My fears of asphyxiation while holding my breath in anticipation of principled and rational responses to the report of Ban Ki-moon’s panel of experts were, fortunately, not realised.
The reason for this change in my fortunes was a letter, a copy of which I received from a friend, written by a “Group of Concerned Christians” and posing the question, “Is the report of the UNSG’s panel of experts a conspiracy and obstacle to reconciliation?” This was the first indication I have had that there were still people of conscience prepared to place themselves at significant risk by speaking to the facts that emerged out of the experience of those who were the pawns in what really was, in its final stages, a test of wills between two groups without any morality or compassion. I speak here of the final days of the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (“Tigers”/ LTTE).
While I have not read every comment and apologia that has appeared in the English media since the government (is there any doubt on that score?) “leaked” the report to a newspaper that is owned and operated by one of its own, this is the first document I have seen of this tone and content. The signatories to the letter will, doubtless, be pilloried as “Tiger Sympathizers” no sooner the Rajapaksa Sycophancy can get to their keyboards, their telephones and other means of communication. But, considering the source, as the saying goes, will not detract from the value of what the group has had to say.
The letter is devoid of the usual dilution of the facts parading as “sophistication” that seem to infest so much of the discussion of matters that are, in the last analysis, simply about the terrible toll exacted from people who are, to use probably the most abused word in this country, innocent. The only crime that the vast majority of the victims of this conflict – Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim — have been guilty of is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In addition, the Tamils are guilty of the primary mistake of being born into the “wrong” community as well.
It is also about time that the BIG LIE, repeated with a regularity that would even have made Richard Nixon blush, is contested in the simplest, most effective and least melodramatic manner possible. The Group of Concerned Christians does this most effectively when it simply provides information that proves, beyond any doubt, that the statement, repeated ad nauseam, that “there were no civilian casualties” is a blatant lie.
If proof be needed about the duplicity of this government, a relatively sophisticated apologist in the person of the Hon. Mahinda Samarasinghe recently went on record, with a video clip, saying that the government forces could not be faulted for killing individuals not wearing combat uniforms because there was no way to know that those in “civvies” were not terrorists! Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings (and quisling UNPers) come words of wisdom.
It doesn’t take a lot of contemplation to realise the significance of words of this kind, not to mention the significance of this man acting as a spokesperson of the Rajapaksa government in the matter of human rights.
Irrespective of whether there is any objective, honest and independent examination of what happened on the shores of the Nanthikadal lagoon, the very circulation of this letter constitutes a landmark in the literature dealing with the final days of Sri Lanka’s worst conflict ever.
This is one of the rare times in recent memory that facts that are as obvious as the noses on our faces have been stated in simple language, accompanied by a plea for real reconciliation rather than the ersatz brand constantly referred to as “development”, that is little but an excuse for the accumulation of commissions and other “baksheesh” by those with ready access to those funds.
The corollary to this letter is the fact that delivering its central thrust has taken an extraordinary amount of bravery given the reality that the status of the Rule of Law has gone from “unsatisfactory in the extreme” to “non-existent” in this country.
At the risk of “intellectualising” the content of the letter, let me say that what is most striking about it is its moral dimension.
It is not about “economic development.” It is not about “power-sharing.” It is not about this amendment or that amendment to the constitution of this country, a constitution which is the single largest impediment to a society run on the basis of morality, honesty and good governance.
While it avoids the unbelievably-tired rhetoric about “winning the hearts and minds of people,” it does speak eloquently to the need to heal those hearts and minds.
As one who has been most chagrined by what I kept hearing from all the so-called “humanists” and “intellectuals,” this constituted an opportunity to renew my faith in decency, humane behaviour and an adherence to a moral and ethical code that seems totally lacking in the political discourse of this country. Our “humanists”, “intellectuals” and “elder statesmen” have given ample evidence of a capacity to cosy up to a totally corrupt government which has provided nothing but proof of a monumental capacity for self-aggrandizement. They have tried to impress us, “the great unwashed,” with their command of semantics and their recipes for keeping the interfering UN wolf from the door. In contrast, what the Group of Concerned Christians has to say is truly a breath of fresh air, if I, as an old non-believer, might borrow that hackneyed old phrase one more time.
That it was a brave act is, to one who has had his fair share of intimidatory threat and abuse, more than evident. And to gild the lily, let me say that it hasn’t a smidgen of puffery or grandstanding attached to it. Such a relief to one who is truly sick and tired of the never-ending succession of (self-congratulatory) events at which people are “awarded,” as current Sri Lanka terminology has it for every conceivable skill and trait and some that appear to have been invented for the particular event!
I salute all those “Concerned Christians” who are not merely preaching but behaving in a nationally-conscious manner which adherents of every other faith (and non-believers such as myself!) could do well to imitate.
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