Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The apparent state murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge

What led to the murder of one of Sri Lanka's most prominent journalists?

If one wants to understand that, one has to cast one's eye over something like half a century of developments in what was once the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean".

The British left the country with a Constitution that tried to create a reasonable space for the rather large minority of Tamils in what was once not only a beautiful but also a prosperous country.

However, the rise of fundamentalist Buddhism led to the feeling that the privileges of the Tamil minority ought to be reduced, leading to the change in the Constitution which started then systematically disadvantaging Tamils, forcing them eventually to take to violence in their quest for "Eelam".

So, in order to understand what has been happening in Sri Lanka, one has to focus on the rise of fundamentalist Buddhism as one key factor.

The rise of this sort of Buddhism has also led to the systematic disadvantaging of non-Buddhist Sinhalese, and the rise of corruption in the country.

A free press is by its very nature going to rail against anything which violates justice and fair play, whether it is some of the actions against the Eelam forces, or the disadvantaging of non-Buddhists - or corruption.

That is why fundamentalist Buddhism is connected with the loss of civil liberties in Sri Lanka, the continuing violence against the independent media, and the murder of one of the country's leading journalists.

In each case, whether it is the state or non-state actors who are the "face" of the actions, the prime mover is an entire social and cultural movement - that is, fundamentalist Buddhism.

All sorts of false charges were made against Wickrematunge because he insisted on trying to see and tell the truth about what was happening in the country (including the insidiously evil charge that he was being paid by the Tamil Eelam movement).

I hope that, now that the falsity of that charge has been exposed, everyone who made that evil charge, has at least gone and washed out his or her mouth with soap .

The obituary that Wickrematunge wrote for himself, knowing that his life was on the line, is one of the most moving pieces of writing that has come out of Asia in the last half century.

It has been published in various places. I provide here a link to that obituary in his own newspaper The Sunday Leader:

However, it is unclear how long that newspaper will be allowed to exist in Sri Lanka (this morning, I find that I cannot access several of the pages of the online version of the publication).

If The Sunday Leader goes off-line, as it were, then a Search for "Lasanthe Wickrematunge" on the Internet combined with the first sentence of Wickrematunge's self-obituary will locate the text.

That memorable first sentence is: "No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism."

The entire obituary is equally remarkable, but let me quote just the last words, about the commitment of everyone involved with the newspaper: "Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrificeis another matter. As for me, God knows I tried. Lasantha Wickrematunge".

As long as there is such determination and such commitment, fundamentalist Buddhism will not succeed in destroying civil liberties in Sri Lanka.

No one can bring back Lasantha Wickrematunge. But the least that we can do is to read that obituary and be inspired by it to continue the struggle for human values.

Lasantha Wickrematunge: I never met you on this earth. You have gone to your eternal deserts. Someday, when I have gone to mine, I will look forward to meeting you. Meanwhile, I count myself among the many hundreds of thousands who have been inspired to rededicate themselves to the struggle to investigate and speak the truth.

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1 comment:

SIM said...

I am inspired by your last paragraph sir.A great tributary to the tributary of Bro.Lasanth.
I pray God for the courage,comfort and strength to his family,Sunday leader and his fans.
I too never met Lasantha on this earth.I came to know him through his last letter.
Love you Lasantha.
A very tiny young chap from the soil of India.