Friday, March 11, 2011

H. L. D. Mahindapala's Letter to Australian MP, Laurie Ferguson

Sent: 04 March 2011 17:14
To: ''
Subject: Greetings!

Dear Laurie,

Thank you for the time you spent with us listening and arguing which was very helpful for us to gauge the opinion of a Labour MP most concerned with Sri Lankan affairs.

As I told you I was pleased to learn from you that there has been a 75% improvement in the Sri Lankan situation since the end of the futile war on May 18, 2009. I believe (and I told this to you too) our task is to improve the balance 25%. You will no doubt agree that 75% improvement within the short span (from May 18, 2009 to March 4, 2011) is a remarkable achievement by any standards. If we are genuinely concerned about improving the welfare of all communities our actions should be directed at healing and not exacerbating by scratching old wounds.

However, I must mention that I was taken aback by the rating you gave Sri Lanka . You said that Sri Lanka ranks below Bangladesh . In addition to being the Editor of the Observer – the oldest English newspaper in South Asia – I was also the Secretary-General of South Asia Media Association and I had the chance of traveling quite a bit in the region. No analyst that I know would rate Sri Lanka below that of Bangladesh .

Please consider the following facts:

• Sri Lanka is the oldest democracy in Asia-Pacific rim. If you consider the fact that universal franchise came to Australia in 1967 (after to Aborigines were given the right to vote) then it is fair to say that Sri Lanka was in the democratic circle exercising universal franchise from 1931.
• Sri Lanka faced right-wing military coups, two uprisings – one in the south from the JVP, the lumpen Marxists, and the longest running war in Asia initiated by the Jaffna Tamils when they officially passed the Vadukoddai Resolution seeking a military solution – and yet did not go under a military dictatorship.
• Other developing countries in the Afro-Asian region have been taken over by military dictators rising out pressures far less than that in Sri Lanka .
• Bangladesh has been under military dictatorship from time to time as you know. Sri Lanka always maintained its democratic institutions – however flawed they may have been.
• Sri Lanka is smaller than Tasmania with the entire population of Australia packed into it. Without the abundant resources of Australia Sri Lanka runs a free education system from kinder to uni, free health services, subsidized transport, food, medicine etc to all communities. Please ask the Tamil doctors, lawyers, academics who come crying about “discrimination” whether they did not enjoy the same facilities of the other communities who benefited from free education, free health, and other social benefits distributed without any discrimination.
• To quote you, we don’t live in a perfect world. But Sri Lankans, despite all infirmities, have a free press, free elections, free institutions like any other democracy.
• Bangladesh, being a Muslim country, is noted for the persecution of minorities – particularly Christians. Sri Lanka ’s tolerance of other religions is legendary. At the time when France and the West are banning the head gear for Muslims Sri Lanka is offering free textile for the Muslims to wear it freely.
• The poverty level of Bangladesh is below that of Sri Lanka .
• Bangladesh is a quasi-religious state whereas Sri Lanka is essentially secular.
• The Sri Lankan flag carries two stripes – one for the Tamils and the other for the Muslim – as a means of granting the highest respect and status to the minorities. How much space in given to the minorities in he Bangladesh flag or for that matter the minorities in the so-called modeled democracies of the West. Incidentally, there are over 70 million Tamils in the world including the 60 million in Tamil Nadu. The only flag that respects the identity of Tamils among the 192 flags flying at the UN is that of the Sri Lankan flag. Is this discrimination? The Tamil language is also given the highest place by being inscribed in currencies, stamps and all official documents.
• The space open for all communities to be treated equally is exemplified by the presence of Murali in the cricket team. If he was with the Tamil separatists he would have been throwing hand grenades instead of his fascinating “dooshra” and in the process even lost his flexible arm.

I shall stop at this as I do not want to appear as a Bangladeshi-basher. But before I end I wish to raise another point with you. You were quite sympathetic to the “imperfections” of the others except Sri Lanka . I gathered from our discussion that you were demanding perfection from Sri Lanka while dismissing the “imperfections” of others as a part of the unavoidable world order. Could this be a case of Biblical proportions where one prefers to see the mote in the eyes of Sri Lanka and not the beam in the eyes of one’s fellow-travelers?

Example: An independent inquiry into the way Sri Lanka ended the 33-year-old war is demanded by you and your fellow-travelers. By the same yardstick which human rights activist has ever initiated inquiries into the way the Americans ended the World War II by dropping atom bomb in Hiroshima (140,000 civilians dead) and Nagasaki (80,000 dead)? Or on Churchill for his calculated plan to bring the boys back home early by bombing the hell out of Dresden (300,000 dead)? If you think it’s far away, why not ask for an inquiry on the ethnic cleansing of Diego Garcia by the British to clear the place for the American to build a base in the Indian Ocean ? The thousands of Chargosssians evicted by force by the British from their only homeland only recently are wandering like nomads. They are without jobs, without homes and without a future. How come Sri Lanka is on the radar of concerned Australians and not the Chargossians?

Isn’t there something rotten in the state of morality dispensed by the human rights activists who cry from roof tops only for the agents of the Tamils Tigers?
If you happen to be in Melbourne I would delighted to have dinner or lunch to carry on the dialogue. Please be in touch.


H. L. D. Mahindapala
Editor, Observer (1990- 1994)
President, Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (1991- 1993)
General Secretary, South Asia Media Association (1993 - 1994)
PS: By the way when we told the Foreign Office that Labour MPs have to get their resolutions tabled in Parliament vetted by the censors at DFAT they denied it totally. They said that they do not influence MPs in any way on the text of the resolution.

1 comment:

Pearl Thevanayagam said...

Come, come Mr Mahindapala, Free press in Sri Lanka? You must cetainly be in jester mode. Some 37 journalists killesince Richard de Soysa was killed by government forces, scores abducted and many more intimidated.Pregeeth Ekneliyagoda's whereabouts are still unknown since hew as abducted in January 2010.

As much as I respect your excellent journalistic abililties i am now befuddled as to how you could be so myopic when it comes to free media in Sri Lanka.