The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon
Part 16

Sachi Sri Kantha
[29 September 2001]

Colombo Beggars in the bin Laden Bandwagon

My recent experiment on a war-mongering Colombo hack 

If the tragic events of September 11, which occurred in the eastern region of USA, spilled blood of unimaginable volume, the intelligence-challenged hacks in Colombo sprung to action in the aftermath to prove that they also can spill bile in equal proportions in the name of anti-terrorism campaign. While much of the journalistic world focused its efforts on Saudi Arabian exile Osama bin Laden and his Al-Quaida network, the target of Colombo-based hacks was not bin Laden, but Pirabhakaran and LTTE.

For reasons of exigency and relevance, I break from the regular analysis on Pirabhakaran in this part, to present a short experiment I did (a one-sided letter correspondence conducted via email) during the past week to the editor of The Island (Colombo) newspaper.

I expected one of three outcomes for my experiment. One: that my brief letters commenting on the published editorials will be printed by the newspaper. Two: that my letters will not appear in the newspaper. Three: Assuming that the second outcome is more probable to occur, I will receive a response via email acknowledging the receipt of my letters.

I did not anticipate the fourth outcome, which turned out to be, that one of my letters receive partial mention in a subsequent editorial and commented upon, though the real contents of my letter would not be revealed to the readers. First, this is what the editor of the Island newspaper wrote in his editorial of Sept.24, entitled, ‘Double standards on terrorism’. Excerpts:

“…Prabhakaran has thrown out all forms of devolution proposed, including the celebrated Devolution Package. The intransigent [1985] Thimpu demands, which are a short cut to a separate state, remains inflexible as ever. Thus, while attempting to fight terrorism militarily – not in a way wars are usually fought but going by the Charter of Human Rights – and trying to talk to the Tigers, have only resulted in a rag-tag band of ruffians turning out to be a global terrorist force. Western nations are aware that they are largely responsible for keeping terrorism going on for 18 years in this country by helping the terrorists to finance their terrorism here.

A good example of this is an E-mail we received today from a Tamil expatriate living in Japan in response to our recent editorial about waging war and peace simultaneously. Referring to us in scatological terms, he boasts that it is not this two-track policy of war and peace that has kept terrorism going. It is because of the invincibility of the Tamils. With that kind of thinkers financing Prabhakaran, to expect a negotiated settlement is only a pipe dream…”

I’m the ‘Tamil expatriate living in Japan’, mentioned in the above passage. I mailed three letters, and the purported ‘scatological term’ appears in the third letter. The editor did not have the courtesy to mention what this ‘scatological term’ was, and under what context I used it. We are now living in the 21st century and the Victorian era prudery has passed into history. If he had published all the three letters which I sent to him, the impartial readers would understand his ignorance, and the bias in his references to Pirabhakaran, LTTE and Eelam Tamils living in the diaspora. I’m glad that the Internet revolution has made it possible to release the contents of the letters to debunk his logic and reason.

The ‘scatological term’ referred to by the editor of The Island newspaper is none other than ‘fart’. This word, once hidden in civil discussions, has gained prominence during the past five decades in its derivative sense, referring to ‘something worthless’ and ‘annoying’, especially in American English. J.D.Salinger used this word, in his acclaimed novel, Catcher in the Rye, 50 years ago, as follows:

“All of a sudden this guy sitting in the row in front of me, Edgar Marsalla, laid this terrific fart. It was a very crude thing to do, in chapel and all, but it was also quite amusing.”

Sour grapes

The big disappointment of the Colombo hacks in the exclusion of LTTE from the list of organizations for which President Bush’s executive order on terrorism applies, generated the Sept.24th editorial in the Island newspaper. The Sunday Times of Colombo also carried a critical anti-American editorial entitled, ‘Forked tongue’ on Sept.23.

One interesting feature among the Colombo hacks is that when the wind blows against them, they bellyache and sneer on American policy, but when the wind favors them, they smooch about America and dance. Aesopian foxes have perfect companions among Colombo hacks.

Now, I provide excerpts from four editorials published in The Island (Colombo) newspaper in the aftermath of September 11 events, in which Pirabhakaran and LTTE were inappropriately linked with bin Laden, and follow them with my prompt responses to this anti-Tamil newspaper.

I wish to incorporate these in this Pirabhakaran series for their relevance. The three subheadings which appear below were the titles which I gave for my letters. Kindly note that I engaged the editor of the Island, only for the post-Sept.11 editorials, where Pirabhakaran’s name was specifically mentioned in the contents.

Osama bin Laden and Pirabhakaran: the differences

The Sept.17 editorial of the Island newspaper carried the title, ‘Towards a terror-free world’. In the middle of this editorial, the following passage appeared.

“The question that arises here is how the US will achieve its avowed objective of meeting terrorism head on with its northern neighbour nestling terrorists to her bosom? It was about a year ago that two Canadian ministers came under fire from the Canadian press for having graced a fund raising dinner of the LTTE, whose leader Prabhakaran is Sri Lanka’s bin Laden.”

Then, the final paragraph of the same editorial stated,

“Success of any global anti terror drive depends on its sustainability and the commitment of the developed world. Its goal, on the other hand, must not be confined to the US avenging itself. Instead its objective must be to prevent the same fate befalling any other nation whether it is a friend of the western powers or not. Equally important is the resolve on the part of powerful nations to bid farewell to the weapon of terrorism as a means of forcing smaller nations into submission. For terrorism always come home to roost. This is the lesson that bin Laden, Prabhakaran and others of their ilk have given the world.”

My response to this editorial, sent on Sept.18, via email to the editor of Island was as follows:

“This comment is with reference to your editorial entitled ‘Towards a terror-free world’ (Sept.17). I’m always amazed by your propensity to compare ‘apples and oranges’, and your comparison of Osama bin Laden and Prabhakaran is a recent example of this perennial sickness. Here I submit four differences between Osama bin Laden and Prabhakaran, for your information.

(1) Osama bin Laden is a native of Saudi Arabia, currently domiciled in Afghanistan. His targeted enemy is USA and he is not waging a direct war against Saudi Arabia. Contrastingly, Prabhakaran is a native of then Ceylon, and currently still living in the island. His army is waging a war against the Sri Lankan state, and not against USA. Not a single American has died due to the activities of LTTE either in Sri Lanka or elsewhere.

(2) Osama bin Laden’s patrons are Pakistan and Afghanistan’s Taliban, created by Pakistan’s Intelligence-wallahs. Prabhakaran’s current adversary is Sri Lankan state, whose prominent patron is Pakistan. So, one can infer who is close to Osama bin Laden. It’s the Sri Lankan state and not Prabhakaran.

(3) Osama bin Laden is not leading any liberation movement. But Prabhakaran is leading a liberation movement, with covert and overt ethnic followers in excess of millions. Though it is reported that Osama bin Laden’s group has ‘cells’ in more than 60 nations, his followers do not amount to more than even 100,000 (see, ‘Osama bin Laden and his Group’, Washington Post, Sept.13, 2001).

(4) Even for the sake of argument, if one sticks the label of terrorist to both Osama bin Laden and Prabhakaran, anyone with basic knowledge on terrorism can comprehend that Osama bin Laden is a transplanted terrorist, similar to Che Guevara. Do not forget that Che lost all his ‘post-Cuban period’ wars, because he was always a ‘stranger’. Prabhakaran, on the other hand, lives among his own followers, and wages war against his adversaries.

You are entitled to your opinion, but at least do not insult the intelligence of your readers.”

Of Dictators and Tin-thrones

The Sept.19 editorial of the Island newspaper again mentioned Pirabhakaran in association with some of the recent history’s designated villains. Its title was, ‘Sri Lanka and the Global Alliance on Terrorism’. Excerpts:

“The pundits on terrorism often tell us that terrorism is merely a symptom of a deeper underlying disease that has to be addressed first if terrorism is to be eradicated. By and large this contention is correct, but quite often the godfathers of terrorism are not susceptible to logic, reason or plaintive cries of humanity and have their own visionary objectives which they are determined to achieve come hell or high water. Adolf Hitler, Japanese imperialists of the Second World War, Communist revolutionaries of Russia and China and our own Third World tin pot dictators like Pol Pot, Vellupillai Prabhakaran and Rohana Wijeweera are some such examples. The cause for this kind of terrorism is the leader who does not listen to reason. Will bin Laden listen to reason?”

I responded to this editorial by an email dated, Sept. 20. The text of my communication to the editor of the Island was as follows:

“The New York Times editorialist yesterday pleaded, ‘What the country needs from the [US] President right now is consistency, in both message and tone’ [New York Times, Sept.19]. If you have to be taken seriously, I make a similar request on your coverage on Prabhakaran. It seems to me that you suffer from a pathological tendency to compare the incomparables.

In your editorial of Sept.19, entitled, ‘Sri Lanka and the Global Alliance on Terrorism’, you place Pol Pot, Velupillai Prabhakaran and Rohana Wijeweera into the same cluster as ‘Third World tin pot dictators’. By conventional definition, a dictator is a head of state who has gained power by democratic or undemocratic means. Hitler and Marcos gained power by democratic means before becoming dictators. Pakistan’s Generals (beginning from Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia ul Haq and to the current head of state Pervez Musharaf) and Indonesia’s Gen.Suharto gained powers by undemocratic means to become dictators. Among the three you have specifically cited from Asia, Pol Pot was a head of state but not Prabhakaran and Wijeweera. By this convention, you have inadvertently omitted two Sri Lankan heads of state (J.R.Jayewardene and Premadasa) who by their deeds proved to be dictators. Even within your three incoherent choices, anyone with common sense would tell that Pol Pot differs from the other two. Pol Pot was pandered and supported by the power elites from USA and China, from 1975 to 1990s. Contrastingly, Prabhakaran stands on his own feet without being propped either by USA or China.”

Beggars in the bin Laden Bandwagon

The war-mongering Island newspaper continued to spew bile and venom on Pirabhakaran and LTTE in its editorials of September 21 and September 22.

Excerpts from the Sept.21 editorial entitled, ‘War or peace?’ are as follows:

“Sri Lanka is, perhaps, the only country in the world that wages a war and at the same time does not wage it. As a result, it has neither defeated terrorism nor made peace with terrorists. It has only vacillated for 18 long years between war and peace and has paid tremendously for its indecisiveness…

Now that bin Laden has ‘roused a mighty giant’ – in President Bush’s words, - Prabhakaran must be a worried man fearing a crackdown on the LTTE overseas. There should be no surprise if he waves an olive branch all of a sudden from the Wanni and offers to talk peace – until the US crusade comes to an end. Remember the LTTE has condemned the terrorist attack on the US obviously in an effort to curry favour with the US authorities. Perhaps, the LTTE might give serious thought to organizing demonstrations abroad to condemn the attacks on the US so as to save its skin…

The question is why Sri Lanka should not emulate the US. If the US does not want to talk to terrorists, then why should we? Sri Lanka cannot afford to be out of step with the world leaders. What the anti-terrorists groups demand is that the government strike while the iron is hot. They don’t want the government to allow a vital opportunity to go abegging. Any sensible government keen to defeat terrorism would have taken time by its forelock. Knowing the LTTE for what it is and having been taken for a ride on previous occasions, the government must desist from any course of action that will cause it to fall into a peace trap again. It must join forces with the US, which is on a worldwide crusade against terrorism.”

The Sept.22nd editorial of the Island, entitled, ‘Fighting global terrorism: Can America help us?’ did not mention Pirabhakaran by name, but it pleaded like a beggar for alms and arms from the USA as follows:

“The United States has banned the LTTE for reasons of its own, probably because of the threat posed to the security to it. For whatever reasons, Sri Lankans and the Sri Lankan government have appreciated it very much. But it should be noted that the United States still has a strict embargo placed on sale of US weapons to Sri Lanka. There is only limited cooperation in defence matters, which are limited to training personnel and the like, but Sri Lanka needs much more assistance in armaments in its fight against terrorism.

Sri Lanka’s political, economic and military plight is such that it is in no position to refuse whatever assistance the US requests despite the ‘anti-imperialist’ monitor [i.e., JVP] of this ‘government on probation’. Besides we have had excellent relations with the United States for long years and have no interests in international terrorist groups. Time is now opportune for Sri Lanka not only to give leadership of Third World countries in the American War on Terrorism but also make reasonable requests for assistance in its war against a global terrorist organization.”

I opted for pungent humor to answer the bile of the Island newspaper’s editorialist, and responded with an email of Sept.22, carrying the caption, ‘Beggars in the bin Laden Bandwagon’. My response was as follows:

“Scorn is not my usual weapon of choice in a debate. But sometimes literati like Shaw have used scorn as a weapon to put their critics in place. Thus I make an exception in this letter. For exiled Tamils like me, your editorial musings on LTTE and Prabhakaran are nothing but beggar’s stinking farts, for the following reasons. First, both are produced from the digested materials of previous days. Secondly, both are hardly deadly and ignored by decent people. Thirdly, both provide some state of relief to the producers.

This comparison was elicited by your two editorials entitled, ‘War or peace?’ (Sept.21) and ‘Fighting global terrorism: Can America help us?’ (Sept.22). The first three sentences of the Sept.21 editorial state, “Sri Lanka is, perhaps, the only country in the world that wages a war and at the same time does not wage it. As a result, it has neither defeated terrorism nor made peace with terrorists. It has only vacillated for 18 long years between war and peace and has paid tremendously for its indecisiveness.”

These are nothing but varnished lies. Petty minded politicians from J.R.Jayewardene, Athulathmudali, Ranjan Wijeratne, Premadasa, Wijetunga to Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ratwatte, in association with a whole battalion of ‘non-field’ Generals had waged war against LTTE with ferocity. Only thing which mattered during the past 18 years was that the Tamil Tigers couldn’t be tamed. The person in the street knows that Sri Lankan state’s exchequer has been repeatedly robbed, on the pretext of war, by the people manning the ‘war industry’. Now, fishing on the pain of American psyche, the stately beggars and their torch-carriers are placating to hitch a ride in the bin Laden bandwagon.

The second half caption of Sept.22 editorial ‘Can America help us?’ is nothing but an apoplectic pleading for such a ride. One single statistic is enough to show how bankrupt the Sri Lankan state had become. 20 years ago, when I left Sri Lanka, one US dollar exchanged for nearly 20 rupees. Seven years ago, when Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power, the same single US dollar was worth for nearly 45 rupees. Now, in the last quarter of year 2001, the pitiable Sri Lankan rupee had depreciated to the exchange level of 90 rupees for a US dollar. This constitutes one of the main reasons, why the Sri Lankan state couldn’t continuously wage the war against the LTTE, and the ‘vacillation’ smoke-screen presented by you is just baloney.”

The baloney, bile and the bloated egos of the Colombo (as well as Chennai) hacks sometimes need to be pricked with pungent humor, and my comparison of their editorial musings to the beggar’s stinking farts is the best I could deliver. If the editorialist of the Island newspaper had some backbone, he would have electronically printed my third letter in its entirety, and made his comments in his editorial of Sept.24. But expecting reason and impartiality from servile hacks who are burdened with unpleasant lives is akin to waiting for turkeys to dance like peacocks. [Continued]