wirasinha's or Lincoln's ideal form of democratic government? Then when the Board of Ministers decided, quite correctly, to redistribute the resources to make up for the losses of 31 years and bring some equity in sharing national wealth the Tamils, like Mr. Wirasinha, started to cry foul. Is this "kicking and bullying" or being fair to all communities?

The root cause of the national crisis lies in the greed of Tamil communalists to grab and retain an unfair share of resources, jobs and power which they enjoyed under colonial rule. Subsequent attempts made by the south to redistribute resources, jobs and power were branded as Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism. The Wirasinha-types should know, at least now, that mouthing slogans of the Tamil chauvinistic bandwagon reveal not so much their abysmal ignorance as their unwillingness to read and learn objectively the facts and figures recorded in history. Above all, they are guilty of falsifying history and rewriting it to create the myths that feed Tamil fascism. In short, the blood that is drenching the nation today flows from the pens of these so-called intellectuals.

In the thirties, the arrogant response of the Jaffna Tamil communalists, who considered themselves to be superior to the Batticoloa and Indian Tamils and other races in Sri Lanka, was to demand 50-50. Even on this demand the Sinhalese went out of their to accommodate the chauvinistic Tamils. (More of this later)

But the Jaffna Tamils, driven by an unwarranted superiority complex and fostered by "divide et impera" strategies of the British raj, proceeded to make "outrageous demands" as stated so succinctly by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike in the State Council. This insistence on getting 50-50 was a colossal blunder, admitted by even Tamil scholars. This will be substantiated later. Before that it is necessary to focus on a tragedy of gigantic proportions.

If Mr. Wirasinha, CCS (1935) could not comprehend the happenings of the thirties in any reasonable and balanced way, how can anyone expect the average Appuhamy and Sinnathamby to get any appreciation of national events?

It is not surprising that his self-proclaimed mission in life "to educate the entire people in Democracy, as Lincoln understood Democracy" was doomed to fail for the simple reason that he had not educated himself on the basics of Sri Lankan history. Had he bothered to delve more into Sri Lankan history instead of Roman and Greek empires he would have seen clearly that, despite sporadic aberrations of mob violence in recent times, the degree of tolerance for dissent and minorities has been a traditional - if not a glorious - part of Sinhala-Buddhist history.

Can one remember the inhuman persecution of the Roman Catholics by the so-called enlightened Protestants from Holland after the Portuguese left and how the Sinhala-Buddhists gave refuge to the Catholics in the heartland of Buddhism in Wahakotte which still remains as a Catholic island in a Buddhist sea?

When the imperialists gave a disproportionate share of resources, jobs, status and power to a minority did not many of us obediently follow our masters' imperial dictates, abandoning the Lincolnesque principle of government for all the people? Doesn't this sudden concern about Lincolnesque principles when the Sinhala-Buddhists are in power stands in utter contrast to the total compliance with our British masters who had no compunction in running the state under the exploitative dictates of colonialism.

This is not to claim the Sinhala-Buddhists have not committed colossal blunders. But then aren't all democracies flawed? Besides, which two communities, living side by side with each other for centuries, have not committed such blunders? A fair evaluation can be made only on the record of a state that has addressed grievances and worked out a balanced formula that would be fair by all communities. Just giving into the demands to fulfill the overbloated hubris of one community can never be viable formula to solve complex and deep-rooted issues in a multi-ethnic society. What is in conflict in Sri Lanka today is the self-respect of all communities and not just that of the Tamils alone.

Take, for instance, one or two examples of giving self-respect, dignity and honour to minorities in Sri Lanka.

There are roughly 70 million Tamils in the world, with the majority of them (about 55 million) residing in Tamil Nadu. Despite this the only place of honour given to the Tamil community among the 184 flags that fly at the UN is the Sri Lankan flag. In case Mr. Wirasinha is not aware of this it is time to remind him that the green represents the Muslims and the yellow represents the Tamils. Can Mr. Wirasinha point to an American, English, Australian, Swiss, French or Greek or Roman flag that elevated the minorities in the highest and the most prestigious national symbol of their land? In which of these democracies have the minority language been given official recognition in their currencies, stamps, aero-grammes and other official documentation?

Anyone with an iota of Sri Lankan history will know that all parties - Sinhalese, Tamils, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, the right, the left and the center in politics, the media, the intellectual community, the education system, the colonialists - are to be blamed for the current blood-letting. Until that is accepted as a fundamental premise a climate of opinion cannot be created to go forward with a solution.

This motion of apologizing to the Tamils alone is nothing but a ploy to push their chauvinistic political line. It is designed to boost the fiction that they are goodies of Sri Lankan history and the Sinhala baddies. As will be shown later, the Tamil share of the blame that widened the communal divide as they jumped from one "outrageous demand" (words of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike) to another has not been given due weightage, either in evaluating the crisis objectively, or in working out a fair solution which will be acceptable to all communities.

The Ponnambalams, the Sivasithamparams, and other assorted Tamil propagandists have paid backhanded compliments to the facist II Duce of Jaffna believing that it was his terror tactics which have won Tamils a share of power. But what are the facts recorded in history? Does not history record that it is the Sinhala-Buddhists who went out of their way to accommodate minority needs with a magnanimous spirit of tolerance? Since a Tamil historian is more convincing to some it is necessary to quote from the text of Prof. S. Arasaratnam: "Without being able to concede the extravagant demand for a perfect balance in representation between the Sinhalese and the minorities, as put forward by G. G. Ponnambalam, they (the Sinhalese Board of Ministers) conceded a relationship of 57% to 43% as between Sinhalese and others in the legislature. It was, as it appears now, a tactical error that the Tamil leaders did not grasp this offer at that time, but stuck to their extreme demand. (Page 505, 'Nationalism in Sri Lanka and the Tamils in Collective Identities; Nationalism and Protest in Modern Sri Lanka', edited by Michael Roberts).

How does this compare with Mr. Wirasinha's bizarre complaint of "kicking and bullying Tamils from before 1933"? This also gives the lie to the bogus claim made by those who hero-worship the II Duce that the Tamils could get anything from the Sinhalese only through the gun. Doesn't this unique offer exemplify at spirit of tolerance of the Sinhala-Buddhists which needed no gun to prod them? Can anyone point to another example from any of his ideal democratic states of the ancient or modern west where a 75% majority offered 43% to a 25% minority? Who should apologize to whom now?

The Tamil marauders, invaders and fascists have been butchering the Sinhala-Buddhists, destroying their civilizations based on the tank and dagobas, desecrating and ruining their sacred places, for centuries. Which Tamil has even thought of apologizing for that? Leaving the past aside and taking only contemporary events, isn't an apology due from the Tamils to the entire nation for the mindless brutality that destroyed the innocent lives of the Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils (remember how they liquidated their own Tamil leadership and dissidents in Jaffna)?

The day that the Tamils would repent and accept their share of the blame would be the day that would mark the true beginning of national reconciliation. It would create that space for both parties to meet halfway and shake hands with self-respect on both sides.

The writer is a former Editor of the Observer, now residing in Australia

America's Black July

By Mervyn de Silva

A sad day for America and the world. Terrorism at home and abroad has forced the liberal, enlightened President (and candidate) Clinton to embrace the Reagan Doctrine. And in doing so, he has alienated America's major allies, its G-7 partners.

Addressing a veterans' convention in New Orleans last Sunday, Mr. Clinton said: "Terrorists are often supported by states, and states that sponsor terrorism, including Iraq, Iran, Libya and Sudan and any others, must face strong sanctions".

It is not the "Non-aligned" that protested against this threat but Washington's closest allies - Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy. If and when the sanctions are imposed, the Europeans will retalitate, "These laws have nothing to do with fighting terrorism. They are bad laws. I am totally opposed to one state, trying to change the rules of world trade for its own benefit, and imposing its will on others", said an angry Herve de Charette, the French Foreign Minister.

No opponent or critic or non-aligned observer could have subjected Clinton's decision to such trenchant criticism. But one can understand Candidate Clinton's mounting frustration and rising gorge. He has been the first President to wear the crown of "sole superpower".

A second term is in the bag. And then came the terrorist attack in late June at a Saudi Arabian base which claimed 19 American lives. In mid July, a Paris bound TWA plane crashed into the sea off New York. Cause? Evidently no technical problem, as the flight recorders testified. Casualties... 230 people! Who dunit? No answers, just guesses. Finally terrorism truly comes home. At the Olympic park in Atlanta, a bomb that kills two persons, injures over hundred.

The sole superpower does have a new enemy..... terrorism. But by naming four Moslem states, the US has opened itself to the charge of conducting a self serving crusade against a particular religious faith..... ISLAM. As I said in my column on Cuba and trade sanctions last week, the G7 partners have stood up to the US

American Jihad

They are likely to be even more furious at an American proposal which calls on G-7 (group of seven Western countries) to launch a jihad of their own on G-4, the Gang of Four, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan.

Trade or Terrorism? French President Jacques Chirac introduced some commonsense. The whole exercise was probably a pre-election propaganda operation aimed at a strictly domestic audience. Mr. Clinton is way ahead of his rival, Senator Bob Dole but he hopes to make his victory a spectacular triumph for the Democrats.

But the character of the threat, domestic and external, made it a challenge to both the party strategist as well as the foreign policy adviser. An AFP report put it rather well: terrorism on the international scale, is often linked to conflicts in the Middle East, and the result, US citizens waging war within their own society!

But the issue of "Global Terrorism", the title of an attractively produced 'special study' by the U.S. State Dept. is by no means a domestic challenge only. In a much broader survey, even Sri Lanka finds a place in the "Introduction".

Terrorist Threat

Terrorism by extremist individuals or groups claiming to act for religious motives continued to dominate international terrorism in 1995. In Israel new suicide bombings by radical Islamic Palestinians and the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin by a Jewish Israel extremist continued previous efforts by terrorists to derail the peace process. Islamic extremists also waged a series of terrorist acts in Egypt, France, Algeria and Pakistan.

The reader notes that the terminology is even-handed, a distinct improvement from the standard practice of identifying the Islamic as "fundamentalist" and the Jewish as "extremist". And Sri Lanka is included in a paragraph that takes up "Ethnic-based terrorism".

"The Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) pressed its terrorist campaign in Turkey and western Europe. Terrorist attacks or threats erupted in the Caucasus, and Tamil separatists used terrorism to advance their cause in Sri Lanka. One of the most chilling terrorist acts of the year was the gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo cult, indicating that terrorism involving materials of mass destruction is now a reality".

Terrorism is by no means a phenomenon confined to poor "Third World" societies, where race, religion and class become instruments of mass mobilization and political platforms. But powerful states also use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy. No less a person than Stanfield Turner, the former CIA director, testifying before Congress in April 1985 described President Ronald Reagan's "mercenary army" in Nicaragua as "terrorism, as state-sponsored terrorism" and possibly as the more serious crime of aggression, as implied in the World Court judgment.

The Culture of Terrorism by the M. I. T.'s brilliant scholar Noam Chomsky

Shadowy groups with exotic names like "The Sons of the Gestapo" and Unabomber are part of the American "terrorist" scene. The Unabomber is a former mathematics professor! If the court finds him guilty, he may have to pay for his bombing with his life. More serious causes such as "separatism" and "independence", are not wholly alien to the American terrorist.

"The Firemen of Montana" surrendered to the police only after an 81 day seige. It was their farm they declared was independent!"

Islamic Threat

But globally, Islam is the prime target. West Asia, the main theatre of conflict, and Libya, Iran, Iraq and Sudan, top the American hit list. Recently, Ramsay Clark, a former US Attorney, and the author of "The Fire This Time" wrote to Mr. Rolf Ekeus, Chairman of the UN Special Commission on Iraq in New York. The letter began with a simple question: "How many children are you willing to let die while you search for items you are still convinced still exist in Iraq?"

"Every two months for the past year, and on earlier occasions, you or your office have made some statements several weeks before the Security Council considers sanctions against Iraq which you know will be used to continue these sanctions. You have repeatedly permitted yourself and your office to be used by the United States to justify continuation of sanctions. This cruel and endless hoax of new disclosures every two months must stop." said Mr. Clark.

The direct consequence, Mr. Clark argues, is "the death of hundreds of innocent and helpless infants, children and elderly..."

Is Ambassador Rolf Ekeus' for a truly independent inquiry by a Human Rights organization?

Libyan Defiance

Next in the hit list is Libya. Addressing archbishops of the Catholic churches of the Arab maghreb in Tunis, Pope John II deplored the unfair measures imposed on the people of Libya. He was specially impressed by the rights enjoyed by the Christian minority. Washington has leveled new charges against Libya. It has been accused of constructing a plant to produce chemical weapons.

Meanwhile at the UN itself, delegates from Non-aligned countries are shocked at the campaign mounted against UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali. Recently, Muammar Gaddafi himself announced that he was ready to allow inspection by any independent international group of experts. But that would expose Washington's policy of creating "rogue states".

The "New World Order", writes Ahmad Irfan in Impact is premised on rifts and conflicts among the Arab and Persian Gulf states. That's the region where most of the world's petro-dollars come from and where we also have the world's most politically insecure regimes. These regimes also happen to be keen buyers of all kinds of goods, from military to consumer toys, and social, economic and foreign policies..."

A State Dept. paper in 1945 observed that the vast reserves of energy in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia in particular, constituted "a stupendous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material prizes in world history". America's own oil was kept in strategic reserve. The Islamic revoloution led by Khomeini toppled the "American Shah". And now Saudi Arabia, the staging post of Desert Storm, the war against Iraq, is threatened despite the protective presence of US troops, an attractive target for "terrorists" (in western eyes) and "Liberation fighters" to Arab nations.

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