by Vijaya Chandrasoma
Returning violence for violence only serves to multiply violence, adding darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
Today, the United States is shrouded in darkness, fighting crises on several fronts: a global pandemic which has already claimed 175,000 lives; a national plague of incompetent, immoral and ignorant leadership; an economic recession with unemployment at levels of the Great Depression; and an immigration crisis at its Southern border, the consequence of centuries of aggressive European colonization.
This humanitarian crisis at the Southern border no longer makes news. The American people have become inured to this injustice, this cruelty, just like the German people became inured to the Nazi treatment of the Jews.
The US will continue to wallow in this darkness with four more years of Trump. As Michelle Obama said at the Democratic National Convention last Monday, “If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change in this election.”
Were there only one light to illuminate the darkness that envelopes the nation today, that will be the election, on November 3, of competent, civil leadership we have not enjoyed since January 21, 2017.
The United States is hardly the only country to have made its fortunes on the backs of “uncivilized” peoples. Wealth creation in many of the richest countries of the world today has been achieved through invasion, genocide, slavery and continuing violence.
Harping on history is a futile exercise. What matters is today. The developed nations in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States act as magnets for those seeking escape from political and ethnic strife which continues to plague many of these former colonies. The US is still the lodestar beckoning seekers of opportunity and prosperity for themselves, and education and a bright future for their children. The melting pot, the nation of immigrants, where 98% of its citizens are immigrants.
The conviction of European superiority has never been in doubt, especially in the minds of Europeans. As Cecil Rhodes wrote in his last will and testatement, referring to the Anglo-Saxon race: “I contend that we are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race”.
Echoes of Hitler’s fascism in the Germany of the 1930s, when he promulgated the concept of the Master Race, the purity of Nordic or Aryan races among Germans and other Northern European peoples.
The Germans made a straightforward move towards the achievement of a pure race in the 1930s. They decided that the inferior, or impure races, like the Jews, Romanians (Gypsies) and the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, should be eliminated to hasten the evolution of a perfect race. Jews took pride of place as a particularly venomous race, parasites who enervated the purity of humanity. So the Nazis devolved the Final Solution, and just murdered them. If not all, then at least six million of them.
The colonizers of the Americas were perhaps the cruelest of an abysmal lot. In the years after systematic European colonization of the Americas began in 1492, they provided the blueprint for white supremacy, the precursor to Hitler’s Final Solution. They murdered the indigenous peoples to the point of near extinction. They forcibly kidnapped Africans and brought them to work in the cotton plantations in the Southern states of the US and the pineapple fields in the Caribbean. These unfortunates were treated as a species closer to animals than humans, against whom the most despicable forms of abuse and torture, rape, even murder for sport were considered moral, lawful, even expected of them. Indeed, it was the contention of some white Christian Americans that such abuse is mandated by the Bible. Unfortunately, after 250 years since Emancipation, this contention is still shared by some Americans, notably the KKK, White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis and the Trump “Base” of the US.
The English put a unique spin on subjugation and slavery. They proved themselves to be at least as equal to other Europeans in their physical cruelty to the inhabitants of the nations they colonized, but they tempered it with a distinctive brand of psychological cruelty which was far more effective. A brand which, while plundering the resources of the colonies, they made the natives feel that they should be grateful for being the recipients of a great and superior culture. The genius of the English colonizers in the Indian subcontinent and Africa is that they made their victims feel ashamed of their nationality. They questioned their culture, mocked their attire, and ridiculed their languages and religions. They made us ashamed of our darker, richer skin colours, proved even today by the fact that the best-selling cosmetic east of Suez is skin-whitening cream.
The native ruling classes in Ceylon before independence were more British than the British themselves. They wore three-piece suits with a tie in the scorching heat; they went to church every Sunday; they knew their Shakespeare and Chaucer and spoke with an Oxford accent; resplendent in cream flannels, they played cricket in the midday sun, like Noel Coward’s mad dogs and Englishmen; and their drink of choice was whisky with a splash.
I remember when I was in secondary school, it was almost a boast to say, “I say, my Sinhalese (or Tamil) is very poor”. Failing an examination in the vernacular (I am reluctant to say “mother tongue” because, in the ruling elite, our mothers spoke English) was almost a badge of honor. Knowledge of the English language is the kaduwa (sword) that keeps the lower orders ostensibly content with their lot even today.
Even after they granted self-rule and independence to the natives, the Europeans retained economic and emotional control in many of the colonies, some until the 1970s. It took a few decades for the natives to rid themselves of the manacles of colonial subjugation. But for a few notable exceptions like Singapore, this refreshing change gave the natives unfettered freedom and licence to ruin their own countries without any foreign help. At least their wealth and resources were stolen by their own.
Sadly, the inferiority complex and self-flagellation of their hateful black and brown pigmentation persist to the present day among some colonials. There are brown-skinned natives in sovereign nations who yearn for the “good old days”, when they were ruled by the superior white man.
Perhaps this is the reason, this sense of inferiority, that significant numbers of coloured peoples, who hail from Trump’s notion of “shithole countries”, support the white supremacist policies of the Trump administration. As do even some Sri Lankans living in the USA, where overt governmental racism discriminates against their own best interests.
As I said, harping on the past is an exercise in futility. Complaining about the evils of colonialism, after several decades of ruining our countries all by ourselves without any foreign help, is like a middle-aged man blaming his parents for the crimes he has committed.
The immigration laws of the US and other countries of the First World were liberal enough after World War II to invite immigrants to the “mother country”, in the face of a labour shortage in Europe and the Americas after World War II.
The influx of refugees is the greatest problem facing the First World today. There is a reluctance, even a fear, to welcome these refugees, fleeing from poverty, violence and strife often initiated, paradoxically, by the very countries to which they are appealing for refuge.
Applications for asylum to the US have exploded and reached a breaking point, threatening its prosperity. An invasion of brown refugees also feeds the threat to its white majority and white privilege, a fear that is being strategically exploited by the Trump administration.
According to current US immigration laws, anyone seeking asylum in the United States has to be accepted until his case for asylum is heard by an immigration judge. These hearings are delayed, causing a backlog and a waiting period for asylum cases, during which the asylum seeker was allowed to remain and legally work in the country until his case is called. The problem is, many asylum seekers never appear for the immigration hearing, often scheduled months after arrival. They disappear into a twilight zone, creating a vast community of undocumented immigrants, who numbered an estimated 11 million in 2017.
This problem was addressed by the Trump administration with typically inhuman measures. Trump has been stoking the white American fear of illegal immigration from Mexico and other Hispanic countries. He made it the core of his successful 2016 election campaign.
Asylum seekers are now not released pending hearing of their cases for asylum, as mandated by law; they are either deported indiscriminately, or detained at the border in the most inhumane conditions, in Nazi-style concentration camps. Children are separated from their parents, and either caged in terrible conditions in camps at the border, or worse, become prey to a thriving business of sexual trafficking and slavery. Many of these kids simply disappear, and the administration, in whose custody they were, has no idea of their whereabouts.
The American Dream is farthest away from the aspirations of these tortured souls. Their only goal is survival, which they will not achieve if they are deported to their own countries and/or are denied asylum by the inhuman immigration policies of the Trump administration. Unless, of course, you are an aspiring white immigrant from Europe; then the rules change dramatically. As Trump once famously wailed, and I paraphrase, “why can’t we get immigrants from countries like Norway, (the whitest nation in the world) instead of people from shithole countries in Africa and Asia?”
Trump longs for the USA to be nation of whites like the Scandinavian countries, with economic, racial and social prosperity. He does not understand that these countries have no history of colonial and racial cruelty caused by invasion and colonization. Immigrants to these nations are few, and largely welcomed regardless of pigmentation. As an example, Sweden has under 400,000 immigrants from Asian and African nations in a total population of 10.23 million (4%) in 2019, compared to the 90 million (28%) immigrants from Asia and Africa in the USA, also in 2019.
If Trump is allowed to continue his racist policies, the US will not end up like a democratic, socialist nation of Scandinavia. He will transform the greatest democracy in the world to an authoritarian dictatorship like Russia.
For Trump, the secret of a prosperous nation is in the blending, as long as the main ingredient in the recipe is vanilla.
(The writer is the second son of Tissa Chndrasoma, a well-known Civil Servant of his day, and Mrs. Gertie Chandrsoma. He emigrated to the US at age 49 as his elder boy had won a scholarship to Yale and he decided to get the rest of the family to the US after the 1991 explosion at the Joint Operations Command. Then working for the late Gamini Dissanayake, who had lost favour with the Premadasa government and had himself taken a sabbatical at Cambridge, Dissanayake’s trusted aides, like their boss, thought it best to duck out of sight for a while. A Mahaweli colleague helped him to get started in Los Angeles where he and his wife first did low level jobs. He thereafter lived in Phoenix when his company relocated there and worked on the Clinton campaign in LA and Obama’s in Phoenix. His children seized the opportunities America offered and did very well. He has not regretted his decision to retire to Sri Lanka when peace returned in 2009. He says “I have always loved writing, but my raw hatred of Trump, who is ruining what was a beautiful, compassionate nation which gave me second chance in life, has give me an incentive to vent and expose him as best I can.”)
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.
The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.
To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.
Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.
It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.
All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.
Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.
If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.
In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.
However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.
It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.
The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.
It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.
A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.
Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.
Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka
By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.
The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.
We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.
This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.
Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!
At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.
One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.
It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!
ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!
The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.
When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!
I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.
I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.
I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.
Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!
I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.
Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.
We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!
To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.
Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.
The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..
How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!
If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.
And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!
Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.
I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.
He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.
Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.
He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!
I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:
“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.
“There is no science to beat common sense.”
But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!