Salem’s Lot

by padraigcolman

A version of this article was published in the print edition of Lakbima News on Sunday 25 September. Unfortunately, it does not appear on the online edition even though it is listed in the Lakbima News contents.

Why does the Salem News hate Sri Lanka so much? The Salem News website carries ads saying “Check the label. Boycott Sri Lanka”.

Oregon

Oregon is a beautiful place. I spent happy times there.

US state capitals can be surprising. You would expect Portland to be the capital of Oregon – it has a cosmopolitan feel to it. Culture abounds, the great Powell’s bookshop – although there did seem to be a lot of drunken Native Americans in the gutters when I was there. If you felt a bit clever you might guess Eugene to be the Oregon state capital. But no, the capital of Oregon is Salem, the county seat of Marion County, population 154,637. They have two universities, Willamette and Corban. Two famous people came from Salem. The great guitarist John Fahey was known for his coarseness, aloof demeanour, and dry humour – but hell he could play guitar. Carmella Bing is known for- well, I’m not sure. She is described as a “pornographic actress”. I know nothing of such things.

You would have thought Salem News  would be mainly interested in goings-on in the state of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. They claim: “Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation’s only truly independent high traffic news Website.”  They have global, rather than local, ambitions.

Salem News’s Global Mission

“Salem-News.com is the premiere Independent Online Newsgroup in the United States. Salem-News.com is setting the standard for the future of news.

Truth
Justice
Peace

 

Salem News boasts 96 writers in 20 countries. It is somewhat difficult to negotiate the rather messy site – almost as bad as Lakbima News. One of the contributors is Gilad Atzmon, the Israeli jazzman, novelist, and activist whose musical work I greatly admire (he used to play with Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Robert Wyatt described him as a genius.)

Embedded – in Bed with Ronald McDonald

The editor of Salem News is Tim King, “a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com’s Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines.” When he set off to be  embedded with the 41st Combat Brigade of the Oregon National Guard in Kabul,  Salem News called for local businesses to sponsor his trip. “McDonalds Restaurants of Salem provided $1,100 toward the trip to Afghanistan. We hardly know how to thank them enough, but we know this is one organization that sees the value of bringing the stories of our Oregon soldiers home.”

It is somewhat bizarre that a libertarian news outlet should be grovelling in this manner to a bastion of global capitalism. I  am confident that Tim would have  condemned US war crimes that he witnessed but wonder if he has queasy feeling of complicity from the very fact of being embedded with good old boys from Oregon who are slaughtering Afghan civilians under the sponsorship of Ronald McDonald..

US War Crimes

Tim  certainly criticised the USA in an article about WikiLeaks revelations of an Apache helicopter attack on a group of unarmed Iraqi civilian journalists that showed the U.S. Army “absolutely decimating a group of eight, with apparent enthusiasm, and a desire to lay waste to the people on the ground. The helicopter crew continually asked for permission to attack the people, who were in no way acting a like a military force. The journalists had no reason to suspect that an American helicopter would actually attack and leave them all dead. The Apache crew fired at the wounded and chuckled over the results, while insulting the dead as they lay on the ground. I don’t say this often, but the government of the United States of America is as corrupt and wrong as any that has ever existed, whether Americans themselves can appreciate that or not. We have broken the world in ways that can never be mended and when we aren’t doing it militarily, we are behind environmental devastation, economic depression; you name it. Capitalism as a concept has run a bad course and western people leading sheltered lives have no idea what on earth they have been paying for. Thanks to groups like this, the truth does come forward. The importance of that can never be underestimated.”

Israel

King  came under criticism for Salem News’s line on Israel: “Reading Tim King’s response, it becomes clear, however, that editorial standards are somewhat confused at the Salem News.” He responded vigorously: “I guess taking other people’s land leads to endless problems, and that is the story of Israel. I view it all as a huge entitlement problem.”

Loose Talk Costs Lives

I am not going to argue that the Salem News is an apologist for the US government. I am not going to argue that Sri Lanka should not be criticised. However, one obvious flaw in the Salem News line is its somewhat loose use of the English language. You will note that in his piece on the killing of journalists in Iraq he wrote: “the U.S. Army absolutely decimating a group of eight”. “Decimate” used to mean “to select by lot and kill every tenth man”. How is that possible with a group of eight? Was the death toll really 0.8 people? In these decadent times the word decimate has become devalued. Because it sounds similar it has come to mean devastated or even mildly depressed.

Language is an organic thing, meanings change,  but I do get a bit “decimated” myself when the currency gets debased. Genocide is a  word that Salem News uses a lot in relation to Sri Lanka.

Genocide

“Our report on Sri Lanka’s genocide of the Tamil people and war crimes against Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam (LTTE), came at a time when the wagons of the Sri Lankan government are tilting over on their sides.” Again this is an example of the English language being abused. What does  it mean?

Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent coined the term. Genocide is generally defined as “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial or religious group.”

Has this been happening in Sri Lanka? Has there been a systematic plan to eradicate the Tamil race?

At the end of the war, David Begg of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions managed to find the time in his busy schedule of dealing with the disappearance of the Irish economy down the toilet – redundancies, and pay and benefit cuts for his members – to urge the then Irish Foreign Minister, Mícheál Martin (he has since been consigned to the toilet) , to apply sanctions to faraway Sri Lanka as a protest against “genocide” and “concentration camps”. Begg’s letters seemed to suggest that he thought that all Sri Lankan Tamils had been confined to a narrow strip of beach to be shelled by government troops and then herded into extermination camps. This suggests a certain ignorance about Sri Lanka’s history and of the current situation. Trinity College, Dublin hosted a two-day hearing by the Permanent People’s Tribunal which delivered the judgement that the Sri Lanka government was guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The tribunal was further pondering the issue of genocide.

Genocide is a  word that Salem News uses a lot in relation to Sri Lanka.

“Our report on Sri Lanka’s genocide of the Tamil people and war crimes against Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam (LTTE), came at a time when the wagons of the Sri Lankan government are tilting over on their sides.”

Again this is an example of the English language being abused. What does  it mean? You notice that they are not talking about crimes against innocent Tamil civilians but crimes against the LTTE.

Has this been happening in Sri Lanka? Has there been a systematic plan to eradicate the Tamil race? As P{resident Rajapaksa said, why would he be providing camps, whatever the shortcomings of the IDP camps,  with food, health care, education, banks (with ATMs) if his plan was to exterminate the Tamil race in Sri Lanka?

Freedom Fighters or Terrorists?

Salem News says: “It carries with it a potential to reveal the truth about the Tamil people and their tragedy in seeking independence from the Sri Lankan government. Interestingly, and importantly, the Tamil people represent different nationalities and religions; they are diverse and not easily categorized. They have experienced grave suffering as a result of their ambitions to seek political independence in Sri Lanka since 1983, the year the 16-year long Civil War began.”

There is a certain element of tin ear about this. “Seeking independence from the Sri Lankan government” is not a usual formulation neither is “since the 16-year long Civil War began”. It was more than 16 years. Civil war may not be an accurate description.

Freedom  fighters have often been described as terrorists. Salem News says: “This is used by the Israelis against the Palestinians they displace; the Americans describe Arab freedom fighters trying to repel an occupation that has claimed over a million civilians on their soil with this word; it is the term China uses when describing Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs seeking equal rights, and the list goes on. It is high time we stop describing those who fight for human freedom; against military occupations that violate international law, with this ugly, branding word.”

The LTTE were not the same as the oppressed Palestinians. Tamils live all over Sri Lanka. Except in the areas controlled by the LTTE, they had rights and freedom. Tamils held  positions of influence. The Sri Lankan army was the legitimate force of a democratically elected government.

According to Salem News: “The story of the Tamil Tigers LTTE may the most overblown in the usage of the word ‘terrorism‘ ever, and that is really saying something.” Again not very elegant English. I do not need to spell out to Sri Lankan readers that the LTTE were really terrorists.

I wonder how many members of the Tamil diaspora are providing funding for Salem News. There are certainly Tamils being offered up for marriage in Oregon.

“Preeti is sensitive, broad-minded and an outgoing individual. She has a passion for travel and enjoys listening to music. She likes hiking and has also completed 2 half marathons. She is a cheerful caring person who enjoys being surrounded by her family and friends. She has fantastic appreciation for art, culture, people and has a positive outlook towards life.”

I advise Lakbima News readers to set up a Google alert to find out what Salem News is saying about us. I advise Sri Lanka’s ambassador in Washington to comment on Salem News biased coverage of the country he represents.

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