Connect with us


International political order at a crossroads



‘We are going to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for human rights abuses’; so pronounced US President Joe Biden. Given the immense gravity of the issues flowing from the chillingly inhuman murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in October 2018, this somewhat bland statement by the US President on the US’ purported future course of action on the killing is disappointing for supporters of democracy the world over.

The statement comes as a disheartening anti-climax, considering that much more was expected of the US by way of helping to bring all those behind the murder to justice. Merely naming and shaming Saudi Arabia as being accountable for HR abuses falls short of taking the process of meting out justice in this matter of the first magnitude to its logical conclusion.

Recent news reports said that the US had for the first time ‘publicly accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of approving the gruesome murder’ of Khashoggi, but nothing concrete, apparently, could be expected of the US in terms of facilitating the bringing to justice of the accused any time soon. Apparently, Realpolitik considerations are preventing the US from taking the most effective remedial measures on this issue. The US would evidently prefer not to antagonise its long-standing ally in the Middle East.

Right now, the ‘world’s mightiest democracy’ comes across to the observer as a failed defender of democracy. The stale, stock explanation of the high-profile murder being a matter that is ‘internal’ to Saudi Arabia holds no water considering that international mechanisms for the dispensation of justice on issues such as these are readily available. A prominent democracy may might as well shrug its shoulders dismissively at the HR atrocities that are currently being unleashed by the Myanmarese junta, if lukewarm reactions are what must be expected by the world on questions such as the Khashoggi murder, for instance, which smacks through and through of unalloyed state terror. Hopefully, supporters of democracy would be proved wrong by the US on this score.

The role of the US in this connection is crucial in view of the fact that it remains the most preponderant power in the world system and has some unquestionable democratic credentials. Moreover, it is a pivotal power in the UN Security Council (UNSC) whose decisions are crucial in shaping world security and law and order. Accordingly, if the US fails on the Khashoggi question, its standing as a principal state possessing the highest potential to positively influence international politics could very well be strongly questioned.

Right now, the US is crucial to the effective functioning or otherwise of the international political system that came into being at the end of World War Two, which was generally seen as a battle for supremacy between democracy and fascism, the former bloc headed by the US and Britain and the latter helmed by Hitlerian Germany. Since then, the US has projected itself as a key exemplar of democratic values and institutions.

The strengthening of human rights world wide, depends on the credibility of the US as an exponent of HR, to a considerable degree, and the cause of HR could be strengthened or weakened to the extent to which the US lives-up to the role expected of it or fails in the endeavour. Accordingly, the US would need to help in bringing the killers of Khashoggi to justice, if the present international political system, with its accent hitherto on democracy, is not to render itself dysfunctional or descend into a state of atrophy. With these questions coming to the fore the present international political order could be said to have arrived at a cross-roads.

However, the US has lived up to the expectations of the democratic world to some extent by taking up the cause of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The sanctions clamped by the US in this connection, it is hoped, would result in Russia initiating political liberalization measures, with the accent on HR.

The dilemmas confronting the US are inevitably bound up with those that have been bedevilling the UN system over the years. It is no secret that the UNSC has time and again been rendered ineffective by the power struggles among its five veto-wielding permanent members. It is very rarely that these powers have shared the same perceptions on the crucial questions of our time, with the consequence that the permanent members have failed to act consensually on matters relating to global war and peace. The gridlocks within the UNSC, that is, have ensured the continuation of strife and war in some parts of the world. The Middle East is a case in point.

The problem of atrophying power struggles within the UNSC, unfortunately, is unlikely to unravel any time soon. Syria and Myanmar are just two current conflict zones that will likely further compound the issue of the UN’s seeming ineffectiveness amid strong disagreements among some permanent UNSC members. The US and Russia have been continually at daggers drawn on Syria, rendering it a chronically-wasting killing field.

The Syrian conflict has resulted in the death of at least 380,000 people and caused half of Syria’s population to flee their homes. Some of the latter have ended-up as refugees abroad, numbering six million, BBC reports. It is difficult to see how fresh US air strikes in Syria will result in a respite from war and strife for the latter. But consensuality on Syria between the US and Russia wouldn’t materialize in a hurry either.

Tougher times are in store for the UNSC on issues growing out of the present strife in Myanmar. Formal democracies among the permanent UNSC members would likely call for a restoration of democracy in Myanmar and demand the freeing of the country’s detained political leadership. But China and Russia are unlikely to support these demands. The result is the continuation of conflict and unrest in the country with the latter’s civilians bearing the brunt of the junta’s repressive and bloody law-enforcement measures. Once again, the UN system will come to be seen as ineffective in keeping the peace world wide.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Strong on vocals



The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.



Continue Reading


Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year



Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.



Continue Reading


New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations



Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

Continue Reading