“Self-evident” truths on Tamil statehood: a reply to Bruce Fein

C. Wijeyawickrema, LL.B., Ph.D.

A 1972 Harvard law graduate, Bruce Fein (BF), in an article published in the Washington Times (WT) on January 29, 2008, prods the United States and its president "to recognize the right of the "long oppressed" Tamil people to independent statehood from the racial supremacist Sinhalese." BF is no ordinary citizen. He co-founded the NGO called American Freedom Agenda (AFA) in March 2007 to fight against the government intrusions on American civil liberties. He is now the chairman of this NGO. He wanted to impeach Dick Chaney. Unfortunately, he is also a lawyer for the NGO called Tamils for Justice.

Still one does not know for sure in what capacity he wrote his article. If he genuinely believes he uncovered "self-evident truths" on Tamil problems in Sri Lanka, just like the forefathers of the American Declaration of Independence that he quotes, then he and his client are in big trouble. Almost all the statements (facts?) in his article are untruths, half-truths, distortion of facts or cheap shots by an arrogant lawyer. He has done a disservice to the readers of WT by misleading them with falsehood. American people suffered en-mass so many times because of such falsehood emanated from inside the Beltway--Washington. D.C. Ironically, "to fight against this kind of falsehood" was the reason for his co-founding of his NGO, the AFA in 2007. As a person who has dual interest in promoting Sri Lankan-American friendship based on truth and ethics I consider it my public duty to demand accountability from BF. It does not matter if he is the most famous lawyer on earth.

Boston Tea Party and Ceylon tea

One could guess from BF's piece that the Los Angeles-living Sri Lankan Tamil Jayantha Donald Gnanakone (JG) is one of his clients. JG once told an American audience in the Los Angeles area that the Tamil fight in Sri Lanka had a historical (and sentimental) connection with the famous Boston Tea Party in the 1770s. He said that the tea grown by the Tamils in Ceylon ended up in the boxes thrown out to the sea in Boston. This was a falsehood with a one hundred-year gap! After the coffee blight, British investors began growing tea only around 1870s. Who are the fools (or victims) of this kind of client-lawyer games? Is it justice or freedom to allow them to escape with such false propaganda?

Tamil separatists once fooled the Massachusetts Legislature in 1977 to pass a resolution against the government of Sri Lanka for allegedly oppressing the Tamils (Massachusetts House Journal for 1979, page 977 reads: "Resolution memorializing the President and the Congress to protest and utilize the powers of their offices to rectify the gross injustices which have been inhumanely inflicted on the Tamils of Sri Lanka").
Along with two other Tamil professors (one was at Harvard) who lived in the vicinity of Boston, JG must have had a hand in this fooling affair because at that time the PanAm jets carried on board a map of Eelam and JG was a DC-8 airline pilot.

One reason for such irresponsible behavior and the abuse of freedom to write and speak was the hopeless situation at the Sri Lankan diplomatic missions abroad, especially in USA, Canada, UK and the UN agencies. Diplomats were more interested in collecting dollars by baby-sitting or planning strategy on how not to go back to Sri Lanka. Only in 2008 we find UN-Geneva office of Sri Lankan mission and the Colombo peace secretariat fighting back against an organized false propaganda machine at the international level. I hope they will act against the tiger Tamil terrorist lobby in USA.

The first white American Buddhist and Ceylon - 1880

There was a time that every year the Sri Lankan mission in Washington, D.C. celebrated the death anniversary of an American for the services he rendered to the Sinhalese Buddhists in Ceylon during 1880 to 1909. American Christian missionaries started schools in Ceylon as soon as Ceylon became a crown colony of England in 1802 and the last Tamil king of Ceylon was captured in 1815, but the discrimination and oppression of the majority Sinhala Buddhists who have had a unique heritage running back to 2500 years had no such foreign support until Col. Henry Steele Olcott landed there in 1880. Olcott, who was President Lincoln's war commissioner, is perhaps the only American treated with the highest honor possible to bestow upon another human being by the Sinhala Buddhist society. He was called a Bodhi Satva, a person on his life path to become a Buddha. Olcott helped in the struggle for the basic rights of Buddhists. When the Sinhala-Christian representative in 1885 opposed the resolution to make Vesak a public holiday (at that Christmas was celebrated with one week of holidays), it was the white American Olcott who spoke on behalf of Buddhists.

I mentioned about Olcott to show BF that there are always at least two sides to a story. We cannot allow BF to mislead the American public, intentionally or innocently, with distortions and by suppression of truth. Any unfair attempt, however vain it was going to be, to harm the good relationship that exists between the American people, American Congress and American administration officials on the one hand and the Sinhala people on the other, should be resisted.

The list of Bruce Fein's distortions and half-truths

1. Racial supremacist Sinhalese

As a lawyer BF should have known that at least 50% of Tamils in Sri Lanka live with the Sinhalese. BF should also know that the late Lakshman Kadiragamar (assassinated by Tamil terrorists, despite a life-guarantee given by JG's older brother Charles, who was a financial supporter of Tamil terrorists), Ananadasangaree, Douglas Devananda and Col. Karuna, just to name four Tamils, stated publicly that the Sinhalese did not discriminate against the Tamils. What if they come as witnesses to BF's court case? Historically, it was the Sinhala King who allowed Tamil Catholics and Muslims to relocate within his kingdom when the Portuguese and Dutch in the coastal areas started killing them.

As Christians BF (and his client JG) should try to understand why there were no religious wars or no systematic attempts to convert others to Buddhism. Buddhism is not a historical or a revealed religion. It is not based on faith and belief. In Buddhism, one is asked to come and examine (Ehi Passiko), not come and believe, as in Christianity or Islam. In the 1960s when a Tamil mathematics professor, Sundaralingam, was preventing the entry of "low caste" Tamils in to Hindu kovils, Buddhist priests did not try to convert those low caste Jaffna people in to Buddhism. About 10-30% of the sacred space of a Buddhist temple is devoted to Hindu gods and goddesses. In India, millions of Dalits led by the late Dr. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism on their own reckoning and not due to any evangelical effort by Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka. In fact, this passive attitude of Buddhists was the main reason for wiping out Buddhism from India or almost from South Korea in more modern times.

In Buddhism life is cyclical (re-birth) and one could achieve Nirvana (Heaven?) in this birth. In Christianity, life is linear and there is no death or birth, only a temporary transfer to a holding tank until the Resurrection. A person is saved if he has faith in God and is baptized. A person could erase his sins by a confession made on the Sabbath day. In Buddhism, Middle Path (compromise, reasonableness) is a foundation rock of daily living. Because of these principles and concepts a Buddhist cannot treat another human being as inferior or second class. Buddhism preaches Universal Brotherhood. Every thing is impermanent, from a beautiful young actress to a blade of grass and the universe.

BF should know this was a reason for the election of a woman as the first prime minister in modern world by Sri Lankans in July 1960. In Buddhism, women are considered equal or higher than in men in their intellectual capacity, and women were allowed to become monks 2500 years ago. When Geraldine Ferraro was the vice presidential candidate in 1984 it was an exciting event in USA!

2. Tamil people sought statehood in 1976

A lawyer with false facts is a dead lawyer. BF did not know that the first attempt at separation began in 1918 not in 1976. In 1917, anti-Hindi and anti-Brahmin Tamils in South India demanded a separate country called Dravidasthan, from London. They thought the colonial ruler will help creating a Pakistan in south India since dividing India was in the DNA of British rulers in India. The complaints of discrimination against Tamils in Ceylon were rejected by two Royal Commissions in 1929 and 1944. Yet, in 1949 a group of Christian Tamils living in Colombo started a separatist party called Tamil State Party and openly joined with the separatist movement in Tamil Nad. In fact after India banned separatist politics in 1963, after the Chinese capture of Indian land, Tamil Nad separatists moved their separatist apparatus to Sri Lanka as DMK party.

3. There has never been a Tamil president

If a lawyer mixes apples with oranges he will lose his case. Not knowing the history or geography of Sri Lanka, BF appears as an arrogant American or an ugly American. Sri Lanka will have a Tamil president when America has an African American or Hispanic or a Mormon president. A person from 10% of the population can become a president only if that person says that he is not going to create a separate country after he becomes the president! This was what had happened in 1977. A Tamil became the Leader of the Opposition in Sri Lanka. He started a campaign to discredit the country and finally to separate the country. He used Tamil boys as a liberation army. Finally, the Tamil boys killed him.

A Tamil did not become the prime minister but Tamils became Chief Justices, Attorney Generals and Police chiefs. Tamils became cabinet ministers, ministry secretaries and key diplomats. Tamils were commanders or deputy commanders of army navy and police. But in 1962 Tamil and Christian police and Navy chiefs floated a coup d'etat to capture power by military means which failed at the last hour, and after this narrow escape of the death of democracy in Sri Lanka, which is the oldest democracy in modern Asia, yes there was a systematic effort to add more and more Sinhala officers, replacing Tamil and burgher officers. Still there were several Tamil police chiefs.

4. Denied citizenship to one million Tamils

Colonialism was another name for exploitation of resources of other countries for the benefit of the master country. When colonial planters needed cheap labor for their tea plantations, there was a plan to import Iris labor from England. But because of the high shipping costs from Liverpool to Colombo, a ferry service and a rail road was constructed to bring in South Indian coolies. These poor souls had no permanent interest with their host country, and at the time of independence citizenship laws required certain conditions for them to become citizens. Since BF cites examples from USA, this situation could be compared to the Mexican labor problem in USA or Asian labor force in the Arab world.

The citizenship laws were passed with Tamil and Muslim MPs voting for them. BF needs to know that there were/are four Tamil groups in Sri Lanka: (1) Jaffna Tamils (2) Batticaloa Tamils (3) Colombo Tamils and (4) Indian Tamils. Other Tamils did not care about the Indian Tamil until late into the 1980s. A capitalist exploitation system treated these Indian coolies as semi-slaves. It was funny that the London papers felt sorry for these people for the first time after the British tea estates in Sri Lanka were nationalized in the 1970s!

British tea planters robbed the Kandyan peasant land with government backing and the sufferings of those villagers, the soil erosion due to leveling of forested mountains for tea growing created untold miseries for the natives. The "developments" in these areas were developments of roads for the British-owned tea estates!

5. Jayantha's mother, brother and wife

BF is shedding crocodile tears for poor Jayantha's plight. This Jayantha is from a rich business family and his situation cannot be compared to an average Tamil's. They are like the Rockefellers in Sri Lanka. In Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, Tamils and Muslims cover 65% of population. They are richer than the Sinhalese. Gnanakone's are the richest families. I am a poor Sinhala Buddhist and I left the country sick of politicians. I did not have the opportunities the Gnanakone's had in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka's problem is not a Tamil versus Sinhala problem. It has been a problem between the rich class and the poor people.

Jayantha's wife is a Sinhala woman and they are under the police watch not because they are Tamils but because they are rich Tamils involved in partisan politics. Jayantha and his brother Charles acted as political marriage brokers, had secret talks with some politicians and suspected of bribing politicians. Most importantly, their behavior and their boasting that they have connections with the Tamil terrorist groups cannot guarantee them undisturbed living quarters in Colombo. If one's house has to be checked for drugs or documents or suspected as a hiding place for terrorists, there is no way an old mother was not going to face some questioning and inspection. The sons created that unpleasant situation, not the police. BF may not know that Charles was questioned by the Australian authorities for shady deals. Money corrupt, a lot of money corrupts one's mothers and wives.

7. 1958 Sinhalese only act

There was no Sinhalese act in 1958. There was the Sinhala Official Language Act of 1956 with a Reasonable Use of Tamil Language Act of 1958. A country needs a unifying language. In USA, sometime in the past the issue was German versus English. Now, at least in the southern states and in New York City, it is whether English or Hispanic. In India, Hindi was made the official language by a majority of one vote. Hindi was spoken by only about 40% of the people but Gandhi was so adamant that it becomes the unifying language.

SOL has become a fool's agenda for people like BF. At the time of independence in 1948 there were two Ceylons: the English-speaking Ceylon in and around Colombo and the Non-English-speaking Ceylon outside Colombo. About 10% of the Colombo Ceylon controlled the other Ceylon. This had to be changed, and Sinhala and Tamil, called Swabhasha, had to be promoted.

During colonial times there were attempts to interpret that Sinhala is a variety of Tamil language and with a Tamil heartland (now with 65 millions) only 20 miles of shallow sea away, Sinhala language was under attack from all sides. Due to this, those who came to power in 1956 acted unwisely in not following a systematic approach to removing English from its colonial power status. The opposition politicians sabotaged the implementation of the reasonable use of Tamil law. Sri Lanka's misery was and has been the control of the country by a Colombo class created by the colonial master to continue colonialism after they physically left the colony. These black-whites (coconuts in Mexico, white inside, brown outside) are still in control from behind the scene after 60 years of independence.

What BF needs to understand is if 10% of the people, most of them living in a dry limestone covered area finds jobs in the southern Sinhala areas could they expect the people in the south to learn Tamil or should the Tamil doctor, engineer, teacher or government clerk learn Sinhala? Learning another language helps the person not that language. English-speaking separatist Tamil politicians in Colombo gave private tuition in Sinhala to their children, but prevented the poor Tamils in Jaffna learning Sinhala. With such dirty politics learning a language became a political issue not an individual cost and benefit issue. Why is it that American mothers want their children to learn Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Hindi and Japanese, not German, Latin, Greek or French?

8. Standardization

When a country had to remedy past mistakes or past policies aimed at exploiting man by man, due to lack of unlimited resources to make wholesale changes, it takes certain steps for incremental changes in the name of justice and fairness. In India, certain tribes and castes are given quotas under the constitution. In USA American Indians are given certain rights because the white man came and took their land. In Australia aborigines are provided with some special benefits. Perhaps, the only country on earth free of such "reverse-discrimination (?)" is Japan which is 99.9% Japanese with a rigid immigration policy. The civil rights laws in USA or Brazil are aimed at such reverse discrimination.

In Sri Lanka education from K-university is given free but it was helping the city-rich more than the village- poor. Until all areas of the country are provided with reasonable levels of educational facilities and opportunities, standardization was used as a patch work solution. Under this method certain districts with more facilities had to give up numbers for the benefit of the districts with lesser facilities. It so happens that Tamil districts have had the best facilities in the country (due to past discrimination?). So it appeared that Tamils were treated unfairly when their total numbers are getting decreased.

Under the colonial policy of divide and rule 10% of Tamils had 30-60% of engineering, medical, technical, university teaching jobs. With independence and regional development these numbers began to fall, not to 10% level but to 20-30% range. What is the solution to this in a country where the government provides free education?But to brand it as discrimination is not going to work.

9. Slavery and post-slavery

It is sad that BF with his salesman hat was trying to use American examples to describe Sri Lankan situations. If there was slavery in Sri Lanka it was during the colonial rule when South Indian coolies were imported for semi-slavery bondage. Using man as an animal is a western idea and not an Asian and certainly not a Buddhist concept. It is better if BF becomes a fair and reasonable lobbyist and not another Jack Abramoff. The Indian tribes who used Abramoff as a lobbyist later sued him for his "greed, corruption and deceit," because he was lobbying for and against the same client. Yes, such things are happening in the land of opportunity called America.

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