|Mr. Chaulia of Syracuse regrets|
|Monday, 15 September 2008|
by: Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
A recent article by a gentleman called Sreeram Chaulia is a wonderful example of the manner in which propaganda against the Sri Lankan government is being piled up in what seems a desperate attempt to shore up the cause of its opponents. This, I fear, includes not only the LTTE, but those in Sri Lanka who have provided Mr. Chaulia with his little quotes that shore up his relentless condemnation of the current elected government and its supporters.
Mr. Chaulia, it seems, is a ‘researcher on international affairs at the Maxwell School of Citizenship in Syracuse, New York’. This it seems qualifies him to generalize on Sri Lanka, along with a ‘month-long tour of Sri Lanka’ that he has just completed. He did not see me during this period, which is strange since I am the only person he mentions by name in his article, except for President Mahinda Rajapakse (and three other world leaders, contemptuously dismissed in what he sees as their seminal contribution to Sri Lankan affairs – ‘It is a fascinating sight in Colombo to behold giant billboards of Rajapakse shaking hands with the Chinese President Hu Jintao, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Pakistani Prime Minister Raza Gilani. Rajapakse’s “devil may are” defiance of international calls for political solutions is a product of the presence of these sympathetic leaders whose military and diplomatic backing has enabled the army to outgun the LTTE’.)
Obviously, Mr. Chaulia thinks it a shame that a terrorist grouping should be outgunned. He even blames India, with a rather jejune attempt to create rivalries where none need exist – ‘New Delhi is afraid that its advocacy for civilian rights in the North and East will drive Colombo deeper into Beijing’s embrace. Like India’s mealy-mouthed policy towards restoring democracy in Myanmar, its compromised attitude towards Sri Lanka’s deadly war is compounding a human tragedy that shows no end in sight’.
I have quoted those sentences at length, because it shows exactly where Mr. Chaulia is coming from. An Asian who resents Asia so much would seem a remarkable creature, were it not for the price the commodity can command now, not least in academia. Unfortunately, academic rigour is not necessary for such careers. Still, if Mr. Chaulia were to read this critique, he might understand more about logic and the use of evidence, which might enable him to scale really dizzy heights, instead of contenting himself with being a researcher in Syracuse, New York.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
To deal first with his diatribe about me, he claims that I am a state propagandist who, along with others like me, has ‘launched a drive to convince the Sinhalese public that the army is conducting a “clean war” with maximum deference to the rights of Tamil civilians. Claims of successful separation of enemy combatants from non-combatants, as the army penetrates the Wanni, are “laughable” to “eyewitnesses”. I will forgive Mr. Chaulia’s naiveté in assuming that there are others like me. I will even excuse his reliance on the person whose “laughable” he quotes, whether or not he thinks that person is an eyewitness. But I do find it ridiculous that he has not bothered to note that I do not write in Sinhalese, that my writings are in English, and far from producing propaganda, I only respond to the articles of others that are false and misleading.
To make again a point that Mr. Chaulia obviously cannot challenge, the evidence of those media outlets, such as Tamilnet, most critical of the Sri Lankan forces, makes it crystal clear that hardly any civilian lives have been lost in operations. This was totally true of the operations in the East last year, which is why Human Rights Watch was unable to respond to my dissection of their claim that there had been indiscriminate attacks on civilians. I pointed out that the only evidence they could adduce for this blanket generalization in their press release was what happened at Kathiravelli, when the forces had used mortar locating radar. The HRW narrative itself revealed that LTTE fighters with weapons had been in the IDP Centre whose population they had no scruples of sacrificing, when they fired guns from there which led to a response through radar.
The same story is largely true in the North. I did not make claims of ‘successful separation for enemy combatants from non-combatants’ because, simplistic though Mr. Chaulia might be, his mindset made up of Rambo films, as happened in the East the forces give warning of their intentions, so that people can get away. Again, while there have been casualties in air raids, I have studied the figures carefully, and have pointed out that there have been allegations of casualties only in fourteen cases out of over 200 in the last two years. That may be 14 too many, but I would like to see Mr. Chaulia, if he is indeed a serious researcher, doing a comparative study of casualties in other wars against terror. Were he to do so, he would realize that the Sri Lankan forces have the best record in the world in this regard. Whilst I would not want to name others with worse records, I can only recommend Mr. Chaulia to read an article by Tom Engelhardt entitled ‘The Value of One, the Value of None: An Anatomy of Collateral Damage’, and hope that his masters in Syracuse will encourage him to turn his scintillating intellect to such matters too.
Mr. Chaulia’s intellectual dishonesty goes further. He claims that the Sri Lankan state tries to lure Tamil civilians into “cleared areas’ but that the camps there have been likened by ‘One informed international aid official’ to Nazi concentration camps. Neither Mr. Chaulia nor his informed official seems to be aware that people put into Nazi camps had no choice in the matter, like say the Japanese in America during the Second World War. Here, Tamils who choose to leave, lured or otherwise, the LTTE areas are provided with food and shelter, and can even move freely during the day, though there are restrictions on them leaving overnight. Mr. Chaulia obviously thinks it a great pity that the government has to take precautions, and would doubtless find it very funny if someone allowed to move freely to other parts of the country set off a bomb that killed several civilians.
Mr. Chaulia then goes on to criticize the TMVP as a puppet of the government, whilst also claiming – clearly not being aware of the meaning of the term - that the provincial administration is in a ‘lame-duck condition’. He declares, obviously not understanding the Constitution, that the chief minister’s office ‘has been saddled with five ministries’, that the elections were ‘tainted by gross irregularities committed with the army’s assistance’, that ‘Sexual violence against Tamil women by the TMVP’s cadres is a new dimension to the scarred memories of local people’ and that ‘the TMVP is manipulating its state-designated legitimacy to carry out its own forcible enlistment of civilians with impunity’. In short, Mr. Chaulia has managed to pepper his foes in all directions, while producing not a shred of evidence for his claims. This is not surprising, since the only assertion of rape that was bandied about some months ago was shown to be false, and not even the most extreme enemies of the TMVP claim that it is now engaging in forced recruitment.
But then, Mr. Chaulia does not need evidence. He claims later that ‘State persecution of media personnel, peace activists and academics has reached alarming proportions in order to preserve a sanitized picture of events in the North and East’. The man is clearly deaf and blind, if during his month in Sri Lanka he did not read or watch, to name just a few, ‘The Daily Mirror’, ’The Sunday Leader’, ‘Sudar Oli’, ‘Virakesari’, TNL, Sirasa, Shakthi and ‘Irudina’. With all those in existence, it is astonishing that Mr. Chaulia can claim that ‘A fist-pumping Sinhalese chauvinist narrative is monopolizing news space and airwaves’. The only possible explanation for all this nonsense is that the man simply does not understand English. That may explain why he thinks someone who writes only in English is part of a drive to convince the Sinhalese public of something he disapproves of. It is also extremely sad that he singles out the person who has perhaps the longest record in public life of speaking out against chauvinism, when so many of those who now claim to understand about human rights were cosying up to the Jayewardene government, which could have told Mr. Chaulia a thing or two about fist-pumping Sinhalese chauvinism.
Fortunately, such chauvinists are, and have always been, very few. The Sinhalese people have, in several polls, made clear their desire for a political settlement, which is precisely what this government is pursuing, together with pluralistic democratic Tamil forces. They had also made clear their belief that peace is not possible with the LTTE. Though this may be sad for several of us who once believed in negotiations with the LTTE, we have to accept the reality, that the LTTE is not interested in negotiations, nor in peace, nor in pluralism, nor in democracy.
Mr. Chaulia may have different ideas. But ignorance can be cured and, with some classes also in critical thinking, perhaps he would be able to produce a better report on his next visit to Sri Lanka. I only hope by then that, if he presumes to be a serious academic at some stage, he understands the moral imperative of talking to those who positions he pontificates about.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
|Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )|
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