Archive

War

Dayan Jayatilleka spoke at a recent event organized by the Sri Lankan Committee for Solidarity with Palestine, to commemorate the UN Day for Solidarity with Palestine . The Sri Lankan government has made it a general point to sympathize with the Palestinian cause, though in recent years it has also become increasingly pally with Israel, with an envoy in the country and multiple arms deals.

DJ himself has a long and robust history of support for the Palestinian cause. But his speech on that day smacked of opportunism aimed at capitalizing on one of the world’s most tragic human rights issues in order to express the grievances of Sri Lanka’s government.

His attempts to equate the troubles of the Palestinian people with the ‘troubles of the Sri Lankan people’, whatever that may mean drastically trivialized the Palestinian problem. According to him, Sri Lanka and Palestine are two sides of the same coin, because they are both subject to double standards by ‘hegemonic Western regimes’.

I don’t quite know what Sri Lanka DJ is taking about, unless he’s talking about the extremely poor or the post-war disenfranchised, but even they don’t experience problems remotely close to what Palestinians experience everyday; sewage flooding their streets, constant threat of death by drone strikes/air strikes/deranged Israeli soldier strikes, frequent checkpoints, the inability to enjoy one’s rights in one’s own country, constant threat of expulsion and murder at the hands of an opressive regime etc etc etc. The list goes on.

To say that Sri Lanka and Palestine have something in common because we are both subject to double standards by Western regimes is like equating an advanced cancer patient with someone complaining about a visit to the dentist.

Also consider that in the eyes of the West, the government of Sri Lanka is accused of crimes that liken them more to Israel than Palestine; cast more in the mold of the oppressor than the oppressed. And all it seems to be doing is playing the part of the prosecuted street thug plaintively pointing at the gangland boss going free. This posturing is an admission of guilt, not of innocence.

DJ went on to make an explosive exhortation for David Cameron to visit Palestine, and not Jaffna, if he cares about human rights. I think David Cameron is quite aware of the tragic state of Palestine. He staunchly ignores it everyday, never meaningfully addressing the problem that the ‘Western Hegemonic Powers’ Dayan talks about created in the first place. But unlike Palestine, Sri Lanka’s problem is completely internal. We have the power to solve it, address it and move on from it. The Palestinian people do not have this luxury.

The moral agency of the West (what moral agency of the West?) is just a diversion, and it’s sad to see someone like DJ actively engaging in promoting it as the predominant point in Sri Lanka’s post war discourse, dialog and search for truths. Instead we should be looking inwards, into our own history, into our own morality. I have always been and still am staunchly against the LTTE, and I am more grateful than I can say that the war is now over, and the terrorists ‘defeated’.

But i’d be lying if I said that I believe the conflict has ended. Sri Lanka’s conflict is living on, and it is constantly being aggravated in its sleeping underground state by inaction, jingoism and distraction. And no one seems to be taking a meaningful public stand to address it. The conflict is a sleeping dragon, and eventually it is going to wake up. 

Advertisements
Some of the placards attested to food being the greatest unifier. I agree.

Some of the placards attested to food being the greatest unifier. I agree.

Yesterday’s Rally For Unity, I think, was a resounding success. There was a fair bit of commotion in the run-up to it with various would be social media saboteurs attempting to close the event down. But the turnout was a testament to its reach. By my estimates, around 500-700 people were present, but I could be wrong, being notoriously bad at guessing at this sort of thing.

Some alien flyers (there’s a translation up) invaded the rally as well. Claiming that it was an NGO/foreign funded operation. Now where have we heard that story before? It certainly rings a bell. The Police soon dealt with the trouble makers however, telling them to ‘samakamiwa yanna putha’ (walk away in peace, son) before they slunk off into the inner reaches of Viharamahadevi Park. Volunteers reported being tailed by unknown vehicles after the rally ended as well, but no other disturbances were heard of.

An expanding list of politicians and dignitaries were coming out in support of it as the rally drew near, I think this helped build the credibility of the group involved, which is denying any organizational affiliations, projecting itself only as a loose group of individuals committed to fighting hate speech in Sri Lanka, unaffiliated to the BQBBS which organized the Candlelit Vigil on 12 April.

But the experience of the Vigil appears to have taught some lessons. Police permissions were obtained, and legal loopholes looked into. The role of the Police as a matter of fact, took a 180 degree turn in terms of how they reacted to peaceful protesters, I’m sure everyone appreciated this.

Endorsements by the presence of people like Dayan Jayatilleke (who was interviewed by Charles Haviland for the BBC) and others; and Imtiaz Bakeer Markar and Baddegama Samitha Thero who spoke at the event cemented a sense of officialism.

More than anything though, it was the people that turned up, after everything that happened after the Vigil, that made the Rally work. Families turned up with kids, students came, passers by, random uncles and aunties, clergy, activists, executives, business people, government servants, it was truly an urban motley crowd. Kudos to them.

Photos:

DSC_0211

The rogue leaflet

The rogue leaflet

DSC_0158

DSC_0195

DSC_0178

Imtiaz Bakeer Markar and Samitha Thero

Imtiaz Bakeer Markar and Samitha Thero

DSC_0215 DSC_0239 DSC_0249

Dayan Jayatilleke

Dayan Jayatilleke

Update: More pictures here and on Indi’s flickr

Indonesian_Sampan

Do you know what it means?

Most pejoratives have origins in completely acceptable descriptive words. ‘Negro’ comes from the Latin ‘Niger which means black, ‘Paki’ is shortened from ‘Pakistani’. Terms like Chinaman, Coolie are also derived from relatively innocent descriptive origins. They get their pejorative connotations after being repeatedly used in an insulting manner.  Other names originate directly from a desire to put down and insult, but the word ‘Hambaya’ belongs to the former category.

‘Hambaya’ is derived from the Malay ‘Sampan’. The word for a somewhat flat bottomed boat, also used by the Chinese. Pictured above is an Indonesian sampan, coming back from a fishing expedition. Sampans were frequently seen in Sri Lanka’s South Eastern coast when Javanese people stopped en route while migrating to countries like Yemen and MadagascarMany of them stayed back here as well. The term was eventually associated with South Indian traders who were also Muslims like the Javan people, and who adopted the same style of boat. And eventually, as ‘Sampan’ became ‘Samman’ in Tamil and ‘Hamban’ to the Sinhala people, a collective term ‘Hambankaraya’ was used to describe them as a whole.

According to ethnologist Asiff Hussein, author of Sarandib: an Ethnological Study of Muslims in Sri Lanka, the word did not acquire its derogatory connotations until the beginning of the 1915 riots, the first ever incident of tension between Sinhalese and Muslims. According to Asiff, the riots were sparked by ‘coastal moors’ of Indian residence temporarily ensconced in the center of the country (the riots started at Gampola) for trading purposes. They were not as accommodating as Sri Lankan moors (the term used for resident moors in the country) and objected to the procession of the perehara (Buddhist festival) near their mosque (contrarily, resident moors were long known to have facilitated and supported perahara activity).

The ensuing tensions spread the  use of the word ‘Hambaya’, shortened from the rather more respectful ‘Hambankaraya’, as a wide derog to describe all Muslims even the ones that hadn’t migrated on a boat. But then again, everyone in Sri Lanka, except maybe for the aadivasi, migrated on a boat, and a lot of us still continue the proud tradition, but I digress. The word ‘Thambiya‘ probably acquired its seedier usage around about that time as well. Just like in ‘hambaya’ the problem is the suffix ‘ya’ which basically turns an endearing term that refers to a younger brother into a racial slur.

Signs that ‘Hamban’ was once a respectable term are everywhere. Take Hambantota for instance, what will probably soon be Sri Lanka’s on-paper capital. The whole place is named after the Hambankarayas or at least, their boats.. Hambantota basically means ‘Port of Hambans’. Further to the East, ‘Sammanthurai’ means exactly the same thing. ‘Samman’ is the Tamil version of ‘Hamban’ and ‘Thurai’ means port.

Many Malays still live in the Hambantota area. My uncle was married to a Malay there. Almost his whole family (and wife’s extended family as well) and nearly the entire neighborhood were wiped out in the tsunami. Malays have more than a passing influence on Sri Lankan culture, language and history. But this is often overlooked because of the small size of the Malay community in the country today. They are usually cast in the same cultural bucket as Sri Lankan Moors, who are themselves a pretty diverse lot to begin with.

Not all of the Hambankarayas were Muslim. Chandrabhanu was a Javanese king who spent some 30 years of his reign trying to invade Sri Lanka. He probably used many sampan in his invasionary forays. He was a Buddhist.

WARWAR by Sebastian Junger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Junger’s ‘war’ is more ‘battle’ than war since he only talks about the situation of a platoon of soldiers stuck in a remote valley in Afghanistan who are apparently unaware of the sweeping developments in the bigger picture of war.

His soldiers are fighting machines, equipped with the brawn and the intelligence necessary to cope with an environment of severe and unpredictable gunfights interspersed with long periods of boredom. The ones with the bloodlust survive.

His soldier is not a person ideologically aware of the reasons for the conflict, and fights the war for a reason completely different to what its government fights it for.

The soldier is a being who has ended up at the army for one of various reasons, and only few of them are born from a deep sense of patriotism. the word patriot, in fact, is barely mentioned in the whole book. They fight for their ‘bothers’ or platoonmates and sacrifice their lives not for the American cause but for the cause of saving the lives of their fellow soldiers.

War gives them the exhilaration and high they know they will never get from anywhere else whilst also slowly tearing them apart psychologically. I think the lack of a non superficial overriding cause to fight slowly tears them up on the inside. They question God, and everything else and ask why? but can’t answer the question when one of their ‘brothers’ die. It’s kill or be killed in the Korengal valley, nothing else matters. or barely even figures.

This is a bloody disturbing state for a soldier. Junger spent 15 months among them and his love for them is apparent, this love also tears away the veneer of ‘objectivism’ that you may think such a ‘journalistic’ attempt should maintain. But objective and journalistic is what this book is mostly not, but that doesn’t mean to say it completely isn’t these things either.

It is just objective enough to present everything in a way that you can draw your own conclusions, and just about journalistic enough to be a calm narrative with a sufficiently high intellectual hand to give you enough material for analysis. Overall well written (i especially like how Junger has adopted the jargon ridden military panache to his language). It may not be a book you will like for the reasons you think you are supposed to like it for. But its surely something you can walk away with understanding from.

View all my reviews

-the truth may hurt, but Jack Baur hurts more

The Economist ran a piece recently on how people are taking Jack Baur seriously. I mean seriously, this is Jack Baur we’re talking about. An excerpt;

During a televised debate in 2007, Tom Tancredo, a Republican presidential candidate, was asked what methods he would authorise to extract information from a terrorist suspect in a “ticking bomb” scenario. “I’m looking for Jack Bauer at that time, let me tell you,” he said. Bauer routinely tortures terrorists in disgusting ways to save innocent lives. Being a fictional character, he never tortures the wrong guy or extracts false information. Real life is not like that. Yet a Pew poll last year found that half of Americans think that torturing terrorist suspects can “sometimes” or “often” be justified. Only a quarter said “never”.

The amount of ‘terrorists’ tortured by the Bush administration was no small number. Maybe Jack Baur helped constrain public opinion to the level of what it was. Maybe he convinced Obama not to prosecute Bush. Whatever.

The movie industry trying to belittle atrocities created by wars their home country’s are engaged in are nothing new. I don’t know if this is done on purpose. If i was in more conspiratorial mood, i would tell you it was all the fault of the Jewish Lobby. But it comes down to a question of what impresses people about the movies they see. Its how the people see it that matters and not for what purpose the movies are made.

Batman, in last year’s The Dark Night, went completely batshit on international regulations and the rule of law. The message was clear; you fight fire with fire, and when fighting the lawless, you can’t let little things like laws get in your way.

Mot people, on the surface would probably like to think that movies don’t really influence the way they think. But most people really don’t know what influences the way they think. We think through ideas, through mental constructs we have built up that help us see the world in a particular light. And i assume that the foundations of these constructions are located in the subconscious. They build up beased on externalities that influence them. This is probably where Jack Baur comes in; he creeps into our subconscious and fucks with it.

Terror. What begets it? More terror? Or are we talking about Original Terror here?

Imagine Sam. Sam was a young man living in a small unimportant town on the Eastbank of Innocentville. He chopped wood and managed to scrape through with a meager living; feeding his ailing old mother and little sister in the process.

Suddenly invasionary troops from the neighboring country of Baddasery do what they do best; invade. They break through the villager’s meager defences, break into Sam’s home, kick his door in, and do away with his mother and sister after doing unmentionable things to them. Sam comes back after a day in the woods, sees this, is devastated, and vows revenge.

Innocentville gets organized under the leadership of Sam. They seek help from the King of Deviousville, who furnishes them with weapons and extra troops. Ten years later Sam’s forces break thorugh to the capital of Baddasery- Badassopolis, raze it to the ground, kill everybody who cannot be gainfully enslaved and generally introduce Badassery to a whole new level of badassery.

Who’s the biatch now?

Jack that’s who. Jack is twelve is years old. His father was a farmer living outside the city limits of Badassopolis. When the Innocents invaded, they killed his parents in front of his eyes; Jack was an only child. He hid from the armies of Sam and escaped to friendlier territories. He then dedicates his life to his revenge.

Terror has already been enacted. Question is, where or when will it stop?

(Title of post borrowed from a Lost Prophets track of same)

There has been some mystery surrounding the Foreign Policy of our governemnt for some time now. Increasing signs of ‘disturbing’ alliances with ‘antagonistic’ nations such as Iran, Russia and China during the war and subsequent post war events especially in the Human Rights department have got a lot of people wondering why we are so openly going against the West. The following article from the Sri Lanka Guardian sheds some light on the whole affair. Cheers to Zack for the link.

The position of the governments of India and a group of states that can collectively be called the Periphery, such as the U.S. and Australia, were in support of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) or Tamil Tigers, either overtly or covertly. Many of these governments also provided this support tacitly, so as not to close any future opportunity of co-opting Sri Lanka after the fighting was over.

(…)In contrast, the governments of a group of states that can jointly be called Eurasia as a collective entity, such as Iran and Russia, supported the Sri Lankan government. The polar nature of the support by Eurasia and the Periphery for the two different combating sides in the Sri Lankan Civil War betrays the scent or odour of a much broader struggle. This is a struggle that extends far beyond the borders of the island of Sri Lanka and its region.

Why is this so? Much of the answer to such a question has to do with the formation of a growing alliance in the Eurasian landmass against the international domination of the U.S. and its allies.(…)In 2009, the last chapter of the Sri Lankan Civil War was very much a theatre within this process.

– Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, Sri Lanka Guardian October 29, 2009

Read the rest or continue for a quick summary

There is growing division among the West and countries of the ‘Eaurasian’ coalition of which the main stakeholders are Russia, China and Iran. Sri Lanka is caught between a power struggle between Western and Eurasian nations due to its strategically important location in a key supply chain line connecting the East with the rest of the world. The West has either wised up to this long ago or had their own ideas of its importance as evidenced by Diego Garcia; a key military base jointly held by the US and British armed forces situated approx 1000 miles exactly south of Sri Lanka.

The LTTE was seen as a threat to the Eaurasian alliance cementing their control of Sri Lanka, as a ‘Balkanized‘ SL would have meant instability and a possible loss of control to the ‘periphery’. So support was provided to the Government of Mahinda Rajapakse to help it eradicate the LTTE. This was not seen in a friendly light by the West and aid from that region declined at a tremendous pace; almost as fast as aid increased from Iran and China. In 2008, within the military framework, Chinese aid reached $1billion while US aid dropped down to $14million. Iran chipped in with interest free loans and extended support fot the GOSL to get its crude oil situation sorted out.

This Eurasian Alliance formed along the lines of the Primakov Doctrine (which chiefly advocates a ‘nonpolar’ world) has formed the ‘NATO of the East’; the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) of which Sri Lanka has become a ‘dialogue partner’ (see right on SCO wiki page). The Hambanthota ‘harbour’ under construction is really a Chinese naval base; A part of the Chinese ‘string of pearls’ strategy to strengthen its military power in the region to secure its supply chains originating from the Mid East and Africa. 

Now the primary interests if the Eurasian states lie in consolidating their influence in Sri Lanka. They need to ensure that a government friendly to them will remain in power in order for them to do this. End of summary.

Given this context, some light is shed on the possible underlying reasons why the president is now referring to Gen Sarath Fonseka as a traitor. We will probably see some strong propaganda coming out of Temple Trees soon to the effect that the General is trying to undo all the hard work put into winning the war in a selfish and frustrated bid for power. Both sides will try and keep all details of foreign influence out of public campaigns; Sri Lankans are notoriously paranoid when it comes to interfering foreigners. But when the dirtypolitik that our campaigns are famous for raises its head, everyone will get a chance to sniff at the garbage.

Back to this emerging Cold War; it does not seem to be abating as some leading local intelletuals seem to think. The recession drove home the importance of economic buoyancy and the increasing need to compete for resources has only emphasized fears of possible threats to independence and security, leading to a need for powerful nations to start preparing for a possible big one.

The West will try its best to preserve the already changing status quo. And they do not want to be faced with a powerful China, Russia or Iran if and when push comes to shove. So they will obviously try and take pre-emptory measures to reduce the possible impact an Eurasian opposition would have in a next Great War or series of mini conflicts that will encompass a sustained Cold War. And the Sri Lankan elections, to the minds of both sides, will be crucial in securing power in the important shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean.

In a setting like this, a small country like ours probably has no other option but to sell its soul. The war has divided our society too greatly for us to be able to unitedly stand against foreign influence. Plus, in a globalized world where we rely so much on foreign help for economic sustenance, staying non aligned for long is a virtual impossibility. Especially when we are caught in such a geopolitically strategic location in the tug of war between two powerful opposing forces.

The best we can do is keep playing a dangerous game to ensure that we keep getting the benefits. But a Faustian game is a tough one to play and you don’t always get rescued by heaven. In the real world Mephistopheles usually caps yo ass, or you get your ass capped because of him, one way or another.

%d bloggers like this: