28 January 2013

Carlo’s lesson

Human beings are frail. They err.  Sometime the transgressions are deliberate.  There are times also when poor judgment, lack of adequate information, deductive poverty, emotion and arrogance result in wrongdoing.  There are no safeguards against the former.  People who believe they can get away with murder will murder for the ‘getting-away’ is but after-thought of murder-decision.  If found out and charged very few would acknowledge crime. Most would look for loophole.

Of the latter type most who later realize the error of their ways would let sleeping dogs lie, so to say.  If error is pointed out, there would be many who twiddle thumbs, many who would try to pass the buck one way or the other, and many who would seek to dismiss or dismiss weight of mistake.  It is a rare breed that acknowledges in full, accepts responsibility and pleads forgiveness. 

Professor Carlo Fonseka is a rare man.  He has his detractors, those who disagree with him and who find fault with the positions he’s taken on particular issues.  One thing is clear: he is a man with a conscience.  If he makes a stand it is because he identifies with the particular cause.  If he is silent it is because he has reconciled to himself that silence is ideologically correct, socially responsible and politically appropriate.  He will, if pushed, defend the positions he takes. 
On January 19, 2013, Carlo Fonseka stepped back.  He admitted error.   Indeed, he virtually confessed that he was accessory after the fact of crucifixion. He asked for forgiveness.

The ‘crime’ was relatively mild.  All he had done was to repeat a lie, which he had honestly believed to be true, that the late Gamini Dissanayake was behind the burning of the Jaffna Library.  He did this on approximately 30 occasions in public forums, i.e. during Chandrika Kumaratunga’s presidential election campaign in 1994.  Now, with the retired police officer Edward Gunawardena establishing clearly in his memoirs ‘Memorable Tidbits include the Jaffna Library Burning’ that it was the LTTE that was responsible for this crime, Prof Fonseka had a choice to make.  He could have ignored, told himself that he had gone with what was thought to be the truth, downplayed his error or taken refuge in any number of absolving arguments.  He went public with confession.  He apologized to the Dissanayake family.  He asked Navin Dissanayake (Gamini’s son) to think of his late father and say ‘Father forgive him, for he did not know what he was doing’.   He need not have, but he did.  Rare. 
Confession does not put parts of broken things together.  Event, personality, time and metaphor pass and pass rapidly over crime-moment.  ‘Sorry’ doesn’t turn back time. It doesn’t draw back fire into matchstick.  It does not turn ash into manuscript and brick.  Remorse, however, imprisons arrogance, subverts righteous anger and makes healing possible.

At the same event, Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera pointed out that the error resulted in another crime: false accusation.  It was not just Gamini Dissanayake who was vilified.  The state, erroneously (and deliberately) tagged ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ by the LTTE, Tamil chauvinists and others who had a gripe against Sinhalese and Buddhists, stood accused.  Errors of omission and commission did nothing to put the record straight.  No apologies so far.
Prof Fonseka has sowed the seeds of humility.  He can be emulated.  One does not have to say ‘You are right, I am wrong’, but one can say, in the very least, ‘You may be in error, but I am not error-free either’.  This country has seen a lot of violence.  Few are guilt-free.  Individuals can step up and become bigger men and women.  They can speak for themselves, for few have the right to speak for collectives. 

One can say, ‘They’re not remorseful, so why should I?’   Fear comes from possible political fallout.  Carlo Fonseka is a bigger man than he was.   Humility is rewarded.  In the very least it makes for less sleeplessness.  If you have a conscience, that is. 

['The Nation' Editorial, January 27, 2013] 


Anonymous said...

Humility is a virtue but the book on which he bases his revision may not be correct.

In 2006 the President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapakse was quoted as saying,

"The UNP is responsible for mass scale riots and massacres against the Tamils in 1983, vote rigging in the Northern Development Council elections and [the] burning of the Jaffna library"

Anonymous said...

Right. I remember that Cyril Matthew was in Jaffna that night supervising the evil act. You must check all reports of that time before jumping to conclusions. Carlo Fonseka exonerates only Gamini Dissanayake.

Anonymous said...

Whole story was spreading like a bushfire in the aftermath of burning Jaffna Library as many rival political fractions tried to take the advantage of this pathetic situation. Anti Buddhist movements like Church launched a massive propaganda campaign against Cyril Mathew as Cyril Mathew started attacking J.R. Jayawardena openly claiming that he himself would be the real "Diyasena" to protect Sinhala-Buddhist Culture. Many Sinhalese Buddhist Pundits believed in this campaign of denouncing Cyril Mathew just to show that they are not Sinhala-Buddhist fanatics.

By that time Gamini Disanayake was a popular political figure and a potential candidate for the Presidential Election. Gamini was born as a Christian and converted himself to a Buddhist. This is one of the reasons why the Christians didn’t like Gamini. The Church poured more fuel to the fire in order to curb Gamin’s popularity and to block the Tamil votes in a presidential election if Gamini does contest.

The most significant factor amongst all those theories on burning of Jaffna Library is that the Christian Church perceived this library as the biggest danger for their missionary work of spreading Christianity amongst Northern Tamils as this Library had rare ancient literature of Hindu Culture. The older generation of learned Vellala caste was keen on reading these literature based on Hindu cultural traditions by younger and future generations. The Church knew beforehand that the access to this library could prevent Tamil youths joining subversive activities. It was the same tactic what Hitler’s propaganda Minister Goebel used by asking people to burn philosophical and religious literature and he did it very successfully by organizing this event in the premises of Berlin Technical university on 10th of May 1933 and this act was followed by 22 universities in whole Germany and burnt 30,000 books from 500 authors in Berlin alone and 500,000 kilo books from several libraries. The Catholic Church, which was behind Hitler to find the “final solution” for the Jews and knew that these books could change the minds of youths not to follow the Catholic and Christian teachings. They got the work done by Goebel indirectly and the burning of Jaffna Library had the same fate. In the same manner the Church got the work done by the LTTE terrorists.

People who are not familiar with facts behind the events of World history think and act like the frogs in the well.

“Where they burn books, they will also burn humans in the end”

Anonymous said...

The library was burned to hurt Tamils everywhere-whether Christian or Hindu. Yes, the same tactic was used -not only in Nazi Germany, but in other places as well. I have often wondered about the ignorance of non-christians who ask the question 'are you christian or Roman
Catholic.' The christian church includes RCs and Protestants. It also includes all castes. Many families have both Hindus and christians. Tamil literature was precious to all. Incidentally, the Holy Bible was translated into Tamil by a Hindu sage- Arumuga Navalar.

Anonymous said...

I would take off my hat to Prof.Carlo Fonseka for admitting his error but to do so, it would mean one has to take former DIG Edward Gunawardena's word as the gospel truth. The LTTE has had its just deserts but few would be around to contest the claim.

Anonymous said...


Mr Gunawardena seems to have said different things at different times.

"Mr. Edward Gunawardena Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) stated that he was in Jaffna on the day the Library was burnt. He was in charge of Colombo, but was sent to Jaffna to assist in the DDC elections. Mr. Gunawardena gave evidence that the police were restless after the incident in which two policemen were shot."


Anonymous said...

You are saying only few LTTErs around to contest the claim - what about all the LTTErs overseas and their hundreds os sympathisers in the Diaspora. No doubt they will be buying up more British and American politicians and media personalities plus lawyers using all the ill gotten LTTE funds rather than spend this money on the war weary Tamils in Sri Lanka. LTTE's abysmal track record is such that they are capable of any heinous acts including the burning of the Jaffna library in order to put the blame on the Sinhala Buddhists.