People of Righteousness target Sri Lanka

Michael Roberts, 28 June 2011……… from the Island, 22 June 2011, after an initial draft appeared in transcurrents on 20 June 2011. Readers are encouraged to visit the transcurrents site to see a number of caustic (and puerile?) comments. A more significant reaction from Radhika Coomaraswamy is inserted as Epilogue to this entry.

The war crimes accusations levelled against the Sri Lankan government at the moment are driven by a complex coalition of forces. Though the principal engines are Tamil migrants in the Western world bent on vengeance, there are Western people of righteousness in the vanguard as well. Such a man is Gordon Weiss. His demeanour as he addresses television audiences is that of a crusader. The iconic picture of himself adopted in his very own website,[1] benignly overseeing a mass of African children, reminds one of a missionary.Weiss is not alone. The advocates of human rights today are reminiscent of the nineteenth century missionaries inSri Lanka and India whom I confronted when researching my dissertation as a postgraduate. To these dedicated people the world was at their feet. They interpreted this scene underfoot through an either/or philosophy. As onward Christian soldiers they would save the poor benighted “natives” and rid them of idol worship.

 Today, the moral crusaders are of a different cast. They pursue a different agenda, generally secular in sentiment — with some threads centred upon human rights. But they too adhere to an either/or evaluation of the worlds before them. For this reason I see them as secular fundamentalists. Drawing upon my 35 years experience of Australia I see them marching forth to cleanse the world of “evil” in the form of carbon pollution, smoke inhalation, et cetera. Human rights extremism is one product of this era of secular fundamentalism.

For Sri Lanka these people of righteousness have a clear picture. They are the new knights unveiling the facts in honest fashion. In this view Eelam War IV was a brutal war involving atrocities from both sides in the conflict, government and LTTE. This seeming even-handedness shrouds (surprisingly for moral people) a double standard in the choice of targets for their war crime courts: only the Rajapaksas and their unsavoury henchmen in the Sri Lankan government are targeted, while LTTE functionaries abroad are exempted.[2]

    The last stage of Eelam War IV was, these people of righteousness stress, “a war without witnesses.” This iconic phrase was widely deployed in 2009 and is routinely utilised today by the people of righteousness, one instance being the Weiss interview for ABC in May 2011and another the recent simpleton statement by David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner in the New York Times.[3] So, they, then, are the supreme witnesses. Their witness includes statistics on “civilian” deaths. This is no cause for surprise. We are dwelling in an era captivated by the magical wand of statistics and the impression of precision generated by the imprint of number. So Gordon Weiss told us earlier that his computation of civilian deaths ranged from 15,000 to 40,000. Invariably this sound bite gets twisted in world reportage and is presented categorically in several outlets as “40,000” persons, with the Global Tamil Forum in the forefront of this particular voice. Facts are sacred but statistics are not.

    The spokespersons of righteousness themselves trot out testimony from witnesses, from (a) Tamil “civilian” victims of war; (b) Colonels du Toit and Kahn, UN men of righteousness who were part of Convoy 11 bearing humanitarian aid,[4] and (c) others whose names cannot be revealed in order to protect them. Some of this testimony is cogent and pertinent, but what the phrase “war without witnesses” means is that there were no Western reporters at the battlefront and thus no reliable reportage.

   Does this mean that such a claim is colour blind or colour conscious? Does it mean that only people of a certain colour could provide untainted reportage? Anyone residing in Sri Lankawould be aware that local media personnel provided reports from the rear of the frontlines. Some TV reporters were gung-ho patriotic in disposition; and one would certainly have to treat their presentation as tainted and filtered. But does this mean that all their tales are to be discounted? As an analyst it would be puerile for anyone to discard such reports as those penned by Sheran & Roshini Fernando and Vidura for the Sunday Leader on the 3rd and 17th May 2009 respectively.[5]

 But that is what the insistence on “a war without witnesses” does. More to the point it renders a part-truth into a whole truth. The Sri Lankan government certainly restricted the entry of foreign media personnel; and some, such as Jeremy Page and Nick Paton-Walsh, were unceremoniously bundled out for practicing dishonesty. However, the Hindu correspondent, Muralidhar Reddy, was able to visit the frontlines periodically from October 2008 to May 2009. Kanchan Prasad of Prasar Bharati did so from the 25th January onwards. In late January as well as mid-April they were among a contingent of foreign media personnel taken to Kilinochchi and the front. Both Reddy and Prasad were also accorded the privilege of being permitted to visit Kilinochchi on the 13th May and to then visit the army-controlled section of the No Fire Zone on the eastern side of Nandikadal Lagoon on every day from the 14th May to 18th May inclusive. There, in that last battle arena, they had the freedom to travel its length and breadth.[6]

My analysis thus far would suggest a measure of colour prejudice in the voicing of “a war without witnesses.” That is too simple an explanation for the manifest bias. Rather the people of righteousness are prejudiced towards their own kind, people without nationality, people of the universe, people humane. Thus, in my analysis, it is ideological prejudice that encourages such selectivity.

Invariably, however, when campaigning in an imperfect world their righteous war crimes movement draws unto itself a coalition of various interests. It is not a pure White movement in composition because it attracts people of Asian colour as well: Tamil, Sinhalese, Burgher and Moor people of righteousness; Tamil ultra-nationalists and former Tigers posing as humanists; Sinhalese journalists victimized and endangered by the authoritarian Rajapaksa regime, some now bent on revenge.

Thus, the people of righteousness who are giving witness to the viciousness of Eelam War IV are also Reporters Sans Frontieres, siblings of MSF. To repeat my opening lines: they are universalist-world-citizens, people without nationality. They prosecute for Virtue, driven by a mixture of universalism and righteousness. True, some of them become entwined in the work and join an array of legal types who are part of a vast underbelly of organisations for whom the issue of human rights is also a vested interest and a business. However, one should attend to the degree to which righteousness impels many, in part or whole, and is emblazoned on their foreheads. It is the ramifications arising from this spirit that I am focusing on today.

So it is that their reportage is expressed in either/or terms. It is a tale of a Sri Lankan government juggernaut versus Tiger terrorists. In this view both were equally horrid and the Tamil civilians were caught in the middle as poor victims in the anvil of war. While it is recognised that the LTTE held the Tamil people of the Vanni area as hostages, this tale is highly simplified. This is where the either/or epistemology dominates.

In speaking to the world for the world, the picture presented by the crusaders hides, or fails to stress, two critical facts about Eelam War IV: namely, (I) that in the years prior to the outbreak of war and from its onset in August 2006 the LTTE trained many civilians in peoples’ militia known as Mākkal Padai;[vi] and (II) that, during Eelam War IV, and especially in 2008/09, the Tigers mostly fought in shorts, trousers or sarong.[8] In other words one of the critical aspects of the vicious war was the blurring of the distinction between the “civilian” and the Tiger army person (whether infantry, catering, engineering or supply corps).

 In their simplified and bureaucratic evaluation from some humanitarian cloister, the people of righteousness seem to expect an army infantry platoon crawling through a booby-trapped no-man’s land, usually at night, to have the magical capacity to sort out who was Tiger and who was “civilian.” Worse still, they implicitly consider it good policy for infantrymen to refrain from the conventional practice of throwing a grenade into a bunker in front of them; that is, they ask the infantrymen to poke their heads into the opening first so as to discern if there were “civilians” or Tigers inside.

Such crass idiocy and a failure to exercise analytical empiricism are further complicated by the manner in which the people of righteousness fail to recognise their own complicity in the awful story of the months January-May 2009. By 2009 the LTTE had perfected its strategy of taking aseaofTamilpeople with them as a shroud of protection, a labour pool and a bargaining chip in geo-political diplomacy. This monstrous act was, as far as I am aware, unprecedented in the history of the world. It could match 9/11 in scale and implication, especially if it becomes part of the armoury utilised in the future by states or pseudo-states in extremis.  As such, it remains remarkable that this outstanding act/event has received limited emphasis then and now.

 This Machiavellian strategy on the part of the LTTE was predicated on the presence of three sets of (overlapping) forces whom, the Tigers felt, would come to their aid and save their bacon: namely, (A) the Western states (Canada, Australia, Britain, USA and EU) directed by their own specific agendas, including constituency pressures in some places; (B) people of righteousness both within agencies in Sri Lanka and abroad and (C) those for whom human rights is a professional business.

In other words, the people of righteousness, whether White, Weiss, Brown or Black, were seen as allies by the LTTE. Allies they became during that crucial stage of the war January to May. Allies they remain for Tiger branches abroad, embittered Tamil migrants as well as Tamils and Sinhalese of humane disposition. The war of manoeuvre in word and thrust continues.

Postface, 28 June 2011: When I circulated my expanded version (one that appeared in theIsland), I received a few responses, generally favourable. One was an angry response dated 23 June 2011 from a good friend from years back, namely, Radhika Comaraswamy: “Michael, I think you have lost it. Please don’t send me any more of these really offensive articles- people have suffered so much and you are still on with your bogey of imperialism. I have been to so many conflict areas and voices like yours are just so crass and insensitive. Maybe you should meet one victim form any war before you speak. Please don’t e-mail me again. RC.”

   This unsolicited, knee-jerk reaction indicates that the sentiments that I have depicted as “secular fundamentalism” encourage a form of tunnel-vision in some instances, a perspective that cannot see the wood for the trees. The use of the missionary metaphor in my article, clearly, was a means of stressing the main point: the either/or modalities of evaluation. This mode of assessment, I further claimed, led to a number of errors of judgment. Coomaraswamy’s reaction to this argument now reveals an error of comprehension rooted in the ideological cloisters that I have called “secular fundamentalism.”

  In revealing to the world Radhika Coomaraswamy’s erroneous reading from her powerful position inNew Yorkas the Under-Secretary General of the UN entrusted with the role, “Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict,” I am, clearly, consolidating a split in friendship initiated by her angry note. War and confrontation does have ramifying effects as we all know. They increase polarization.

The trope “poles apart” is kin to the concept of “polarization” and captures the meaning graphically. But it also can hide the complexities in such circumstances.  Metaphorically, one must not restrict one’s picture to a “north pole” ranged against “south pole.” For the Sri Lankan situation one has to insert ‘west pole,” east pole,” and further indicators that mark a whole range of positions that in turn encourage all manner of alliances – a topic that also entered my essay albeit briefly.


 [ii] Addition, 28 June 2011: Again there is a narrowing of temporal focus to the last stages of this war; and a strange failure to encompass the whole span of the conflict, inclusive of the three other stages in the period 1983 to 2002 when army/navy reprisal attacks (several would be documented in the UTHR reports) certainly constituted “atrocities.”

 [iii] “The Silence of Sri Lanka,” html?_r=1&emc=eta1 and

 [iv] See Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts, on Accountability in Sri Lanka, 31 March 2011, section 82 and also Weiss, The Cage, . It seems that these two foreign observers left LTTE territory at the end of January.

 [v] S. and R. Fernando, “Coping with the IDP Tsunami,” Sunday Leader, 3 May 2009 and Vidura, “The Great Escapes,” Sunday Leader, 17 May 2009.

 [vi] AND

 [vii] See AND Figure 17 in Roberts, Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics,Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2010.

 [viii] See “Tiger Dead and Vestments” in 72157626922473698/. Also see Figures 19a and 19b in Roberts, Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics,Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2010.



Filed under world events & processes

64 responses to “People of Righteousness target Sri Lanka

  1. just a bunch of words, a waste of words I would say no cohesion to reality or facts at all. Where were the righteous people when LTTE committed the heinous atrocities against humanity? Hundreds of thousands of events cant be presented, but I know the “righteous” people do not care.
    The “facts” presented here are just fabrications, chanel 4 fabrications are being revealed, number of civilian deaths have been stated with no scientific method.
    On the other hand where were the righteous people of the world when US committed atrocities?
    Johns Hopkins medical school scientists showed in several scientific papers to the medical journal lancet, that more than 500 000 civilians have died in iraq due to the war. Isnt this a crime for the “righteous people of the world”? Wikileaks revealed video footage of US air force it self showing us air men firing at civilians and even journalists, the “righteous people of the world” and media didnt say a word.

    This letter ignores all these facts and relies on fabricated incidents, trying to shroud the hollowness with dictionary words. Its subsophomoric.

  2. Dear Dr Roberts,
    Jeremy Page deserves a special mention as a truly appalling hack for his SL war reporting and advocacy of economic boycotts. He was eviscerated in 2009 by the ‘War Nerd’ (John Dolan masquerading as Gary Brecher) here:

    I think these worthies really do believe in their own moral superiority, vis-a-vis SL or other developing nations. e.g. Robert Kaplan, who was enthusiastic cheerleader for Gulf War 2, says “[Sri Lanka] acted in a way so brutal that there are no lessons for the West.” I find that sentence, literally unbelievable. How can someone of that (supposed) level of intelligence say that and remain sane?

    I had a fascinating debate with AI where they stubbornly refused to admit that sometimes, (e.g. Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Sri Lanka and also Rwanda),killing and crushingthe right people leads to an improved HR situation. Jim McDonald of AI said“We don’t say that the way to end human rights abuses by any particular group of people is to kill all those people or to dismantle that organization.”

    But on the other hand, GoSL by maintaining the ‘no atrocities’ stance (demonstrably untrue) leaves itself open to endless attacks by the ‘righteous’.

  3. Many thanks MANGO – appreciated. I will follow up these leads.
    Page incidentally was behind the one-off report in the TIMEs stating that 1400 people had died per week at ManikFarm [in early june 2009 or thereabouts]. BUT siginificantly there was not follow-up.
    Yet it made headline enws and spread all over the world.

  4. Dear Dr Roberts,
    Page’s story was quickly debunked at the time, but as you note, it was too late.

  5. Pingback: Outcomes from my Think-Piece … and Thoughts on Pictorial Imagery | Thuppahi's Blog

  6. Pingback: Amnesty International reveals its Flawed Tunnel-Vision on Sri Lanka in 2009 | Thuppahi's Blog

  7. Pingback: Niromi de Soysa’s Path of Redemption with Deception? or Both? | Thuppahi's Blog

  8. Pingback: Visual Evidence I: Vitality, Value and Pitfall – Borella Junction, 24/25 July 1983 | Thuppahi's Blog

  9. Pingback: Thuppahi's Blog

  10. Pingback: Visual Evidence II: Torture Images on Channel 4 … and Weiss « Colombo Telegraph

  11. Pingback: The Torture Scene In “Killing Fields” and Gordon Weiss | Thuppahi's Blog

  12. Pingback: Vijitha Yapa speaks out agaisnt self-righteous sermonizing | Thuppahi's Blog

  13. Pingback: Fundamentalisms Face-to-face as the Dhammadīpa concept is re-affirmed in Sri Lanka | Thuppahi's Blog

  14. Pingback: Misleading Black & White Readings of the Thai Military in the West | Thuppahi's Blog

  15. Pingback: Misrepresenting The Sri Lankan War, 2009-2012 | Colombo Telegraph

  16. Pingback: Misreading and Distorting the Sri Lankan War, 2009-2012 | Thuppahi's Blog

  17. Pingback: Deported From Britain: Back To Ordinariness Or ‘Duress’ In Sri Lanka? | Colombo Telegraph

  18. Pingback: Deported from Britain: back to ‘duress’ or ordinariness in Sri Lanka? | Thuppahi's Blog

  19. Pingback: Sri Lanka’s Complex Background: Correcting & Amplifying Sheridan and Gotābhaya | Thuppahi's Blog

  20. Pingback: Sri Lanka’s Complex Background: Correcting & Amplifying Sheridan And Gotābhaya | Colombo Telegraph

  21. Pingback: BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13 | Thuppahi's Blog

  22. Pingback: The fog of war in Sri Lanka | TransConflict

  23. Pingback: Fashioning a Spectre of Disaster with Aid from Humanitarian Agencies: Tamil Marvels | Thuppahi's Blog

  24. Pingback: Julie Bishop canes Weiss | Thuppahi's Blog

  25. Pingback: Gordon Weiss – Lies Lies and More Lies  | LTTE AGENTS

  26. Pingback: Running the Gauntlet in Academia: The Case of “Selfless Sacrifice” — A Rejected Article | Thuppahi's Blog

  27. Pingback: Triuth Journalism? Marie Colvin hoist on her own Petard | Thuppahi's Blog

  28. Pingback: Marie Colvin an example of how people end up supporting terrorists and campaigning for terrorists | TERRORIST NADAGAM

  29. Pingback: From MICHAEL ROBERTS, Anthropology, Adelaide University to SANDRA BEIDAS of OHCHR |

  30. Pingback: The War in Sri Lanka and Propaganda Debates | Thuppahi's Blog

  31. Pingback: To use “Cultured Reason” against jihadist martyrdom is to piss into the wind | Thuppahi's Blog

  32. Pingback: A Critical Bibliography: Challenging the Machinations of the International Powers vis a vis Sri Lanka | Thuppahi's Blog

  33. Pingback: USA under Assault: How Tamil Activists Secure Attention, 2009 andToday | Thuppahi's Blog

  34. Pingback: No Groundwork, No Critical Thinking. A Dilettante Thinker’s Foray into Sri Lanka | Thuppahi's Blog

  35. Pingback: Righteous Blindness. In Cricket and In War | Thuppahi's Blog

  36. Pingback: Meeting Michael on Men and Matters, May 2015 | Thuppahi's Blog

  37. Pingback: Saving Talaivar Pirapāharan | Thuppahi's Blog

  38. Pingback: Reflections on Sri Lanka’s Experience in Defeating Terrorism | Thuppahi's Blog

  39. Pingback: Meeting Ex-Tigers and Addressing the Issue of Rehabilitation | Thuppahi's Blog

  40. Pingback: Thuppahi's Blog

  41. Pingback: David Miliband’s Imperious Intervention in Lanka left in Tatters | Thuppahi's Blog

  42. Pingback: Embittered Tamilness on Display. The Case of Robert Perinpanayagam | Thuppahi's Blog

  43. Pingback: The Missing in Lanka: An Old Bibliography … Further Supplemented | Thuppahi's Blog

  44. Pingback: Defeating the LTTE: Major-General Kamal Gunaratne in Riveting Q and A | Thuppahi's Blog

  45. Pingback: Sturdy Advocacy: Marga’s Questioning of the UNPoE Assassination Job | Thuppahi's Blog

  46. Pingback: Thoughts on de Silva-Ranasinghe’s Concise Delineation of the LTTE Defeat in Eelam War IV | Thuppahi's Blog

  47. Pingback: Moving to War: Critical Events that hardened Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Resolve in 2006 | Thuppahi's Blog

  48. Pingback: Manipulative Distortions & Duplicity in ABC Programme on Nauru Detention Centres | Thuppahi's Blog

  49. Pingback: HRW in Syria and Sri Lanka: Moral Fervour generating Political Blindness and Partisanship | Thuppahi's Blog

  50. Pingback: The National Anthem as Spearhead in Steps towards Reconciliation | Thuppahi's Blog

  51. Pingback: That wicked ball! THE CHINAMAN!!! The Racist Origins of a Technical Term | Critiquing Cricket

  52. Pingback: The Games that the Allmighty Play: Syria Now, Sri Lanka Then | Thuppahi's Blog

  53. Pingback: A Down-to-Earth Review of E-War IV and Its Literature | Thuppahi's Blog

  54. Pingback: The Death Toll in 2009: Deceit and Myopia, International and Lankan | Thuppahi's Blog

  55. Pingback: Harsha de Silva faces Geneva Court | Thuppahi's Blog

  56. Pingback: The ICC is Imbecile: Verbal Assaults permitted within Cricket Field | Thuppahi's Blog

  57. Pingback: Is Sri Lanka creating A Dungeon for Itself? | Thuppahi's Blog

  58. Pingback: Liddle’s Sarcastic Criticism of David Cameron’s Arrogance in Sri Lanka at its CHOGM Occasion in 2013 M | Thuppahi's Blog

  59. Pingback: The Western World’s Cumulous Clouds of Deception: Blanketing the Sharp Realities of Eelam War IV | Thuppahi's Blog

  60. Pingback: Tamils pay Homage to Dead Tigers on 27th November: Channel 4 You Tube on Deep Scars of the Wars | Thuppahi's Blog

  61. Pingback: A Bibliography from TAMIL PERSON and STATE | Thuppahi's Blog

  62. Pingback: The Many Strands of Extremism TODAY: Salafi, Racial, Chauvinist and HR | Thuppahi's Blog

  63. Pingback: The Many Strands of Extremism TODAY: Salafi, Racial, Chauvinist and HR -

  64. This is a great blog

Leave a Reply to thuppahiCancel reply