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Sunday 15 July 2012

Foreign intervention

There are pundits in Political Science and other Social Sciences who claim that at present Sovereignty of a country has a different meaning and that so called human rights are more important than sovereignty or words to that effect. It is said that the international relations have changed and that any country should preserve and protect the human rights and if this policy is not followed the international community should have the means to correct the position in the relevant country. It sounds a good policy on paper if not the fact that this wisdom has been dawned to the social scientists in the west. However, this does not mean that if it was formulated by Asian or African social scientists we would have accepted it. On one hand no Asian or African social scientist based in his or her culture would have come out with such principle knowing the current position with respect to international relations. On the hand the imitators in those countries who are recognized as social scientists would not come out with any new concept, theory, principle or whatever. They are mere pretenders who would echo the voice of their masters and mistresses in the west.

As we have argued in these columns human rights is a concept evolved in the west after they transformed from feudal societies to modern societies. I would not call then capitalist or democratic or any other societies as recognized by the western social scientists for the simple reason that capitalism, democracy in the present form and not of the Greek type are products of modernity that arose in Europe towards the end of the fifteenth century. Modernity is the base of present western society and since colonialism is part and parcel of modernity the rest of the world also has been forced to follow the principles and knowledge in general that has been created in the west.

The first and most fundamental foreign intervention in today’s context is the intervention by knowledge that is nothing but western knowledge. Those who speak of academic freedom in Sri Lanka do not realize that the University Senates do not have any freedom other than to teach western knowledge and engage in so called research which is nothing but applying western knowledge to solve a problem in the periphery of the field. Most of them are problem solvers who do not question the validity of the western knowledge that have been drilled into their tiny heads. The absurdity of this process is the claim of these problem solvers at the periphery and not at the centre at fundamental level to have the so called scientific attitude. They sometimes compare their attitude with that is presented in Kalama Sutta making a mockery of the Sutta itself.

The concept of human rights in the west is the result of giving importance to the individual over the society which was represented by the western feudal state. The westerners usually think in terms of Aristotelian dichotomies, except in Catholic Chinthanaya, and as far as the western society is concerned it is either the individual or the state. The state was dominant in feudal Europe but with the advent of modernity the individual became dominant for few centuries until the modern state developed a strategy to pay lip service to individual rights and to protect the rights of the state. In the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries modernity with its individual rights prevailed in western Europe giving rise to Reformation, Enlightenment, Rationalism, western Science, Democratic forms, French Revolution, and finally the American Revolution in what may be called extended western Europe. Australia, New Zealand and Canada are not even parts of extended Western Europe in a general sense, as they are parts of extended England. In any event the human rights were somewhat respected in the west (both Western Europe and its extensions) until the nineteenth century but since then the west has perfected a system with a strong state that gives pseudo human rights to the individuals. The sovereignty of the states though not in the hands of the kings and queens is in the hands of the agents of capitalists produced by western modernity. Western modern society in America has the strongest state ever to have been established and the so called freedom of the individual is confined to the freedom to choose at the supermarket. There is no freedom of choice as such in the west though they pretend through media and universities that individuals can choose what they want. In the west the people live as individuals on the surface but as a whole at the core. The human rights in the west at present is a bogus concept and in England or America the individuals do not have the freedom that the individuals in Sri Lanka have.

Now there are individuals who have migrated to western countries claiming that there is no freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. They may not have permanent citizenship in those countries but we may consider them to have migrated. These individuals are maintained directly or indirectly by the state of the relevant country and they think that they have the freedom of expression. How many of these individuals have the freedom to express their views on any subject in those countries. Would they be allowed to publish the results of their wisdom in the media of those countries? It is hilarious to find these people publishing their articles in the newspapers in Sri Lanka claiming that there is no freedom of expression in Sri Lanka while they cannot get their work published in the so called havens. As far as I know the editors of the Sri Lankan newspapers that publish the articles of the “media refugees” are not warned or threatened or smuggled in white vans. It is an irony that these “media refugees” can publish their work only in Sri Lanka. These people are known in Sri Lanka much better than Noam Chomsky is known in America!.The freedom of expression in America is such that the freedom of listening or hearing is lost. Noam Chomsky and few others are only tokens of freedom of expression with the system preventing them being heard by the majority of people.

In the west the state is firmly established and no individual or group could threaten the system. The only group that can even raise a voice in those countries are the Muslims and not the so called working class. When the Muslims protest on the loss of some right the state will invoke ironically the human rights and courts of law to claim that the Muslims do not have that particular right. It is a case of human rights being used against individuals through courts of law. In other words human rights are also relative. In any part of the world there are human rights for those who are with the western Christian system, while the west protesting against those states that do not see eye to eye with the western states. In Sri Lanka those individuals who are against the President and the government and other institutions (the so called regime of the western political scientists) for some reason or other are entitled for the human rights, but not the others. It is ironical that in this country those who uphold the rights of the Sinhala Buddhists are denied the so called human rights.

To give an example I can do nothing but admire the courage of those forty academics who have now retired and got united to protest against so called intimidation of Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, the President of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) by the government (or the regime - I have to ask the political scientists among the forty) who is leading a trade union struggle of the lecturers to protect free education in the country. I do not agree with the strike that is led by FUTA which is illegal according to the constitution of FUTA I knew, on wrong premises. However, that is immaterial as far as intimidation of Dr. Devasiri is concerned. Some twenty years ago during the time of President Premadasa I was against the establishment of Regional Universities as I thought they would jeopardize the free education in the country. The University of Colombo I was serving then was the hub of activities of Jathika Chinthanaya and the students who were against the regional universities were rallying round the Faculty of Science at the University of Colombo. The JVP was not in the struggle as they had bigger activities. During the height of the problem, the police came to my house one day at about 1.00am and took down a statement. The following day a group of more than twenty five policemen scaled the gates of my house at midnight and took me with them informing my wife I was being taken to the Cinnamon garden police station. When my wife and the eldest son had gone to the Cinnamon Garden police station they had been told that I was not there! It was true as I was at the Gregory’s Road investigation centre. I was taken home early morning with the condition that I had to report to the Gregory’s Road joint daily. I am only sad that though the trade unions knew my plight neither them nor the then Chairman of the UGC nor any other academic retired or otherwise thought it fit to issue a statement on my right to engage in protest against what I thought to be erosion of free education. One could claim that I was not engaged in a trade union struggle then, though I was at that time the Secretary of FUTA. The human rights are relative to the individual and the government (regime). (To be continued)

Copyright Prof. Nalin De Silva