By Malinda Seneviratne –
The United Kingdon’s Deputy High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Laura Davies is a lady on the move. It’s all official of course, although in an age where diplomats double up as spies we don’t really need to place too much value on ‘official’ claims. Still, there’s no denying that she moves around. She’s gone to the East. From Arugam Bay to Trincomalee, through Pottuvil, Oluvil, Kalmunai and Batticaloa, she says.
And through it all, she’s been looking over her shoulder. She was being watched, she says. And those she met with had to deal with ‘follow-up visits’ or ‘phone calls’, asking what she had done and said. She was saddened but not surprised that several people had been, she claims, ‘too scared to meet’ her.
Then she pontificates. She says too much security can alienate people from those who are supposed to be keeping them safe and offers that this would make it hard to rebuild trust between local communities and government. ‘It can perpetuate stereotypes and damage reconciliation,’ she adds.
On the face of it Laura Davies is correct. Too much surveillance doesn’t help. Indeed, some would argue that zero-surveillance is best, except that we live in an unhappy world of trigger-happy terrorists, diplomats disguised as spies, diplomatic missions doubling up as operational headquarters for intervention of all kinds from the fermenting of rebellion to arming of insurgents to open assault.
She’s correct but she should not be surprised. She’s from Britain, isn’t she? That country knows about surveillance. And much more besides. She knows all about phone-tapping and eavesdropping, about hacking email accounts and being watched. After all her country is a client state all but in name of the United States of America. Here are two stories from way back when that would give a memory-jolt to this diplomat who is running around wearing a t-shirt with the legend ‘I am naïve’.
Years ago, two college students were getting ready for the Model UN. One was to represent Russia. They poured over whatever material they could find in the college library. Two days later, there was a knock on their door. It was the FBI. This was long before the internet and Big Brother watching you surf, mind you.
Thirteen years ago, I wrote a series of articles about my experiences as a student in the USA. One article was about my teachers. I referred to a brilliant scholar who I described ‘as the only card-carrying member of the Communist Party’. The truth is, I didn’t know if he was a member of the CP or not. It was short-hand for someone who openly articulated radical political positions inspired by Karl Marx. This was for a Sri Lankan newspaper. A week later, the FBI pays him a visit in Ithaca, NY.
So she should not be surprised that I am surprised by the fact that she is surprised. She should be more worried about who is peeping into her text messages. Ideally it’s an alert citizenry that should keep an eye on such busybodies but we don’t live in an ideal world and this too she knows. All she does is give credence to processes and thinking that wants blanket surveillance of everyone for reasons that go beyond keeping an eye on an errant diplomat.
Oh, it’s all official of course, as she says. So is walking down the street. That doesn’t stop City Fathers and Mothers from installing CCTV devices at intersections. Same principle in operation here, Laura should understand.
She slipped though. She showed her hand when talking about the UNHRC investigation, hurrahing it in the process of reading from the tired script about supporting that process as well as domestic mechanisms. She slipped twice. First by paying homage to the UNHRC process which was conceived in malice, selectivity and in clear violation of everything the UN and UNHRC is supposed to stand for. She slipped again when she fails to give a similar cheer to the domestic process. The latter is not without problems, but if both have questions hanging over them, salutations for both should be qualified.
Her exercise has been one of making Sri Lanka look bad, although she doesn’t say this when she briefed the world about her JD. She might get a pat on the back for that and we won’t grudge her that feel-good moment.
She’s being presumptuous when she says that she shares with Sri Lankans the ‘common objective’ of long-lasting stability and prosperity; presumptuous because not everyone in Sri Lanka will believe that Britain is interested in anything of the kind. Does she really want us to believe that her country is interested in stability and peace?
Here’s an exercise for Laura Davies: a) write down all the countries that her country has ‘intervened’ in from as far back as she can remember, b) assess what kind of plunder took place and where the loot ended up, c) give details of the numbers killed and by whom, and d) tell us how was left standing at the end and who these ‘last-standing’ supported. If she’s got a short memory, she can focus on the ‘now’ of British engagement.
Once she does that she can talk about stability, peace and British love for such things. Okay?
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com