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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2526

Omens

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“This sea in anger and that dismal shore.”
Wordsworth (Elegiac Stanzas)

The signs are unmistakable – Sri Lanka will be compelled to prosecute the Fourth Eelam War in an increasingly non-conducive international environment. 2006 ended badly with the unpropitious meeting between the Indian Prime Minister and the TNA. Hard on the heels of that came another shock – the hostile stance adopted by the new EU chairman, Germany towards Sri Lanka. The Germans have suspended tsunami reconstruction aid to Sri Lanka and are trying to get the other EU countries to follow suit. Though the Tigers are reportedly hoping to get the EU ban lifted through German good offices, this is probably too ambitious a goal – unless we lend a helping hand with a major atrocity against civilian Tamils, especially another race riot (this is clearly what the LTTE is hoping to achieve with the bus bombings). Still Europe in 2007 will be a far more inhospitable place for Sri Lankan than it was in 2006.

This year we may also witness a shift in the US attitude to Sri Lanka. The Americans have been supportive of Sri Lanka in the undeclared Fourth Eelam War even while insisting on a political solution to the ethnic problem – a support made possible by the post-9/11 international conjuncture. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka that conjuncture is changing. Unless there is another major terrorist attack against the US, the global war against terrorism is on its way out – an outcome made inevitable by internal political changes in the US and by the growing costs and intractability of the Iraqi misadventure.

George Bush made the mistake of equating the war against terrorism with the invasion of Iraq, by superimposing the latter on the former. This was no accident but a logical outcome of the dominant neo-conservative agenda which envisaged US military intervention in the Middle East even before the attack on the twin towers. The Project for the New American Century’s 2000 Report (Rebuilding America’s Defences) advocated the need for ‘preventive wars’ in multiple theatres (if necessary simultaneously) to further US interests and to underpin a new .Pax Americana. 9/11 merely provided a window of opportunity to implement this agenda. The Iraqi invasion was a result of this ideological project, of which Vice President Cheney was a key advocate. What should have been selective police actions (with multilateral support) against terrorist targets became, in the worldview of US policy makers and their ideological gurus, a clash of civilisations, a war between liberal democratic (and Christian) West and totalitarian-terroristic (Islamic) Middle East.

This rendition of human history is not only dangerously destabilising but also factually wrong. Throughout history ideas and values have been peripatetic rather than being the sole monopoly of this or that region or this or that religion/culture. The clash of civilisations had shifting battle lines – for many centuries tolerance and openness were Eastern/Arab virtues while the West prided itself on its closed mind. Hellenism banished from the newly Christianised Roman Empire found a home in Persia and later in the Islamic Caliphate. For centuries the Islamic Ottoman Turkish Empire was far more tolerant and liberal in its attitude to the religious and cultural ‘others’ than the Christian West. In fact the intellectual and cultural renaissance experienced by these three states was made possible partly by the tolerance and openness of most of their rulers. As Rome and the West receded into the darkness of medievalism, Persia and her successors, the Caliphate and the Ottoman Empire, experienced a golden age civilisation. This intellectual accumulation fed the European renaissance subsequently. The simplistic and inaccurate rendition of history by President Bush and his neo-conservative handlers ensured that America became embroiled in a modern day crusade it was not equipped politically or psychologically to sustain let alone win. After all, the original crusades were, on the whole, failures; it was the excesses, extremism and bigotry ingrained in the neo-conservative world view which fatally undermined both the war in Iraq and the war against terrorism.

Global Changes and Local Responses

The Bush administration tends to be tolerant of human rights violations committed in wars against terrorism but the Democratic dominated new US Congress and Senate are unlikely to follow a similar policy of tolerant indifference, especially vis-à-vis military excesses by non-American actors. In fact the Democratic stance on human rights violations by countries like Sri Lanka is likely to be closer to that of the EU. A Democratic White House (be it Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama or any other) will make matters infinitely worse for Sri Lanka, but the tightening of the screws will probably begin this year itself. There will be renewed focus on human rights and minority rights and on the need for a negotiated settlement and a political solution. And the Democrats are less likely to accept the contention that being a sovereign state gives us the right to treat our minority citizens as we think suitable.

Given such an international context, the least we can do is to ensure that we make as few errors as possible. The Tigers would be out there not just waiting. They will do their best to induce us to make mistakes. John Pilger in his Freedom Next Time quotes an interview given by Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbignew Brzezinski revealing that the US did want the Soviets to send troops to Afghanistan: “We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would… The secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap… The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: ‘We now have the opportunity of giving the USSR its Vietnam War’”. That intervention was a costly one – politically, militarily and financially – and made no small contribution to the fatal weakening of the Soviet state.

The LTTE knows the importance of inducing the Lankan state to make self-debilitating mistakes. The Tigers are acutely aware of the need to level the moral playing field, and they want to do it without changing their own anti-civilisational, anti-democratic ways. They will go for civilian targets in the South (such as the two bus bombs) partly in the hope that it will ignite a race riot or at the least encourage the government to launch counter-strikes which are punitive towards Tamil civilians caught in the war zone. A non-targeted over-reactive response is likely to make the world pay less attention on the original crime and focus on the costs of the resulting action. The Tigers need moral equalizers; they need incidents which will make the world think that there is not much of a difference between the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka in their treatment of non-combatants. Already the UN, in its warnings about civilian casualties, has begun to take this line. And if the civilian deaths of Iluppaikkadavai (these have been confirmed not just by the Bishop of Mannar but also by the UN office in Sri Lanka and the Hindustan Times) are anything to go by, we will continue to give the LTTE plenty of politico-propaganda ammunition to use against us.

It is said that war is too important to be left in the hands of generals. Be that as it may, politics are certainly far too complex to be left to ham-fisted retired army officers, as the Lasantha Wickremetunga fiasco indicates. Arresting newspaper editors (whatever their political affiliation may be) would not be sane and sensible; doing so against the advice of one’s own Attorney General and the CID would be insanely stupid – and going by the Nation of last Sunday this is what almost happened. Had the arrest been made, it would have done the country and the government irreparable harm while doing enormous service to Mr. Wickramatunga and the LTTE.

The LTTE is not an imaginary or bogus enemy; it is very much a real enemy with whom negotiations are useless and cohabitation is impossible. This is why we must ensure the sustainability of the war against the LTTE – precisely because it is a necessary, unavoidable confrontation. And the sustainability of that war depends to a great degree on our capacity to win over the Tamils, India and the international community. In the last one year we have lost the support of all three key players to a considerable extent, thanks to our own excesses and our failures. This trend of increasing Sinhala hegemonism and corresponding carelessness towards Tamils must end in this year. And this would be impossible unless we offer the Tamil people a political package based on democratic devolution as well as guarantee for them a basic degree of safety and wellbeing in both the North and the South.

The Lynching of Saddam Hussein

The Kangaroo court trial of former President Saddam Hussein and his lynching type hanging ensured that the mantle of martyrdom that he claimed for himself in his last moments will be his. That Mr. Hussein was guilty of manifold crimes against his own people as well as the Kurds is beyond dispute. But that does not make his trial less of a travesty of justice or his execution less barbaric. The trial was politically motivated and conducted in the most obviously partisan manner. A judge who was less ill disposed towards the defendant was summarily removed while a three of the defence lawyers were abducted and murdered (believed to be by state backed assassins). The judgement was expected; but the timing and the manner of its implementation shocked even the cynics. Mr. Hussein, a Sunni, was hung on the day Sunni Muslims the world over celebrated one of the holiest days in the Islamic calendar, Eid. And his hanging was conducted by a lynch mob, who with their uncivilised conduct gave Mr. Hussein a chance to play the role of a martyr for his beliefs, a chance he put to good effect.

The desperation felt by the Americans at the Iraqi quagmire can be understood by the fact that they permitted their Iraqi clients to lynch Mr. Hussein and President Bush himself hailed the killing. As a young Iraqi woman who maintains a diary on the internet under the pseudonym ‘Riverbend’ observed: “America the saviour… After nearly four years and Bush’s biggest achievement in Iraq has been a lynching. Bravo Americans”.

It is not accidental that some of the strongest criticism of the trial and the execution came from organisations such as the Human Rights Watch and the Amnesty which were critical of the Saddam Hussein administration, when it was a staunch ally of the West in general and the US in particular. The principle is a simple one – it is important not to sink to the level of the enemy, when the rationale for the battle is the enemy’s barbarism or terrorism. As Robert Jackson, Chief Counsel of the United States at the Nuremburg trial said “we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us” (cited by Noam Chomsky, Amnesty International Lecture, Jan. 2006).

According to the Newsweek as the trapdoor of the execution chamber opened, a half smiling Mr. Hussein asked his taunting killers “Is this manly”? And the answer is no; nor was it civilised; nor was it justice. That is why Mr. Hussein’s murder will worsen the Iraqi inferno and make destabilise Middle East still further. It will also increase the national and international isolation of George Bush and tarnish his legacy beyond repair. The imperial dream of the US will remain just that a dream and sooner or later American troops will be forced to retreat from Iraq bloodied and bowed. Iraq will be a far nightmarish memory for the US than even Vietnam and the lynching of Saddam Hussein would have made a significant contribution to it. In death Mr. Hussein will triumph over George W Bush in a way that was impossible in life.

- Asian Tribune -

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