Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Rauf Hakeem

Lying and Lying Liars

This article was published in Ceylon Today on December 16 2019. A little late I am afraid.

“Score me up for the lyingest knave in Christendom”

Christopher Sly in The Taming of the Shrew

In the first article that I published in Sri Lanka back in 2007, I quoted Rauf Hakeem: ““The subject of political morality is a relative thing. The current electoral system does not give any government the confidence to try and deliver on the commitments made during the polls.” Who knew? The only thing we could rely on politicians for was to lie to us and break their promises. Since then things have got worse with Donald Trump who has taken lying to  a stratospheric level. There are many websites listing and rebutting Trump’s porkies; here is one chosen at random:

New words have been added to the lexicon as a result of Trump’s twitterings: truthiness, alternative facts, post-truth. Politicians have always lied and set out to deceive the voters. Perhaps a paradigmatic change occurred during the Vietnam war when politicians had to pretend to believe that the mightiest nation on earth was not being humiliated by poorly equipped guerrilla fighters. Hannah Arendt described the way lying became insitutionalised and telling the truth became treasonous. “The extravagant lengths to which the commitment to nontruthfulness in politics went on at the highest level of government…the concomitant extent to which lying was permitted to proliferate throughout the ranks of all governmental services, military and civilian”.

I am in London, watching with fascinated horror the performance of Trump’s mini-me, Boris Johnson, in the general election campaign. Johnson is one walking, breathing lie, a porky on legs. There is nothing genuine or honest about him. He even lies to himself about himself. Political commentator Ian Dunt wrote: “There’s this great yawning chasm between the way the prime minister thinks of himself and the manner in which he actually behaves. In copy, he is a tower of strength, a thoroughly manly masculine man of the most magnificent macho order. But the things he does in real life serve to effectively pop the bubble. He evades, he ducks out, he cowers, he blames other people. He’s ultimately just a bit of a coward.” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed to be interviewed by the fearsome Andrew Neil and got a severe mauling. Johnson is even evasive about whether he will be interviewed by Neil. As another commentator, John Crace, might have put it, “pifflepaffle, whiffle waffle”.

The Conservative Party tried to mislead the public by rebranding one of its Twitter accounts “FactCheckUK”, suggesting that it was a neutral site rather than biased propoganda. It had one of its ads banned by Facebook after using footage of BBC presenters without permission and out of context. They also doctored an interview with Labour front-bencher Keir to suggest that he was not answering questions. In fact, he did a great job.

Every time Johnson open his mouth lies come tumbling out. He cannot resist repeating things that have been convincingly rebutted. He is aware that the National Health Service is a strong point for Labour. In their TV head to head Corbyn scored a good point by displaying a redacted document showing Conservative plans to sell off the NHS piecemeal to US companies. Johnson denied this and countered with the promise to build 40 new hospitals. This cannot be true as only GBP 2.7 bn has been set aside for six ‘upgrades’ over five years. Only one hospital, Whipp’s Cross, can, by stretching the imagination, qualify as a new hospital and it will have less beds than the old hospital. Surplus land will be sold for housing.

In 2015, the Conservatives promised to make the NHS “the safest and most compassionate health service in the world”. They promised 5,000 more general practitioners. The reality is that GP numbers have fallen with senior GPS retiring early because an anomaly in the pension system means that they are paying more in tax than they earn. There are 100,000 unfilled vacancies in the NHS but somehow Johnson is trying to blame the Labour Party for this even though the Tories have been in power since 2005. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I can tell you categorically I’ve never advocated privatisation of the NHS.” Presenter Nick Robinson told the Foreign Secretary: “It’s not that long ago, is it, that you were involved in writing a pamphlet which advocated a health service where ‘two thirds of hospitals are run privately’.”

Johnson has tried to blame lefty ideas for the stabbings on London Bridge last in spite of pleas from the families of those who died in the attack not to besmirch their loved ones with political contamination.

Johnson did agree to be interviewed by an Andrew, but it was Marr not Neil. Marr allowed him to get away with four lies. He said that Labour wants to withdraw from NATO – false. He said that Jeremy Corbyn wants to disband MI5  – Labour politicians may have made off-the cuff remarks about this in the distant past but it is not Labour policy. Blatantly and shamefully he said that child poverty has fallen in the last ten years – in fact, it has risen by 400,000 since 2011. The fourth lie was that Parliament had blocked the Queen’s Speech – it was passed with a 16-vote majority. There were a number of complaints to the BBC that the prime minister was not challenged about his lies. However, the BBC seem to be encouraging viewers to complain that Marr interrupted too much.

Channel 4 is doing better than the BBC. In the past, the BBC was often accused of left-wing bias. These days, they are accused of giving too much rope to the Brexiteer right. Recently, Channel 4 broadcast a debate on climate change. The Conservative Party and the Brexit Party declined to send their leaders. Channel 4 placed blocks of ice in the shape of the planet on the empty chairs allowing them to melt during the course of the programme. The Conservatives made a complaint to Ofcom and threatened to withdraw Channel 4’s licence. (Ofcom rejected the complaint.) This is all of a piece with attacks on the judiciary and parliament. This is a conscious attempt to subvert institutions and to smear all who criticise the party.

Paul Mason wrote, “if you suddenly have a political class determined to ignore these implicit rules, and newspaper journalists willing to act as propagandists for one side, then the broadcast media has to adapt its own behaviour.”

Truth is constantly under threat. The threat will be greater if the Tories win the election. We will be trapped in what Hannah Arendt called “a defactualised world”.

Nixon Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday December 15 2016.

Colman's Column3

Mendacity and Madness


The Madman on the Stair

Joseph Laitin, of the Office of Management and Budget, told Anthony Summers, author of The Arrogance of Power, that he was on his way to a meeting in the West Wing with Treasury Secretary George Schultz in spring 1974. “Just as I was about to ascend the stairway, a guy came running down the stairs two at a time. He had a frantic look on his face, wild-eyed like a madman. And he bowled me over … before I could pick myself up, six athletic-looking young men leapt over me, pursuing him. I suddenly realised that they were Secret Service agents, that I’d been knocked over by the president of the United States”.

Many people speculated about Nixon’s mental health. Someone who had served with Nixon in the Navy said he had “severe ups and downs” even in the 1940s. Nixon had once “loved” JFK but soon grew to detest him, convinced, with good reason, that Kennedy had beaten him fraudulently in the 1960 presidential election. Kennedy came to regard Nixon as “mentally unsound”. Frank Sinatra, who was campaigning for JFK, wanted to get publicity for a report that Nixon was seeing a psychiatrist. Pat Brown, Nixon’s opponent in the election for governor of California said: “This is a very peculiar fellow.  … I really think he’s psychotic … an able man but he’s nuts …” BBC correspondent Charles Wheeler was Nixon’s guide to East Berlin and described him as “weird …Totally mad.”

Nixon first visited Dr Arnold Hutschnecker, a specialist in psychosomatic illnesses, in 1951, after reading the doctor’s best-selling book, The Will to Live.  Hutschnecker continued to meet Nixon sporadically until shortly before Nixon died. He visited the president twice at the White House and was the only mental health professional known to have treated a president. Although he would not talk about it while Nixon was alive, Hutschnecker had discussed the treatment in several interviews. In the 1950s, he suggested that ”mental health certificates should be required for political leaders, similar to the Wasserman test demanded by states before marriage.”


Nixon admitted that he started using sleeping pills in the late 40s. Over a long period soon after becoming president, he also consumed, without prescription or medical supervision, large quantities of an anti-epileptic drug called Dilantin. A doctor consulted by Anthony Summers was alarmed that anyone in a position of responsibility, particularly one with access to the nuclear button, was taking Dilantin and drinking alcohol.

Lies and Ethics

Nixon’s lawyer during the Watergate affair, Fred Buzhardt, later remembered him as “the most transparent liar” he had ever met. Even during his farewell speech after he had resigned he embarked on a bizarre stream-of-consciousness in which he claimed that he was not educated and had no personal wealth in fact, he had a good law degree and was very rich. Barry Goldwater, who had long believed Nixon was insane, said when he was trying to persuade him to resign during Watergate: “The danger in this whole thing was his constant telling lies”. Nixon himself said to one of his aides before meeting Mormon elders: “Whatever I say in there, don’t you believe a word of it…” This reminds me of something Rauf Hakeem said in a 2007 interview: “The subject of political morality is a relative thing. The current electoral system does not give any government the confidence to try and deliver on the commitments made during the polls.” Like Hakeem, Nixon believed that “dissembling” and “hypocrisy” were part of political life. Kissinger thought Nixon convinced himself by his distortions.


The tendency was already there in his student debating days when his debating coach was disturbed by his “ability to slide round an argument rather than meet it head on. There was something mean in him, mean in the way he put his questions, argued his points”.

In his first days working for the law firm Wingert and Bewley he made a blunder in court which led to the firm being sued for negligence and Judge Alfred Paonessa sternly reprimanded Nixon: “Mr Nixon, I have serious doubts about your ethical qualifications to practise law in this state of California. I am seriously thinking of turning this matter over to the Bar Association to have you disbarred”.


Madman with a Button

Sometimes Nixon used madness as a political strategy. He told Kissinger to tell the Soviet ambassador that he had lost his senses and might use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Nixon’s Watergate nemesis Senator Sam Ervin said that the main issue was not that the president was a crook – most rational people had long accepted that: “A certain thumb moving towards a certain red button, a certain question of sanity … Query: if the man who holds the thumb over the button is mad …”. Nixon  was heard boasting that he could press a button and in 20 minutes 50 million Russians would be dead.


When Soviet-backed Arab troops moved into Israel there was a real prospect of world war as Kissinger believed that Soviet troops would be sent in. Nixon did not attend a single meeting on the conflict during the first week. US troops and nuclear weapons were being lined up. Nixon was unavailable – drunk or sleeping. At one point, he had to be rescued from an overflowing bath tub. It was alleged that he had hit his wife. He was wandering the corridors of the White House talking to portraits of former presidents.



Nixon’s anger sometimes tipped over into violence. At a rally in Southern California, he spotted a Democratic party activist who had plagued him. He strode over and slapped her in the face. He physically attacked the producer of a TV programme because he allowed college students to ask him difficult questions. On the same tour, he punched someone in the face. His aide Bob Haldeman recalls that, on a tour of Iowa, a military aide called Don Hughes was sitting in the car seat in front of Nixon. Nixon, frustrated by the way the tour was going, repeatedly kicked with both feet the back of the seat in front of him.  The next time the car stopped Hughes got out and silently walked away. There is film evidence of Nixon manhandling press secretary Ron Ziegler in New Orleans and he seemed drunk when he gave a speech afterwards.


Envy, Vengeance and Prejudices

Nixon’s aide Alexander Butterfield recalls the president shaking with anger when talking about the “Georgetown set”. “Did one of those dirty bastards ever invite me to his f***ing men’s club or his goddamn country club? Not once”. Journalist Hugh Sidey could not detect any human bond between Nixon and his wife but Gloria Steinem saw why Richard and Pat bonded although he was cold to her and beat her. “They were together in their resentment of glamorous people who had it easy…”.


Nixon ordered the army to spy on the young veteran who exposed the massacre at My Lai and griped for hours about the negative publicity: “It’s those dirty rotten Jews from New York who are behind it”.



Although he worked with Jews like Kissinger and Leonard Garment, Nixon used the word “kike” and sent an aide to investigate a “Jewish cabal” at the Bureau of Labour Statistics and complained that there were too many Jews at the IRS. Women in government were a pain in the neck; Italians were all dishonest, as were Mexicans. He often referred to African-Americans as “Jigaboos”.




With Martin Luther King in 1957


A convicted murderer, William Gilday, claimed that he was hired by Nixon aides to carry out dirty tricks, including the ultimate dirty trick of murder. Among those Gilday  was incited to kill were Edward Kennedy and George Wallace. When Wallace was shot, he had to withdraw from the presidential race that Nixon won.


Wallace harboured suspicions of Nixon’s involvement. Journalists Jack Anderson and Drew Pearson infuriated Nixon with their reporting of secret funding. Gordon Liddy said he was charged with finding ways of stopping them. Liddy came to the conclusion that the only way would be to kill them.

More on Nixon’s crimes  – and his connections with organised crime – next week.


Broken Promise Land

This was the first article I had published in Lanka Monthly Digest (LMD). It appeared in the December 2007 issue.


“When in doubt, tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends,” said Mark Twain. “Unless it would impose the silence of slavery, no government can afford to ignore its obligation to the truth,” said Michel Foucault. And Rauf Hakeem said in a recent interview: “The subject of political morality is a relative thing. The current electoral system does not give any government the confidence to try and deliver on the commitments made during the polls.”



In daily life, we all constantly encounter the kind of broken promises and untruthfulness which Hakeem sees as a natural part of political life. Associated concepts are trust, loyalty, confidence, frankness, sincerity, right livelihood, betrayal, perjury, smear, spin, manipulation, hypocrisy, self-delusion, forgetfulness and corruption.


None of these issues  are exclusive to Sri Lanka, but this is my home and here are some Sri Lankan examples I have encountered,  which illustrate how frustrating and exhausting it is to get the simplest task done- and how corrosive a lack of truthfulness can be in friendship, business and politics.


Promises, by their very nature, have consequences. A friend who is a vet agreed to perform surgery on our dog, which she told us to starve. After six months, we haven’t seen or heard from her. If we had taken her at her word, the dog would be dead by now.


A roofing-tile company agreed to view our site and provide an estimate. I telephoned the salesman when he didn’t show up. He was in Ratnapura and couldn’t get to us. We didn’t buy that company’s tiles. Its Managing Director said when I complained: “That’s Sri Lanka, no?”



The CEB (Ceylon Electricity Board) said that its staff would come on Thursday. They didn’t. They said that they would be there on Friday. They turned up a month later, but we were away. In its office is a sign that says: ‘The Customer Is King’.


Hakeem is echoing the American philosopher Richard Rorty, who wrote: “Language is just human beings using marks and noises to get what they want.” The doctrine that there can be no absolute truth seems to have sprung from the discovery that scientists can err and that cultural factors inevitably colour our perceptions.


Other philosophers such as Mary Midgley combat this post-modernist relativism, maintaining that without a concept of absolute truth, “how, then, could we describe the world?”



All jurisdictions punish perjury, because justice cannot be done unless all parties adhere to the truth. The absolute language of the oath has a pragmatic purpose. Professor Bernard Williams writes about the two virtues, accuracy (doing everything we can to make our beliefs sensitive to the truth) and sincerity (expressing what one really believes without deception). He cites as an example the tobacco company executive who knows that his product may kill,  but his own life and peace of mind depend on avoiding that fact. He may accommodate himself to this by wishful thinking about the evidence. Williams sees any person lied to as a victim of an abuse of power who has been put in a powerless position that results in resentment and rage. The tobacco salesman may simply lie. The victim might die.


In our imperfect world, the white lie is hard to avoid. Frankness may prove costly in both public and private life, and it is not necessarily scheming or devious to hold back from absolute honesty. The man who prides himself on his bluntness may also have to be content with his own company, as he may not retain any friends. We might call this withholding of, or economy with, frankness tact – rather than insincerity.


Does more good than harm flow from the telling of a lie? According to Henry Sidgwick, in The Methods of Ethics, we must weigh “the gain of any particular deception against the imperilment of mutual confidence involved in all violation of the truth”. Practices of deception tend to multiply and reinforce one another and it takes an excellent memory to keep the thatch of one’s untruths in good enough repair to keep the rain out.


Mostly, the real reason for a lie is simply the advantage to the liar. Politicians use the white-lie justification to vindicate self-serving manipulation. The electorate is masochistic enough to let them get away with this. We are complicit, but delude ourselves thus: “Politicians are corrupt, but what to do?”


Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, was recently grilled by a tribunal investigating corruption. Few doubt he took large sums of cash from businessmen on four occasions. His testimony has been described as “rambling and incoherent”, and he has changed his story so many times that some of it has to be a lie. Polls show that less than one-third of voters believe him, but also show a sharp increase in support for his government and a corresponding drop in support for the opposition. At a recent public appearance Ahern was described as adopting a demeanour of martyred vindication. Some commentators see the public’s complaisance as evidence of the corrosive effect on the Irish nation as a whole of corruption at the top.



Denying the inevitability of falsehood in politics is seen as naïve – but there is, at the same time, tacit agreement that lying is wrong. It was said that British Minister of War John Profumo’s greatest rime wasn’t betraying his wife or compromising his country by sleeping with Christine Keeler- a call girl who was also the mistress of a Soviet spy. Rather, commentators took pains to assert that they were not concerned with his sexual morals, but with the fact that he lied to Parliament.



US Government officials told ABC News that they concocted the story of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) to give legal justification for war’ “We were not lying. It was just a matter of emphasis,” they asserted. Dr Samuel Johnson quoted Henry Wyatt’s definition of a  diplomat as “a man paid to lie abroad for his country”. (It is interesting that Johnson was writing about journalists and their tenuous relationship with the truth.)


The Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) was created in 2001 to lie overseas for the US, but after an outcry, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quickly announced its closure. He was not telling the truth when he said the US government had stopped lying. The OSI’s duties were taken over by the Information Operations Task Force. “I’ll give you the corpse. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done,” he said. Lies about lraq have led to over 85,000 real corpses.


George Bush Jnr., like Richard Nixon before him, used smears and lies to become president. Dan Rather is suing CBS for firing him for allegedly presenting forged evidence on revelations in 2004 about Bush’s National Guard years. Bush, the coward, was running against war hero Senator John Kerry, but the Republicans discredited Kerry’s greatest asset to compensate for Bush’s liability. Witnesses remember Bush drunk and never going near the National Guard while Kerry was being decorated for bravery in Vietnam. CBS wanted Bush to win and branded one of its own as a liar for exposing the truth.


Deviation from truth throws a spanner in the works of social interaction and business life. We can organise our lives more effectively if truth is the accepted currency. Johnson said that the devils themselves do not lie to one another, since even the society of hell could not subsist without the truth. His devils didn’t have the benefit of email, SMS and mobile phones. With modern technology, there is no excuse for wasting my time because someone has more important things to do than make our agreed meeting. If I tell someone that I am going to do something by a certain time, they can effect their arrangements in the confidence that I will deliver. Punctuality is the politeness of princes.


Broken promises have a domino effect. Society will not prosper if people lie and boost their egos by making promises which they have no intention of fulfilling. In his bestselling little book On Bullshit, Harry Frankfurt defines lies as statements that are not germane to the enterprise of describing reality, promises unconnected with an intention to fulfil. Lies arise when people are pushed or tempted to talk about things they know nothing about or when they don’t care about the truth.


Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe has said in LMD that “there was a time when the people were very vigilant, vibrant and alive to numerous issues affecting society … civil society seems to have gone to sleep. It could still be a powerful force if it came forward as one body.” His job is dealing with the big issue of corruption. We can all play a small part in affecting the environment in which corruption thrives by addressing the ‘what to do?’ mentality in daily life whenever a company disrespects us by dishonouring a commitment or a friend lets us down.


Defy the petty quotidian corruption of unreliability and negligence. Businesses and state departments will carry on lying and breaking promises if their ‘customers’ allow them to. Businesses will prosper if truth is respected and customers can rely on companies keeping their promises. Governments will thrive if they embrace openness and sincerity.

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