by Thrishantha Nanayakkara
Today, 17th September 2010 is an important day in the legend of patriotism. Different people have said different things about patriotism from time to time.
For Samuel Johnson “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gen Sarath Fonseka ~ in 2009
Mark Twain said “Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and excusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may”.
George Bernard Shaw asserted “You'll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race”.
And, for Oscar Wilde “Patriotism, the virtue of the vicious”.
Most post colonial societies use patriotism to galvanize their people’s ambition to rally round fresh National goals. Sometimes their political leaders abuse these patriotic sentiments to play bull fighting with them – the passion of the bull to get the red-flag by the horns allows the fighter to get the bull by the horns – causing a painful death to the bull.
The recent passage of the 18th amendment to the constitution of Sri Lanka to remove the two term limit on a candidate to the executive presidency is one good example. The ruling party secured a majority in the parliament by presenting a manifesto that asked for a mandate to abolish the executive presidency. Any clue about consolidating the power of the executive president was not given in the manifesto entitled Mahinda Chinthana (2nd edition). Patriotic people were asked to be grateful to the man who emancipated the country from the clutches of brutal terrorism, and to give a clear mandate to strengthen democratic traditions (opposite of fascist terrorism), and to improve standards of humanity and rule of law. Patriotic masses lined up and voted to find their clear mandate being used to do the right opposite.
Let the blind patriots enjoy what they deserve. However, I am a bit more concerned about the plight of the opposition presidential candidate. The whole drama started when General Sarath Fonseka declared that he will testify in the International Court of Justice that no military officer in the Sri Lankan army gave orders to any soldier to shoot rebels surrendering with white flags if that had happened at all. He affirmed that if such a thing had happened, it must have happened due to some non-military authority giving orders to do so.
This transpired a bitter political battle between the country’s president Mahinda Rajapakse, the commander in chief of the three forces, and General Sarath Fonseka. That very evening (8th February 2010), a battalion was sent to arrest Sarath Fonseka. The troop commander had apparent conflict of interest because he had been an officer punished by General Fonseka for wrongdoing. Eye witnesses reported that the arrest was a bitter scene, where General Fonseka, once decorated army commander had been dragged by the neck.
The decision to initiate military proceedings and the composition of the court martial judges was challenged several times, and the nomination of judges had to be changed several times. General Fonseka, who had once suffered severe injuries due to a suicide bomb attack was kept in a cell without adequate ventilation.
General Fonseka and his wife complained about this several times because it was mandatory for him to breathe fresh air and exercise regularly. However, while in custody, he won a parliamentary seat from Colombo district, but he was denied fundamental rights to attend several parliamentary sessions by the supreme authority in Sri Lanka through several clever arrangements.
General Fonseka kept on fighting a lonely battle for respect for fundamental human rights, which he believed to be the basis to build a peaceful society free from frequent armed uprisings (Sri Lanka is a country that went through three bloody wars with its own citizens in a short span of 60 years).
However, on 13th August 2010, the military court found a window of opportunity. Sarath Fonseka’s defense lawyers were on vacation. The court assembled and convicted General Fonseka in the absence of any defense for engaging in politics while in uniform. The conflict of interest of the witnesses (including a Government minister) remains a historical joke in Sri Lanka.
President Mahinda Rajapakse, as the commander in chief wasted no time to second the ruling of the military court. Sarath Fonseka is stripped of military ranks, all medals of honor, and faced a dishonorable discharge of duties. General Fonseka may have obviously made mistakes. He can be seen as a traitor.
Yet, the question is, if rule of law is exercised fairly, there are many other apparent cases including the president’s son himself who did politics while in uniform. This is a catastrophe because law was selectively applied on somebody who challenged the supreme authority.
The second court martial today gave their verdict that Sarath Fonseka is guilty of financial misconduct, because he had authorized to purchase several items from a company said to be owned by his son-in-law. Though the prime-minister of the country made a statement in the parliament that effectively nullified this allegation, some tragic turn of rule of law made Sarath Fonseka a convicted criminal who could be jailed for three years from here onwards.
Again, nothing can be more hilarious than this selective application of law against political opponents for those who are aware of the financial integrity of some king makers. I wonder why so many people call one brother of Mahinda Rajapakse, Mr. 10%. I have heard of this several times, but can not understand why.
Civilized world, what mechanisms have we developed after the World War-II to protect those who stand by humanity and its values?
Certainly what we have developed with so much pain are not working.
The tragic story of General Fonseka adds to the dark legend of patriotism, and proves that the world is still too naive to deal with those heinous political leaders who abuse the supreme authority vested upon them by the citizens of their countries to exercise law