Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Norway

Liberalism – Lexical Ambiguity

This article appeared in Lakbima News on December 4 2011.

Liberalism has got itself a bad name in many and different quarters. Suren Raghavan, writing in the Colombo Telegraph, was one of the many criticising NORAD’s analysis of Norway’s contribution to Sri Lanka’s “peace process”. “The Peace Process was hegemonised by a naive liberal peace discourse. It gravitated around the liberalism II model of minority rights, right to self-determination and ethnic federalism etc. By which it pre-constructed solutions at the cost of analysing the depth of the actual problem.”

So then, it was “liberalism” as much as the LTTE terror or Sinhalese or Norwegian politicians to blame?

Recently Rajpal Abeynayake had a look at liberal democracy as it is preached by  the West and practised by the West – not always the same thing. : “Look at how the man who was touted as one of the most liberal and left wing members of the US senate turned out to be! Once he became president, he turned out to be a fine old Republican, in an articulate liberal’s clothing. Liberal democratic values never had so much premium however, because they are supposed to be what the Arab Spring and all that is all about. But then they go and kill Gaddafi, and people are wondering what the hell that was all about — that baying democratic pack of people ushering this new brand of tolerance?”

So here, liberal and left-wing are conflated.

In North Carolina, a rich man called Art Hope, CEO and owner of Variety Wholesalers, a discount store conglomerate – that means he makes his fortune by selling to the very poor in North Carolina, products made by the very poor in China and elsewhere – has worked very hard to make sure the governance of the state suits his own extreme right-wing agenda. John Snow, (not the Channel 4 chappie with the silly socks, or the cricketer, or the man who discovered how cholera spread) a retired judge who had represented the Democrats in the state senate for three terms, found himself under vicious attack from the right. Snow’s deep-seated conservatism suited his constituents. He often voted with the Republicans – hardly a dangerous radical. ”My opponents used fear tactics. I’m a moderate, but they tried to make me look liberal”.

In the USA, it seems, liberal means radical, immoderate.

According to the right-wing think tank Freedom Center: “Liberalism just isn’t very popular in America”. The semi-annual Gallup political identification poll found a declining percentage of Americans, just 21%, adopting the ‘liberal’ label in 2020. By way of comparison, 42% of respondents called themselves ‘conservative’. Gallup noted in June that if the trend continued for the remainder of 2010, conservatives would boast their largest annual share of the American public since the survey started in 1992.

The word “liberal” has become a code word in certain circles in the USA for all the kind of things that right-wing conservatives detest. Right-wing Americans see ‘liberalism” as an obscenity and basically alien to the American Way. Left-wing Americans are afraid of “the L-Word”.

What we have here is a good example of “Humpty-Dumptyism”.”When I use a word, it means just what I want it to mean- neither more nor less”, said Humpty Dumpty. The posh term for this ploy is “stipulative definition”. Some philosophers call it lexical ambiguity.

Some definitions would be helpful.

According to Raymond Williams in Keywords: “Liberal has, at first sight, so clear a political meaning that some of its further associations are puzzling. Yet the political meaning is comparatively modern, and much of the interesting history of the word is earlier”. Williams was writing in 1976 and the situation has become more confused since.

One standard dictionary definition is “generous, noble-minded” which is clearly not apt for any context involving politicians. “Liberal democracy” is defined as “a state or system which combines the right to individual freedom with the right to representative government”. Surely, not even the Tea Partiers and Christian fundamentalists could object to that!

According to Professor Will Kimlicka in the Oxford Companion to Philosophy: “A liberal state does not seek to resolve these conflicts (different beliefs about the meaning of life), but rather provides a ‘neutral’ framework within which citizens can pursue their diverse conceptions of the good life. Liberalism, on this view, is the only human response to the inevitable pluralism and diversity of modern societies”.

Who could possibly object to this benign philosophy?

Raymond Williams notes that there is a long history of ‘liberal’ being used as a pejorative from all sides. Marxists in particular have used liberal as a bad word with connotations of weakness and sentimentality and lack of intellectual rigour. Because liberalism is based on individualist theories of man and society, it is in fundamental conflict with strictly social theories. Liberalism is anathema to strict socialists because it is the highest form of thought within bourgeois society and is the philosophy of capitalism.

Yes, that’s right capitalism.

Douglas Massey argues in Return of the “L” Word that sometime in the 1970s, liberals in the United States lost their way. After successes like the New Deal, they became arrogant. Faced with the difficult politics of race and class, liberals used the heavy hand of government to impose policies on a resentful public. Conservatives capitalized on this with a staunch ideology of free markets, limited government, and conservative social values.

In an interview with Mother Jones magazine, Massey argued that markets are essentially human constructions, and liberals should not seek to oppose markets with big government, but rather, ensure that these markets are working in the public interest. “The time has come,” he writes, “for liberals to tell the public that markets are not ‘free,’ but human-created institutions that citizens have a right to supervise and manage for their own benefit. Liberals need to abandon their lingering hostility toward market mechanisms, embrace them, and substitute a new rhetoric of ‘democratic markets’ for the false metaphor of the ‘free market’.”

Hang on! Didn’t ”liberal” used to mean laissez faire? Today, the dominant religion is liberal economics, which the Financial Times defines as “Another term for the classical theories of economics emphasising the concept of the free market and laissez-faire policies, with the government’s role limited to providing support services.” Neoliberalism, John Williamson’s Washington Consensus, which seeks to transfer control of the economy from public to the private sector and deregulate markets, has been the dominant religion of globalisation.

What Massey seems to be talking about is Keynesianism rather than liberalism as it is generally understood. Keynesianism is defined by the FT as: “optimum economic performance could be achieved by influencing aggregate demand through government fiscal (public spending and taxation) policy, not through the free market philosophy characterised by the classical and neo-classical schools.” FDR’s New Deal was Keynesianism in practice.

What the American right wing, as typified by such great intellects as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, mean by “liberal”, does not have to mean anyone as dangerous as a real communist or socialist of any kind. Let the unfortunate John Kerry stand as an emblem of liberalism. The right hated him because he spoke French, liked fine wines and had an extremely rich wife. He represented the hated élite, unlike GW Bush, who was also rich and privileged but affected folksy ways and was of limited accomplishment or intellect. Perhaps more important for these rightniks is cultural issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

Conclusion

Let Professor Kimlicka have the last word:

“Dire warnings about liberalism’s inability to contain the centrifugal tendencies of individual freedom can be found in every generation for the last three centuries, yet it appears that liberal societies have managed to endure while various forms of monarchy, theocracy, authoritarianism, and communism have come and gone… the basic language of liberalism – individual rights, liberty, equality of opportunity – has become the dominant language of public discourse in most modern democracies.”

Something Rotten in the State of Norway?

This article was published in the Sunday Island on August 13, 2011 

imagesNorway

Mankind cannot bear too much reality. People who are unhappy in the now of where they are, delude themselves that there is a better society elsewhere. Utopia might be located in an after-life or it might be in a different part of this planet, or another time in history. I recall that in the 1960s Professor Joan Robinson was telling us that Mao had it all sorted and we should try to emulate Communist China. C Wright Mills told us capitalism was finished and Castro had found a way to make Marxism human – look what a great health service Cuba has! In the 70s, I studied a fat compendium of essays arguing that worker participation in Tito’s Yugoslavia could teach Britain how to solve its industrial problems. For a while, Costa Rica, which does not have a standing army, seemed heaven on earth.

 

Only yesterday, I read in Huffington Post that Bhutan had all the answers, with its concept of Gross National Happiness. Someone commented: “I am Bhutanese, and I think the Bhutanese government has been milking this happiness thing for all it’s worth… The Bhutanese government should realize the special nature of their situation before it goes around promoting resolutions, or telling other countries how they should rank happiness in their list of priorities”.

 
I recall reading of a survey that said Ireland was the happiest place on earth. That was before the economy went down the toilet and the industrial scale of the Catholic Church’s abuses was proved beyond doubt.

 
My personal knowledge of Scandinavia is limited to a brief visit to Denmark (another one-time contender for happiest nation on the globe) in the early 80s. It seemed to be entirely populated by sensible teachers and social workers in home-made clothing (apart from the raving drunks on the street). My knowledge of Sweden was gained from Ingmar Bergman films – not much joy there.

 
When I was blogging on Open Salon, exchanges with a blogger calling himself Norwonk were always pleasant. He was a fan of the great Tommy Cooper and was grateful when I introduced him to the works of Al Read. I was surprised to learn that British comedy was popular in Norway, with Norwegian versions of Steptoe and Son and Hancock’s Half Hour.

 
Norwonk was understandably shocked by recent events in Norway: “I suppose I should give you some kind of unique Norwegian insight into the terror attack but I’m sorry: I’ve got nothing. This attack makes no sense to any sane person. There’s a political motive, to be sure, but not one which sane people would identify with. I just hope this is a signal to my country to not change at all. Sure, if there are some simple and sensible measures we can take to improve our security, we should do so. But frankly, I doubt it. ‘’

 
There is a good deal of delusion about the success of the Scandinavian social democracies. It is true that in Norway women occupy 40% of important jobs. It is true that justice minister Knut Storberget and children’s minister Audun Lysbakken are able, like ordinary citizens, to take generous time-off for paternity leave.

 
“This tranquil and most peaceful of all communities” is, nevertheless, a foolish cliché.

 
Scandinavian crime novels have become very popular and reveal the dark underbelly. The Norwegian author Jo Nesbo, like many of the Scandinavian crime writers, was an investigative reporter, and the Breivik story would probably not have surprised him. Robert Fox wrote in The Week: “The truth is Norway, like Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, still has the traumas of the past to contend with – the shadow of Nazi occupation, collaboration and resistance – as well as the huge recent changes in society, including the sudden impact of new immigration and the new political Islam.” Norway is not immune to crime, corruption and racism.

 
In addition, Norway has lost its international ethical niche. Norway got rich because of oil but has somehow managed to avoid the opprobrium attached to other oil explorers and exploiters. The Government Pension Fund takes surplus funds from Norwegian petroleum. The fund accounts for just over one percent of all global stocks. The Fund’s Advisory Council on Ethics was established 19 November 2004 by royal decree. Companies are excluded from the fund if their conduct is judged unethical.

 
Nevertheless, Norway remains one of the biggest shareholders in the controversial Indonesian logging and palm oil group Sinar Mas, with, according to its most recent published accounts, a holding of more than $16m in Sinar Mas’s palm oil arm, Golden Agri Resources.

 
The Norwegian government also invests in Burma, gaining profit from the human rights abuses of the totalitarian military government which employs slave labour and summary executions to do business.  According to a report by Earth Rights: “The Norwegian people, through their government’s sovereign wealth fund, have USD $4.7 billion invested in 15 companies – hailing from eight countries – involved in the oil and gas sector in Burma.”
“Apart from direct human rights impacts, the Shwe gas and oil transport pipelines appear to be exacerbating rising ethnic tensions in Burma’s contested borderlands, specifically in the ethnically diverse territories of Shan State.” The Shwe gas consortium and several other companies in the Fund are engaged in onshore infrastructure construction in Burma, an activity that the Norwegian Ethics Council itself determined poses an unreasonably high risk of leading to human rights violations.

 
Although it has a large aid programme and strongly supports the UN, in reality, Norway has joined the club of rich nations exploiting the planet for their own benefit. There is a failure to regulate Norwegian corporations. Mark Curtis wrote in the Guardian: “Norwegian weapons sales have tripled since 2000, reaching GBP 336 million in 2007. Norwegian arms were used by the US and Britain during the invasion of Iraq, while a lack of controls have allowed high explosives to be sold to the US and re-exported to Israel.” Norway has a presence in Afghanistan and Libya.

 
National Geographic asks: “Why Is Japan Whaling’s Bogeyman When Norway Hunts Too?” Claire Bass, marine mammals programme manager with the WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals), says other whaling nations appear to get off lightly compared with Japan. “I think it’s part of the strategy of countries like Norway to stand behind Japan and use them to take most of the flak”. It is strange that, in the face of opposition from around the world, a rich nation like Norway is one of a small number of countries actively engaged in commercial whaling, despite the negligible contribution it makes to the economy, and despite, according to documents released by WikiLeaks, President Obama putting pressure on Norway during his Nobel Peace Prize visit.

 
While one has every sympathy for the innocent Norwegian citizens who suffered in the recent outrageous event, one is also dismayed by the opportunity it afforded to stoke the national myth and dangerous self-delusion that Norway is usually a paradise on earth and that the nation behaves like a paragon of virtue in the ugly reality of the world.

 

Click to access Broken-Ethics.pdf

 

Just because you’re paranoid…

This article was posted on The Agonist on September 30 2009. It still seems relevant following David Cameron’s visit in November 2013.

 

One can detect something of a siege mentality in Sri Lanka. There is a strong feeling that, after winning a long and brutal war, the country’s independence is threatened by unfair criticism from abroad. An important element in this is in the complex relationship with INGOs (International Non-governmental Organizations).

Susantha Goonatilake called his book on foreign-funded NGOs in Sri Lanka Recolonization.

In his conclusion he wrote:”Sri Lankan NGOs emerged in the late 1970s when the then government cracked down on democracy, transparency and accountability and killed locally-grown civil society… Sri Lanka thus became a partial NGO franchise state, with the NGOs attempting to erode the country’s sovereignty …The NGOs are now being squeezed and widely criticised, not only by the media, but also through massive street protests and countrywide posters. The coming years will see an outcome of the struggle between real civil society and foreign-funded NGOs. This struggle, which is partly between a reconciliation agenda and local voices, echoes Sri Lanka’s 500-year-old struggle with western colonial powers.”

There is a common resentment among Sri Lankans about the perceived arrogance of NGOs and the foreign correspondents that rely on them for access and information.

Gomin Dayasri has written about this: ”It’s a stopover in paradise for a Foreign Correspondent to live majestically on his overseas allowance. Such comfortable digs are not in the market in the recession-stung home country. There is exotic food and groovy watering holes at affordable prices. NGOs provide the freebies and roll out the red carpet…With the LTTE gone where they will go? After a few more horror stories to demean the Security Forces and back to the west to face the shock treatment of recession. War is an investment relief to the Foreign Correspondent. The order will soon come to pack the flak jackets and return to a not so sweet home and to wait patiently for a call to another exotic destination?”

I used to wonder why the Sri Lanka government was so paranoid about NGOs and foreign criticism. It seemed a bit crass to seek international help and get all huffy about foreign interference.

During the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA), to the outside world it would have seemed that the Norwegian facilitators were doing a difficult job in trying to bring peace to the war-torn island and getting very little thanks for it.

The leader of the Norwegian team was Erik Solheim, currently Norway’s International Development Minister. He recently called on the UN to investigate charges of war crimes in Sri Lanka, following the screening of a video on Channel 4 purporting to show Sri Lankan soldiers shooting unarmed Tamils. The Sri Lanka government claims that the video has been proved to be a fake.

The interrogation of Kumaran Padmanathan aka ”˜KP’, the LTTE’s arms procurer caught over two months ago, is helping to expose an international network that kept the Tigers in fighting trim. It has been revealed that the Norwegian government helped the LTTE to establish relations with Eritrea, which allowed the group to purchase arms, ammunition and equipment from China on Eritrean end-user certificates and other documents. Erik Solheim had been directly involved in forming the Eritrean-LTTE relationship. The LTTE had used Eritrean and also North Korean end-user-certificates to procure arms from China which were smuggled in several consignments before the Sri Lanka Navy destroyed eight floating arsenals September 2006 and October 2007.

Sri Lanka recently established diplomatic relations with Eritrea with a view to pursuing LTTE assets in that country. KP has revealed that an LTTE-owned business venture was entrusted with operating the International Airport in Asmara and that during the last leg of the war, it had been planned to smuggle the leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran to Eritrea.

Over 90 per cent of the entire Tigers’ heavy equipment, including a range of artillery pieces and 14.5 mm anti-aircraft guns captured by the Sri Lankan army were of Chinese origin.

Many Sri Lankans have long been suspicious about Norwegian influence in their country. Eyebrows were raised when Norwegian People’s Aid, a Norwegian Government-funded NGO said its heavy earth-moving vehicles, trucks & tractors had been ”stolen” by the LTTE. NPA had been implicated in smuggling arms to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. When the Sri Lanka Army captured the LTTE’s Stanley Base and other camps they found electricity generators, water pumps, tents, water dowsers belonging to INGOs. The massive bunkers could have been built with the stolen vehicles.

Norwegians were suspected of training LTTE Sea Tigers in Thailand. There was also speculation that Norway provided sophisticated satellite and communication equipment to the LTTE during the 2002 CFA truce.

CARE is a leading international organization based in Atlanta, Georgia which operates in more than 65 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. On its website it acknowledges that, although there is a great deal of poverty to be addressed in the USA itself, it prefers to work in foreign countries. It has more than 14,500 employees worldwide. More than 90 percent of CARE International staff are nationals of the countries where it operates.

According to the Kotahena Police, investigations have revealed that the bomb exploded at the Pittala Junction in Kollupitiya targeting Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was taken to Colombo from Kilinochchi in a vehicle belonging to CARE International. Police arrested Sivalingam Arunan, Patmanathan Iiyer Sriskandaraja Sharma and Arunasalam Arumugam Perumal in connection with the assassination attempt. The bomb material had been buried at a safe house in Wellawatte after being carried in a CARE International van. Later, it was transported to Modera and fixed to the three-wheeler of the suicide cadre Lateef Mohamed Faris.

Two Sri Lankan UN workers were arrested in June on suspicion of using NGO activity as a cover for aiding the LTTE. The two men in detention are a 45 year old employee of the UNHCR and a 31 year-old man employed by the UN Office for Project Services.

Recent reports indicate that five Russians were ”˜smuggled’ into the country in the guise of NGO personnel, to provide special training to personal bodyguards of Prabhakaran in the Wanni. A local bodyguard, who was arrested at a refugee camp in the Wanni, revealed that 35 bodyguards had been trained by the Russians. The training included firing, driving and dismantling a vehicle and reassembling it in a very short time. Prabakharan’s son Charles Anthony had received training from the Russians. An extensive investigation is under way to identify these Russians and the NGO that supported them. Defence officials suspect these Russians could be retired members of a Russian defence unit.

Police believe that some NGO employees in the IDP camps are Black Tigers whose mission is to assassinate VIPs visiting the camps. A report in The Island newspaper of 30 September claims that 20,000, believed to be LTTE cadres, have escaped from the IDP camps. Senior Superintendent Kasturiratne said special police teams from Kandy had been dispatched to the IDP camps in the north to conduct investigations. The SSP said that followers of the terrorist organisation were still moving around though the leadership of the movement had been destroyed. He said explosives and arms had been recovered from Pudikudiiruppu and other locations in the north and east on information provided by the LTTE suspects in custody.

Sri Lanka is waiting trepidatiously for the EU to report on GSP Plus, which, simply put, is a preferential tariff advantageous to the exports of the Sri Lanka garment industry. The EU created the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) from the early 1970s onwards, pursuant to a series of decisions made by the signatories of GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs).

Following a challenge from the WTO the EU had to redesign the GSP scheme. Countries lose the standard GSP scheme concessions when they are no longer classified as developing nations. The least-developed countries also lose their duty- free preferences once they become middle-income countries. They then fall into the standard GSP category and pay the 10% duty.

In order to qualify for GSP+ applicant nations had to ratify and implement 27 international conventions, account for less than one per cent of total imports into the EU, and its five main exports should account for more than 75 per cent of its total exports. If recipient countries fall short of the three GSP+ criteria, they will automatically be out of the scheme.

The EU seems to be implementing the GSP+ scheme in such a way as to spite the WTO for ruling against them. The EU is trying to disqualify Sri Lanka on the grounds that she is in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. What the WTO seemed to have had in mind were de-selection criteria in keeping with the ”˜development, financial and trade needs’ of the recipient country and stability and predictability in tariff regimes.
The EU paid local NGOs to make representations to itself to the effect that Sri Lanka was not in compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Then they paid another committee of experts to examine the documents they had paid for earlier. Nobody knows who made submissions to this three-member committee of experts appointed by the European Commission.

The irony of the situation is that Sri Lanka is trying to recover from a horrendous thirty-year civil war and the garment industry has an important role to play in rebuilding the north and east by providing employment and helping rebuild the infrastructure.

The association of companies called Sri Lanka Apparel is contributing to post-war reconstruction by establishing a new garment factory, specialising in baby clothes, in the war-affected district of Trincomalee. The factory benefited from a special incentive scheme to attract investments into the Eastern Province and has generated 1,000 jobs. The factory opened in September, 2009 and will initially export all of its output to the UK. It has the capacity to produce 100 pieces per month and in six months will increase capacity to 1.2m – 2m pieces per month.

Another Sri Lanka Apparel member company has made water and sanitation the central theme of its corporate social responsibility programme. It has been building hygienic bathing facilities for displaced people in the camps at Menik Farm in northern Sri Lanka. The project employed people living in the camps and provided them with income.

That particular company has also supported the Government’s efforts to rebuild the economy of the Eastern Province by investing 250 million rupees in a factory at Punani in the Batticaloa District, which currently employs 220 people, most of whom are from families that were displaced by the conflict.

A key feature of the Sri Lankan garment industry is that it seems to do more than pay lip-service to the concept of corporate social responsibility. Sri Lanka, as a nation, has fostered enlightened, socially-responsible legislation and has committed itself to 27 of the ILO Core Conventions. The mission of the industry is to employ ethical practices, thereby contributing to the economic development of the country while improving the quality of life of the apparel industry’s workforce and their communities.

An initiative called Garments without Guilt enabled Sri Lanka Apparel to forge a niche for itself in western markets where companies and consumers were uncomfortable after revelations about Asian sweatshops. This success has been threatened by the financial crisis and will be further threatened if GSP + is withdrawn. Was ethical marketing merely a luxury of a booming world economy which will have to be jettisoned in grimmer times? Kumar Mirchandani of Sri Lanka Apparel told me that the association will not abandon its principles. Whatever the competition might try, Sri Lanka Apparel is committed to ethical business. ”There is no excuse for unethical behaviour, no matter what the economic conditions are. This is the message Sri Lanka Apparel is sending”.

It is ironical that because of the perceptions of the EU about human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government, thousands of innocent Sri Lankan workers in an industry that achieved success because of its ethical business practices will be thrown out of work and factories in the war-torn north and east may have to close.

Much of what is called loosely ”aid” is in fact investment for a return or loans on which Sri Lanka pays interest. GSP + is not charity. Sri Lanka was one of the original 24 signatories to GATT in 1947, and what Article 1 of GATT envisaged was equal opportunity for everybody whereby member states would refrain from discriminating between one another and grant similar treatment to all countries. The stability as well as predictability of tariffs is essential for traders to make investment decisions. At the time they load their ships, they should know that the applicable tariff will not be higher when the goods reach the destination.

The EU may push Sri Lanka to the position where she has no alternative but to mount a challenge in the WTO.

Norway – the view from Sri Lanka

Utopian Fantasies

Mankind cannot bear too much reality. People who are unhappy in the now of where they live delude themselves that there is a better life  elsewhere. Utopia might be located in an after-life or it might be in a different part of this planet, or another time in history. I recall that in the 1960s Professor Joan Robinson was telling us that Mao  had it all sorted and we  should try to emulate Communist China. C Wright Mills told us capitalism was doomed and  Castro had found a way to make Marxism human- look what a great health service Cuba has! In the 70s, I studied a fat compendium of essays arguing that worker participation in Tito’s Yugoslavia could teach Britain how to solve its industrial problems. For a while, Costa Rica, which does not have a standing army, seemed heaven on earth. Only yesterday, I read in Huffington Post that Bhutan had all the answers, with its concept of Gross National Happiness. Someone commented: “I am Bhutanese, and I think the Bhutanese government has been milking this happines­s thing for all it’s worth. .. The Bhutanese government should realize the special nature of their situation before it goes around promoting resolution­s, or telling other countries how they should  rank happiness in their list of priorities­”.

I recall reading of a survey that said Ireland was the happiest place on earth. That was before the economy went down the toilet and the industrial scale of the Catholic church’s abuses was proved beyond doubt.

Scandinavian Utopias

Scandinavia in recent times has been the promised land. My personal knowledge of Scandinavia is limited to a brief visit to Denmark (another one-time contender for happiest nation on the globe) in the early 80s. It seemed to be entirely populated by sensible teachers and social workers in home-made clothing (apart from the raving drunks on the street). My knowledge of Sweden was gained from Ingmar Bergman films – not much joy there.

When I was blogging on Open Salon, exchanges with a blogger calling himself Norwonk were always pleasant. He was a fan of the great Tommy Cooper and was grateful when I introduced him to the works of Al Read. I was surprised to learn that British comedy was popular in  Norway, with Norwegian versions of Steptoe and Son and Hancock’s Half Hour.

Norwonk was understandably shocked by recent events in Norway: “I suppose I should give you some kind of unique Norwegian insight into the terror attack but I’m sorry: I’ve got nothing. This attack makes no sense to any sane person. There’s a political motive, to be sure, but not one which sane people would identify with. I just hope this is a signal to my country to not change at all. Sure, if there are some simple and sensible measures we can take to improve our security, we should do so. But frankly, I doubt it. “

There is a good deal of delusion about the success of the Scandinavian social democracies. It is true that in Norway women occupy 40% of important jobs.  It is true that justice minister Knut Storberget and children’s minister Audun Lysbakken are able, like ordinary citizens, to take generous time-off for paternity leave.

Domestic Terrorism in USA and Norway

Norway and the USA are nations that had not had much experience of domestic terrorism. Norway did experience war on the home front when it was occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War. “Nothing like this has been seen in the history of the country,” says Kjetil Wiedswang, columnist for the newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv. “There has never been a massacre like this, even in the period of the Nazi occupation. The nation is in absolute shock.”

There has been some discussion on the internet about proportional comparisons between the incident in Norway and America’s experience with 9/11. “In proportional terms Norway has lost more people than America did on 9/11, and most of them are young, between 13 and 19” wrote Neil Tweedie  in the Daily Telegraph.  Daniel Byman writing in Foreign Policy magazine: “This may yet turn out to be Norway’s 9/11 or its Oklahoma City. But the scene of destruction in downtown Oslo does invite the question: why haven’t there been more large-scale terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland?” In 2006, Slate contributor Jordan Ellenberg questioned the logic of such comparisons. “It’s hard for Americans to comprehend what’s happening in the Middle East. That’s why commentators reach for analogies. What event in the United States would be ‘equivalent’ to the terror over there? The answer depends on what you mean by ‘equivalent’. Is it, ‘What crime in America is morally equal to the killing of eight Israelis?’ Or do you mean something more like, ‘What event would have the impact on America that the killing of eight Israelis does on Israel?’ The first question is easier. Unless you truly think Israeli lives are worth more or less than our own, the crime that’s equivalent to the murder of eight Israelis is the murder of eight Americans.”

April 19 2011, marked  the 16th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people. Timothy J. McVeigh, a decorated army veteran, was executed on June 11, 2001.  David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University’s Law Centre, says that “terrorism”  is normally defined as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” The Oklahoma attack prompted a broadening of the definition. “If you can brand your foes as terrorists, that’s an important moral and political victory,” says Brian M. Jenkins, a terrorism expert.  “Bombs by their nature are indiscriminate weapons, and the issue is, why is it legitimate to drop a lot of bombs on a city, knowing full well that hundreds of thousands of innocents may be killed, but not legitimate to set off a bomb in a city in which scores may be killed?” The reaction to the Oklahoma bombing set in train a series of encroachments of freedom which led to the Bush regime’s use of torture so eloquently condemned in the writings of Professor Cole.

Sri Lankan View of Terror Attack in Oslo

The front page of the Sri Lankan Sunday newspaper Lakbima News carried  a picture of bloodied Norwegians with the headline: “Talk peace with terrorists? That’s in Lanka!”

Nishanta Sri Warnasinghe, a spokesman for the Sri Lankan JHU (National Heritage) party said: “Norway is known as a peaceful, peace-loving and a democratic country. But, if you look closely, Norway is a country that intervenes in third-world countries with the intention of disturbing their democracy, peace and freedom”. He said that Norway had supported terrorism in East Timor, Indonesia, Sudan  and Sri Lanka and played to the agenda of the US and the west. “We ask them to learn their lesson and not to breed terrorism. Norway is not the only country that deserves peace. Norway should not destroy the peace of the third world”.

The Sunday Island’s political columnist made the point that the ordinary Norwegians who were killed or injured had no idea what their government had been doing in Sri Lanka. “The Norwegian government must at this time of stress abide by the principles they have been promoting overseas and they should firstly refrain from banning whatever organization that has perpetrated the bombings and shootings. They should obviously start negotiating with these disgruntled elements with a view to arriving at a political solution to the problem – whatever it is.”

This might have seemed churlish. Let me explain the background.

Norway’s Role in Sri Lanka

F Rovik, a Norwegian, of the NGO NAT (Norwegians against Terrorism),  wrote in the Asian Tribune:  “Even though the acts of terror lasted only for a day, they should get some idea of what life has been for the Sri Lankans, who lived with the Norwegian-supported LTTE (Liberation tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorism for more than 25 years. The time is long overdue to issue a complete apology to the people of Sri Lanka and other nations where Norwegian funds have been used to prolong or create conflicts. Why can’t we use some of our wealth to compensate for the damages we were responsible in foreign countries instead of using our money to bomb Libya back to the Stone Age?”

People in Sri Lanka do not necessarily regard Norway in a favourable light. When I first came to live in Sri Lanka there was a fragile truce between government and the Tamil Tigers, who were fighting for an independent homeland in the north and east. The truce was brokered by Norway. During the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA), to the outside world it would have seemed that the Norwegian facilitators were doing a difficult job in trying to bring peace to the war-torn island and getting very little thanks for it.

The leader of the Norwegian team was Erik Solheim, currently Norway’s International Development Minister. He recently called on the UN to investigate charges of war crimes in Sri Lanka, following the screening of a video on Channel 4 purporting to show Sri Lankan soldiers shooting unarmed Tamils. The Sri Lanka government claims that the video is a fake. NAT did a thorough analysis of Eric Solheim’s autobiography, noting that the book was written at Arne Fjørtoft’s house. It is noted that Solheim admits to doing jail time for stealing from the Norwegian Air force. “Arne Fjørtoft is described by Erik Solheim as  his close friend and he thanks Mr. Fjørtoft in the prologue to his book. In his book he describes Arne Fjørtoft as a genius in handling people. Fjørtoft founded Worldview Rights, a human rights organization which was funded with 100 million kroner of Norwegian tax payer’s money. There were reports of bribes, mismanagement, fraud and huge payments to Fjørtoft. Fjørtoft and  Jon Westborg (later ambassador to Sri Lanka) had a decade-long friendship with the LTTE. In 2004, Worldview  was ordered  repay around 2.5 million kroner to Norad (Norwegian Agency for Development Co-operation), after an investigation into the  misuse of aid funds.

NAT published a report in 2007 listing the Norway’s faults in relation to Sri Lanka.[i]

The interrogation of Kumaran Padmanathan, aka ‘KP’, the LTTE’s arms procurer,  helped  to expose an international network that kept the Tigers in fighting trim. It was revealed that the Norwegian government helped the LTTE to establish relations with Eritrea, which allowed the group to purchase arms, ammunition and equipment from China on Eritrean end-user certificates and other documents. Over 90 per cent of the entire Tigers’ heavy equipment, including a range of artillery pieces and 14.5 mm anti-aircraft guns captured by the Sri Lankan army were of Chinese origin.

Erik Solheim had been directly involved in forming the Eritrean-LTTE relationship.[ii] The LTTE had used Eritrean and also North Korean end-user-certificates to procure arms from China which were smuggled in several consignments before the Sri Lanka Navy destroyed eight floating arsenals September 2006 and October 2007. Sri Lanka established diplomatic relations with Eritrea with a view to pursuing LTTE assets in that country. KP  revealed that an LTTE-owned business venture was entrusted with operating the International Airport in Asmara and that during the last leg of the war, it had been planned to smuggle the leader of the LTTE, Vellupillai Prabhakaran to Eritrea.

Many Sri Lankans have long been suspicious about Norwegian influence in their country. Eyebrows were raised when Norwegian People’s Aid, a Norwegian Government-funded NGO said its heavy earth-moving vehicles, trucks & tractors had been “stolen” by the LTTE. NPA had been implicated in smuggling arms to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. When the Sri Lanka Army captured the LTTE’s Stanley Base and other camps they found electricity generators, water pumps, tents, water dowsers belonging to INGOs. The massive bunkers could have been built with the stolen vehicles.

Norwegians were suspected of training LTTE sea tigers in Thailand. Norway provided sophisticated satellite & communication equipment to the LTTE during the 2002 CFA truce.

The SLMM (Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission) , and Norway in particular, was criticised for not being impartial and for appeasing the LTTE, who were guilty of most of the cease-fire violations (the SLMM itself ruled that, as of 30 June 2005, the  LTTE violated the CFA 3006 times, the Government 133 times). At one time the SLMM’s figures shown on its website were: Serious human rights violations committed by the LTTE= 99.89% Serious human rights violations committed by the Sri Lankan Army = 0.11%. This information was later removed.

The Norwegians initially had the support of the then  Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga, the government, and the opposition party (UNP). After a Chinese ship was attacked off the northern Sri Lankan coast, General Trond Furuhovde, Norwegian  Head of SLMM, was recorded as  suggesting to the LTTE they  should put the blame on a “third party with stolen uniforms”. SLMM later issued a statement blaming a “third party” without naming who that third party was. On another occasion, an LTTE arms vessel escaped from the Sri Lankan navy after being warned by the SLMM by satellite phone. Even when the EU was considering proscribing the LTTE in 2006, Norway opposed it.

Phillip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, visited Sri Lanka in November 2005 and was scathing in his criticism of the way the Norwegians were handling the LTTE’s deliberately provocative  violations of the CFA.

According to NAT: “Leaders with in-depth knowledge of the LTTE wheelings and dealings accused Norway of  funding the LTTE and for Mr. Solheim for receiving LTTE help with his house purchase in Oslo. The Norwegian facilitation has had its scandals with complaints from the LTTE that the girls working in the Bangkok brothels were too doll-like. This was a major issue in Anton Balasingham Hero’s Day speech at Wembley, London. The Norwegian facilitators forgot to attend to the LTTE delegation’s liquor bill during the negotiations in Tokyo. This sent Anton Balasingham into a furious rage”. Balasingham died of kidney failure.

What were Norway’s motives in favouring and appeasing the LTTE? NAT believes there were three main reasons:

  • Securing work for the Norwegian peace industry
  • Securing votes from the Tamil Diaspora in Norway
  • Securing business for the Norwegian oil industry

Norway, according to the Tamils of the  University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) (UTHR(J)), was allowed  a disproportionately influential role in Sri Lanka,  and employed a strategy which reflected “a continuing disregard for the risks taken by members of the Tamil community struggling against the LTTE’s ruthless bid for asserting total control while demanding a political solution ensuring dignity and fair play.” (UTHR(J) claimed that Norway’s appeasement  strategy was responsible for the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadigarmar (a highly respected Tamil).

Norway began the peace process in 2002 by quite openly sidelining President Kumaratunga in favour of her long-time political adversary, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. Norway facilitated travel abroad for so-called LTTE fact-finding missions, including coaxing European representatives to meet them. Norwegian lobbying of the international community encouraged tacit support for the LTTE’s methods, and diluted or obstructed many initiatives aimed at holding it to account. The  UTHR(J), would find Norway’s benign image risible. To them Norway: “came to respect principally the LTTE’s stunning capacity for violence, which it held together by constantly attacking the humanity of its people. Its mafia-like network, which it wove to continually upgrade its destructive power under the very noses of Western governments, is allowed to go unchecked. Indeed, it was virtually rewarded with sole representation of the Tamil community. “

Norway and Ethics

Norway is not a homogeneously liberal society. The strongly anti-immigrant Progress Party is now the second largest political formation in Norway. Breivik’s voice is not a lone one pining over the fjords.

Norway has lost its international ethical niche. Norway got rich because of oil but has somehow managed to avoid the opprobrium attached to other oil explorers and exploiters. The Government Pension Fund is takes  surplus funds from Norwegian petroleum and purports to utilise them sensibly and ethically. The fund accounts for just over one  percent of all global stocks. The Fund’s Advisory Council on Ethics was established 19 November 2004 by royal decree. Companies are excluded from the fund if their conduct  is judged unethical.

Nevertheless, Norway remains one of the biggest shareholders in the controversial Indonesian logging and palm oil group Sinar Mas, with, according to its most recent published accounts, a holding of more than $16m in Sinar Mas’s  palm oil arm, Golden Agri Resources.

The Norwegian government also invests in Burma, gaining profit from the human rights abuses of the totalitarian government which employs slave labour and summary executions.[iii]  According to a report by Earth Rights: “The Norwegian people, through their government’s sovereign wealth fund, have USD $4.7 billion invested in 15 companies – hailing from eight countries – involved in the oil and gas sector in Burma.”

“Apart from direct human rights impacts, the Shwe gas and oil transport pipelines appear to be exacerbating rising ethnic tensions in Burma’s contested borderlands, specifically in the ethnically diverse territories of Shan State.” The Shwe gas consortium and several other companies in the Fund are engaged in onshore infrastructure construction in Burma, an activity that the Norwegian Ethics Council itself determined poses an unreasonably high risk of leading to human rights violations.

Although it has a large aid programme and strongly supports the UN, in reality, it has joined the club of rich nations exploiting the planet for their own benefit. There is a failure to regulate Norwegian corporations. Mark Curtis wrote in the Guardian: “Norwegian weapons sales have tripled since 2000, reaching GBP 336 million in 2007. Norwegian arms were used by the US and Britain during the invasion of Iraq, while a lack of controls have allowed high explosives to be sold to the US and re-exported to Israel. Norway has a presence in Afghanistan and Libya.

National Geographic asks: “Why Is Japan Whaling’s Bogeyman When Norway Hunts Too?” Claire Bass, marine mammals programme  manager with the WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals), says other whaling nations appear to get off lightly compared with Japan. “I think it’s part of the strategy of countries like Norway to stand behind Japan and use them to take most of the flak”. It is strange that, in the face of opposition from around the world, a rich nation like Norway  is one of a small number of countries actively engaged in  commercial whaling, despite the negligible contribution it makes  to the economy, and despite. According to documents released by WikiLeaks, President Obama put pressure on Norway during his Nobel Peace Prize visit.

Conclusion

Breivik had thought about Sri Lanka. Informed sources told The Island newspaper that Breivik could have had a link with LTTE activists in Norway. In his manifesto he said  that Europe should follow Sri Lanka’s  example of expelling the Muslims. In fact, the Muslims were driven out of the north and east by the LTTE and looked after by the government. The killer’s manifesto also referred to the LTTE massacring Buddhists at Anuradhapura temple  in 1985 and the August 3, 30 Tigers attack on  four mosques in the Kattankudi area, where 300 Muslims were prostrate in prayer. The Tigers sprayed automatic fire and hurled hand grenades at the worshipers. Most of the victims were shot in the back or side. Political sources said that while Norway was funding Sri Lankan NGOs to promote the LTTE a section of Norwegian youth drew inspiration from LTTE terrorism.

Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, a Sri Lankan  MP who has been tasked with negotiating with the Tamil National Alliance,  adopts a sympathetic  approach.  “Sadly I fear that there will be a few people in Sri Lanka who see what has occurred as some sort of retribution, for what seemed excessive indulgence to terrorism… We cannot morally fault those who tried to promote solutions based on mutual understanding. There was certainly a failure of intelligence and understanding when indulgence continued long after it was clear that Tiger terrorists were incapable of compromise. The killing of the innocent is not acceptable under any circumstances, and that is what makes terrorism so abhorrent. That is why it is vital that the world works together to eliminate terror, and does not allow it to develop, to flourish, to be revived.”

While one has every sympathy for the innocent Norwegian citizens who suffered in this outrageous act , one is also dismayed by the opportunity it afforded to stoke the national myth and dangerous self-delusion that Norway is usually a paradise on earth and that the nation behaves like a paragon of virtue in the ugly reality of the world.

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