By Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka
“I think Sri Lanka is an easy target for human rights groups. It is easy to criticize Sri Lanka as it is a democracy and it is easy to criticize America.” - Prof Stephen P Cohen, Senior Fellow, Brookings (The Island, Oct 18, 2010)
Even if one concedes that Amnesty International, the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch may, between them, have a point or two in their criticism of Sri Lanka and the LLRC, surely the best way to have established such a point would have been to accept the latter’s invitation and participate to the fullest possible extent in the LLRC space in the glare of the global media?
The churlish collective boycott proves the prejudice that the human rights aristocracy of the global North has towards our country, its institutions and its citizens. The presence of President Rajapaksa next to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, leader of the world’s most populous democracy, at the closing of the Commonwealth Games, is Asia’s answer.
‘A Hidden World Growing beyond Control’ is the headline. “The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks ...has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work”.
Surely this is a description of the National Security State being erected by the repressive, Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist Rajapaksa regime, right? Wrong. It is a description of contemporary USA in the time of probably the most liberal and educated leader in the world, Barack Obama. And it ain’t from a radical blog. It is from the Washington Post’s stunning expose ‘Top Secret America’, earlier this year (June-July).
“These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.
Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programmes related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations... 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings - about 17 million square feet of space.”
Now my article is meant neither as a critique of the USA nor a defence of a National Security state, here, there or anywhere, but an effort to give readers some context and perspective. It is the best possible advertisement for American democracy that such a feature could be carried in the Washington Post unhindered.
As for President Obama, he wasn’t responsible for the process that set this ballooning of national security in motion. That honour goes to Osama Bin Laden and George Bush, or (going by Wikileaks) perhaps Zbigniew Brzezinski and those who decided to arm Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet troops got there, precisely in order to sucker them in. The point is though that even the most democratic and liberal societies and states respond to terrorist attacks in certain ways and once those responses are set in motion, even the most enlightened, sophisticated and progressive leaders cannot roll them back or stop their growth.
How much easier should it be to understand the phenomenon or its rougher equivalent in a Third World society battered by a Thirty Years War? Expecting the dismantling or non-proliferation of security mechanisms and practices in such a historical context is akin to expecting reduced security in a household after a kidnapped and abused child has been brought back home battered and traumatised to her family by the law enforcement authorities. Over protectiveness is not the rationale or best practice but it is an understandable human reaction and should be comprehensible as a social one.
It takes time and changing tides for these responses and attendant inflammations to subside. Despite the breakthrough Obama victory, Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars irrefutably demonstrates that America – at the levels of the state policy and social consciousness - has not and cannot so easily exit the cycle that commenced with 9/11.
Though Sri Lanka has won its war, killed its Osama Bin Laden and eliminated its Al Qaeda-cum-Taliban, convalescence and the return to normalcy will take time. That normalcy will certainly entail a higher premium on safety, security and pre-emption than before the war. In one sense, there can be no complete restoration of an insecure status quo ante. The tragedy of the long war is that we can never go home again.