Expanded version of additional comments by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, Chair of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats

At the Meeting of the Alliance of Democrats in Rome to discuss Security, Development, Democracy – 1st October 2010.

Apart from providing a brief overview of the Sri Lankan situation, I think I would be failing in my duty as Chairman of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats if I did not provide a different perspective on some of the issues we have discussed here today. In talking about Security as well as Development and Democracy, we have heard many views but in many cases there was a lack of historical awareness, and of precise detail, that will not be conducive to productive discussion.

Sometimes this may be deliberate, but I also wonder whether knowledge of history and of accurate detail is no longer thought necessary. I was horrified for instance at the ‘Ara Pacis’ museum yesterday to have a guide who knew very little of Roman history. I cannot of course expect Italians in general to know as much about Roman history as those with a classical British colonial education, but more surely should be expected from a professional guide. The great initiative of Francesco Rutelli, Co-President of the European Democratic Party, in setting up a Museum dedicated to Augustus’ Altar of Peace, is stultified by such ignorance.

So too in our discussion today we did not pay enough attention to history, as exemplified by the map which adorns the cover of our Conference file. Should we not stop to think of the strange shape of Saudi Arabia, as presented there, with areas that give it access to the sea occupied for nearly a century now by those selective mandates the British set up after the First World War? That was done with French collaboration – though Italy was not I believe part of this carve up – in the interests of security, European security.

So the heart of Arabia was left isolated, without alleviation through the healthy pluralistic influences that trade and commerce with the outside world brings. Lebanon and what used to be Palestine, till it was turned into Israel, Syria and Iraq, and also very special British creations, Kuwait and Qatar and the Emirates and Muscat and Oman and Aden, were kept apart. As the West now complains of increasing fundamentalism, it should reflect on the fact that its own security concerns were responsible for restricting the flow of ideas that had made Islam internationally such a vibrant universally acceptable religion.

And there was more, in that cynical manipulation of the Middle East so as to ensure Western security, after the Arabs had been encouraged with promises of freedom to revolt against the Ottoman Empire. We, imbued with a sense of European history, can understand why the Palestinians had to give way in their homeland to the Jews, since that was the only way Europe knew how to make recompense for their appalling treatment of those unfortunate people persecuted so badly over the centuries. But it is not easy for Palestinians to understand why they had to suffer to make amends for what the West had done to the Jews, and why they have to suffer still, with more and more of their lands taken away to satisfy the demands of a parochial security.

And in this context I was disappointed in the speech of the former Israeli Chief of Staff, one of those who belongs to that fine flower of Israeli Liberalism from which we had hoped for so much. He said many positive things but made no mention in his speech of the Israeli Foreign Minister, an extremist who along with his fellows has ensured that Israeli liberalism has no influence. Surely we cannot hope for lasting peace in the Middle East if those with positive views are coy about extremists? We know that there are many Arab moderates, as exemplified in the moving speech by the representative from Egypt, but we were told today how they are subject to the agendas of extremists. My own view is that even those extremists will moderate – as so many of those accused of being extremists did moderate – but, contrariwise, the extremists in Israel, nourished by a democratic system that privileges small parties, flourish more and more. Imagine indeed a situation in Europe where M le Pen had to be made Foreign Minister.

Indeed the most obvious example to my mind of terrorism working occurred with the death of that great General and Statesman, Yitzhak Rabin. It will be remembered that, after President Sadat was killed by extremists, his successor braved their wrath himself by taking the peace process forward. In Israel on the contrary, after Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist, his successors retreated into a carapace of cowardice – they dignified it by the name of security, but it was security for their own personal careers, in the face of the onslaughts of the Liebermans, not security for the Israeli people or for the world at large.

There are other examples of the privileging of personal security leading to immeasurable suffering for the world. If we had listened to the comments of the Afghan head of the National Security Council, we would have understood, what is now often forgotten, how the apotheosis of the Taleban had its roots in Western obsession with Cold War security issues. And perhaps we can go further, bearing in mind his criticism of elements in Pakistan who have contributed to that apotheosis. Reading further details recently about the partition of India, I was struck by how British military strategists saw this as essential for their own security, given their fears about a potentially independent and socialist inclined India. Pakistan was their answer, a country based solely on a religion, an initiative that has borne now the fruit that should have been foreseen had self-interest not furnished blinkers.

My argument then is that, in thinking about both security and development, we must recognize the need for a universal rather than a parochial viewpoint. We need what might be described as a moral dimension to such considerations, but my argument is that such a moral dimension is also a practical one. We have had too much suffering caused by unthinking adherence to particular interests that, given the volatility of the world, blow up in our faces.

Let me end by adding another note of historical caution. Much has been said here about the increase of Chinese involvement in Africa, and the suggestion that it might promote undemocratic forces. Without judging such matters, I would urge Western nations to recall their support in the darkest days of Africa for individuals such as Mobutu and Bokassa and Idi Amin, support too for regimes in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia on the grounds of economic interests and bulwarks against Communism. Two wrongs do not make a right, but efforts to promote principle in the world cannot be based on ignorance of the past and evasion of historical accuracy and moral consistency.

We in Sri Lanka have seen the need to deal firmly with terrorism, but to do our best to alleviate the resentments of those amongst whom terrorism can flourish because it draws attention to grievances that should be addressed. We can only hope that the West too will look more carefully at the history of the areas which now seem so volatile, and address the grievances to which their obsession with personal security in two Post World War situations gave rise.