The Easter Sunday attackers posing for a picture with their leader Zahran in the middle
By Rienzie Wijetilleke
Sri Lankans around the world remain bemused at revelations from the on-going investigation into the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) has so far seen a roll call of former leaders and high ranking officials from the previous regime providing any number of vague excuses and abdicating responsibility for their inaction.
The former President, who is now a member of the ruling party and was the Minister of Defence and Commander-in-Chief at the time, must provide better answers than simply saying he was not informed. There is growing evidence that in fact he was informed. The former President has also stated that the Prime Minister was not invited to the National Security Council meeting because he suspected the latter of leaking the contents of the briefings to the press. This highlights the complete shambles of the previous government’s handling of the security apparatus. There was no cohesion, no alignment; there were only conflicting political agendas and the people are left to pick the pieces of their disastrous ineptitude.
The death toll numbers in the hundreds, but this is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are perhaps thousands affected. Every family that lost a loved one must still be suffering daily at not having them close when they go to bed at night or sit for a meal together. The dreams of so many young Sri Lankans were shattered, livelihoods vanished, and hearts were broken. There were multiple funerals per street in some areas of the country and the victims pain is only exacerbated by the new details emerging weekly from the PCoI sessions. They deserve real answers and tangible relief.
As per CNN, Indian Intelligence services passed on ‘unusually specific’ information in the weeks before the attack, gathered from an ISIS suspect arrested and interrogated on Indian soil. Sri Lankan officials were warned on 4 th April of possible attacks against Christian Churches and tourist spots; the same warnings were sent two days before the attack and two hours before the attack. The government did nothing, and this amounts to ‘willful negligence’.
The name Zahran Hashim was disclosed by a terror suspect and even appears on a memo dated April 11th signed by the Police DIG, stating that there was a possible threat from him and his organization, the NTJ. In fact, the police and intelligence services had been aware of the NTJ for over two years before the attacks.
Explosives had been uncovered in the Eastern Province and even linked to Islamic terrorist activities. In January 2019, in the North West of the country, in Wanathawilluwa near Puttalam, a group was arrested upon the detection of 100 kilos of explosives as well as other materials required for the manufacture of bombs. Hundreds of detonators, wire cords, rifles and ammunition as well as six 20 litre cans of Nitrate acid, which is banned in Sri Lanka, were also discovered. Why weren’t the country and its people put on high alert and warned of the dangers posed by religious fundamentalism?
The chemical Triacetone Triperoxide (TATP) is thought to have been used for the Easter Attacks. TATP is made from household ingredients such as nail polish remover and hydrogen peroxide. These items are supposed to be screened by police to prevent their purchase in large stocks. The operation to build the bombs was connected to the copper factory in Wellampitiya. We had read reports of militia groups operating with impunity in the Eastern Province. Some groups were vandalising religious monuments throughout the last few years. We know that radical Islam had taken hold of many parts of the Eastern Province. Radicalization and Arabization have been occurring in parts of the country, and what are the government proposals to prevent this from continuing? What are the implications of the spread of extremism for the question of devolution of power? Can the ordinary Sri Lankans trust local governments, given what has been brewing in the East?
Some of the barrels of explosive materials found near Puttalam had Indian markings on them. It should surprise no one that foreign influence played a key role in the radicalisation of the youth. Throughout the multi decade war against the LTTE, we remember how Western liberal democracies allowed ‘charity’ organisations to operate without sufficient controls, raising funds for terror activities in Sri Lanka. The President at that time, Mahinda Rajapaksa faced immense pressure from the international community to cease the onslaught against the LTTE. The President took decisive action at that time and deserves enormous credit for not succumbing to this pressure.
The Times of India (ToI) reported that Indian Intelligence had been studying the spread of Wahabism in Eastern Sri Lanka for some time. We have seen reporting of large charity donations emanating from Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East and directly benefiting powerful politicians from the East. ToI also reported that the Eastern region of Sri Lanka could become an operational zone for terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the organisation responsible for the 2008 Mumbai Attacks. LeT’s own charity organisation; Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq was active in Tsunami relief efforts in Sri Lanka and the Maldives in 2004. Another suspicious charity by the name of Falah-i-Insaniyat had been operating in the Eastern Province in 2016. Indian Minister Kishan Reddy stated that this organisation had been banned by the UN but still operated online.
Sri Lanka also must manage the optics of this issue very carefully. Already there is a circus related to the arrest and subsequent release of the brother of a prominent MP who was linked to the suspected terrorists. That same MP is now apparently under arrest for misappropriating funds in a separate case. People are asking a very valid question as to whether these two arrests are related in any way. What about the Governor and state officials of the Eastern Province, who allowed a terrorist outfit to organise and establish itself under their watch; shouldn’t criminal charges be brought against these officials?
A Muslim human rights lawyer, Hejaaz Hizbullah, with alleged links to two of the suicide bombers, was arrested several months ago on terrorism charges. However Human Rights organisations including the usual suspects, Amnesty International, have claimed that he is being detained without credible evidence under provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). These same rights organisations have been lobbying for the removal of the PTA and for reforms in Sri Lanka’s state intelligence services. What role have they played in creating the conditions for the Easter Attacks? Sri Lankans have traditionally been quite suspicious of non-governmental organisations due to their perceived sympathy and support for terrorist surrogates. However, Sri Lanka, as a responsible member of the international community, must act with a level of prudence as its image is at stake. Sri Lanka has always been a victim of terrorism, but the Western-driven narrative, derived from multinational extra-territorial organisations seems intent on painting Sri Lanka as the belligerent in most cases. In the case of the Easter attacks, Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans were victims of violent extremism and we should not allow that narrative to shift once again.
Multiple officials from the Sri Lankan Police, Armed forces and Intelligence services have confirmed that the information was available and it was communicated to the highest levels. However, the former President and the former Prime Minister are simply saying they did not receive the security briefs. They are blaming each other and the state apparatus that was under their stewardship. There are thousands of Sri Lankan eagerly awaiting the truth about what happened in April 2019 and they will not take kindly to any administration that drags their feet on matters of such urgency. The authorities must expedite the inquiries. Officials in the security and intelligence apparatus have a duty to protect the citizens of the country. Which officials failed in their duty to protect, how did this failure occur given the information that was available and why was this information not acted upon? I urge the present government to charge all those high ranking individuals involved during the time of the Easter Sunday Attacks with manslaughter.
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!
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.
Professor NALIN ABEYSEKERA
Alternatives in the Transition from Capitalism
Sumanasiri Liyanage (“Transcending Capital-Labour Relation:A Note on Social Entrepreneurship”, 10 November) makes an interesting point about “social enterprises”, co-operatives, worker-co-operatives and the like.
He argues that structurally, many of these enterprises are bureaucratic, and that “many social enterprises, having failed to make sociality their ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ characteristics, show a tendency for degeneration, putting aside their social characteristics and creating a strong permanent bureaucratic apparatus. The main concern of this bureaucratic apparatus is not profit, as in private enterprises, but ‘income’ as a revenue.”
There is a great deal of truth in what he says. In a capitalist system, social enterprises, by their very need to exist in that milieu, must look to profit. Indeed, as one participant in a recent online conference of worker-co-ops in the USA commented to me, they seem to be more concerned in their engagement with the capitalist system, rather than with expanding a socially-owned economy.
“Yes, I see the emphasis on ‘income’,” my informant tells me, “especially here as initial funding for co-ops,etc., comes from non-profit foundations that emphasise ‘entrepreneurship,’ also ‘social enterprise’ is just seen as for profits with some social mission, either corporate ‘responsibility’ or community contributions, or a social service abandoned by the State.”
However, exceptions to this rule do exist. My informant, who consults for worker-co-ops in the US, thinks that these are more concerned with social issues than with mere profit, although they do realise the need for surplus income, in order to survive and expand. Exemplifying this attitude, the newly-formed Rhode Island Political Co-operative, which won democratic primaries, as well as seven seats in the state’s General Assembly, and two city council seats, campaigned on socio-economic issues, such as a $15 minimum wage, the Green New Deal, single-payer healthcare, criminal justice reform, affordable housing, quality public education, immigrant rights, and getting money out of politics.
Liyanage should look at the problem as a Marxist. Historically, social change has taken place through the resolution of internal contradictions, but has been accompanied by the establishment of institutions which pre-figure the next social stage. In Hegelian terms, the transformation of quantity into quality.
In Europe, the transition from slavery to serfdom did not take place in a vacuum. For example, serf-based production emerged within the slave-holding Roman Empire, the collapse of which caused the transition to feudalism. Similarly, bourgeois institutions, such as banks and manufacturing concerns emerged in feudal society: joint-stock companies appeared (stillborn in the first millennium in China) in the 13th century in Europe. These proliferated within pre-capitalist societies, laying a transformative foundation until a cusp was reached, and the bourgeoisie seized power, carrying out a metamorphosis of economy, society and polity.
One could, realistically, expect a similar mechanism to occur prior to a transition to socialism. Indeed, the USSR, during the “New Economic Policy” period, encouraged the establishment of worker-co-ops and farmer-co-ops. Lenin believed that co-operatives, particularly producer-co-ops, held the key to building a socialist society. He wrote in 1923 (“On co-operatives”, Pravda, 26-27 May 1923) that the only task left was “to organise the population in co-operative societies.”
Apart from farmer collectives, Lenin also encouraged “Big Bill” Haywood, the US trade unionist, to set up the Kuzbass Autonomous Industrial Colony, which brought together American and European workers with Soviet ones in a giant worker-co-op: dissolved, unfortunately, in 1926. Hence, co-operatives, and particularly producer co-operatives, are part of the practical Marxist tradition.
The “father of socialism in Sri Lanka”, Philip Gunawardena, encouraged the creation of multi-purpose co-operative societies (MPCSs), both for the promotion of collective activity, and as potential units of rural democracy. During the 1970-75 United Front Government, several farmer co-operatives emerged in Sri Lanka, as well as a handful of worke-co-operatives (notably a steel-making co-op in Moratuwa). So the tradition exists on the Sri Lankan Left as well.
Of course, producer-co-ops by themselves cannot, as utopian socialists such as Robert Owen and Charles Fourier imagined, guarantee the transition to socialism (any more than the emergence of capitalist enterprises in pre-capitalist societies ensured the success of the bourgeois revolution). As both Marx and Lenin pointed out, the necessary condition for this transition lies in the class struggle.
However, these institutions may prove to be essential allies in the class struggle – their very existence contradicts the bourgeois idea of private property, as against collective property. “Under private capitalism,” Lenin pointed out, “co-operative enterprises differ from capitalist enterprises as collective enterprises differ from private enterprises.”
Marx (in his ‘Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association”) had this to say about workers’ co-operatives:
“The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labour need not be monopolised as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the labouring man himself; and that, like slave labour, like serf labour, hired labour is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labour plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart.”
On a practical level, the burgeoning Latin American “Solidarity Economy” movement has attempted to build alternatives to capitalist institutions, challenging capitalist property relations, as part and parcel of a class-based revolutionary process. Hence, rather than merely condemning actually existing worker co-ops as bureaucratically degenerated, commercialised enterprises, it may be more constructive to regard them as part of the solution to a transition from capitalism, and consider how these institutions may be reformed, structurally and ideologically, from within.
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