Wednesday, December 31, 2008

'Stimulative' economics

Screaming headlines in both the Daily News and The Island proclaim a number of price cuts in fuel and other items. The Daily News describes this as a "stimulative economic package to the consumers to ensure best performance in the commercial, agriculture, industrial and service sectors."

When dealing with a downturn, one would expect the Government to admit to that fact when announcing a package but the announcement only talks of "best performance" and "new year bonanza". Perhaps talk of a downturn would be a bit embarrassing since the statistics point in the opposite direction.

Most of the relief measures involved reduced prices of fuel plus a soft loan to tea factories. Any relief will be welcome by beleaguered consumers and industrialists but the unanswered question is the means by which this will be funded.

A Government that runs a budget surplus and/or has low levels of debt will have no trouble financing a stimulus but thanks to the profligacy of this regime there is no room to fund anything. Some small cuts have been announced in the expenditure of ministers but whether this will suffice is a question.

In addition to this problem the country is facing a potential banking crisis and if a bailout of the financial sector becomes necessary there is going to be an additional burden on the public purse.

A slowing economy means lower tax collection as sales and profits slump. There will also be fewer imports and therefore less collection in the form of customs duties and associated levies.

Historically, budgets have overestimated revenues and underestimated expenditure; the last budget saw a big increase in expenditure, so going by past form we should be heading for a mammoth deficit. Expect the printing presses to roll.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

As the Arabs see the Jews

Eloquent advocates of the Palestinian point of view are few and far between. King Abdullah of Jordan wrote a fine essay on this topic that I think deserves wider circulation. The article originally appeared in the United States six months before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

"As the Arabs see the Jews"
His Majesty King Abdullah,
The American Magazine
November, 1947

I am especially delighted to address an American audience, for the tragic problem of Palestine will never be solved without American understanding, American sympathy, American support.

So many billions of words have been written about Palestine—perhaps more than on any other subject in history—that I hesitate to add to them. Yet I am compelled to do so, for I am reluctantly convinced that the world in general, and America in particular, knows almost nothing of the true case for the Arabs.

We Arabs follow, perhaps far more than you think, the press of America. We are frankly disturbed to find that for every word printed on the Arab side, a thousand are printed on the Zionist side.

There are many reasons for this. You have many millions of Jewish citizens interested in this question. They are highly vocal and wise in the ways of publicity. There are few Arab citizens in America, and we are as yet unskilled in the technique of modern propaganda.

The results have been alarming for us. In your press we see a horrible caricature and are told it is our true portrait. In all justice, we cannot let this pass by default.

Our case is quite simple: For nearly 2,000 years Palestine has been almost 100 per cent Arab. It is still preponderantly Arab today, in spite of enormous Jewish immigration. But if this immigration continues we shall soon be outnumbered—a minority in our home.

Palestine is a small and very poor country, about the size of your state of Vermont. Its Arab population is only about 1,200,000. Already we have had forced on us, against our will, some 600,000 Zionist Jews. We are threatened with many hundreds of thousands more.

Our position is so simple and natural that we are amazed it should even be questioned. It is exactly the same position you in America take in regard to the unhappy European Jews. You are sorry for them, but you do not want them in your country.

We do not want them in ours, either. Not because they are Jews, but because they are foreigners. We would not want hundreds of thousands of foreigners in our country, be they Englishmen or Norwegians or Brazilians or whatever.

Think for a moment: In the last 25 years we have had one third of our entire population forced upon us. In America that would be the equivalent of 45,000,000 complete strangers admitted to your country, over your violent protest, since 1921. How would you have reacted to that?

Because of our perfectly natural dislike of being overwhelmed in our own homeland, we are called blind nationalists and heartless anti-Semites. This charge would be ludicrous were it not so dangerous.

No people on earth have been less "anti-Semitic" than the Arabs. The persecution of the Jews has been confined almost entirely to the Christian nations of the West. Jews, themselves, will admit that never since the Great Dispersion did Jews develop so freely and reach such importance as in Spain when it was an Arab possession. With very minor exceptions, Jews have lived for many centuries in the Middle East, in complete peace and friendliness with their Arab neighbours.

Damascus, Baghdad, Beirut and other Arab centres have always contained large and prosperous Jewish colonies. Until the Zionist invasion of Palestine began, these Jews received the most generous treatment—far, far better than in Christian Europe. Now, unhappily, for the first time in history, these Jews are beginning to feel the effects of Arab resistance to the Zionist assault. Most of them are as anxious as Arabs to stop it. Most of these Jews who have found happy homes among us resent, as we do, the coming of these strangers.

I was puzzled for a long time about the odd belief which apparently persists in America that Palestine has somehow "always been a Jewish land." Recently an American I talked to cleared up this mystery. He pointed out that the only things most Americans know about Palestine are what they read in the Bible. It was a Jewish land in those days, they reason, and they assume it has always remained so.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is absurd to reach so far back into the mists of history to argue about who should have Palestine today, and I apologise for it. Yet the Jews do this, and I must reply to their "historic claim." I wonder if the world has ever seen a stranger sight than a group of people seriously pretending to claim a land because their ancestors lived there some 2,000 years ago!

If you suggest that I am biased, I invite you to read any sound history of the period and verify the facts.

Such fragmentary records as we have indicate that the Jews were wandering nomads from Iraq who moved to southern Turkey, came south to Palestine, stayed there a short time, and then passed to Egypt, where they remained about 400 years. About 1300 BC (according to your calendar) they left Egypt and gradually conquered most—but not all—of the inhabitants of Palestine.

It is significant that the Philistines—not the Jews—gave their name to the country: "Palestine" is merely the Greek form of "Philistia."

Only once, during the empire of David and Solomon, did the Jews ever control nearly—but not all—the land which is today Palestine. This empire lasted only 70 years, ending in 926 BC. Only 250 years later the Kingdom of Judah had shrunk to a small province around Jerusalem, barely a quarter of modern Palestine.

In 63 BC the Jews were conquered by Roman Pompey, and never again had even the vestige of independence. The Roman Emperor Hadrian finally wiped them out about 135 AD. He utterly destroyed Jerusalem, rebuilt under another name, and for hundreds of years no Jew was permitted to enter it. A handful of Jews remained in Palestine but the vast majority were killed or scattered to other countries, in the Diaspora, or the Great Dispersion. From that time Palestine ceased to be a Jewish country, in any conceivable sense.

This was 1,815 years ago, and yet the Jews solemnly pretend they still own Palestine! If such fantasy were allowed, how the map of the world would dance about!

Italians might claim England, which the Romans held so long. England might claim France, "homeland" of the conquering Normans. And the French Normans might claim Norway, where their ancestors originated. And incidentally, we Arabs might claim Spain, which we held for 700 years.

Many Mexicans might claim Spain, "homeland" of their forefathers. They might even claim Texas, which was Mexican until 100 years ago. And suppose the American Indians claimed the "homeland" of which they were the sole, native, and ancient occupants until only some 450 years ago!

I am not being facetious. All these claims are just as valid—or just as fantastic—as the Jewish "historic connection" with Palestine. Most are more valid.

In any event, the great Moslem expansion about 650 AD finally settled things. It dominated Palestine completely. From that day on, Palestine was solidly Arabic in population, language, and religion. When British armies entered the country during the last war, they found 500,000 Arabs and only 65,000 Jews.

If solid, uninterrupted Arab occupation for nearly 1,300 years does not make a country "Arab", what does?

The Jews say, and rightly, that Palestine is the home of their religion. It is likewise the birthplace of Christianity, but would any Christian nation claim it on that account? In passing, let me say that the Christian Arabs—and there are many hundreds of thousands of them in the Arab World—are in absolute agreement with all other Arabs in opposing the Zionist invasion of Palestine.

May I also point out that Jerusalem is, after Mecca and Medina, the holiest place in Islam. In fact, in the early days of our religion, Moslems prayed toward Jerusalem instead of Mecca.

The Jewish "religious claim" to Palestine is as absurd as the "historic claim." The Holy Places, sacred to three great religions, must be open to all, the monopoly of none. Let us not confuse religion and politics.

We are told that we are inhumane and heartless because do not accept with open arms the perhaps 200,000 Jews in Europe who suffered so frightfully under Nazi cruelty, and who even now—almost three years after war’s end—still languish in cold, depressing camps.

Let me underline several facts. The unimaginable persecution of the Jews was not done by the Arabs: it was done by a Christian nation in the West. The war which ruined Europe and made it almost impossible for these Jews to rehabilitate themselves was fought by the Christian nations of the West. The rich and empty portions of the earth belong, not to the Arabs, but to the Christian nations of the West.

And yet, to ease their consciences, these Christian nations of the West are asking Palestine—a poor and tiny Moslem country of the East—to accept the entire burden. "We have hurt these people terribly," cries the West to the East. "Won’t you please take care of them for us?"

We find neither logic nor justice in this. Are we therefore "cruel and heartless nationalists"?

We are a generous people: we are proud that "Arab hospitality" is a phrase famous throughout the world. We are a humane people: no one was shocked more than we by the Hitlerite terror. No one pities the present plight of the desperate European Jews more than we.

But we say that Palestine has already sheltered 600,000 refugees. We believe that is enough to expect of us—even too much. We believe it is now the turn of the rest of the world to accept some of them.

I will be entirely frank with you. There is one thing the Arab world simply cannot understand. Of all the nations of the earth, America is most insistent that something be done for these suffering Jews of Europe. This feeling does credit to the humanity for which America is famous, and to that glorious inscription on your Statue of Liberty.

And yet this same America—the richest, greatest, most powerful nation the world has ever known—refuses to accept more than a token handful of these same Jews herself!

I hope you will not think I am being bitter about this. I have tried hard to understand that mysterious paradox, and I confess I cannot. Nor can any other Arab.

Perhaps you have been informed that "the Jews in Europe want to go to no other place except Palestine."

This myth is one of the greatest propaganda triumphs of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, the organisation which promotes with fanatic zeal the emigration to Palestine. It is a subtle half-truth, thus doubly dangerous.

The astounding truth is that nobody on earth really knows where these unfortunate Jews really want to go!

You would think that in so grave a problem, the American, British, and other authorities responsible for the European Jews would have made a very careful survey, probably by vote, to find out where each Jew actually wants to go. Amazingly enough this has never been done! The Jewish Agency has prevented it.

Some time ago the American Military Governor in Germany was asked at a press conference how he was so certain that all Jews there wanted to go to Palestine. His answer was simple: "My Jewish advisors tell me so." He admitted no poll had ever been made. Preparations were indeed begun for one, but the Jewish Agency stepped in to stop it.

The truth is that the Jews in German camps are now subjected to a Zionist pressure campaign which learned much from the Nazi terror. It is dangerous for a Jew to say that he would rather go to some other country, not Palestine. Such dissenters have been severely beaten, and worse.

Not long ago, in Palestine, nearly 1,000 Austrian Jews informed the international refugee organisation that they would like to go back to Austria, and plans were made to repatriate them.

The Jewish Agency heard of this, and exerted enough political pressure to stop it. It would be bad propaganda for Zionism if Jews began leaving Palestine. The nearly 1,000 Austrian are still there, against their will.

The fact is that most of the European Jews are Western in culture and outlook, entirely urban in experience and habits. They cannot really have their hearts set on becoming pioneers in the barren, arid, cramped land which is Palestine.

One thing, however, is undoubtedly true. As matters stand now, most refugee Jews in Europe would, indeed, vote for Palestine, simply because they know no other country will have them.

If you or I were given a choice between a near-prison camp for the rest of our lives—or Palestine—we would both choose Palestine, too.

But open up any other alternative to them—give them any other choice, and see what happens!

No poll, however, will be worth anything unless the nations of the earth are willing to open their doors—just a little—to the Jews. In other words, if in such a poll a Jew says he wants to go to Sweden, Sweden must be willing to accept him. If he votes for America, you must let him come in.

Any other kind of poll would be a farce. For the desperate Jew, this is no idle testing of opinion: this is a grave matter of life or death. Unless he is absolutely sure that his vote means something, he will always vote for Palestine, so as not to risk his bird in the hand for one in the bush.

In any event, Palestine can accept no more. The 65,000 Jews in Palestine in 1918 have jumped to 600,000 today. We Arabs have increased, too, but not by immigration. The Jews were then a mere 11 per cent of our population. Today they are one third of it.

The rate of increase has been terrifying. In a few more years—unless stopped now—it will overwhelm us, and we shall be an important minority in our own home.

Surely the rest of the wide world is rich enough and generous enough to find a place for 200,000 Jews—about one third the number that tiny, poor Palestine has already sheltered. For the rest of the world, it is hardly a drop in the bucket. For us it means national suicide.

We are sometimes told that since the Jews came to Palestine, the Arab standard of living has improved. This is a most complicated question. But let us even assume, for the argument, that it is true. We would rather be a bit poorer, and masters of our own home. Is this unnatural?

The sorry story of the so-called "Balfour Declaration," which started Zionist immigration into Palestine, is too complicated to repeat here in detail. It is grounded in broken promises to the Arabs—promises made in cold print which admit no denying.

We utterly deny its validity. We utterly deny the right of Great Britain to give away Arab land for a "national home" for an entirely foreign people.

Even the League of Nations sanction does not alter this. At the time, not a single Arab state was a member of the League. We were not allowed to say a word in our own defense.

I must point out, again in friendly frankness, that America was nearly as responsible as Britain for this Balfour Declaration. President Wilson approved it before it was issued, and the American Congress adopted it word for word in a joint resolution on 30th June, 1922.

In the 1920s, Arabs were annoyed and insulted by Zionist immigration, but not alarmed by it. It was steady, but fairly small, as even the Zionist founders thought it would remain. Indeed for some years, more Jews left Palestine than entered it—in 1927 almost twice as many.

But two new factors, entirely unforeseen by Britain or the League or America or the most fervent Zionist, arose in the early thirties to raise the immigration to undreamed heights. One was the World Depression; the second the rise of Hitler.

In 1932, the year before Hitler came to power, only 9,500 Jews came to Palestine. We did not welcome them, but we were not afraid that, at that rate, our solid Arab majority would ever be in danger.

But the next year—the year of Hitler—it jumped to 30,000! In 1934 it was 42,000! In 1935 it reached 61,000!

It was no longer the orderly arrival of idealist Zionists. Rather, all Europe was pouring its frightened Jews upon us. Then, at last, we, too, became frightened. We knew that unless this enormous influx stopped, we were, as Arabs, doomed in our Palestine homeland. And we have not changed our minds.

I have the impression that many Americans believe the trouble in Palestine is very remote from them, that America had little to do with it, and that your only interest now is that of a humane bystander.

I believe that you do not realise how directly you are, as a nation, responsible in general for the whole Zionist move and specifically for the present terrorism. I call this to your attention because I am certain that if you realise your responsibility you will act fairly to admit it and assume it.

Quite aside from official American support for the "National Home" of the Balfour Declaration, the Zionist settlements in Palestine would have been almost impossible, on anything like the current scale, without American money. This was contributed by American Jewry in an idealistic effort to help their fellows.

The motive was worthy: the result were disastrous. The contributions were by private individuals, but they were almost entirely Americans, and, as a nation, only America can answer for it.

The present catastrophe may be laid almost entirely at your door. Your government, almost alone in the world, is insisting on the immediate admission of 100,000 more Jews into Palestine—to be followed by countless additional ones. This will have the most frightful consequences in bloody chaos beyond anything ever hinted at in Palestine before.

It is your press and political leadership, almost alone in the world, who press this demand. It is almost entirely American money which hires or buys the "refugee ships" that steam illegally toward Palestine: American money which pays their crews. The illegal immigration from Europe is arranged by the Jewish Agency, supported almost entirely by American funds. It is American dollars which support the terrorists, which buy the bullets and pistols that kill British soldiers—your allies—and Arab citizens—your friends.

We in the Arab world were stunned to hear that you permit open advertisements in newspapers asking for money to finance these terrorists, to arm them openly and deliberately for murder. We could not believe this could really happen in the modern world. Now we must believe it: we have seen the advertisements with our own eyes.

I point out these things because nothing less than complete frankness will be of use. The crisis is too stark for mere polite vagueness which means nothing.

I have the most complete confidence in the fair-mindedness and generosity of the American public. We Arabs ask no favours. We ask only that you know the full truth, not half of it. We ask only that when you judge the Palestine question, you put yourselves in our place.

What would your answer be if some outside agency told you that you must accept in America many millions of utter strangers in your midst—enough to dominate your country—merely because they insisted on going to America, and because their forefathers had once lived there some 2,000 years ago?

Our answer is the same.

And what would be your action if, in spite of your refusal, this outside agency began forcing them on you?

Ours will be the same.

I copied the article from here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

On the problem of Palestine

The shabby treatment of the Palestinian people leaves many a decent Muslim feeling aggrieved. I believe this issue is at the centre of the conflict between militants of a Muslim persuasion and people that they view as their oppressors.

The problem has dragged on far too long for a solution to come from within. It is time for out-of-the-box thinking and the imposition of a solution from outside.

Let us accept that the Jewish people need a home. There are only 5.3m of them living in Israel, so that is not too large a number. The problem is that the state of Israel is too small. Israel's Law of Return accords any Jew and eligible non-Jews with immediate Jewish relatives, the legal right to assisted immigration and settlement in Israel, as well as automatic Israeli citizenship.

The implosion of the Soviet Union in 1990 resulted in a huge influx of people of Jewish ancestry from that region. According to statistics by the Jewish agency for Israel, a total of 985,400 people migrated to Israel from Eastern Europe between 1989 and 2007, alone.

The steady inflow of people puts pressure on resources, particularly land, hence the need for Israel to colonise parts of the West Bank and Gaze Strip for settlements. What is needed is therefore more space.

Israel's many supporters often point out that it is almost the only functioning democracy in the Middle East and this points to an important truth. Although geographically located in the East, in habits, behaviour and spirit the people are of the West.

Israel's most important ally the US and until recently, the country with the largest Jewish population (according the Jewish Virtual Library, the US has 5.275m Jews against 5.313m in Israel) holds the key to the solution.

There are no closer allies than Israel and the US. Britain, the EU and others are important but none enjoy the warmth and real friendship that exists between these two. Naturally the US does not want to abandon its small ally, hanging on precariously amidst the large and unfriendly states of the Middle East.

The solution therefore is to bring them home. The US is a vast and sparsely populated land, they can easily afford to give up to provide for a new home for the Jewish people. The US is 9.6m in extent, Israel is 20,770 sq km in extent, about 0.2% of the US.

The new state of Israel could be located in the Southern-most states: Texas and the adjoining states bordering Mexico. In anycase the state of Texas was seized barely a century ago from the Mexicans so giving up a bit of it will not hurt too much.

Better still, the new state of Israel could stretch the entire Southern border with Mexico. Israel could then be encouraged to construct its security barrier along the Mexican border which would have the added benefit of keeping out the pesky Mexicans not to mention the drug smugglers, so we have a win-win situation all around.

The cost of moving the state of Israel will no doubt be gladly borne by the Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other allies of the US. Indeed given a chance, sworn enemies of the US such as Iran and Libya may contribute even more than their allies to see the back of Israel.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Is truly representative democracy possible?

Churchill is supposed to have remarked that democracy is the worst form of government, save for all others.

I have been thinking about this for a while and have come to the conclusion that for best effect, democracy needs to work within a well established class system.

The problem is that truly popular democracy must cater to truly popular public taste. While this egalitarian ideal sounds fine, the net effect of catering to the lowest common denominator of public sentiment is likely to leave everyone worse off.

This is where a good class system comes in to play. The class system ensures that those who rise to the head of parties that may contest an election must necessarily subscribe to a certain set of values. The idea is that only gentlemen or those who subscribe to such values may reach the top ranks of the political arena. The public are then free to choose their leaders, but their choice will tend to be amongst gentlemen and will eliminate bounders, footpads and their ilk from high office.

Thus the population is satisfied that they have a say in the affairs of a nation, while at the same time, there is an automatic check on wilder elements entering the fray. The emergence of far right parties in Austria and extremists in Australia (Pauline Hanson) not to mention the BJP (partially under the sway of the RSS/VHP) are cases in point. Fortunately, the strength of other institutions (particularly the press but also Parliament and the Judiciary) have forced most extremists to moderate their stance when holding office but prevention is better than cure.

The system of proportional representation, which opens the door to extremists, is also not compatible with good governance. The best example is Israel, where an almost mischievous proportional representative system has lead to fragile coalitions that implode whenever a bold decision is taken.

To be fair a class system should not be rigid, but like the British one flexible. There are plenty of foreigners and other outsiders who have reached the top rank of political office, but they have had to go through a period of adaptation before they were accepted.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Is the economy important?

I have been having an on-going debate with a number of people on the economy. Debate on this subject tends to include the war, because it is a very important factor in any discussion on the subject, but as a result the discussion tends to get unnecessarily heated and taken off track. This is not helped by the fact that the subject is complex and terminology obscure. Because of this economic policy tends to be viewed by some as an abstract, distant and unreal.

Is this really so? And does the man on the Galle Road or traveling in the 138 bus have no interest in the matter?

At the outset let me state that I am no economist. I have done some rudimentary study of the subject but I am by no means an expert and therefore am quite open to correction.

Returning to the question, what exactly is the economy? In short it is the living standard of people. People fortunate to live in rich countries enjoy a lot of things that those in poor countries do not. They have a far wider selection of goods and services to enjoy. These range from foodstuffs, to entertainment, to recreation, to the arts, to sports, in short to a lifestyle. Not everyone enjoys these equally and there is plenty of poverty and misery in rich countries but a majority of people are able to lead better lives.

There is legitimate debate on the quality of life, that more does not necessarily mean better but man is a base creature and the satisfaction of base cravings will bring pleasure, even for a while. There is also the important factor of choice. There are many different paths that the people of rich world may tread. They may chose the the path of the ascetic, live simple frugal lives on wholesome organic produce in idyllic rural settings. They may chose the path of gluttony and greed, gorging themselves on cheap junk food that leads them to obesity, ill health and an untimely death.

The important thing is the choice is actually there to be made. One is not locked into a single rutted grind of constant poverty.

Look back to the 1970's in Sri Lanka when living standards were far lower, when there was no television, when a radio or an electric fan were considered luxuries. A time when imported goods of any description were very scare and travel abroad was a rare luxury. A time when almost everything was rationed from cloth to basic foodstuffs and shortages were rife. Produce was bought largely at the co-operative shop, on the production of a ration card and people grew as much vegetables at home so that they would have something to eat.

A friend related an incident from the time. There had been a shortage of soap. (since foreign exchange was strictly controlled imports were difficult and factories were forever short of raw materials, scarcities were common). His father had known someone working at the (now defunct) British Ceylon Corporation (BCC). They produced soap under the such delightful brands as Night & Day, Sno-Wite and most famously Sovereign Bar soap, which was a washing soap that was a about two feet long. My friends father had managed to obtain a number of cakes of soap which they had stuffed into a cardboard box and they were taking it home. On the way the box broke and the soap was scattered around the bus and their fellow passengers had been exclaiming "soap", "soap" almost as if it were manna from heaven.

That was poverty, of 25% unemployment of shortages, of a GDP of US$200 or US$300. In a strange way society was slightly better because inequality was not a big problem. The majority of the people were struggling, the rich were a tiny fragment of society and even they were not so rich and in anycase they faced much the same struggle with daily necessities.

That was what was left behind by growth and that is why the economy is important. Compared to the drudgery of the 1970's, people of today enjoy vastly better standards of living.

That was in the past. Now things are better, so what is the problem? The danger is that things can slip back. Stagnation will lead to increased unemployment which will cause a lot more stress than in the old days. People who enjoy a certain standard of living will feel their lifestyles changing, their quality of life degrading, their choices diminishing. This is made worse all the glitter of the things that are flashed before their faces and which they cannot have, but which they once might have had, at least occasionally. They also see a select few enjoy much much higher living standards. This will cause of resentment, discontent and possibly social unrest. The Banlieues of France did not erupt for nothing.

But surely all this is far-fetched I hear the critics say? We've left this behind, there is a temporary dip but as soon as the war is won we will be alright.

Unfortunately it is not so simple. The problems of the economy are deep seated and fundamental. The makers of policy have dug a pit so deep that it will be extremely difficult to get out of it.

I keep looking with horror, to Zimbabwe. Once the breadbasket of Africa, now a basked case (in the words of no less a person than Desmond Tutu) in the span of twenty-odd year. This is the most extreme example, but there are plenty of others; Pakistan for instance or in many other places in Africa or Latin America where similar short-sighted policies have wracked havoc with the lives of people raining, misery, poverty and destruction on millions.

That is why the economy is important. It is what life is largely about.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

No private vehicles to BIA

According to the Daily Mirror, no private vehicles will be allowed into the airport.

"All private vehicles are to be prohibited from entering the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) due to ‘security concern’ and as a first step in this move all vans and three-wheelers will not be allowed into the departure area with immediate effect, an official said. "

I wonder if they will ban the planes from landing next. Or maybe all planes except for Mihin Air. After all, who knows, Tiger Air might decide to land at BIA ?

Confusingly, the rule applies for departures but not for arrivals. “The restriction only applies to departing passengers for now. For persons coming to the airport to pick up arriving passengers, usual security procedures l apply,” the duty officer said.

Why there should a difference in security procedures for the two is a mystery. The risk is about the same as far as I can see but this may be a smart move minimise inconvenience to the diminishing number of tourists coming in. Hmm given the standard of English better coach the guards on the difference between tourist and terrorist, the words might easily be confused..

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Someone needs to take Visakha Vidyalaya to court

I spent about a quarter of an hour stuck in traffic today. This was not caused by the usual suspects by Viskha Vidyalaya which has erected two massive barriers across Viskha Road.

These barriers came up few years ago when paranoia was sweeping the City that the LTTE was going to attack schools.

The barricades take up almost half the street and are placed on either side of the school a couple of hundred metres across.

To begin with, unless they have obtained special permission, these are illegal. They have absolutely no right obstruct a public road. Even if they have obtained permission, the sheer lack of consideration for the public at large leaves me speechless with rage.

Somebody needs to get them to remove these monstrosities and teach these barbarians some manners. Civilised people don't do things like that, whatever the justification.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The roots of this wretched war

I have often wondered as to the factors that have driven this ruinous war in the country. Language, religion, culture and many other factors besides have been put forward as to the causes that fuel the feelings of discrimination and alienation that seem to plague the minority.

I don't think any of these are really the true cause of the problem, the cause is economic. It is competition for resources that causes conflict between people; at a micro level where people are reported to have fought over the last Christmas turkey in the supermarket, to a macro level where border disputes arise between nations.

The issue flared up in 1956 with the Official Languages Act. From the Tamil point of view this act was designed to exclude them from the appointments in the prestigious and much sought-after civil service and from higher education, which meant that even opportunities outside the civil service would be limited.

This is something that would be pretty hard for people of today to understand. How many youngsters who have completed their A'levels are contemplating entry to the State university system? How many would see themselves looking for a career in the public service? Only a minority of the urban population, I would reckon.

Yet in the 1950's, when opportunities were very limited: one either became a planter or a civil servant. Those who failed at either would join the tiny mercantile sector or would be unemployed. This is why language was important. (for a superb a first hand account of how the Official Languages Act was implemented read the articles I've collected here)

Today, it is not the case, education in no longer a monopoly of the state and the broad-basing of the economy has opened up many other employment opportunities, not mention the availability of overseas employment. Indeed proper English has almost disappeared, with only a handful using it properly.

Why then, does the conflict persist? This is a much harder question. There is still the petty discrimination, the petty hassle of receiving correspondence in Sinhalese and suchlike matters but this is not sufficient to fuel a war such as this. It is similar to the discrimination faced by minorities in places like Malaysia. There is plenty of grumbling and annoyance but no outright war. The Palestinian's for example face difficulties of an altogether different magnitude and this can explain the conflict in that benighted land, but the Tamils are not so badly off.

I believe what has happened is that the symptoms of the problem, the militant movement, has grown as a result of the bungled handling of the situation.

For much of its early days, the militant movement was only supported by a tiny minority. It was a joke. They were referred to commonly as 'the boys' almost like a gang of naughty schoolboys, which in a sense they were.

My father was serving in Mannar when the first policeman was murdered in 1981 or 1982. How was it done? Someone rode upto the unfortunate man on a bicycle and shot him with a rusty old pistol at point-blank range. Why did they ride right up to him to shoot? Because they could not even shoot straight. The LTTE greatest triumph, in 1983, was the killing of 13 soldiers who were caught in a landmine. It was sheer accident that there were so many killed, the jeep was overloaded.

It was the events of July 1983 that gave the rebels their first boost. The anger at the government translated into moral and material support for the armed groups. The Government response was always a mess and ended up creating more support for them until they evolved into the terrorists of today.

The real roots of the problem, were, I believe exposed once more during the CFA. By 2001 a whole generation of Tamils had grown up knowing nothing but the war. People who visited Jaffna during the CFA tell me that Jaffna was twenty years behind Colombo by that time. Not that Colombo is a particularly advanced place either. These people, who had known nothing but war, suddenly saw an existence other than war and this was Prabakharan's problem.

He needed a solution, fast, because popular support for a war was evaporating and his cadres were deserting. The removal of the common enemy exposed the fissures that lay within the movement of which the breakaway of a senior commander, Karuna Annan, was only the most obvious outward sign.

Wily Ranil, on the other hand did not give him a solution, talks were dragging on, but no solution was in sight, which is why I believe Prabakharan ensured that Rajapakse won the election. If Ranil had been around for much longer his movement would have imploded from within. Reading the Maveera speech of 2005 and the blame he puts on Ranil tells the whole story.

Having got his war, he now fights what appears to be a losing battle. Whether the State's heavy-handed response is sowing the seeds of a new round of conflict remains to be seen.

ps. For a more detailed view on this read this.

pps. For those who have wondered where the moderate Tamil voice has disappeared to read this, to understand why they are silent.