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download (2)I was privileged last month to attend the Oslo Forum, an annual gathering of those engaged in mediation and conflict resolution. I had been invited, along with Mr Sumanthiran, to debate on whether it was correct to talk to extremists. The concept paper referred in some detail to recent developments in Nigeria and Afghanistan, but we were in fact the only participants in the debate from a country which had recently been in grave danger from extremists. We were able however to benefit during the Forum in general from informed inputs from several delegates from countries now suffering from extremism, such as Nigeria and Syria and Yemen.

Our own debate was chaired by Tim Sebastian, and though it was generally accepted that I came off well, I told him afterwards that I was glad my Hard Talk interview had been not with him, but with Stephen Sackur. Interestingly, that interview still raises hackles amongst those who seem stuck in an extremist agenda, so I presume they are grateful to our government for no longer using the services of anyone who can engage effectively in Hard Talk. In turn I am grateful to the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, based in Switzerland, which organizes the Oslo Forum, and more recently to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, for giving me a forum in which to argue the case for what the Sri Lankan government has achieved. Contrariwise, those now with the mandate to represent us internationally seem busily engaged in undoing that achievement day by day.

But that discussion, grandly termed the Oslo Debate, was only part of a very interesting programme. Amongst the contributors were Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter, and I felt particularly privileged to talk to the latter, still thoughtfully constructive at the age of almost 90. I look on him as the best President America has had in recent times, perhaps the only idealist of the 20th century apart from Woodrow Wilson – which is perhaps why their tenures ended in what seems failure. Certainly, as I asked him, his signal achievement in putting Human Rights at the centre of American Foreign Policy seems to have been perverted by his successors who have turned using it for strategic purposes into a fine art.

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Daily News 28 June 2011 – http://www.dailynews.lk/2011/06/28/fea15.asp

Palestinian militants from Hamas

I used to wonder about how the United States could possibly support Israel so excessively , to the extent of blocking UN resolutions which even the Europeans supported. Surely they must understand that what seems such blatantly unjust partisanship will continue to upset the Muslim world, and contribute to increasing radicalization of all those with political or moral understanding. And while many people, even though they feel a burning sense of injustice, will think that nothing can be done, and keep quiet, those with devout religious fervor will feel obliged to act. What they do might be appalling, but they will excuse themselves on the grounds that they are not acting but reacting.

A bright if somewhat cynical British friend provided one explanation when he said that American politics is dominated now by what he termed Premillenial Dispensationalists. These believe that the end of the world foretold in the Book of Revelations requires that Israel expand massively, after which we shall be visited by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The world as we know it having been destroyed, God will then resurrect the Chosen, though according to my friend this will not include any of the Jews, since they have not accepted Christ.

Right-wing Israeli extremist Baruch Marzel (C) leads a provocative march with flags March 24, 2009

The theory seemed to me quite potty, but he assured me that, while possibly even the most extreme Israeli politicians would be content simply to take over all of Palestine, the American extremists wanted them to conquer much more of the area, extending downwards into Africa too. Their aim would ultimately lead to the destruction of the Jews, but meanwhile they needed extremist Israelis, who were quite happy to go along with them, if not only for the ride.

Dotty though all this sounds, I found what I can only describe as a more nuanced version of this approach when I read ‘Murder in Samarkand’ by Craig Murray, who had served as British ambassador to Uzbekistan. He was sacked for his pains, largely he believes because he objected to British connivance in gross human rights abuses by the regime. The book he published in 2006 suggests that this was largely because the Blair government had fallen in completely with American policy in the region, and that the Americans, and because of them Tony Blair himself, were actively involved in his dismissal.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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