Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

A Blind Man's Meal and The Economist

by Sachi Sri Kantha, February 11, 2010

Churning out choice insults for opponents seems to be the cottage industry of Churchillian colonial racism, and none can challenge the British intelligentsia in this game.

I have borrowed the title of this commentary from Picasso’s 1903 drawing, Le Repas d’aveugle [The Blind Man’s Meal; oil on canvas 95.3 x 94.6 cm]. It is presented nearby. It belongs to Picasso’s ‘Blue Period’. As Carsten-Peter Warncke, a professor of art history at University of Gottingen, noted about this drawing: Ex-centricity and centralization were constants in Picasso’s Blue and Rose periods (1901-1906).

The Blind Man’s Meal has a blind man up against the right of the composition, reaching across the table with unnaturally elongated arms, so that the rest of the picture seems somehow to be in his embrace or province. The radically monochromatic blue is married to a kind of formal crisscross procedure: the composition uses striking echo techniques, the pallor in the blind man’s neck answered by parts of the table, the paler blue patches on his clothing corresponding to the pale blues on the real wall”. [Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973, Taschen, Koln, 1998].

It is a given that the mainstream global media is dominated by linguistically blind, culturally blind, and religiously blind journalist jerks who keep on writing homilies on the plight of Eelam Tamils. A good example appeared as an editorial in the Economist magazine (Oct.17, 2009, p. 13), under the caption ‘Winners and Losers’. For those who have missed it, I provide the complete text of this Economist editorial:

“The victory in May of Sri Lanka’s army over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam should have been a cause for almost universal celebration. The Tigers, seeking to monopolise the politics of the country’s Tamil minority, were pioneers in suicide-bombing and leaders in child-conscription. They were as brutal towards Tamils as towards the Sinhalese majority. Many foreign countries banned them as terrorists. After 26 years of warfare, no one begrudged Sri Lanka its hopes of peace. Yet the government, its reputation already tarnished by the manner of its final victory, risks squandering the richest prize that victory offers: the chance for national reconciliation.

The biggest obstacle to that reconciliation has become the fate of some 250,000 Tamils displaced by the war and now herded into camps. Their conditions are abject: crowded, short of drinking water and with poor sanitation. Many have been displaced several times and have lost everything. Tempers are running short and confrontations with guards more frequent. Aid agencies have only limited access, and the press next to none. There are fears of worse hardship to come, and especially of the spread of disease. The imminent monsoon may turn a grim ordeal into a disaster. Rain in August caused flooding, washing away tents, preventing food deliveries and flushing raw sewage around some camps. The government is preparing for the monsoon, digging ditches and improving latrines. But already this week, a pre-monsoon downpour leaked into hundreds of shelters.

The government blames the UN and aid groups for shoddy camp-building. They retort that these were only ever meant as temporary shelter for people on their way home or elsewhere. In practice, as a report for the European Union (EU) noted, the camps now provide the setting for ‘a novel form of unacknowledged detention’. Two plausible-sounding reasons for their internment—weeding out Tiger remnants and demining their home villages—have worn thinner as the months have dragged on, and the monsoon provided a climatic deadline.

The government claims to be emptying the camps as fast as it can. But with so much going its way, it seems to feel little pressure to deal with this difficult issue. It has just triumphed in provincial elections in the south—its eighth such victory. This has encouraged the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to bring forward presidential elections, due in late 2011, to early next year. The economy, too, is enjoying a peace dividend, with the stockmarket more than double its value at the beginning of the year, and interest among foreign investors strong enough for the central bank this week to launch a $500m bond issue. Tourist arrivals are picking up.

The damage being done to Sri Lanka’s international image, however, may last longer. The Tamil diaspora will keep alive the calls for investigation of alleged war-crimes by both sides in the climactic campaign. And the EU has to decide whether to withdraw Sri Lanka’s special trade privileges on human-rights grounds. If, as seems likely, it does, the country’s garment exporters will suffer great damage, and employment will consequently be hit.

But there is a far bigger danger, at home: that the end of the war fuels the ethnic resentments which caused it. Occasional gestures are made to reconciliation. More Tamil policemen are to be recruited. The president himself this week made a speech in Tamil. But in general, little has been done to make Tamils see the defeat of the Tigers as the liberation it should have been. Indeed, for those still stuck in the camps, the word rings painfully hollow.”

 

Here is my brief commentary on this. In my view, the anti-Tamil bias bulged out in the first sentence itself: “The victory in May of Sri Lanka’s army over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam should have been a cause for almost universal celebration.” Those last three words “almost universal celebration” were jarring for Tamils like me. Like a blind man stroking the proverbial elephant, the editorialist makes an inference at the end: “In general, little has been done to make Tamils see the defeat of the Tigers as the liberation it should have been.” Huh! this writer hasn’t had the spine to write the ultimate truth, known to all Tamils. Those 250,000 heroic Eelam Tamils who are herded in the internment camps are being punished for supporting and sustaining the Tamil Tigers.

The Tamil Tigers were unrealistically smeared for umpteenth time by the Economist editorialists, as “They were as brutal towards Tamils as towards the Sinhalese majority.” If Tamil Tigers had been brutal, those 250,000 heroic Tamils wouldn’t have dared to support them until May of this year. The civil war wouldn’t have lasted for 26 years. The Tamil Tigers were brutal only to the collaborators and turncoats among the Tamils. This had been so in the American Revolution led by George Washington in 1770s and 1780s. It seems that these blind journalists have never heard of the Loyalists, who supported the King George III and his cronies.

A recent issue of the Economist (January 30, 2010) that carried another unsigned “Briefing” on the Sri Lankan presidential election, in three pages, had a paragraph on Prabhakaran, beginning with the sentence as follows: “Prabhakaran, a textbook fascist, went on to murder his Tamil rivals, inspire love and terror in his followers and monopolise the Tamil nationalist cause.” If Prabhakaran is “a textbook fascist”, how can we place the current President Mahinda Rajapaksa (churlish and paranoid on his own Sinhalese military commander, like Adolf Hitler), or his predecessors Junius Richard Jayewardene or Ranasinghe Premadasa? Churning out choice insults for opponents seems to be the cottage industry of Churchillian colonial racism, and none can challenge the British intelligentsia in this game.

It is a pity that those who fill the Economist pages (editorial team and the field correspondents) seem to live still in the bygone era of colonial contempt. Considering the long standing colonial baggage and the ‘We British ruled the world’ mentality (remember that Economist first appeared in 1843, when the British empire was the biggest bully in the world) that the Economist carries in its shoulders, it cannot be avoided that the contemptuous, biased coverage on Eelam Tamils and Tamil Tigers will be a fixture in it. For some journalist jerks, a blind man’s meal seems fulfilling for the belly, but not for the brain.

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