‘COOL’ debacle in the hands of fools: He laughs best who laughs last! – II
By Rohana R. Wasala
(continued from yesterday)
During the first interview mentioned above, Ali Sabry made the patently false claim that the Aluthgama and Digana incidents drove young Muslims to extremism, whereas the truth was the reverse of that, as borne out by evidence. (These incidents must be investigated even belatedly to discover the factual situation. The disastrous policy of political correctness that led to the submergence of the truth on those occasions then seemed to be at work once again.) Sabry referred to how the UK responded to incidents of Islamic extremist violence as a model to follow in dealing with the same problem in Sri Lanka: the UK government reached out to the mainstream Muslim minority and acted to win their confidence and support in order to contain Islamic extremism in that country. That was a false analogy. He implied that Sri Lanka had to do the same (as if Sri Lanka has not been doing exactly that for centuries). (The violent imagery in his speech was an indication of the commotion in his own mind resulting from his subliminal awareness of guilt as he felt compelled to lie in that situation for political expediency within his own community. His persistent advocacy of burial against the lawful directives of the DGHS revealed his anxiety to avoid displeasing pious Muslims who insisted on burying their dead as per strict Muslim funeral rites.) It was reported that he threatened to resign from his ministerial post on this issue, but that he was persuaded to stay on, which to the genuinely concerned sounded fishy, no doubt.
Ali Sabry had been sounding the warning mentioned above (about possible unrest among Muslim youth over the ‘no burial only cremation’ problem since early April 2020. He apparently believed that he was undergoing a sort of public trial by being blamed by both the Muslim community on the one hand who felt aggrieved by the compulsory cremation rule imposed on all citizens by the health authorities for the safe disposal of bodies of Covid-19 victims and the numerically strong nationalist faction on the other led by the monks, who insisted] that the rule should not be relaxed to satisfy the whims of one particular group of people thereby endangering the lives of the whole population through the possible release of the still inadequately understood novel coronavirus from the interred bodies to the country’s water table, which, in many places in Sri Lanka, is not very deep, and lies close to the surface. The controversial Gnanasara Thera (who is now heading the presidential task force) was an exception: he spoke up for Muslims who wanted to bury; the monk said that the Muslims’ demand for burial should be allowed.
Ali Sabry should know better than most that there has been no lack of reaching out to the mainstream Muslim minority either by the majority community or by the successive governments. Muslims as a community are mainly engaged in business. Seventy-five perscent of their customer base comprises Sinhalese, making it possible for Muslim businesses to thrive normally, though there’s been just condemnation, among the citizenry including the majority Sinhalese, of worsening Islamist extremism in recent years. Be that as it may, it is not simply because Sabry had served president Gotabaya in the past as his implicitly trusted personal legal service provider that he was made a national list MP by the SLPP and honoured and empowered with such a very important key portfolio.
‘One country One law’ was the rallying cry that inspired patriotic Sri Lankans at both the presidential and parliamentary elections to vote for the SLPP, which won with the largest margins. As minister of justice Sabry has been entrusted with the task of supervising the making of a new constitution that is designed to achieve that epoch making change (namely, One Country, One Law) among other things. Gotabaya made no bones about the fact that he won the presidency almost exclusively on the strength of Sinhalese votes, as already hinted above; most Muslims and Tamils chose not to respond positively to his call for support at the presidential election. His bluntness was a reflection of his characteristic candour, which had then not been compromised by the hypocrisy of political correctness, his older brother’s blunt weapon, that fails more often than it succeeds.
But Gotabaya did not hold any grudge against those who rejected him, for in the same breath president elect Gotabaya said that he was elected as president of all the citizens of the country and that he would serve in that post without discriminating against any citizen. There is no doubt about the fact that he meant what he said. By appointing Ali Sabry to the powerful post of Minister of Justice, the president incidentally reassured the Muslims that he would not exclude them from his vision of prosperity and splendour for the nation.
But Ali Sabry did not budge an inch from his original unqualified opposition to the mandatory burning of bodies of Muslim victims of Covid-19 over which he expressed his disappointment in a Facebook post, something mentioned in an Al Jazeera news report/April 3, 2020, with the authorities’ decision which, he alleged, ignored the WHO guidelines that allow both burial and cremation. Were we to believe that our experts chose to overlook the WHO guidelines without a rational explanation? Sabry deliberately ignored the various reservations that clearly qualified the WHO guidelines, leaving the authorised specialists of any member country to modify those recommendations as appropriate for local conditions and ground realities. The basic assumption that he seemed to be operating on, regarding the burial problem, was wrong. For all intents and purposes, he pretended to wrongly believe that the health authorities insisted on making no exception for Muslim dead in this case because that was what the monks wanted. Ali Sabry was the last person that rational people would expect to demand that Muslims should be allowed to bury their loved ones dead from the novel coronavirus while cremation was the only safe method ordered by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS).
This is not a happy thing to say about arguably the most important and influential minister in the cabinet, being the closest companion of the President, next to the Prime Minister, who is the president’s own brother. It was inconceivable how Ali Sabry was capable of (no doubt unintentionally) justifying the berserk behaviour of some virus-infected Muslims (as seen in their show of insubordination, noncooperation, physical harassment of the health workers trying to help them including spitting at them (with the malicious intention of spreading the infection); cases were reported of some Covid-19 positive tested individuals spitting out of the windows of buses carrying them to quarantine centres in vicious attempts to spread dreaded infection). Such demonstration of unprovoked anger is based on the false pretext of alleged discrimination against them by the government in the matter of mandatory cremation of Corona dead as prescribed by the responsible health experts to prevent the escape of the deadly virus with many unknowns into the environment. The virus is no respecter of people’s religious sensitivities. If the Director General of Health determined that cremation was the only option for Sri Lanka in the prevailing emergency, all citizens were obliged to accept that and act accordingly.
Why didn’t Sabry make an effort to explain to the agitating Muslims and to the misinformed Muslim world in general, who have never been enemies of Sri Lanka, that this blown-out-of-proportion controversy over the burial or cremation issue had nothing to do with the monks or the government or the health authorities or the army and police officers (the last mentioned having been co-opted into the Covid containment operation only as ancillary personnel employed for a strictly logistical purpose to serve under the DGHS, the government appointed competent authority, who gives leadership to the whole enterprise, which involves every single citizen of the country).
The cremation imperative was not an arbitrary decision taken by the government to spite the Muslim minority under pressure from the monks as misleadingly suggested by the hostile foreign NGO elements, Islamists, a handful of misguided Muslims, and the irresponsible SJB-led opposition. The DGHS was not acting capriciously either; his recommendations were based on a scientific rationale collectively defined by a group of experts belonging to a number of different but relevant fields of study in the best interest of all resident Sri Lankans and foreign visitors. Ali Sabry seemed to be more concerned about remaining in the good books of the handful of Islamists and their sympathisers than about the feelings of the ninety-five per cent of the population who are against them.
The fate of the goal of One Country One Law under Ali Sabry as Minister of Justice is not difficult to guess.
Russian Ambassador clarifies
Comparing special military operation in Ukraine with the presence of the limited contingent of the Soviet Army in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan is not correct. If the author of the article “‘Containment Theory’ returns to West’s ties with East” in The Island of 18 May does some serious research of the pre-military period of the conflict in Afghanistan, he will discover that the Soviet Army was invited to Afghanistan by the legitimate government formed by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. It was not an invasion. Our soldiers fulfilled their international duty and did so with dignity.
Instead of disturbing the memories of our fallen soldiers, the author, I guess, should inform his readers why Americans, who occupied Afghanistan for 20 years, didn’t reach any positive results outside Kabul? Why didn’t they create at list one new facility to improve the life of the citizens of one of the poorest countries in Asia? Why after their disgraceful defeat they even didn’t do anything to help those people who trusted them? Why the production of opium increased several times? There are no answers. Only silence on the part of the State Department and Pentagon.
Let the author explain, as well, what were the reasons of American failure in Iraq. By the way, was that invasion endorsed by UN Security Council?
During the Soviet1 military presence in Afghanistan soldiers not only from Russia, but also from Ukraine, Baltic States, Caucasus and other parts of the USSR fulfilled their international duty.
Now we are fighting for our future. The tragedy of the current conflict is that Ukraine and the Ukrainian people have been turned into an instrument of Western policy to destabilise Russia. The great hate, a real hysteria was created from the time of illegal coup-d’etat in 2014. We are two parts of one people, and the West did its best, as usual, in making split.
The special military operation is not aimed against civilians in Ukraine. The goal is to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes. After the referendums, held in accordance with the International law, Ukraine must recognize that these regions are integral part of Russia. This operation will last till all its aims mentioned by our President Vladimir Putin are reached. Our cause is just, and we will win. No doubt!
Ambassador to Russia in Colombo
‘Unworthy worthies’, ‘dishonourable honourables’
The recent detection of gold and Smart phones in the personal luggage of a Smuggler- MP returnee from Dubai has raised several issues. The elevation of the status of Smugglers, Political interference in legal process, entitlement to VIP Lounge, exemptions from Customs checks, breach of procedures in determining the size of fines by Customs and money laundering.
Two matters are of interest. (a) who are entitled to “Diplomatic Passports and the associated privileges (including the VIP Lounge and exemption from personal Customs and Immigration formalities,) and (b) Penalties imposed by Customs on persons detected while attempting to smuggle dutiable goods.
In a recent instance, Ali Sabry Raheem, MP from Puttalam District, was detected attempting to smuggle in 3.5 Kilograms of gold and a large number of fancy mobile phones, together valued at some Rs 78 million. It is on record that he sought interference by several powerful authorities (including The Speaker of Parliament), to extricate himself. Having failed, the Customs confiscated the booty and imposed a fine of Rs 7.4 million, which was promptly paid. One understands that in such cases, the stipulated fine is three times the estimated value, while here it was even less than even one-tenth of the value of contraband. Why? The feeble tale that the contraband belonged to someone else, a fellow passenger, should alert the sleuths to follow this trail. The alacrity with which with the fine was paid suggests that such handy “ready cash”, points to previous undetected instances, How often has this intrepid traveler been abroad lately? The “Icing on the cake” is that this man left for Dubai, just three days later, to Dubai! VIP departure lounge charges, and perhaps even his airfare may have been met the State? Nothing surprises us anymore.
Clearly our Government has been less than conscientious in the issue of “Diplomatic or Official” Passports. The most scandalous instance was when Karuna Amman (Karuna of the LTTE), defected and was promptly appointed a Minister, and travelled to the UK, presumably on a Diplomatic Passport but had to spend a fortnight in prison, for overstaying his visa. A sad reflection on the discretion of the State’s exercise of a privilege.
Immunity does not imply impunity.
An appreciation: Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala
I was saddened to learn that our friend and Sri Lanka’s prominent diplomat Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala has quietly closed the door of life and departed from us. To me, a sorrow that is deep and personal. I have known Jayantha since we were two of three finalists for the Herald Tribune essay contest for a traveling scholarship to the United States in the late 1950s; he from Trinity, and I from Richmond, and he won out. Since then, he never stopped shining on the international stage, culminating in his narrow loss in the competition for the Secretary General of the United States post.
In the meantime, he had served Sri Lanka as a foreign service member in countless capitals and as Ambassador to India, China, the United States and the United Nations, and Washington. He also served as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Disarmament, during which he led the U.N. team to investigate the nuclear sites in Iraq just before the Iraqi war and later headed the U.N. Institute of Disarmament Research (UNIDIR).
I had the privilege of working closely with him on joint U.N. projects and traveling to various cities, including Ulan Bator, Mongolia, during which we nearly escaped an airline disaster over the then-Soviet Union. Whether it was in the course of official work or the relaxed evenings we spent after a full day of work, it was highly congenial to be in his company. At work, he knew the art of negotiation of being firm while being most congenial, no mean talent that took him to the summit of international diplomacy. He also served Sri Lanka as Foreign Secretary, Head of the Peace Secretariat, and finally as Senior Advisor to the President of Sri Lanka. Few Sri Lankans have ever reached those dizzy heights.
The loss of my friend profoundly saddens me, and I join the diplomatic world that will mourn the death of a diplomat par excellence and a Gentleman to the hilt who served Mother Lanka well! Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, once commented about a man and his contribution: “It is not the years in a life that counts; it is the life in the years.” By that measure, Jayantha Dhanapala is a shining star that lived! We will miss him, and may he find peace!
Former Deputy Director-General, United Nations & Director U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs.
Navy divers retrieve 148 from watery graves within a year
Establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Draft report on the inquiry into the destruction of North-Eastern archaeological sites and interference with conservation activities handed over to the Prime Minister
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