Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Thoughts on Lasantha Wickrematunge's Last Editorial

Lasantha Wickrematunge was the editor in chief of the Sri Lanken "The Sunday Leader", a newspaper you've never heard of in a country you've hardly heard of that's embroiled in a very nasty civil war that must ring a bell somewhere in the recess of your mind. Ah, yes, isn't that the single place in the world that regularly produces suicide murderers who are not Muslims? Tamils fighting Sinhalese, that's it. How long has the war been going on? Umm, a long time, no? Didn't a fellow from one side kill Rajiv Ghandi, the Indian prime minister? That certainly was long ago. Which side was he from? Why did he do it?

If it helps, I can point out that there are similarities to the Israel Palestinian conflict, only reversed: the Tamils are the newish immigrants who have been multiplying and now demand that the Sinhalese who used to be there alone must partition the homeland between them. (So much for the oft-repeated lie that an influx of immigrants that changes the political reality is unheard of, and the Jews who did it to the Palestinians are uniquely evil). In Sri Lanka, however, the indigenous group is rejecting the claims of the invaders, so the invaders have resorted to awful terror tactics, which the natives are responding to with withering violence, much of it against civilians. This has been going on for about 25 years, and something like 70,000 people have died, the majority non-combatants (at last count the Tigers had about 6,000 armed men, or less then half of what Hamas has).

Crimes committed by this side or that in Faraway Sri Lanka cannot justify crimes committed by Israel, that's clear; sins of omission and of longstanding obliviousness by external observers to both conflicts, however, do speak volumes about the hypocrisy of the observers. But this is a point I've made in previous posts, and my intention here is other.

Lasantha Wickrematunge was murdered this week. A few days earlier he penned an editorial discussing his own murder. If you're interested in the human story, this is a poignant and important document. Go read it.

After you've read it, you might want to ponder two additional matters. The first is the centrality of Nazism and the Holocaust in forging the brave positions of this man we'd never heard of from a country we can hardly find on the map.

The second is the bravery of the journalist. There are some countries in the world, unfortunately, where journalism is a life-threatening occupation. Societies where speaking truth to power may mean power will shut you up forever. It is easy to see how the journalists in those places might become role models for their colleagues the world over (assuming their colleagues can be bothered). When those brave journalists speak up about governments abusing power, about armies recklessly and immorally committing violence, about the rights of minorities to live their lives unrestricted by majorities - when these are the themes for which those journalists are willing to risk their lives, you can see how journalists in safer places will straighten their backs and feel good about themselves when they, also, speak out for similar, or perceived similar causes.

It's a false and pernicious comparison. Speaking truth to power in Western democracies is important, indeed, it's crucial for the health of the democracies, but it isn't brave. It's merely a job. Since there is no danger involved, no real risk, and certainly no-one gunning at you to influence your message (I mean really gunning), there is no excuse for obsessivness, prejudice, condescension, ignorance and naivete.


Anonymous said...

What an incredible editorial, what an admirable man! I think a few days ago I saw a piece by his niece on the Guardian's CIF site -- I must admit I didn't take the time to read it, and I wonder how many comments it got. On the conflict in Gaza, they must by now have had far more than 100 pieces, and many thousands of comments...

Anonymous said...

Yaacov - very well observed. As a keen reader of yours here in Australia, yes indeed - the Sri Lankan / Tamil conflict is 'under-reported' to say the least. The amount of ink however spilt on Israel's 'invasion' of gaza could fill an olympic size pool. Thankfully there are many people in OZ (both christian, Jewish, Hindu and other) that are not overwhelmed by the bleating of the "The Age" (www.theage.com.au) and others - must be the aussie temperament...keep up the blogging - you have many many fans down under


Anonymous said...

He is a brilliant man
loved by so many.The world mourns his loss