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Preaching to the convinced and damning dissenters will not work

by Gamini Weerakoon

(August 12, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Reading and listening to the fast and furious debates on ‘Channel 4’ that have been going on for quite some time, we have wondered about the objective of committed defenders of the Rajapaksa faith. Is it to prove that the controversial film strip is a fraudulent concoction to disgrace Sri Lanka, to give vent to expressions of loyalty to the Rajapaksa regime for various reasons or genuine patriotic outbursts?

Preachers of all faiths and ideologies down the years and their flock have a common bond between themselves. Preachers want their flock to believe them and the flock wants to hear from preachers what they believe in. If not for such mutual agreement on vital issues the world would have been a much better place to live in. This mutual agreement between preachers and followers has been described as ‘preaching to the convinced’.

‘Humanitarian’ Operation

Monday last week the Ministry of Defence came out with its guns firing on accusations made in the Western media against the Sri Lankan armed forces particularly alleged war crimes. This retaliation can be appreciated against the continuous bombardment of propaganda against Sri Lanka by Western governments and the international media. But was this attempt: ‘Humanitarian Operation: Factual Analysis July 2006-May 2009’ to rebut Western propaganda successful or did it turn out to be a vain attempt? The very same day BBC News carried a statement by the New York based Human Rights Watch on the Defence Ministry report calling it an ‘eye wash’ and ‘another feeble attempt to convince the world despite growing evidence that the government of Sri Lanka committed war crimes’. The substance of the report denying accusations made against it was not carried in the Western media, not even on subsequent days.

This is an example of ‘preaching to the convinced’. Sri Lankans, even those opposed to the Rajapaksa government, went along with the Defence Ministry report even though they had not read it. (Only those in the charmed kitchen cabinet would have had access to it).

Western audiences and even media personnel agreed it was ‘eye wash’ even though they too had not read the report nor will they bother to read it! Of course the people in those countries who are supposed to influence their political representatives would not have even heard of the Defence Ministry analysis.

Western Mindset

Such is the state of the propaganda war over Sri Lanka. What has to be realised is that the Western media and politicians have made up their minds about the alleged war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan services. The Economist (April 30) in the Banyan column said: In recent years the default mode for Sri Lankan diplomats has been a posture of affronted national dignity beneath a mask of outraged national sanctimoniousness…… (This comment was made a week after the ‘Darusman report’ was made public.)

This takes us to the basic issue of Sri Lanka’s strategy to counter propaganda of LTTE supporters actively backed by Western governments and propagated by the so called international media. The Sri Lankan government’s strategy of blasting away at allegations made has not had any effect on Western governments, their media or the public. It only makes the Rajapaksa supporters raise cheers. But cheers will no longer work. The issue is looking ominous for this country.

Western build-up

The United Nations backed by the West are demanding that Sri Lanka investigate the alleged war crimes made against its armed forces. But even if Lanka investigates on its own, unless the findings are against the armed forces, the Western verdict would be: ‘eye wash’, as was done with the Gotabhaya Rajapaksa report. Apparently signs are that the West will be satisfied only if an international body investigates.

The stand against Sri Lanka is getting tougher. On July 22 the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Congress passed an amendment to ban aid to Sri Lanka ‘pending accountability’ over alleged atrocities in the armed conflict. Aid would be permitted only after the administration certifies progress by Sri Lanka on key concerns including: climate for freedom of the press, end to emergency regulations and provision of information by the government on the fate of people unaccounted for at the end of the civil conflict. The amendment would take effect only in the next American fiscal year starting in October.

With the world’s superpower (still) flexing its muscles against Lanka together with their European allies and even our Big Brother, India (some say Blood Brother as well) now hemming and hawing, can we adopt that defiant, arrogant but independent stance of saying that the issue is purely an internal matter and attempts to dictate to us is tantamount to violation of the UN Charter: Interference in the internal affairs of a member state?

Three ladies stirring the Lankan pot

Jyalalitha the plump heartthrob of 70 million in Tamil Nadu wants the government of Sonia Gandhi to move the UN to apply sanctions on Sri Lanka and have Mahinda Rajapaksa taken before the International Criminal Court in the Hague for alleged for war crimes. The aging Hilary Clinton journeys down from New Delhi to Chennai for the first time to meet Jayalalitha. Is it just to say ‘Namasthe’, chew ‘vadde’ or to ask Jayalalitha to keep applying pressure on uppity Lankans to toe the Yankee line? And Nirupama Rao, the charming Indian diplomat on her way to New York to take up her appointment as India’s Chief Representative at the United Nations drops in at Temple Trees for breakfast with Mahinda Rajapaksa. Is it to have egg hoppers, string hoppers, the president’s favourite Kiributh or to tell us: Toe the Yankee line brother or face consequences?

Rajapaksa the brave, once under such pressure over the same issue threatened to go to the Electric Chair. No need to fear all that. He will be saved by Wimal Weerawansa the same way he saved Weerawansa from fasting to death by offering a glass of water to break the fast. Besides it is likely that despite the boasts of Power and Energy Minister, the loquacious Champika Ranawaka, there would be no power in the national grid at the crucial moment, as it happens quite often.

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