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Objectives of arms producing countries conflict with dreams of third world countries for peace!

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By M M Zuhair

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may not be in the US administration if the November 3rd presidential election brings into office the more popular Joe Biden, come January 2021. But whoever comes to the world’s most powerful office, US perspectives of policing the globe- including the other side of it, ‘in defense of the American continent’ will not change. From Sri Lanka’s perspectives of its security, territorial integrity and sovereignty over its land, sea and air space, Pompeo’s brief visit has to be given the seriousness it deserves, as if Donald Trump has in fact won!

The visit has made clear Sri Lanka’s foreign policy of neutrality and non-alignment in its external relations being underscored at the highest level by the country’s President and reiterated by the island’s Foreign Minister. Though neutrality and non-alignment are the safest ‘bomb shelters’ for small nations like Sri Lanka, external relations will nevertheless become a challenging task given the rising confrontational exchanges between the US and the Asian giant China. The US did not hide its anti-China rhetoric, in the high level meetings not only in Colombo but also in New Delhi, Male, Jakarta and Hanoi.

Nevertheless President Gotabaya Rajapaksa enhanced his ratings by diplomatically rejecting the debt trap allegation. In more clear terms the President said that ‘historic and cultural relations’ and ‘development cooperation’ are some of the priorities that will determine relations between Sri Lanka and other nations.

What US promoters here fail to comprehend is that China is essentially a fall back priority for the government, given the US backed resolution against the ‘war heroes’ pending in the UN Human Rights Council. UN Security Council’s official records, for years following the May 2009 defeat of the LTTE, would show the attempts of those alleging war crimes, to bring Sri Lanka before the Security Council as well. These attempts were later abandoned, perhaps fearing the Chinese veto. What Sri Lanka will never digest is that, the US having quit the UN HRC after labeling it as a “cesspool” is continuing to ostracise Sri Lanka through its proxies in the “cesspool”! This does not mean however that Sri Lanka must not have its own credible investigation into the allegations. An independent investigation cum inquiry commanded by a non-pan Sinhala Presidential Commission of Inquiry comprising current judges will certainly help uphold the reputation of the country’s management of its armed forces. It will also help close a loophole for external interferences.

Pompeo at the 28th October meeting with the President has said that the US wishes to see that the “Indian Ocean ‘remains’ a zone of peace”. It is admittedly a zone of peace today. The sea lanes are working well except for narcotic smuggling and occasional conflicts in fisheries exploitation. But the US war lobby can be seen creating a highly exaggerated threat perception in this zone of peace! Significantly, the threat is created partly by the unnecessary US presence in this part of the globe! The US has deliberately put up the otherwise sleeping non-invasive giant, China as it did to the Islamic world from the 1990s by manufacturing and marketing Islamophobia!

US military presence here in the Indian Ocean will by itself ensure that the Indian Ocean ceases to ‘remain’ a zone of peace! Tensions with China will cease in and around South Asia, if the US will revert to the original ‘US-Pacific’ model terminating in the Straits of Malacca from the present ‘Indo-Pacific’ and leave the ‘Indian Ocean’ to the countries in South Asia. That of course is a mighty wish that Sri Lanka must add on to the ongoing Covid 19 prayers! The truth is that the US and NATO countries need wars to keep the thousand and more arms industry factories going on working at least a single shift per day. The years ahead will unfold this truth as had been shown in the past.

The Nobel Peace Prize must be awarded to anyone who can show a single year during the last 100 years in which the US/NATO had not been involved in wars in a third world country! Thus we need today ‘watch dogs’ to protect South Asia from retired ‘generals’ who, and frontal ‘organisations’ which promote blood stained war mongers. It is a known fact that the US Secretary of State Pompeo is a former Director of the American CIA. But his deputy in the delegation Brian Bulatao, a former soldier turned businessman is also one whom Pompeo had recruited as CEO of CIA in 2017. Bulatao was called a ‘bully’ by those who opposed Pompeo’s appointment!

Several Buddhist monks including the well- known Elle Gunawansa Thero, Muruthettuwe Ananda Nayaka Thero, Chief of the Narahenpita Abheyarama Temple and several others have in a letter addressed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa referred to a press conference held on 15th April 2019 where Pompeo had reportedly admitted that when he was Director at the CIA ‘we have lied; we have cheated; we have robbed; we have been trained for that’. The monks were probably cautioning the President about the high-profile US dignitary’s CIA training! It would be best to remember that today’s Buddhist monks, thanks to Pirivena and University education are aware of foreign mechanisations and interferences, which powerful countries aided by their local promoters engineer by dividing communities and creating internal conflicts.

We need also to be alert to the conflict of interest in the area of national security between Sri Lanka and the world’s powerful countries. Western intelligence and investigative agencies were also well known for deceptive media leaks and toppling governments which do not fall in line with their country’s military objectives. These agencies are often used for creating divisions and conflicts. We need to be conscious that the objectives of countries manufacturing arms are invariably in conflict with the dreams of third world countries which are in search of peace. A clear example is the highly militarized relationship between India and the US.

Pompeo’s and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s 26th October visit to India can be evaluated from the US standpoint as exceptionally successful. India will buy sophisticated missile technologies, armed drones, US F-18 fighter jets and much more from the US.

 

Indian arms purchases are said to be currently in the region of US $ 20 billion, which is equivalent to Indian Rupees 1,470,000,000,000/= or Sri Lanka Rupee 3,680,000,000,000/=. The US $ 20 billion arms deal with India may be compared with Sri Lanka’s total 2019 import bill of US $ 19.9 billion and total 2019 export earnings of US $ 11.9 billion, worker remittances US $ 6.7 billion and tourism earnings US $ 3.6 billion!

One need not be surprised at the US success in India. That is because US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was in the US 2+2 delegation to India was originally a very influential arms contractor lobbyist. He later became a Vice President at the US multi- national conglomerate Raytheon Technologies, one of the largest arms manufacturers in the world.

Earlier on Esper was in the US Heritage Foundation. This Foundation developed what came to be known as the Reagan Doctrine of arms support to anti-communist cells world- wide. (Probably they may be presently studying arms support to anti-Islamic and anti-Chinese communist cells world-wide!) Heritage Foundation also advocated the development of new ballistic missile systems adopted by the then US government.

So Mark Esper had been part and parcel of the US arms manufacturing industry. US military institutions work hand in glove with the US arms industry. The arms industry works with sections of the Western media, powerful defense lobbyists, front organisations such as foundations and some sponsored civil societies. Esper would have been laughing all the way back to the States as to how the poor of India were financing the powerful US weapons manufacturers! But in fairness to Pompeo and Esper they are also loyal American citizens, flag bearers of President Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ policy.

Of course that is only one side of the Dollar! There is always the other side. Is it not a crime for the powerful war mongers abetted by the US state machinery, to ‘rob’ the Indians having a high rate of poverty of such whopping sums of money, a mighty portion of which will end up in the safes of the super- rich? Did they ‘lie, cheat and rob’ our big brother? Are the Indian leaders supported by an army of war mongers, including sections in the media equally culpable of ‘lying, cheating and robbing’ the poor in our part of the world? So they say!

Be that as it may. Where in the world is the UN? Is it beyond the ability and capacity of the Indian and Chinese leaders to sign peace agreements instead of listening to war mongers? That call however will certainly remain a far cry from the wilderness! Because, as the late Justice C G Weeramantry of International Court of Justice (ICJ) fame said, the arms industry is firmly established while the peace lobby is extremely weak! (The writer is a former Member of Parliament).



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India at 75

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By Gwynne Dyer

Last Tuesday, on the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to turn India into a developed country, within the next 25 years. If all goes well, that could actually come to pass, but it would have to go very well indeed.The demographic and economic signs are positive. The country’s population has grown fourfold, since independence in 1947, but population growth has now dropped to ‘replacement level’: 2.1 children per completed family.

The current youngest generation is so large that the population will keep growing, until 2060, when it will have reached 1.7 billion. The upside of this is that India will continue to have a rapidly growing young workforce for another generation, while its only rival, China, will have a rapidly ageing and dwindling population (1.2 billion and still falling in 2060)

India’s GDP per capita has been growing at about 5% for years, and if that continues for the next 25 years, it will have grown to $7,500 per person. That’s certainly within the lower ranks of developed countries (like Mexico, South Africa or China today). Given the size of India’s population, the economy would certainly rank in the world’s top five.

So, Modi’s prediction was certainly within the realm of possibility, but there are two big wild cards. One is climate: although only half of India, technically, falls within the tropics, all of it, except the very far north, suffers long, very hot summers.This summer has been the hottest ever, with many of the largest cities experiencing temperatures, above 45°C, for days at a time. Whatever we do about climate in the future, it can only go on getting worse for India, for the next 25 years.

That will bring the country into the zone where it literally becomes unsafe for people to do manual work outside, at the height of summer; death rates will go up, and food production will go down. Nobody knows exactly how bad it will get, but it will certainly get much worse that it is now.

The other wild card is war. Since the Indian and Pakistani tests of nuclear weapons, in 1999, the subcontinent has lived under the threat of a ‘local’ nuclear war that would devastate both countries (and also cause global food shortages lasting for at least four or five years).An Indo-Pak nuclear war is not inevitable, but, unlike the major nuclear powers, these two countries have fought real wars against each other – three in the past 75 years. The likelihood of such a catastrophe actually happening is certainly a lot higher than zero.

Each country now has about 160 nukes, and although both are now working to move beyond the dangerously unstable ‘use them or lose them’ phase where a a surprise attack might disarm the other side, there is no real stability to be found when the adversaries are so close and the hostility is so intense.So there is no harm in considering whether it might have been better to keep the entire Indian subcontinent, first united by the British empire, in one piece, at independence, rather than splitting it into two countries (and eventually three, counting Bangladesh).

The split was by no means inevitable. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the two main Hindu leaders of the independence movement, wanted an inclusive, non-sectarian republic, including all of British India, although they failed to offer Muslims sufficient guarantees to ensure their support.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the main Muslim leader in 1947, did want to carve a Muslim-majority Pakistan out of the country, but there was no obligation for the British government to satisfy his demand. He got his way because the United Kingdom was virtually broke after the Second World War and in a great hurry to dump its responsibilities in India.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer who had never been east of Paris, had five weeks to draw the dividing line between the two new countries. Around 15 million people, who found themselves on the wrong side of that line, became refugees, mutual massacres followed, and within weeks India and Pakistan had their first war. But it could have been different.

The undivided ‘big India’ would have 1.8 billion people today, about one-third Muslim and two-thirds Hindu. That would virtually guarantee that both groups would be represented in every government and in most political parties.

Lots of countries, elsewhere in the world, manage to be both democratic and prosperous with comparable religious and/or ethnic differences. The ‘big India’ would not have wasted 75 years’ worth of high defence spending, and there would be no risk of nuclear war.All those energies would have been devoted instead to civilian priorities, and that united India might already rank as a developed country. Might-have-beens.

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Ukraine War: Mother May I?

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By Gwynne Dyer

“This obviously does not happen because of a thrown butt,” said British Defense Minister Ben Wallace. But the Russian Ministry of Defence insisted that the explosions that destroyed at least eight warplanes at Saki Air Base in Russian-occupied Crimea on 9 August were due to “a violation of fire safety requirements.”

The implication is that some careless Russian smoker tossed away his cigarette butt and caused a fire that set off explosions. That’s hardly a testimonial to the discipline of the Russian air force’s ground crews, but it’s better than admitting that Ukrainian missiles have reached 225 km behind Russian lines to destroy a whole squadron of Russian fighters.Moscow also claimed that no Russian aircraft had been damaged by the explosions in Crimea, although the wreckage of the destroyed fighters was clearly visible on the ‘overheads’ from satellite observations.

The Russian Defence Ministry played the same silly game in April when Ukrainian cruise missiles sank the ‘Moskva.’, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. It claimed that a fire had caused munitions to explode, and that the ship then sank while under tow due to “stormy seas” (although the sea was actually flat calm at the time).And what caused that fire? Careless smokers again, presumably, because even the most damning statements about the indiscipline and incompetence of Russian sailors and airmen are preferable to an admission that the Ukrainians are really hurting Russia.

Ukraine’s Defence Ministry is having fun with this, reporting that it “cannot establish the cause of the fire [at the Russian airfield], but once again reminds of fire safety rules and a ban on smoking in unauthorized places.”

Taking responsibility for these strikes deep in Russian-controlled territory is not in Ukraine’s interest, so it’s happy for Russia to take the blame. Various anonymous defence officials in Kyiv further muddied the waters by suggesting that Ukrainian partisans were responsible, or Ukrainian special forces already operating far behind Russian front lines.

But why is it not in Ukraine’s interest to take ownership of these small but symbolically important victories?

It’s because the really decisive front in this war is how fast American and other NATO weapons systems are sent to Ukraine, and that is determined by a process that seems to be derived largely from the old children’s game of ‘Mother May I’ (also known as ‘Giant Steps’).The opening move is quite straightforward: Kyiv asks Washington for a hundred HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems so that it can counter Russia’s huge superiority in older artillery and rocket systems and drive Moscow’s forces from Ukrainian soil.

Washington replies that it can take two giant steps and a frog hop. No, wait a minute, it replies that Ukraine can have four HIMARS systems now. Once the crews have been trained and have demonstrated their proficiency in using the weapons, Kyiv can start the next round of the game by asking for more. This takes four weeks.

Getting into the spirit of the game, Ukraine then asks for only twenty more HIMARs, leaving the rest for later. Washington replies that it can take four baby steps and a pirouette – or rather, four more HIMARs now, but with the range still restricted to 70 km. and no thermobaric ammunition (fuel-air explosives). And so on.We are now in the fourth round of this game, with sixteen HIMARs promised of which Ukraine has already deployed between eight and twelve on the battlefield. At this rate, Ukraine will have the hundred HIMARs it needs to expel the Russians around April of 2024.

Similar games are being played with other badly needed weapons from NATO stockpiles like Western-made combat aircraft, modern anti-air defence systems, and longer-range missiles for attacks like the one on Saki Air Base. This is all driven by an excess of caution about such ‘escalation’ at the White House and in the National Security Council.

Washington is right to be concerned about Russia’s reactions, but it is prone to see the Russians as dangerously excitable children. They are not. They are poker players (NOT chess-players) who bet over-confidently, and are now trying to bluff their way out of trouble. The Russian ruling elite, or at least most of it, remains rational.

The Ukrainians, however, have to take American anxieties into account even when they use their own weapons, some of which have been modified for extended range, on distant Russian targets. The simplest way is just to pretend it wasn’t their weapons that did the damage.The same policy applies to the numerous acts of sabotage carried out in Russia by Ukrainian agents – and by a happy accident the Russians are willing to collaborate in this fiction. They’d rather blame the clumsiness, ignorance and incompetence of their own troops than give the credit to the Ukrainians.

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Book Review : An incisive exploration of Sri Lanka’s religiosity

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Title: ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka’ – Innovation, shared spaces, contestation

Editors – Mark P. Whitaker, Darini Rajasingham- Senanayake and Pathmanesan Sanmugeswaran

A Routledge South Asian Religion Series publication

Exclusively distributed in Sri Lanka by Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo 5. (e-mail: vijiyapa@gmail.com)

Reviewed by Lynn Ockersz

This timely publication could be described as a revelation of the fascinating nature of Sri Lanka’s religiosity. It is almost customary to refer to Sri Lanka as a ‘religious country’ but it is not often that one comes across scholarly discussions on the subject locally. ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’, a collection of research papers put together in book form, fills this void most adequately.

Although not necessarily synonymous with spiritual development, religiosity in Sri Lanka essentially refers to the widespread prevalence of organized or institutionalized religion in the lives of the majority of Sri Lankans. What qualifies the country to be seen as religiously plural is the presence in it of numerous religions, though mainly in their institutionalized forms.

What ought to pique the interest of the specialist and that of the inquiring layman alike is the fact that though falling short of the highest standards of spirituality most of the time, religion is used innovatively and creatively by its adherents to meet some of their worldly and otherworldly needs. That is, religion is a dynamic and adaptable force in the lives of Sri Lanka’s people. ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’ explores these characteristics of religion in depth and underscores the vitality of religion in the consciousness of its diverse practitioners. A chief strength of the publication is the featuring of almost all the main religions of Sri Lanka, from the viewpoint of their innovative and adaptable use by devotees.

The research papers in question, numbering 16, were presented at an Open University of Sri Lanka forum held in mid-July in 2017. The editors of the volume have done well to bring these papers together and present them in book form to enable the wider public in Sri Lanka and abroad to drink deep of the vital insights contained in them, considering that religiosity has gained increasingly in importance in post-war Sri Lanka. Fittingly, ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’, is dedicated to the memory of well-known Sri Lankan social scientist Malathi de Alwis who, unfortunately, is no longer with us, but had contributed a paper at the relevant forum prior to her passing away. Her paper too is contained in the collection.

The thematic substance of the volume could be said to have been set out in some detail by co- editor Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake in her introductory essay titled, ‘Spaces of Protection, healing and liberation…’ She writes: ‘Religiosity appears as a means of coping with life’s transitions, celebrations, disappointments, diseases, conflicts and violence; and events such as birth and death, illness, exams, marriage, divorce, the sense of the sacred, the auspicious, and inauspicious (Sumangali-Amangali). Fundamentally, beyond the political, (multi-)religiosity provides an individual’s coping strategy and/or a social performance for negotiating with the perceived power, energies and structures that are greater than oneself, particularly the supernatural and transnational.’

When seen from the above perspective, the ability of many Sri Lankans to comfortably worship at multiple religious institutions and shrines, for example, while claiming adherence in the main to this or that religious belief makes considerable sense, because the average Lankan devotee is of a pragmatic bent and not a religious purist. Depending on her needs she would worship at a major Buddhist or Hindu temple, for example, and also supplicate her cause at a prominent Catholic church. Such practices speak volumes for the flexibility and innovativeness of the devotee. They also testify to her broad religious sympathies and her ability to share her religious spaces with others of different religious persuasions. A few places of religious significance in Sri Lanka that thus draw adherents of multiple religions are Adam’s Peak, Kataragama, Madhu Church and St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade, Colombo.

At these places of reverence the usually restricted adherence to a single religious belief or faith is easily transcended by worshippers as apparently part of a personal or collective coping strategy to deal with multiple personal and societal pressures. ‘Kataragama Pada Yatra – Pilgrimaging with ethnic “others” ‘ by Anton Piyaratne and ‘Religious innovation in the pilgrimage industry – Hindu bodhisattva worship and Tamil Buddhistness’ by Alexander McKinley are just two papers in the collection that deal insightfully with this aspect of worshippers’ abilities to comfortably manage multiple religious identities and spaces. These habits of the average Sri Lankan devotee highlight the potentiality of religiosity, among other things, to be a bridge-builder among communities.

For instance, Mckinley sets out in his exposition: ‘Religious innovation at shared sacred sites can thus blur or sharpen the dominant ethno-religious divisions of ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ and ‘Tamil Hindu’ in Sri Lanka. Saman devotion can simultaneously be interpreted as a sincere form of highland Hindu religiosity, a strategic innovation by Tamil workers to appease Sinhala pilgrims, as well as an opening for Sinhalas to either convert Tamils into Buddhists, or to cooperate with them towards common goals, such as environmental conservation’.

A conspicuous and continuing theme of the collection is the wide-ranging and often damaging impact of the Sri Lankan government’s 30-year anti-LTTE war. Quite a number of the researchers, thus, deal with its adverse impact on women, and quite rightly, because the war revealed as perhaps never before the marked vulnerabilities of Sri Lankan women in conflict situations. ‘Of Meditation, Militarization and Grease Yakas’ by Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake and ‘Vijaya and Kuweni retold’ by Neena Mahadev deal quite elaborately on this subject and throw valuable light on the multi-dimensional impact the Northern war has had on women, besides focusing on the resourceful ways in which religion is used by women to cope with social and political issues.

‘Emerging innovative religiosities and what they signify’ by Selvy Thiruchandran continues with the focus on women and religiosity but introduces a wider societal dimension by bringing into the discourse the phenomenon of New Religious Movements (NRM). The researcher points to the immense popularity among mainly middle class women of two of these movements, the Satya Sai Baba cult and the growing interest in Brahma Kumaris Yoga centres, and elaborates on the roles they play in enabling women to deal with personal and societal pressures.

However, Thruchandran arrives at the thought-provoking conclusion at the end of her wide-ranging research that, ‘The old religion and the new so-called innovation that is sought in the new religions can be summarized in a well-known cliché – old wine in new bottles.’ That is, these New Religions are mainly forms of escapism. We have here a fresh perspective on issues relating to the liberation of women that calls for deep consideration. Moreover, these New Religious Movements do not help in any substantive way to change the fundamental and perennial reality of male domination over women; for, we are given to understand that some men actively discourage their wives from joining the Brahma Kumaris movement.

The role of Sri Lanka’s Christian Left in giving religion a progressive and socially emancipatory orientation in recent decades is the subject of Harini Amarasuriya’s paper titled, ‘Beards, cloth bags, and sandals – Reflections on the Christian left in Sri Lanka’. The researcher’s prime focus is on an institution of mainly Left political activism established by a Christian clergyman, Sevaka Yohan, in Ibbagamuwa, Kurunegala in the seventies decade by the name Devasaranaramaya. Besides committing itself to robust Left political activism, the latter centre possessed an indigenous cultural ethos and sought to unite the country’s cultures and religions. In other words, the institution aimed at being a shared space where religions comingled on the basis of shared values.

Accordingly, the publication of ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka…’, is a welcome development. The book sheds invaluable light on the subject of local religiosity, which is a relatively unexplored but vital area of knowledge that has important implications for nation-building in Sri Lanka. Besides the papers discussed above, there are numerous other learned and insightful research papers on religiosity in this collection that call for urgent reading. Collectively the papers constitute a treasury of knowledge that those pursuing Sri Lankan Studies could ill-afford to by-pass.

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