David Cameron has spoken. He’s said a lot about Sri Lanka. It is not the first time that the British Prime Minister has taken time off his busy job of taking care of his country to address matters pertaining to a country at the other end of the world. There’s a difference, though.
Whereas his earlier speeches were full of despair and foreboding, laced with dismay and criticism and marked by veiled threats to move or support moves in certain influential quarters in the international community against Sri Lanka, this time around Cameron’s words were warm and hopeful.
Cameron’s thoughts on Sri Lanka coincided, unsurprisingly, with President Maithripala Sirisena’s visit to the UK. He has indulged, naturally, in a compare and contrast exercise. Now there was no love lost between Cameron and the former president. So when he says President Sirisena is progressive and open and says this is in ‘dramatic contrast’ to his (Sirisena’s predecessor), he is essentially vilifying Mahinda Rajapaksa.
He has cited ‘encouraging steps’ taken by President Sirisena after assuming office. The release of military land, appointment of civilian governors and a visit to the Northern Province are all positive moves. As or even more positive, one could argue, was ridding the country of the terrorist menace, the freeing of some 300,000 hostages and securing a future for countless Tamil children who otherwise were seen as cannon fodder by the LTTE. That Cameron doesn’t dwell on all that doesn’t sit well with the rhetoric of demanding re-visitation of the past for purposes of reconciliation and based on it the building of a better tomorrow.
But Cameron betrays a patently colonial attitude when he concedes that in 2013 he went to Jaffna ‘to shine a light on the lack of progress and help bring about international pressure for reform’. That’s White Man’s Burden all over again. Whose notions of ‘progress’ are we talking about here? ‘Reform’ as per whose notions of Utopia? If he came to ‘shine a light’ it implies that he is a busybody, nothing more. It is not his job.
However, he can claim a love for humanity that is so great that it cannot be contained by the British Isles and therefore justify such ‘light shedding’. That’s a good thing. On the other hand, there is the vexed question of double standards and selectivity. Cameron talks of ‘strengthening respect for human rights, improving political accountability and ensuring the freedom of the press’.
Human rights cannot be talked of without mentioning Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. If accountability is a concern there is his deputy’s well known confession that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. Freedom of the press? Yes. Then how about Snowden?
We need to mention all that before we applaud Cameron for being concerned. We have to say ‘thank you for saying you won’t forget victims and survivors, even though you seem to think only Tamils suffered in Sri Lanka’. We must also say, in the name of morality and civilization, ‘start remembering the victims of your own foreign policy prerogatives’.
This country is ready to deal with its past, the good and the bad. This is what President Sirisena has pledged. He has not pledged, however, to go along with any old thing that the likes of David Cameron dreams up. Cameron wishes the international spotlight to fall on a different Sri Lanka come September 2015.
We hope so too. We yearn for better and more democratic political structures. We yearn for a leadership that has humility as well as backbone, the civility to shake hands even the Camerons of this world and also to say, politely, ‘we can think for ourselves, thank you very much’.
When David Cameron last visited, his media antics were not applauded. We are waiting on the claps. Still. That’s something Cameron would do well to reflect on.
Comments - 3
piyal Wednesday, 11 March 2015 03:39 PM
Who is Cameron?
Nanda Thursday, 12 March 2015 08:29 AM
Marvelous piece of work by the writer, Excellent.
Dr Punchihewa Wednesday, 11 March 2015 01:08 PM
Nice and balanced. We need to say to our foreign friends thus far and no further.
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