Blake’s Export-Quality Morality!-Prey for Carnivores
Posted on April 8th, 2011

By Eymard de Silva Wijeyeratne-Courtesy The Island 

I write in response to US Ambassador, Patricia Butenis’ article published in The Island of 12th March 2011, under the title “Role of civil society in a democracy deserves appreciation”, which was evidently intended to be response to the article titled “Foreign funds galore for three NGOs”: published as a headline in The Island of Saturday, 5th March 2001. The Island of 21st March 2011 followed this up with another report under the headline, “Tigers, peace support groups et al received Rs. 1,800 m from Oslo”. The Ambassador’s response constitutes a point of departure for the discussion of several issues that relate to civil society organizations and the functions they are supposed to perform especially in promoting democracy. We need to examine two issues.

 What exactly do we mean by the construct “ƒ”¹…”civil society’? The second issue is whether foreign powers that wish to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries in the guise of promoting across-the border democracy, accountability, transparency and respect for human rights should be given the right of meddling in sovereign domestic space. Funding NGOs to serve such an end is a degeneration of President William Howard Taft’s policy of using dollar diplomacy to promote America’s interests. Dollar diplomacy, only served to create instability in Latin America. In 1912, the US government supported insurgents in Nicaragua just as it is now doing in Libya and in doing so entrenched instability by supporting despots.

Ambassador Butenis’ defends the theoretical foundations of NGOs on the grounds that they perform the functions of civil society as guardians of democracy, accountability and human rights. I will not make any comments on the details of the funds received by the NGOs because I am not privy to information relating to the magnitude of the funds received by the NGOs under reference, or to the manner in which these funds have been used. My principle interest is in the arguments used by Ambassador Butenis in defending the grant of funds to NGOs. As I see it “ƒ”¹…”The Island’ has also performed the function of civil society by letting the public know the dangers inherent in the influx of large volumes of foreign funds, especially from Norway.

Even if it is conceded that these funds were being used to satisfy the hunger and thirst for righteousness with the expensive fodder of the peace-process, in hindsight it is evident that that process was a hoax from beginning to end because it was justified on the immoral grounds that Sri Lanka could never win a war against terrorism. This meant that terrorism was implicitly recognized as a morally valid method for achieving any end. Norway’s role in making peace, as represented by the exploits of Erik Solheim, was never accepted as a genuine attempt at mediation. The nations of the West, namely North America and Europe, form an epistemic community that believes in their shared destiny of dominating the globe at the expense of all other nations.

The United States of America and the European Community unconditionally supported every move that Norway made in Sri Lanka. The crux of my argument is not that of accusing any NGO of specific acts involving moral turpitude, but that of saying that the use of funds donated by countries represented by men like Robert Blake and Erik Solheim, who have been systematically and viciously undermining the very existence of Sri Lanka, was definitely dedicated to serving the end of prolonging the conflict that would ultimately have led to a division of Sri Lanka.

What is Civil Society?

 

The term civil society is a construct that has semantic potential for ideologues, who wish to use it, to support whatever goals they choose to pursue. Civil society usually refers to institutions that spend their time in analyzing social issues and putting forward what they profess are solutions to what they see as problems. They function as institutions that lie between the state and the family. They argue that civil society like the market is a self-regulating mechanism that serves to maintain a balance between the state, public interest and private interests in society, in the same manner that Adam Smith’s “ƒ”¹…”invisible hand’ maintains a balance between supply and demand while making the best use of available resources. Groups of individuals exercise pure citizenship rights either as interest groups that support specific causes (protection of the environment, defenders of animal rights, parent-teacher associations and literary circles like the Bloomsbury Group etc.) or as groups that pursue the protection of public interests in general. Civil society would thus exclude armed services, agents of government, religious sects that are hell-bent on promoting their narrow confessional postures or political parties that fight for their survival as local representatives of the international community.

 At this point we need to make a distinction between civil society organisations that have a genuine base in the domestic population and derive their funds from it and those (NGOs) which are anointed in their role as guardians of public morality and rectitude, with the lard of foreign funds. In a “ƒ”¹…”de jure’ sense trade unions and political parties in opposition and the press (both print and electronic) are civil society organisations. In our collective experience, however, the “ƒ”¹…”de facto’ performance of some of these entities, have failed to live up to the standards required of the civil society designation. There is tendency among people to imagine that civil society is necessarily a medium for the pursuit of noble causes, by those, who agonise on the need for social concern in the public domain: the prime target being democracy. This is far from the truth.

Very often civil society groups, especially those NGOs that are abundantly financed by foreign sources, are manned by social elites, who wish to perpetuate a life-style appropriate to a colonial heritage that is fast disappearing, but struggling to survive. To put it bluntly, the old school tie, which the gifted cartoonist, Aubrey Colette depicted as a fig leaf to cover one’s naked ambitions, keeps fading, but is tenderly preserved with mothballs, to nurture an impossible dream. NGOs that use foreign funds to build wells or houses or provide other tangible services in villages are most welcome, but those that use these funds to construct blueprints for setting up Utopias based on Mr. Blake’s model will only serve to make reconciliation impossible. Here is a piece of advice given by eminent scientist, “If I were to give a simple formula or recipe for distinguishing between what I consider to be admissible plans for social reform and inadmissible Utopian blueprints, I might say: work for the elimination of concrete evils rather than for the establishment of abstract goods. Do not aim at establishing happiness by political means”. (Karl Popper, “ƒ”¹…”Conjectures and Refutations’)

Democracy

 

Democracy is a rare phenomenon. It is most manifest as a methodology for the exercise of people’s franchise at regular intervals, and thereafter ideated to be a permanent enshrinement of national aspirations. It is by no means a weighted average of the will and aspirations of a sovereign people that runs concurrently with the tenure of office of a given government. America is a democracy that is governed by an elected Executive President, whose rhetoric forms the policy basis of his election. Even though the soda-fizz of a President’s rhetoric is never sustained for more than a few years, as is the case with President Obama, the country remains a democracy in terms of what I have described. If a referendum is held to verify whether the people at large would want their country involved in military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, the answer is likely to be a resounding “ƒ”¹…”No’. The same criterion applies to all surviving democracies including India and Sri Lanka.

Robert Blake

 

Robert Blake, Jr. Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, has been blowing his trombone of contention with a show of unrelenting contumely, from the time he had been the Ambassador of the United States of America in Sri Lanka, where apart from exercising his diplomatic functions he enjoyed the hospitality of the truly civil society of the Sri Lankan people. In the course of his address to the Asia Society on 14th March 2011, (reported in “ƒ”¹…”The Island’ of 17th March), he says, “Economic growth and improving livelihoods are certainly important for post-war rebuilding of Sri Lanka. But reconciliation will not be a reality until those responsible for war crimes are punished”. While I believe that bygones should be treated as bygones and not used as a justification for ongoing crimes such those going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, I also need to advise Mr. Blake that one needs to make several distinctions appropriate to each case. One needs to make a distinction between military adventures carried outside one’s frontiers, on the grounds of planting the seeds of democracy and other semantic niceties on foreign soil. The reality of course is that vast reserves of petroleum are found underground.

Alan Greenspan, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve is quoted in The Telegraph (reproduced in the Island of 18th September) as saying, “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil”. The other distinction one needs to make, is that between “ƒ”¹…”crimes de logique’ (calculated crimes) and military acts of self-defence. Mr. Blake must bear in mind that the Sri Lanka armed forces were not dealing with babes in the woods in the Vanni, who were armed with bows and arrows made of twigs and lianas. They faced a ruthless terrorist outfit that was protected by a human shield in what was literally a hand-to hand battle. The worst calculated war crimes in descending order of criminality are:

* The dropping of two atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

* The use of the defoliant “ƒ”¹…”Agent Orange’ in Vietnam

* My Lai massacre in Vietnam

We realize that Mr. Blake has been acting on stage as a quasi-hero in a Morality Play, similar to those enacted in medieval times. I would like to quote from the play “Pierce Penniless, His Supplication to the Devil” by Thomas Nashe. He says “Nam si foras hostem non habent, domi invenient” (If there are no enemies outside the realm, they will arise within it). Yes, Mr. Blake you may create as many enemies outside your realm to prevent the spontaneous emergence of enemies within it, but in doing that you are subject to moral censure. In this context I quote from a letter published in the “ƒ”¹…”Island’, which points to the potential available for the emergence of enemies within your homeland. “You really want “Humanitarian Agencies” here, Mr. Blake? Why don’t you start with allowing humanitarian agencies to help the American people, who are out of work (millions of them) and those who go to bed hungry every day in your own country, while your President Obama gives “bail out” packages to those, who don’t deserve them “”…” corrupt banks and financial institutions who robbed the hard-earned savings of Americans and gave themselves huge bonuses” (Linda van Schagen, “ƒ”¹…”The Island, 9th March, 2011). It is recommended that Ambassador Butenis and Mr. Robert Blake read the letters written by Ira de Silva (The Island, Saturday 19th March, 2011), Mano Ratwatte (The Island 16th March 2011) and Dr. Rohan H. Wickramasinghe (The Island, 11th March, 2011). The “ƒ”¹…”Ethic of Reciprocity’ of Confucius, which Dr. Wickramasinghe has urged Mr. Blake to pay heed to, is common ground of most religions. It is very likely that the Temple of Hypocrisy that is being built higher and higher like the Tower of Babel, by the US and the European Community, at the cost of the unbearable suffering of immiserated people n the Third World, will be sent tumbling down in a quake of cosmic indignation. The signs are clear. The American nation used nuclear fission to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan has used nuclear fission for the peaceful purpose of producing usable energy out of latent energy, for the benefit of its people. Nature has groaned in an ironic twist and rattle of tectonic plates. I am a Christian who believes in the mill of the Almighty that grinds slowly but surely. Yet, I see a different but meaningful interpretation in Buddhist Dhamma. Impermanence (anicca) is a feature of the world. Any attempt by man to insinuate the glossy veneer of permanence to satisfy insatiable greed, will only serve to intensify the level of impermanence.

A Message to Ambassador Butenis

 

If the Companies Act lays down rules for financial disclosure and propriety, for corporate business entities, there is no reason why NGOs should be exempt from rules of disclosure in the matter of the receipt and use of foreign funds. This is not witch hunting.

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