Daily Archives: October 4, 2006

Peace activist Neela Marikkar speaks at the Table of Free Voices, Berlin

Sri Lanka has made its mark at the Table of Free Voices with peace activist Neela Marikkar included in a gathering of 112 intellectuals, artists and activists that attempted to create a new era of global dialog via the internet.

The Table of Free Voices saw the 112 Thinkers – representing 50 countries and 6 continents – seated at the largest round-table ever built at Berlin’s Bebelplatz Square, a site infamous for Nazi book burning. For six hours on Saturday 09 September, the 112 participants spoke into video cameras (and not to each other) to individually answer 100 of the world’s most compelling questions, submitted by the internet community. The moderators at the event were actor Willem Dafoe and Nigerian activist Hafsat Abiola who read the 100 questions which ranged from issues such as climate change, war and peace to the effects of technological progress. Among the questions raised were “What is God’s religion?" "Is it murder to kill a murderer?" "Would there be war if the world was run by women?" "Is there an ecological limit to economic growth?" "Does our wealth depend on the Third World being poor?" "Why is there no peace in the Middle East yet?" and "Can dancing change the world?" The responses by each participant at the round table were transcribed, translated and archived online at http://www.droppingknowledge.org. The participants were chosen from among hundreds of nominees put forward by the international public. Each individual was chosen on account of his or her innovative, creative or humanistic impact on the international public. Sri Lanka’s Neela Marikkar was in a league of speakers that included influential voices such as German Film Director Wim Wenders, Human Right activists Bianca Jagger and Harry Wu, Israeli publicist Avi Primor, business consultant Roland Berger, technology pioneer Bill Joy, Tibetan ex-prisoner Ven. Palden Gyatso, Auschwitz survivor Raymond Federman, former Rwandan child soldier China Keitetsi and Bangladeshi UNESCO special envoy Masuma Bibi Russel.

Neela Marikkar is a prominent peace activist and has been instrumental in galvanizing the business community of Sri Lanka into action since spearheading SriLankaFirst – a business for peace initiative headed by her. SriLankaFirst has been a voice for peace through dialogue, and has grown to bear considerable influence in the Sri Lanka sociopolitical space. Neela is also a successfully businesswoman, heading the country’s largest advertising agency GrantMcCannEricsson.

Speaking on her return from the Table of Free Voices, Neela said "I was truly inspired at the event which saw the participation of many of the world’s free thinkers. It was exciting to be part of a project that could well set the stage of how the world communicates their problems in this digital age. The need now is for interested, affected, committed and concerned citizens to join in the dialog in the hope of new solutions and endeavors. As Sri Lankans, we must be prepared for this new age of global dialog, where differences will shrink and boundaries will disappear as more and more people come together on an international platform to unite in the resolution of our most pressing problems."

The objective of the experiment is to create a new way for activists to communicate – via the internet. It is built around the idea of networking people – who are geographically and socially far apart – in order to share experiences, and learnings. The result could potentially pave the way for new, more productive ways of dialog and conflict resolution by bringing protest, political dissent and activism into the internet age.

The event was organized by Dropping Knowledge – a 100%-stakeholder focused international non-profit organization based in Berlin and San Francisco. Its founding partner is the Allianz Group while its founding supporters are the Mark and Sharon Bloome Fund and the Wallace Global Fund. A public resource, Dropping Knowledge cannot be owned and is freely accessible to all for all time. -Financial Times

Advertisements

Tamil Tiger Scandal becomes election issue in Illinois

By Walter Jayawardhana

Congressman Danny K. Davis

Los Angeles: Republican Congressional candidate Charles Hutchinson has made Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers an election issue against the incumbent Democratic Congressman Danny Davies for his strange friendship with the terrorist group.

Charles Hutchinson a complete newcomer in politics is locked up in a tight race with the veteran Congressman Danny Davies for the U.S. Congressional seat in Illinois 7th House District with only 10 points separating them according to the latest polls for November 7 elections.

Hutchinson has dedicated a major portion of his election website to attack the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorist group and his political opponent Congressman Davis’ association with them.

Since August Davis has been entangled in a serious political scandal after the prestigious metropolitan daily Chicago Tribune accused him of making a trip to Sri Lanka paid by the LTTE.

The August 24 2006 issue of the Chicago Tribune said, “ Chicago congressman Danny Davis and an aide took a trip to Sri Lanka last year that was paid for by the Tamil Tigers, a group that the U.S. government has designated as a terrorist organization for its use of suicide bombers and child soldiers, law-enforcement sources said.

“Davis’ seven-day trip came under scrutiny this week following the arrests of 11 supporters of the organization on charges of participating in a broad conspiracy to aid the terrorist group through money laundering, arms procurement and bribery of U.S. officials.

“The five-term Democratic congressman said he was unaware that the Tigers paid for the trip and on his required congressional disclosure form he reported that the trip was paid for by a Tamil cultural organization, the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America, based in Hickory Hills, Ill.

“During the visit, Davis spent most of his time in a region controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, as the group is formally known, and visited the organization’s political headquarters. He also met with a police chief for the region appointed by the Tigers.”

Davis questionable connection with the Tamil Tigers came to light after FBI in its first sting operation arrested 57 year old London physician Murugesu Vinayagamoorthy for trying to bribe US officials to lift the ban of the LTTE as a terrorist group in the United States. It was alleged that Davis and Vinayagamoorthy maintained a close relationship and Vinayagamoorthy had been instrumental in arranging the Congressman’s trip to tsunami affected LTTE controlled areas in Sri Lanka after which the Congressman attacked the Sri Lanka government for not helping the Tamils.

The Chicago Tribune said, “The criminal complaint against Vinayagamoorthy asserts that he had "direct and frequent contact" with leaders of the rebel group and was "often dispatched" to facilitate its projects around the world.

“Without mentioning Davis or his aide by name, the complaint describes transactions in which Vinayagamoorthy and others charged in the case allegedly laundered $13,150 in Tamil Tiger funds at the direction of a top guerrilla leader to pay for travel of "two individuals" to Tamil-controlled Sri Lanka. The two were Davis and Cantrell, law-enforcement officials said.”

The Chicago Tribune further said, “Another person arrested in the case, Nachimuthu Socrates, was listed as a director in 2004 of the Tamil cultural organization which Davis listed in public disclosure forms as the trip’s sponsor, the Tamil federation based in Hickory Hills.”

Davis has been constantly issuing statements supporting LTTE propaganda from time to time. He accused the Sri Lanka government of bombing a Mulaithivu orphanage and killing the same orphans, he said, he visited during his Sri Lanka trip. When this correspondent interviewed a representative of his office and asked by what methods he used to identify they were the same orphans of the orphanage he visited that were killed his office declined to answer the question. Sencholai, he was referring to was later found to be a school that was giving military training to teen aged school girls.

Republican Congressional candidate Charles Hutchinson

Congressional candidate Hutchinson accused in his web site saying, “Perhaps feeling empowered by a United States Congressmen’s visit or perhaps it’s true that tigers cannot change their stripes; the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) refused the offer of the Sri Lankan Government to come back to the table and talk peace. Instead the LTTE (A rebel group known for Terrorist acts, suicide bombers, and random violence that was visited by Congressmen Danny Davis (D-IL) in 2005) chose to fire mortars into Northern Sri Lanka.”
Hutchinson highlighted the killing of 65 innocent bus passengers at Kebethigollewa by Davis friends the LTTE and pointed out the assassins of the same terrorist group tried to kill the Pakistan ambassador in Sri Lanka. Probably having the large number of Pakistani immigrants in the city of Chicago in mind the Republican candidate said, “ (bombing)the car of an independent and legitimate country, should not be tolerated by the GREAT people of Illinois.
“Why a sitting U.S. Congressmen would actively work to erode the name of the United States of America, in a time where many people feel that our good name is already on shaky ground, by associating himself, and thereby ALL OF US with a violent group such as the LTTE, is a question that should be answered at the ballot box,” he appealed to the Illinois voters.

Call to address ‘legitimate Tamil grievances’

by Neville Ladduwahetty

During his first press briefing the new US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Mr. Robert O. Blake had stressed the need to address "legitimate Tamil grievances". The previous Ambassador, Mr. Jeffrey Lunstead also stressed the need to address "legitimate Tamil grievances". Clause 21 of the resolution of the European Union of September 7 also called on the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) to "address legitimate Tamil grievances".

Despite these constant references to "legitimate Tamil grievances" no member of the International Community has gone that extra mile and enunciated the specifics as to the content and character of these grievances. Even members of the Sri Lankan Tamil community who today constitute less than 10% of Sri Lanka’s population, keep reminding us of the need to address their grievances without specifically defining what these grievances are. Any problem has first to be defined before a solution is sought. Without clearly enunciating the problem the Tamil community has come to the conclusion that the source of their grievances is the structure of the state, and the mere transformation of the state into a federal structure, would somehow resolve their grievances.

The South has serious doubts about the efficacy of this approach where the South is expected to accept solutions without being informed the specifics of the issues involved i.e. Tamil grievances. In the absence of the specifics of Tamil grievances what guarantee is there that federalism would in fact resolve their grievances? Under the circumstances, the hesitancy on the part of the South to accept federalism carte blanche is understandable. Furthermore, federalism would not address the grievances of the Tamil community that live in the south who today constitute more than 50% of the Tamil community.

In the meantime the GOSL is engaged in an exercise to address Sri Lanka’s national question through the mechanism of an All Party Conference that is to be assisted by an All Party Representative Committee and by a Committee of Professionals. Since no representative of the International Community or any Sri Lankan Government in power has ever enunciated the specifics of these grievances the current exercise the GOSL is engaged in would result ONLY in developing a Southern consensus that may or may not address Tamil grievances.

The need for specificity

In the absence of the specifics of grievances, what is being sought is an opportunity for the Tamil community to govern themselves through a federal arrangement in the hope that this would address their grievances. Federalism to the Tamils in the Northern Province and the district of Batticaloa will NOT provide an opportunity for the grievances of the majority of Tamils who live in the south to be addressed. Federalism under these circumstances would be creating opportunities only for those residing in the Northern Province and in the district of Batticaloa in the Eastern Province to govern themselves, since these are the only areas of Tamil concentration.

Federalism would then mean creating two non-contiguous federal units, one in the Northern Province and another in the district of Batticaloa. Separate federal units are also necessitated by the social and cultural differences that exist between the Tamils of the Northern Province and Batticaloa in the Eastern Province. These differences were highlighted during the 1977 election when only 31.5% of the Tamils in Batticaloa that had a 71% Tamil majority voted for a separate state. More recently these differences were brought into a sharp focus when the Karuna faction broke away from the Vanni faction. Thus, a single contiguous area of Tamil concentration within which the Tamils could govern themselves cannot be delineated.

The lack of consensus on the nature of grievances within the Sri Lankan Tamil community was reflected in a 1995 article signed by several signatories and titled "Peace, Lies and Ethnic Conflicts" in which they stated that "Tamil nationalists assert that the ‘inalienable right of self-determination’ and exclusivity of the ‘traditional homeland’ are essential and indispensable prefixes for the resolution of the ethnic conflict`85Those are archaic and redundant notions"(Island International, July 19, 1995). The signatories also claimed: "it is a fact that throughout our post-independence history; the state has systematically discriminated against the Tamils and other ethnic groups. That is the ethnic conflict" (Ibid).

In contrast, Fr. Emmanual states, "Some in Jaffna find such views" (reference to notions of self-determination and traditional homelands as being archaic and redundant) "myopic and masochistic"(Sunday Observer, August 13, 1995). A statement issued by The Centre for Policy Alternatives also refers to the discrimination faced by ethnic minorities "almost from the time of independence"(The Island, September 23, 2006). These diverse views reflect not only the lack of consensus as to what Tamil grievances are, but also the fact that the location has a direct bearing on the felt grievances. In these circumstances, federalism as a solution to Tamil grievances would address the grievances of ONLY segments of the Tamil community and not the Tamil community as a whole.

There was a time however, when there was specificity to the grievances cited. During the late 1980s the grievances cited were, language, the policy of admission to universities (standardisation), state sponsored colonisation schemes and disenfranchising of Tamils of Indian Origin. Except for issues relating to shortfalls in the implementation of language policies, most others have been non-issues for nearly two decades. Therefore, under these circumstances of changing grievances it is not realistic to negotiate political arrangements that for all intents and purposes are meant to address Tamil grievances for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, since grievances are bound to change even further with time, should not the political arrangements contemplated be sufficiently flexible to accommodate such changes?

Tamil aspirations

Despite these ground realities the aspiration of the Tamil community is for them to govern the Northern and Eastern Provinces as a single unit. The lack of a Tamil majority in the Eastern Province was circumvented through the mathematical innovation of spreading the numerical majority in the Northern Province over both provinces, thus transforming both provinces into a single Tamil majority region. This was to be reinforced by the mirage of a Tamil-speaking entity committed to a common political goal. What they over looked was the fundamental democratic need to seek the consent of the Peoples of the Eastern Province to such a proposition.

The fact that the Tamil community as a whole is opposed to the concept of democratically seeking the consent of communities in the Eastern Province for a merger with the Northern Province reflects a dismissal of and disrespect for the fundamental freedoms and human rights of the communities in the Eastern Province. The fact that the Tamil community hopes to realise their aspirations by denying the basic rights of others reflects poorly on their sense of justice when it comes to the fulfilment of their own community’s aspirations which they expect should come regardless of the impact and costs to others.

In this regard it is heartening that the President has publicly acknowledged the right of the people of the Eastern Province to decide their future during his meeting with a British Defence Study team. The President stated, "The destiny of the eastern people can only be decided by themselves. Even according to the Indo-Lanka agreement, the future of the eastern people had to be decided by means of a referendum". Continuing he added: "It is a myth if anyone believes that a person like Prabhakaran could decide the destiny of the eastern people, and no one can deny that democratic right of the eastern people"(The Island, September 29, 2006).

The demand for federalism presumes the creation of a single political unit where the Tamils would be a numerical majority. On the other hand, if through the means of a referendum the Peoples of the Eastern Province decide against the formation of a merged political unit, would federalism lose its appeal, in which case what chances are there for the realisation of Tamil aspirations? Under such circumstances the best prospect for the Tamil community is not to seek exclusionary arrangements where they hope to govern themselves in some part of Sri Lanka, but to seek arrangements where they become an integral component of the governing processes of the whole country. It is through the pursuit of arrangements that encourage inclusion that all communities can hope to realise their aspirations.

Conclusion

Repeated calls have been made by representatives of the International Community in recent weeks for the GOSL to address "legitimate Tamil grievances", apparently in the mistaken belief that the South has no interest in resolving issues that are of concern to the Tamil community. However, if without such prejudices the International Community acquaints themselves with the complexities of the issues involved, they would realise that what is stated as grievances are really aspirations, the fulfilment of which would require the violation of fundamental freedoms and human rights of others citizens.

As regards the suggestions that the Sri Lankan Tamils could govern themselves in areas of Tamil concentration as in the case of Quebec, Wales and Scotland, it is clear that this would apply only to the Northern Province and the district of Batticaloa in the Eastern Province. Limiting governance to these areas would not satisfy Tamil grievances/aspirations. This is the conundrum of Sri Lanka’s national question.

Therefore, the appeal to the International Community is that if they want to be helpful they should first acquaint themselves with the ground realities before they propose solutions such as federalism to Sri Lanka’s national question. Furthermore, it is hoped that the International Community would appreciate that the whole Sri Lankan nation, having suffered decades of a senseless conflict, is more anxious to resolve its national question with justice to all communities than anyone in the International Community. -The Island

Politicians and literary matters

Wimal Weerawansa’s blunder about who wrote ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ reveals not only the extent of our politicians’ ignorance about literary matters, but also the trouble they’ll take in order to cover up those mistakes.

In an interview published in last Sunday’s Lakbima newspaper, he did not admit that he made such a mistake,that the interviewer had to repeat his question in order to get a circumvoluted answer. Weerawansa then gave a long winded explanation as to how meaningful Hemingway’s novella about an old fisherman and his epic battle with a huge fish (I think it was a marlin. But, not having the book with me now, I can’t vouch for it)was to his party cadres in their wretched state following the late 1980s terror which decimated the JVP.

Really? It makes me wonder how the JVP managed to find the Old Man and the Sea so inspiring (one would have thought that For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway’s epic novel about the Spanish Civil War, would have provided better inspiration). But then, in literary matters as much as anything else, it is so easy to be misunderstood.

In his books, Hemingway emphasized the individual and those essential qualities of stoicism and heroism. ‘Grace under pressure’ was his constant theme. Life puts man to the test and the individual must rise to the occasion. Let’s think back to those terrible days in the late 1980s, when the JVP began eliminating people they didn’t like, often with great cruelty, and gotit in return. Grace under pressure? Don’t make me laugh.

The lone fisherman’s epic battle with the fish he had hooked becomes a metaphor for the human condition as Ernest Hemingway defines it. This is a battle which transcends mere market forces. It isn’t simply greed which makes him hang on to so great a prize till fingernails bleed. The old man is pitting himself against a force larger than himself. He loses in the end. But the loss can be interpreted as a triumph of the human will and its ability to endure.

I really can’t understand how the messed up JVP cadres of the early 1990s found inspiration in this tale. Of course, one can say that they saw themselves in the crusty old fisherman and the Sri Lankan state in the big fish (when it comes to grey matter at least, the latter analogy would fit nicely). But this is sheer nonsense.

The JVP was a mass movement where individuals submerged their personalities for the sake of the whole. Individual qualities were appreciated only when they served the whole movement.

To interpret the Old Man and the Sea at a very crude level, the old fisherman was out to catch a big fish and make a minor fortune for himself. He wasn’t doing it for the good of the community, and he’s the most apolitical of fictional heroes you’ll ever find.

While making fun of Weerawansa in parliament, opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe gleefully referred to Hemingway “as that capitalist writer,” which is putting it very crudely (in their haste to crucify Weerawansa, everyone seems to have forgotten Ranil’s remark).

This is true insofar as Hemingway made a lot of money from his writing (he was also gifted a bungalow in Key West, Florida, by a wealthy relative) and used that money to engage in favourite pursuits as travalling and hunting. But there is no ‘capitalist’ outlook in his work. While he avoided being overtly left-wing as fellow novelists John Steinbeck and John Dos Passos, his outlook was liberal as evidenced by his sympathies with Republican Spain.

His characters are rugged but sensitive individuals, not capitalists or socialists. Even Robert Jordan, the hero of For Whom the Bell Tolls, is hardly a political animal, and that’s as close as Hemingway ever got to creating a political character. A Farewell to Arms is about a man who chooses love instead of war. To Have and Have Not is about a solitary boat owner who’s life is destroyed by circumstance and bad luck.

Across the River and Into the Trees about an ageing army officer conscious of bygone youth and lost opportunities. None of these books can be called vehicles for political ideas, capitalist or socialist.

Finally, having read Hemingway can hardly be taken as a sign of erudition because he’s so easy to read (by contrast with writers such as William Faulkner). Many Sri Lankans seem to have read Hemingway and little else. Weerwawansa’s mistake may be a genuine one caused by the passage of time (I, for example, can’t remember now what kind of fish it was or the fisherman’s name). But, if you are the chief guest at a literary gathering, you must take the trouble to get the facts straight.

As for his claim that the fallen JVP found The Old Man and the Sea inspirational, John Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’ would have been a much better choice (like Hemingway’s novella, it was instrumental in winning its author the Nobel Prize). It’s a moving story of a migratory farming family during the Great Depression, told in epic proportions. But it’s considerably larger and it maybe that our short-fused revolutionaries don’t have whatever it takes to read through such large books. -Mirror Life

Innovative, trilingual children’s magazine launched

Sri Lanka Solidarity announced the launch of a new magazine ‘Yuti’ which caters especially to children in Sri Lanka. ‘Yuti’, which means ‘unity’ in Sanskrit, aims to ‘inspire, challenge and educate children, by exposing them to knowledge which they would otherwise have little access to’ according to Editor Carmen Perera.

The magazine will be distributed free of charge to children throughout rural Sri Lanka, with emphasis given to distribution among children who are suffering from trauma due to natural disasters or armed conflict. The publishers eventually hope to reach close 1.2 million Sri Lankan children.

‘Yuti’ incorporates a fresh new approach to magazine design, one aspect of which is its trilingual format; the magazine carries articles and features in Sinhala, Tamil and English. Its attractive, colourful design makes innovative use of graphics and illustration and contains features, games and interactive sections to captivate the attention and interest of children.

Content will be mainly educational, presented in a way that appeals to children, and covers a wide range of subjects. Among these will be science, world history, nature, the environment, arts, sports, technology and more.

The magazine will also place particular emphasis on Sri Lanka’s own impressive, colourful history and cultural heritage.

‘The success of this exciting new project will see the creation of a new and authoritative resource for children of Sri Lanka,’ says publisher and founder of Sri Lanka Solidarity Philippe Fabry. ‘Not only will children enjoy the magazine for themselves, it can also be used as an educational tool by parents and teachers as they guide children along the path towards independent, informed and responsible young adulthood.’

‘Yuti’ will be published under the local NGO Sri Lanka Solidarity, which is supported by Solidarité Laique.

Solidarité Laique is a French NGO dedicated to making the universal right to education a reality around the world, using lasting solutions. The organization works closely with local partners and is involved in seven education-related projects in post-tsunami Sri Lanka. These range from school reconstruction to equipment supply and professional teacher training. -Financial Times

%d bloggers like this: