By M M Zuhair
Former US President George Bush’s and then British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s post 9/11 ‘War on Terror’ cannot go on, without resuscitating the dying ISIS and Al-Qaida. It is these ‘terror outfits’ created and fostered primarily by the US, that give questionable legitimacy for the US, Britain and the NATO to invade and occupy third world countries.
A video clip in You-tube, Twitter and Facebook shows defeated 2008 US presidential candidate the late John McCain meeting with ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi in the US, in 2013, before Baghdadi launched his terror attacks in 2014. The video clip remains uncontradicted. US Senator Rand Paul had said the main aim of the terror organisation was toppling Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. In September 2014, General Thomas McInerney told Fox news that the US helped build ISIS. Al Baghdadi was reportedly with the US armed forces from 2016 to 2018 in a military base in Iraq. Until his death in 2019, Baghdadi continued to speak for the ISIS.
The role of the US in transforming Saudi engineer Osama bin Laden as the Goliath of Al Qaeda responsible for 9/11 is well known. The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was said to be to capture bin Laden claimed to be in hiding in Afghanistan. In 2011 the US inexplicably did not want to capture bin Laden in Pakistan and gather vital intelligence from the man whom the world was told was the supreme master mind of the terror outfit Al Qaeda. He was not captured but deliberately killed in Pakistan by US marines while the US President Obama and aides watched the execution of Osama from Washington via a special link. The US disinclination to gather intelligence of how bin Laden ran his destructive terror network and that, too, without using the internet or the mobile phone, gave the impression that this guy was bloated out of proportion by the US to justify foreign invasions. But then the war on Afghanistan continued, notwithstanding the elimination of bin Laden, for another 10 years with no convincing reason for continuing the war in Afghanistan!
The US defeat and exit from Afghanistan on August 15 must be critically watched in Sri Lanka from the perspective of the undaunted military might of the US-NATO combine seeking its next proxy war with China in our region, targeting South Asia. We need to watch which country in South Asia might get selected by the empire for the proxy war with China. However, what are some misguided long lost politicians and certain spokesmen for the Western arms industry as well as a few genuinely misguided persons, talking about? They talk of the Afghan Talibans spreading their terrorist tentacles in our neighbourhood! If that is true such attempts must not only be condemned but also be effectively prevented. But we need to remember that the Talibans have enough extremely serious economic woes, arising from 43 years of wars, to be sorted out in Afghanistan. They have damning security and economic issues that will likely cripple the country. The Taliban have no time for adventures outside their country! Indeed, there is no proof of any such Taliban or Afghan activity outside of Afghanistan, except links with Pakistan and peace talks in Qatar!
On the contrary, those spreading news of the Taliban militants becoming a threat to other countries in the region are preposterously preparing the ground, perhaps unwittingly, for legitimising the US-NATO military adventure in our region. They may be sowing the seeds, inspired by arms manufacturers! The time has come for Sri Lankans to know briefly at least, some aspects of what really happened in Afghanistan during the 20 year US rule and what would be the plight of people in our region, when and not ‘if’ the US-NATO go ahead with war mongering in our region.
The US and NATO countries designated the Taliban as ‘terrorists’. By what standard of definition do a people who resist foreign invaders become terrorists? Of course, the Taliban set up a ruthless machinery to meet the external challenge. They won over the Soviets in 1989 and the multinational Western forces by August 2021. They won, not because they were terrorists but because they had no choice but to defend their land from the enemy and, more importantly their way of life. Of course, some may not agree with the life style of the Veddas, the Red Indians, the aborigines or the Taliban! But this does not mean we support the Taliban. If we put ourselves into a possible parallel situation of the US armed forces entering Sri Lanka forcibly, as they did in Iraq and many other countries, every Sri Lankan, excluding fifth columnists, will fight the American forces to their last drop of blood. Because we fight invaders with our hands, knives, swords, axes, bows and arrows, petrol bombs and AK 47s, do we become terrorists?
Western journalists today are virtually at war to frighten the world that ‘Taliban terrorists’ together with ISIS remnants are the greatest threats to peace in the rest of Asia! They will tell peace loving Asians that those who fought the multiple foreign armed forces who came to Kabul for the laudable purpose of educating and employing Afghan women were all barbaric terrorists! They will not say, that the Talibans, successors of the Mujahideens whom the West glorified as freedom fighters were also by the same yard stick freedom fighters!
They will not tell the world that if the US, the UK and NATO stopped the unceasing wars on other countries, the ISIS and the Al-Qaida, virtually dead, could now be buried! How could they? They can leave the Afghans and the girls to the wolves as they themselves have portrayed, but will never ever abandon their own powerful merchants of war, who alone won the Afghan war, with their factories working two shifts for the past 20 years!
It was only the other day that Pope Francis, in his most welcome Easter message of 3rd April 2021 slammed these powers for spending on military adventures at a time of grave pandemic! Unfortunately, the US military –industrial complex will not listen to the Vatican. The unfortunate weakening of the faith amongst the flock has regrettably emboldened the arms industry to forget accountability and beat the war drums across the world, except North America and Europe! They put back the clock to destructive levels in every country they marched in, at least by three decades.
We need to know, for our own sake, what happened to our neighbour-Afghanistan.
Let us get to a briefing of the US governance of the Afghans from Americans themselves! International media coverage of the fall of Afghanistan, demonstrates unequivocally the struggle of Western journalists and op-ed columnists to veil the world of the ‘failed’ imperial invasions by continuously focusing on the ‘future plight of the Afghan women and girls’ whom these powers abandoned on the dangerous street overnight!
Fortunately, not all Western journalists are cribbing for their copper. Some amongst them have exposed the lies and deception perpetrated by these powers on Afghanistan, who made the Taliban what they are today. Let us hear at least one of them.
James Bovard is the author of several books, regular contributor to USA Today, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. He quotes George Bush from his State of the Union address made on 29th January 2002, which Bovard said frightened Americans with a bogus nuclear threat: “Our discoveries in Afghanistan confirmed our worst fears… We have found diagrams of American nuclear power plants and public water facilities in caves used by Al Qaeda-George Bush! Bovard says senior CIA and FBI officials followed up with ‘background’ briefings for the media. But this wanton lie got soon exposed! Two years later, Bush administration officials admitted that the President’s statement was completely false and that no nuclear power plant diagrams had been discovered in Afghanistan. Bovard quoted Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Edward McGaffigan’s evidence on this falsehood at closed hearings on Capital Hill.
Bovard says that Bush’s lies on a nuclear threat from Afghanistan paved the way to his far more destructive lies regarding Iraqi chemical and biological weapons in his 2003 State of the Union address. What about Tony Blair’s canard that Saddam Hussain could strike Britain in 45 minutes. These war criminals are still at large because of the staff level complicity of the United Nations with the US and Britain. That is another subject.
Bush, in his 2002 State of the Union address evangelised his Afghan war as the greatest triumph for “women’s liberation” in modern times. Bush boasted “The mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes…Today women are free” But a New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof who visited Afghanistan, two years later, in 2004 reported that “many Afghan women are still captives in their homes… The rise of banditry and rape has had a particularly devastating effect on women. Because the roads are not safe even in daylight, girls do not dare to go to schools or their mothers to health centres”. That was under US-NATO rule in Afghanistan.
According to Bovard, “Since the start of Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan, the US military has poured money into Afghan government operations guilty of BACHA BAZI–turning young boys into sex slaves. The Pentagon ignored the abuse until a 2015 New York Times expose of American soldiers who were punished for protecting atrocities against young boys”. A 2017 Pentagon Inspector General report revealed that some US troops were “told that nothing could be done about child sexual abuse because of Afghanistan’s status as a sovereign nation (sic), that it was not a priority for the command, or that it was best to ignore the situation and to let the local police handle it.”
“Even more damning, the US military and CIA brazenly tortured Afghans, atrocities that President Bush perpetually denied even though it was reported as early as December 2002. In 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported allegations that Afghan soldiers detained by the US government had suffered “repeated beatings, immersion in cold water, electric shocks, being hung upside down and toenails being torn off.”
The result: resistance to foreign atrocities and scandalous sexual abuse grew from strength to strength!
They know only too well that Al Qaeda and ISIS can be buried if the US and NATO stop invading other countries. But the arms factories and the wars which provide fabulous enrichment to the already rich and employment to nearly a million soldiers at the likely cost of their lives will never be ended!
Form-ation of Higher Education in Sri Lanka
By Hasini Lecamwasam
Improving higher education in Sri Lanka is not only important, but essential and long overdue. However, seeking to achieve higher ‘quality’ by ‘form-ising’ the performance of teachers (or the practice of forcing the entire teaching-learning exercise into forms designed to communicate exactly what and what transpires in a classroom) may not be able to bring about the desired change. A new set of four forms introduced recently to this end requires, among other things, drawing up a minutely detailed plan of each and every lesson to be delivered in class, aligned with the Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs), in turn, to be aligned with the Programme Learning Outcomes (PLOs), which should all then be tied to the graduate profile, or the kind of graduate we seek to ‘produce’ at the end of it all. This may, on the surface of it, sound reasonable enough and not encourage serious debate or resistance because, after all, it is only some forms that need to be filled.
Form by tedious form, however, the teaching-learning process at state universities is becoming increasingly constricted, fragmented, monitored, controlled. In this piece, I wish to briefly ponder on the implications of these requirements and the larger trends they signal, while also attempting to reflect on what instead we may do to ensure ‘quality’ in the delivery of higher education.
The problem with form-ation
The larger ‘Quality Assurance’ (QA) landscape in which these developments take place was discussed in detail in an earlier Kuppi Talk by Kaushalya Perera. In a nutshell, QA seeks to standardise education such that study programmes can be assessed against each other, assigned numbers, and ranked accordingly. The deployment of overarching yardsticks for programmes with hugely varying mandates, methods, and content has been the subject of much critique lately the world over, not the least due to its rather warped understanding of ‘quality’ as something that can be objectively established through metrics and audits.
While I do not question the bona fide motives behind the initiative taken with the aforementioned forms, I do think serious reflection on where these developments push us in the longer term is needed. My primary reservation here has to do with the impact of this lesson-wise breakdown on the creative and democratic exercise that the teaching-learning process is supposed to entail. When each topic is broken down into such fine detail prior to the actual occurrence of the ‘lesson’ (for want of a better word), outcomes are foreclosed rather than collectively and organically evolving in the course of the ‘lesson’, which is particularly important to many of the subjects offered in the Arts Faculties. Exactly how many of us are actually quite so democratic in our classrooms is a valid question in this regard, and one I will return to. The point for me here, however, is that for those who do have a sincere commitment to such a democratic classroom environment, such forms and the limiting of the teaching-learning experience they constitute, may be tantamount to strangulation.
Even if the majority of us admit to being very controlling in our classrooms anyway, does that justify going one step further with these forms and institutionalising such control? Should not our commitment be to the emancipatory ideal, rather than simply what most are on board with? There should be meaningful space for creative, organic, and democratic teaching-learning processes to unfold for teachers who wish to make that choice, and for students to explore and think beyond the teacher’s frame of thinking. Micromanaging beyond the general content of a course (laid down in enough detail in the course syllabus) is inimical to even a possibility of democracy existing in the classroom and within the larger university space.
This complete subservience of the teaching-learning process to red tape signals a larger and troubling trend of corporatisation. Corporatisation may be defined as the restructuring of a publicly owned institution to be managed as a business place would be, with a view to privatising in the long term. In state universities, this shift is couched in the supposedly ‘progressive’ language of student-centered approaches and interactive classrooms, hijacked from the democratic pedagogy of the likes of Paulo Freire, but bereft of any of the emancipatory politics within which these methods assume meaning. Despite the use of these catch-phrases, however, such minutely detailed forms signal a return to an extremely teacher-centered model due to the absence of the possibility for students to meaningfully influence the outcome of a lesson, as it is predetermined for them.
The result, as the Kannangara report worried with remarkable foresight some 80 years ago, is students “with much knowledge and little understanding. They have not read books; they have “studied” texts. They cannot write, they produce essays after a set style. They can answer questions but not question answers … Their imagination has been stunted, their originality suppressed, their capacity for thought undeveloped, their emotions inhibited.”
What alternative can we propose?
A valid question countering what little resistance there is to form-ation asks how we can ensure the education we currently deliver is of an acceptable standard, and that everybody observes such. There seems to prevail tacit and widespread agreement that the ‘democratic nonsense’ within universities is what has allowed many to hide behind debates, deliberations, appeals to creative freedom, and so on, without actually doing their work.
In my view, this is an arbitrary causation to draw. Blaming internal democracy for negligence of duties fails to take into account the highly anti-democratic practices at universities that may better explain such behaviour.
Specifically, I think it is the rigidly entrenched hierarchy within universities that blocks the possibility of even dialogue, let alone debate, particularly when it comes to holding those higher-up in the ladder accountable for their actions (or the lack thereof, as the case may be). Hierarchy is why, among many other things, students cannot question the content or the methods chosen by their teachers. As previous Kuppi Talks have endeavoured to show, hierarchy is silently, and therefore very effectively, observed at every level, ensuring the trumping of students by teachers, juniors by seniors, women by men, minorities by the majority, and originality by tradition. It impedes questioning, stifles dissent, and smothers alternative thinking altogether. The problem, therefore, is not that we have too much democracy in universities, but too little of it.
We must make a sincere and sustained effort to radically democratise the university space by relaxing the classroom to allow open and honest exchange between students and teachers; changing the relations of power between seniors and juniors, starting with undoing the practice of deferential treatment; refusing to tolerate snide and not-so-subtle references to ways of dressing and similar gendered remarks; questioning the exclusive use of the majority language in official communications, as a starting point. In doing so, we would be subverting the crippling hierarchy that inhibits thought and practice within the university. Such a radical change geared towards improved quality through mutual accountability, for me, is the only acceptable way of introducing accountability to a space that, admittedly, sorely lacks it.
(Hasini Lecamwasam is attached to the Department of Political Science, University of Peradeniya)
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.
THE LOGIC OF PRESIDENT’S PLEDGES IN NEW YORK
by Jehan Perera
The significance of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s speech at the UN General Assembly, in New York, last week, was his use of the time allocated to him to provide an outline of the government’s policies towards the main challenges besetting the country. The President covered the main issues that confront the world with his focus on Sri Lanka. These included measures to contain the Covid pandemic, the economic crisis, environmental degradation and violence. In the final section of his well-crafted speech, the President went into some depth regarding the government’s approach to national reconciliation. However, the response within the country, has been muted and for good reason. Those who voted for the government, on an entirely different platform, which emphasised ethnic majority nationalism and anti-international sentiments, are quite probably at a loss.
It is only recently that the government has started to speak in terms of reconciliation and obtaining international support for it. At the two elections that brought this government to power, the Easter Sunday bombing and the consequent threat to national security, took centre stage. The majority, who voted for the government, did so to protect it from a variety of security threats they were told of, both within and outside the country. The wretched failure of the previous government to prevent the bombing, the first terrorist act of any magnitude since the war ended a decade earlier, was attributed to the personal weakness of the then government leaders. It was also attributed to the 19th Amendment which sought to give state institutions protection from use for partisan reasons by government politicians and to consequent disintegration of the system of command and control.
A second theme, at the two elections, was depiction of ethnic and religious minorities as potential security threats. This stemmed from the country’s experience of three decades of internal warfare with the armed Tamil separatist movements. This was followed by the Easter bombings by extremists from the Muslim community, who were feared to be having a vast support base both internally within the country and also externally. In these circumstances, the re-centralisation of power within the government hierarchy and greater role given to the security forces, received public acceptance as being part of the government’s democratic mandate. At the same time, by denying the equally legitimate concerns of the ethnic and religious minorities, the electoral results demonstrated the existence of an acute polarisation, and wound, in the body politic that continues to fester to the point of bringing in involuntary and imposed international interventions.
The challenge for the government is to represent the interests of all communities and not only the majority who voted it into power. The problem is that the government’s mandate comes, by and large, from the vote of the ethnic and religious majority in a country that has been polarised on ethnic and religious lines, for many decades. An ugly part of this reality is that in the prisons are several hundreds of Tamils and Muslims for the most part who are in custody for periods ranging from a few months to many years without trial. They are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, ostensibly until the security forces find adequate evidence to put them before the courts of law. This contradicts the rule of law and the presumption in our legal system that we are innocent until proven guilty can have negative consequences.
In June this year, the EU parliament passed a resolution that the GSP Plus tariff privileges, made available to Sri Lanka should be withdrawn unless the government fulfilled its obligations in regard to the upholding of human rights. The resolution, expressing “deep concern over Sri Lanka’s alarming path towards the recurrence of grave human rights violations”, and makes specific reference to the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The resolution notes the “continuing discrimination” against and violence towards religious and ethnic minorities, while voicing “serious concern” about the 20th Amendment passed in 2020, and the “resulting decline in judiciary independence, the reduction of parliamentary control, and the excessive accumulation of power with the presidency”. It also highlights “accelerating militarisation” of civilian government functions in Sri Lanka.
A delegation from the EU is currently in Sri Lanka to meet with members of the government, Opposition and civil society, to ascertain whether the country is fulfilling its obligations to be a beneficiary of EU trade benefits. It is likely that the delegation will be provided with evidence of human rights violations and acts of impunity. There are hundreds of persons languishing in prisons without being put on trial, many of whom are Tamils, suspected to be LTTE members, and more of them are Muslims, suspected of having links with the Easter bombings. When questioned in parliament about the latter, the minister in charge justified those detentions on the grounds that Muslim youth, including the Muslim parliamentarian who had questioned him, could contain Islamic State ideology in their heads and therefore be security threats.
At the last elections, the most potent theme was the failure of the then government to act effectively to protect the country from the Easter suicide bombings and the pressures from human rights actors in Geneva. Among the issues that loomed large at the last election was also the charge that the previous government was giving in too much to the Muslim community within the country. The fact that the Easter attacks were by Muslim suicide bombers added force to this charge. The prioritisation of national security in the election campaign had popular support. The influential religious clergy, associations of professionals and mass media also joined the battle in earnest and their messages reinforced one another. The recent debate in Parliament suggests the government’s thinking continues to be in sync with the mandate it received at those elections.
However, in his speech in New York, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has shown signs of diverging from the politics of the past. The President said “Fostering greater accountability, restorative justice, and meaningful reconciliation through domestic institutions is essential to achieve lasting peace. So too is ensuring more equitable participation in the fruits of economic development. It is my Government’s firm intention to build a prosperous, stable and secure future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender. We are ready to engage with all domestic stakeholders, and to obtain the support of our international partners and the United Nations, in this process.” However, the President’s speech continues to be at variance with the ground realities at the present time and the general manner of governance since the President took office in November 2019.
So far the pledge of a new direction is articulated in words. The time for the government to make the President’s words real and act accordingly is now. This will help to overcome the deep and dark cynicism that has enveloped the country regarding promises made by politicians. The first step would be to apply the logic of the Justice Minister in Parliament. Replying to an Opposition Parliamentarian who called for the arrest of Minister Lohan Ratwatte who stands accused of entering a prison and threatening prisoners with his gun, the justice minister said that everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. This also applies to the hundreds of Tamils and Muslims in jail without evidence to charge them in a court of law. The better way to deal with the threats to national security is to win the confidence of all the communities in the Sri Lanka by treating them without discrimination, as children of one mother, as our national anthem proclaims.
Face shields, sans masks, on TV shows!
Covid-19 has claimed many lives, in our part of the world. Quite a few musicians, too, have had to face the music, where this deadly virus is concerned.
However, one is perturbed with the setup seen on some of our TV shows, especially where musicians are concerned.
The Covid-19 guidelines are never adhered to – no masks, no social distancing, etc.
There were reality shows held, post pandemic, where judges were seen even hugging their favourite contestants – with no masks.
With the virus turning deadly, some of the judges took to only wearing face shields. And, we now know the results of their stupidity.
By their irresponsible behaviour (wearing only face shields), they seem to be setting a trend for others to follow.
The question being asked is what are the health authorities doing? Why haven’t such folks been taken to task!
If the man on the street is arrested for not wearing a mask, how come these law-breakers go scot-free!
If wearing a mask is a hassle in an air conditioned setup, then such shows should be put on hold, or held virtual…live stream, zoom, from home, etc., and not with the participation of several artistes, in a studio.
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