19 December, 2018

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Other Lessons From The London Affair: Anti-Terror Laws & British Hypocrisy

By Sara Dissanayake

Dr. Sara Dissanayake

The recent incident involving the throat-slit gesture made by Defense Attaché Brigadier Priyanka Fernando in response to the Eelamist protesters in London has, rightly so, stirred much controversy. Developments following the incident also sparked ample debate, prompting the public to take sides under the prevailing circumstances.

Instead, this incident compels me to shed light on another grave issue that continues to undermine Sri Lanka’s national integrity: the hypocrisy of the British state and its law enforcement. Needless to state, this is nothing new. Over the years we have repeatedly encountered diplomatic hypocrisy exerted to Sri Lanka, when it comes to the Tamil cause. With the conclusion of the war, this seems to have amplified. We are all too familiar with how the West typically responds to terrorism in other parts of the world. At this point, we reluctantly accept that double-standards, political opportunism and muddled diplomacy seem to be the signature traits of a world power. Having said that, it is imperative not to shy away from vocalising the issue, in every instance reality hits our face.

In the wake of the aforesaid incident, few British Members of Parliament with vested interests were quick to issue a letter of condemnation, urging Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary, to withdraw Brigadier’s diplomatic papers and expel him from the UK. I refer to the letter dated 5 February, signed by Labour Party’s Joan Ryan MP and Siobhain McDonagh MP, Vice Chair and Senior Vice Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Tamils, respectively. Conservative Party’s Paul Scully MP who is the Chairman of APPG for Tamils followed suit the next day. In the interim, the special branch of the Metropolitan Police is reportedly interviewing the complainants, with a view to press charges against the Brigadier. Furthermore, James Dauris, the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka lodged a strong official protest with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of External Affairs. The entire ‘holier than thou’ political tamasha is rather flabbergasting, albeit carried out at the expense of holding the country’s rule of law in contempt. Sadly, the involved parties are either oblivious to the existing counter-terror laws of their own land, or they have no regard for the law in general.

While it is not a criminal offense in the UK to call for the creation of an independent state, need I not remind that the LTTE has been proscribed in the UK under the Terrorism Act 2000. Section 13 clearly stipulates that “A Person in public space commits an offense if he (a) wears an item of clothing, or (b) wears, carries or displays an article, in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or a supporter of a proscribed organisation”. Photographs and video footages of the protest in question depict participants brandishing the notorious LTTE flag chanting “Our Leader Prabhakaran” in the presence of police personnel. Some are seen wearing a black customised sweatshirt with the slain leader’s photo in the front, with an Eelam map printed on the back.

Apologist would argue that flying flags does not necessarily constitute as supporting and glorifying terrorist acts, but such naïve logic does not hold water. Peaceful protests demanding an end to land grab, information on the missing persons and the right to self-determination are indeed acceptable within the law. However, when that message is exemplified by voluntarily and strategically flying a designated terrorist flag, along with publically accepting a megalomania who sanctioned brutal and indiscriminate terrorist acts as their leader- this surely elevates the issue to a whole new level. If this is not called supporting a proscribed organisation, I fail to comprehend what is. It is beyond comprehension how such flagrant violation of the anti-terror law is systematically turned a blind eye. Not only is the criminal activity overlooked, but talk about the pot calling the kettle black: the focus is shifted to removing Sri Lankan diplomatic personnel for offensive behaviour.

The British law enforcement employs selective application when executing their legal provisions, as each case concerned is supposedly ‘circumstantial’. Back in 2004, a man was convicted in Scotland under Terrorism Act 2000, when he was spotted wearing the ring inscribed with the initials of the Ulster Volunteer Force on his wedding finger. In 2015, the Metropolitan police was slammed for failing to arrest a man was walking in Westminster draped in a supposed Islamic State (IS) flag, with his small child who was also waving the flag. He was questioned on the spot, but evaded arrest on the grounds that the police was not able to establish that the man was direct support of IS. Conversely, two pro-Palestinian protestors were arrested in 2015 for offenses under Section 13 of the same anti-terror act, for flying the Hezbollah flag in London. Similarly in 2017, the Metropolitan Police gave an advance warning of arrests if anyone carries the Hezbollah flag at an anti-Balfour march in central London.

Once upon a time in April 2009, the UK police issued repeated requests for LTTE flags to be removed during the protests in support of the Tamil cause. Subsequently, two protestors were held on suspicion of carrying the said flag, which was later seized by the police. Since then however, the British law enforcement seems to have conveniently forgotten that the Tigers are a proscribed terrorist organisation. The Tigers flag has been making an appearance in every anti-Sri Lanka demonstrations in the past decade, and regardless of the occasional official protests made by the Sri Lankan High Commission, there have not been any attempts by the police to arrest or convict people displaying the flags in public. Ergo, the British state is effectually aiding and abetting terrorism in her own territory by disregarding its own anti-terror laws. At the same time, such ‘à la carte’ application of the law unfortunately signifies a diplomatic defeat for the Sri Lankan state.

What we can essentially take away from this incident is that Sri Lanka needs to take a more proactive approach in engaging with the UK. The inaction of the British law enforcement against flagrant pro-LTTE activism is likely to continue, given the inherent hypocrisy of superpower politics. We cannot expect either the Eelamists or the British state to change its approach: the tiger cannot change its stripes, both literally and figuratively in this case. Nonetheless, the fact that the British government is able to brazenly ignore its own anti-terror laws vis-à-vis the LTTE speaks volumes of her regard to Sri Lanka as a sovereign nation. The recent invitation of Prince Edward to Sri Lanka for the Independence Day Celebrations may have ticked a diplomatic to-do list in an failed attempt to appease its colonial masters, but it merely served to showcase the asymmetrical dynamics of UK-Lanka relations.

Sri Lanka can benefit more from proactively shedding its colonial past and adopting an independent foreign policy that is not driven primarily by external circumstances and appeasement. Yearning for superficial recognition by the international community and excessive economic dependence on the West has stripped Sri Lanka of her independence in the truest form. While professionalism of government officials are of utmost importance, at the same time, this incident should serve as an eye-opener to realise, once again, that Sri Lanka needs to stand up more firmly to assert her integrity and national interests. Let the vision for ‘A Country Enriched’ not be limited to socio-economic growth, but also to include a reformation of its foreign policy dynamics to emerge as robust nation with dignity and self-respect.

*The author is a Research Fellow at the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University, Ireland and a Senior Fellow at the Institute of National Security Studies, Sri Lanka.

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Latest comments

  • 17
    1

    The London police shouldn’t have allowed Tamils to protest with the LTTE flag. However, the British always spoil Tamils for their interests.

    Secondly, a person who works at a diplomatic mission shouldn’t have behaved in this manner. This is not acceptable.

    • 5
      6

      Pal No time no see.
      Bussy?

      Have you got a job in Hangbangtota?

      • 7
        7

        Out pouring coming form a rookie stationed in Ireland attached to security related organisation in Srilanka. Demanding independence for Tamils is not an offence in UK and therefore LTTE is not contravening any UK law. LTTE was proscribed only for its unacceptable actions and not for its political stand. Even during the war LTTE was permitted to organise meetings, conduct protests and fly LTTE flag. After war was over, as Srilanka promised UK that they will settle Tamil problem, they were bit harsh on LTTE including confiscating their flags. But after it became clear that Srilanka is dishonest, UK relaxed its stand on LTTE. Since LTTE has not committed any offence since 2009, European Union has taken LTTE off terrorist list. Therefore what they did on February 4th after obtaining permission from authorities is perfectly legal. Threatening peaceful protestors is a crime in UK and the brigadier has committed it. It is a pity that these sycophants are jumping up to defend the crime. Ask the jokers in the all party parliamentary group for Srilanka why they are silent. Srilanka is economically a beggar nation, politically with a pariah status and now declared money laundering criminals. So please stop this nonsense of trying to paint a rosy picture. As long as you do not allow Tamils to live in Srilanka in dignity and safety, such hammerings will continue. Please remember that it was in Dublin that the first discussion on war crimes committed on Tamils in Srilanka was discussed and passed by international community.

  • 8
    6

    Very well written. Hats off to the writer. Looking forward to read more from you. All the best!

    • 3
      1

      US
      well written and it does make sense.
      Dr DS makes sense as well.
      Basically it boils down to Politics and Election FEVER.

  • 7
    5

    Well said Dr. What is quite evident is that the UK is gradually becoming a third world country. Brexit was the first step.

    • 3
      1

      Carlo L. Dissanayake

      “Brexit was the first step.”

      I hear most Sri Lankan migrants voted for Brexit. Did you? They now consider themselves more British than a born British.

  • 5
    0

    Dr Sara D

    Better you do your ‘learning’ somewhere else than continuing to get indoctrinated in the west.

    Come back to S L and work on our west-centric politicians who can do a lot more to keep our relations with London at arms length.

    • 2
      1

      Spring Koha

      “Come back to S L and work on our west-centric politicians who can do a lot more to keep our relations with London at arms length.”

      Can’t we have a clean break from our former colonial masters?
      We survived 2000 years without the Western Colonisers why not another 2500 years?
      On the other hand we cann’t avoid the colonisers from our neighbouring country. Now they rule from Sultanate of New Delhi.

      May be if we are lucky we may end up with twin rulers, one from peacefully rising middle kingdom and the other from saffron Kingdom of Hinduttva.

  • 1
    0

    Master Sir,

    Practice what you preach.

  • 3
    3

    Sara
    Brigadier Pryiankara Fernando’s throat slitting gesticulation came from the bottom of his dark heart in an unguarded moment. You call this the ‘London Affair’. Says what your mission is.
    We can talk and talk about inconsistencies in British law systems and colonialism till the cows come home. How will all this make the gesticulation into an affair?

  • 7
    2

    Well written article, hypocracy of the West well articulated.

    • 2
      2

      Deva Mitta

      “Well written article, hypocracy of the West well articulated.”

      Is this the first time you are fortunate to learn about western hypocrisy? Well you must have just woken up from deep sleep. Welcome back to 2018.

      Could you tell us if you have learned anything new.

      Let us leave aside the Western Hypocrisy for moment. Most of the Sri Lankans are still living in the island. Could she now take time to tell us what is wrong with the people and the country. How hypocrisy and paranoia can be cured in this island, totally eradicated.

  • 4
    1

    Why talk of the British police whose transgressions seem minor when compared to those of the Sri Lankan police and armed forces? Sri Lankan police stood by and watched Tamils being killed from 1958 onwards. They participated in the Black July massacres and in the burning of the Jaffna library. They killed off some 70,000 young Sinhalese allegedly belonging to the JVP. Then there was the killing of the 7000 Tamils (according to his unwashed lordship) in the final war. The exploits of our heroes are so great in killing their own citizens that what the British do to their citizens pale into insignificance.

  • 5
    1

    Writer must focus on the issue: the throat slitting gesture by a diplomat. All else is tosh.

  • 1
    0

    The author is right on the point of hypocricy of superpowers in their foreign policies. But what is more important for us as Sri lankans is to face facts. Today we stand as a fragmented community. We are stronger together no-matter where we live and what our ethnic background are. We should ask the question, why a Tamil youth finds pride in holding the LTTE flag, knowing that it represents a terrorist organization. When Sri Lanka was colonized, the law prohibited Sri Lankans to raise the Sri Lankan flag, but the 1818 rebel leaders held the proscribed flags risking their lives. Why? They didn’t see pride in holding the British flag as their own flag, which was the legal flag at that time in Ceylon. General Robert Brownrigg made a military victory over that Iva-Wellassa rebelion, but we still talk about the way he won that battle. My colleague Viet-Thanh-Nguyen, the Pulitzer prize winner for his seminal book – Sympathizer – once said, “every battle is fought twice – once in the battlefield, and then in the alleys of memory. The second battle often spans across generations”. As Sri Lankans, we have come to point to deeply think about the human side of this debate than arguments based on legality. If both sides continue to focus on punitive approaches for compensation and reconciliation, we will fight this hate battle for a long time. As a Buddhist, I trust more on the Buddhist approach to reconciliation (Patisaraniya-kamma: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/reconciliation.html), that focuses on re-establishing trust. According to Buddha’s words, “Reconciliation — patisaraniya-kamma — means a return to amicability, and that requires more than forgiveness. It requires the reestablishing of trust”. So, blaming UK for their hypocricy for obvious self-centered foreign policies, will not help us. Happy to have a chat with the author.

    • 1
      0

      Thrishantha Nanayakkara

      ” If both sides continue to focus on punitive approaches for compensation and reconciliation, we will fight this hate battle for a long time.”

      There are women in North and East still mourning and awaiting for their kith and kin to return to. They have been demanding to know the where about of their loved ones.

      Since the government through Sirisena and Ranil have effectively confirmed their loved ones were not returning although earlier both promised to look for them. The women say they handed over their husbands and children to the armed forces at the end of the war. The woman saw their loved ones bused out of the area where they surrendered.

      No truth no reconciliation.

      Therefore Sara Dissanayake should spend time digging up truth rather than finding fault on our old colonial masters (which we have done amply over the past 70 years). The objective of the article or her ulterior motive is to justify nasty little Brigadier’s actions and/or save his back.

  • 2
    0

    Need more writers like her who have the courage to say as is and write the facts as it is! We are a Nation obsessed with the ‘International Community’ and what it dictates; slaves to our former colonial masters!

    • 0
      0

      Lush

      What are the facts?

  • 1
    0

    thank you so much dr. sara dissanayake for your very informative article that throws light to the dark minds, like mine, that are confused and mislead with anti sri lanka propaganda by both tamil and sinhala diaspora living in the west with vested interests. i expect more to read from you to know our true position in the political world today.
    the comments made by some readers following your article are also very valuable to look at our own issues from different perspectives and the very content in your article.

  • 1
    0

    Very well written. Hats off to the writer. Looking forward to read more from you. All the best!

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