Does it Make Sense? - Sri Lanka Guardian

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Does it Make Sense?

"Vellupillai Pirapaharan is no Rohana Wijeweera. This difference can be best understood by the difference between the anti-IPKF struggles of the LTTE and the JVP. The LTTE took on the IPKF militarily; the JVP waged a poster war against the IPKF in the South, reserving its lethal violence for unarmed and unprotected Sinhala civilians."
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by Tisaranee Gunasekara

"They sacrifice the future to themselves…"
Nietzsche (Ecce Homo)

(June 29, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) A cost-benefit analysis can be of use in politics as well. Not in terms of rupees and cents but in terms of what is sensible and what is not, ‘does it make sense?’ being the key question.

The war makes sense because every other option has been ruled out by the nature of the LTTE. If the Tigers are willing to accept some form of federalism the war would be irrational while a peace campaign aimed at the government, demanding the immediate cessation of hostilities and commencement of negotiations would be rational. Unfortunately the LTTE is an epitome of Camus’ ‘irrational terror’; no political solution, however generous, will satisfy it because it wants nothing but Eelam in the form of a Tiger state. Given this reality the war makes sense. But even in a sensible war there can be strategies and tactics, ideas and declarations which make no sense whatsoever, the third Muhamalai debacle being the most obvious case in point.

Does it make sense to believe that Vellupillai Pirapaharan can be captured alive, even if the LTTE is decimated? This is the latest promise of the Army Commander who earlier gave us the numbers of Tiger cadres and a deadline to finish them off: "The Security Forces are attacking Mullaitivu, Prabhakaran's hideout, from several directions. Army's aim is to capture Prabhakaran, who is holed up in a bunker, alive", Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka has stated during an interview with the local daily 'The Dinamina' on Wednesday (June 11)…. Troops are attacking the LTTE's 1-4 Base complex in a preliminary bid to reach Mullaitivu. Prabhakaran is believed to be living in an underground bunker in the area. Forces have already regained several hundred square kilometres where the Tigers held sway and they have to march forward another 21 miles to achieve the final goals, he has said during the interview" (Defence Ministry website).

Vellupillai Pirapaharan is no Rohana Wijeweera. This difference can be best understood by the difference between the anti-IPKF struggles of the LTTE and the JVP. The LTTE took on the IPKF militarily; the JVP waged a poster war against the IPKF in the South, reserving its lethal violence for unarmed and unprotected Sinhala civilians. To admit that Mr. Pirapaharan will never permit himself to be captured alive is not to be pro-LTTE but to be sensible. The distance between the army and Mr. Pirapaharan might be negligible in terms of miles but covering this distance will be the hardest and deadliest task ever undertaken by the Lankan Forces. Shutting one’s eyes to this unpalatable reality is not patriotism but criminal negligence. If such pronouncements are not propaganda gimmicks they denote a high level of hubris. Hubris is the antithesis of sense, and can exist only in its absence.

Does it make sense to spend Rs.2.88 billion on the SAARC summit at a time the country is facing a severe financial crunch? After all this is not Sri Lanka’s turn to host the summit; we volunteered to do so when the Maldives backed down. True the country will gain some prestige from it but at what cost? Quite apart from the financial outlay, imagine the political damage we can do to our image through overzealousness in security matters. What if the Tigers set off a bomb somewhere and the security forces arrest thousands of Tamils in response? It will be in the nature of the LTTE to try to pull a stunt of this nature and unless the Rajapakses respond with uncharacteristic sense and foresight, the Tigers will get the human rights faux pas they need.

Antagonising non Sinhala-Buddhists

Does it make sense to create enemies of every minority living in Sri Lanka? A recent e mail warning about an ‘Islamic fundamentalist’ campaign to create a ‘Nasaristan’ in the East, backed by an international conspiracy, is characteristic of the anti-minority hysteria the Sinhala extremes are trying to infest the polity and society with. The ‘evil enemy’ in this instance is the Muslims but in other mails, articles, speeches and posters it is also Tamils and Christians; each minority is accused of trying to take over Sri Lanka as part of an international conspiracy to destroy Sinhalese Buddhists (the above e mail exhorts Sinhalese not to sell their land to Muslims or permit their womenfolk to have relationships with Muslims, to save the country from this Muslim conspiracy).

Bertrand Russell in his essay ‘The Ancestry of Fascism’ highlights the correlation between changes of ‘intellectual temper’ and changes in the ‘tone of politics’: "It is important to remember that political events very frequently take their colour from the speculation of an earlier time" (In Praise of Idleness). It took years and years of anti-Tamil hysteria to create the Black July, endless fear-mongering of how ‘they’ are taking ‘our’ land, ‘our’ universities, ‘our’ jobs and ‘our’ country. Hate-mongering against minorities usually begins at the fringes of the polity and creep inwards and upwards, if and when spaces open up in the mainstream. The danger becomes particularly acute if the mainstream parties open doors for these extremist elements out of political expediency. This is what SWRD Bandaranaike did when he embraced ‘Sinhala Only’; and this is what the Rajapakses seem to be doing by empowering the JHU.

Minister Champika Ranawaka easily surpasses Minister Cyril Mathew in fear-mongering; he targets not just Tamils but every minority in Sri Lanka. Given the insane intensity of those who carry out these campaigns, the official tolerance they seem to enjoy and the propensity on the part of the masses to search for scapegoats in times of general crises (characterised by overall insecurity), the seeds of multiple hatreds which are being sown currently may grow faster than usual. This is especially so in the East, where a segment of the regime seems to be implementing a strategy of divide and ‘regain’. The insanity of such a course should be obvious, except to the insane; the East cannot be protected from the LTTE without the backing of the Muslim community. If we alienate and antagonise the Muslims we will lose the East.

If the Eastern Muslims continue to feel threatened, if they decide that the Lankan state is aligned with Sinhala extremism, they will turn away from the democratic Muslim parties and gravitate towards the hardline elements within their communities, the ones who will promise to protect them with ‘whatever means necessary’. With that shift, the Hakeems, the Ferial Ashraffs and the Athaullas will go the way of Amirthalingam and Neelan Tiruchelvam; they will be sidelined and the young hardliners (as yet powerless and in a minority) will take over to the detriment of the country and the community.

It can be difficult living in a pluralist land. Since Sri Lanka is one, we need to learn to accommodate that unchangeable reality. Given the religious and cultural differences, each community may find much to dislike in others communities, from attitudes to women and animals to the way we pray, eat and drink. These differences and the irritants they produced need to be seen in perspective. They must not be permitted to become animosities and hatreds; they must not be exaggerated into cultural threats and political dangers. We split with the Tamils over language; we are in danger of splitting with the Muslims and the Christians over religion and culture. The first split led to a civil war which is yet to end. Do we want more of the same? Multiple wars will be the price we have to pay if we insist on seeing in every non Sinhala-Buddhist a real or potential enemy alien invading our land.

The International Dimension

Does it make sense to antagonise the West over human rights simply to protect a few undisciplined elements in the armed forces? France is said to have taken up the issue of the massacre of 17 aid workers in Mutur at the request of ACF. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (of Kosovo fame and a key advocate of humanitarian interventionism) has promised to seek global support for an international inquiry into the massacre. Even if an international inquiry can be prevented, the French campaign can deprive us of the GSP+ facility, particularly since France takes over the EU Presidency next month.

We can utter strong condemnations of France and Minister Kouchner but will that benefit the country (whatever momentary satisfaction it may give the powers that be)? Will it save the industries affected by the loss of the GSP+ facility or the jobs of hundreds of thousands of men and women employed in them? (Incidentally, according to media reports 35% of industries benefiting from the GSP+ are non-garment exports; therefore the adverse effects of losing this facility will affect exports in general, and at a time our trade deficit is at a dangerous low). It would make sense to pre-empt the French move by finding the Mutur killers and bringing them to justice. The victims, after all, were Sri Lankans and they deserve at least that much from their state. That moral imperative apart, such action will help reduce anti-Sri Lankan sentiments globally. With that one effort we can prove to the world that we are serious about protecting human rights, thereby gaining invaluable space to prosecute the anti-Tiger war.

The LTTE has a global presence; it cannot be defeated conclusively without cutting off those international tentacles. This is why the backing of the world is a sine qua non for a successful anti-Tiger struggle. And though India and the West (apart from Norway) are not pro-Tiger, they are decidedly pro-Tamil, because in the Sri Lankan context civilian Tamils are the main victims. They are powerless and threatened from all sides – the LTTE, the Lankan state and those anti-Tiger Tamil parties which are armed. Therefore they are in need of protection, in need of external friends. And as President Rajapakse, still the Chairman of Sri Lanka-Palestine Solidarity Committee, should know, causes do not respect international barriers.

Sri Lanka gained notoriety in July 1983 as a country in which the majority community launched a killing spree against the minority, with impunity. And though many international players have learnt to be wary of the LTTE, they are committed to seeking justice for Tamils, via an improved human rights environment and a political solution to the ethnic problem. This distinction between backing the LTTE and supporting the Tamils must be understood or else we will antagonise the world unnecessarily mistaking the second for the first. Of course this distinction is structurally incomprehensible to Sinhala supremacists who regard Tamil as coterminous with Tiger (an identification the LTTE is insistent on and on which the appeasement process of Ranil Wickremesinghe was based).

Does it make sense to undermine the APRC and sabotage the search for a political solution? As the recent high level Indian visit demonstrated, India will continue to insist on a political solution to the Tamils. Pressure is building up in Tamilnadu for a more proactive Indian role in Sri Lanka. With the poor showing by the Congress Party in a number of states, the need to win/retain support of Tamilnadu Tamils would be more critical than ever. It is not for nothing that the Indian National Security Advisor met the TNA and extended an invitation to visit Delhi. It was not so long ago that TNA leaders had to kick their heels in Tamilnadu because there was no one in Delhi willing to meet them. Times are changing and not for the better.

Until a political solution is hammered out, the government can improve the Lankan condition, internally and externally by resolving a couple of human rights cases and empowering the 17th Amendment, by bragging less and showing more tolerance internally and greater maturity externally. So much can be gained with so little (while the war continues) and yet the government is not doing it. Is it unpatriotic to ask ‘why’?
- Sri Lanka Guardian


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