Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thoughts On The Killing Fields 2

Like so many diasporic Sri Lankans I watched it, even staying up late (by my currently low standards that is).

Did I think that the first programme was a good thing? Yes. There's a line, a quandary, a grey area after any conflictual situation. And it's about what we should just put behind us and forget or accept and what we need to analyse and dissect in order to learn from to move forward.

There's probably no one who would suggest that it's wise to forget and / or accept absolutely everything, on all sides, and there's probably no one who would think that's it's sensible to analyse and dissect every single thing. But the line has to be drawn somewhere and, for me, much of the positioning of the line has to do with the issue of civilian casualties (which sounds so much more PC than "civilians deaths").

Up until after the showing of the first Killing Fields documentary there were of course no civilian deaths in the final days of the conflict at the hands of the GoSL.I'm not sure that there was a strict and binary tipping point but I'm convinced that the doco was the closest thing to it in getting the GoSL to change its approach. Frankly that was a good thing, only a start but a good thing nonetheless.

I asked a good friend about things and he told me that many people on the GoSL's side feel that they're being attacked and that they didn't do anything wrong in the first place. I asked him how those people could explain then the GoSL's change in stance from "no civilian casualties" to what it is now.

His response, which actually did astound me, was that "if there had been no accusations in the first place they wouldn't have said zero casualties".  Of course there's no way of testing his theory but I just don't accept it. Chap A commits a crime, gets accused of it and, faced with a large amount of evidence, fesses up to it (a bit). And the theory goes that, had chap A not been accused then he would have admitted to it anyhow. Hmmm....spurious.

Over here the publicity leading up to the showing of KF2 was big in an underground sort of way. From the things I see and have seen on the net I get the impression that people in Sri Lanka think that the whole of the UK observes things in Lanka and spends a lot more time and energy discussing them than is actually the case. It's weird; the people who have an interest are interested and the rest just don't give a flying fuck.  The Sri Lankans and the Sri Lankan diaspora were all aware of the programme, I'm sure a few who had that interest, maybe people who have holidayed in SL or who do business were interested too.

But, most people aren't that bothered. It's the morning after the night before and, as I sit here in my office dwelling on it, not one person here so far has mentioned the programme, asked my opinion or anything similar.

Before KF2 I had hoped that Channel 4, or the programme's makers at least, wouldn't make the "mistakes" ( a term I use very loosely) that had been made in the KF1, as those elements were used by some to attack the credibility of the makers and therefore the documentary. It's the most basic of schoolboy tactics; shooting the messenger, but can be highly effective. And it was. After seeing it I reckon they did a better job in that respect, but time will tell.

*As it happens, about five minutes after I wrote the sentence in which I told you that no one in my office had asked about the programme, someone did. She was horrified.*

For the record though Jon Snow is a highly respected journalist and presenter here and most find it hard to believe that he's full to the brim with the lack of integrity and hidden agenda many have suggested.

I suppose, for people who have some knowledge of Sri Lanka anyway, things like KF2 don't really change anything. They just reinforce opinions, whatever those might be. I didn't really watch and learn anything I didn't already think or know and I'd bet that was the case for you too.

But, for those who are still learning, these things are a source of knowledge.

I had my girls with me last night but dropped them back at their mother's before the programmes started. They're almost sixteen and almost eighteen now, so I mentioned to them that it was going to be on TV later, without trying to push them to watch it.

I'm not sure about K, but I know A (the eldest) did watch it. They love Sri Lanka and have been going there regularly since they were each about eighteen months old, but don't know much about its politics.

A texted me late at night and said:

"Is this what the Tamils did?"

I replied and said:

"Well its what both sides did A, really sad." I missed out the apostrophe in "it's" but it was a text and I sometimes live dangerously and go a little crazy like that.

She responded:

"That was horrible. What's sad is that it kind of makes me sort of not proud to say I'm from there after seeing that programme."

"I know and I understand". I said.

And I do know. And I do understand.


David Blacker said...

I think you've been unfair to me there, RD, since we didn't really finish our conversation. You've assumed that I said chap A confessed to part of what chap B was accusing him of simply because of the accusation. That's not how I see it. It's more complex than that.

Imagine someone accuses you of burning his house down and killing his mum. You deny it and claim innocence. You don't even smoke, you protest.

Your accuser finds matches on your person and trumpets the fact that you're a liar and that you do smoke. You admit that you smoke some weed on and off. You didn't want to admit it 'cos it's illegal.

Your accuser then shouts out to everyone that you're a drug addict, and if you've been caught out at smoking ganja and lying about it, you must obviously be an arsonist and a murderer too.

Fact is, if no one accused you of burning down that house and killing the old lady, you probably wouldn't have tried to hide the fact that you have the occasional joint.

Hope I made that clear, mate.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Fair enough DB, I didn't mean to quote you out of context, sorry about that.

I suppose, to continue the analogy, I don't think the issues in question are "smoking the occasional joint" level offences. But many do, which is where we differ.

And, for the record, I never burned anyone's house down. In fact I don't even smoke.

T said...

It's understandable your daughter feels that way. It kinda sorta makes me not proud every single day when I read the news, to say that I lived in the US for any time at all..

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

T - If I were you I think I'd feel exactly the same way.

David Blacker said...

RD, I didn't say that the issues in question are of the level of smoking a joint. What I'm saying is that what the GoSL has ADMITTED to is comparative to that if the accusation was arson and murder. What the GoSL is being accused of is in fact genocide; what they have admitted to is several thousand civilian deaths.

You don't smoke now, but you did smoke at one time, and I could suggest that a former smoker might be capable of arson. It's a ridiculous suggestion. Almost as ridiculous as the charges against the GoSL.

rajivmw said...


This is a rather beautiful post, and I think you have expressed your thoughts on a very painful subject with grace and sensitivity.

But I might have also advised your daughter not to believe everything she sees on tv, to try and get other points of view (like, say, from David) and then make up her own mind.

I might have added that many countries have, during difficult times, done things that their citizens should not be proud of, not least the one she currently inhabits. But for all of Britains sins, she is still a great country with well-meaning people, and Sri Lanka is not that different.

Do note that I have dropped an apostrophe as a mark of solidarity.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...


Thanks very much for the comment. I intend to encourage A to investigate all sides before coming to any conclusions and I think that her background and the amount of time she has spent in SL will be useful here. My response to her text, in which I said that "its what both sides did really" I hope indicates that I certainly don't think anything was one sided and I wouldn't want A to think that either.

I had to read your comment about 5 times to find the missing apostrophe. I did in the end though!

David Blacker said...

Sometimes it takes a lot of searching to find the little things that are missing ;)

Bimal said...

Loved the post and comments too.

SL have achieved so much. It won't hurt to do a bit of soul-searching once in a while....

Arun said...

I whole heartedly agree with your response to your daughter’s question (It is what both sides did). And yes, it is sad. I believe that the war (like most wars) has brought about no good result. By defeating the LTTE, the govSL has brought to this nation no real peace. Infact I feel that we are slowly travelling further and further away from peace. The reason I say this is because there has now begun a cold war. This war is more dangerous, as it is one that is not spoken off and often not identified until it is too late. You may have heard this line many times before, but there is no harm in repeating …. “There is no peace without reconciliation”. What our government has managed to do is breath in the concept that “peace at all costs” is acceptable and can work. But sadly it’s not true. The world can keep pushing the note that the perpetrators of human rights violations need to be convicted for the sins they have committed. Justice is a good thing. But it alone will not solve the problem in my country. And the trouble we can fall into by way of the KF documentary is nothing compared to the hole we have already fallen into due to the lack of reconciliation.
I feel, what we as a country need to do is, first off all ; stop pointing fingers and start accepting responsibility collectively. It is not the govSL that should be blamed, it is not the SL Army, and it is not the Singhalese or the Tamils or even the LTTE. It is all Sri Lankans. And therefore I too am to blame for sins of my country. Eventhough I was not at hand to pull a trigger, I killed those innocent people by my contentment in being only a spectator instead of an advocate of peace. As much as we should share the responsibility and ask for forgiveness from each other as a nation, we should also forgive. Let justice play the role it eventually will succeed in doing, but justice will never bring about reconciliation.
It is only in a forgiving and humble spirit can we find true reconciliation and true peace in Sri Lanka.