Eat us, America, and give us peace


By Rohana R. Wasala

To be free of attachment and so also of anger, fear, and pain. Eat me, Professor Solanka silently prayed. Eat me, America, and give me peace.

- Salman Rushdie in his novel ‘Fury’ (2001)

The Island editorial of Nov. 24, 2015 entitled ‘Power Play’ about Samantha Power’s Sri Lanka visit provided the cue for this article. Power (45), American Ambassador to the UN, and President Obama’s trusted advisor on American response to global genocide and human rights abuse issues, according to news reports, went back early that day local time after a brief visit to Sri Lanka. Her professional and political authority within the America-dominated UN establishment is beyond doubt. What is in question, however, as far as we Sri Lankans are concerned, is whether her visit is likely to help or hinder post-war normalization in our country. This is particularly so, given her controversial political and diplomatic track record. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, a book she authored in 2002, won several awards including the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-fiction the following year. She wrote this book (which came to be widely acclaimed within the Western bloc) while she was serving as a professor in human rights practices at Harvard university. It is claimed that Power was a key figure behind the meddlesome American role in Libya. She has been criticized for recommending ‘solutions from hell’ to ‘problems from hell’! (i.e. for advocating interventionist and militaristic responses to alleged genocide and human rights violation problems).

Seeing the disastrous consequences of uncalled for, essentially convoluted, American political and military involvement around the world including for instance Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, behind the smoke screen of ‘free’ Western media misinformation, how can we believe that Power meant to make an exception for an insignificant third world country like Sri Lanka? Should we let her sort out our internal problems, hoping that she’d have our national interest at heart? But, we know that what is good for us is not usually consistent with America’s own geopolitical agenda for the region.

As suggested by The Island editor in his short but incisive analysis of the diplomatic episode, Samantha Power was engaged in effective power play. Her meetings with representatives of the government and the provincial administration, and her playful mingling with ordinary citizens were designed to reassure people at all three levels of the US-led West’s alleged concern with the welfare of the people of the north, presumably, in terms of safeguarding their human rights, securing justice for the victims of disappearances, restoring ownership of lands acquired by the army for security related purposes during the war to their original owners, repairing roads, bridges, and public and private buildings such as houses, hospitals, and schools that suffered collateral damage during the civil conflict, and reconstructing new ones for an increased population due to natural growth and return of the war displaced, and so on.

Bu,t the ordinary citizens of the country are politically savvy enough to know that such issues cannot be the real worry of these visiting foreign dignitaries who don’t know anything true about our history, indigenous cultures and religions, languages, worldviews, and our real problems and needs shaped by those factors. These meddling nosy parkers want to see Tamils and Sinhalese embattled with each other as mortal enemies for their own selfish strategic purposes including trade. But, there is reason for optimism given the fact that the majority Sinhalese Buddhists and the largest minority Tamil Hindus have tolerant, accommodating, nonviolent, humane values ingrained in their cultural DNA, as it were, particularly when free from the divisive influence of the few egotistic politicians. Ordinary Sri Lankans don’t need opportunistic strangers to tell them how to settle their disputes. It won’t be long before the educated young of both communities appreciate this fact and begin to see through the stratagems of neocolonialists and their few local lackeys and render those selfish interventionists irrelevant to the resolution of national problems, which can be easily achieved through democratic dialogue.

The same editorial recalls how British Prime Minister David Cameron went up to the north when he came here to attend the CHOGM summit in 2013. His motives were, no doubt, the same as Power’s: motives which couldn’t have anything to do with the lives of ordinary Sri Lankan citizens, be they Tamil, Sinhalese, or Muslims. Actually, Cameron, as the leader of a pathetically diminished (that is, in importance) Britain that in the past boasted of possessing an empire on which the sun never set, was trying to achieve more lowly aims than Power was planning to realize on her recent visit. Hers was a truly imperial mission in that her efforts were connected with serving the geopolitical interests of the globalized economic empire led (nowadays, at China’s sufferance, though) by America, and she has implicit faith in the preeminence of that empire, whereas Cameron had the rather not so exalted motive of winning the Tamil bloc vote of his constituency back home. Of course, US president Obama was no less beholden to immigrant Tamils for their votes and their contributions to his 2008 campaign funding, which, however, it is likely, formed a less important part of American motives for interfering in our country’s internal problems.

The disparity between the two allies in terms of global economic power and political authority is not difficult to understand if we have some idea of how Britain’s past colonial dominance came to be submerged by America’s international ascendancy in the wake of the breakup of the British empire, a change accelerated by the internationalization of politics and economics since the end of the Second World War and the rapidly advancing communication technologies of worldwide accessibility. The epochal shift of the centre of global interconnectedness originally created by British colonialism to the present America-driven globalization juggernaut is memorably depicted in Salman Rushdie’s ‘Fury’ in a highly illustrative scene in New York between the newly arrived ex-British academic Professor Malik Solanka and an advertising copywriter: the latter consults Solanka about a corporate-image campaign for the American Express bank, where the advertisements display ‘images of famous city skylines at sunset’ with the copy-line: THE SUN NEVER SETS ON AMERICAN EXPRESS INTERNATIONAL BANKING CORPORATION. The foregrounded message is clear: at any time of the day, there is an American Express bank open for business somewhere in the world. Corporate America has replaced imperial Britain in the famous slogan. In the same novel Rushdie gives the (fictitious) British prime minister the name ‘Tony Ozymandias’, which reminds the reader of Shelley’s 1817 sonnet ‘Ozymandias’: the massive stone sculpture of Ozymandias, the once mighty, invincible ‘King of Kings’, now lies scattered in the sand in ruins.

But, the collapse of British colonialism has not been so final as Rushdie suggests by this image in his fictional work. As the progenitor of Western colonial domination of the world through trade and war it still survives in the form of an acolyte of the mighty America, which has succeeded it. (Britain is also responsible for our present ‘ethnic’ problems.) It was America’s economic imperialism that brought in the era of globalization as we know it today, rather complex, though, this concept of globalization is. Amidst its multifarious manifestations, good and bad, globalization in this context is to be understood as an economic, political, and military phenomenon. In that globalized context, unwelcome superpower interventions in violation of the sovereignty, independence, and national interest of smaller nation states, of the sort that Power was attempting with us during her Sri Lanka visit (November 21 to 23), and the dehumanizing commercialism that Malik Solanka, the protagonist of Rushdie’s first ‘American’ novel Fury, is raging against, must be taken for granted. Victims have no escape route. The present government appears to be pushing us towards that same decadent American economic bandwagon, if, among other things, the proposals of the budget that is being debated, are any indication of what to expect.

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