It has been a tough couple of weeks for Sri Lanka in the international arena. A report on Sri Lanka was submitted to the EU Parliament. Sections of the international media called it a ‘damning report’. The State Department of the United States of America also put out a report. The State Department statement on the report was strewn with vague terms prominent among which were ‘allegation’ and ‘claim’. The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, not to be outdone perhaps, called for a ‘Gaza-style rights inquiry’ on Sri Lanka.
The fine print indicated that a familiar script has been followed. It begins with claims by sources whose integrity is questionable. These claims are then reported by equally unprofessional media organizations using not the language of ‘claim’ but ‘fact’; the ‘fact’ obtained by quoting this or that official. Subsequent distancing of organization from quoted official or refutation of claim goes unreported. In the end we get to ‘damning reports’. That they all arrive at our doorstep almost simultaneously cannot be a coincidence, but once out they become arrow-points of pressure on the Government and people of Sri Lanka.
It is an old trick in the politics of (mis)communication: utter a lie, quote it often, and ignore statement withdrawal and/or refutation of claim and it becomes fact. Perceptions are formed and they harden. The critical eye is blinded and the mind refuses to entertain alternative narratives. The damage is done. That’s the story here.
The entire process reminds me of what Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times on September 2, 2009. He said that in the run-up to the 2008 financial crash "the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth." The United States, the European Union and others have been swayed by a great layout; they’ve trashed the crucial issue of substantiation in favour of appearance.
The truth is that Sri Lanka’s track record has been exemplary in and of itself and when compared to that of the USA, UK and indeed much of the EU member states in terms of war-related atrocities, torture, rape and the treatment of displaced people. All this doesn’t count in a world where truth is a fair distance from perceived ‘reality’.
The demand is for ‘investigation’. In a world where such ‘investigations’ found irrefutable evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (which Barack Obama, darling to some, is still looking for) we can only expect the desired outcome to be ‘found out’. There are no ethics in these things, ladies and gentlemen.
On the other hand, we do have a serious problem with how we treat those who were earlier held hostage by Prabhakaran, the darling of this very same international community that takes pleasure in pinching us at every turn. Never mind that they now get three full meals a day and have their urgent medical concerns attended to or that their children are back in school, make-shift facilities for sure but nevertheless places where children long denied the right to books and instruction can actually learn, they still need to get back their lives, their homes.
Already close to a 100,000 people have been resettled in their own villages. The process is necessarily slow and this is thanks to the LTTE burying landmines all over the Northern Province. It is slow also because there are still LTTE cadres passing off as ‘displaced persons’. Screening can be suspended only at great risk and a nation that has sacrificed much to defeat a ruthless terrorist outfit cannot be faulted for erring on the side of caution. The issue of ‘access’ or ‘access being denied’ is another ‘grave concern’ we are told. This is silly. The ground reality and the history (including the complicity of the oft-quoted do-gooders in furthering the interests of terrorism) necessitate that access be conditional. Total denial of access, on the other hand, is not an option. To the credit of the Government this has never been the case.
None of this matters to the EU, the USA and the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights. They are persuaded by ill-intent or, if one were to be charitable, by ignorance. The question is, ‘where do we go from here?’
We are in a situation where we must understand that we are being besieged. It is a situation that calls for astute leadership on the part of the Government and the President. It is a situation that demands all citizens to rise to the occasion. This is not the time for bickering. One may not like Mahinda Rajapaksa’s face and for good reason too, but one cannot cut Sri Lanka’s nose to spite the Presidential face, which unfortunately is what some figures in the Opposition seem to be doing.
The President must also recognize that in order to win this other and more pernicious war, he requires the support of all his people, including those whose faces he might not like. He has to move away from the exclusionary politics that is a natural outcome of the constitution we are saddled with, at least in spirit. He has to recognize that his greatest threat within the country is his party, the SLFP, and some of his ministers and close confidantes, who operate with impunity and have often conferred upon themselves presidential authority.
If there is to be a tightening of belts, then there has to be a corresponding war on wastage, on pomp and pageantry, on joy-rides and ego-trips. His greatest asset is his people. He cannot afford to lose them. He has to understand that loved though he is, his friends are quite unpopular.
This is an api wenuwen api moment if ever there was one. And being the ‘us’ that we ought to be and indeed need to be requires a deep examination of everything that inhibits the becoming of ‘us’. It is an easy thing to say, much harder to do. We cannot face these challenges by fighting randomly without cohesion and being half-hearted. It was such an approach that saw us failing again and again in the struggle to eradicate terrorism. No, resoluteness, unity of purpose, self-belief and the employment of reason and not emotion will see us through.
There is little we can do to change the perceptions of those who will die before actually employing reason and eyesight. There is much we can do, on the other hand, to put our house in order. That is the only dependable foundation to launch any battle against any invader in any form. This is the challenge that Mahinda Rajapaksa faces. My sense is that he has what it takes to deliver. My hope is that he will not design strategy based on what is said by self-seeking, corrupt sycophants masquerading as ‘advisors’.
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org