The Peace Trap

By Eymard de Silva Wijeyeratne
"As barbarism is the era of fact, so the era of order must necessarily be the reign of fiction." (Paul Valery, Persian Letters in Collected Works Vol. 10)

Since terrorism is an extreme form of barbarism And peace an imagined state of order, peace talks herald the reign of fiction.

The persistent attempts by the Norwegian peace engineer, Eric Solheim, to get the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE together at the negotiating table may appear to have activated a spirited debate. As a matter of fact it is not a debate at all, but the response of reasonable indignation directed at a peace-trap designed and constructed by Norway as a contractor commissioned by an allegedly international community, which as everyone knows is an euphemism for those responsible for bombing the Chinese embassy in Serbia and causing great hardship to the innocent people of Iraq. These designers of the peace trap are cheered on by local recipients of foreign funding and by clergymen remotely controlled from across the seas. There is a Norse myth about the Valkyries who were assigned the task of selecting those destined to be annihilated in battle. The role played by Solheim bears a striking resemblance to that of the mythical Valkyries, if one goes by the outcomes of the peace talks initiated in the past by Presidents Premadasa and Chandrika Bandaranayake.

The Design and Construction of the Peace Trap

Readers will readily recall the days when the Colombo Municipality distributed rat-traps among households for the purpose of catching rats. A piece of roasted coconut or some other rodent delicacy was placed in the trap to entice rats. In the case of the peace-trap the enticing piece is Peace itself, in the form of a sugar-coated abstraction. The peace-trap is part of an overall strategy designed to coerce Sri Lanka to redesign and reconstruct its political economy to conform to a model that serves Eurocentric interests and ambitions. Though the strategy has been in place for many years, greater pressure is now being applied since the collective effort to rid the world of the red pustular plague in East Europe and Russia is believed to have been accomplished. The first step in the process of getting the Eurocentric model entrenched in Sri Lanka was to create what may be called an epistemic community, a community that arrives at a common understanding that everything which contributes to human progress must come from a few agencies in the West. This epistemic community consists of an assortment of individuals whose ideologies, in the days gone by, were diametrically opposed to one another. Among them are Marxist ideologies who have abandoned the class struggle for the race struggle, economists who are faithful to the text book version of economic development and growth dished out by the World Bank, IMF, WTO and other agencies, and clergymen whose new Messianism entails a redemarcation of the Kingdom of God as consisting of little domains of real estate fractured by seismic force of unlimited racial aspirations but bonded together again with episcopal gum. If all these elements are rolled into a ball along with the government of the day, we arrive at an understanding of the turmoil and turbulence in Sri Lanka. The propagandists among this epistemic community who usually serve NGOs, foreign embassies and other foreign interests use a Nazi-type propaganda that condemns all opposition to their simplistic theories as being generated by ‘conspiracy phobia’ and a ‘besieged mentality’.

The Economic Framework of the Peace-Trap

This epistemic community wants the public to believe that America and Europe and Japan achieved phenomenal economic growth by faithfully following the remedies they now recommend for use by developing countries, namely: liberalisation and more liberalisation, abolition of all subsidies to consumers, abolition of all subsidies to farmers, and targeting dehumanised macro-economic aggregates. History shows us that the developed countries have achieved high levels of economic development through a gradual process of evolution. During this period of evolution when brick was placed upon brick to build a powerful political economy, these countries provided unemployment benefits, agricultural subsidies and other welfare measures. Economists in the epistemic community are caught in the "pari passu" (all things being equal) rat-trap. Unfortunately all things are not equal in the real world. The basic principles on which their economic theories are based are:

• The Marie Antoinette principle — If you don’t have bread, eat cakes.

• Dives/Lazarus principle — the majority of the impoverished people in the country must sit at the foot of the entrepreneur’s table and live on the crumbs that ‘trickle down’ therefrom.

• The Surly Wolf principle (Aesop). The developed countries like the surly wolf drinking water on the top of the hill blame the Third World lamb at the foot of the hill, for spoiling everything in the world: environment, labour conditions, human rights, trade flows, intellectual property and life itself.

I will not go into details of economic policy-making except to say that a dynamic market economy can co-exist with disciplined, well planned yet minimal government intervention. Dr. Jayantha Kelegama, perhaps one of the few economists who is capable of going beyond and above the simplistic theories of economists in the epistemic community has written several excellent articles in the Island. I will quote from one of these articles to illustrate my point. "The policies of liberalisation, deregulation, privatisation, withdrawal of the government from economic activity and making the private sector the engine of growth, pursued in the nineties by both the previous the current government, have not resulted in a dramatic transformation of the economy and rapid economic growth as expected... Economic growth in the last five years 1995-1999 can only be described as moderate for the average annual growth rate was only 4.9 per cent. This growth rate was the same as the average annual growth rate of 4.9 per cent in the five years 1989-1993" (Island 9th March 2001).

If one uses the principle enunciated by Karl Popper one finds that the simplistic theories of economics are not ‘falsifiable’. Any number of reasons can be found to explain away the failure of these theories to lay the foundations of economic prosperity. If the ‘engine of growth’ fails to purr the sweet sounds of prosperity it is because the playing field is not level. Though the rapid decline of the economy is largely attributable to very poor governance (including the conduct of the war) by both the UNP and PA, blind conformity to the prescriptions laid down by IMF, World Bank and WTO has also contributed to this decline by isolating the economy from the polity and by leaving little room for the government to work out an economic policy that suits the country. How does all this form a part of the peace trap? Reckless spending by the government on more ministers, more luxury vehicles and other inanities has widened budget deficits and thus fuelled inflation. Recurring adverse balances of payment on the current account have led to a progressive drain on foreign reserves. Measures taken to remedy the situation, namely devaluation of the rupee, have not helped to exorcise inflation, promote exports or reduce imports. The perennial claim made for the superior efficiency of the private sector is packed in the slogan "the right product at the right price". The privatised business enterprises of Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) and Shell Gas have only added to the burdens of the consumer. Several letters to the Island have revealed the inefficiency of SLT (SLT Office in Utter Chaos, Island, 28th April 2001). In this depressing scenario, activists within the epistemic community, purblind-in-pursuit-of-peace, attribute the economic collapse to the pernicious effects of the war alone, which in their view the government is unilaterally waging on a group of innocents playing with plastic-explosive toys (see Island Editorial of 19th March 2001 for statistics of these playtime exploits). The international community will refuse aid and the international agencies like the World Bank, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank will lay down crippling conditions for rescue operations. Increasing unemployment, grinding poverty, general immiseration, emotional enfeeblement and values—circumcision will affect the majority as well as the minorities. The minorities will naturally attribute their misfortune, which they share with the majority community, to their ethnicity or religion. Suspicions and tensions will increase exponentially. At this point the government will be forced to enter the peace-trap as the only option open to it. Meanwhile, the UNP, which is the main component of the opposition will ride to Parliament in bullock carts or on bicycles, and invite foreign diplomats to savour the misfortunes of a nation betrayed by government.


The feigned ‘angst’ (the anxiety of an agonised and prickly conscience) which the European nations express when they talk of war is contrary to the very foundations on which their civilisations have been built and nurtured. This includes the tragi-comic incident of the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Serbia. Europe was Armageddon. Its political economy was moulded and shaped by war within and without its territory. War was waged with resolute will and determination, when Hitler, the embodiment of evil, had to be vanquished. Armageddon was stretched across Europe to spill over into North Africa. When Japan got itself embroiled in the conflict Armageddon was extended to cover Sri Lanka whose people were not a party to the conflict. Yes, there is an insurrection in Sri Lanka and this has caused a waste of precious human resources and taxpayers’ money. Peace engineers work on the basis that they alone enjoy a monopoly in yearning for and ushering in peace, because they alone understand the mechanics of social forces, which generate either war or peace. Peace engineers use a curious muddled logic when they argue the incontrovertibility of their position. On the one hand they see those who are opposed to the Norwegian initiative as a hate-oriented minority who are either Sinhala chauvinist sycophants or those who indulge in Sinhala Buddhist Nationalist rhetoric. On the other hand they see a seething mass of people who have allegedly declared a consensus in support of the Norwegian initiative. The truth of the matter is that every man and woman yearns for peace. Yet, the peace they yearn for is not the abject surrender which Mr. Solheim and his fellow peace activists are trying to engineer. There is no consensus at all for appeasement and abject surrender.

Norway and Mr. Solheim

What are the qualifications required of a person or a nation to function as a facilitator? In the case of an individual the requirement would be that of a charisma which is supported by honesty, sincerity of purpose and an understanding of the very nature of the conflict that awaits resolution. It is regrettable that the cheap expedient of launching a personal attack on Mr. Solheim was used in Parliament. It is not only unethical but also counter productive as far as Sri Lanka’s national interests are concerned. I am a firm believer in first impressions or what I would call the spontaneous response to a person. In the days we were in school an assessment was made of a student’s deportment: namely his bearing and demeanour. Judging by his appearances on television and photographs in the newspapers Mr. Solheim’s deportment appears dull and lustreless. There is no evidence of charisma. Considering the fact that Norway has functioned as a safe-haven for the LTTE as evidenced in articles written by Peter Chalk and others, the combination of Mr. Solheim and Mr. Westborg is more likely evoke distrust and suspicion rather than confidence in genuine peace. In any event it is clear that Norway because of its own connections with the LTTE is being used as a tool by more powerful nations.

Britain and Hain

Britain’s decision to ban the LTTE should be carefully assessed. On the one hand it should be treated as a major breakthrough in establishing two principles: one the acknowledgment that terror has been practiced and two that terrorism stands condemned. Yet, Sri Lanka needs to be circumspect about the practical outcome of the position taken up by the British government in the context of the peace-trap I have described. The naivete of peace activists and the ambivalence inherent in the British decision to ban the LTTE can be gauged from a statement circulated by a peace activist. "We are concerned that such a ban can adversely affect the positive movement forward towards achieving peace in Sri Lanka and strengthen the position of extremist elements that peace negotiations are no longer desirable... What we need to realise is that the British legislation to ban organisations deemed to be terrorist was developed to protect British interests in mind.

Peter Hain’s attitude in relation to the proposed negotiations between the government and the LTTE reveals a mixture of ignorance and arrogance. When interviewed by a reporter, the proceedings of which were televised on Thursday 23 November 2000, Mr. Hain said that those who opposed the proposed peace-negotiations were like dinosaurs stuck in the past. This remark reflects insolent disdain of the majority of Sri Lankan people. Yes, the dinosaur-past is a slagheap of ruins left behind by British colonial rule, which has provided fertile ground for the suspicion and distrust that has torn the Sri Lankan polity apart. When Mr. Hain was asked to admit that the LTTE was a terrorist organisation, he side stepped the question by saying, "they have clearly been involved in brutal activity." Peter Hain’s statement is a distilled version of the outlook of European nations, which seize every available opportunity to condemn the despotic ambitions of relative innocents such as General Musharraf and Fidel Castro but appear to be enamoured of the exploits of the LTTE leader.

Episcopal Bravado

The bishops of the Roman church in Sri Lanka have made their own contribution to the design of the peace-trap. Bishop Malcolm Ranjith the compulsively verbose spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference once said, "Unity and understanding should start from the grass-root level. That is what we are trying to do. Northern Tamils were of the opinion that the Sinhalese are murdeerers. We took about 300 pilgrims to Madhu last year. The Tamils there realised that the Southerners are peace lovers... They (Tamils) were given an impression that the Sinhalese are killers. We have changed that impression" (Island, 5th May 2000). Many impediments-by-way-of certification stand in the way of Catholics who wish to exercise their fundamental right to get themselves educated in Catholic schools, get married in the Church and get themselves buried in a rectangular Catholic plot. In these circumstances, as a non-conformist Christian, I consider myself fortunate to be in possession of an Island- attested certificate from Bishop Ranjith that I am not a killer, though a Southerner. Coming back to the episcopal preference declared in favour of the North and the East as against the South, readers would recall that Bishops Malcolm Ranjith and Rayappu Joseph were adamant that there should be no armed soldiers in the precincts of the Madhu shrine. Their insistence led to the shooting of an unarmed soldier. Who then was armed? As I mentioned earlier in an article in this esteemed newspaper, the Church has not been averse to the presence of armed cadres when Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers perform the function of attesting witnesses at weddings. The Church has also permitted the celebration of Army Day at St. Lawrence’s Church, Wellawatte.

Though the Catholic Bishops of Sri Lanka talk endlessly about pluralism (which I consider to be a hard municipal reality that requires no proof or justification) and the need for a secular state, some senior Roman Catholic Bishops of Europe, among them the autocratic Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, have criticised the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights for ignoring God and Europe’s Christian past. One bishop is on record saying that the Charter is an "avowedly secular document, which ignores the rights of the churches" (Island, 11th December, 2000). Considering this curious interpretation of secular status one is entitled to believe that the peace, which the Bishops wish to impose on Sri Lanka is an official declaration of a preferential option for the North and East. The Bishops’ decision to support Solheim’s messianic mission is clearly a part of this declaration. The jaundiced view of the bishops is evident in a statement made by the Catholic Bishop of Jaffna, Thomas Savundranayagam to a British audience, "The Bishop advised British Catholics not to send money through the post as it risked being stolen by the security forces" (Catholic Times of Britain, 30th July 2000). On the one hand no man or woman in his senses would send money through the post, and on the other, any money sent by post would be pilfered before it reached Sri Lanka and the soldiers. It is abundantly clear that the objective of the Bishop was to discredit Sri Lankan security forces.

A local newspaper carried a news item to the effect that ten Catholic Bishops were due to visit refugee camps in the Wanni and possibly engage in talks with representatives of the LTTE. The very vocal Bishop Ranjith gave vent to a quasi-prophetic cast of mind when he said, "The visit to Wanni was a follow up to the new peace mission which was initiated recently with the visitation of the statue of Our Lady of Madhu to southern areas to foster peace and unity" (Sunday Times, 22nd April). As a ‘Christian of woman bomb but only once’, I revere the Mother of Jesus. Yet, I firmly believe that assigning miraculous powers to a specific icon of Mary, be it that of Madhu, of Velankanai or of Czechostowa is plain idolatry. It is a form of escapism that seeks to circumvent the narrow and difficult path trod by her Son, the Suffering Servant, the Son of Man. Exploiting minority status based on race to amplify minority status based on religion, is to sow the seeds of perpetual discord. If using icons to mesmerise innocent faithful is a grave sin, making icons of Solheim and Westborg is a sacrilege.