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Only Gotabhaya considered a military victory was possible – Erik Solheim

By Colombo Telegraph – “No one particular, could be with the exception of Gothabaya Rajapaksa, but he’s the only particular person I can mention who considered a military victory was achievable. I was quite hard to say extremely close to Indian intelligence and an tremendous sum of time all through this process and never, ever did any Indian official hint that a military victory was achievable until mid 2008.

Then they started, I observed the change in Mr.M.K.Narayanan and others and gradually shift into the position that may be, state may be the government can wipe out the tigers military victory.”Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim said last week

“Sri Lankans try to manipulate every single day for whole this 10 years, for their business interest part of that they tried to manipulate all. We may be fool but no so foolish that we understand that they tried to manipulate.” Minster of the Environment and international Development Erik Solheim further said.

Sri Lankans try to manipulate every single day for whole this 10 years, for their business interest part of that they tried to manipulate all. We may be fool but no so foolish that we understand that they tried to manipulate.

Eric Solheim made this remarks last week in Oslo seminar followed by the launch of the evaluation report of the Norwegian Peace effort in Sri Lanka. Theevaluation has been performed by CMI in Bergen and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, and deals with the Norwegian peace effort in Sri Lanka between 1997 and 2009.

Following is the full text of the speech made by Erik Solheim

Let me start by thanking Mr.Gunnar and his team for a very valuable and interesting report.  I’ve not been able to study everything at this stage, we will go through it, all the big and small parts…the big and small issues which are covered by the report and see to what extent I can inform and to see what I can do to assist Sri Lanka in the future and more importantly how this can help Norwegian efforts in other peace processes.

Norway is involved in one way or other in may be 20 peace processes in world and very few of them, at the moment, not as a main actor as in Sri Lanka, but in supporting the parties and supporting other international actors in bringing peace so it’s very valuable to look into all these experiences which are experience, this may be the first time, certainly, it isn’t normal, that one involved in the peace process is commissioning a report in to all the positive and negatives of what happened.

Norway should have withdrawn from the peace process 

I broadly agree with most comments made and had one major reservation and let me start with that. I think indeed that Norway should have withdrawn from the peace process when it was clear to everyone that the government of Sri Lanka wanted a final military victory.

Every one knew that, was no doubt in Washington, or Beijing, or Colombo or Vanni about that. No one was in doubt of that. Indeed at this point we should have withdrawn. I think it is extreme arrogant why, because the Tamil Tigers asked us to continue, the government of Sri Lanka at least, in some extent, asked us to continue. A complete civil society and all the peace groups in Sri Lanka asked us to continue. The United States of America asked us to continue. India asked us to continue. The European Union asked us to continue. Neither I nor Vidar Helgesen, should sit in Oslo and make the decision that when everyone else in the world asked Norway to do best under the most difficult circumstances, even when its war, even so many people are killed, we should try to withdraw.

. If Pirapaharan had not forced Tamil voters to abstain from elections in 2005 everyone knows that Ranil Wickramasinghe would have been elected the president, not Mahinda Rajapaksa, Everyone knows that. That would at least have been a major change in everything what happened after that.

I cannot disagree, more. I think it’s very arrogant because it’s putting Norway far above everything else. It’s about our reputation, not about what we’re asked to do.  All those who are suffering from this war. Except for that major reservation, I agree a lot about what has been presented by Gunar hear.

If there is another, not major reservation, it is the following. We should be very cautious with determinism believing that the outcome of Sri Lankan events had to be what it actually was. Richard Armitage is at the first floor hear, I think he and myself agreed that the American Independence war by George Washington would have taken a completely different turn if George Washington had be hanged as a terrorist and the UK would have gone over at least 50 more years.

It was so close to a southern separation during the civil war in America in the 1860’s and was not far away. Very close. You can just make a few changes in a few of the battles or moving the election of 1860 away from the fall to the spring and the outcome would have been completely different.

If Pirapaharan had not forced Tamil voters to abstain from elections in 2005

This occurs in most important events in Earth’s history and the tendency by researchers by what actually is the end, had to be the end, I take a reservation with. Let’s mention a few of the “ifs” in the peace process of Sri Lanka. If Mr.Pirapaharan had not forced Tamil voters to abstain from elections in 2005 everyone knows that Ranil Wikremesinghe would have been elected as the president, not Mahinda Rajapaksa, Everyone knows that. That would at least have been a major change in everything what happened after that.

 

If Balasinham had not died of cancer, it may or may not have made a major difference; I think it would have made a major difference because after Balsinham’s death, the LTTE leadership made all the mistakes.

If Mr. Balasinham had not died of cancer, it may or may not have made a major difference; I think it would have made a major difference because after Mr. Balasinham’s death, the LTTE leadership made all the mistakes.

Prior to that they were quite clever both in the political and military field in the 3 years after Blasingam’s death, it was not one single meaningful political or military initiative from the Tamil Tigers.

Not one and there is no other way of explaining that influence of Balasingham’s disappear and Pirapaharan was alone to make decisions. So to say. If  Karuna was not split, it was not, I think, in the invertible,  it was basic from personal characteristics, not very nice, but it was what happened and it made an enormous change .

If Chandrika Kumaratunga or the other actors had to be able to move one or two months after the Tsunami, it was a completely new set up in Sri Lanka.
Tamil Tigers assisted the army. The army assisted Tamils. Was really a new beginning but it was drawn out, drawn out, the momentum was lost and basically nothing happened.

If we had been able to achieve a major change or development here I think everything would have been very different. Not necessarily, exactly what we had hoped for but it would have been very different.  And I can continue with a number of other such if, So I think we have to judge historical events on the basis of the available information at that time, not when we know what happened. But that’s hard when we don’t know exactly what happened because what happened was not necessarily what had to happen. Then, let me add one or two other aspects. No one believed there was a military victory possible.

Gothabaya Rajapaksa the only exception

No one. May be with the exception of Gothabaya Rajapaksa but he’s the only person I can mention who thought a military victory was possible.

No one in Colombo thought it was possible, I was very hard to say very close to Indian intelligence and an enormous amount of time throughout this process and never, ever did any Indian official hint that a military victory was possible until mid 2008. Then they started, I observed the change in Mr.M.K.Narayanan and others and gradually shift into the position that may be, still may be the government can wipe out the tigers military victory.

If Karuna was not split, it was not, I think, in the invertible, it was basic from personal characteristics, not very nice, but it was what happened and it made an enormous change .

Before that no one thought it was possible, the United States thought it was impossible, USA, India and Colombo thought it was impossible so again complete change from what we all based the peace process on until that point.

Then coming to what can be learned. Because there are a number of these issues which are reflected in the report and also by  Gunnar. Obviously have to be patient, that’s very obvious part of the peace process starting with the belief that this can be resolved in a few months time.

The Indians told us, please be patient, if you cannot be patient go away, get out of the way you will only complicate matters. This will take a decade at the minimum. So we learned to be patient and you need patience in any peace process.

Then you need to get the international context right, as was covered by Mr.Gunnar may be at the end the government won a military victory because it much better understood the international situation and tiger leadership. Mr.Rajapaksa understood it was basically possible to build up a coalition of China, Pakistan, Iran, and a number of new actors in the Sri Lankan context to get on one hand, military support from these new actors but on the other hand also using these new actors to put pressure on old actors in the sense that it would be very much more relaxing to see China coming in a more major way in Sri Lanka.

That was very clever international diplomacy by Rajapaksa out fuling that way the Tigers in … that way… so in the international context it’s very essential. Other issues the inclusiveness. Have to say that we were fighting throughout to particularly include the Muslim community in Sri Lanka in a much broader way in the peace process and to every one else that was not easy mainly because the Tamil Tigers were very reluctant to see a separate Muslim dimension to the struggle, but very very important in all peace processes to be as inclusive as possible.

The three main issues in my perspective in the peace process 

Then I would come to the three main issues in my perspective in the peace process which we have to contemplate for future situations. Number one, the peace priority list is weather are there other ways to influence the Tamil Tigers leadership in a more effective way than we did. You may please recall Norway was the only access to Pirapakran. background, I met Pirapakaran may be ten times and absolutely no tiger in

If Chandrika Kumaranathuga or the other actors had to be able to move one or two months after the Tsunami, it was a completely new setup in Sri Lanka.

that background, none. During the peace process, except for Norwegians, Mr.Krish Paten from EU meet him onece, and Akashai from Japan, may be once, or twice, except for that it was just Norwegians. Mr.Lars combined thirty hours with during this peace process. He spoke only Tamil and my Tamil is limited so it was a relatively limited time. I think it was completely wrong …. That other actors did not want to speak to him unless he behaved well. The more people that need to speak to Pirapakaran the better.

The government would have been reluctant to that because that would have been a recognition of  his role that I think the more the LTTE would have been opened up, the moel actors that would have been able to meet in a international community mole the more likely a success would have been.
That’s right what Gunnar said, when Balasingham negotiated to do so call Oslo declaration which they said LTTE will explore Federalism where Milinda and myself who wrote that document here in Oslo Balasingham accepted it and took it to Pirapakaran, he refused it. It was not public at that time but it is very clear he refused it. Because he was realizing to federalism. But still have been ……. or influence in LTTE Leadership. In reality that Mr.Pirapakaran, more that is the most, that is the number one crucial issue. Blasingham told me that please understand Mr.Pirapakaran is a war lord. he is not in a democratic society not understanding international community not understanding the base in Europe and USA.

Blasingham told me that please understand Mr.Pirapakaran is a war lord

He is ……. in a war load. May be studying the war lords, chins history in the early part of the …. the best parallel to study Pirapakaran, Balasingham hinted. Its not my idea. if that the case more have been done to open up their ice, their understanding of the world and should be have done that more on that matter I thing that was completely wrong that USA, Europe and anyone else ask me please you behave well very long period of time we will talk to you. So we should have talked to them all the time as much as possible 24 hours if possible. This is the number one status issues.

It may, People may thing that up on this from world assistant,  stutterers, tactical experience, it may seen as very personal oriented but the reality was Pirapakaran was the LTTE, without Pirapakaran LTTE will have existed and all major decisions whatever type will be made by Pirapakaran. No one else. he will of course speak with some of the military leaders definitely consulting with Balasingham but ultimately he will make decisions and it was very hard, I never heard any Tamils giving and wanted advice to Mr.Pirapakaran I thing that would be very difficult to any Tamils to knock at door to going to Pirapakaran and say that you are on a wrong path you shouldn’t do this and that.Only person should do that Balasingham. Because he was 10 years senior.

Second issue very much covered by Gunnar. There are two parties in Colombo. UNP and SLFP they had a long long history of not working together. During most of the peace process Chandraka was the President Ranil Wikremesinghe was the Prime Minister and they were not speaking … and they were both believing that they are whatever they do possible to do in their my or in their situations.

. Blasingham told that please understand Pirapakaran is a war lord. he is not in a democratic society not understanding international community not understanding the base in Europe and USA.

Should have been done more on that regards. We felt that it was outside Norway mandate. We felt other mandate was to negotiate that those in power in Colombo where ever they are and the Tamil tigers and that intervening on that would be intervening mean that domestic affairs in State of Sri Lanka.

Mr.Fox that UK’s Minister of Defence, he just left his post, made so called FOX agreement in late 1990s you should cover that. There was lots of efforts that Indian and others to bring by two parties together but should have been Norway should have forced to …. may be we should have done that more to ask both parties to do like India and UN to do it, would have been very very difficult.  Very critical issue I do not know what extend discuss it the peace agreement was in the beginning before the cease fire agreement should more effort have been done bring Chandrika into that. Because that was done right after Ranil Wikremesighe made political victory he was on the political assurance, very strong and very popular at that point. Chandrika was as you said sidelined.

Should more have been done to bring Chandrika in to that agreement 

That’s true, should more have been done to bring her in to that agreement at the beginning, mover mental that has been lost but it is a critical issue of course if there has been a two party agreement in Colombo with their LTTE that would have made enormous different that’s very clear. But I think that was outside to Norway to archive it. May be we should have been done more to try to convince others to act will be lots, possibly has been done more. The last issue like to bring that also coved the issue of communication. Its true that Norway became very unpopular at least that peace process has lasted long partially in …… Nationalists Sinhala groups, that’s very clear. I thing that main reason for that with optics whenever someone saw Mr.Pirapakaran or LTTE …. to Norwegians because no one else going there, so other, I will be there or Ambassador or Johan or someone else, I mean if Pirapakaran or Balasingham or Tamilselvan, whether it was on TV normally the Norwegian with his side, it gave important to Sri Lankans that Norway was very close to LTTE. Since no one else LTTE did this. This was optical reason was why this became an issue.. but still we should have discussed, may be better media strategy. However of course, that party not wanted Norway to have a high profile. they wanted to be a process between that LTTE and the government they wanted us to make comments particularly when they have agreed some things but did not want Norway to be seen as speaking behalf of its self… defending its own role on this on media and that.. that clearly told that was what the parties want to see and still I mean is an issue, definitely need more consideration whether it should have play that or done more on this. Other issue in commutation is their one group. I am very clear we should have done more to reach out to the Buddhist clergy in Colombo in Sri Lanka and Mahanayaka in Kandy and others, the very important spiritual leaders in Sri Lanka. We were clearly adviced by Chandrika Kumaratunga not to spend too much time on the Buddhist clergy.  So  this not our idea, she was telling not to do it,. We wanted to do, but told not to do.. …… itself and don’t interview in this … leave that to us. At least to that inside today we should have done more to reach out to the Buddhist clergy because of their loyalist on the Sinhala side was so so important. so these are some of the issues for discussion. There are many big and small at the end two big one that finding of the issues of the peace process was should more have been done to reach out to Pirapakaran to get him at end to accept a federal states. that other was should more have been done bring together UNP and SLFP, Ranil and Chandrika, if we have been able to do very different or one or other this too, that would have been a completely different process these are the two essential questions.

 If you want to receive support from USA will you kill any USA president? 

I don’t think that war on terror was a main problem here, On one hand LTTE made enormous mistakes, the reason why the war on terror became so important in Sri Lanka was that LTTE made high profile assassinations against Sri Lankan politicians, it gave them nothing on any political or military point of view. Why in hell killing Rajiv Gandhi. Animus blander, if you want to receive support from USA, will you kill any US president? India was the main source of support to Tamil Tigers, why then killed? Rajiv Gandhi was a outstanding Indian Prime Minister.This was animus mistake, Whenever Pirapakaran told us stop killing, he keep (strikes) his words, that’s more than I can say that Sri Lankan Sinhala politician,

I am very clear we should have done more to reach out to the Buddhist clergy in Colombo and Mahanayaka in Kandy and others. The very important spiritual leaders in Sri Lanka, we were clearly adviced by Chandrika Kumarathunga not to spend too much time on the Buddhist clergy

Pirapakan always did. One example right after Mahinda elected president, LTTE started huge number of killing against Sri Lankan army soldiers then we went to Pirapakaran he promised to stop it. He stopped it. There was no killing by LTTE then the Government started killing different Tamils. Then too LTTE responded. Government that point insisting the killing. LTTE did not start the peace process at the weak point. They started the peace process at the peak of power. LTTE was ever powerful at 2000 and 2001.

LTTE did not start the peace process at the weak point

LTTE was too close to capture Jaffna peninsula, LTTE distorted Bandaranayaka airport in Colombo, bringing the economics of Sri Lankan state to zero. There was a peak of the power they started peace process, We Norway had good relation with Government in Washington and Norway embassy in Oslo. Their is not one critical remarks what so ever on WikiLeaks on Norwegian role on peace process. There USA cannot do it, will not do it, its very common Norway doing it. We have been …… bringing ….. killing by Sri Lankan state, I will give you ample of examples, MP. Pararajasingham good friend of mine was killed in Xmas day in a Christian church, Obviously this was by Sri Lankan state.One of the main famous Editor in Colombo Lasantha Wickaramatunga, another friend of us through peace process known very well killed by state of Sri Lanka.

Absolutely there is no doubt about that, that should be condemned and who was responsible for this crime should be brought to courts.

It was absolutely right to regret the ban of LTTE the point of views of Norway, how could you play as a mediator if band one organization you should talk to that group is impossible, I thing that banning the LTTE is not a good idea, because I … to that …..that much …. that overwhelmed by LTTE to political come forward bringing them out in the light discussing with them and trying to convince top leadership that has to informs them self.That is the reason why took prevalence that in Europe very clear on so many occasion we not able to stop this kind of terrorist killing that provoke the EU.

Sri Lankans try to manipulate every single day for whole this 10 years

Sri Lankans try to manipulate every single day for whole this 10 years, for their business interest, part of that they tried to manipulate all. We may be fool but no so foolish that we understand that they tried to manipulate.

I still believe that this peace process should have taken a different cost… so I don’t think too high expectation may be from the beginning much more easy, but it was not right to do it, Expectations has gone very differently I thing it was right.

India though out had VETO power over the peace process, Milinda and myself went to Delhil many time but I don’t know how many times has been at the airport and New Delhi meetings whith Indian Intelligence and others, there was no major steps on the peace process what so ever taken without informing India same times they tacis excess may have disagreed India was throughout Informed.

That was very simple, they want that view, India for most important friend in Sri Lanka. USA is important also, for USA India and Sri Lanka is a co-Interest.

USA never ever realize their relationship with India, for example for Sri Lanka. If India on board, ultimately USA basically flow. Even what nation’s …… to SLMM they give a list of the national they will aspect we will respect from that.

Watch full video;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MtYY9QNrrIU

Categories
Foreign Affairs

The Story Of Johnians And The Controversial Practice In Our Teaching In Sri Lanka

Prof Suresh Canagarajah

Prof. Suresh Canagarajah

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

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Foreign Affairs

The Several Dimensions Of Surveillance

Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

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

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