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The Denial and Whitewashing of History

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

Censorship, the burning and banning of books and the persecution/murder of writers have been despicable crimes perpetrated by the human race through the ages. The first such recorded atrocity was in 213 BCE, during the Qin dynasty, when Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the burning of books and the live burial of scholars in order that he may remain on his throne.

The obliteration of the Grand Library of Baghdad by the marauding Mongols in 1258; the destruction of Aztec and Mayan manuscripts during the Spanish colonization of the Americas; the burnings of Catholic manuscripts in England after Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church; the use of books seized from the US Library of Congress to burn the US Capitol during the War of 1812; Nazi book burning of communist and Jewish manuscripts “subversive to or representing ideologies opposed to Nazism”; and, closer to home, the complete destruction, in 1981, of the Jaffna Public Library allegedly by government-sponsored Sinhalese mobs, who set fire to one of the biggest libraries in Asia, containing over 97,000 irreplaceable books and manuscripts.

Though the three-decade long ethnic war in Sri Lanka took the lives of tens of thousands of Sri Lankans and caused incalculable destruction to valuable property and resources, history will rank the burning of the Jaffna Library as the greatest atrocity in a conflict replete with atrocities.

These are but a few of the more egregious instances of destruction of books and manuscripts, representing efforts by kings, tyrants, invaders and politicians to destroy historical records, traditions and cultures of civilizations, to seize lands and rule as conquerors. They may have silenced some, they may have destroyed others, but they are all destined to fail. As Heinrich Heine, one of Germany’s greatest poets, wrote, “When they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people”.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution enshrines freedom of speech, and guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly and petition. Many American classics have been “challenged” in the USA during the past two centuries, but their suppression has not remained in force because of the guard-rails provided by the First Amendment. Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was challenged and suppressed from 1859 for its theories on evolution, which went against Christian beliefs of Divine Creation. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye are all examples of American classics that have survived spurious challenges of censorship.

The Trump-owned Republican party is now showing a trend towards racism and anti-Semitism, using censorship and suppression in an attempt to rewrite the nation’s history of genocide and slavery, and to deny the horrors of the holocaust.

Critical Race Theory (CRT), also known as the 1619 Project, fancy names of what we used to study as plain “History”, has become a target of censorship for Republicans, primarily Governors DeSantis of Florida and Youngkin of Virginia. These Republican Governors lead the anti-CRT movement, but they are not alone. Many Republican states including Idaho, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Arizona and North Dakota have all passed legislation banning the teaching of CRT in their classrooms. The objective of such censorship is the obsession of the Radical Right to keep the more gory aspects of US history, including genocide and slavery, out of school curricula; in other words, to teach “selective history” as defined by the invaders and oppressors. CRT has become the latest Bogeyman for the country’s racist history and the way it has impacted its racist present.

The opponents for the dissemination of CRT argue that all white people are unfairly feared as “oppressors” or predators; while black people are all classified as “the oppressed” or victims, through the teaching of historical atrocities and discrimination committed against Native Americans and African Americans by the ancestors of the white man. They aver, against all available evidence, that systemic racism does not exist in the nation today, that CRT is largely an expedient strategy by politicians to win the minority vote. Many of them even hallucinate that the USA is an equitable democracy. They are simply unwilling or unable to remove the blind spot obscuring the fact that America is not great for everyone, that the nation has a long way to go before it becomes a democracy for all of its citizens.

Proponents of CRT submit that American children should be taught the complete history of America, warts and all, not just its grand experiment of Democracy which began in 1789. They do not acknowledge that the nation’s violent and racist past, including genocide and slavery, ultimately led to this experiment, which remains a work-in-progress.

CRT explains how systemic racism is currently the defining feature of the nation, coming to terms with the racial anomalies that exist today in police brutality, the judicial and prison systems, voter suppression and the classification of Black neighbourhoods as “ghettos”. The more we try to deny the atrocities and racial discrimination that have tormented the nation to the present day, the more likely that they will continue, unabated, into the future.

Governors DeSantis and Youngkin, who are walking the tightrope of sucking up to Trump while nursing their own presidential ambitions for 2024, have already banned the teaching of CRT in Florida and Virginia. There is little doubt that this legislation and other such attempts to camouflage and whitewash history will ultimately be overturned by even a 6/3 stacked Republican Supreme Court, as such bans are in direct violation of the First Amendment.

A school district in the State of Tennessee recently voted to ban the sale of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel titled “The Complete Maus”, by graphic cartoonist/writer Art Spiegelman. The reasons given for the ban are that the book contains “graphic use of unnecessary nudity and profanity and depiction of violence and suicide”. The only example of “unnecessary nudity and suicide” in the book is a small panel illustrating the suicide of Spiegelman’s mother in the tub, having slashed her wrists.

I guess the centrefolds appearing in magazines like Playboy, with lewd illustrations of female genitalia photographed at every possible angle in minute detail, are examples of “necessary nudity”.

And unbelievably, the “profanity” objected to in the book includes seven instances of the expletive “damn”!

Spiegelman’s graphic narrative is based on an interview with his father, a holocaust survivor, of his experiences and suffering at Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and the subsequent suicide of his mother in 1968, apparently because she was unable to live with these memories after the war. Spiegelman depicts the various ethnicities in the form of animals: Jews are Mice (vermin or pests, carriers of disease), Nazis Cats (predators who prey on the Jewish mice), Americans are Dogs (who rescue the Jewish mice from the German cats). The book contains numerous graphic illustrations of hangings and other forms of violence and torture inflicted by the Nazis to subjugate and murder Jews in Auschwitz. Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize winning book is a graphic narrative of the atrocities of the holocaust.

Just as the banning of Critical Race Theory is a denial of the grim realities of genocide and slavery in the founding of America, the banning of a book illustrating the brutality suffered by Jews during the 1930s in Hitler’s Germany is a denial of the holocaust.

Legislation recently proposed by the New Hampshire Republican legislature also provides a nightmare of things to come if the Republicans gain control of Congress and the presidency. The proposed Bill, entitled “An Act Relative to Teachers’ loyalty”, seeks to ban public schoolteachers from fostering any theory that depicts US history or its founding in a negative light. The Bill states, “Such prohibition includes but is not limited to teaching that the United States was founded on racism”. Which it was, and there is no doubt that genocide and slavery are implicit in this concept of “racism”.

These examples of repression highlight the current racist and anti-Semitic trends shown by Trump and the Republican Party to promote such authoritarian and racist measures of censorship. If these repressive measures are ever accepted nationally, they will prove a great danger to a diverse and just American society in the future. Especially if a defeated, seditious former president or wannabe dictators like DeSantis and Youngkin take control of the presidency and Congress in 2024.

The Radical Right attempts to erase the history of America in the hope that such erasure will whitewash the sins of their white forefathers, and so falsely paint America as a universally equitable democracy. A democracy where, according to the preamble to the US Constitution, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Unfortunately, the new Republican Party intends, as the original Framers also intended, to restrict these “inalienable rights” only to white, Christian men.

The nation will overcome, in the fullness of time, the challenges of racism and authoritarianism posed by Trump and his Republican, white supremacist base. Martin Luther King’s dream, that outlines the long history of racial injustice in America, with the hope that his children will one day be “judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character” has only been delayed by the death throes of white supremacy.

Just as Hitler’s dream of the birth of an ethnically pure, blonde and blue-eyed Aryan Nation never saw the light of day, so the concept of a Trump-backed Republican Party’s dream of a nation dominated by white supremacists will also be destroyed by the very history it seeks to suppress.



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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