Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Challenging Western perceptions of the Sri Lankan conflict

Western press coverage of the conflict in Sri Lanka often demonstrates the ignorance of the journalists sent or usually just assigned to write on it from the comfort of their offices. A recent piece in a British newspaper was particularly ridiculous, and we carry below a reply sent in by the Peace Secretariat. It has not been published, as is so often the case in the Western media.

The Editor
Daily Telegraph

Dear Sir

I was saddened by your January 6th article on Sri Lanka. I will ignore the misrepresentations, except to note that the violence of July 1983 was not the work of Sinhala Buddhists. The government at the time, which included Tamils and Muslims as well as Christian Sinhalese, is considered to have been responsible. The President was J R Jayewardene, beloved of the West and especially Margaret Thatcher, who supported his attempts to invoke our Defence Treaty with Britain against an imagined Indian threat.

More serious are the twists your correspondent uses to orientalize the conflict. You talk of President Rajapaksa salivating at the prospect of final victory. Have you ever referred to Western leaders warring for whatever reason, acceptable to you or not, salivating when they thought themselves close to victory?

You refer to the government’s ‘final solution’, a concept based on Western precedents. The government has made it clear that military victory is not the solution to the political problems we face, problems exacerbated by the authoritarianism of the Jayewardene government, which destroyed democracy, an action hailed by the Times, trumpeting that ‘Capitalism tasted sweeter’. This government is determined on a democratic pluralistic solution, which it discusses with other Tamil groups ignored by the dichotomizing tendencies of the West, that help the LTTE claim to be the sole representatives of the Tamils.

You talk of the President’s triumphalist claims, in reference to his remarks about government efforts to care for Tamil civilians. That is not triumphalism. Your failure to credit those claims is also sad, since the worst case scenario, the allegations on websites supportive of the LTTE, make it clear that casualties have been minimal, and that our armed forces are more civilized than most now engaging in struggles against terror. That government continues to supply food and health and education facilities to areas under LTTE control is something I suspect a more confrontational othering Western approach to terror cannot appreciate.

That, perhaps, is what the clash of civilizations you refer to is about, the determination to use different standards for the actions of people from different backgrounds. You know what Aristotle said about injustice: perceptions of injustice and unfair demonizing go far to explain the resentments that in the end cost all of us so dearly.

Yours sincerely,

Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretary General
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process