|Anglo: Saxon Attitudes|
|Friday, 05 December 2008|
‘‘What curious attitudes he goes into!’
‘Not at all,’ said the King. ‘He’s an Anglo-Saxon Messenger – and those are Anglo-Saxon attitudes. He only does them when he’s happy.’ (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass)
On Friday I was woken to an urgent message from a friend in Australia about the arrest of my old flatmate Damian Green, now a Conservative MP and Shadow Immigration Minister. He had been arrested by an anti-terror police squad, who the Daily Mail in its headline characterized as ‘Terror police’. The alleged offence was that of leaking confidential documents. I have no idea whether anything worse was in question, but according to the Daily Mail, the leaked information included a memo that ‘an illegal immigrant had been working in the House of Commons as a cleaner’ and another that ‘suggested a cover-up by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith of a massive Government blunder over thousands of illegal immigrants cleared to work in sensitive Whitehall security jobs’.
I do not think whatever Damian did can in any way be seen as supportive of terrorism or even providing assistance to terrorists through providing cover for their activities. It is a clear case of shooting a messenger who has obviously nothing to do with any crime and who is not suspected of any links with the terrorists the police are supposed to bring to book. Of course I may be wrong, and Damian may turn out to be in contact with Al Qaeda or have received information from terrorists to embarrass the government. That suspicion must be the formal justification for what I learnt later, when I tried to contact him by e-mail, that his computers too had been taken by the police. But, unless I am very wrong indeed, and Damian has changed beyond all comprehension, what has happened seems to me a clear case of police powers being used for political purposes without any focus on the actual problem that should be addressed.
British restrictions on police powers in dealing with international terrorism
Ironically, all this took place on November 27th, the so-called Heroes Day of the LTTE, the day on which all hell exploded in Mumbai. It coincided with the annual celebration of the LTTE fronts that had taken place in London, and also with Mr. Vaiko, he who justified the ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the North of Sri Lanka, addressing a meeting in the House of Commons to what one of the LTTE websites claimed was tumultuous acclaim. Mr. Vaiko was originally refused a visa, but then received one, it seems because his friends intervened. It is unlikely that the friends were Indian officials, since India itself had found his conduct possibly criminal. However, the British who finally granted the visa evidently do not think behaviour that provides overt support to terrorism needs to be curtailed. Though they have made some attempts recently to curtail the massive funding the LTTE receives from sources in Britain, though they have tried to stop the extortion and scams in which LTTE supporters engage, generally they claim that they are constricted by their laws in taking the forthright steps that are necessary. Such laws obviously offer no protection to an elected MP, dealing with immigration issues, trying to stop tacit government support for cheap labour; cheap labour that then becomes influential and turns MPs anxious for re-election into propagandists for terrorist spokesmen, such as Mr. Vaiko.
British involvement in NGOs in the Vanni
I was the more struck by all this, because I had spent much time in the preceding week in dealing with a whole sheaf of Britishers whose activities seemed to me also to provide support to the LTTE, though I would like to think this is not intentional. In the course of my inquiries, I was astonished at the number of Britishers who have in effect taken over the Aid Industry in Sri Lanka. They dominate Solidar, the conglomerate that was involved in the unfortunate takeover by the LTTE of heavy equipment, equipment used to build the Great Wall of Kilinochchi that has caused so much grief to our forces.
The popular view has it that the villains of this piece are also the Norwegians. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed the first person to tell me of the background to the incident said categorically that NPA had been taken for a ride. Whilst I do not subscribe to his view that the officials of the concerned organizations were LTTE sympathizers, certainly it should be made clear that none of them was Norwegian. One has several passports including a British one, another is clearly British, the third is British or possibly Canadian, with a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon name. Interestingly enough, the head of the German branch of Solidar is also British, though I should note that no one has suggested that he was at all responsible for the carelessness or the culpability that led to the LTTE making free with the deadly equipment.
Incidentally, it turned out that the former UN employee, who had, contrary to his contract, been running round Geneva with Amnesty International to criticize Sri Lanka, was first employed by Solidar. Whilst the UN has been helpful in repudiating his action, and managed to put a stop to it, Solidar thought he had been with them so long ago that they could not be held responsible. Perhaps not, but given what seems instability, they should recognize that – unless the UN picks up any Tom, Dick or Harry who wants a job – it must have been their recommendation that led to his employment in such a sensitive position.
Inappropriate statements by the Danish Refugee Council
Meanwhile I was also sent by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the text of a release about a Danish case in which repatriation of a Tamil family had been stopped by the European Human Rights Court. The Ministry also sent me the text of an appeal that is being circulated to the European Commission, urging it to stop GSP+. Accompanying this was a report on the court case which cited the Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council as saying, ‘There is a war in Sri Lanka, and the situation is out of control. Those people are at risk of being arrested by the police at the Colombo airport, and what may happen to them next, we dare not think about.’
I have suggested that the Foreign Ministry call in the local head of the Danish Refugee Council and reprimand him for what seem gratuitous insults to Sri Lanka. The fact that such insults are being used by supporters of terrorism to attack Sri Lanka economically cannot be ignored, and the head of DRC in Sri Lanka, who again happens to be British, should dissociate himself from the statement, and ensure that it is withdrawn.
Positive responses now, not previously, by Save the Children in Sri Lanka
In this context, it should be noted that Save the Children in Sri Lanka, under its current Asian head, behaved extremely well when an irresponsible British MP attributed to Save the Children her claim that, with its withdrawal from the Vanni, education was lost to children there. SCISL declared clearly its appreciation of the work in education done by the Government of Sri Lanka, and noted that its own efforts were in support of these.
This approach was in marked contrast with that of the previous head, a Britisher, who simply would not accept that Save the Children should have clearly criticized the LTTE for taking life saving equipment his organization had been allowed to bring in for humanitarian purposes, not terrorism. It was he who tried to justify the deafening silence of his NGO and others about the LTTE conscription of one member of each family, a silence broken only when the families of NGO workers were affected.
His claim was that the government should have been pleased that the NGOs were trying to prevent the families of their workers from having any members fighting with the LTTE. I told him that that was not in question, what horrified me was the silence of the NGOs about the suffering of ordinary families in the Vanni who had to endure their children being taken away, with not a voice raised against it by the so-called International Community. Those pusillanimous creatures now think they might be able to control LTTE excesses if only they were permitted to go back into the Vanni. This is living in cloud cuckoo land, or rather assuming that the government does. Indeed even the UN had to grant that it had never publicly highlighted the abuses of the LTTE, these had been confined to internal documents.
Current NGO claims to intervene in the Vanni
It is for this reason that I consider preposterous the latest claim of some of the NGOs that they must be allowed into the Vanni because they owe it to their donors to make sure that whatever aid they send in is not abused by the LTTE. Why such characters think the LTTE, which abused aid as well as people so cavalierly while the NGOs were in full force in the Vanni, will be restrained by them now beggars comprehension.
The head of Solidar, who led the charge in this respect, is a PhD, and doubtless too clever to believe that argument. What then was the reason for his insistence, to what seemed the embarrassment even of some of his colleagues? The obvious assumption is that, by claiming NGOs need to go in for whatever reason, they lend credence to the view that aid distribution is not taking place satisfactorily. This is then exploited by the LTTE, which has already managed to get a few prominent international Human Rights organizations to claim that the people of the Vanni suffer without an international presence.
Given the track record of the so-called international presence in the past, this is clearly nonsense, and the extraordinary efficiency of the Sri Lankan governmental mechanisms, aided as they are by positive thinking UN personnel, has ensured that assistance has been successfully supplied. There has been no shortage of food, and the epidemics that were predicted each month have not taken place, thanks to the solid systems the Health Ministry has in place. Certainly the situation is not ideal, and recent rains have created some shelter problems, but the rapid response mechanisms the GAs and relevant Ministries have in place have proved effective.
The profitability of the aid enterprise
The false claims will however continue, and provide some ammunition to the LTTE. Yet, whilst it is not inconceivable that some at least of those who make a noise would not mind the LTTE being given a lifeline, I believe there is a much simpler explanation for their demands. Quite simply, the British being a nation of shopkeepers, one needs to look at the balance sheet – and what has been happening for the last few years is that some of these NGOs have been creaming off the aid provided by bilateral and multilateral donors. Whereas the understanding, when agreements were signed allowing them to work in Sri Lanka, was that they would collect funds abroad, what they have done more recently is bid for UN and other funds, thus acting as middlemen (and not inexpensive middlemen) for funds intended to benefit the Sri Lankan people.
Some of these NGOs indeed have no agreement with the government – Solidar being one of them. But, not least because of the tsunami, there was a free for all in the aid game, and now it is too lucrative to be let go of easily. Of course it could be argued that Sri Lanka is lacking in capacity, and therefore it needs foreigners to run projects. This is certainly an argument that we should keep in mind, which is why we need to fast forward education and training to ensure that the next generation can also deal effectively with the international community. But, as indeed the UN has shown in fields where it has worked together with governmental agencies, supplementing personnel inadequacies with bright young local graduates it helps select and fund, there are plenty of capable Sri Lankans around, willing and able to deliver on behalf of their fellow citizens, at a fraction of the cost of expatriate staff.
Insufficient governmental supervision – Red Cross activities
This does not mean that supervision is not required, and there is certainly a role for professionally qualified expatriates. But equally we should take our own supervisory role seriously. This we have not done. I was horrified for instance to find that, of the many projects run by the Red Cross, their records indicate that information is not available about the status of several. (I refer here to the International Federation, which – currently headed here by a Britisher - works with the local Red Cross, as opposed to the ICRC which has a very different role, and filled it admirably, in part I think because of the very positive attitude of its previous Belgian head).
But, as I have suggested, even aid workers are human, and for many of them to work in Sri Lanka at salaries that give them lifestyles they could not dream of at home is a heaven sent opportunity. They need to keep it that way. And it is not a coincidence that so many of those who, unwittingly or otherwise, provide grist to the Tiger mill are British. They know English, which helps them to operate effectively in countries such as ours, and the British have long known the attractions of dominating subject populations, while convincing themselves that this is entirely for the good of those populations. Given the wonders of the British education system, but the absence of the international role the country once had, it is not surprising that Britishers tend to flourish in disproportionate numbers in aid agencies. And of course, unless those agencies can maintain and even expand their role, their jobs may be in jeopardy.
One need not assume this is British government policy, even though the entire cast sometimes looks like it comes out of a le Carre novel, or even a preposterous play I once saw called ‘Alice’s Boys’, with the Galle Face Hotel aficionado being a dead ringer for the Ralph Richardson role. But, as I said before, we know enough of the way the British have behaved through the ages to realize that these predilections are not, pace Julian Wilson and Dominic Chilcott, anything to do with Her Majesty’s Government, they are individual initiatives that cannot be, and never are, repudiated categorically.
Thankfully, gunboats are no longer sent in to rescue irresponsible individuals, so in the long run perhaps we should not worry too much about the motivations of these individuals, adept though they sometimes are at getting official support for their endeavours, albeit on an informal basis (the British High Commission, creditably, and with commendable professionality, it should be noted, did not get involved in the recent intervention). We must realize that some aid workers are idealistic and would work under any conditions, others are idealistic but find comfortable conditions a necessity. None of this matters in the long run, provided we make sure that they work, and work with a goal in sight, namely the goal of making themselves redundant. For that however we must insist that they cooperate in the struggle against terror, working for all our citizens, and in particular, the minorities who have suffered for so long, but realizing too that the greatest suffering has been inflicted because of terrorism, which they must help their host nation to halt.
|Last Updated ( Thursday, 23 July 2009 )|
|< Prev||Next >|