The Bonds Division of the Customs Department had a income collection of Rs. 7.three billion in 2009. A sum of US$ 56,978,451 was earned from the duty totally free shops at the arrivals lounge of the Katunayake International Airport (KIA) and US$ 22,570,509 from the departure lounge with total income earned becoming US$ 78,548,960. The Bonds Investigation Unit (BIU) recovered a total of Rs. 54,534,000 last year.
The Investor Facilitation Centre (INFAC) earned revenue of Rs. 10,664,211,070 from Board of Investment (BOI) enterprises with duty recovered from cancellation of agreements getting Rs. 12,766,307.
The Customs at the KIA had a income collection of Rs. 452,853,349 last year, even though Rs. 84,316,750 was collected mainly from currency circumstances (Rs. 30,315,241) and gold jewellery instances which was Rs. 28,795,405.
Also in the course of the year (2009), the Customs Narcotics Manage Unit (NCU) produced two noteworthy detections resulting in the seizure of 2kg 798 grams of heroin concealed in potatoes and continued to maintain its surveillance on all flights arriving from source nations and suspected airports. The NCU performed joint operations with the Police Narcotics Bureau at KIA, Air Cargo, LCL Warehouses and Container yards.
Given that 1984, the NCU has seized 385.723 kg of heroin with the biggest seizure of 62.607 kg becoming in 1990. Among the other narcotics that have been seized considering that 1984 was hashish (88.904 kg), opium (95.98 kg), cannabis 2.45 kg), cocaine (9.018 kg) and hashish oil (.0028) in 1994.
The Excise (Specific Provisions) division collected Rs. 47,996.88 million throughout final year (2009) mainly from cigarettes (Rs. 37,670.16 million) and petroleum (Rs. 7,854.18) and also recovering Rs. 600,000 from 20 Court circumstances. >> Full Story
One of the many conspiracy theories that has emerged with regard to the anti-Muslim campaign of the Bodu Bala Sena and others is that it is an attempt by the Government to distract people from other concerns, primarily the state of the economy.
If so, it isn’t working. Last week’s increase in electricity tariffs hasn’t been overlooked by anybody in Sri Lanka.
However, the Government has succeeded in convincing a fair share of the electorate that it isn’t really its fault. Keheliya Rambukwella summed up its argument at the regular media briefing on Thursday. He explained that the tariff increase was unfortunate but unavoidable, since ‘no administration can subsidise utilities forever’.
This sounds reasonable, but it isn’t actually true.
The concept of ‘breaking even’ doesn’t make sense when discussing a public enterprise. The CEB is not a company. We have come to talk of its ‘losses’, but this is to accept the neo-liberal logic that the Government claims to reject. The Ministries of Health and Education also spend more than they earn, but we don’t consider them to be ‘indebted’.
In that sense, the Opposition is right in pointing out that the Government is neo-liberal, as its economic affairs spokesman Harsha de Silva did in response to the hike. Of course he should have said ‘also neo-liberal’, since the credentials of the UNP as the vanguard of neo-liberalism in Sri Lanka are unquestionable, thanks to Ranil Wickremasinghe. Unfortunately, he combined that accurate observation with a totally misguided suggestion as to what to do about it, saying that if the economy is in so much trouble, what is needed is austerity.
Even the IMF is having second thoughts about ‘cuts’ as a response to a downturn, as its advice to the UK just days ago shows, with that country on the verge of an unprecedented ‘triple dip recession’.
Austerity isn’t the same as tackling waste and corruption. There is a difference between ensuring that expenditure is productive and targeting an overall reduction in expenditure.
In the same way, there is a difference between targeting subsidies so that the right people benefit and reducing the level of subsidies.
This is not to suggest that there is no problem with the amount that the Government spends on the CEB. It comes to 0.8% of GDP, which is an awful lot in comparison with the 1.9% that it allocates for education and the 1.3% that it gives to health.
Efforts should certainly be made to reduce this amount.
In terms of costs, Tilak Siyambalapitiya has produced a very succinct analysis (‘Talk sense about electricity costs and prices’, The Island, March 6th). He says that the approved cost of Rs. 2.56 for distributing a unit of electricity, which includes the cost of investment and maintenance of the distribution network and the supply of electricity, including metering and billing, is comparable with international norms, but could be brought down by 1% per year in real terms. A similar conclusion is reached for the transmission of a unit of electricity, with an approved cost of Rs. 0.73. He makes the same assumption as Keheliya Rambukwella that expenditure should be met by income to conclude that a unit of electricity has to be generated for Rs. 10.74, taking into account 12% losses and a total income of Rs. 15.50 per unit (10.74 = 0.88 x [15.50 – 2.56 – 0.73]), which is the case only for the CEB owned hydro and coal power stations.
An equally helpful discussion of prices is needed. The Rs. 15.50 per unit charged by the CEB is an average, and the way in which the burden should be shared is not obvious.
In response to the hike, everybody from bakers to the manufacturers of bathroom tiles have said that they will have to increase the prices of their products to compensate. This has to be taken into account in deciding who should pay how much.
Unfortunately, this is not going to happen by itself.
The Government carefully avoids debate of ‘zero-sum games’. It doesn’t want to admit that it makes choices between different groups in society, since that would mean alienating somebody. It prefers us to believe that all situations are ‘win-win’ or at least ‘lose-lose’.
This is equally true of taxation, and we should remember that the 0.8% of GDP that the Government spends on the CEB is only a problem because the share of taxation is so low and falling.
We may assume that the reason the Government has still not published the report of its Presidential Commission on Taxation, submitted to Mahinda Rajapaksa way back in 2010, is that it doesn’t want to upset people who really ought to be paying more. It thinks that it can get away with collecting almost everything from taxes on goods and services, rather than taxes on incomes, which is very bad news for people with low or no incomes.
High income earners not only pay relatively little in taxes on goods and services, they also pay relatively little for electricity.
The JVP raised another important point with regard to the electricity tariff hike. Its spokesman asked why the Public Utilities Commission bothered to hold a ‘consultation’ when it paid absolutely no attention to the opinions of anybody who participated.
Its report makes amusing reading. An unfortunate employee clearly wasted a very long time summarising the suggestions of the 275 people who either sent a written submission or made a presentation at the public hearing. Every single one of them is marked ‘no’ or ‘no comment’. Even proposals to ‘reduce corruption in the CEB’ are ruled out.
Given that the public has to pay for the opportunity to express their ideas, this is more than a little disappointing.
However, it is hardly surprising.
The Public Utilities Commission was established by the administration of Ranil Wickremasinghe, as part of its effort to privatise the CEB.
By now, everybody knows that this is a policy that has failed in many countries.
Even the Government has accepted that the private sector cannot help with electricity. At the media briefing, Keheliya Rambukwella also confirmed that it would be progressively reducing its purchases from the private sector, in favour of CEB owned power stations. If only it had worked this out earlier!
Also, it doesn’t seem to have understood why, since it is cheerfully pursuing exactly the same policy of privatisation in even less appropriate sectors of the economy.
Most extraordinarily, last week it was reported that the Government is to sign agreements with companies interested in investing in medical equipment such as MRI and CT scanners to be installed in public hospitals. The Secretary to the Ministry of Health was careful to explain that these services would continue to be free at the point of use – the Government will pay the owners of the machines according to the number of patients treated. How on earth they can’t see that this will end up in the Government spending more than if it had bought the machines itself is a mystery.
It may not be long before the Government thinks that the country’s health needs can just as well be met in private hospitals, in much the same way as it is so eager to have private universities cater to its education needs.
A little more attention to the state of the economy is therefore most certainly needed.
That doesn’t mean that the Bodu Bala Sena and others can be neglected, since they present a very serious immediate danger to society. However, what could very easily be ignored are the rest of the conspiracy theories that surround the anti-Muslim campaign. Far more likely than it being the work of Norway or Israel or India or the United States or any other country is that Sri Lankans have created this problem all by themselves. In any case, nobody else is going to solve it.
*Kath Noble’s column may be accessed via http://kathnoble.wordpress.com/. She may be contacted at [email protected]
WikiLeaks: We have done all that the IMF asked – Basil said to US
WikiLeaks: What the US is doing to us is shocking – Central Bank Governor
WikiLeaks: GOSL refused salary hike – then because of the war and now because of the IMF
WikiLeaks: In Reality Economic Decisions Are Made By Brothers
“I emphasized the importance of progress in reducing the role and profile of the military in the North, and full respect for human rights” – thus said Robert Blake, an US official flying regularly to Sri Lanka bringing messages from his Government. Interesting as the statement is, it raises one simple question – in which international law book does it say that the US can have over thousands of foreign military bases while US can dictate to a sovereign nation on how to place its military inside its country? This is the question Sri Lankans like to ask and have answered. When the nations legally made to host these US foreign installations oppose US presence, what “accountability” does the US have for respecting the calls of these natives – since The “Status of Forces Agreement” has guaranteed that US cannot be held accountable for their crimes in any country that the US has bases in.
Exact US foreign military bases: Keep Guessing
It is believed that the US has over 1000 foreign military bases in over 120 nations and territories while UK and France have a further 200 in their former colonies. Inside these territories and nations the US bases and outposts are equally shocking. The number of US personnel currently stationed number over 160,000 and excludes US personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico and Kwajalein Atoll. All bases functions as storage facilities for weapons including nuclear arms, training, intelligence gathering, “echelon” bases monitor all email, phone and data communication traffic, extra-judiciary transport, imprisonment and torture of which Guantanamo Bay is the best example.
World War 2 gave US the excuse to strategize and establish a global network of military bases to protect its interests and those of its allies. Ironically, much of the security concerns US has today results from its own self-destructive actions and bullying approach. But, the “security factor” has been used to install bases in East Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. Thus, the bases are crucial for US, NATO and EU and are perfect to overthrow governments diplomatically or militarily. The shocking military invasions numbering over 300 over the past century have been launched from these foreign bases thus the need to understand the threat posed to national security of any country entering the “enemy” list or “economic target” list.
The US has divided the world into 6 territories – 4 are located in the US and the other 2 in Stuttgart where the European Command territory stretches from Greenland to Alaska including Turkey, while the AFRICOM oversees military operations in Africa. EUCOM and AFRICOM is authorized to command US missions from Germany. Germany is the center of US military intelligence in Europe. Its not just foreign bases that the US has secured. What about the buildings, the heavy infrastructure, the storage tanks, the runways, rail lines and even pipelines that the US secures in all of these nations and territories?
To add to the confusion has been the numbers of private security contractors like Blackwater (Xe) who are based in all of the locations that the US troops are in. It is they who carry out the drone attacks and have been responsible for much of the mayhem taking place in the Middle East through their mercenary services.
Bases in Iraq and Afghanistan
The number of US bases in Iraq (505) were revealed only after US troops were preparing to leave Iraq. Officially, we are told that the US has removed troops from Iraq but does this not include the Dept of Defense staff currently in Iraq? The bases in Afghanistan is over 1500 counting all the forward operating bases, checkpoints, mega-bases, military installations and other logistical support facilities. The number of US troops stands at over 100,000 if not more. In 2002 NATO had 800 bases in Afghanistan. We may never know the exact numbers as at present but the Afghan bases are not reducing! Another question is why would US and NATO desire to have bases with sophisticated offices and gigantic airbases only along the gas and oil pipeline that is being built?
Why is it that the entirety of US bases in Afghanistan are all located along the route of the gas/oil pipeline? Why has opium production increased by a staggering 3100% (from 185tons before arrival of US in 2001 and now 5800tons in 2011) – Afghanistan accounts for 90% of opium and cannabis supplies to the world? What about the precious minerals like lithium, gold, iron, copper and cobalt that has also been discovered? Opium, morphine, cannabis, heroin, codeine, thebaine are all sought after by pharmaceutical companies.
Unknown to most of us Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush region is the home to rich soil – uranium, copper, lithium, gold and iron ore worth upto $ 3trillion. Hajigak area is said to contain 1.8tons of iron ore. Lithium is rare but needed for cell phones, portable computers, electric car batteries and so Afghanistan certainly has much to offer the mining industries!
The 9/11 attackers were not Iraqi’s nor had they links to Al Qaeda, neither did Iraq have WMDs but Iraq was attacked. US attacked Iraq to secure 115billion barrels of oil reserves! US spends $ 900billion per year on destruction when 49m Americans live in poverty and 46million depend on food stamps to survive and 4m are homeless.
Are there geological treasures in Sri Lanka in particular the North and East apart from the natural harbor?
US has 293 bases in Germany – why is it necessary for the US and UK to have bases in Germany or Japan 65 years after World War with over 70,000 US troops currently in Germany, more than 45,000 US soldiers in Japan and close to 30,000 US troops in South Korea?
The largest overseas US base is in Ramstein Air Base where US sent 40,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2009 – soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan are flown and then sent to Landstuhl the largest US military hospital. Ramstein is used to cover 3 continents (51 nations) and has the largest US military shopping center and a 350 room hotel. There are 20 nuclear weapons at Buchel guarded by 50 US special forces troops. Over 80% of supplies of weapons, troops and other logistical requirements are routed via Germany. In 2008, there were over 1350 military transport landings in Leipsiz including 500,000 GIs en route to or from Iraq and Afghanistan. German-owned DHL has the exclusive US Army contract for courier services in Afghanistan and Iraq. Commercial airports like Hahn and US training at Grafenwohr is also provided.
Though the reunification agreement of the early 90s gives Germany the right to cancel US bases the Stationing of Forces Agreements with the US makes it unlikely that Germany would prohibit or restrict US military bases as Turkey did following the Iraq invasion though majority of Germans opposed the Iraq invasion.
The Netherlands is another US ally and hosts 7 US bases with nuclear warheads including 2 undisclosed locations that functions are reconnaissance flights over Colombia. All US arms and materials enter US without going through Dutch customs. All pilots flying on KLM have signed contracts that declare they have to take direct orders from the US air force in case of a war.
Asia – Countering China and Pilfering Resources
Following the Korea war the US has over 100 bases and facilities in Korea. Cases of US crimes in Korea are many yet US soldiers are never accountable and are instead repatriated where military court generally declares them “not guilty” or passes the most lenient of judgments. No damages can be claimed by the victims as the guilty enjoys legal immunity.
Iran and Pakistan have also begun building an oil and natural gas pipeline traversing Afghanistan and the pipeline has completed the Iranian portion and is now at the Pakistani border. Iran, Pakistan and even Afghanistan are all looking to push US away. While the US has been doling blood and money into these nations the people hate the US and are now looking for partners in China. US is seeking to include India into its periphery.
Rising demand for closure of US bases
Much of the outcries to close foreign military bases is due to their impact on land, water resources, communications, environment and health, cultural identity and the crimes that take place with foreign troops violating humanitarian international laws but having a carte blanche and immunity.
The military bases are located in strategic places, not only from the political and economic point of view, but they are placed near natural resources such as oil, water and biodiversity.
The US appears to care less over the rising numbers of calls for the closure of its military bases on the grounds that the facilities are undermining international peace and security as they are stations meant to prepare for war. Let us not forget that it was the US bases in Germany, Turkey, Diego Garcia, Saudi Arabia and other pro-US Gulf States that facilitated the Iraq invasion. Aerial bombings on Pakistan are launched from Diego Garcia, Ecuador base is used for covert military actions on Colombia, Iraq and Turkey bases functions as intelligence missions for Iran and Syria.
Iran is aware that it is being watched from US-occupied Iraq and Afghanistan while 8 of its neighbors are also hosting US/NATO bases. Moreover Iran is also faced with threats from US-backed nuclear powers of Israel, Pakistan and India and nuclear warheads in Turkey.
These foreign bases are causing social and environmental problems – rises in rapes by US soldiers, crimes, pollution, health hazards caused by testing conventional and non-conventional weapons are grounds for the opposition. The tragedy is that the agreements signed to enable the presence of US troops in these countries makes US soldiers unaccountable and immune from all local laws.
Nevertheless, it has not deterred residents from crying foul – activists and locals protested against expansion of US base with a new landing strip in Italy, the people of Okinawa, Japan are continuing their opposition that 30% of the island of Okinawa is being used by the US military since World War 2 and Okinawans even blocked the construction to a new base which was stopped in 2008 by a US court on ecological grounds. Residents of Okinawa have increased their opposition due to 12 MV-22 Osprey aircrafts operating in highly populated areas (Iwakuni, Yamaguchi, Ginowan and Okinawa) following crashes in Morocco and Florida. The Status of Forces agreement is a hindrance to the Japanese Government taking any action though US moved 4700 marines to Guam and 3000 to Hawaii, Philippines and Australia. Okinawa is important to the US because of its vantage on China, Taiwan and North Korea. However Futenma base (in the city of Ginowan which has over 90,000 residents) is unlikely to be ever moved off Okinawa. The plight of the Okinawians is made worse because Okinawa has only 4 seats in Japan’s lower house therefore the people’s verdict is of little consequence to political decisions.
Africans strongly opposed the US Africa Command with a headquarters costing over US$ 500m with close to 2000 US troops in Djibouti.
Natives from Puerto Rico (Vieques) were expelled from their homes to make way for a US bomb testing range that used 2/3 of the island and protests resulted in US navy withdrawing in 2004.
In 1973, under the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) all citizens of Diego Garcia were rounded up, put on ships and sent to Mauritius following a US-UK deal allowing US to have an airbase in Diego Garcia. However, the Chagossian natives have won court cases in the UK to their right to return by that right has been blocked by British executive orders.
A RAND Corporation study reveals that 57% of all Germans want a complete withdrawal of US troops from Germany.
There are numerous local campaigns and movements like the International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases and the No Bases Network that are continuing the fight to resist military bases overseas and making progress internationally. The closure of the Manta military base in Ecuador is one such success story.
The cost of running over 1000 military bases overseas is over $ 100billion annually and excludes costs for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of the 2012 Federal Budget 59% – USD553billion has gone towards military and homeland security. 2% on Agriculture, Justice and Energy, 4% on Dept of State, Urban Development & Housing, 6% on education and healthcare &15% on other. In 1990 the national debt was $ 3.2trillion today it is a whopping $ 15.7trillion and counting (a 500% increase in 22 years).The next question is how or who has benefited from $ 11.5trillion spending on war?19 hijackers who pulled off 9/11 has resulted in US spending $ 3trillion on wars and denying the American people their own freedom and liberties. Yet the irony is that since 1941 the US has NOT being attacked by any foreign power to warrant spending on the military. It then appears that much of the hate the US administrations and its media enjoy promoting amongst the masses are self-created. With the creation of nuclear missiles that should be ample security! The currentreliance of pre-emptive wars has made the US financially defunct and internationally mocked by those aware of the truth.
Meanwhile, globally the world spends $ 1.7trillion annually on designing new ways to kill, 13m die every year from starvation, 925m are undernourished, 1 child dies every 5 seconds due to hunger (16,000 daily deaths and 6m deaths cer year) – the cost taken to make a missile could give lunch to a school for 5 years! Does US elect representatives to allocate 44% of taxes towards killing?
It is the Politicians and not the military that start wars often coerced to do so by the super rich whose avarices and sadisms forces Governments to leave the fighting role to the poor. People are simply pawns and they die like dogs while millions is spent on devising lies to feed the world. Then comes the patriotic speeches for the bravery of the troops who had been sacrificed.
Over 6500 US soldiers have died while close to 50,000 are badly injured. Suicide rates of soldiers have increased by 80% – 300,000 that returned from Iraq and Afghanistan suffered post-traumatic stress disorders.
The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has suggested to cut US troops in Europe and Asia by one-third which would save America $ 8.5billion in 2015 will the US close its bases?
The Violent Truth
What America needs to understand is that if it thinks the world hates America it is because American Governments are killing innocent people – none of them are “terrorists”. America is spending trillions for the past 11 years and who has benefited? American taxpayers are footing the bill, American soldiers are sacrificing their lives and body parts to enable a handful of companies to reap gigantic profits from drugs!
The US became the sole superpower in 1989 with the collapse of the Soviet Union – why would it want to go to wars without provocation and spend trillions? What kind of an acceptable excuse is it to argue that the US arms industry is employing millions and benefiting the US when all that they are doing is to make weapons that are meant to kill and create a supply for those weapons?
Invasions with military action has nothing to do with security of nations but everything to do with pilfering nations by a handful that uses politicians to order wars and invasions so that their corporations could walk in and plunder the natural resources of nations is what todays wars, terrorism and R2P is all about.
US tax payers are paying for numerous foreign invasions putting their country in debt while a handful of elite global powers are reaping the benefits and US envoys play puppet diplomatic dictators to former colonies!
We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower
We know more about war than we know about peace, we know more about killing than we know about living. We need to now change.
“Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear” – Bertrand Russell (Unpopular Essays)
The malignant police response to the peaceful vigil organised by the Facebook group, ‘Buddhists Questioning Bodu Bala Sena’ proved one fact beyond doubt – the BBS is a protected species, protected by the Rajapaksas. According to video footage, the police acted as if they were the private army of the BBS, threatening and harassing the participants of the vigil. Clearly the police were under orders to display a zero-tolerance towards these non-violent protestors – just as they were under orders to employ a laissez-faire demeanour towards the mob attacking Fashion Bug.
The BBS will be above the law, so long as it does the Rajapaksas’ work.
The toxic conduct of the BBS can ignite an anti-Muslim Black July, jeopardise Colombo’s relations with the Islamic world and inflict a new war on Sri Lanka. Given these deadly potentialities, the order to protect and facilitate the BBS (and its offshoots) would have had to come from the very top. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa might be the Godfather of the BBS, but he could not have extended consistent patronage to an organisation trying to incite a Buddhist-Muslim conflict without the approval of his brother, the President.
According to video footage, the police acted as if they were the private army of the BBS
Ethnic overdetermination died with the Tiger. The Siblings need a new (ethno-religious) overdetermination to prevent their Sinhala base from focusing on socio-economic issues (such as the electricity hike which will have a punitive impact on the poor/middle classes while shielding the rich). Fear of an ‘Islamic threat’ can reduce the Sinhala masses into a state of infantile compliance and make them respond to iniquitous economic-shocks with resignation rather than anger.
What about the possible loss of Islamic support, internationally? Perhaps the question should be approached from a different angle. The Rajapaksas need Islamic support because they are having problems with the West on democracy/human rights/accountability issues. If the West discards these concerns and welcomes the Rajapaksas into its fold,Colombowould not need Islamic allies.
Then there is the Magnitsky Act.
Last week, the Obama Administration imposed a travel-cum-asset ban on 12 Russian officials accused of rights violations under the Magnitsky Act. The EU plans to enact its own Magnitsky Act. Imposing generalised sanctions on a country for the crimes of its leaders amounts to collective punishment; it is unjust and ineffective – because the costs are borne not by the leaders but by the people. Laws such as the Magnitsky Act can localise punitive measures to miscreant-leaders/officials and ensure that ordinary people do not have to pay for the sins of their rulers.
Both Gotabhaya and Basil Rajapaksa are US citizens. They cannot but have properties and bank accounts in their adopted country. When President Rajapaksa needs medical help, his preferred option is the US, not China or Russia. The mere thought of the Magnitsky Act being applied against Lankan leaders/officials would thus be a nightmare for all three Siblings. Such a development may take years, but the Rajapaksas would want to take preventive measures early on, given what is at stake for them personally.
The Rajapaksas do not want to become Asian Chavezes. If there is an international model they might want to emulate it is of those Third World despots who were/are welcome in the West, despite innumerable tyrannical deeds.
How to build bridges to the West without abandoning the despotic measures necessary to maintain familial rule – that would be the Rajapaksa Gordian Knot.
One method is image-laundering. Since the Rajapaksa diplomatic and propaganda apparatuses are not up to the task of creating an Orwellian counter-reality, the job is being outsourced to Two American lobbying firms: the Majority Group and the Thompson Advisory Group (TAG). The TAG had only one reported client in 2012; its annual reported income was a measly US$ 80,000[i];Sri Lanka will pay this nonentity US$ 66,600 per month! The Majority Group seems so tiny that it does not have to disclose its lobbying details (firms with an annual income less than US$ 10,000 are exempt);Sri Lanka will pay this firm US$ 50,000 per month!
The urgent Rajapaksa need to mend fences with Washington might also explain another curious development: the BBS’s sudden American visit.
The BBS’s interest in sprucing-up its image is understandable. But why commence that image-remaking effort in theUS, a country with a Christian-majority, the home base of Evangelical churches the BBS loves to hate?
The BBS in America
The Rajapaksas continue to target their opponents/critics; the Uthayan paper was attacked, again, and the Sirisa TV was threatened, again. They have no intention of implementing the democratising recommendations of their own LLRC. They seem to be intent on either postponing the Northern provincial election or winning it by force.
They want to do all this without jeopardising the Commonwealth Summit. And they must escape the Magnitsky Act.
During the Cold War decades, the adoption of neo-liberal economics and anti-left politics sufficed for anyThird Worlddespot to become the darling of the West. Currently, a country which is anti-democratic can win Western favour only if it is seen as a target of ‘Islamic terrorism’.
Immediately after the horrendous Bostonbombing, a website notorious for rightwing insanities carried an article[ii] which blamed an Iran-Al Qaeda combine and mentioned Sri Lanka as a conduit state. According to the article’s unnamed source, Iran’s Quds Forces are collaborating with “Hezbollah and elements of al-Qaida with links to individuals in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. He said that under Quds Force guidance, Hezbollah recruited Sunni terrorists allied with al-Qaida factions in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh who then entered the US for terrorist activities”[iii].
Given the schisms within Islam (which cause far more murderous violence than anti-Americanism), a nexus between the Shia Iran/Hezbollah and the Sunni Al Qaeda is as impossible as Mahayanism being welcomed inSri Lankaby the BBS. But this is the sort of insane conspiracy theory which is beloved by fanatics of every religion.
And such myths are used to justify the targeting of ethnic/religious/racial ‘Other’ as the anti-Semites did with the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ hoax.
One can easily imagine a meeting of minds between the purveyors of such delusions in the US and their saffron-robed Lankan counterparts.
The Obama administration does not subscribe to the myth of an anti-Islam civilisational conflict, but a future Republican administration (fortunately an unlikely possibility) might. Islamophobia is a powerful politico-ideological current within the Republican Party. Republican Islamophobes believe that “Islamic Sharia Law is creeping into American courts; the Department of Justice has come under the sway of the Muslim Brotherhood; and the President’s engagement ring includes secret writing that indicates Muslim loyalties…. in August delegates at the Republican National Convention voted to include a plank in their platform affirming their opposition to Sharia law” (Mother Jones – 3.1.2013). The Republican Party therefore would be far more receptive to Rajapaksa overtures, if the Siblings can portray themselves as warriors battling the ‘Islamic Threat’.
Is this the message the BBS is expected to convey to the Republican right, at the grassroots level, during its American sojourn?[iv]
[ii] The author of the article is Reza Kahlili, a self proclaimed CIA spy who in 2010 claimed that Iran “will attack Israel, European capitals, and the Persian Gulf region at the same time, then they will hide in a bunker (until a religious prophesy is fulfilled)…and kill the rest of the non-believers” (Washhington Post – 7.12.2010).Iran manifestly did not.
[iii] http://www.wnd.com/2013/04/u-s-was-warned-of-terror-attacks/ The World Net Daily is an ultra-right website infamous for its promotion of such delusions as the ‘Birther story’.
[iv] The BBS monks may have been deployed at least once previously on an unofficial diplomatic mission. Sometime in 2011, Rev. Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thero led a delegation to Norway. According to the CEO of the BBS, a purpose of the visit was to meet some of the hardline Tamil Diaspora groups. Why should Rev. Gnanasara et al, who relentlessly attack Tamil moderates, go all the way to Norway to meet pro-Tiger Tamils?
By Colombo Telegraph -“In pursuing this pro-U.S. program, Wickremesinghe has been supported by two dynamic advisers, Minister of Constitutional Affairs G.L. Peiris and Minister of Financial Reform Milinda Moragoda.” the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington.The Colombo Telegraph found the related leaked cable from the WikiLeak database. The cable classified as “CONFIDENTIAL” analyses the Sri Lanka
· Government allocates Rs.1000 million for 3 12 months housing loan scheme for safety forces personnel. · Government targets a US $ one hundred billion GDP by year 2016 to make the country a middle cash flow nation. · Re-forestation will be carried out to boost the forest coverage up to 35%. · Guaranteed price tag for paddy will be increased to Rs.35 and Rs.37 per kg.
Lately my friend RMB Senanayake has been severely critical of the present government for what he calls “unethical behaviour.” He judges that the government is “following only the Machiavellian ethics of politics which boil down to no ethics at all” (The Island 5 July). As a member of a party (LSSP) which is a constituent part of the government, I feel impelled to examine the validity of his judgment. I may be asked why? The answer is that RMBS is an honorable man whose opinions I respect. If his charge that the present government conducts itself with “no ethics at all” is true, then as a senior citizen first and a party political animal afterwards, I ought to do what I can to replace it with a better one. It is to help me to think through this grave problem that I go to the trouble of responding to RMBS publicly. The Editor of The Island merits high praise for promoting free and open discussion on such matters. Public discussions like this must be the sort of activity which Amartya Sen, the Indian philosopher and Nobel Laureate in economics, calls “democracy as public reason”. He regards “public reasoning” as an essential ingredient of participatory democracy.
The very fact that RMBS has invoked the political ethics of Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) to characterize the nature of the present government implies that there have been other governments in history which governed with “no ethics at all”. Machiavelli based his ethics of politics mainly on his observations of the actual political behavior of successful rulers of his time such as Ceasar Borgia in Roman Catholic Italy. In Machiavelli’s view ensuring the territorial integrity of Italy which was divided into many warring principalities, had to be the prime objective of rulers. It was to achieve this objective that he formulated his ethics of politics. When reading about the context in which his ethics came to be worked out, the thought occurred to me that in their view of the best interests of their states, all successful rulers of states whose territorial integrity was threatened, must have been compelled by circumstances at least occasionally to behave unethically. From this speculation, it was only a small step to the hypothesis that because all rulers aspire to be successful, they will if necessary tend to behave more or less unethically. At this point a sweeping generalization became irresistible: “All rulers tend to be unethical but some tend to be more unethical than others.”(Readers familiar with George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm (1945) will remember his famous aphorism: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”.
Biology being the only subject I have studied in some depth, I tried to figure out in biological terms why rulers of nations if necessary tend to behave unethically, in the best interests of their states. A plausible evolutionary explanation suggested itself. A nation is simply an expanded tribe (or super-tribe) engaged in the struggle for existence in the natural world. The imperative objective of a nation is survival by any means, at all costs. Biologically, first comes survival then comes ethics. (Bertolt Brecht’s memorable line “fodder comes first, then comes morality” comes to mind). In order to buttress this biological explanation with an input from political science, I appealed to the most erudite political scientist I know, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka through the columns of The Island (12 July). If my appeal caught his eye he ignored it perhaps on the (sensible) ground that the political education of an old medical fogey is not one of his priorities. Fortunately, illuminating insights into the problem came from other authorities.
Voicing the opinion of the formidable Friday Forum, Sri Lanka’s most distinguished diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala spoke learnedly about the importance of “a balanced and principled foreign policy” for our country. He asserted that in the “globalized multi-polar world we now live in, we have to interact pragmatically with other states”. Pragmatism is popularly understood as the theory of dealing with problems in a practical way without resorting to abstract principles. In my mind, however, pragmatism is associated with the great American medic, psychologist and philosopher William James and his definition of “truth”. In his History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell quotes pragmatist William James as follows: “…an idea is “true” so long as to believe it is profitable to our lives…the true is only the expedient in our thinking…our obligation to seek truth is part of our general obligation to do what pays…”. Russell mercilessly lampoons this definition of truth and ever since then for me pragmatism has been in bad odour. If William James’s definition of pragmatic truth is valid, a pragmatic foreign policy will boil down to doing “what pays”. It can be argued that such a pragmatic foreign policy is precisely what the present government has been carrying out according to its best lights. And no doubt all other governments too, must be pragmatic in their foreign policies. Predictably conflicts of interest are inevitable, producing the international mess the world is in.
Pragmatism in Practice
In a critique of Jayantha Dhanapala’s piece, K. Godage, perhaps our most experienced career diplomat, says that after the defeat of the LTTE in 2009, the Tamil diaspora succeeded in obtaining the support of the US, Britain and France to continue their pitch for Eelam. He then poses this question which helps to expose the real nature of a “pragmatic” foreign policy: “Would they (Britain and US) have supported the LTTE to destabilize this country had Britain continued to own plantations in this country or would the US have moved against Sri Lanka had Motorola, Harris and three other computer chip manufacturers setup their factories here?” In the considered evidence-based judgment of our most senior and respected diplomat, “those two countries would have stood by this country if they had such interests here”. (Sunday Island 25 August). That’s pragmatism for you, the obligation to do “what pays”! First comes capital, then comes ethics! Thus, my dear RMBS, it is not ethics but the antithesis of it, namely, naked economic self-interest that governs the relations between nations. And it can be cogently argued that in reason times Sri Lanka has been acting pragmatically i.e. doing what pays. By so doing Sri Lanka has succeeded in decisively defeating militarily the LTTE, the most blood-thirsty, murderous terrorist organization in recent world history. Though defeated militarily, the LTTE-inspired Eelam project continues unabated and the threat to the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka remains a real one. On the 24th of July this year I had the occasion to sit next to President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the same (marriage registrar’s) table. I took the opportunity to ask him a straight question: “Sir, why don’t you aspire to be a Dammasoka instead of remaining a Chandasoka? His unblinking instant reply was: “How can I try to do that when the TNA has not budged at all from the LTTE – Eelam project?” My only response was to ask in disbelief whether that is really so. The conversation ended abruptly at that point. The Defense Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who just escaped being blown to smithereens during the internecine conflict, is now in the position best equipped to judge the magnitude of the separatist threat. Understandably, the defense establishment is loath to run any risks and reacts – perhaps over-reacts – to perceived threats with no compunction. Equally understandably, RMBS of austere ethical propriety, finds the political behavior of the government
ethically reprehensible and morally repugnant. He asks whether “a state is free to ignore all moral values in the conduct of its business”. The rulers claim that they are in fact conducting state in accordance with their own moral imperatives, especially the need to counter decisively present and future threats to the territorial integrity of the state. RMBS indicts the government of practising Machiavellian ethics of politics forgetting that Niccolo Machiavelli formulated his ethics of politics, specifically with the aim of preserving the integrity of the Italian state of his time. Thus, there is an irreconcilable difference of opinion between RMBS and the rulers of the state duly elected to govern it. In this situation let me put the crucial question that arises in the starkest possible terms: Why should the government conduct its business in the way RMBS prescribes that it ought to? In other words, what is the authority on which RMBS bases his ethics?
Authority in Ethics
This raises a very fundamental question: What is the basis of authority in ethics? It so happens that “Authority in Ethics” is the title of a chapter in Bertrand Russell’s book called Human Society in Ethics and Politics published in 1952 when he was 80. He identifies four (overlapping) sources of authority in ethics: human authority, divine authority, the authority of truth and the authority of conscience. Given the absolutist tone of RMBS’s ethics, it is likely that his ethics derive from a divine source. A secular humanist has no argument to counter such a stance and the matter must end there. But a humanist could point out that if ethics are based on a human authority, then the only sanction known to ethics in a given society, is the assent of the majority in that society. In order to ascertain the thoughts and feelings of the people on a particular matter in a given society it is necessary to ask them, that is to say, to conduct an opinion poll. Conducting an opinion poll is essentially a political process. Thus, in the end ethics leads to politics. That no doubt is why the great Greek philosopher Aristotle regarded ethics as a branch of politics. In practice what the majority in a given society sanctions will constitute the ethics of the society at that point in time. If RMBS’s thoughts and feelings are not in consonance with those of the majority then his opinion (however ennobling it might be) becomes irrelevant. There is no other way to conduct public affairs in a democratic state. RMBS knows Churchill’s celebrated definition of democracy: “It is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried…” On the same analogy the present government may well be the worst one in living memory except for all the others. If RMBS considers matters dispassionately, the thoroughly amoral and unethical behavior of the US – which he seems to regard as the temple of democracy, the guardian of liberty, the dispenser of global justice, the citadel of free enterprise and the God-fearing secular state – in relation to Iraq, Libiya and Siriya, he must surely become less judgmental about the government in his own country. Let us not forget that this country endured a mortal threat to its existence from the worst expression of terrorism the world has seen in recent times. In this context, I will continue to support this government until my friend RMBS comes up with a specific named alternative to replace it. He must recommend it strongly, rationally and cogently instead of preaching transcendental ethics. I insist that he must name his recommended choice because in political matters nothing is easier to do than to indulge in unrelenting criticism of others and do nothing constructive.
A concluding relevant thought may be in order. As member of the LSSP, I stand firmly for the abolition of Sri Lanka’s version of the executive presidency which was criticized to death by Dr. N.M. Perera, the founding leader of the LSSP. I should strongly support every movement to abolish it. Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero whom I greatly respect knows how much I approve of his powerful campaign to abolish the executive presidency. President Mahinda Rajapaksa is the only one who has the power to do it. If he has the courage and wisdom to do it his name will shine in Sri Lanka’s history like a mighty star.
Presidency, of course is the problem! We are all concerned about the day to day happenings in the country, not so much of the Deraniyagala killing, but mostly of the Weliweriya shooting at present. The latter has overtaken by the former. But we should not lose sight of the larger picture and the key structural issues behind our predicament, if we need to genuinely seek solutions to our problems. Only passing comments on structural issues, either way, might not be sufficient. What we are facing is a systemic crisis without any exaggeration.
The President has not come up with any apology or even a statement after the brutal Weliweriya shooting. After all he is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces (not his brother!) in addition to being the Head of State and the Head of Government. It is unlikely that he would, except perhaps through his Secretary. That is the ‘immunity’ he enjoys under the Presidential Constitution. This is not to say that a statement or even an apology would ameliorate the situation.
‘Family bandyism’ of the Rajapaksas or MR’s split personality (smile and thuggery) might explain the specific nature of the regime, but not the generic character of the regime-system. Anyway, his personality has changed a lot after becoming the President and particularly after the end of the war. Perhaps it has lot to do with the happenings at the last stages of the war. There appears to be a serious deterioration in the ethical and moral premises of the regime and the personality.
The way the regime operates today is not so much different to the regimes operated under the presidential system previously, with some variations, except that the present situation is much worse than before. We are familiar with the way the situation of the ethnic pogrom against the Tamils was handled in July 1983 under JR Jayewardene regime. That propelled the beginning of the brutal war for two and a half decades. We are also familiar with the way the second insurrection was quelled in 1989/90 under the Premadasa regime not to speak of other atrocities. Of course the uprising had to be suppressed but not the killings of Wijeweera or others after taken into custody. The Matale grave yard is supposed to belong to that period. It is only recently that some security personnel of the former President CBK finally were convicted harassing and assaulting two prominent artists those days. Perhaps only sane President was DB Wijetunga for a brief period! But even he was insane in his utterances like denying any ethnic conflict in the country.
Are those just questions of personalities? I don’t think so. I would argue that the presidential system was primarily responsible of course along with the personalities involved. Parliamentary systems also could become degenerated and Prime Ministers also could act like authoritarian Presidents. Margaret Thatcher might be the best recent past example. But that is not a structural condition. It is also possible that ‘family bandyism’ exists even under a parliamentary system unless other measures are not taken and unless the political culture is changed. That is also our past experience before 1978.
Parliamentarianism and Presidentialism are not polar opposites. But there is a fundamental difference in terms of representative democracy and that matters most for accountability, transparency, responsibility and finally for democracy itself. We use representative democracy because direct democracy is not practical and also perhaps people are not interested. In a parliamentary democracy people elect a general assembly called Parliament for primarily legislative purposes and an executive emerges or selected within that which is again responsible for that Parliament. This is the best system.
The executive is crucial in the state structure, whether parliamentary or presidential, because it is the body which guides and directs the bureaucracy and the armed forces which can easily trample on people’s human rights and whose services (in the case of bureaucracy) are crucial in delivering or not delivering necessary services to the people including ‘clean water’ in the case of Weliweriya!
The judiciary could be structurally independent in both systems; however the tendency to trample on the judiciary is high (or almost certain in some countries) under the presidential system than in a parliamentary democracy. Sri Lanka is a clear example for both.
In a presidential system, there are two (confusing) electoral processes. One is to elect a Parliament primarily for legislative purposes. Then there is another process to elect a President for executive purposes directly by the people. Superficially, this may appear more democratic, but that is not the case. The distance between the people and the President is so vast and not punctuated by intermediary process. A President’s responsibility to Parliament is only nominal if at all. This is the dangerous aspect of a presidential system which can easily create authoritarianism or much worse as he/she controls the military and the bureaucracy. I am only outlining the barebones in this article.
In a parliamentary system, the executive functions are pinned down to extensive procedures and these procedures are effective unless there is something basically wrong in party politics. In a presidential system there may be some procedures (i.e. COPE in Sri Lanka) but those procedures may or may not be effective. Most Presidents might be laughing at them.
The main point is that there are inbuilt structural reasons for any presidential system to become authoritarian unless there are strong constitutional traditions in a country. This is the very reason why even the US presidential system was criticised by Woodrow Wilson although he didn’t make any attempt to change it! Presidential system in the US was an evolution, but when it was introduced in other countries the very purpose was to have a strong government or a strongly ruler disregarding the rule of law and human rights. The following was what JR Jayewardene said about democratic freedoms and rule of law when he argued for a presidential system in the country (Selected Speeches, 1944-1973, p. 91).
A democratic system of Government includes what are termed democratic freedoms, the freedom to vote, freedom of opposition, freedom of speech and writing, and the rule of law, among other freedoms. Do these freedoms alone satisfy the people? I do not think so.
Usually there is no denial on the part of anyone who believes or defends a presidential system that there would be a democratic deficit as a result of a presidential system. In the case of Sri Lanka, however, this deficit is colossal. The shooting at Weliweriya and the Presidential system are interlinked. As the popular saying goes, ‘there is no point in shouting that the snake is biting (kanavo, kanavo!),’ if you put the fellow inside your sarong.
There is another constitutional factor relevant to Weliweriya shooting. Who is the Member of Parliament for the Weliweriya area? What was he doing? No one can answer this question I believe. In the previous representative system, it belonged to the Gampaha seat and it was SD Bandaranaike who represented the people in the area in Parliament in 1977. Those days there was a close connection between the people and the parliamentary representative and in any local issue, the MP intervened or mediated. This has almost completely disappeared to the thin air under the present Presidential Constitution. I recollect during my young days in the Moratuwa electorate how close and how responsible the MPs behaved with the people. This is the same where I live now in Australia, the electorate called the Green Way. In Sri Lanka, this has changed to create an authoritarian system even MPs divorced from the people not to speak of the President.
When the presidential system was introduced to Sri Lanka it was mainly defended on the basis of an economic argument. I happened to interview President Jayewardene in April 1993 and he opined that it was also created to defend the country from possible separatism that time. He said that there was a call to ‘do a de Gaulle.’ But the experience has proved otherwise. The country became ripped apart after the introduction of the presidential system. One may argue whether this is a direct result or not. It may be true that the presidential system perhaps facilitated the defeating of the LTTE quickly, but at a particular cost to democracy. The saying goes that ‘when you fall into the pit you have to come out from the same opening.’
President Rajapaksa has gone beyond de Galle or Jayewardene. In fact he has virtually ‘done a Mugabe’ with the 18th Amendment. With the massive military and the bureaucracy under his beck and call he hopes to continue to be the ruler of this country like President Mugabe in Zimbabwe unless it is stopped through a broad and a strong opposition through democratic campaigning. What is important is to end the vicious cycle of violence and violations by terminating the presidential system by an authentic parliamentary system with a fair system of devolution of power.
It is a pleasure to be back in my alma mater on its 190th anniversary. All old boys will agree that we owe a lot to St John’s College for all that we have achieved here in Sri Lanka and abroad in our personal and professional lives. I want to start with two brief stories to demonstrate how the foundation provided by St John’s has helped me in my academic career. I hope that these stories show our students how a strong and meaningful early education is important for our success.
When I went to the US for graduate education from University of Jaffna, I was worried that the knowledge there would be so advanced that I won’t be able to follow the courses. For one particular course, I thought I should talk to the professor before the class to see if he would recommend that I delay following that course. Professor John Baugh spoke with me for about ten minutes and asked me what books I had read in my field and which scholars I knew. Half way through the conversation, his eyes widened, and he said, “Do you realize that you are one of the most widely read students in this department? You obviously have good reading skills and academic training. Where did you get this educational foundation?”
My mind immediately went to my training at St John’s. From my early grades here, St John’s has always reserved time for the library. Students were taken to the Handy Library for a whole class period, to learn how to search for books, get familiar with the cataloguing system, and read quietly without talking to others in the silence of the library. That experience trained me in many things. It developed an appreciation for books, it disciplined me to focus on the reading, and it inculcated patience to read without distractions. It is this training that helped me to cultivate my reading habit. When I went to the US, I found that I was not only ready for my graduate education, I could also overcome the new academic challenges I faced there because of the reading skills St John’s had developed in me.
My second story relates to the skills of public speaking and memory. The college has always reserved time for literary associations, speech competitions, and concerts. Particularly challenging to me was the Tamil Oratory competition in upper school. We were provided a choice of topics, given a few hours to prepare, and then expected to stand before three judges and the audience to deliver the speech. This competition required good skills of thinking, planning, memory, and spontaneous delivery. This is because the time given was not enough to write a whole speech and read it. The skills I developed from this experience still remain with me. I still prepare the outline of my talk mentally, organize the points effectively, and speak without writing down the whole speech. This skill sometimes surprises my listeners. Recently, a senior professor from the US took me aside after I gave the keynote in a major professional conference and whispered: “That was a great talk. But tell me the truth: you wrote the talk and then memorized it, right?” She was surprised by my memory (that I can speak for an hour without notes), organization skills (that the talk was still very coherent), and delivery (that it was done with confidence). I had to explain that the talk wasn’t written or memorized. I had developed all the skills she mentioned during my early education at St John’s.
What is interesting about both examples is that these skills of reading, speaking, thinking, and planning cannot be developed on a single day or in a short time. You can’t develop them simply before an examination or a lecture. They take time to develop. It is for this reason that a solid educational foundation is important. The habits and practices we develop in childhood support us in the challenges we face later in life. They develop further and help us achieve even more complex and demanding tasks. Many scholars think that some of these skills are dying today. Young people are losing the discipline of reading consistently for a long period of time because technology offers them instant and disconnected messages from multiple media. Memory is impoverished as students depend on readymade sources for information and are not expected to remember them for future use. I would suggest that the skills St John’s developed in me are still valuable and have helped countless former students succeed in their education and professions.
These skills are part of the tradition of St John’s. From its very beginning, the college has given a high place for these skills. The first school library association was started in 1890. There are other Johnian traditions everyone in Jaffna and even in Sri Lanka talks about. The college is well known for developing a solid background in English, cultivating a good discipline, and providing a balanced education that includes spirituality, sports, and extracurricular activities. However, we cannot remain satisfied with these traditions. When we have profound social changes around us, both locally and globally, we have to reconsider what new traditions we have to develop to serve our students and communities better. So, I want to focus in this talk on five changes we need in education to respond to the changes around us. To make it easier for students to remember them, each of the changes I propose starts with the letter C. Let me see if you can remember them after this talk!
The first change to consider is orientating to learning as creative. We have to focus on creating new knowledge rather than repeating old knowledge. There has been an observation that while western communities are good in inventing new things, eastern communities are good in applying and implementing them. Is there something in the culture of the western people that values novelty, while eastern people value tradition and orthodoxy? This attitude to knowledge could also be because we in Asia give so much importance to examinations, which cultivate a focus on established knowledge and the ability to repeat it. However, learning involves more than passing an examination. Our students have to also produce new findings, discover new knowledge, and invent new technology. If not, we will always be followers of other communities rather than leaders. We will also not be able to develop our own communities in the ways that are relevant for us.
Consider how students are encouraged to be creative in the United States. Every year, there are nationwide science competitions for school students to display their new inventions. One of the winners in this year’s competition was Eesha Khare from California, whose parents come from India. She produced a supercapacitator, a gadget that will fully charge cell phones in 20 seconds, in extremely short time. She won a prize of 50,000 dollars, which she is going to use to attend Harvard. These inventions are not playful. They actually lead to industrial production and make real changes in people’s lives. Eesha is already courted by major high tech companies. They say “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In our community now, we have a lot of need. We have experienced a lot of destruction during the war. You can invent things that make a difference in the lives of our people.
Change number two: learning should be critical. By critical, I mean that we should have a questioning attitude towards knowledge and facts. This is connected to the previous change. We cannot be creative without questioning old knowledge. Asian communities don’t always encourage a questioning attitude because they believe that authorities such as parents, teachers, and leaders know what is right for everyone. Questioning is discouraged because it is considered a challenge to those in authority. I think the tragedies of our community in our recent history have resulted from our inability to question our leaders. Eventually, such an unquestioning attitude led to destructive policies and actions.
However, questioning doesn’t mean rejecting everything that our community holds as important. A critical learning can actually help us understand and appreciate our traditions and values. It can also help us understand our limitations and work towards formulating new values and traditions. Questioning can start from what goes in our schools and go all the way to what goes in our country and even in the world. Consider how students in a school in the United States, Wilcox County High School in Georgia, engaged in critical thinking. Their school had a tradition of holding two year-end parties—one for white students, the other for colored students. This April, some students thought this tradition was flawed. They wanted to establish a new tradition in which students from all the races can have one unified party. A group of four students from different racial backgrounds organized a committee to plan this party. There was considerable opposition from their town. There was talk that these students will be punished or ostracized. However, these students didn’t give up. Eventually, when they held a successful party for all the racial groups, their story was in the national news media. They were applauded by the whole country for inventing a new tradition for their school.
Change number three: learning as civic. Civic means relating to the community we live in and being good citizens. Do we see our learning connected to making a better living condition for our community? Or do we engage only in learning for the sake of learning? If our only objective in going to school is to get all A’s in the AL examinations, learning is not civic. It is selfish. Our competitive examinations have made us focus only on displaying our own mastery of knowledge, rather than considering how this knowledge can be used in the service of our community. The civic attitude can enhance learning rather than distracting students from education.
Consider the example of civic learning from a school in the United States. In the city of Madison some years back, teachers in a high school divided their students into small groups and gave them projects relating to some burning issues in their community. Students had to study the problem and write a report on how to solve it. One group focused on the increasing rates of asthma in their town. The four students divided the responsibilities among themselves. One student visited local communities and talked to parents and leaders about their view that pollution was causing asthma. Another student interviewed the municipal authorities in the town on sanitary conditions. The third student did library research on news reports and scholarly research on the connection between asthma and environmental pollution. The fourth student interviewed scientists in the local university to understand how pollution caused asthma. As they conducted this project, the students were sharpening their learning skills—they were reading advanced research and news material; they were developing interviewing skills; they were writing reports on what they observed and learned. Their motivation to solve the problem in their community made all this learning interesting and engaging. Eventually, they wrote a combined final report on their recommendations on how reducing environmental pollution can reduce the rate of asthma and submitted it to the mayor. When they connected their education to solving a problem in their community, the students found learning motivating, meaningful, and enjoyable.
That example also illustrates the fourth change I wish to propose: learning as collaborative. What we see in the Madison example is how students work together, pool their collective strengths, and collaborate in solving a problem. There is more strength and more knowledge when four people put their heads together. More importantly, collaborative learning develops a new attitude and value towards learning, based on cooperation. The examination-based learning in our community has developed in us a lot of selfishness. Each student for himself or herself, seems to be the guiding principle. We are expected to show how we can outsmart the other students. However, in the adult world of work, we need to collaborate with others to solve problems or implement changes.
While collaboration between students is important, another sort of collaboration now involves teachers and students. Even teachers are adopting the attitude that they are not there to lecture to students, pretend they are the sole authorities on all kinds of knowledge, or give the right answers that have to be accepted uncritically. Teachers now think of themselves as facilitators of learning. They arrange the class, texts, and assignments in such a way that students can collaborate with each other and with teachers to learn creatively and critically. In my teaching in the US, I am always open to the possibility that some students might know more about certain areas or topics than me. When I am asked a question for which I don’t know the answer, I immediately confess that and promise to find it out in the next class rather than giving students a false answer simply to save my honor. I am open to being challenged by students on some of my positions, and engage in a dialogue with them to move to a higher understanding. Rather than portraying me as a weak teacher, this collaborative attitude actually shows that I am strong and confident. I know what I know that I can be humble about my limitations and be open to learning new knowledge from others.
This attitude is going to be difficult for Sri Lankan teachers who are treated like Gods. I want to discuss a particularly controversial practice in our teaching in this country that is drawing a lot of attention these days: Caning, or corporal punishment. Recently, I have received many email messages from Tamil people living abroad. They tell me: Teachers in Sri Lanka seem to have no limits on how they can use either the cane or their own hands in hitting their students. In some cases, this goes beyond punishment to physical abuse. Students end up with marks all over their body. We have to start a discussion in our community on the relative effectiveness of caning versus non-physical punishment.
Physical punishment has been banned in many countries. It has been absent from French schools since the 19th century. In 2008 a teacher was fined for slapping a student in France. In UK, in state-run schools, and also in private schools where at least part of the funding came from government, corporal punishment was outlawed by Parliament with effect from 1987. The Supreme Court of Canada outlawed caning in 2004. In the US, it is left to each state to develop a policy for schooling. Majority of the states have banned caning in public schools. New Jersey was the earliest to ban it in 1867. Physical punishment has also been banned from many socialist countries because they believe that it is contrary to socialist values. From the 1917 revolution onwards, corporal punishment was outlawed in Russia and the Soviet Union. Other socialist countries have followed this practice. In all these countries, if a teacher hits a student, he or she will be taken to the courts.
However, not caning or hitting the student doesn’t mean not punishing. Punishment is important for cultivating discipline. But certain non-corporal forms of punishment can be more effective. For example, my 11 year old son is very talkative in the class. He is very naughty and gets punished a lot. But he has never been slapped or caned. Teachers have many other good options. They can detain him after school or keep him in the class while others are playing during the interval. When other students earn reward points for being good, he will lose his points. These points are used at the end of the school year to buy things donated by parents. In the worst case, the parents can be called up (which my wife and I did once) or he can be suspended from school (which hasn’t happened to him yet: Thank God!). Some of these forms of punishment are very effective because they motivate my son to be good on his own recognition. He has the choice of either earning points or losing them, and suffer the consequences at the end of the year. So, caning motivates students negatively through fear and pain, rather than positively by encouraging students to do better.
I know that many parents and teachers in our community feel “aTiyaata maaTu paTiyaatu” and feel that caning is the only form of effective punishment. But soon we have to come to terms with the changing orientations to punishment and schooling around the world. We are living in a connected world where events and practices in one community are relayed to others in a matter of minutes. If a student in Jaffna gets beaten this morning, his uncles, aunts, and cousins in UK, Canada, Australia, and the US know within minutes how many times he was beaten, how many marks he has on his body, and which doctor he was taken to. So many Tamil people abroad have started asking: “Why is this primitive practice still continuing in our community? Why are teachers so abusive, angry, and out of control with their students? Are teachers taking out their own frustrations on their students? Is caning a legalized form of cruelty in our community? Is caning a reflection of how our community has become comfortable with violence after many years of war?”
That brings me to the final point: learning as cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitan means being a global citizen. Today we cannot separate ourselves from developments in other communities. As I just mentioned, we cannot think anymore that what we do in Jaffna will remain isolated in Jaffna. Within minutes it is known all over the world. More broadly, our fate is interconnected with the fate of other communities. Think of the global economic crisis, climate change, nuclear arms, and environmental pollution. What one community does affects all of us. So, it is important for our students to develop the attitudes, values, and orientations to consider other cultures and people. However, being cosmopolitan doesn’t mean losing our own values and identity. A better approach is to be proud of who we are, as we engage with other cultures. This is a two-way process. We can evaluate the things we learn from others from the point of view of our own culture and society. But we should also be open-minded so that we can be self-critical and change our values and traditions. In fact, when we engage with other cultures and learn new perspectives, we might in fact rediscover the secrets and wisdom of our communities that we may have forgotten over time.
Let me apply cosmopolitanism to my talk this morning. Are the new traditions of learning I am proposing influenced by my engagement with other cultures? To some extent they are. I am now a teacher educator—that means a person who trains others to be teachers. What I have shared with you are the principles that guide my teaching philosophy when I teach students from US and many other countries to become good teachers. However, remember that I started this talk by appreciating some of the traditions St John’s shaped me with—i.e., reading, speaking, thinking, and planning. I criticized many trends in the western world—such as instant communication and multi-tasking—that are leading young people to losing these important skills. St John’s should continue to develop the positive traditions in its history. However, there are other ways in which St John’s should develop a new educational tradition—namely,learning as creative, critical, civic, collaborative, and cosmopolitan. Even these are not new to our culture. My engagement with other cultures helps me rediscover elements in our culture that we may have forgotten. So think about Auvayaar’s saying “kaTRatu kai maNNaLavu kallaatatu uLakaLavu” (i.e., What we know is a fistful, what we don’t know is a world full.) This verse reminds us why we have to think of learning as creative, collaborative, and critical. No one can be satisfied with what we already know. We have to constantly critique what we accept as truths. Or think of Puranaanuuru: “yaatum ooree yaavarum keeLir” (i.e., Every place is our village, every person our kin). This verse reminds us of the importance of cosmopolitanism and engaging in civic learning that is useful to all people.
The changes that I spell out this morning have also been present in the missionary history of our school. Just think of the founder of our school Joseph Knight. When he came to Sri Lanka in July 1818, he was a representative of the Church Missionary Society. This society opposed the practice of treating Africans as slaves. They thus displayed critical thinking. Before he started classes for local students in Nallur, he first learnt Tamil language with the help of a local Hindu priest. It must have been difficult for both parties to engage in such learning. Knight would have thought of the Hindu priest as a heathen, and the priest would have thought of Knight as unclean. It is said that the Hindu priest used to stop by at a village well after these classes to cleanse himself before he went home. Despite their cultural differences, both people collaborated in learning from each other. That was not only collaborative learning, it was also cosmopolitanism. Both didn’t change their own systems of belief; but that didn’t prevent them from cooperating and learning from each other and enriching their world view. Knight went on to lay the foundation for the first Tamil/English bilingual dictionary. When the Winslow’s Comprehensive Tamil and English Dictionary was published in Madras in 1862, the preface acknowledges how Rev. Knight had started and contributed to this project. That was civic learning—i.e., knowledge that was useful to other people. There is also creativity, because Knight sought new knowledge. He started a comparative exploration of Tamil and English that we are still continuing today. Knight went on to start lessons for 7 students in his house in March 1823, before renovating the decaying Old Dutch Church at Nallur and getting permission from the government to start a school there. Motivated by a vision and sprit of service, Knight established a new institution and invented new traditions that have gone on to be a blessing to thousands of youth in our town.
Today there is a similar challenge for all of us to be missionaries, path breakers, tradition-builders in our community. With one history of our community coming to an end, we are in the beginning of another. We are almost starting from scratch. Buildings have been demolished, community leaders killed, families displaced, students orphaned. The question for our school is: what kind of education is going to address the changes around us. The task of slowly rebuilding our community is starting. Old boys have been sending money to St John’s to put up new buildings and support displaced and orphaned students. But an important question everyone is asking now is this: St John’s is proud of the new buildings it has put up; but is it paying enough attention to building the moral, spiritual, and intellectual life of its students? Should the school be more interested in building up the quality of education needed for the new age?
This is the time to initiate new traditions of learning and education for St John’s College. Though we may be materially disadvantaged, we are still culturally, spiritually, and intellectually rich. Buildings may be destroyed; but nothing can destroy our mind and soul. Nothing can stop someone’s mind from growing, influencing others, shaping the environment around us, conquering disadvantages, and achieving great things. This is the story of Johnians from the past. We grew up in a disadvantaged community, with less buildings than you have now. But that didn’t stop us from achieving impressive things on the global stage. It was not about what material resources we had. It was about what cultural, spiritual, and intellectual resources we developed in our community. You students can still achieve all that. You can develop to be powerful inventors, thinkers, and leaders, though now you may not have a house over your heads, family to care for you, or enough things to provide a comfortable life. Remember our school motto: “Light shineth in darkness”. It is precisely at this time in our history that we are called upon to shine. And the only thing light can do, something that comes naturally to it, is shine! I wish the staff of St John’s college, the parents, the local community, and especially the students the very best as they work towards building more meaningful educational traditions for the future.
Speech by Prof. Suresh Canagarajah,Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Applied Linguistics and English, Pennsylvania State University, USA, at the THE ANNUAL PRIZE GIVING was held on Saturday 6th July, 2013, at St.John’s college Jaffna in Sri Lanka
Edward Snowden was unknown, just as Julian Assange was a nonentity until he blew a whistle. The disclosures regarding the extent, pernicious character and the political economy of surveillance has raised the ire of a lot of people. Americans of the United States, in particular, are livid about this invasion of privacy, apparently sanctioned by the self-appointed high priests of democracy and freedom (not just for the citizens of that country but the rest of the world as well) themselves.
It has been wryly observed that ‘White America’ seems to have just woken up to smell the coffee, so to speak. For that ‘America’ largely insulated from the horrors of the world and the tragedies at their doorstep, Snowden is a ‘newsmaker’. For large sections of the ‘other’ America (of the US), as well as for the rest of the world, unburdened of illusion a long time ago, it is just something that spilled into the comfort zones of privilege.
The truth is that Big Brother never blinks, although he can be so blinded at times by ignorance and arrogance that he misses both wood and tree and errs terribly. Mohamad Tabbaa, a doctoral student in Criminology and Law and the University of Melbourne has laid it out well in ‘Suddenly, white people care about incursions’, an article that’s available at www.salon.com. He notes that for many in the USA, government surveillance has been a regular part of life, especially since 9/11. He asks, therefore, ‘So why the outrage now?’ and murmurs, ‘Welcome to the world of the Muslim, post September 11’.
There’s a lot of truth in the assertion for if privilege in that country has a color, it is white. But there are whites and there are whites. The class structure is not white-on-top and non-white-below. There is ‘white poor’ and there are whites who object to much that ‘Big Brother’ does. The anarchists, in particular the ‘Black Bloc’ associated with the anti-globalization protests in Seattle in November 1999, were white. The communists hounded during the McCarthy weren’t all non-white. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were hanged. They were white.
The demarcating factor is perception of threat to a fairly well established system of privilege. The mover is fidelity to a project of sustained exploitation and control. Barack Obama, self-appointed grand abbot of democracy and freedom didn’t mince his words when he said that if you want security you must submit to surveillance. The point, however, is that surveillance is not about public security. It only gives that impression. It is about system-security where ‘system’ is about exploitation, plunder, strategic needs to sustain these etc. The ordinary US citizen has to submit him/herself to surveillance so that system stays.
Some say it’s all exaggerated. Here’s a story that will demonstrate the no-stone-unturned bottom line of anxiety and control that is an integral part of the US ‘security’ system.
In the year 2000, I wrote a series of articles titled ‘Sketchbook USA’ for the Sunday Island. It was all about my experiences in the USA, my observations during the7 years I spent in that country as a student. One of the articles was titled ‘My professors and friends’. I wrote about the teachers I respected most, learned from the most and were more colorful than their colleagues. Among them was Geoff Waite of the German Studies Department.
‘Geoff Waite, the only card-carrying member of the Communist Party at Cornell University and Professor of German Studies, who taught Marx, Nietszche, Freud, Lacan and Althusser to both undergraduates and graduate students, was far more relaxed. All he wanted from us was that we maintained a journal, i.e. write regular commentaries on the reading material or the class discussion. “As long as I am convinced that you are doing some serious thinking, I will be satisfied,” he would say.’
‘Card carrying member’ was shorthand for ‘radical’, ‘brave’ and ‘unique’. I didn’t spell it out because it was a light piece. The person who used that phrase, one of Geoff’s doctoral students, didn’t spell it out either. He knew, I knew. That was enough.
This was in a Sri Lankan Sunday newspaper. A light piece, as I mentioned. It was not ‘missed’ by whoever does surveillance in Sri Lanka for the CIA/FBI though. The FBI paid Geoff a visit, I learned a couple of years later. Maybe I was naïve. Geoff obviously wasn’t. He had observed, I was told, ‘Malinda screwed me’. I was so naïve that when I was informed of this, I couldn’t imagine how on earth I could have caused any harm to that lovely man endowed with one of the sharpest minds I’ve encountered. It took me a few months to figure out what must have happened.
Mohamad Tabbaa is a student in Australia. I don’t know which country he is a citizen of. He is being watched now, if he was not being watched before. What Snowden has revealed is far more sinister; people are being watched in terms of a ‘just in case’ logic.
And it is unlikely that governments other than the one in Washington haven’t picked a surveillance leaf from that nasty book.
How do we respond? Vigilance. Counter-surveillance. Solidarity. Flipping the script is not easy, but flipping is a non-negotiable if you value your privacy, your freedom. Play peek-a-boo. It works. You make them angry. They slip. They may have superior technology. You can counter it all. If you have a heart. And of course a mind. It is easy to lie but easier to be honest. Especially if you are being watched 24/7.
Just remember: if you’ve bought their lie, the more pernicious mechanism of incursion is resident within you.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com