Saturday May 18, 2013
Special Feature: A Spark of Unity for Sri Lanka?Tim King Salem-News.,com
Tim King asks activists, writers, and a Member of Sri Lanka's Parliament, if the widespread support for a Muslim maid in Saudi Arabia eased other tensions.
(SACRAMENTO, CA) - I frequently joke about how an alien invasion from outer space would bring the human race together onto the same page very quickly. I hope the united struggle that ultimate failed to save Rizana Nafeek, but seemingly put all Sri Lankans onto one page, can lead to a microcosm of that idea taking place on the island nation.
Most people who pay attention to national news, know that Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan woman employed as a maid in Saudi Arabia, was beheaded over the death of an infant she is accused of killing.
The young woman had no past behavior indicating she was dangerous, and she and her advocates maintained to the very end that she had no direct involvement in the baby's death.
But good luck selling that one in Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally that enforces Sharia Law which makes all women second-class citizens, and that is putting it mildly. It means, among other things, that the word of a female maid, a foreigner at that, has little weight or value against a member of a wealthy Saudi family.
In Sri Lanka, bitter tensions between minority ethnic Tamils and Sinhala Buddhists simmer in the wake of the country's terrible civil war that ended in 2009 with tens of thousands of Tamils mass murdered by their own government.
Rajasingham Jayadevan, a well known Tamil activist in London, shared his thoughts on the government's role as the hopeful yet failed savior of Rizana Nafeek. Ultimately, the young maid was a Tamil, but also being Muslim made her even more unique as a Sri Lankan, and that likely played a part in her demise. "You can say that the government showed lack of interest because she is a Muslim. If it was a Sinhala Buddhist Wimal Weerawanse likes would have gone on the fast in front of the Saudi Embassy. Saffron robed ball heads would have gone to town on the issue." He cites that there are no protests or outcries over Nafeek's death, and even the Muslim leaders associated with the government are playing ball.
A drastic need for unity, mutual respect and peace is sorely lacking. The Muslims of Sri Lanka are an even smaller minority living amongst the minority Tamil and majority Sinhalese populations.
Taking it a step farther, even if she did kill the baby, she did not deserve this spectacle of a death. Have you seen it by the way? You might as well put yourself through it to fully appreciate the impact. It isn't too bad, the camera records the image from a distance and about the only thing you see is the swing of the sword and the actual beheading at the end. Last year we published video of drug cartels in Mexico using a chainsaw to remove the heads of two men. This isn't anything close to that.
But is it one country? The whole civil war hinges around the fact that Tamils claimed a large section of the north coastal region as the breakaway state of Tamil Eelam. Today it is an occupational zone where Sri Lankan soldiers are stationed in large numbers. But politically and definitely militarily, and certainly occupationally, it is one country today.
Sri Lanka, land of a recent tsunami, that preceded the tragic Tamil Genocide, and the defeat of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) Tamil Tigers themselves, who literally terrorized the Sri Lankan military and then fought to the very end.
The point though is that the war did end and while a strong desire to repopulate Tamil Eelam exists, and Sri Lanka is accused of endless war crimes, each day still comes and goes and the population should take this example of the beheading of the young girl, and consider how the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) did take steps to save her, unsuccessfully of course.
So what do Tamil activists and writers think about the idea of an event like this tragic beheading, in relation to building unity in Sri Lanka? I asked Visvanathan Sivam to explain how the girl's Muslim heritage relates to that of the Tamils, who are primarily Hindu, followed by Christians.
"The maid is a Tamil Muslim. The Muslims who live in the North-east are Tamils, but like the Muslims elsewhere, they consider themselves Muslims first and Tamils last. The same as the Muslims in UK - they are Muslims first and English last; nothing on earth can change them," Sivam said.
I asked if it seemed possible, from a Tamil perspective, to see any hope emerging from this brief bout of common support from all Sri Lankans, to hear once again that, "nothing on earth will bring the Tamils and Sinhalese together". Sivam says the Sinhalese government is all out to reduce the Tamils to an absolute minority in their own homeland. As for the Muslim woman who was killed in Saudi Arabia, Visvanathan Sivam says the government has to make some noise to please the Muslims, but that after some time, everything will go back to square one.
"To be frank with you I don't have any hope of any solution in Sri Lanka, as the government has no will to find one. We just go on doing our work and leave the rest to destiny," Sivan added.
I turned to the most well known and accomplished Sinhala activist for Sri Lankan Tamils, Dr. Brian Senewiratne, in Melbourne, Australia, to get a sense of what he thought. "As for Unity in Sri Lanka," he said, "It's too late for that. Beheading or no beheading, Sri Lanka cannot be one country. It is not ‘if’ but ‘when’ that separation will occur".
Strike one, as we say here in the land of baseball. I had to smile when reading Dr. Senewiratne's first sentence, "Tim... I have no idea why you think that the well-known barbarians in Saudi Arabia (and several other countries like Singapore) will lead to unity in Sri Lanka."
Dr. Senewiratne was raised in a Buddhist culture and both Hindus and Buddhists believe in not killing any living thing. Now they don't all follow that, just as members of all other religions seem to have their violent side and inability to follow religious teachings, but the good doctor males clear how little use he has for the violent Wahhabi culture of U.S. ally Saudi Arabia.
"Death by hanging, beheading, stoning or any other is more a reflection of barbarism – a return to a barbaric past. As a member of Amnesty International from day 1 (1961) when Amnesty was launched in Trafalgar Sq (I was a newly qualified doctor who was working a couple of tube-train stops away), I have been totally against capital punishment. I have seen more than one person executed only to find several years later that someone else was responsible".
When asked whether he believes the Sri Lankan government has what it takes to dare to challenge the Saudi government, he replied, "No, it has too much oil – to hell with human rights".
A Tamil advocate who is always helpful to my reporting efforts, Sandy Vadi, points to an article written by Fil Munas in September, titled 'Shed a tear for Rizana'
"...bringing communities together is not possible with the current regime and its loyal bunch. Some of them including Rajiva Wijesinha, Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara (at) one time aroused vast expectations among youth and students and spoke widely about Tamil autonomy, equality and self-determination few decades ago".
Vadi recently sent photo of posters in Colombo printed only in Sinhala accusing TNA, Chief Justice as Tamil Tiger traitors trying to destabilize the country. "This kind of language in 'communal lines' has been there for six decades for political purposes and now it is sold very well to poor Sinhalese population".
This activist references Rajiva Wijesinha, a member of the Sri Lankan parliament and presidential advisor, who was also the former head of the Sri Lankan peace secretariat and the secretariat to the ministry of human rights.
I wanted to gauge Wijesinha's thoughts on this development, so I asked him whether this type of event bolsters the unity of all Sri Lankans. He cited my statement to him, "Surprise has been expressed with regard to the execution of Rizana that all sides came out in favor of saving the girl, Sri Lankan Muslims, Tamils, and plenty of Sinhalese," saying:
"I found such surprise strange, but realize that understanding of the actual situation in Sri Lanka has been distorted by not just the years of conflict but by the presentation of Sri Lanka by expatriates". He rarely misses an opportunity to downplay the turbulent relations in Sri Lanka, and was no exception in this case.
"Within Sri Lanka there are hardly any animosities based on race itself, and most Sri Lankans treat people of other communities simply as human beings".
He does not deny that there are resentments based on what he calls "perceptions of discrimination" and instances of violence, and this in turn has led to resentment of what he refers to as "terrorist activity".
"Tamils have felt oppressed by a majoritarian political dispensation that they felt hijacked the state, and this can translate into the feeling that Sinhalese have supported such a dispensation, but this hardly ever precludes willingness to interact positively with individuals".
Wijesinha says the situation is different abroad, where memories of discrimination, and of three outbreaks of violence, have fuelled deep bitterness.
"This is exacerbated by reportage that concentrates on negatives – just as on a smaller scale some Sinhalese expatriates are conscious only of terrorist activity. Appetites that feed on themselves will not be able to see the suffering of individuals like Rizana objectively. Within Sri Lanka however we continue to interact, in schools, in offices and in commercial life without registering or bothering about the race to which those we interact with belong".
Noel Vethanayagam in Chennai, suggests an excellent article for those seeking to further understand the situation, written by Tisaranee Gunasekera in Sri Lanka in The Guardian dated Tuesday, 15th January 2013. The title of the article is 'Rizana Nafik, Bandaranayake and the Lankan Reality'. Vethanayagam commented on the government's involvement in the series of attempts to save the girl's life.
"As to what I think of the issue, the Govt was not sincere, they would not even pay the fees of the lawyer who was to defend this poor girl. As you know remittances of these poor workers bring the second most foreign exchange to Sri Lanka next to tourism. The Govt was not genuine because of the fear that any action would result in the loss of foreign exchange".
He points to the fact that the agency which recruited her to work as a nanny did so knowing she was under-aged. In fact according to reports, the agency falsified her passport in order to send her to Saudi Arabia. "The Govt did not even bother to bring her body back to SL as this will create tension in the Muslim community in Sri Lanka." The sadness of Rizana Nafeek's mother has drawn a great deal of attention in Sri Lanka. Her family hoped for several years that they would see their daughter again, alive.
Donald Gnanakone with Tamils For Justice, who lives in Southern California today, knows the level of heat the Sri Lanka civil war generated. He and his family had to flee for their lives after Buddhist monks began murdering people and torching Tamil sections of Colombo in 1983.
He cites the fact that Rizana was a teenage child when she was sent by Sri Lanka to work in Saudi Arabia. "This is child labor, and there is preponderance of Sexual abuse during the offer/promise of employment of Sri Lankan girls well below 18, and their mothers and sisters. GoSL turns a blind eye to such allegations as well as bribery and corruption. Sending children to the Middle East or anywhere should be condemned and treated as a crime.
He explains that Rizana is a Tamil speaking girl from Mutur in the Eastern Province close to Trincomallee. Her religion/race is Muslim.
"The cruelty and the manner in which she was executed was Barbaric. But this is one poor soul who got killed. The Rajapakses killed 100,000 Tamil civilians in the North and the Sinhalese cheered and' then denied the killings. (Most of them). 80,000 Tamil widows are still suffering in the hands of 150,000 Sinhala soldiers, and their life is miserable due to poverty, sexual harassment, intimidation, threats, and RAPE on a regular basis. Outrage, should be sensible and proportionate to the numbers and degree of suffering".
One person who shed much light on the issue, is Dr. Elias Jey with the U.S. Tamil Political Action Committee (USTPAC). He was able to explain more about the details on the connection between this Muslim girl and the Tamil culture.
"First of all, Rizana was a Muslim child whose mother tongue is Tamil. I noticed her signature on her passport was in Tamil," Dr. Jey said. He does not see the event having any affect on political relations on the island, but he gives the government of Sri Lanka limited credit for their efforts to prevent the beheading.
"Though I believe that Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims are shocked by Rizana's execution, it doesn't have any significant impact on mending the ethnic divide in the island".
While Dr. Jey does not doubt the sincerity of the Government in their efforts to obtain clemency, those efforts were woefully inadequate to have brought the desired results. "Especially in the final few days, when there were reports that the Saudi authorities are preparing for the execution, the government did not send any high level team, but were misleading the public saying she will be released soon, and busy violating rule of law in their country with the illegal impeachment of the Chief Justice".
As stated in a press release released by Elias Jey this week:
Salem-News.com writer Sunalie Ratnayake, who worked in Sri Lanka as a journalist, movie actress and model, was one of the initial people to handle this story for The Sunday Leader back in 2007. Currently living in Southern California, Sunalie is a staunch critic of the country's history of human rights violations toward Tamils.
She says the government did not by any means do enough to help aid in the desperate effort to save this unfortunate daughter of Sri Lanka from the blade of a sword.
Sunalie continued, "Even the day she was killed, there was this government minister Dilan Perera (former Deputy Minister of Justice), who had no clue that she her life had already been terminated...."
This is indeed a sad illustration it seems, of the disconnect that existed between the Sinhalese Sri Lankan government, and the Saudi government which was more determined than reluctant to kill the young lady in front of a large number of men.
"This occurred at 11.45 a.m. Sri Lankan time and by 1.15 p.m. the same day, the afore said Govt minister was shouting in parliament (like a donkey), stating that they are doing their best to save her life, and she was already dangled at the time, and the idiot did not know it, even by then.... That's pretty much about how this government works...Not knowing whether they are coming or going...."
Dr. Elias Jey says the Sri Lankan Government refused to pay the legal fees for the girl's failed appeal, which was largely mounted by the tireless efforts of the Asian Human Rights Commission based in Hong Kong.
"One genuinely wonders whether the treatment might have been different had the victim belonged to the majority ethnic community," Jey said. http://www.asafeworldforwomen.
Europeans have a sense for Sri Lanka, particularly those from Great Britain, Australians are close and far more familiar, but most Americans know and understand far less about this nation located off the coast of Tamil Nadu, India.
When MIA appears on TV, rarely do the announcers remind us she is Tamil, because she is Sri Lankan, and that is enough of a description much of the time.
Sri Lanka's government badly wants to move past the dark and dismal news that their country has become famous for, and there are people within the government who are trying to establish working programs for peace.
Sadly, there are far more members of Sri Lanka's government plotting the establishment of government military bases in north Sri Lanka in Tamil country, while so many Tamil people remain unaccounted for.
Several recent articles have concentrated on the murdered and disappeared journalists of Sri Lanka, and the killings that have never stopped, threats that have never abated, competition for religious clout that keeps Tamils always at a political disadvantage.
So in conclusion, it seems my question was overly optimistic by far.
Tim King's previous Salem-News.com reports on Sri Lanka:
Nov-21-2012: Why Did Sri Lanka Kill So Many Children?
Jul-30-2012: Blindness Sweeps Large Parts of Sri Lanka
Jul-20-2012: Why Are Buddhists Committing Genocide Again?
Jul-01-2012: Did a Ghost Crawl Inside My Laptop?
May-07-2012: Sri Lankan Buddhist Mobs Call for Mosque Demolition
Apr-10-2012: Sri Lanka: Genocide and Poor Toilet Training
Mar-18-2012: Is Google Earth Hiding Sri Lanka's Ghosts?
Mar-11-2012: War Crime Court and its Conflicting Interests
Mar-08-2012: Sex Abuse and Murder in Sri Lanka- New Photos Emerge
Feb-28-2012: Tweets from Tamil Eelam
Feb-24-2012: Two of Sri Lanka's Foulest War Crimes
Nov-24-2011: Fear, Genocide and Torture in Sri Lanka
Oct-15-2011: Genocide 101: World and Media Apathy
Oct-05-2011: War and its Aftermath... a Real Killer for Tourism
Oct-01-2011: Sri Lanka in the Crosshairs of Canadian Parliament
Sep-13-2011: Sri Lanka Recalls Diplomat Accused of War Crimes
Jun-20-2011: Sri Lanka's Violence Toward Tamil Minority Continues
Jun-02-2011: UN Experts: Sri Lanka Tamil Genocide Video is Real
May-31-2011: Sri Lanka Tamil Genocide: Killing the Messenger
May-03-2011: Confronting the Tamil Genocide in Sri Lanka
Apr-27-2011: Tamil Genocide in Sri Lanka Emerges Into Public View
Tim King has more than twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Tim is Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. His background includes covering the war in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, and reporting from the Iraq war in 2008. Tim is a former U.S. Marine who follows stories of Marines and Marine Veterans; he's covered British Royal Marines and in Iraq, Tim embedded with the same unit he served with in the 1980's.
Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing from traditional mainstream news agencies like The Associated Press and Electronic Media Association; he also holds awards from the National Coalition of Motorcyclists, the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs; and was presented with a 'Good Neighbor Award' for his reporting, by the The Red Cross.
Tim's years as a Human Rights reporter have taken on many dimensions; he has rallied for a long list of cultures and populations and continues to every day, with a strong and direct concentration on the 2009 Genocide of Tamil Hindus and Christians in Sri Lanka. As a result of his long list of reports exposing war crimes against Tamil people, Tim was invited to be the keynote speaker at the FeTNA (Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America) Conference in Baltimore, in July 2012. This is the largest annual gathering of North American Tamils; Tim addressed more than 3000 people and was presented with a traditional Sri Lanka ‘blessed garland’ and a shawl as per the tradition and custom of Tamil Nadu
In a personal capacity, Tim has written 2,026 articles as of March 2012 for Salem-News.com since the new format designed by Matt Lintz was launched in December, 2005. Serving readers with news from all over the globe, Tim's life is literally encircled by the endless news flow published by Salem-News.com, where more than 100 writers contribute stories from 23+ countries and regions.
Tim specializes in writing about political and military developments worldwide; and maintains that the label 'terrorist' is ill placed in many cases; specifically with the LTTE Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, where it was used as an excuse to slaughter people by the tens of thousands; and in Gaza, where a trapped population lives at the mercy of Israel's destructive military war crime grinder. At the center of all of this, Tim pays extremely close attention to the safety and welfare of journalists worldwide. You can write to Tim at this address: email@example.com. Visit Tim's Facebook page (facebook.com/TimKing.Reporter)
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