Book Review, Island 21 March 2010 – The Best of British Bluff  By Rajiva Wijesinha 

Review by: Lakshmi de Silva

Rajiva Wijesinha always wrote well, whether at a wild and exuberant seventeen, as evident in the remarkable Greek tragedy Electra in 1971 (banned by the SLBC then, but later transmitted in 1985) or in 2006 when the maturity of Lost Horizons conveyed acute, multi-faceted reflections, sometimes poignant with the sense of loss.     

His Preface to the Best of British Bluff (2009) states   

 “ ‘Pursuing Peace, Fighting Falsehood’ published last year, was a collection of press releases and other articles the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) had issued over the previous year. In addition to its activities to restore confidence in the peace process … SCOPP had also been required to refute a range of criticism flung at the Sri Lankan government and its armed forces, criticism designed to denigrate our progress in eliminating terrorism whilst pursuing a pluralistic democratic solution for political problems.       

In the last year however it has become clear that there was more to the efforts to derail the government than mere misunderstanding of the actual situation. Most insidious we find is the contribution of external elements, sometimes driven by elements in the Tamil diaspora …, sometimes driven by other considerations.”       

Curiously this trend emerged and progressed as incredulous, and hitherto despairing Lankans, after more than a quarter century where every effort made to reach solid ground for negotiations had left us in quicksand now watched the rapid headway made by the army, adequately equipped at last, their morale boosted by the recognition of their commitment and courage, unlike the doomed “bili-boys” and “broilers” of the 80s and 90s. Astounded and bewildered they listened to the performances and pronunciamentos of Western politicians which contradicted their own rhetoric regarding the War Against Terror, and the banning of the LTTE in their countries. Rumblings regarding subjecting prominent figures to prosecution as war criminals, overt attempts to protect the LTTE leaders as “innocent civilians” were among the strategies deployed with the intention of preserving the conflict situation unresolved so as to facilitate the international community’s descent as deus ex machina to settle the fortunes of the warring natives as best serves Western agendas.       

At such times the responses from SCOPP that appeared in the newspapers did much for the spirits of those who watched from the sidelines, anxious but inarticulate, who raged helplessly at the unfairness of British attitudes. Wijesinha was an effective champion – the eloquent son Sri Lankan parents long for – with a rapier-deft style, cut and thrust and an unpredictable twist of discomforting humour that leaves smug politic hypocrisy “touched and shamed by ridicule alone sacred weapon, left for Truth’s defence!”       

In The Best of British Bluff, Professor Wijesinha, erstwhile Secretary General of SCOPP., who recently resigned his post as the Secretary to the Ministry of Human Rights, identifies and pillories a host of misrepresentations and canards designed to damage not merely the image of the country and its anti-terrorist military operations in 2009 but its political and economic future. The meticulous tracing and highlighting of the connection of some British observers derogatory comments, with murky events obscured by chance or time often makes these emerge fully and lucidly to make the reader chortle at a just and palpable hit. It is to be hoped that these revelations will alert sanctimonious British MPs, journalists and BBC commentators that their motives and methods cannot escape notice, and make them squirm. Wijesinha relies not on rhetoric, but on factual information, reported speech and narrated episodes. The representation is not only lucid and vigorous, but often funny. ‘The Road to Elephant Pass – A New Year Meditation’ however is moving and memorable in its straightforward record of the bungling and worse that can happen in war and the sadness of promising young men dying.       

Wijesinha has of course been engaged with the problem at closer quarers; notably at the resumed Sixth Session of the Human Rights Council held in Geneva from December 10-14 which “concluded with no resolution moved or any action taken on Sri Lanka despite an intense campaign” as noted by The Sunday Island December 16th 2007. His voice was effectively raised again at the 11th Special Session of the Human Rights Council, where the Resolution submitted by Sri Lanka and Co-sponsors was adopted with a convincing majority of 29 for and 12 against with 6 abstaining.       

Nonetheless, despite India’s Permanent Representative to the UN A Gopinathan’s comment that “It is important to recall and reaffirm that the outcome of the Special Session reflects an inter-governmental decision adopted according to the Rules of Procedure of the Council”, a conference held by the Global Tamil Forum on February 25th 2010 which was addressed by the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has been followed – coincidentally no doubt, by the announced intention of the United Nations Secretary General to appoint a Panel of Experts to advise on accountability issues relating to Sri Lanka.       

Literary scholar as well as political analyst Professor Wijesinha is succinct on the roots of such phenomena in ‘Graham Greene, The West and Human Factors’ (The Island 11th March 2010)       

 ”Reading … made me even more acutely aware of how one should not assume, simply because the British and Americans with whom we deal are (well, most of them at least) so charming and so earnest about their moral purposes, that they are genuine. Greene shows how commitment to the interests of their country can lead even the best intentioned astray. We cannot expect to be more than instruments to them for their grander purposes. If sometimes these purposes are banal as well as evil, as Hannah Arendt might have put it, that does not make them the less urgent to those unable to appreciate another point of view in their anxiety to make their mark with regard to a country so easy it seems to bully.”       

Why this relentless hounding? Acerbic, acute and amusing, The Best of British Bluff throws much light on mindset and motives.       

Source: Sunday Island, 21 March 2010