30 July 2011

And some tears cannot go uncommented…

A few years ago, when I was associated with the National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT), I helped put together a booklet about media representation of the conflict.  The title was ‘Some tears are not newsworthy’.  It spoke to inequality and privileging apparent in how the unfolding events were being portrayed in certain sections of the media, both local and foreign. 
The book focused on the shameless downplaying and even non-mention of atrocities perpetrated by the LTTE.  It was wryly observed that people generally misname terrorist as rebel if the theatre of operation is in any country other than one’s own.  The complicity of certain sections of the foreign media in the terrorist project was apparent even back then, i.e. long before Channel 4 became the post-war Voice of Tigers, so to speak. 
It was all about who was crying and over what.  Reading former President, Chandrika Kumaratunga’s recounting of a phone conversation with her son Vimukthi, brought it all back to me.  Vimukthi is reported to have wept after watching the Channel 4 production about the last days of the mission to rid the country of terrorism and to rescue an unprecedented number (close to 300,000) of people held hostage by the world’s most ruthless terrorist organization, the LTTE.  He has apparently said that he is ashamed to be a Sinhalese.  His tears and words were newsworthy because he’s an ex-President’s son and of course because these things can be used to frill the tall stories that the LTTE rump led by that terrorist in a cassock, S.J. Emmanuel is getting the likes of Channel 4 to tell the world. 
I felt sorry for Vimukthi.  Honestly.  And I felt sorry for his mother too.
As I said, ‘Killing Fields – Sri Lanka’ was a production.  A good one too.  There is clever juxtaposition of image, footage, commentary and music.  There is careful editing out of available footage.  For example, the fact that one of the ‘stars’ of the show, Issipriya, is portrayed as a heart-and-soul journalist cum musician, even though Channel 4 has previously aired footage where this ‘lady’ is described as one who glorifies suicide bombers and therefore clearly a recruiter of terrorists.  Channel 4 spouts numbers but is crafty enough to keep context out, making sure that the viewer is left without enough information to work out the relevant math.  There is use of clearly tainted witnesses who have been caught lying before and have several axes to grind.  There’s scandalous glossing over of the LTTE’s considerable curriculum vitae, not just in ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity but mock-up videos, use of military fatigues robbed from captured and killed members of the Sri Lankan security forces and other productions designed for the gullible and of course the complicit. 
Every story is a lie and a good liar can tell a good story. Channel 4 is an excellent story teller and I wouldn’t blame the average viewer for believing that Channel 4 had a true story to tell.  Vimukthi, though is not your average ill-informed viewer, absorbing image and claim about a foreign context he has no clue about.  And his mother, as an ex-President ought to know better than to play sucker to mal-intention. 
For all this, I believe Vimukthi’s tears are honest.  The boy is ignorant and probably good-hearted.  Forgivable.  Kumaratunga is no innocent abroad, though.  She’s smart enough to know about media spin.  She’s supposed to have a degree in the social sciences and even though it must be several decades since she last visited a university library or listened to a lecture on research methodologies, it is hard to believe that she knows zilch about things like reliability and verification.  She’s done enough spin in her day to give Muttiah Muralitharan a run for his money.  And she’s been either orchestrator of or happy witness to mass scale electoral fraud during her tenure to know that 1 plus 1 adds up to 2 and not 11, as Channel 4 might want us to believe. 
When I think of Kumaratunga, I remember the opening song of the musical Evita where Ernesto Che Guevara, mocking the pomp, pageantry and outpouring of grief at Eva Peron’s funeral claims, ‘She did nothing for years!’  That’s only part-memory of the ex-president, though. She did a lot too and much of it unforgettable in a forgettable kind of way if you know what I mean.  And I am not only talking about the Wayamba Provincial Council Election.  It was during her tenure after all that Eelam-speak was heard loudest. Indeed among her nearest and dearest were unapologetic champions of separatism.  Her commitment to peace was amply demonstrated by the amazing twinning of the occasionally visible military offensive and the round-the-clock vilification of the military and vociferous chorusing of the line ‘the LTTE cannot be militarily defeated’.  She invited Norway to broker an agreement with a terrorist who had vowed to divide the country.  Should I say more?
Vimukthi is a Sinhalese. So too his mother.  By name and mother tongue.  Did the Sinhalese, as a community, ever sanction atrocity?  By the same token, has either mother or son ever claimed to be proud to be a Sinhalese for some random act by some Sinhalese (verifiable and without a shadow of doubt hanging over it) such as sending food and medicine to the tsunami affected brethren among the Tamils or volunteering to help those who had been rescued by the Army in the first few months of the year 2009?  Vimukthi-style embarrassment would make every single person on this earth ashamed of his/her community for all communities contain despicable people doing shameless things.  Indeed, he need not have waited for Channel 4 to air its LTTE-spin to be ashamed of his race.  His own mother could have driven him to tear and embarrassment more than a decade ago. 
Vimukthi and his mother are Sinhalese. By name.  They don’t make me embarrassed to be a Sinhalese.  They only evoke pity.  Infinite pity.  May they both be blessed by the Noble Triple Gem and someday be endowed with the wisdom to navigate the regions of avidya (ignorance or delusion). 

[This article appeared in the Daily News of July 30, 2011]