|Saturday, 6 November 2004|
Don't play "pandu" with Dinesh Rajaratnam
In most other countries there would be community prayers and vigils for the release of a citizen taken hostage by the Iraqi resistance. But there are regretful signs that Dinesh Dharmendra Rajaratnam, the Sri Lankan taken hostage in Iraq, is already vanishing from the news.
The fate of Dinesh Rajaratnam is not even front-page news or main stories in the electronic media anymore. He is being pushed into the inner pages so fast, that very soon his story, if it is carried, may be on the sports page.
In a way this is not without justification, when one sees how Dr. Jayalath Jayawardane was quick to announce he was even ready to go to Iraq to ensure the release of Dinesh. It's a great sporting move on his part. Of course JJ did say he was not making this offer to score any political points.
However, it is almost an axiom today that when a politician says he or she is not doing something to score political points, what is meant is exactly the reverse.
Even if JJ was genuine in his not wanting to gain political mileage from this hostage crisis, I would pray that he does not interfere with the diplomatic processes that are no doubt underway to have Dinesh released, apart from the appeals to various international organizations on behalf of him.
This appeal comes with very good reason. The Iraqi resistance may not have forgotten that it was the leader of JJ's party, Ranil Wickremesinghe, as former Prime Minister, who justified the Bush-Blair led invasion on Iraq and the forced regime change in that country, when addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2003.
The same Ranil Wickremesinghe also endorsed the policy announced earlier by Milinda Moragoda of the UNP, that Sri Lanka should accept the hegemony of the USA. Ranil in fact said the US was perfectly suited to fit the role of policemen to the entire world.
Carrying such highly explosive political baggage that is definitely against Iraqi sentiments, there is the danger that if JJ were to venture into Iraq for the release of Dinesh, JJ himself would be in worse danger.
Also, the country might well have to make unsuccessful diplomatic efforts to have JJ released from the hands of the Iraqi resistance. It would be considered both a mockery and an act of hostility to the Iraqi resistance for any member of a party that supported the Iraqi invasion and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein to seek the release of any hostage held by them.
A far better record
While diplomatic efforts are underway to have Dinesh released by his Iraqi captors, it is surprising that political parties and other organizations are not making known the strong links that Sri Lanka has had with the Arab world and Iraq in particular, in a bid to soften the ground for diplomatic activity. Sri Lanka has a very good story to say, apart from that gaffe by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in trying to be a better poodle to Bush than even Tony Blair is.
The record shows that Sri Lanka was among the first countries to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization, and allowed it to have an embassy here. In fact Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse has been the President of the Palestine-Sri Lanka Friendship Society for many years.
Saddam Hussein himself was treated with great courtesy when he arrived here to participate in the Non-Aligned Summit in 1976, and Sri Lanka has maintained the best relations with Iraq throughout all the years it was led by Saddam Hussein. Unlike the former Prime Minister, President Chandrika Kumaratunga in her address to the UN General Assembly was critical of the US-UK led invasion of Iraq.
Referring to the Iraqi situation she said: ""We are deeply saddened at the violence, instability and loss of life and human suffering in Iraq". In a clear reference to the US obsession with security in Iraq she said, "Security measures alone... will not suffice to end violence and create stability and peace".
With such a background of friendship between Sri Lanka and the real Iraq, there is need for much more concerted and visible action by those who champion human rights and other mass organizations to ensure the release of Dinesh Rajaratnam.
Media & profit
The fate of Dinesh is complicated by the demands for ransom and the reported sale of hostages by one group to another. However, it is regrettable that the media is not keeping the tragedy of Dinesh Rajaratnam very much alive, to make the Arab world, Al Jazeera, and his hostage takers know of the actual relationship between Sri Lanka and Iraq, before invasion and occupation, in a bid to help in his release.
The fires of Islam
We already have enough mistrust and divisions among communities that we do not need any more. The recent violence at Kattankudy among sections of the Islamic faith is largely a matter to be settled by the members of that faith.
Although one is not familiar with the details of the apparently divergent teachings of the "Payilvaan Muslim Sect", it is reported to be critical of certain present forms of Islamic worship and ritual prevailing in Sri Lanka. Sectarian differences over faith and ritual have arisen in almost all religions from their inception. What is necessary is for the differences to be sorted out through discourse and not violence.
The situation emerging from Kattankudy is a major challenge both for the elders in the Muslim community, as well as the younger sections who could be more attracted to a critical approach.
Produced by Lake House