By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“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.
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?