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The ‘huge dichotomy of disjuncture” In simple words, ‘seeing is believing’

27 November 2013 04:54 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Many people are impressed by how Chris Nonis, our high commissioner to the UK, handled the CNN live TV interview conducted by Fred Pleitgen. They are impressed by his superb knowledge of English, presumably not his first language.

Nonis’ aplomb in dismissing Pleitgen’s questions, guided with Cruise-like precision to the heart of the matter, with what might be called a potent mixture of authority and contempt has won him many admirers in Sri Lanka. It has in fact generated more patriotic fervour than any recent speech made by the President himself.
The interview, carried out on the eve of the CHOGM summit on CNN’s ‘Amanpour’ show, can thus be seen as a third-world vs. first world confrontation where the underdog managed to get the better of it for once. On the face of it, this  is a huge six scored on the twenty-twenty culture wars on prime time TV.

While admiring Chris Nonis’ command of the language, however, I feel compelled to point out something his admirers have missed – his use of language is a perfect example of how high-flown language can be manipulated to say practically nothing of any value.




" there’s a huge dichotomy of disjuncture between what is said abroad in terms of criticism and lack of rights and freedom and the justice and equality that people are experiencing here,” bells and whistles start ringing in my head for the semantic acrobatics displayed "




When Nonis says that “there’s a huge dichotomy of disjuncture between what is said abroad in terms of criticism and lack of rights and freedom and the justice and equality that people are experiencing here,” bells and whistles start ringing in my head for the semantic acrobatics displayed. But what exactly does he mean by that? My experience in this country as a journalist who fears the consequences of overstepping the line every time this column is written, week after week, runs contrary to the confidence displayed by Nonis in the freedom and justice experienced by Sri Lankans right now. Perhaps he has a different perspective of what those are from his residence in London.

In replying to the interviewer’s question as to why visiting journalists were blocked by protesters (I presume this refers to Callum Macrae), Nonis replies that our representatives too, have been heckled in Western countries. He holds that to be a characteristic of a vibrant democracy, which we are (just as Britain, France, India and Canada are vibrant democracies). If we use this as an analogy, all countries which can produce ranting protesters as the occasion demands are vibrant democracies. This argument puts to shame the first class education which this star diplomat of ours must have enjoyed.

When asked about calls for an international investigation into alleged war crimes, Nonis said: “We don’t need an international investigation when we have had a vibrant civilisation for 2,500 years. We have perfectly educated people and I think we’re perfectly capable of carrying out our own domestic inquiry.”

Why do we have to fall back on our 2,500-year-old civilisation every time we have to explain something to Westerners (or anyone else who might be asking awkward questions). Does the Prime Minister of India, or his diplomats, have to fall back on Mohendojaro-Harappa every time the occasion arises? Do Egyptians habitually do the same, and their civilisation goes back to 3,200 BC, when the Phaoronic period begins. It’s quite depressing that, with all that impressive vocabulary, Nonis couldn’t find a better fulcrum to base his argument on.

It is quite true that we have perfectly educated people. Nonis himself is an example. It is also true that we are quite capable of domestic inquiry. It’s just that I have troubling memories of what happened to any number of commissions appointed by successive governments over the last three decades once the politicians decided what to do with their reports, and all these commissions were staffed by perfectly educated people.

There is indeed a “huge dichotomy of disjuncture;” unfortunately, it exists right here at home, between what our own perfectly educated people tell us and what we see with our own eyes.
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