Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Northern Ireland

Dayan Jayatilleka’s Long War: The Irish Dimension

This article was published in Ceylon Today on 24 December 2013.

 

Introduction

The road to hell is paved with false analogies.

Dr Jayatilleka’s book has had good coverage in many places, including this paper. I have been thinking about it again after some dialogue with people in Northern Ireland and in Sri Lanka about the question of justifiable violence.

At one point in the book, Dr Jayatilleka remarked about Prabakharan: “He burnt his boats as well as his bridges”.

This reminded me of Deaglán de Bréadún, of the Irish Times, who on a daily basis followed the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement. He wrote about the Northern Ireland peace process in his book The Far Side of Revenge. My favourite quotation in the book is from a Sinn Fein spokesman, asked about the decommissioning of IRA arms. “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it”.

Beware of Irishmen Bearing Advice

Dr Jayatilleka discusses the visit of John Hume to Sri Lanka. By the time Hume received his Nobel Peace Prize (shared with David Trimble) his health had been broken by his long fight for peace, a fight that entailed, in his words “spilling sweat instead of blood”. Hume was horribly wrong about Sri Lanka. I am proud to have coined the phrase: “The road to hell is paved with false analogies”.

Hume’s greatness lay in the fact that stubbornly, over many years, he was prepared to be ostracised for talking to the men of violence. One of those men of violence, Martin McGuinness, also became a man of peace. McGuinness was in the right place at the right time and had the “freedom fighting” credentials to persuade the Provisional IRA to persevere with talks that were frustrating for all concerned and eventually got them to lay down their arms.

Mc Guinness came to Sri Lanka to advise us. My friend, the Reverend Harold Good is not naive about the horrors of terrorism. It was Harold, winner of the Gandhi Peace Award, who announced to the world that the IRA had surrendered their arms to General de Chastelaine. Harold counts McGuinness as his friend, following their partnership in the Northern Ireland peace process. When McGuinness ran for the presidency of the Republic of Ireland, Harold told me: “If elected he would be a circumspect, respectful and statesmanlike president.”

How unlike the LTTE

Can one imagine Prabakharan doing good job as a minister in the Northern province or being a “circumspect, respectful and statesmanlike President” of a united Sri Lanka (or, indeed, chief minister of Tamil Nadu)?

McGuinness made a less than helpful intervention in Sri Lankan affairs when he came here in 2006 and talked with LTTE leaders. McGuinness criticized the EU for banning the Tamil Tigers as a Terrorist Organization. He said, “it was a huge mistake for EU leaders to demonize the LTTE and the political leaders of the Tamil people.” He may have meant well, but he was over-optimistic in seeing parallels with the Irish situation. McGuinness told Sri Lanka: “The reality is that, just as in Ireland, there can be no military victory and that the only alternative to endless conflict is dialogue, negotiations and accommodation”.

Dr Jayatilleka Explains Why McGuinness Was Wrong.

Dr Jayatilleka is correct in saying: “John Hume’s experience and message had absolutely nothing to offer Sri Lanka as concerns the main aspects of its own conflict in 2002: the war, the LTTE and Mr Prabakharan”. He asks, “In Northern Ireland, who played Prabakharan?”  Provisional IRA leaders tended to be shadowy figures, not cult leaders like Prabakharan. In Sri Lanka, it would have been unlikely that Hume, McGuinness or  the good Reverend Good, would have survived. “Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran were in fact talking to the ‘men of violence’ over a nice cuppa when these men of violence turned rather more violent, pulled out their automatics and blew their hosts away”. “Neelan Tiruchelvam was doing a John Hume and would have picked up a Peace Prize of two but he was blasted yards away from his law offices”. “Many Tamil leaders had been murdered, and not a single one of them (arguably except for Kumar Ponnambalam) by a Sinhalese”.

“Mr Hume finally had US Senator George Mitchell. Our equivalent of a big power foreign mediator was Rajiv Gandhi, pulverised to a pulp in Tamil Nadu by a Tiger suicide killer. Sri Lanka’s Tony Blairs, David Trimbles and Bertie Aherns were all dead or half-blind”.

Why Did the Irish Troubles End?

Peter Taylor, in his book Brits,  provides convincing evidence  to show that  British intelligence had improved to such an extent that the IRA were well aware that they could not possibly win. On their side, the British were sensible enough to know that they could not achieve a definitive military defeat of the IRA. Both sides, (even under Thatcher) were for a long time edging towards compromise.

The Actors

De Bréadún provides pithy pen portraits of key participants. Of Bill Clinton, he says: “A needy man met a needy people”. He quotes George Mitchell: “No-one can really have a chance in a society dominated by fear, hatred and violence…a deadly ritual in which most of the victims are innocent”.

Three Catholic Northern Ireland citizens were essential to the peace process. John Hume, of the Social Democratic Liberal Party, sacrificed his health representing the nationalist community’s aspirations for an end to discrimination. Although Hume was a fervent upholder of non-violence, he was courageous enough to maintain dialogue with the men of violence, chiefly through Gerry Adams.

De Bréadún writes of Gerry Adams, “He failed to match the stereotype of the firebreathing subversive, choosing instead to act as a conduit for the grievances of the grass roots”.

While Adams dealt with the broad strategic sweep, Martin McGuinness proved to be a canny negotiator. According to a senior Dublin civil servant: “The boy revolutionary developed into a mature and skilful politician”. De Bréadún writes: “Mc Guinness got respect in his own right, thanks to his formidable history as an activist and his direct and commanding personality. If Adams was the architect of the republican project, McGuinness was the engineer”.

On the Unionist side, David Trimble had been involved with the right-wing, paramilitary-linked Vanguard in the early 1970s before he joined the mainstream Ulster Unionist Party. As leader of the UUP he could not afford to be too “moderate”. The Reverend Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist party was constantly raising the “No surrender. No popery” ante and Trimble had to be seen to support triumphalist loyalist marches through Catholic areas.

Constructive ambiguity

Many in Ireland regarded the peace process with scepticism, concerned that it would bring men of violence into the heart of democracy. Symbolic issues like policing and decommissioning provided obstacles. In order to carry his party with him, Trimble had to insist that the IRA decommission its arms, even though that insistence was an irrelevant and a frustrating hindrance to negotiation. McGuinness and Adams had great authority with the rank and file of the IRA but could not sell decommissioning, as it would be seen as surrender without achieving the aim of a united Ireland.

To cut a convoluted story short, peace was achieved through a process of constructive ambiguity, which allowed all actors to say they had not surrendered. Talks resumed in 1993, after Clinton listened to Sinn Féin. On April 10, 1998, the British and Irish governments formulated the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement. After the St Andrews Agreement in 2006, and 2007 elections, the DUP and Sinn Féin formed a government in May 2007. Paisley became First Minister and McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister,

The nationalists could say that their struggle had entered a new non-violent phase in which progress would be made towards a united Ireland by developing cross-border All-Ireland institutions and co-operating within the EU. Loyalists could claim that they had preserved their membership of the UK. The constitution of the Irish Republic was amended to give up its territorial claim to Northern Ireland. Trimble lost the leadership of the UUP and mainstream parties like the UUP and Hume’s SDLP lost influence to Paisley’s DUP and Adams’s Sinn Fein. A bizarre aspect was that the indefatigable naysayer Paisley became a jovial buddy of McGuinness, who also learnt to smile a lot. They became known as the Chuckle Brothers.

Casuistry of Blood: Fighting for Freedom?

“I am not made for politics because I am incapable of wanting or accepting the death of the adversary.” Albert Camus, Notebooks 1945.

Recently, I seem to have been often discussing, with contacts in England, Ireland and Sri Lanka, moral issues relating to the use of violence. Some of the comment following the death of Nelson Mandela heightened this.

A friend in suburban England frets at what he sees about Sri Lanka on Channel 4 News. My friend made a token knee-jerk to the idea that people should make life bearable on this lonely rock in the vast universe by just getting along nicely together and not fighting. However, he also set up some kind of dichotomy between “so-called” terrorists and the “self-righteous” governments that try to put them down. My friend also trotted out that old trope about “state terrorism”. Pity the state that does not have the monopoly of violence. One would hope that a democratically elected government would exercise violence proportionately.

Albert Camus was conscious of the dilemma faced by the pacifist. He wrote in 1948: “I merely say that we must refuse all legitimacy to violence, whether it comes from raison d’état or totalitarian philosophy. Violence is both unavoidable and unjustifiable.” In his native Algeria, both the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) rebels and the French colonial forces used torture. By September 1956, it was official FLN policy to attack civilians. One of the FLN leaders, Ramdane Abane, said, “One corpse in a jacket is always worth more than twenty in uniform.” Urban bombings became widespread. Camus wrote: “Each side thus justifies its own actions by pointing to the crimes of its adversaries. This is a casuistry of blood with which intellectuals should, I think, have nothing to do, unless they are prepared to take up arms themselves.”

 

A Sri Lankan contact justifies the use of violence by the IRA, who, he claims, were “fighting” to throw off 800 years of British oppression. Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein president, recently made a pathetic attempt to steal some of the respect granted to Nelson Mandela. As Irish historian, Ruth Dudley Edwards, put it: “As any aspiring starlet knows, it helps to be seen with people more popular and famous than yourself.” Kader Asmal, the organiser of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement for three decades and later a minister in Mandela’s government, spoke of the help the IRA gave its military wing in the bombing of an oil refinery in 1980.

Yes, Mandela was associated with violence. Mandela was one of the founders of Umkhonto we Sizwe – Spear of the Nation – the ANC’s armed wing. In his statement at the Rivonia Trial, Mandela said: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”  Mandela did not die then and neither did the vile racists governing the country. Mandela did not object to attacks on burger bars and amusement arcades and refused to repudiate the armed struggle in 1985 when he was offered his freedom. As with the Provisional IRA, Hezbollah and LTTE attacks, most ANC victims were not politicians or military but women and children.

In the real world, there are some situations where democratic processes are not available to an oppressed population and violence seems the only option. Apartheid South Africa and occupied Palestine might fit this description. However, what kind of violence was appropriate?

Sinn Fein spokespeople declare that, like the ANC, they reluctantly adopted violence because there was no other route to equality for nationalists. However, Northern Ireland was not like apartheid South Africa or occupied Palestine. The Catholic minority did suffer discrimination. There were peaceful non-violent movements whose objective was to redress these wrongs. The Provisional IRA, whose main concern was not civil rights, hijacked them. Although they assumed for themselves the role of protectors of the Catholic population, their agenda was to emulate the republican martyrs of yesteryear and to fight for a united Ireland. This degenerated into atrocity and criminality. Historian Marc Mulholland thoroughly researched documents from the 60s and struggled to believe how the issues of that time were worth 30 years of murderous mayhem.

The majority did not support the 1916 rising. It was a conspiracy within a conspiracy; a secret plot by seven IRB members. Catholics in the south did have the vote and the General Election of 1918 was essentially a nationalist vote against conscription. It was a mandate for political struggle but not for the murder of Irish policemen, loyalists and ex-servicemen. The majority of IRA actions were simply assassinations.

Fintan O’Toole has written: “There is a place beyond civility and morality, beyond compassion and sympathy. There are circumstances throughout history in which many otherwise ordinary people come to inhabit that place. They find within themselves a capacity, not just to do terrible things to other human beings, but to be thrilled and exhilarated by those acts.” The Sinn Fein IRA position seems to be that even when they murdered  children, it was always someone else’s fault. The IRA men are heroes and the only victims are themselves. What kind of violence was appropriate to achieve civil rights for the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland? What kind of violence was appropriate to achieve a united Ireland? How should “freedom fighters” combat an oppressive state?

Jennifer McNern was 21 when she went with her sister, Rosaleen, into Belfast for an afternoon’s shopping in March 1972, finishing with coffee in the Abercorn Restaurant. A bomb exploded. She woke up a week later, missing both her legs. Her sister lost two legs, and an arm.  Fourteen limbs were amputated that day and two girls died. More than 130 people were injured. A policeman said:  “All you could hear was the moaning and squealing and the people with limbs torn from their bodies”.  McNern is once again afraid that unelected dissident republicans will set off street bombs in Northern Ireland.

Gerry Adams very publicly carried the coffin of Thomas Begley during his funeral in Ardoyne. Perhaps he had to do this to maintain the credibility that enabled him to carry forward the peace process. Begley’s own bomb killed him on 23 October 1993. The IRA intended to assassinate loyalist paramilitary leaders, who were to be meeting in a room above Frizzell’s chip shop on Shankill Road, Belfast. The blast killed nine other people and 57 were injured. Raymond Elliot helped shovel the unrecognisable flesh into brown bags. “There were body parts stuck to the wall, blood and guts. People’s insides were lying there. I saw somebody’s scalp. Adrenalin kept me going. I was no hero. These people, my friends and neighbours, were reduced to that.” Twenty years later, he takes 19 tablets a day. He still sees a psychiatrist.

Martin McGuinness has called for information about undiscovered remains of the Disappeared. He said that The IRA’s secret killing and burying of victims accused of passing information to the British security services was cruel and unjustified: “What happened to those families was totally and absolutely wrong. I believe it was cruel, I believe it was unjustified. Of course the IRA were responsible.” McGuinness could not put his IRA past behind him when he sought to be elected president of the Republic of Ireland. Although he has committed himself to peace and democratic politics, people on both sides of the border, Protestant and Catholic, found it hard to forget his role in the IRA.

Isaiah Berlin warns us to be sceptical when governments violate rights, ostensibly in pursuit of freedom. We should resist those sea-green incorruptibles, whether they are dictators or dissidents,   who self-righteously claim a monopoly of virtue. Berlin is against those who crave certainty, simplicity, and uniformity and who treasure the conviction of their own righteousness. He is against those who argue that the ends justify the means, that what you suffer during a revolution, what you suffer under a totalitarian dictatorship is worthwhile because of a good outcome in the future.

Despite the undoubted if not definitive success of the Good Friday Agreement, a handful of unelected die-hards do not want peace. They want to create new martyrs for Ireland. Is there an inevitable regression from Northern Irish Catholics suffering discrimination, to innocent English (and Irish) people being blown to giblets while enjoying a drink with friends?

Camus wrote: “we must refuse to justify these methods [reprisals and torture] on any grounds whatsoever, including effectiveness. Once one begins to justify them, even indirectly, no rules or values remain.” He addressed the FLN: “No matter what cause one defends, it will suffer permanent disgrace if one resorts to blind attacks on crowds of innocent people.”

Why does Everybody Hate Sri Lanka?

A Facebook friend asked me to explain why the Sri Lankan government has come under such criticism. A recent example was David Cameron’s November 2013 visit to Sri Lanka for CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of government Meeting). “Can you tell me why you think the country is coming in for criticism? Did the Tamil Tigers manage to get favourable international media coverage? Can you fill me in a little on how they were defeated and why Sri Lanka gets criticised for that?”

I have written about this in the past and, after receiving that question, canvassed the views of my Sri Lankan contacts.

“No one likes us, we don’t care”

In the late 70s, Millwall football fans in the Cold Blow Lane stand  used to sing this to the tune of Rod Stewart’s (We Are) Sailing (written by the Sutherland Brothers). This was in response to sustained criticism of their behaviour and the media assumption that Millwall fans were the worst kind of hooligans. Various commentators, including Rod Liddle, have questioned why the name of Millwall became synonymous with hooliganism, creating a siege mentality amongst ordinary, law-abiding Millwall fans.

South London writer Michael Collins wrote: “At the end of the 19th century around the time Millwall FC was formed, middle-class journalists used to descend on the area like Baudelaireian flaneurs, to report on the urban working class as though they were discovering natives from the remote islands of the Empire.”

It is interesting that Rod Liddle is one of the few English journalists to have criticised David Cameron’s flaneurist behaviour in Colombo recently. Liddle wrote in The Spectator back in 2005 about a riot at a game between Liverpool and Millwall after which three Liverpool supporters were jailed. The FA exonerated Liverpool and fined Millwall. Liddle commented: “the FA wished to make a political point and saw Millwall – a small club, unfashionable and not especially popular as an ideal target.”

Here is the title of Liddle’s recent article on the London Sunday Times blog about Cameron’s behaviour in Sri Lanka: “That s the president of Sri Lanka, PM, not one of your fags”. American readers should note that “fag” refers in this instance to the system of servitude in English schools for toffs like Cameron. A fag at Eton would be bullied by the Bullingdon Club.

Genuine Concern

I will have a look at the simplest answer first. What if criticisms of Sri Lanka are fair? What if Cameron, William Hague and Alistair Burt are acting from a genuine concern for human rights? What if Stephen Harper and Barack Obama genuinely want to see justice done in Sri Lanka?

There are certainly many things that could be improved in Sri Lanka.

  • The 18th amendment to the constitution was a bad idea.
  • The impeachment of the Chief Justice showed the government in a bad light.
  • It is not good for the army to shoot dead unarmed protesters.
  • For ordinary people the never-ending grind of rising prices is debilitating.

One of my respondents said: “I think, perhaps the UK is concerned that more civilians have been killed than they were assured would be, and they feel some guilt for not having intervened in 2009”.

Unfortunately, Cameron, Harper and Obama invite the charge of hypocrisy by focusing on what happened in the final months of the military action that defeated the Tamil Tigers. People in Sri Lanka are likely to say what about Iraq, Kenya, Guantanamo, drone strikes?

Cameron’s thinking seems to be directed by simplistic sound bites that totally discount the realities of war.

Jealousy

The Sri Lankan government was proud of its victory and keen to share its experience with the world. The Ministry of Defence organised seminars to which it invited foreign observers. The third of these was held in September 2013. There were many calls from human rights organisations to boycott the seminars. US Defense Attaché to Sri Lanka, LTC Lawrence Smith, attended the 2011 seminar and questioned the credibility of surrender offers made by senior LTTE leaders. He got in trouble because of it. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: “My understanding is that the defense attaché was there as an observer and a note taker. His comments reflected his personal opinions. There’s no change in the policy of the United States, and his remarks do not reflect any change in our policy.”

In his article in The Atlantic dated 1 July 2009 entitled To Catch a Tiger, Robert D Kaplan acknowledged the success of the Sri Lankan government in defeating the Tamil Tigers. Kaplan admitted that tiny, cash-strapped Sri Lanka, generally thought of as ”third world” or ”developing”, has succeeded where the mighty USA has failed. The man who dominated Sri Lankan life for the worse for thirty years, Vellupillai Prabakharan, leader of the Tamil Tigers, was dead, while Osama Bin Laden was, at the time, still living, a free man.

Kaplan asks if the US can learn from Sri Lanka’s success but answers:

”These are methods the U.S. should never use.”

My detailed critique of Kaplan is here: https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/fantasies-of-virtue/

The gist of my critique is that the US has, indeed, used methods far worse.

A respondent in Colombo says: “as you know, the Sri Lankan side refused  to carry out the wishes of the UK and US embassies during those last hours of the ending of the war. They now think that we should be taught a lesson for being naughty. It’s stupid and shows a total misreading of the realities on the ground of that time.”

Domestic Electoral Considerations

Many of the Sri Lankans that I canvassed for this article made the point that western politicians were motivated by electoral concerns.

A respondent who lives in Toronto, a hot-bed of pro-LTTE activity, told me: “The only answer that I can give would be the ‘local politics’ in any country…It is a fact that the elite and the influential and the rich, English-speaking Tamils live either in Colombo or in England /Canada…“All these English politicians have figured out that the diaspora is a deciding factor in winning elections.  … They need the diaspora which has money to spend on them and get them to power. The Tamil diaspora is pretty much active in Toronto, unlike the Lazy/divided/ Sinhala Buddhist diaspora”.

A Sri Lanka resident echoed that view: “LTTE supporters among the Diaspora are part of the electoral constituencies of some of the political leadership in the UK, Canada and the US and are exerting pressure on them.”

The release by WikiLeaks of a batch of diplomatic cables endorsed this view.  Then UK foreign secretary, David Miliband visited Sri Lanka towards the end of the war against the LTTE, pressing for a ceasefire and negotiations. Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa scolded him and reminded him that Sri Lanka was no longer a British colony. The cables reveal that Miliband exerted his influence to get Sri Lanka’s bid to host the Commonwealth Games rejected: the UK did not want Sri Lanka to be given legitimacy for its actions in defeating the Tamil Tigers. Another cable revealed that Miliband supported US efforts to delay an IMF loan to Sri Lanka.

In a cable dated 7 May 2009, the British Foreign Office “Sri Lanka team leader”, Tim Waite, wrote that, with UK elections soon due, and with many Tamils living in marginal UK constituencies, the UK government was calling for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka and would later pay close attention to the IDP (internally displaced persons) camps. Miliband said that he was spending 60% of his time on Sri Lanka. Miliband and his aides wrote about “ratcheting up” the case for humanitarian relief efforts: “[That] cable,” said one Sri Lankan writer, “exposes how a matter of a few thousand British votes took priority over the fate of a small state battling against a ruthless terrorist enemy”

Before the November 2013 CHOGM, Labour MP Siobhan McDonagh had warned Cameron that UK participation in Colombo would be nothing but endorsement of the massacre of civilians. McDonagh represents Mitcham and Morden in the  south London Borough of Merton (an area in which I lived for ten years). She likes to present an image of left-wing libertarianism and sell herself as a champion of human rights. However, her voting record in the House of Commons tells a different story. Siobhain McDonagh voted very strongly FOR the Iraq invasion, very strongly AGAINST an investigation into the Iraq war, very strongly FOR Labour’s anti-terrorism laws, very strongly FOR introducing ID cards, very strongly FOR a stricter asylum system. Her libertarianism and concern for human rights seems very selective.

The Wimbledon Guardian, which I fondly remember as being full of rapes and perverts (how unlike the Wimbledon I knew and loved) reported that McDonagh was given a petition signed by 196 residents at Morden’s Civic Centre on October 10 2008. “Representatives from the British Tamil Forum met Siobhain McDonagh to ask for support in tackling human rights abuses. They asked her to join the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils, a group of MPs campaigning to highlight the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka.”

The subtext is that McDonagh recognised that the support of pro-LTTE campaigners might be useful to her in her constituency. Hers is by no means a safe Labour seat. She won it from Conservative Dame Angela Rumbold on her third attempt. It would require a 16.4% swing for her to lose it. McDonagh had a majority of 13,666 in 2010. A Tamil with Muslim support, Rathy Alagaratnam, was an independent who ran against her in 2010 and 2005. McDonagh’s parliamentary work-rate is not impressive. She is below average for the number of times she has spoken in debates, and for her written questions. She is well below average for the number of times she has voted in the Commons.

Geopolitics

Robert O Blake was US ambassador in Colombo at war’s end. Later, he moved to the State Department. Blake caused some alarm in Sri Lanka when he made a statement before the Senate subcommittee on the Middle East (West Asia) and South Asia. His address included a telling phrase. This was the first time he had  gone on record to publicly state, “Positioned directly on the shipping routes that carry petroleum products and other trade from the Gulf to East Asia, Sri Lanka remains of strategic interest to the US.”

Once in Sri Lanka, he tried to soft-pedal. ”In my official meetings today, I assured the Sri Lankan government that the US is committed to a strong long-term partnership with Sri Lanka and that reports of our alleged support for ‘regime change’ have no basis whatsoever. I expressed support for the government’s efforts to recover from its devastating civil war, and encouraged further steps towards reconciliation, and a peaceful, united, democratic Sri Lanka. I think the government has made some positive progress. It is very important that this progress be sustained. ”

One of my respondents noted “a certain amount of concern with regard to SL’s lean towards China, and away from India, the latter being ‘one of us, as it were”.

Profit and Globalisation

A respondent who had migrated to Australia but is now back in Colombo told me: “UK is hell-bent on criticizing us to make the LTTE rump in UK happy. Their dream was to see the creation of an Eelam here. Many Western nations are angry with us because they profited from this war by being able to sell arms but today it is not possible thanks to peace. No matter what we do, UK will think that we are still their colony!”

Another respondent who lives in Sri Lanka told me: “The neo-colonial powers want to push through globalisation, which reduces national sovereignty, and hence the power of governments to interfere with global corporations. Weak governments are made weaker by separatism. Western criticism of the GoSL was muted while JR (President Jayewardene) was in power, although it began to get shriller after Sri Lanka strayed into India’s ambit. However, the real escalation of criticism took place after Sri Lanka became part of China’s zone of influence.”

Arrogance and Hypocrisy

When David Miliband became foreign secretary in June 2007, there were already allegations about possible British involvement in overseas torture by other countries’ intelligence services. Ironically, the UK’s involvement in the revolution in Libya brought to light evidence of its dirty dealings with Quadaffi. Libyan Islamist Sami al-Saadi, also known as Abu Munthir, claims that in 2004, he and his family were detained by MI6 and handed over to authorities in Libya, who tortured him. Documents show that MI5 gave Tripoli reports on Libyan dissidents living in Britain and identified at least one organisation using UK telephone numbers.

In the London Review of Books, Gareth Pierce wrote about Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian given leave to reside in the UK. “British intelligence and the Americans and Moroccans for 18 months slashed the most intimate parts of his body with razors, burned him with boiling liquids, stretched his limbs causing unimaginable agony, and bombarded him with ferocious sound.” Binyam Mohamed claimed Moroccan interrogators tortured him by using scalpels or razor blades to repeatedly cut his penis and chest.

As David Miliband was personal advisor to Tony Blair while Labour was in opposition and played a major role in the election victory of 1997, it seems unlikely that he was unaware of what was happening before he became foreign secretary.

Philippe Sands was Binyam Mohamed’s lawyer. He wrote that Miliband cannot avoid charges of complicity demonstrated by his actions as foreign secretary: “he could have announced that he wanted to establish a proper inquiry. He didn’t do that – and was a senior member of a government that later actively resisted calls for an inquiry. That is not to say he was idle throughout this period; he seems to have put considerable energy into defending a number of claims in the English courts relating to torture against his department.”

A special investigation, published in the 29 August issue of the New Statesman, showed how British troops regularly handed over suspected insurgents to the Afghan authorities with little guarantee that they would not be tortured.

Miliband personally approved some interrogations involving countries with poor human rights records. While campaigning for the Labour leadership Miliband was forced to confront claims that he allowed the interrogation of three terror suspects who allege they were tortured in Bangladesh and Egypt. Faisal Mostafa, a chemistry lecturer from Manchester, who has twice been cleared of terrorism offences in court, was detained in Bangladesh. He claims he was hung upside down and electrocuted while interrogators interrogated him about two Islamist groups.

Sands wrote: “Many would not be surprised if all roads led to Tony Blair (who described Guantánamo as ‘understandable’ in his memoir)…It is not unusual to hear the suggestion that Miliband’s actions may have been motivated in part by a desire to protect the reputation of his colleagues… His attitude to the Iraq war is equally unhappy, invoking the refrain that ‘if I knew then what I know now I would have voted against’. This recognises that the war was the wrong decision but falls well short of an expression of regret”.

The British adopted a rather superior tone about the Americans in Iraq. They claimed that British  experience in Northern Ireland made them experts at counter-insurgency in urban areas. News reports now coming out suggest that their methods included under-cover agents shooting unarmed civilians.

Gareth Pierce on the UK’s hypocrisy: “We inhabit the most secretive of democracies, which has developed the most comprehensive of structures for hiding its misdeeds, shielding them always from view behind the curtain of ‘national security’. From here on in we should be aware of the game of hide and seek in which the government hopes to ensure that we should never find out its true culpability.”

The Press

Professor Michael Roberts makes the point that western journalists felt a sense of solidarity with beleaguered Sri Lankan journalists and were unlikely to give the Rajapaksa government the benefit of any doubt. I have dealt in detail elsewhere with the distorted churnalism that emerged as a result of this.

Professor Roberts cites the example of an article in the London Times in early July 2009, by Jeremy Page. Page told the world that 1,400 people were dying every week at the Menik Farm IDP camp. No evidence was provided to support this. No evidence could be provided because it was just not true. Page quickly moved on to deal with the Eastern province where there were no camps and the war had ended two years previously. The government had asked the Red Cross to scale down its operations in the east because the situation was under control. Page elided this with the canard about deaths at Menik Farm to give the impression that the government was callously booting out the Red Cross while people were dying.

The LTTE propaganda machine took global advantage of this.The western media were and are prone to see the Tamils (and thus the LTTE) as underdogs. My Toronto respondent said this: “ The LTTE collected millions during their tenure so that money still can be used to fight a different kind of war…. Many media organizations have been bought by the diaspora to work from them for example CP24 here in Toronto has connections , and the money can buy publicity easily while the truth takes a long time to emerge of its own.”

Displacement and Diversion

My Toronto respondent continued: “The US/UK  are getting hit for their own human rights blunders so they need something to hold on to. Even at the UN, while Syria was burning, they paid attention to Sri Lanka where there is peace now. They will make a big issue next time to play the cover up game of their own for sure. This will not stop for another generation until such time our kids grow up as they are the only diaspora that was not affected by war. They get the education they deserve and will one day work against it.”

Siobhan McDonagh tried to explain her support for the invasion of Iraq and her opposition to an inquiry: “Yes, some of us feel bad about Iraq; some were even in the Government when that decision was made. I think that deposing a murderous tyrant such as Saddam Hussein and introducing democracy to that part of the world was the right thing to do.” That seems to distance herself from any direct personal responsibility. McDonagh declared: “We cannot constrain our troops by telling them, ‘You fight now—we’ll decide whether you were right to fight later.’ We cannot tie their hands behind their backs.” How about deposing that murderous tyrant Prabakharan? What about the Sri Lankan soldiers who fought in good faith?

Confirmation of the hypocrisy of the US, UK and EU always plays well in Sri Lanka; and the WikiLeaks cables revealed what everyone already knew about the use of cluster bombs and abuse of civilians by the US and UK. Freedom of speech is an important issue for the West when it deals with Sri Lanka, and there was much legitimate concern about the murder of the Sri Lankan editor Lasantha Wickrematunge. Yet western politicians have called for Julian Assange to be assassinated and the whistleblower Chelsea (Bradley) Manning has not been  treated kindly.

Rod Liddle

I will leave the last word with Rod Liddle:  “Ah, off you go, Dave. The reason that you can go to Jaffna at all is that this Rajapaksa-wallah, over the course of three years, eliminated the terrorist threat of the Tamil Tigers. The country is now at peace, not merely economically stable but with a rate of economic growth that would inflame the loins of George Osborne. I dare say Rajapaksa has been a ruthless authoritarian, that not everything he has accomplished would earn the approval of the European Court of Human Rights. But for 26 years the murderous, maniacal Tamil Tigers waged war in Sri Lanka  -assassinations, suicide attacks, using children as hostages, planting bombs. And they were able to do so thanks to the money that flooded in largely from the UK via the Tamil diaspora in, mostly, London.

For decades we turned a blind eye to the relentless fundraising for these terrorists and the Tamil Tigers were themselves only proscribed as a terrorist organisation (rather than lauded as freedom fighters) in 2001, a year, incidentally, when we all opened our eyes to terrorism. So maybe after ticking off this gentleman for the way he runs his country, a short apology from Cameron might not go amiss.”

Forgetting to Forgive – Amnesia, Forgiveness or Revenge?

This article was published a couple of years ago in Lakbima News. As the paper is now defunct it cannot be accessed on their website.

 

Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.  Oscar Wilde

In cyberspace no-one can hear your virtual scream. There is blood on the blogosphere. I have been contributing to a  US-based blog site for the past three years. Mostly, it has been a pleasant experience because there have been a lot of  smart, cultured and knowledgeable people putting in their  two-cents’ worth. I am trying to extricate myself now because I have attracted the attention of a paranoid stalker who persistently misunderstands and bad-mouths me.

One good thing that has come out of this is that someone I had a  battle with a couple of years back has leapt to my defence and we have become firm friends.

The film critic Mark Cousins has noted the current prevalence of vengeance as a theme in Hollywood movies. “One of  the questions of our time is how a tribe that has been harmed finds peace. Movies which show returning  harm to those who harmed seem to give comfort by ventilating an audience’s feelings of impotence. ”

Blog-warriors get some satisfaction by keeping anger alive and espousing vengeance as if life were a movie.

The poet, Charles Simic, wrote about the genocidal crimes of the Croat Ustashi in the 1940s and the crimes of the Serbs in the 1990s: “Many the world over believe this is the only way; that the survival of their people justifies any crime they commit. They find the scruples of those who cringe at the shedding of innocent blood in pursuit of some noble cause naive and repugnant”.

Events in Sri Lanka in 2009 prompted a friend in the UK to write to me: “Why can’t they forget race and religion and just get on with each other?” People often say similar things about Northern Ireland. Ordinary people generally do want to get along and often succeed in doing so. Unfortunately, there are economic factors  and historical myths stoking conflicts.

The non-violent civil-rights protests in Northern Ireland were hi-jacked by the Provisional IRA who appointed themselves protectors of the Catholic community and hitched the issue to their own nationalist agenda of a united
Ireland.

On a visit to Northern Ireland the Dalai Lama said: “Some differences, some conflicts will always be there. But we should use the differences in a positive way to try to get energy from different views. Try to minimize violence, not by force, but by awareness and respect. Through dialogue, taking others’ interests and sharing one’s own, there is a way to solve the problems”. He put his arms around a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister and tugged their beards.

Irish nationalists have long memories about the crimes of Cromwell. Gloucester builder, Fred West,  and his wife Rosemary murdered an uncertain number of young women in the basement at 25 Cromwell Street. He was charged with eleven murders but there were probably many more. Most of their victims were waifs and strays, but one was from a middle class family, an art student from a loving family who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lucy Partington, the cousin of writer Martin Amis, was waiting for a bus when Fred and Rose offered her a lift.

Lucy’s sister, Marian, writes movingly about Rosemary West: “Her story seems to be about the impoverishment of a soul that knew no other way to live than through terrible cruelty. A life deprived of truth, beauty or love. I imagine that the deviant ignorance that fed her sadistic, egotistical crimes was rooted in her ruined, crooked childhood.”

I don’t know if I could be forgiving in such circumstances. There is a good deal of research which shows that forgiving is good for the health.   When people think about forgiving an offender, it leads to improved functioning in their cardiovascular and nervous systems. The research of Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University  shows that forgiveness can be learned. In Northern Ireland, Luskin found that people who are taught how to forgive, become less angry, more optimistic, self-confident. His studies show a reduction in experience and  physical manifestations of stress, and an increase in vitality.

Harold Good was President of the Irish Methodist Church 2001-2. Both Jonathan Powell’s book Great Hatred, Little Room and Deaglán de Bréadún’s, The Far Side of Revenge, mention Harold’s discreet but vital  role in the Northern Ireland peace process. It was Harold who announced, as spokesman for General de Chastelaine’s decommissioning body, that the war was effectively over and that  the IRA had laid down their arms.

Harold  served the poor in the Dublin City mission in the 1950’s. In the 1960s he was  in Ohio and later served in the largely black Methodist church in Indianapolis. Back in Northern Ireland he witnessed the horrors of the Troubles. “I wasn’t isolated in an ivory tower. I know the pain inflicted by terrorists.”  In spite of this, he has referred, in a personal e-mail  to me, to his “friend Martin McGuinness” , former IRA Derry Commandant and now government minister.

Harold  worked closely with both Republican and Loyalist prisoners with a view to their resettlement. He was the Director in the 1970s of the Corrymeela community, a centre for reconciliation between the communities. He was chair of NIACRO (Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Prisoners) and part-time prison chaplain at
Crumlin Road prison. A key part of the Good Friday agreement was  the release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners.

In his acceptance address to the Gandhi Foundation when receiving their 2008 Peace Award, Harold  quoted a child who wrote: “I want to grow up in a Northern Ireland where you can look at a sunset without wondering what they are bombing tonight.” Harold commented: “Today our children see sunsets instead of bombs. As a community we have faced and accepted realities; engaged in dialogue; achieved consensus; accepted compromise and witnessed the signs and symbols of peace.”

Seamus Heaney wrote:

“once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.”

My new blogfriend and I  studiously avoid returning to the matter of our previous dispute. We talk about different nuances of American and Asian English. We talk about his experience as a black man in the USA and in the US Marines and the LAPD. If we started to get nostalgic about our old fight, there might be trouble. When I lived in London, I walked to the train station every morning at the same time. Most days I would encounter a mother taking her small son to the kindergarten. One day she was scolding him for  fighting with a little girl. He defended himself by saying: “she hit me back first”. My blogfriend and I don’t want to go into who started it. I doubt if he will accept that he was wrong and I sure as hell know I was damned right. Forget about it!

Is amnesia more conducive to reconciliation than truth?

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