By Izeth Hussain –
In a recent article I inveighed against the foreign presence in our ethnic problem, which I believe has been far too intrusive. A convincing illustration of my charge was provided by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, who at the final stage of his recent visit surprised us all by throwing diplomatic decorum to the winds and kicking the rice pot. I must explain to non-Sri Lankan readers that my oblique reference is to the Sinhalese proverb, “The parting devil kicks the rice pot”. My reference I believe is peculiarly apt because what Moon said was not just surprising: it was also diabolical.
The Government claims that Moon was misinterpreted and that the impact on Sri Lanka of the Moon visit was entirely positive. But, as far as I am aware, the Government has not cited chapter and verse in support of its self-serving interpretation. What Moon reportedly said was, “In 1994, in Rwanda, there was a massacre. More than one million people were massacred. United Nations felt responsible for that”. It had not been able to take preventive action, but it had repeatedly declared “Never again, never again”. Yet the very next year another massacre took place, in Srebrenica, because the UN had not been able to provide adequate protection, and the UN repeated “Never again”. After that he went on to say, “How many times should we repeat never, never again? We did again in Sri Lanka. We have to do much more not to repeat such things in Sri Lanka, Yemen and elsewhere”. I must emphasize the words “We did again in Sri Lanka”. What on earth could he be referring to except a massacre in Sri Lanka? I regret that our Government is being disingenuous in denying that interpretation.
He is evidently referring to the alleged massacre by the tens of thousands out of the 330,000 Tamils who were used as human shields by the LTTE during the last days of the war. He is clearly implying that what occurred here was genocide of an order similar to that of Rwanda and Srebrenica. He failed to note a crucial difference: in Rwanda and Srebrenica ethnic minorities were massacred by dominant majorities whereas here the genocide is alleged to have occurred in the course of a war. Commonsense tells us that as our troops were on the brink of a total military victory there was no earthly reason why they should have wanted to perpetrate a massacre on a genocidal scale. Besides – and this is the point of crucial importance – there has been nothing like substantiation of that allegation that can be taken seriously: there has been no more than some dubious statistical material. Why, then, did a person in so responsible a position as the UN Secretary General virtually repeat that allegation? A perceptive editorial in the Island of September 8 suggests that the intent was to shock the Government into taking the war crimes probe seriously. That makes sense. It remains however that the method chosen by the UNSGA – that of blatant lying about genocide – was outrageous. The Moon visit turned out to be a visitation – something like a Visitation of the Fiend. The rice pot was kicked to pieces.
We must contextualize what Moon said to understand its full significance. The first fact to be noted is that as a diplomat he is well-seasoned timber, obviously a diplomat of great ability as otherwise he would not have been chosen as UN Secretary General. He is not the kind of person who will make indiscreet remarks. Why then did he make an allegation that cannot be substantiated – at least at present? My answer would be that he has been acting under instructions. It was obvious that after Boutros Ghali the US would not tolerate anyone with a will of his own as Secretary General. There followed Kofi Annan, a distinguished but not a difficult person to handle. Better still for the purposes of the US, and as befits its status as the sole super power, has been Ban Ki-moon, the South Korean national of one of the two remaining US satellites, the other being Taiwan. The UN Secretary General is a servitor of the American Empire. Behind his undiplomatic kicking of the rice pot was the might of the American Empire which was conveying a message to us: Don’t go to sleep over the war crimes allegations.
When Moon mooted his Panel of Experts I wrote an article in which I postulated a benign tripartite conspiracy involving India, the US, and Ban Ki-moon to move Sri Lanka towards a solution of the ethnic problem. Actually Moon was simply the servitor of a bipartisan Indo-US conspiracy. My postulate seemed to be given spectacular substantiation when almost totally unexpectedly India joined the US in backing a UNHRC Resolution against Sri Lanka, and furthermore it did so contravening it own hitherto consistent principle of never backing country specific Resolutions at Geneva. Since then the US seems to be going its own way over Sri Lanka. But Indo-US relations have been becoming ever closer, acquiring even a military dimension that is bound to cause concern, even alarm, among some of its neighbors. In my view India could now be in the process of abandoning its Non-Alignment in all but name, a development that could be very fateful for this region.
In this situation we need to do some thinking about American imperialism. I have in mind the theses advanced by two scholars, French and American. The first, Emmanuel Todd, in his brilliant book After Empire of 2004 argued that we were witnessing the decline and fall of the American Empire. I am not going to summarize his argument here for lack of space, but I must say that I found it very cogent. I will point to just one detail here. Our Prime Minister is regarded as having solid pro-Western credentials, but the Americans and the Indians have not been able to effect a diminution of the Chinese presence here to any significant extent. The reason is the economic power of China. That accords perfectly well with Todd’s thesis.
The other thesis is the one advanced by Chalmers Johnson in his equally brilliant book The Sorrows of Empire, also published in 2004. His thesis is that the Americans are the practitioners of a new form of empire, an empire of bases which apparently is flourishing. I am wondering whether the two theses are not really contradictory but are complementary. It may be that the US has to confine itself to an empire of bases because the peoples of the world are less and less willing to accept satellite status in the American Empire that has been largely evil. However the point that interests me most is Johnson’s notion that militarism and imperialism go together. He derives his idea from Eisenhower’s farewell address in which he warned against the growing power of the military-industrial complex. The idea is that under militarism the military acquires a certain degree of autonomy and tends to pursue its own interests rather than that of the nation, and furthermore it leads to imperialism. That makes sense to me, and that is why I see a sinister potential in the growing military dimension of the Indo-US relationship. I hope therefore that our Indian friends will re-think their relationship with the US and persuade our American friends to lay off Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem for a while.