Monthly Archives: May 2013

Back to Buddhism’s Basics in Sri Lanka

By Sanitsuda  Ekachi, Assistant Editor Bangkok Post

May 18, 2013

‘Ayu Bowan! May you live a long life!” When you hear this greeting, which is often accompanied by a gesture similar to a Thai wai, you know you are in Sri Lanka, a lush green tropical island with an ancient culture.

After more than 20 years of the Tamil Tigers’ insurgency, the civil war that had afflicted Sri Lanka with violence and turmoil finally came to an end in 2009, and the country’s new-found peace allows it to welcome visitors back once again. And the new calm offers locals from both sides of the conflict a chance to live the normal and safe lives they have long deserved.

Visitors from around the world are also streaming back to the picturesque “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” to marvel at its natural charms and cultural richness. They include many Thai Buddhists who now consider Sri Lanka the must-go destination after India for religious pilgrimages. After recently returning from such a trip, I can understand why.

In India, visits to sacred sites bring joy to the devout from being where the Buddha once lived and taught, where you can pray and meditate and feel as if you were back in ancient times, in the presence of the Buddha and his disciples. The joy is perhaps also heightened by the relatively more difficult journey to travel between sites far from one another.

But the sacred sites in India are mere remnants of a long-lost past surrounded by a different value system _ and also by much poverty that often fills the more affluent visitors with guilt. 

Sri Lanka offers a different feel. Everywhere we go, we are greeted by the island’s lush, green, natural abundance, the ever-smiling people and the easy-going atmosphere. The ancient religious sites are also teeming with the faithful who fill them with an air of sanctity with their white clothing and the hum of prayers.

In India, the ruins of the ancient monuments are for tourists. In predominantly Buddhist Thailand, it has become increasingly difficult to find peace and quiet in temples where people now mostly go to ask for divine help in exchange for donations.

It is extremely refreshing, therefore, to see the Buddhists in Sri Lanka still going to temples to pray and meditate as part of their daily lives. Practicing Buddhist Somnuek Khemacheva outlined the different experiences India and Sri Lanka offer the devout.

“In India, we visit the sacred sites to pay homage to the Buddha and to follow the journeys he took during his lifetime to reaffirm our faith,” Ms Somnuek said. “In Sri Lanka, we’re here to witness the power of faith, to admire people’s deep sincerity toward Buddhism, and to reflect on what we Thai Buddhists have lost in our pursuit of material comfort and convenience, that we equate with happiness.”

At the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, we were overwhelmed by the hymns of prayer from the devout as they waited patiently from early morning to pay homage to the holy relic. Such displays of devotion greeted us at every sacred site.

At the Maha Bodhi temple in the ancient town of Anuradhapura, people come from near and far to pay respect to the world’s oldest flowering tree, grown from the original Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago. Now frail, hunched and needing support to withstand the elements, the sacred tree was brought to Sri Lanka by Theri Sangamitta, a Bhikkhuni and daughter of the Emperor Ashoka around 249BC.

Like the Maha Bodhi temple, other religious monuments in Anuradhapura still draw grandparents, couples young and old, and mothers and fathers with small children in tow. Going to a temple is still a family outing in Sri Lanka. And to see teenagers going to temples in groups, some seriously praying and meditating in the shade of trees, is really heartening.

For Thai Buddhists, Sri Lanka offers a special joy, like meeting up with an old friend who played an important part in shaping who they are today. Theravada Buddhism in Thailand, after all, came from Sri Lanka. Dating back more than 700 years, Theravada Buddhism from Sri Lanka reached Sukhothai in the 13th century and had a significant influence on both religious traditions and architecture, from the days of old Siam to modern times.

”It’s like going back to see our roots,” added Ms Somnuek, while marvelling at a Sri Lankan bell-shaped stupa, a design that Thailand has adopted as its own.The sense of familiarity does not stop there. Similarities between both countries’ alphabets suggest both Sri Lankan and Thai characters come from the same ancient roots. It is the same with Sri Lankan curry, which is marked by the use of coconut milk and much less dried spices than in Indian food.

Even for those who do not share these cultural and religious ties, the island is a cultural wonder with seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. The ancient capital Anuradhapura, for example, attests to Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage and gives visitors a glimpse of Buddhism at its height, shortly after the Buddha’s passing.

The island kingdom’s capital for more than 1,000 years and the centre of Buddhist scholarship and the arts, Anuradhapura is home to so many Buddhist monuments that it would take days to explore them. Among the most notable: The Ruwanweliseya Chedi, an architectural marvel that is within walking distance of the holy tree; the 122m Jetavanaramaya Stupa, the city’s biggest stupa and in ancient times the world’s third highest structure _ in scale, it is only behind the pyramids of Egypt; and the 113m Abhayagiri stupa, which once was the heart of the city’s biggest monastery and served as an international centre for Buddhist scholarship and arts for 5, 000 monks.

The Thuparama Dagoba, meanwhile, is much smaller in scale but it is the oldest, being the first stupa built on the island around 300 years after the Buddha’s time. It is also one of the holiest sites because it is where the Buddha’s right clavicle was enshrined. About three hours’ drive from the ancient capital is Sigiriya (the Lion Rock), a gigantic rock fortress with palace ruins. While Sigiriya is famous for its 1,500-year-old fresco of court ladies on a cliff, it also attests to Sri Lanka’s mastery in water management, architecture and fine arts in ancient times.

Half an hour drive’s away is the Dumbulla cave temple with breathtaking murals and Buddha statues to remind us of the teachings of impermanence and non-attachment. It has been a sacred pilgrimage site for more than 2,000 years.

But no pilgrimage would be complete without a visit to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy. It is a long drive from the Dumbulla cave complex, but travelling from one site to another in Sri Lanka is a joy. The road may be long and narrow, but it is smooth, peaceful and traffic free. Best of all, it offers a picturesque vista that shows off Sri Lanka’s diverse natural beauty, from the turquoise blue sea to green valleys and scenic mountains.

While past political violence stalled development and raised questions over the roles of religions and ethnicity, for outsiders the relatively slow economic growth over the past 20 years makes a trip to Sri Lanka a journey back in time to a more relaxed, slower paced life where one still has time to stop and smell the roses.

It is a place to witness a rich, ancient culture and the power of faith. For Thai Buddhists, it is a place to cherish cultural ties and to realize that while faith helps make us feel full and secure within, the key to lasting peace is to follow the Buddhist teaching on non-attachment in order to transcend one’s faith, race and ethnicity.

In the past, Sri Lanka gave old Siam our Buddhist culture. When present-day Thailand is fraught with ethnic violence in the restive South, the island can still teach us valuable lessons on the key to peace. I returned from Sri Lanka full of thankfulness.

 

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A MATTER OF DIPLOMACY

Since the two UN resolutions were brought against Sri Lanka in Geneva, some Sri Lankans including the Diaspora have been trying to find scapegoats for the failure to defeat these resolutions. It may be well to remember they are UN RESOLUTIONS voted on by MANY COUNTRIES.

Looking at the incessant verbal attacks on Sri Lanka by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada and the recent threatening rhetoric of Nick Clegg in the House of Commons, any difficulty between the US and Sri Lanka pales by comparison. We should not blame the Sri Lankan diplomats in these countries for these occurrences.

I am a Sri Lankan (and a naturalized US citizen) living in the US for over 40 years with no political affiliation or a vote in Sri Lanka. I have personally known many of our ambassadors who have served in the US with distinction. It is imperative that our compatriots understand the complexity of the job and appreciate the service they render to the nation.

Untruths, half-truths and innuendos do not help the expat community unite against the attacks by the Pro-LTTE Diaspora. So, in my humble role of a Sri Lankan who supports American values of hard work, loyalty and service to one’s country, I feel it is my duty to share my views on the work done in Washington.

From the time of his appointment at the height of the conflict, Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya has worked tirelessly to create an environment of goodwill and openness, hospitality, and warmth in all his dealings with US officials, the American public, and his own countrymen and women. He and his hard working staff have had to deal with constant disruptions and a never-ending stream of negative publicity inflicted by the Pro-LTTE Diaspora.

In my view, none of the ambassadors in the past 40 years, has had to deal with the problems that the current ambassador has endured due to the conclusion of hostilities in Sri Lanka and its aftermath, and none has had to defend the policies of the Government in a climate of such harshness and hostility dispensed by the Pro-LTTE Diaspora.

Relentless in their pursuit of a separate Eelam State, this group continues to spend millions on lobbyists and lawyers that the GOSL can never match. It is important to note the power of lobbyists in the US. A case in point is the recent failure to pass background checks in the Gun Control Bill in Congress. Even though 90% of the American public wanted background checks, the powerful NRA lobbyists managed to convince a large number in Congress to vote against it.

Ambassador Wickramasuriya, from the beginning organized numerous meetings and events, to present his government’s plans for reconciliation after a long-standing conflict. One such event was a gathering of about 100 Sri Lankan American professionals from across the US that met with members of Congress and their aides in a series of one-on-one meetings on Capitol Hill. It was a dynamic project, which proved to be very successful. The US officials were glad to receive another point of view of the conflict other than the propaganda of the Pro-LTTE elements. I have never seen such an effective exercise in public diplomacy. It was certainly the first time such an event was held by the Washington Embassy.

When the Foreign Minister came to meet the US Secretary of State in Washington, Ambassador Wickramasuriya and his staff arranged several meetings with congressional leaders, and business and civic leaders. Among the highlights of the trip was an eloquent speech that the Minister delivered at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Relations to an audience of academics and US officials.

Recently, the Ambassador was instrumental in educating and enlightening the ranking member of the US Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Faleomavaega who addressed Congress about the unfair treatment of Sri Lanka. He continues to meet lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to update them on the real situation in Sri Lanka. He provides them with correct information to counteract the distorted rhetoric of the Pro-LTTE Diaspora.

The Ambassador has addressed groups of young American professionals, college students, and entrepreneurs interested in investing in Sri Lanka. He has promoted tourism, orchestrated business forums between the two countries, and organized numerous trade delegations to Sri Lanka. He has set in motion, various bilateral initiatives between the US and Sri Lanka.

Last year, Ambassador Wickramasuriya and his staff worked diligently to substantiate Sri Lanka’s efforts on worker rights issues in response to an AFL-CIO petition to the USTR alleging shortcomings in Sri Lanka’s recognition of worker rights. Due to their hard work, Sri Lanka retains its status as a GSP beneficiary country.

The Ambassador’s untiring effort to bring together all ethnic, and religious communities of Sri Lankan Americans is unparalleled. He and his colleagues continue to focus on unity and reconciliation efforts and are inclusive in all their dealings with the Diaspora. All religious holidays—Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim–are celebrated at the Embassy. All ethnic groups participate in cultural events. For the past few years, Independence Day celebrations have drawn more than a thousand Sri Lankans of all ethnicities and religious denominations.

These are only a few examples of the good work done here. Diplomacy is alive and well in Washington!

Chandra Fernando, Educational Consultant, USA

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A Rare Discovery: Lankan Diplomat Emerges Using Strategic Communication

By Daya Gamage – Asian Tribune Media NoteWashington, D.C. 17 May (Asiantribune.com):

A  rare discovery: Lankan diplomat emerges using strategic communication

Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union P.M. Amza displayed a very rare quality most of his nation’s foreign diplomatic corps members and the officials who handle ‘external affairs’ have so far failed to display awarding, since the Eelam War ended in May 2009, great advantage to pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora to define the character of this South Asian nation before the International Community.

The result: Sri Lanka is currently facing undue scrutiny and an image issue utterly failing to combat the misinterpretation, diabolical falsehood and half-truths very strategically and politically motivated by the section and somewhat influential Tamil Diaspora.

Ambassador Amza displayed a very rare prowess that handlers of Sri Lanka’s ‘external affairs’ does not have and never had since the annihilation of the terrorist Tamil Tigers.

During his intervention at the end of a panel discussion that followed the screening of the film “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka”, held at the premises of the European Parliament on Tuesday, 14 May, which was jointly organized by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group, Ambassador P.M. Amza very eloquently described using his Tamil language skills the serious mistakes the producers of the documentary made by misinterpreting what the witnesses have said in Tamil, to suit the Channel 4 agenda.

The cogent interpretation that Mr. Anza, a veteran career diplomat, presented, to the knowledge of the Asian Tribune which constantly monitor Sri Lanka’s failure in public affairs, public diplomacy and strategic communication in battling the onslaught to her image, has not seen coming from the handlers of ‘external affairs’ in this South Asian nation.

Ambassador Amza elaborated that when a question was posed in English to an unidentified victim regarding an alleged attack on a hospital by asking “do you think this was an accident?” the answer from the victim in Tamil was, “Athavathu aspaththirikku aim panniththan adichchiruppinam” which literally means “they may have aimed and attacked the hospital”.

The Ambassador contended the Channel-4 of translating it as “the hospital was targeted”, giving implication to the viewers that it was done by the Sri Lanka Army. In this context, the Ambassador questioned the Director/Producer, Callum Macrae who was present as one of the Panelists, on what basis he gave an interpretation to what the witness referred to as “they”, to indicate that it was the Sri Lanka Army.

Pointing out to a similar mistake in the subsequent Channel-4 Documentary, “Sri Lanka Killing Fields: War Crime Unpunished”, during which an unidentified witness makes a statement in Tamil saying “Enkalidamirunthu 150 meeter irukkum 15 perukku melai kayakkarnkal ippadi bankarukkulliruntha ellorayum veliyil iluththu iluthu pottu suttukkondu waran”which provides literal translation as “the distance may be about 150 meters from us. More than 15 injured civilians were inside the bunker when they pulled them out one by one and fired”.

Mr. Amza said the Channel-4 took the liberty of translating it to mean “as I got up from the bunker, about 150 meters away from where I saw a group of Army soldiers pulling out over 15 civilians staying in a bunker and spraying bullets on them at close range”.

The Ambassador emphasized that at no stage, the witness stated that it was Sri Lankan Army that was pulling the civilians out from the bunkers and killing them. The Ambassador also pointed out that anyone with a sound knowledge of the Tamil language would identify them as serious mistakes and misinterpretations and manipulations done to suit the Channel-4 agenda. As the civilians’ statements constitute important evidence in any conflict, tampering them to give a completely false view, is a matter of serious concern, he said.

Until Ambassador Amza used his analytical skills to interpret very cogently the ‘grave mistakes’ the documentary committed – which had targeted motive – one cannot remember anyone with equal talent explaining the documentary to US State Department officials and its diplomatic corps based in Colombo.
This writer had had up close and personal knowledge how the Colombo Mission would go into detailed scrutiny when issues are brought before them.

For the International Community – meaning the leading western nations – to go this far talking of Sri Lanka’s ‘accountability’ in international forums, one gets the impression that such an argument and analyses were not presented the manner in which Ambassador Amza forwarded to the European Union on May 14.

At international forums Amza-type analyses was necessary while declaring that an investigation was underway to probe the allegations.

The Ambassador also refuted allegations on the killing of a 12 year old boy identified as the son of the LTTE leader. Mr. Amza, while casting doubts on Channel-4 making sweeping conclusions based on few pictures depicting a man clad in a uniform similar to Sri Lanka Army personnel, a clean and neat bunker, a man in slippers, and an ‘expert opinion’ based on the pictures given to him that the boy was captured by the Army who then fed him a snack then killed him at point blank range, questioned as to why the ‘expert opinion’ disregarded the possibility of him being killed by his own bodyguards, to avoid being captured by the Sri Lankan Armed forces.

The Ambassador added that, as a native Tamil speaker, he could provide ample evidence to prove that Channel-4 indeed had a sinister motive to discredit Sri Lanka with the connivance of the pro-LTTE Diaspora organizations, and further alluded that it was ironical to see how one time ardent supporters of the LTTE and its killing spree through funding and other propaganda activities are now projecting themselves as independent human rights activists, having been oblivious to the countless human rights violations carried out by the LTTE”.

This writer who has associated himself with public diplomacy and strategic communication was delighted the manner in which Ambassador Anza analyzed the documentary using one of the indigenous Sri Lankan dialect – Tamil – as the basis of the science of communication.

Strategic Communication: The Case for a New Vision

While “all politics is local”, all communication is now global. Gaps between what Sri Lanka says and does – and gaps between what it says and what others hear – have strategic consequences. These “say-do” and “say-hear” gaps affect Sri Lanka’s interests in ways that can be measured in lives, foreign assistance, goodwill and lost opportunities. And if Sri Lanka, as a nation, continues to underestimate them it is obviously for its disadvantage.

The Defense Science Board Task Force of the U.S. Department of Defense describes strategic communication as a vital element to America’s national security and foreign policy.

The developed principles can be used by a country like Sri Lanka which faces an influential, well funded and well motivated secessionist elements among the Tamil Diaspora threatening its very existence as a unitary state can be adapted to its own national security and foreign policy.

Although recent attention to its value is driven by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, strategic communication describes a variety of instruments used by governments for generations to understand global attitudes and cultures, engage in a dialogue of ideas between people and institutions, advise policymakers, diplomats, and military leaders on the public opinion implications of policy choices, and influence attitudes and behavior through communications strategies.

Strategic communication can help to shape context and build relationships that enhance the achievement of political, economic, and military objectives. It can be used to mobilize publics in support of major policy initiatives – and to support objectives before, during, and after a conflict. In fact, Sri Lanka is now entered a stage of safeguarding its sovereignty, integrity and the unitary nature of the state not forgetting its global image. To be effective, strategic communicators must understand attitudes and cultures, respect the importance of ideas, adopt advanced information technologies, and employ sophisticated communication skills and strategies. To be persuasive, they must be credible.

Policies, diplomacy, military operations, and strategic communication should not be managed separately. Good strategic communication cannot build support for policies viewed unfavorably by large populations. Nor can the most carefully crafted messages, themes, and words persuade when the messenger lacks credibility and underlying message authority.

Strategic communication can be understood to embrace the following core instruments described by the United States.

Public diplomacy seeks through the exchange of people and ideas to build lasting relationships and receptivity to a nation’s culture, values, and policies. It seeks also to influence attitudes and mobilize publics in ways that support policies and interests. Its time horizons are decades and news cycles. Public diplomacy is distinguished from traditional diplomatic interactions between governments. In an age of global media, the Internet revolution, and powerful non state actors — an age in which almost everything governments do and say is understood through the mediating filters of news frames, culture, memory, and language — no major strategy, policy, or diplomatic initiative can succeed without public support.

Public affairs is used by the Departments of State and Defense to depict communication activities intended primarily to inform and influence U.S. media and the American people. The White House, the NSC, departments and agencies, and military commands all have public affairs staffs. They focus on domestic media, but their advocacy activities reach allies and adversaries around the world. Distinctions between public affairs and public diplomacy continue to shape doctrine, resource allocations, and organization charts. But public diplomacy and public affairs practitioners employ similar tools and methods; their audiences are global and local. This conceptual distinction is losing validity in the world of global media, global audiences, and porous borders.

It is not difficult to adopt some of the above principles to fit in to Sri Lanka’s overall strategy at a time when it globally faces a enormous task of safeguarding its image, neutralizing the onslaughts of power centers and exploring ways to bring an end to the cohabitation of the pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora from the global centers of power.

Strategic Communication has been developed and described as the orchestration and/or synchronization of actions, images, and words to achieve a desired effect.

Ambassador Amza took a giant step forward on May 14 at the European Union forum toward that end.

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A People Without a Story

By AATISH TASEER (NY Times Opinion Pages)

FOUR years ago this week, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam announced that their struggle for an independent homeland in northern Sri Lanka had “reached its bitter end.” The group had been fighting on behalf of the Tamil people for more than a quarter-century, and its defeat was absolute.

Today, great sections of Tamil country are still a scene of devastation. The houses are either destroyed or brand-new; the land is uncultivated and overgrown; there are forests of decapitated Palmyra palms, damaged by heavy shelling. And then there are the relics of war — graveyards of L.T.T.E. vehicles rotting in the open air; the remains of a ship, its superstructure blown to pieces and in whose rusting starboard a gaping hole gives on to blue sea.

When I first arrived there last March, I saw the loss in primarily military terms. But the feeling of defeat among the Tamils of Sri Lanka goes far deeper than the material defeat of the rebels. It is a moral and psychological defeat. In that forested country of red earth and lagoons, it is possible to visit the bunker of the leader of the Tigers, a torture chamber of a place that sinks three levels into the ground. There, in the fetid air, infused with the smell of urine and bat excrement, one senses the full futility and wretchedness of what the rebel movement became in the end. For the truth is that the Tamil defeat has less to do with the vanquishing of the L.T.T.E. by the Sri Lankan Army and much more to do with the self-wounding (“suicidal” would not be too strong a word) character of the movement itself. The Tigers were for so long the custodians of the Tamil people’s hope of self-realization. But theirs was a deeply flawed organization. Under the leadership of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Tigers pioneered and perfected the use of the suicide bomber. This was not simply a mode of warfare, but almost a symbol, an expression of a self-annihilating spirit. And it was to self-annihilation that Mr. Prabhakaran committed the Tamils. He was a man who, like a modern-day Coriolanus, seemed to lack the imagination for peace. He took the Tamils on a journey of war without end, where no offer of compromise was ever enough, and where all forms of moderation were seen as betrayal.

One evening, soon after I arrived in Jaffna, the capital of the northern province, I had dinner at the house of a woman whose sister had been part of a circle of academics who had published a book in 1990 called “The Broken Palmyra.” The book was, by no means, a simple polemic against the Tigers; it was an academic work that, in trying to be evenhanded, had taken account of both government and L.T.T.E. atrocities. But this was too treasonous for Mr. Prabhakaran, and my host’s sister was killed even before the book went to print.

The room that night was filled with people whose lives the tyranny of the L.T.T.E. had left forever scarred. There was the Muslim woman who, along with all the other Muslim families of Jaffna, had, one morning in 1990, been summoned to a school compound and given two hours to leave the city of her birth. They were told to leave behind their valuables and the deeds to their houses. When they asked why they were being expelled, they were told that they were lucky not to be killed. Then they were loaded into lorries and escorted to the border of the district. (Like most, this woman returned only after the end of the war in 2009.)

A middle-aged woman, working as a maid in the house, had more recent traumas. Her son had gone to work with his uncle, a carpenter, in the northern district of Kilinochchi, which would become the scene of an infamous battle. When war came, it was Mr. Prabhakaran’s express strategy to retreat with an enormous civilian population — 300,000 people, some say — and to use them as a human shield against the advancing army. It was his intention to let so many Tamils die that the international community (read, the West) would be forced to intervene, and the Tamils would be granted their homeland. But here he made a grave mistake: he either overestimated his own importance; or else, the West’s sense of decency. For the West, occupied with problems more pressing, let as many Tamils die as had to die for the war to be won. This was an added layer of shame in the Tamil defeat. It was not just that they had lost the war. It was also that the grass-roots movement they originated, and for which they had paid taxes and sacrificed able-bodied men and women, had, in the end, been more vicious to them than to anyone else. When I asked what became of the woman’s son, she replied that he had not come home. “He’s dead,” my hostess clarified, “but she doesn’t like to hear that.”

The north of Sri Lanka today is a spectacle of Sinhalese triumphalism. A victorious army is rebuilding new roads, grabbing land for itself (6,000 acres, rumor has it), and displaying the spoils of war before tourists from the south. Even when the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa acts magnanimously toward the Tamil people, by building new infrastructure projects, for instance, the Tamils seem to feel that their defeat is being rubbed in their faces. And they are not wrong. It is simply one of those intractable situations where nothing will feel right. For the loss the Tamils feel is really the loss of a story. They are now a people without a story, a traumatized people, devastated by decades of war and migration, whose dream of self-determination was hijacked by the nihilistic vision of their leader and turned to nightmare. “We lost something,” a Tamil artist in Jaffna, T. Shanaathanan, told me, “but we do not know what. The war is over, but there is a kind of psychological warfare now. Before, people looked at us with suspicion, with the feeling that you’re Tamil, you might be a terrorist. But now they look at us as if we’re nothing.”

Aatish Taseer is the author of the memoir “Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands” and the novel “Noon.”

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The Nation Waits for Closure

Posted on May 5th, 2013 (The Nation)

Nimal Fernando

The nation waits for closure. Stepping back … and looking at the larger picture, it could be argued that this has been some decades in coming …. It could be argued, also, that Sri Lanka is closer than ever before, at this moment in time, to this long-elusive goal.

History tells us that such ‘moments in time’ for so many nations around the world, have not lasted long. Which is why time is of the essence for Sri Lanka to finally put the ethnic issue behind it. Doing so will decidedly demand an end to false starts and half-measures; appeasements and political expediency; tolerance of extremists anywhere; and shameful winks and nods to foreign interests.

It is easy to imagine that many Sri Lankan hearts — not Sinhalese, Tamil, Moor, Burgher or other hearts–but Sri Lankan hearts, must necessarily sink every time that larger picture is looked at. Because, among so many other elements, what it shows is how some well-meaning prime ministers and presidents tried half-hearted experiments; kept searching for misplaced political will; let themselves be held hostage by chauvinist elements.

In the final analysis, the only reckoner is political will. And fortunately for Sri Lanka, that same political will that others lacked, seems to be in ample supply among the Brothers Rajapaksa — especially the president and the Defence Secretary.

A report in Lankaweb bears ample testimony to this. A part of this report went thus: [A foreign correspondent, who interviewed Gotabhaya very aggressively today, asked him why Sinhalese are settling down in predominantly Tamil areas, to which Gotabhaya reacted very appropriately and told him that any citizen can buy property and settle down anywhere in the country he wants. He then pointed out to him that many years ago, there were no Tamils in the Hambantota area but now there are. So why cannot there be Sinhalese in the North, to which the correspondent had no answer.

MR has said officially that the LTTE, which failed to achieve its goal militarily, is now trying to achieve the same goal through different means. The fact that MR has realized that is in itself an assurance to the majority Sinhalese that constitute 75% of the nation. On the question of national security and respect for sovereignty, both MR and Gota have scored very heavy points. Now couple that with what MR had to say through his secretary about the part that India played in her conspiracy against Sri Lanka at a recent book-launching ceremony. The result has been that we have received no more insults from India and they have stopped ordering us to take the initial step that will lead to the partitioning of the country. The government has scored heavily on these points.]

It is abundantly clear that the path to an enduring solution, to lasting peace and sustained development, lies in inclusion, not in any measure that sets the minority apart as the ‘other’. Such inclusion also demands that in being part of the mainstream — while being able to celebrate their ethnicity, language and traditions — Sri Lankan Tamils are never made to feel like the ‘other’. That a level playing field delivers equal opportunity; security, rights, an open market and everything else a citizen is guaranteed under the Constitution.

That is the ideal social setting in which the majority too, will not feel that its rights have been compromised in addressing any ‘grievances’ of the minority. Let’s get serious here: since we’re talking about the will of the majority in a democracy, surely all those democrats out there, particularly in ‘influential’ parts of the planet, will not deny Sri Lanka’s majority its demand for the preservation of the nation’s territorial integrity and freedom of choice in all aspects of life, again, under a democratic Constitution?

In such a situation of normalcy, it is hard to visualize fertile ground for the sustenance of extremist elements anywhere.Getting there in the near-term calls for a national chorus of Sri Lankan voices — from village-level organizations and faith-based groups, to trade unions and focus groups representative of the intelligentsia — urging this government to do what needs to be done.

As Sri Lankans across the board have made clear, particularly in recent years: this nation will never tolerate orders or intimidation by India or any other nation that fancies itself in a position to do so; certainly not in a setting of new global realities. 
This nation is eminently capable of solving its internal issues to the satisfaction of all its people. And for the benefit of any simple minds that cannot still get it, all includes the majority Sinhalese … The nation waits for closure.

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Tamil Diaspora Influence in US Policy Oversights on Sri Lanka

Daya Gamage – An Asian Tribune Analysis

One need not be a political scientist or a legal luminary to comprehend, if one keenly peruses – with an investigative mind – the events that unfolded since the military defeat of the separatist Tamil Tiger or LTTE brutal and lethal force in May 2009 and the internationalization of Sri Lanka’s domestic issues, the emergence of Tiger leader Prabhaharan’s overseas collateral political/diplomatic wing helped set the terms of debate on Sri Lankan issues

In fact, the pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora very carefully selected issues – issues that Sri Lanka at the outset considered to be too insignificant – to put items on the country’s agenda. A careful assessment further reveals that the professional arm of the Tamil Diaspora – who emotionally reacted to the demise of the Tamil Tiger leadership – was so focused that they became a source of information and analysis that provided a great deal of information and data to the United States Department of State officials, Members of the Congress, and their supportive staff, and non-governmental organizations largely shaping their general perspective.

When early signs were emerging the transfer of Prabhaharan’s lifelong dream of a separate Tamil nation in the north-east part of Sri Lanka to this overseas collateral movement – franchised in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Bonn, Canberra, Ottawa etc – a State Department official whom I knew during my days in that ‘encampment’ noted that their emotions were running riot because the civil war in Sri Lanka involved their kith and kin and that emotion and rage was now slowly and steadily being transformed into political action. Sri Lanka failed to understand this sentiments, and that sentiment has gone a long way to what’s going on at present.

Most of the information, data and analyses provided to global forums were largely distortions, misinterpretations, exaggerations of Sri Lanka issues leading to lies, half truths, diabolical falsehood that went unchallenged in the first 48 months since the annihilation of the LTTE by those who handled foreign affairs for Sri Lanka. Or, the handlers thought less of the capability of the principal players of Prabhaharan’s global collateral arm.

Separatist Tamil Diaspora global collateral arm which consisted of franchises in Western cities was fully aware that when issues promoted by it are priorities, and are in line with the American administration, the Diaspora activists have a greater influence in the U.S. policy oversights.

All the issues in the aftermath of Prabhaharan’s death centered on Tamil grievances and rights, a perspective well developed within the portals of the American diplomatic mission in Colombo in the eighties and the first half of the nineties to consolidate policy planks to which this writer had up-close and personal knowledge. The pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora commenced the Eelam ‘War’ V with this advantage to which the policymakers in Sri Lanka had only a scant knowledge.

A careful study shows that the major reason for a considerable success of the Tamil Diaspora in later years which reflected in anti-Sri Lanka resolutions in both chambers of the U.S. Congress, a series of letters initiated by influential Members of the Congress to Obama administration officials highlighting alleged violation of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL), the pugnacious stance the global rights groups adopted and anti-Sri Lanka fervor emanated in House and Senate hearings in Washington is nothing but the Diaspora understanding of American democratic values and (US) strategic interests.

Another factor of the durability of Tamil Diaspora-American discourse in the U.S and their success in resuscitating and appropriating ethnic identities is greatly influenced by the U.S. administration’s view of the administration in Sri Lanka.

Whether Sri Lanka inadvertently provided fodder to the ‘collateral wing and to its franchises’ to strengthen this discourse is another issue altogether.

Thomas Ambrosio, Assistant Professor of Political Science, North Dakota State University in a submission on the issue of Diaspora communities and their influence on U.S. foreign policy stated that when one seeks to understand Diaspora groups and their influence on U.S. foreign policy, the question is not should ethnic groups influence foreign policy but how they affect foreign policy, what are their goals and why do they mobilize.

Had those questions been addressed one would have, to some extent, understood the strategy and maneuvering of Prabhaharan’s collateral political/diplomatic wing and its franchises to initially shape Sri Lanka’s foreign policy approaches to the emerging issues since May 2009.

Our most recent experience has clearly shown that the Tamil Diaspora lobby sought to influence U.S. policy in three ways. The collateral political/diplomatic wing of the now demised LTTE used these three strategies seeking influence in the State Department and both arms of the Congress. They used those in other European capitals too.

First, by framing the issues “that help set the terms of debate” or “put items on the country’s agenda.”

Second, they are a source of information and analysis that provide a great deal of information to members of Congress and serve as a resource for other branches of government and non-governmental organizations, and shaping general perspectives.

Finally, unceasing lobbying campaigns providing policy oversight.

These are all diplomatic overtures Sri Lanka’s foreign relations/policy arm should have perused. It is the failure in this vital areas that led to the out sourcing of foreign policy/relation overtures to lobbying firms?

There is no mistake in using lobbying firms for certain limited objectives such as the manner in which Dr. Jeyerajah-led US Tamil Political Action Council used the Washington lobbying firm KSCW Inc. to successfully table an anti-Sri Lanka Resolution 177 in the US House with 53 signatures which included influential and prominent House Members in 2012 vastly enhancing the ‘voice’ of the pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora. The records showed that the USTPAC invested US$30,000 to get three reports on ‘specific issues’ besides successfully tabling the H.RES. 177.

A close scrutiny shows that the Tamil Diaspora ability to advance the message was their understanding that the message resonated with the American values and ideals. When issues were promoted by the collateral political/diplomatic wing of the LTTE they strategically placed them in line with the U.S. administration thus having the greatest influence in policy oversights.

A major reason for some success of Tamil Diaspora in affecting U.S. diplomacy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka government is the nature of Amer¬ican politics and especially the power of the individual Congress member–which makes a unitary foreign policy unlikely.

The handlers of the overseas collateral political/diplomatic wing of Tamil Tigers and its franchises have well understood this scenario when engaging in lobbying activities.

Certainly, in recent years the U.S. government is more disposed to hear concerns of ethnic Americans who endeavor to influence American diplomacy toward their country of origin if and when they promote democracy and human rights.

The U.S.-based Tamil Diaspora maneuvered well within these American parameters.

Then the question arose as to how the American polity looked at the US-based Tamil Diaspora claim that it represents broader public interest of the ethnic Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. The representatives of the Tamil Diaspora who envisaged to engage in advocacy and diplomacy since the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009 obviously faced issues of representation and legitimacy. The American polity and its decision makers faced when confronted with Tamil Diaspora advocates “Who are these people and whom do they represent?”

The strategy and maneuver the Tamil Diaspora adopted to get the ear of the American polity was to be seen as the sole advocate of Sri Lanka Tamil issues limiting Sri Lanka authorities’ ability to speak for them and eventually hold the hegemony on Sri Lanka Tamil issues. The pro-separatist advocates of the Tamil Diaspora in the United States benefited largely from the perspectives (or mind-set) the American foreign service officers (FSOs) developed between early eighties through mid-nineties within the portals of their Colombo Mission in Colombo on issues that confronted the 12% ethnic Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka. An alternative views did not successfully reach the FSOs to have a broader understanding of Sri Lanka issues as a whole. The Federal Party and Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) discourse with American FSOs greatly contributed to the American ‘perspectives’ which have had larger impact when Tamil advocates faced the post-Prabhaharan era.

The advocates of the Tamil Diaspora which espouses an independent/separate nation in the north/east part of that country has well understood how the American system works to cater to the sentiments of the State Department officials and Obama White House advisors who have entertained that Sri Lanka has serious human rights, governance and rule of law issues that warrant a drastic change in its body politic. The State Department envisages transparency and accountability on the one hand influenced by many factors one of which is its close rapport with the Tamil Diaspora to which the State Department has tied the ‘credibility’ tag, and reconciliation among ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, one of the not so serious agenda items pushed by the Tamil Diaspora when in conversations with American officials in Washington as its final objective was an independent/separate state.

The foreign policy handlers in Sri Lanka have let the advocates of the Tamil Diaspora dominate an issue that should have been within the perimeters of Sri Lanka’s domestic agenda, allowed Prabhaharan’s overseas collateral political/diplomatic wing and its worldwide franchises to influence U.S. policy oversights that has led the American administration to place policy directives before the Government of Sri Lanka (often such policy statements giving the impression that Ambassador Michele Sison acts like the ‘Governor’ of Sri Lanka) and allow the Tamil Diaspora advocates to successfully make the American officials understand “Who are these people and whom do they represent?”

It is this scenario that one could sense the frustration that has developed in defense secretary Colonel Gothabhaya Rajapaksa in penetrating the area of foreign policy cum domestic issues at a time the External Affairs Ministry has exhibited its inability to develop a strategy to break the unsavory ‘discourse’ between the Tamil proponents of a separate state in Sri Lanka and the American polity (not forgetting the EU branch). It is also under these circumstances that Colonel Rajapaksa, despite being a public official who is prohibited by the Establishment Code to express opinion that are only confined to lawmakers and politicians, air his frustration though many pronouncements touching foreign policy, foreign relations and connected domestic issues such as devolution of political and administrative power to peripheral provinces.

Ambassador Sison’s not so distant statement that Sri Lanka may face a situation “Beyond” the UNHRC prompted defense secretary to feel that she is acting like the ‘Governor’ of Sri Lanka.

The question that comes to one’s mind to ask handlers of Sri Lanka’s foreign affairs and relations is: “Who are these people and whom do they represent?”

– Asian Tribune –

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