the wounds of the tear-drop nation [Sri Lanka]

I have never known a world without Sri Lanka tearing itself apart in civil war.  I was born in Colombo in 1984 to a Sinhalese family, but I was raised on values that sought nothing but peace between the warring parties.

My father often tells me the story of how he went to the house of his Tamil friend to to collect toys they had to leave behind when they fled (they eventually settled in Canada, and I visited them when I was on exchange in Toronto).   My younger brother’s BFF is a Tamil Sri Lankan he met at his Perth kindergarten after we migrated here (we call the two of them Romeo and Juliet).  The little girl I sponsor through World Vision is Tamil, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I know that the actions of the Sri Lankan government has never been perfect (I personally believe they were behind the killing of newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunga earlier this year), but the news that the Tamil Tigers, the terrorist organisation said to have pioneered the tactic of suicide bombing and had for months kept thousands of the people it claims to be fighting for trapped has human shields, have been defeated by the Sri Lankan military is heartening.

However, some of the events surrounding the escalation and (I hope) end of this war leave me more worried for the future.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the end of the war.  Given the decades of conflict, this is understandable. There has been so much pain; so much loss.  The alleged sectarian violence in Sydney over the weekend is a strong warning that tensions left behind by this decades-old conflict are still hot.

But a lot of the opinions are not helping.

Of particular noteworthiness are the condescending (and hypocritical) opinions from the spokespeople of developed countries who, even a few months ago, acted as if they didn’t know Sri Lanka existed.

The civil war has raged for three decades. The estimates of the casualties are unfathomable to me. But aside from Norway in the early Naughties, most countries have barely batted an eyelid over the (then) ongoing conflict.

Then when things got more newsworthy over the last few months, every next post-colonial hack semed to have something to say.

ABC News reported that British Foreign Minister David Milliband wants greater scrutiny placed on Sri Lanka’s military and its conduct of the war:

“The position of the UK is always that serious and credible reports of war crimes should be investigated,” he said. “Serious and credible allegations have been made against both sides, and they should indeed by investigated.”

And so they should be. But will “serious and credible reports of war crimes” made against the Coalition of the Willing in the War On Terror/Iraq be investigated?

In short: Un-effing-likely.

I’m not saying that this is a Little Red Hen situation — that no one’s bothered to help before, so shut up and put up.  But misinformed drivel that merely repeats age-old and debunked propaganda does nothing more than inflame the ignorance and hurt that has kept this conflict burning for longer than I have been alive.

There is a lot to be done from this point onwards to heal the wounds this conflict has caused Sri Lanka.   But I know there’s so much partisan hurt among so many (particularly diaspora) that I worry the hate won’t go away as quickly as the end of the war came.

But for now, I suppose, I guess I should be happy the war is over.

And so this is Xmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Xmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let’s stop all the fight
— John Lennon

Another one about Sri Lanka: civil war, or genocide? [war]

So Sri Lanka’s been in this big civil war for longer than I’ve been alive.  It’s such a lovely place, but it’s been tormented for so long.

My mum’s gone to Sri Lanka for a my cousin’s wedding.  The last time she was there, there was an air raid on the air force base next to the airport.  My mother was actually on board a plane that was taxiing on the runway at the time.  The time before that, there was that tsunami thing.  Right now, the fighting between government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels has escalated to some of the worst combat I can remember.

Wow, she gets all the fun stuff, huh?

I was surprised hear that SL was the top breaking news story on news.com.au last night (although it was to do with a Australian UN worker who’s trapped in the war-zone, so I guess it’s not that surprising), because for so long the conflict there has been overshadowed by various other goings-on around the world.  There was an article about that trend on New Matilda late last year.

The UN and Red Cross have claimed that over 250,000 civilians are trapped in the conflict zone in the north and east of the island, but Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has told the BBC that those international organisations have got that wrong:

“I’m not saying they are lying but they are exaggerating,” he said.

He also ruled out any ceasefire for humanitarian reasons, saying it would give the Tigers a chance to reorganise.

“The purpose of this offensive is to eradicate them,” he said.

Hrm.  That seems kind mean, doesn’t it?

Well if it does, then this should make you worry:  Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (who is the brother of Mahinda, Sri Lanka’s president; assassinated newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge claimed the president and the government are responsible for his death) is a US citizen who might be getting indicted for genocide and war crimes in the next couple of weeks.

Yeah. Now that’s Dodgy (with a capital D!).

In news via Twitter, constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein has been preparing a 1,000-page model indictment against G Rajapaksa and army commander Sarath Fonseka for allegedly violating Section 1091 of the United States Criminal Code:

The model indictment is scheduled for publication within two weeks and will be presented to the US Congress, the Department of Justice and the State Department.

The lawyer represents Tamils Against Genocide, a non-profit organization based in the United States, whose mission is to obtain US or international indictments against the two US citizens or green card holders currently serving in the government of Sri Lanka for alleged complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes, including torture and extrajudicial killings, against Sri Lanka’s civilian Tamil population.

Now, Fein is clearly not just some schmuck.  He graduated from Harvard Law School with honours, clerked for a federal judge,  had a bunch of high profile government-law positions and has written for Slate about impeaching Cheney.  I think I like this guy.

The allegations about extrajudicial killings are nothing out of the blue for me.  I’ve heard a bunch of stories about people getting taken away in “white vans” and never returning (and this has happened to both Singhalese and Tamil people) and then there’s the whole war-on-journalism thing.  And Booker Prize-winning author Michael Ondaatje’s 2001 book Anil’s Ghost is the story of an ex-pat Sri Lankan forensic anthropologist who had been sent by an international human rights group to discover the source of the organised campaigns of murder on the island.  Things over there are seriously messed up.

But what is out of the blue, at least for me, is this allegation from an article about Fein’s indictment (from a site called TamilSydney via TamilNet, so I know it needs to be taken with a grain of salt):

Mr. Fein said that Sri Lanka was a unique nation whose history reveals an ongoing cultural genocide, adding, “the myths of the Mahavamsa say that Sri Lanka belongs to no one but the Sinhalese, and the text celebrates kings for slaughtering Tamils. Secondly, the teachings of Dharmapala, celebrate the purity of the Aryan race and establish the idea of racial supremacy. Because Dharmapala is as sacred to the Sinhalese as Jesus to the Christians, the Sinhalese believe and act with the notion of racial supremacy. This legacy is being continued by Sinhalese Buddhist monks and this legacy is used by Buddhists in classrooms in the South, as an instruction in genocide.”

Um, is this true, you guys? Because if it is, I am jumping on a plane right now to go an smack some people in the head.  What atrocious horrendousness, people? Atrocious. Horrendousness.

I am a Singalese Buddhist but my brother’s BFF is Tamil (how Romeo & Juliet) and, dude, I am not racist or biased just because of the family I was born into.  I want all people to be happy and get along and stuff.  The whole thing has upset me for some time. because it never seems like ending and the people in charge (of both sides) have been arrogant douche-bags (or, if they’ve been alright, have been shot or blown up).

So here’s my stance on this thing: I hate the Tamil Tigers, right — they’re terrorists, they pioneered suicide bombers, they make women and children fight.  But gods-damn, I hate bigotry of any description and war and violence at that, so if those government bastards did get involved in war crimes, I want them to rot. Slowly and painfully.

I don’t know if there’s a solution that doesn’t involve getting all of those bastards in jail first, and then getting decent people to take over and settle this.  But something more has to be done… just don’t know if, during all these economic troubles and Middle East mess and  climate change crises etc etc, if the world has the capacity to deal with this, too.

By the way, a group of Tamil students have started a hunger strike in Sydney’s St Martins Place in an attempt to get the Australian government to take action and they’ve posted YouTube vids of civilian casualties on their blog: http://fastuntoaction.wordpress.com/ (warning: there’s heartwrenching music and horrific images).

Update: The ABC has a news story on the footage, and in good journalistic form, it’s pointed out that the videos haven’t been verified and no one is sure when and where this was taped.

The one about an assassinated editor from Sri Lanka [war on journalism]

Oh no. Oh no, on no, oh no.

There was an article on New Matilda a little while ago about the forgotten war in Sri Lanka that gets missed by the mainstream media.

And it took a story on boingboing.net for me to find out about the murder of a Sri Lankan journalist last week.

This makes me so sad.

Firstly, gah; I am so embarrassed that I had not subscribed to a Sri Lankan news service, after all my pontificating.  This has now been resolved.

Secondly. Oh my gods.

The murder is the worst of what I wrote about in my banned Quasi editorial about the importance of freedom of the press.

Creepily (sadly, really), Lasantha Wickrematunge (who was a lawyer before he became a journalist and editor at the Sunday Leader) wrote an editorial entitled ‘They Came for Me’, which was published on Sunday after his death.  It seems that he knew he would be killed and I assume he’d written it long before it happened.

In the editorial, he outlines the problems facing journalists and media services in Sri Lanka, emphasises the importance of a free media, and presents warnings about the dangers of staying silent:

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last. …

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it. …

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niem”ller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niem”ller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, Niem”ller wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:

First they came for the Jews

and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists

and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists

and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If people want to know why it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut some times; why I have issues with accepting authority that shows no good cause for being obeyed; why I question everything and don’t stop hounding until I get a decent answer; and why I don’t care if that gets me in to a bit of trouble — then I would really encourage them to read Wickrematunge’s final editorial.

Update: New Matilda has published another great story on the background to the whole mess.

blogging war

Sure, this isn’t quite Anne Frank, but it is rather interesting:

Screen cap from Georgia Ministry of Foreign Affairs blog, taken 12 August 2008 12:37pm (GMT +8). Click through for the post.

http://georgiamfa.blogspot.com/ just contains press-releases from the government spokesministry, but it’s still cool that online public platforms like Blogger and gmail are being used by a government involved in an armed conflict.

Quick warning, though, there are pics too; those are rather confronting.

War in the cyberage could, on one hand, result in increased proliferation of propaganda, but blogging also provides another (quicker, direct) way of analysing and commenting on said propaganda.

We looked at the influence of bloggers and “new media” on political developments when I did a unit on Politics & the Media back in 2004 (that study was actually the impetus for me to start blogging).  The US election was the main case study back then, and four years later we can repeat that analysis, but the Georgia/South Ossetia conflict adds a whole new dimension to it.

I should probably dig around in my own Motherland‘s cyber backyard before I say this is groundbreaking (I know there’s a lot of pro Tamil Tigers stuff on the interwebs already), but, hey, it’s more the case of this being so fresh (and they’re white? Oh SNAP!) that it’s hot.

Fallujah War Crimes Caught on Camera

From Reuters/ABC.net.au:

The US military has begun an investigation into possible war crimes after a television pool report by US network NBC showed a Marine shooting dead a wounded and unarmed Iraqi in a Fallujah mosque.

If I may offer a suggestion for Dubya’s banner makers: Misson Fucked.*

The Power of the Media

I did a unit this semester called Setting the Agenda: Politics and the Media.** Taking it was half of the inspiration for starting up this blog (the other half came from Rob Corr, who, after the last couple of weeks, is officially my blogging idol). The unit really made me question that grand old idea of the Fourth Estate as ‘an independent and impartial watch dog of government and other powerful interests.’ When looking at the mainstream media’s response to 9/11 and hearing about the antics of the Murdochs and Alan Joneses of the world, most of the time the mass media just comes across as a lap dog (excellent, from now on I will only refer to Murdoch as Tinkerbell**).

When things like this show up, though, it gives you just a little bit of hope. Hope that maybe the megamedia has realised they spent immediate post 9/11 period and the lead up to Iraq 03-?? acting as the US Government Stenography Service and now understand the crucial role they have to play in protecting us from the tyranny of the majority. Another entry on hope/faith later (not).

___

* As pointed out by GT, my most appropriate typo ever! :)

** Therefore this entry counts as exam study, woo.

*** Paris Hilton’s chihuahua.