13 November 2013

No more tough-talk or talk-down

H.L.D. Mahindapala, in an article titled ‘Exact nuance of CHOGM’s success’ points out that under normal circumstances ‘a loose, scattered and wobbly institution like the Commonwealth should have withered and died shortly after its birth.  It has survived for 64 years without any tangible benefits to the collective or individual members.  Perhaps it indicates the strength of an abiding colonial mentality.  Perhaps this is also why Prime Minister David Cameron feels empowered to talk the colonial language of condescension. 

Cameron has vowed to ‘talk tough’ during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo.  Talk tough to Sri Lanka, that is.  He would do well to revisit Robert Mugabe’s post-colonial moment when Tony Blair deigned to lecture the Zimbabwean patriarch. Mugabe, very conscious of the multilateral nature of the forum and the caveats of ‘free’ and ‘equal’ that preface the ‘logic’ of the body, retorted ‘You look after your country Tony Blair, I will look after mine!”  Blair duly sat down like a schoolboy chided for impertinence.

That said, like in any association, each and every member has the right and duty to point out flaw in fellow-member, especially where it is felt that the articles of faith, whatever they may be, have been challenged or violated.  We could give Cameron the benefit of the doubt and forgive what might be a surfacing of some subconscious anxiety over lost glory that gives a ‘talking down’ tone to his tough-talking intent.  If he does not get the kind of tongue-lashing that Blair got, it would only be due to the good natured ways of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who might drop a few names such as Abu Ghraib and make a casual reference to complicity in drone-terrorism. 

Someone can ask Cameron a question: ‘How did a population exceeding one million indigenous people living in a land that is now called Australia in the year 1788 dwindle down to less than 100,000 in 1901 barely a century later?’ If Cameron wants to single out Sri Lanka, then Sri Lanka can talk about what the British did to this country and her people.  And if it is about naming and shaming, then we could go one by one, each plundered and devastated nation listing crimes against humanity perpetrated by Britain and all the cultural and other artifacts robbed and deposited in museums all over Cameron-Land.   And if it is about general behavior, then of course Britain’s role as the Global Thug’s boy-boy can be talked about.  

Just before Cameron lands in Sri Lanka for the CHOGM it was brought to light that
Jacques de Maio, ICRC’s Head of Operations for South Asia had informed US Ambassador to Geneva Clint Williamson in July 2009 that whatever excesses that may have taken place in the last days of the conflict, there was nothing to indicate directive from the central command.  The cable had been signed by the US Ambassador to Geneva Clint Williamson on July 15, 2009.

While there is no logic to limiting investigation of any kind to a few weeks in May 2009, especially in the context of a violent conflagration lasting close to three decades where an entire country was held to ransom by the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit, a key point that Cameron and others seem to be missing is that April and May 2009 were dominated by a heroic effort at great cost by the Sri Lanka army to carry out what turned out to be the greatest hostage rescue operation the world has known. 

Jacques de Maio has clearly observed that if not for a policy of doing the utmost to protect civilians, the Sri Lankan forces could have ended it all long before May 2009.  D Maio also notes that the Government was determined not to let the LTTE off.  In a world where the likes of David Cameron are ‘ok’ with the manner in which Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi were assassinated or with drone attacks and torture chambers, all sanctioned by the doctrine of zero-tolerance of terrorism, no one can blame Sri Lanka for wanting to rid the country of the terrorist menace. 

Velupillai Prabhakaran, aptly described by Mahindapala as the Tamil Pol Pot, at the time, was holding Tamil civilians hostage, using them as a human shield.  The Army rescued some 300,000 civilians, among whom were even children sent to ‘Receiving Centers’ manned by soldiers with knapsacks loaded with explosives with the express goal of detonation in order to deter other civilians from moving to areas secured by the Government. 

David Cameron can do something.  He can think. He can google stuff.  He can, as Mahindapala suggests find out ‘how Britain ended World War II by carpet bombing Dresden in which 300,000 innocent Germany civilians died purely because the imperialist British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, wanted to end the war in a hurry’.

Welcome to Sri Lanka Mr. Cameron.  Just remember that this is not just a land with a written history that goes back a couple of millennia, it is also home to people who remember history, not just theirs but yours too. 



Anonymous said...

Very well said Malinda. Three cheers to you. More people should state facts as they are and not pussy foot around the colonial masters. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Dear Malinda, I appreciate the fact that these politicians from powerful and not so powerful countries are trying to teach lessons to SL politicians not because they feel for deprived Sri Lankan people, be it Tamils, Sinhalese or otherwise. But we should not stay silent when people are "white vaned" and protesters are shot, when drug loads and in parliament and when corruption is at the centre of every deal don't you think? And I think people like you have a responsibility towards speaking for the deprived people of this country as well.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

Correct. We should not stay silent. I am not.