The good that enemies do

by Gamini Weerakoon

Jayalalitha is demanding the UN impose sanctions on Sri Lanka

(June 27, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Now that the Sri Lankan nation has been rid of the greatest enemy that threatened ‘its unity, sovereignty, historicity’ etc., and the media upbeat on ‘pro Rajapaksa patriotism’ directing their volleys of heavy verbal artillery against ‘enemies of the government’, people are wondering whether Sri Lankans have found a new enemy or are searching for a worthwhile and an enduring one.

We are certainly not professional historians but the little history we know of this island indicates that we always had enemies across the Palk Straits from pre- historic times till the advent of western colonialists with the arrival of the Portuguese around 1505 AD and thereafter till independence in 1948. Now with no colonialists in flesh and blood on the soil of Sri Lanka, there are no colonialists to be bashed about but only neo colonialists—‘petit bourgeois’ and of the ‘lumpen proletariat’ by the pro patria, pro Rajapaksa ‘intellectuals’.

In search of enemies

Sri Lankans are not the only people in search of enemies. We have twice in these columns quoted the famed Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington in his much acclaimed work: Clash of Civilisations on this point. He quotes ‘Venezuelan Nationalist demagogue’ in his novel Dead Lagoon: ‘Unless we hate what we are not, we cannot love what we are.’ These are old truths we are painfully rediscovering after a century and more of sentimental cant. Those who deny them, deny their family heritage, their culture, their heritage, their birthright, their very selves. Huntington adds: For peoples seeking identity and reinventing ethnicity, enemies are essential and the potentially most dangerous enemies occur across the fault lines between the world’s major civilisations’.

Similar sentiments were expressed after Huntington’s comments in the Los Angeles Times by Gregory Rodriguez: A nation needs an enemy – if we don’t have one we have to invent it. Rodriguez argues that from time immemorial collections of people have leveraged their fear of an enemy to keep their groups and later nations being undone. Sallust the Roman historian, Rodriguez says believed that the fear of enemies promoted social unity and its absence discord. It was thought that the destruction of Carthage – Rome’s long time rival – created a vacuum resulting in internal discord, strife and the decline of Rome.

Lanka has no enemies?

Sri Lanka though not a ‘great nation’ in magnitude had its ‘fault line’ between the Indian sub-continent in the Palk strait and the foreign enemy was clearly identified as India although the aerial ‘humanitarian assistance’ with parripu drops in 1985 resulted in the presence of Indian troops here. After their departure our politicians and intellectuals erased this ‘fault line’ and we are told that there is no enemy on the other side of this fault line but only sincere friend.

Instead, we now have almost the entire western world lined up against little Lanka. Just as Prabakaran’s war was ending we picked up new enemies – not only the LTTE ‘rump’ in London and elsewhere but in the most powerful foreign ministries of the world. Firstly, there was the former American Ambassador in Colombo Robert Blake now Assistant Secretary for South Asia in the State Department, the UN and most other western ambassadors posted in Colombo. Then there were the Foreign Ministers of Milliband and of France Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whom we told, don’t step into Lanka. There is Bank Ki-moon re-elected last week for the post of Secretary General and his officials in Sri Lanka. Now there is a full scale ‘war’ declared in the British Parliament—by both Conservatives and Labour.

There is also the powerful British press hammering the daylights out of Lanka’s government and at the forefront is Channel 4 TV Channel which last year screened a documentary on alleged war crimes committed by Sri Lanka servicemen and this month screened new footage of these alleged war crimes which made leading British politicians including some ministers express extreme horror and disgust and call upon the Sri Lankan government to respond to world criticism.

Ballooning Jayalalitha

Then there is the ballooning South Indian ex film star, now the powerful Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha Jeyaram who is demanding the Central Indian government to pressurise the UN to have sanctions imposed on Sri Lanka and for President Rajapaksa to be tried before the International Criminal Court on war crimes.

Ominous as the gathering dark clouds are on the Western horizon, there is also a silver lining for the Rajapaksa government.

Silver lining

The accusations made by Robert Blake and Co on genocide and the cry to halt the offensive against terrorists no doubt resulted in immense electoral benefits, for Mahinda Rajapaksa and his party, from the Sinhala masses. He came off as a Sinhala hero standing up to global imperialists to protect their birthrights. Robert Blake and Co should be credited with a fair proportion of the massive mandates received by Rajapaksa and his MPs.

And Britain’s Channel 4 is now drawing most of the flak directed at the Rajapaksa regime. The Katunayake ‘humanitarian operation’ in which a youth was shot dead by the police, massive protests made by private sector employees on the proposed pension scheme, the strike by university dons which is drawing increased public support, opposition to the leadership training scheme for undergrads in army camps, continued incarceration of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka are some of the major issues being reduced to insignificant news items because of the massive publicity directed against Channel 4 and the British MPs.

Above all the rising cost of living – food, clothing shelter, fuel, water and medicine scarcely gets mentioned in the media. Even rice suspected to be contaminated with arsenic gets a lesser display than Channel 4.

Government propagandists are singling out the new enemies and are going for their jugulars while government speakers go into orgasms blackguarding Channel 4.

With ‘enemies’ like Channel 4, does the government need friends?

Certainly, false propaganda against Sri Lanka and its people should be effectively countered but in doing that all failures, misdemeanors and crimes of the government should not be covered up.

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