BOOK REVIEW ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œ THE CAGE BY GORDON WEISS
Posted on July 10th, 2011
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Gordon WeissÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s book is well written. ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â He has used his skills as a journalist to sensationalise and present his version of the ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢Fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of Tamil TigersÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢ in a readable and interesting manner to achieve his purpose ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œ to vilify Sri Lanka and Sinhalese and at the same time promoting a number of ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢40,000 civilian deaths in the last stages of the conflictÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢, not by giving any information on how he arrived at this fictitious number, but by leading the unsuspecting readers through a number of chapters vilifying Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan armed forces so that they accept any number dished out by Weiss.
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â The history Weiss wants the readers to believe
He begins by narrating Sri LankaÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s history, especially the events in the late 19th and the early 20th century related to Sinhalese Buddhist revival spearheaded by Colonel Henry Steel Olcott and Anagarika Dharmapala. ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â He blames Dharmapala for all the subsequent ethnic problems in the country and even stoops down to the level of character assassination (p 25) of the man revered by most Sinhalese for the yeoman service he did to revive our culture. ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â It is very unlikely that Weiss obtained the information to write this particular chapter (Chapter Two) from Tamils. Perhaps some Sinhalese Marxists who have found it to be fashionable to support the LTTE would have provided him their version of the countryÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s history.
Weiss has also copied the Tamil chauvinist habit of Mahavamsa bashing.ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â He attacks Mahavamsa as being the cause for the problems we have between Sinhalese and Tamils.ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Mahavamsa is perhaps the second oldest chronicle of history in the world (I am told that Chinese written history is older) and according to even some Tamil historians like Prof Karthigesu Indrapalan, is a fairly accurate narration of the countryÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s history. What Weiss did not know or conveniently ignored was the role played by the completely fabricated history taught to Tamils in Sri Lanka in promoting Tamil chauvinism and their claim for land. Unlike Mahavamsa which is carefully chronicled, the Tamil history before the 13th century does not have even a shred of evidence to support Tamil claim of being present as a separate ethnic group in any part of the country. It is completely fabricated and does not have any proof. But it was that fabricated history which gave rise to the Tamil claim to land and the violent struggle to ethnically cleanse that land to create a mono- ethnic Tamil State.
His ignorance of Sri LankaÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s history is surprising for a man who is trying to show that he is an expert on Sri Lanka. For example he claims that the British united Ceylon for perhaps the first time in its history (p 20). Anyone who has studied Sri LankaÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s history knows how untrue that claim is. He also repeats the Tamil separatist claim of denying citizenship rights to Indian Tamils and deporting them to India (p 30). What Weiss does not want to say is the fact that the legislation passed in the Ceylonese parliament, supported by a majority of Tamil politicians, only stipulated a continuous stay of seven years to be eligible for citizenship. Even Australia has a requirement of four years stay in the country to be eligible for citizenship. Compared to that Ceylonese legislation sixty years ago can be considered to be progressive.
He also finds fault with D S Senanayake for settling Sinhalese in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa which was the cradle of our ancient civilization. He claims that it was a part of Tamil majority ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¹Ã…â€œdry zoneÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢ as opposed to Sinhalese majority ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¹Ã…â€œwet zoneÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢ (p 33). Where does he expect the Sinhalese to go? With Tamils claiming North & East and Indian Tamils occupying a large part of the Central Province, Sinhalese would have had to jump into the ocean if not for D S SenanayakeÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s far sighted policies.
While he blames Sinhalese for creating conditions that created the conflict, he does not even touch on the real reasons for Tamil separatism.ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â The loss of extremely privileged position enjoyed by the Jaffna Wellala Tamils during the British colonial period is the main cause for their agitation. He does not even mention about the very unreasonable 50-50 demand when Tamil politicians wanted 50% representation for their 12% community. One of the reasons for Tamil separatism is hidden away in his Notes at the end of the book. He says that the Tamil community in the Jaffna peninsula nurtured a chauvinistic dogma of superiority towards the Sinhalese (p 287). It is this chauvinistic attitude that led them to resist power sharing with Sinhalese and to demand separation of the Northern and Eastern provinces.
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Criticism of Buddhist clergy
Equally absurd is his criticism of Buddhist clergy. He claims that Buddhist clerics preach bloodshed and domination over the countryÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s minorities (p ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â xxi). I have never heard a Buddhist monk preaching bloodshed and even the most vocal monks agitate only for the protection of the rights of the Sinhalese which are often ignored by politicians.ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â However, Weiss does not even mention the sordid role played by Tamil Catholic priests who supported the LTTE. Supporting terrorists who committed heinous crimes against civilians is the worst thing a religious person could do. Yet Weiss does not even mention their shameful role.
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â JVP insurrection
After conditioning the readers to consider Sinhalese as the ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¹Ã…â€œvillainsÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢ and Tamils as the ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¹Ã…â€œinnocent victimsÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢, he goes onto narrate the events relating to the JVP insurrection in the late eighties. The book is about the ethnic conflict and the sole purpose of including almost a Chapter on JVP insurrection seems to be to condition the readers to think that the Sri Lankan armed forces consist of inhumane and cruel people. What he fails to mention is the fact that the most of the extra-judicial killings of the JVP activists were done by right wing and even left wing death squads and some policemen who were not involved in the fight against the LTTE terror. The armed forces which fought the LTTE were a modernised force which underwent a significant change in the last fifteen years. They were a force which considered Tamil civilians as victims rather than terrorist supporters. Weiss himself mentions about front-line soldiers giving their rations to terrified Tamil civilians (p 212).
Weiss says that mass killing of civilians was one of the basic anti-insurgency tools of the security forces during the JVP uprisings (p 73). I do not condone the summary execution of JVP activists. But all Sri Lankans know that there was no mass killing of civilians then just as there was no intentional killing of civilians by Sri Lankan armed forces during the fight with the LTTE
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â 1983 riots & LTTE massacres
Weiss describes the 1983 riots in graphic detail. While he devotes so much space to write about Black July, he makes only a passing mention of the brutal killing of Sinhalese and Muslim civilians by the LTTE. He even tries to justify the LTTEÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s heinous crimes against Sinhalese and Muslim men, women and children by claiming that the number of civilians killed by terrorists was modest compared with estimates of civilian death toll inflicted on Tamils. As if to justify his statement, he claims that in 1990 SLA massacred 3,000 Tamil civilians over a couple of weeks in eastern Sri Lanka (p 81). He attributes the number to the University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR). I went through UTHRÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s reports for that period and they only mention about civilian deaths in the range of 250.
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Can he count the zeroes?
Gordon Weiss seems to have a difficulty in counting zeroes. An alleged death toll of 250 has become 3,000 when it came to WeissÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s book. Similarly his claim of 10,000 to 40,000 civilian deaths in the last stages of war may looks more plausible if you divide them by 10. By all reasonable accounts like the comparison with the recorded number of injured civilians etc, the civilian death toll can be estimated to be not more than 4000 ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œ 5000. But 4,000 deaths would not have made it sensational, and with an extra zero you have a number which you can sensationalise. Had he not jumped the gun and claimed 40,000 deaths, the Tamil diaspora would have jacked it up to 100,000 or even 200,000.ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â 10,000 to 40,000 civilian deaths
WeissÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s most ludicrous claim in the book is the one about 10,000 to 40,000 civilian deaths in the last stage of the conflict. If there were any logical basis for his claim he would not have arrived at such a range of 10,000 to 40,000. Surely if there was any basis for estimation, he would not have ended up with numbers so widely apart. It looks like Weiss himself does not believe that 40,000 civilians died. He would have used a figure of 10,000 to fall back if he were challenged.
Weiss mentions about the International Civil Service Oath he took when he joined the UN, in which he swore not to divulge information obtained as a result of the office he held (p xxix).ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Therefore his numbers could not have come from UN sources.
Weiss admits that aid workers and NGOs are prone to exaggerating the numbers of dead, or the numbers of women raped (p 253). The problem here is that Weiss has knowingly adopted inflated numbers given by these people and also inflated them even further.
I do not think he can in anyway defend his claim of 40,000 deaths. It seems to be without any basis and looks like a number invented by Weiss to sensationalise the issue.
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Errors or plain ignorance?
The book contains many errors. One wonders whether Weiss has taken the effort to verify what he claims. For example he states that Buddhism is the state religion of Sri Lanka (p 66), which is far from the truth. Had he cared to read the countryÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s constitution he would have noticed that Sri Lanka does not have a state religion. Similarly he claims that Alfred Duraiappa, the mayor of Jaffna assassinated by Prabhakaran, was appointed by the Prime Minister (p 65). Again had he done his research he would have come to know that in Sri Lanka mayors are not appointed, but elected by the people.
He should have been more careful and done his research when writing about things he does not know well.ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â He writes about China building a port in Laem Chabang in Myanmar! (p 203) Laem Chabang is in Thailand and not in Myanmar (Burma) and China did not build the Laem Chabang port.
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Retired Colonels Harun Khan and Chris Du Troit (p 106)
Weiss gives a detailed description of a WFP convoy carrying food to PTK led by Bangladesh army retired colonel Harun Khan. He claims of intentional attacks against civilians witnessed by Khan. Harun Khan is said to have managed counter-insurgency operations in Bangladesh, most probably against the Buddhist Chakma hill tribes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts where horrific crimes against humanity were committed.
He also says that retired colonel Chris Du Troit of the South African Defence force who was the UNÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s security chief in Colombo was the driving force behind the gathering of intelligence regarding civilian killings. Weiss also claims that Du Troit had trained and commanded proxy guerrilla forces in the illicit wars fought by South Africa in Angola. Du Troit was most probably involved in the training of Jonas SavimbiÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s UNITA guerrilla group who again committed horrendous crimes against humanity in Angola.
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â PTK Hospital
Gordon Weiss admits that a hospital can potentially be targeted if an enemy makes use of it in order to commit hostile acts (p 130). He himself gives evidence for this. He says that Harun had seen the Tiger gun positions that had violated the agreed no-war zone around the hospital (p 125). He also states that a number of strikes appeared to be from Tamil Tiger positions (p 131).
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â IDP Camps
Weiss describes the camps set up to house the IDPs as internment camps (p 96). Nothing can be further from the truth. What did he expect the government to do? Just let them go freely and die from exposure to land mines and hunger? The Sri Lankan government had a duty and responsibility to look after the IDPs and it has done that admirably even with the meagre resources they had. Instead of criticising the government he should have praised them for what they did.
He however pays tribute to Sinhalese who raised money, food and clothing for the people in the camps (p 186). However, he does not say that the Tamil diaspora did absolutely nothing to help their brethren in the camps.
Again he makes a swipe at the government saying that Sinhalese have been subjected to constant government propaganda that scarcely made a distinction between Tigers and ordinary Tamils (p 186). All Sri Lankans agree that this is not true. ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Government took a massive effort to differentiate LTTE terrorists from Tamil civilians and the sympathy the people had for IDPs can be largely attributed to that.
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Denial of food, medicine, shelter and medical and aid personnel
Weiss admits that the LTTE used Vanni Tamils as a human shield against attack (p 196). He also claims that the government denied the population of food, medicine etc. We all have seen pictures of starved people from war zones in Africa. Did the Tamil people who came out of the No Fire Zone look starved? You only have to look at the pictures. There were no records of people dying from hunger. Perhaps the food was in short supply, but that was because of the LTTE holding on to the food supplied by the government for their cadres.
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â War crime allegations
Weiss himself feels that the negotiated surrender moves by the Tigers seem to have been ploys (p 217). Then he accuses the forces of murdering Pulidevan and Nadesan, who he claims have attempted to surrender (p 225).
Weiss admits that many of the front-line SLA soldiers so often seems to have made the effort to draw civilians out from the fighting ahead of them in an attempt to save lives (p 216). He also mentions about soldiers bravely wading into the lagoon under fire to rescue civilians. But he never mentions these facts in his TV interviews.
Although he accuses the LTTE of war crimes and quotes UTHRÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s estimate of 7,000 Tamils killed by the LTTE (p 299, again hidden in the Notes), he does not demand the prosecution of the Tamil diaspora who financed LTTEÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s crimes.
Weiss compares the Sri Lankan situation to that of IsraelÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s invasion of Gaza in 2008/9, which caused a large number of civilian deaths. Richard Goldstone commission which investigated that conflict accused both sides of war crimes. What he fails to mention is the fact that US government vehemently rejects Goldstone commission findings and demands their retraction.
He unintentionally exposes Tamil DiasporaÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s duplicity. He mentions about Tamil diaspora avoiding mention of the devastation wrought on civilians by the Tigers own brutality (Notes, p 309). Weiss quoting International Crisis Group writes about Tamil diaspora wanting revenge (p 309), which is the real reason behind these war crime allegations.
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â WeissÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s bias and double standards
The entire book proves that Gordon Weiss is a highly biased observer of the events in Sri Lanka. He never dares to compare those events with that of the experience of the US and its allies fighting terrorism. He says that PrabhakaranÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s body was quickly incinerated and his remains were scattered (p 226). He compares that with what happened to the JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera. But was it not what the US did to Osama Bin LadenÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s body? They disposed it in deep ocean so that no traces could be found.
Again he, quoting the Sunday Leader ,terms the celebrations after PrabhakaranÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s death as triumphalism (p 226). Would Weiss call the celebrations in the US after Bin LadenÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s death also as ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¹Ã…â€œtriumphalismÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢?
He compares Prabhakaran to Gotabaya and says that they were two sides of the same coin. He accuses both for being stamped with practised brutality (p xxvi). While it is true for the mass killer Prabhakaran, Gotabaya has never been accused of ordering killings of civilians. Comparing the man who fought to defend his motherland to the butcher of Vanni is the height of WeissÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s hypocrisy.
In short WeissÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s book is another attempt to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka with unsubstantiated allegations and can be termed as a highly flawed account of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka which he barely understood.