23 May, 2022


‘Lest We Forget’: A Response

By Charles Sarvan

Prof. Charles Sarvan

Prof. Charles Sarvan

Dr Sanjiva Wijesinha’s article appeared in Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times, 22nd November 2015. Those who haven’t read it should be able to access it or infer content from what follows. The main thrust of his reproach is that while there was massive coverage of the terrorist attack on Paris, Sri Lanka was left alone during the years when the Tigers were active: “we grieved alone”; “we grieved and mourned and suffered alone”.

It has been observed that success in a legal case depends on one’s financial resources or the lack of it, the ironic question being: “How much justice can you afford?” O. J. Simpson when charged with murder employed some of the best (highest paid) lawyers in the US, forming what was described in the press as a “dream team”. On similar lines, mutatis mutandis, some countries can garner publicity while others don’t have the necessary power and influence. For example, the attention paid to the atrocities committed by the Japanese during the Second World War pale when compared with the extensive and continuous coverage given to German atrocities. The crimes of the Japanese were against Asians (until recently, a poor and powerless people) while that by Germany was against the Jews, now ranked, because of unqualified US (and Western) support, as one of the most influential of people.

To cite another example, as I have written elsewhere, the African slave trade is the worst blot on human history, taking into consideration its (a) nature, (b) numbers (millions) and (c) duration over centuries. Punishment was appallingly cruel. I cite one case: Thomas Thistlewood came to Jamaica (1750) and kept a diary in which he meticulously, methodically and dispassionately noted his diurnal doings. These include flogging slaves and rubbing pepper, salt and lime into the wounds; “taking” slave women when and where he pleased; burning to death over a slow fire; rubbing in of molasses, followed by exposure to flies during the day and to mosquitoes at night. One of Thistlewood’s punishments was the “Derby’s dose”. The whipped slave had “salt pickle, lime juice & bird pepper” rubbed into the open wounds, and then another slave was made to defecate in his mouth. He was immediately put in a gag whilst his mouth was full, and made to wear the gag for “4 to 5 hours”.

Yet the slave trade gets little attention when compared with what the Shoah receives: the Afro-Americans are not as rich and influential, as organised and powerful, as the Jewish lobby. Government, media and public sympathy depends on non-humane factors. To my knowledge, there is no national day in the US to mark and mourn the slave trade. The end of the slave trade marked the beginning of ‘Jim Crow’: see my article in Colombo Telegraph, 14 November 2015, titled ‘Film, fiction and falsity’. This is not to decry remembering the Holocaust, most certainly not, but to draw attention to the comparatively little publicity; the public reminding that slavery receives when compared with what the Shoah is accorded. Germany has repeatedly confessed its guilt, expressed contrition and paid compensation. Chancellor Willy Brandt, in his Warschauer Kniefall, went down on his knees in penance at the Warsaw memorial (7 December 1970). The contrast with Japan vis-à-vis Asians is extreme.

There is also the element of affinity. It’s not surprising that the Western media gives prominence to an attack on Paris, a Western capital. The plight of a Sri Lankan housemaid now about to be stoned to death in Saudi Arabia on the allegation of adultery receives far more attention in Sri Lanka than it does even in neighbouring Asian countries. The unfortunate victim of this barbaric sentence is a human being, a woman, a mother: that she is a Sinhalese, a Muslim or a Tamil should make no difference. Whether it does influence reaction, I don’t know. (‘The New Testament’ of The Bible, John 8 : 7, relates the story of a woman similarly sentenced to stoning, and the words of Christ: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” One by one, the crowd dispersed.) Conversely, if the woman had been from, say, Indonesia, I doubt there would have been an equal sense of outrage in Sri Lanka: affinity and identification do play a role, though in an ideal world they would not.

Yes, as Wijesinha points out, there is discrepancy; and the functioning of double standards in the world but, “lest we forget”, Sri Lanka did not stand alone while combating the Tigers. On the contrary, Sri Lanka received massive help – diplomatic and financial; weaponry and advice – from the US, Israel, China, India, Pakistan and other countries. Such help is more effective than what appeals to the ephemeral emotions of the excitable public: words of sympathy, lighting of candles, observing a minute’s silence. “Lest we forget”, foreign powers either maintained a loud silence or made token noises at the nature of the final phase of the war and its immediate aftermath. Now that it’s over, some climb onto the high horse of ethics, justice and human rights. To alter the saying, it is to hunt with the hounds and, when the chase is over, pretend sympathy for the dead hare.

It is unfortunate Wijesinha has nothing to say about Tamil suffering; no sympathy, much less empathy: Professor Rajan Hoole in his ‘Sri Lanka: the Arrogance of Power’ details Tiger cruelty under which Tamils suffered, as have several other writers: “Lest we forget”. Wijesinha writes of the security checks, and the atmosphere of fear in which Sinhalese people lived. This is fully accepted but it applied even more to Tamils – and still applies. Sympathy and understanding, rather than being broad and inclusive, are narrow and excluding; perpetuating rather than helping to heal “illness”. Physician, heal thyself‘ (The Bible’, Luke 4:23): we need to undertake honest soul-searching, reach an accurate and fair diagnosis of sickness which will, in turn, lead to a cure of society and the body politic.

“Terrorist” is now the term of political abuse, freely used and misused; rarely paused over and examined. States can also act in terrorist fashion by visiting violence on civilians, even if the pretext proffered is that terrorists are harbouring among them.

“The ‘Final Report’ presented to the UN Secretary General on 13 November 2006 by the ‘High-Level Group’ states that injustice and inequality fuel violence and conflict. “Wherever communities believe they face persistent discrimination, humiliation, or marginalization based on ethnic, religious, or other identity markers, they are likely to assert their identity more aggressively” (3.13).

State terror has done far more damage than that unleashed by terrorist groups. To their list of the Holocaust, the Stalinist repression, the genocide in Cambodia, the Balkans and Rwanda (3.12) one can add the two World Wars, North Korea, Burma under the military junta, certain dictatorships in Africa and South America, China under Mao – the list is long, and the destruction and death caused by governments is much more gross (“greater” is inappropriate here) than that carried out by “terrorists”. Indeed, there is no comparison. In the First World War, 15% of the casualties were civilians; in the second, it reached 50%. This destruction of life was caused not by terrorist groups but by states. (Sarvan, Public Writings on Sri Lanka, Volume 2, pages 51-53.)

Terrorists are not a sudden, inexplicable and unfortunate phenomenon but the product of certain factors and historical development. These must be taken note of, not to exculpate (emphasised) but to understand, and so work towards a more decent and kinder; a ‘healthier’ and happier society.

Finally, Wijesinha writes that during ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s period of office there was corruption: “It is easy and fashionable nowadays to castigate Mahinda Rajapaksa for the corruption he allowed to flourish”. This formulation seems to imply that though there was corruption, President Rajapaksa himself was not involved in it, did not profit, and therefore remains an unstained hero worthy of electoral reward and power. I don’t know whether Wijesinha was aware of, and intended, this implication; and if intended, whether it’s valid. The last is for others, far better informed than me, to speak.

Dr Sanjiva Wijesinha is to be thanked for an article that stimulates discussion and the sharing of perspectives.

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Latest comments

  • 3

    Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe’s thinking ability and liberal attitudes have regressed rather rapidly. Politics usually does this to people. In his case the company me keeps- Dayan and GLP- have no doubt also played their contributory role.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 0


    • 0

      Apologies. I misread Dr. Sanjiva Wijesinghe as Rajiva Wijesinghe. A grave error.


  • 5

    There was “grieving” but muted, for the thousands killed in cold blood by the JVP in 1971 and in 1988/89.
    When the mostly unarmed JVP members in turn were slaughtered on both occasions by the police and army, again there was muted grief.
    We grieved alone.
    Other countries did not care about these two slaughters and the aftermath of both.
    The captured JVPers were freed after inquiry, to go home.

    But when tamils took up arms after many years of slaughter in batches, they were promptly labelled “terrorists” and were slaughtered in turn by the modern army with far superior weapons.
    Many countries assisted.
    Those who – militants and civilians – were captured/taken into custody when the battle was won, disappeared.
    White flag surrendees were shot.
    Others were stripped naked, and executed.
    Now, those who were captured and jailed are yet without trial in courts
    and are labelled LTTE sympathisers, and still languish in prison.
    It is forbidden to call them “political prisoners”.

    Now tamils are forbidden to grieve those who died in the conflict, because they were “terrorists”.
    But the JVPers are allowed to grieve their dead – and are not called “terrorists”.

    There is therefore, a distinction between Tamil “terrorists” and Sinhala “terrorists”.
    Both are treated in different ways.

    Our justice system therefore, has two different kinds of “justice”

  • 2

    The short-lived LIBERAL PARTY[LP] was a creation of the late Dr.Chanaka Amaratunge.Rajiva Wijesinghe,Late Asitha Perera and a few other gentleman of leisure were its members.Dr.Chanaka Amaratunga,like SWRD in the1920s spoke and wrote in favour of a Federal style of Governance for the country.This was in the early days upon return from OXFORD!
    The Wijesinghes did not last for long as Liberals.In fact their open support for the Rajapakses speaks volumes for their mindset.
    When Sam WIJESINGHE father of Rajiva and Sanjeeva had applied to join as a Crown Counsel in the AttorneyGenerals dept:in the Mid 40s it was none other than G.G.Ponnambalam Q.C.who had put in a word for him.I heard this story from a reliable source many years later.

  • 4

    “Finally, Wijesinha writes that during ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s period of office there was corruption: “It is easy and fashionable nowadays to castigate Mahinda Rajapaksa for the corruption he allowed to flourish”. This formulation seems to imply that though there was corruption, President Rajapaksa himself was not involved in it, did not profit, and therefore remains an unstained hero worthy of electoral reward and power.”,,,

    Web news lately reveals as follows:
    “This Rajapakse henchman who arrived in SL from England, and while masquerading as an investor , was lavishly spending in millions of dollars buying a property every month in SL. Hereunder are the properties Edward Rienzie bought :
    * Colombo Asha Central hospital spending US dollars 250 million
    * Thalpe Frangipani Tree hotel spending US dollars 3 million
    * Thembili house hotel Galle , for Rs. 1.2 million.
    * Balapitiya White Villa hotel for US dollars 1.5 million dollars
    * Kandy Mansion hotel for Us dollars 3.5 million
    * Two properties in Colombo 07 belonging to famous architect Jeffrey Bawa for US dollars 2.8 million.
    * In addition he purchased Ahangama Maruyana Hotel , and Nuwara eliya Villa Rice hotel , whose prices are not known.
    * In Kandy , Sigiriya and Trincomalee too he purchased properties paying US dollars 10 million approximately. These purchases are still being investigated .
    * In India too at Jaipur he purchased properties spending US dollars 5 million.
    It is incredible but true , although Edward Rienzie bought all these properties , there is no source of origin for this prodigious wealth . What is even more incredible and shocking than the mysterious Rienzie is the colossal wealth of the Rajapakses . It is this huge wealth illegally amassed by the Rajapakses that have been utilized by Rienzie to make these massive purchases. In other words Rienzie was the channel for the money laundering activities of the Rajapakses.
    Then came the sudden change . Rienzie after spending in millions of dollars extravagantly , and purchasing properties with gay abandon , all these expenditures halted suddenly and strangely after 9 th January 2015. Rienzie had brought in these colossal sums of dollars form Dubai , Singapore , and countries considered as international marketing headquarters. In addition he had got down remittances from Islands such as Lebuan and St. Kist . Countries like Lebuan and St. Kist are new markets noted for money laundering….”

  • 2

    This man only wants Tamils remembered? Why not all those who suffered? It’s always these so called elite who jump the gun to cause division. How can foreigners show empathy when there is division within the country affected itself? [Edited out]

  • 1

    Slavery was a blot on our collective conscience. The numbers I’ve come across are staggering. Twenty million died while being transported, and a similar number reached the shores of the islands and the continents of the Americas.

    Even more staggering is the number of inhabitants who died/were exterminated following the arrival of ‘civilisation’ and on being ‘discovered’. 60 – 80 million locals departed this world as a direct result. Protestant ‘Puritans’ who were the first to form colonies in what later became the USA, allegedly even became cannibals in order to survive, yet they are the WASPS that today control the land. ‘Thanksgiving’ celebrated with pomp and pageantry yesterday marks the event annually. The word genocide does not appear anywhere in the narrative.

    Australia is another story, I won’t go into. As far as I know there is not a single museum in the names of any of these victims.

    The ‘help’ that Sri Lanka received frrom the various countries mentioned I believed was paid for.

  • 0

    Mola’s mind is so diveded that CT saw it fit to edit it ha, ha.

  • 0

    If the Rajapakses had amassed such colossal wealth in the Ten Year period 2005-2015,what would have been their wealth had they continued beyond Jan:09th-2015?

  • 1

    Are we all saying that there should be monuments for Hitler and the Nazis in Germany, Pol Pot in Cambodia and the list goes on? That the mass murderers in history honoured and remembered? Let the families of these murderers grieve in private. No one wants to stop that. But build any monuments for them, and those grieving for loved ones murdered by them, will bring these monuments down one way or other!

  • 0

    The Rajasingham brothers hurriedly jump in to give their two cents worth of opinion. [Edited out]

  • 1

    Rajapakshes amassed so much wealth that they were able to purchase a Castle in the UK and went shopping for furnishing it.

    I do not know why they are in Sri Lanka instead getting back to the castle in England.

  • 0

    Sarvan doesn’t seem to realize that the majority of Sri Lankans are so grateful to Rajapaksa that, as a reward, they are more than happy to allow him to plunder the country he saved – even though the majority of the people struggle economically, on a daily basis, to survive.

  • 0

    I’ve just been informed that ‘Lest we forget’ was NOT written by Dr Sanjiva Wijesinha but an article forwarded by him.

    My unreserved apology for the mistake: the authorial source was not made clear / explicit.


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