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Celebrated war correspondent Robert Fisk is no more!



By M M Zuhair

Veteran journalist, the celebrated British war correspondent Robert Fisk is no more. A man whose columns and reports from the war zones were widely read and readily accepted, passed away on 30th October 2020, at the age of 74, in a hospital in Dublin, Ireland, at a time when the world was engrossed in the US presidential elections.

This piece is penned in appreciation of this ‘vigilante’ sort of scribe, for frisking the likes of us to see the victims’ side of the numerous wars that were covered at tremendous personal risk by this committed correspondent, whose reports we will no longer see. The ‘New York Times’ described Fisk as “probably the most famous foreign correspondent in Britain”.

Leer en Espanol, staffer at the UK’s ‘The Independent’ wrote: “Fisk was renowned for his courage in questioning official narratives from governments and publishing what he uncovered in frequently brilliant prose.” Christian Broughton, Managing Director of the ‘The Independent’ described Fisk as, “Fearless, uncompromising, determined and utterly committed to uncovering the truth and reality at all costs. Robert Fisk was the greatest journalist of his generation. The fire he lit at ‘The Independent’ will burn on”.

Robert Fisk’s reporting from major conflict zones showed he was not one of those ‘embedded’ with the forces telling the world what the forces probably wanted journalists to tell. He did not indulge in what he called ‘hotel journalism’ either, reporting from hotel rooms without risking a visit to the attack site. His reports were testimony to his courage of visiting invariably deadly sites often under continuous attacks and reporting what he saw and what he heard from the victims.

Fisk was at times criticised for portraying the victims’ side as not being ‘independent’. Such criticisms though not entirely unfair also came from persons who did not dare the risks that Fisk never hesitated to take. The criticisms however invariably recognised that there was always a victim’s side and obviously an attacker’s side. Fisk saw the aggressor’s excuses for war, happening to be very well reported, while the war itself was severely under-reported.

By reporting from the perspectives of the victims, Fisk probably tried to correct an imbalance that the world of western journalism had created. He was indeed a heroic independent journalist. This is evident from the exclusive quality of the reports filed by Fisk from 1989 for ‘The Independent’, which were picked up by the electronic media in most parts of the world and I for one never wanted to miss!

Fisk knew Arabic. He covered the wars in Lebanon, Algeria, Syria, Iran-Iraq conflict, wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the US invasion of Afghanistan, the US invasion of Iraq, the Arab Spring and the wars in Syria. He was physically present at the receiving end of the onslaughts.

He was reportedly the first Western journalist to visit the bombed Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Shattila in Lebanon. He filed heart-rendering reports of what he saw of the Israeli massacre of refugees. Wikipedia in its first paragraph on Robert Fisk said that Fisk was “especially critical of United States foreign policy in the Middle-East and the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians”.

Sean O’ Grady, an Associate Editor at ‘The Independent’, a day after Fisk’s death, said, “For anyone at The Independent or indeed in journalism anywhere, Robert Fisk was a hero… When Fisk nailed NATO for killing civilians during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, he took the trouble to go and find the remains of the missiles and discovered charred componentry that could be traced back to the American manufacturers. The Indy’s subs gave him a great headline for the story too: ‘The atrocity is still a mystery to NATO. Perhaps I can help…’. That was smart journalism, and it got him an award, one of very many…. As a personal memory too I admired his championing of the cause of the Armenian people, victims of the first Holocaust, as Fisk insisted it be capitalised.”

Fisk worked at the powerful media giant Rupert Murdoch’s ‘The Times’, briefly but soon walked out as he thought his reports were being tailored to suit Murdoch’s taste! He moved onto ‘The Independent’ in 1989 from where he served the world for over 30 years with first hand reports that exposed the horrors of war, much to the dislike of many in the Western war lobbies. The US and NATO graciously gave Fisk enough wars to report about. For more on wars by the present writer, you may read The Island 14/11/2020, “Trump quotes President Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech: Nothing has been done to break the US military from the arms industrial complex”. True to form he was an independent journalist for which he is widely respected across the world.

I had the privilege of meeting him once in Tehran on 30th August 2012 at the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Iran. It was attended by over 20 presidents, a number of prime ministers, four dozen foreign ministers and three kings. He was there to cover it. President Mahinda Rajapaksa represented Sri Lanka and I was there as my country’s Ambassador. I spotted Fisk in the media block. As much as his name, his face was also globally known. I had seen Robert Fisk in action via the electronic media in war zones that seemed to me then ‘suicidal’ for anyone to be in.

From where I was, I had already crossed over to the media block, shook hands and said I was a regular follower of his reports in the media and conveyed my appreciation for his bold reporting from the war zones. After the preliminaries, he asked me whether I had read his interviews of Osama bin Laden. I said yes; you had wanted to know more from Bin Laden about how the US armed this millionaire Saudi construction contractor to help Afghans to throw out the Soviet ‘invaders’ from Afghanistan.

I said, in the Western media Bin Laden was then a heroic freedom fighter! Yes – freedom fighter. But when Bin Laden, after 9/11 allegedly turned the Afghans against the invading American forces, how did he become a terrorist? He understood my query. Fisk was blunt. He said Robert Fisk, no! Rupert Murdoch, yes! I couldn’t figure out what Fisk was trying to say. He went on, ‘that man defines’, to the world! Depends on which side the fighter is! He then probed into Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa. After a while, he said, ‘Fisk has to file a report’ about (then Egyptian President) Morsi handing over NAM presidency to Ahmadinejad at the leaders meeting and he needed to pick up more and moved away.

This chat, later on, was however not in my mind. But I recalled this with some nostalgia when I read a recent media report by Borzou Daragahi “… the dangers of giving one family with an extremist agenda so much power…” where he referred to former Australian defense and energy secretary Paul Barratt’s response to a cheeky tweet. The query was why the United States, United Kingdom and Australia all found themselves “with lunatics and/or shysters” at the helm. Barratt tweeted, “Rupert Murdoch”!

The world owes much to Robert Fisk, this extraordinary journalist. He had a doctorate in political science earned in 1983. He could have lectured in a university. He could have lived a life of ease and comfort. Instead he roamed amidst falling missiles and firing ones! He lived on the threshold of death for most parts of his life uncovering the horrors of man-made wars and the miseries from inhuman massacres. He deserves the universal appreciation of all those who desire peace for mankind.

(The writer can be reached at

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Lalith: A true leader who opened many a window for others



84th birth anniversary:

by Shyamila Perera

former coordination Secretary

Always remembered by what he has done- LALITH ATHULATHMUDALI

Lalith Athulathmudali was indefatigable in his quest for knowledge and was continuously opening windows for our youth to the modern world of knowledge and technology. With the Mahapola concept, he demonstrated the fact that school was not merely an institution concerned with distributing prescribed learning but rather that it was motivated towards creating an awareness of ever-expanding human horizon in the world of today and tomorrow. Communication and information were central to Lalith’s vision of realizing his goals. His steadfast ambition was that our youth be equipped to take their place in the global village of advancing technology.

Lalith’s enduring mission was to provide facilities for our young men and women with high ideals and higher hopes emerging each year on the threshold of life with no hope of assistance, falling back in frustration because they were being defeated by the system. The creation of the Mahapola Scholarship Trust Fund was a major step towards defeating the cynicism of the system. But even that was insufficient for Lalith. He wanted more for these young men and women particularly because he truly believed that the eventual alleviation of poverty could only be achieved through enhanced education and narrowing the gap in educational facilities. Through the provision of a dynamic educational system complete with English as its cementing language and developing technical and vocational skills to meet the mismatch in employment market.

Lalith did not overlook the business community but created lucrative openings for them. The business community benefitted by his pragmatic vision and innovative ideas. Modernization of commercial laws, Export incentives, introduction of the Export production villages, Exporter’s forum and the Presidential Export awards, lying emphasis on exports, Development of the Port as a modern container port and equipping it for transhipment are some of the few initiatives he took to develop the economy.

In his short span, as the Minister of Agriculture he introduced many novel ideas such as Agricultural Export villages, the soil and climate cropping system and the concept of growing for the market. His stint as the Education portfolio he introduced many reforms with the student being the priority.

His political ideology for the country was of national, secularism, democracy and market economy with a safety net for the less privileged. He insisted that the voice of the people, their needs, their aspirations and their priorities must become the corner stone of the edifice of planning. Scholarships for post-graduate studies, grants and other special awards will be included in to the Foundation’s educational programmes.

It’s appropriate to lookback at his life’s work and vision, pragmatism and the vigour he displayed he displayed during his relatively short span of life.

Always Remembered by what he has done

A short summery of his work and achievements is appropriate to be remembered: As Minister of Trade from 1977 (August)-1983 March) he Implemented the open market economy, introduced the concept of bonded warehousing for essential foods to ensure food security, ensured continuous supply of food and essentials to the people amidst of riots and crisis (1983) through Trade Ministry supply chain, introduced new laws for consumer protection, Consumer Credit , Code of Intellectual Property , New Companies Act, Insurance (Special Provisions) Act, Sri Lanka Export Credit Insurance Act, Export Development Board Law, Young Inventors Commission among others. He restructured the CWE to become a profitable Organization and a self-service retail network, re built the Lanka Milk foods factory with modern facilities (after the Welisara fire). Effected positive changes in the export sector and established a with Export information Centre, Exporter’s Forum, Presidential Export Awards, Export Production Village Concept,etc. As Minister of PORTS and SHIPPING (1978- 1988) he spearheaded the unification of Port activities by creating the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, introduced transhipment, modernized the marine laws, Infrastructure modernization and development of the Port, pioneered the Containerization, the development of the QEQ, Construction of the JAYA Terminal as the first modern fully computerized terminal. Ports became a revenue earning institutions for the first time during his tenure & achieved 26th position among world ports (139th in 1980) He established the Mahapola- SLPA Technical Training Institute and completed construction of the Sambudha Jayanthi Stupa during his term. MAHAPOLA (1980) The Mahapola concept that he introduced was the closest to his heart. he created a fund with a personal contribution. In order to collect funds for this programme he introduced the Mahapola Lottery. Later with his foresight The MTF became a co-partner of the Development Lottery initiated by the Ministry of Plan Implementation by investing 50% of the capital which guaranteed continuity of the scholarships. Mahapola Trade Fairs and Educational Exhibitions were introduced to create a link between education and trade. Mahapola Trust Fund was initially created by a private deed and thereafter enacted as the Mahapola Higher Education Scholarship Trust Fund by an Act of Parliament to provide scholarships to the needy undergraduates. The “Gnana Pradeepa” fund provided infrastructure facilities to rural Schools. The “Gnana Dharshana” Seminar programme Which he personally participated, benefitted of students of economics & commerce. He acquired a 25-acre block of land to the Trust in order to establish the Mahapola University Complex (currently occupied by SLIIT)

With the onset of the Eelam war NATIONAL SECURITY and DEFENCE (1983-1988) was a diverse subject for this intellectual. However, he accepted the challenge. Restructuring of the Armed forces from Ceremonial to a fully-fledged combat forces, recruitment, training, equipping and establishing new units was his priority. He was Instrumental in the establishment of the Special Task Force, Rapid Deployment Force, National Auxiliary Force, expanding Commando Units, equipping the Navy with new, modern fast craft to strengthen the protection of the sea routes. The increasing the number of camps in the war zone, teaching of Tamil language to soldiers, welfare schemes for soldiers, boosting the morale of the soldiers by visiting camps regularly were some others he was involved in. He also gave political leadership to the Wadamarachchi operation.

He was the Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and cooperatives for a short stint (1989-1990) The framework for “farming for the Market”, concept of “YALA- for cash- MAHA for rice” evolving cropping systems for different climatic zones and soil conditions, Introduction of Agricultural Export Production Village Scheme Introducing the export oriented agriculture to the farming community, organizing livestock farmers in to co-operative societies, introducing the concept of co-operative banking and insurance business were some of the concepts he introduced to the agriculture sector.

EDUCATION and HIGHER EDUCATION (1990-1991-August). To Lalith Athulathmudali, education as a whole was sine-qua-non of his existence. He believed that an educated society can only be created by a leadership that values education and educated people. Introduction of the concept of equal opportunity for equal ability was his vision. He broad-based opportunities to teach core subjects; science, maths and English with the use of electronic media for education (particularly to benefit rural students) He Introduced a scheme to increase opportunities for technical and vocational education with a graded system in technical education with formal exit points from main stream of education. The teaching of second and third languages in schools and introduction of competency tests, introducing the Tri-lingual alphabet with free school books, introducing Sports as a vocational subject for O/L and A/L, Introducing the Teacher Service and Principals Service, Year-9 Technical Certificate, National Education Commission are some other ideas he introduced during the 15 months of his tenure.


RISE AGAINST AUTOCRACY & THE CRUSADE TO RE ESTABLISH DEMOCRACY (1991 August-1993 April) Lalith Athulathmudali was a democrat in every sense of the word. He spent his formative years in a liberal environment where free thinking, the rule of law, democracy was paramount. However, his liberal thinking did not blind him of the limitations it could have on a developing country like Sri Lanka. He believed that every citizen is equal in dignity and should enjoy the freedom, privileges and basic facilities in equal share. The rule of law should be equal to all from the highest and the lowest in society. Independence of the judiciary has to be protected at any cost. And strived to create a society where “freedom without fear” shall prevail

In pursuance of these goals he sacrificed his precious life on a political platfor April 23 rd, 1993




“He was young enough and tough enough to confront and to enjoy the winds of these times, whether the winds of nature or the winds of political circumstance and national danger; He died of exposure. But in a way that he would have settled for, in the line of duty, with his friends and enemies all around supporting him and shooting at him. It can be said of him, as of few men in like position, that he did not fear the weather and did not trim the sails, but instead challenged the wind itself, to improve its direction and cause it to blow more softly and more kindly over the nation and its people.”

Courtesy- JFK memorial

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Hector Francis Campbell Fernando



A tribute to a father on his 110th birth anniversary

When my youngest brother, Gihan (GAF), as a boy of six years, was interviewed by Canon R. S. De Saram, the Warden, S. Thomas’ College Mount. Lavinia, prior to his admission to the College, and when he was asked what his father’s profession was, he had replied, ‘ He is a glass maker’. The Warden like many other members of the community had got his ’glasses’ from his one-time student, HFC, and knew what the boy was talking about. My father found this most amusing and related this to many friends and relatives. He knew that to many people he was indeed, simply a ‘glass maker’!

He was the first Ceylonese to qualify as an optician in the United Kingdom. He returned to Sri Lanka just before the second World War broke out. Until then this was a profession which was dominated by British nationals. Many young men who wished to be trained in the field of optometry, were apprenticed under him and went on to become big names in their chosen field. He never considered himself a businessman and refused to set up his own optical business. He considered himself a professional and was very proud of his profession. Kindness and skill, care and attention marked his service to his clients.

He established the Ceylon Optometrists Association, and became its founder president. The main purpose of this Association was to further the professionalism and standards of those in this field of work. The Association, I understand continues its good work even today.

My father and his four brothers attended S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. His love for Physics and optics in particular, he attributed to his beloved teacher Dr. R.L.Haymen, who went on to become the founder headmaster of S. Thomas’ Gurutalawa.

Born on 26th November 1910, he returned to his Maker on the 17th June 1962. It was too soon. I was just 15 and I had two brothers who were younger, and this was a time in our life when we would have really liked a father to be around. Both my sisters had left school, and one had just got into university, and all five of us found ourselves making huge adjustments to meet a situation that we had not imagined in our wildest dreams. But it was our mother who was devastated by the loss of a devoted husband. A teacher who never took any leave, she could not get back to work for over four weeks, such was the effect of this loss.

He was a wonderful father, who set high standards for us. Not once had he ever raised his hand against any of his children. Even when it came to simple things like how you dress, he insisted on standards, I had once slackened my tie knot and unbuttoned the collar button, (I was only 14), he saw me and he told us the story of how he had done this at school (those were days when senior boys wore tie to school), and his teacher, who also taught me English, Mr. V.P. Cooke, had made him stand in front of the class and told the other students, “Look at this chap, he is neither a loafer nor a gentleman’. The lesson was learnt.

Next to his profession his other love was the YMCA. He was a loyal member of the Colombo Association, and many were the occasions when we as a family trooped into the YMCA building for functions involving the family. He took a special interest in the Y’s Men’s Club of the Colombo YMCA. This was the service arm of the ‘Y’. At the time of his death he was serving his fourth term as President. He was held in very high esteem by all those with whom he associated, and I can do no better than to quote from an appreciation written by the then General Secretary of the Colombo YMCA, Mr. Lennie Wijesinghe, soon after his death.

“Hector is dead and with his death we of the Association have lost a loyal Active Member and a sincere friend. Our Y’s Men’s Club has suffered even a greater loss for he was its President. It was under his leadership that the Club achieved its present status in Y’ sdom. He carried himself with dignity wherever he went. It was not a cold dignity but one which was surrounded by the inimitable charm of a friendly personality. Indeed, this was one remarkable characteristic of the man. Nobody meeting him for the first time could think of him as a stranger. It would be correct to say that in such circumstances one was more inclined to look upon him as a dear friend. Such was the impelling force of the love that throbbed in him. Hector never gave himself airs. Simplicity was the very essence of his nature. And yet it was not of the ordinary variety, rather was it one springing from the depths of a kindly disposition. Nor was his spirit of service limited. It reached out to others wherever the need arose.”

May his soul rest in peace!


Eksith Fernando

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Budget 2021: Need for ‘National Reading’



Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, presented the nation’s 75th Budget, for the Year 2021, to Parliament, last week. Now we can witness different interpretations of the budget from economists, the business community, academics and representatives of civil society. Some argue, with their expertise in economics, and some can be seen with their understanding of society. Moreover, it can be seen that certain elements read this budget with their political ideology. Anyway, this is the time that Sri Lanka needs “National Reading” of the Budget.

This Budget is unique for a few reasons. First we need to “read” this by focusing on the current pandemic situation. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts Sri Lanka’s economy to shrink 4.6% this Year. This can be seen as the same as other countries. In May 2020, the Asian Development Bank announced that COVID‐19 could cost the global economy between $5.8 and $8.8 trillion.

And also, we should not forget the “Easter Sunday attack” which severely affected the economy of the country last year. Refer below for ‘’Reuters reports” on 18 September 2019.

“Sri Lanka’s economy grew at its slowest pace, in more than five years from April to June, government data showed on Wednesday, as the Easter Sunday bomb attacks that killed over 250 people hit the island nation’s fastest-growing tourism sector. Accommodation, food and beverage service activities, which have been rapidly growing due to high tourist influx, fell 9.9% in the June quarter, compared to the same period a year ago.”

So, it is clear that the Sri Lankan economy is experiencing a “double blow” unlike other countries. There is a need for people to understand this situation. This is the time when people need to have a “National Reading” for the budget. Interestingly Dr. W.A Wijewardena, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of SriLanka, has vividly elaborated this context in his article titled “Budget 2021: Gota’s Third War, but forgive me, it is our war, too”. Accordingly, Wijewardena argued that ‘’Sri Lanka is at war today and it is Gota’s Third War. But it is not his war alone; it is our war too. We all should fight it with vigour, rigor, perseverance, and determination. The whole nation should help Gota by working harder, two or three times harder than before, to take the country out of the present economic malaise. That is the only source of progress. Without that, the Budget 2021 will only be another document with no practical relevance.” Hence there is a need for everyone to understand the real situation of the country.

People in this country need to understand this crisis. We did not expect either the Easter Sunday attack or Covid-19, which have done much damage to people and to the country as a whole. Now the time has come to get together as one nation and work towards the betterment of the country. Hence there is a need for everyone to “read” this Budget 2021, with the interest of the nation.



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