Naivety

2002, the time of the peace accord between the Government and the LTTE, was a confusing time for most of us journalists. The Norwegians were our peace brokers at that time and they were here and there, telling everyone who was involved how to get over the LTTE problem through a peaceful process.

27 Jul 2011 0 comment

I was part of the mainstream media then, both in television and radio. When this peace accord suddenly descended on us as a news story, I remember being particularly bewildered, because in my mind it was impossible to believe that the Tamil Tigers would ever give up their objective of attaining Eelam in a violent manner.

The same went for most of us journalists who wondered how the Norwegians fitted into this entire process. In fact I recall asking one of the Scandinavian peace brokers how they became such experts on this subject and I got a very simplistic answer. Their qualification, when it boiled down to the nitty-gritty was that they stood out as an example of a country that was the most peaceful since World War II. As a country that had a raging war ongoing for over 20 years to the time, there wasn’t much we could say to counter such a lofty statement. And thus, they became our peace brokers.

I remember many a discussion with groups of journalists around any number of watering holes, trying to figure out what their agenda really was. But no one could come up with a reasonable answer. Almost a decade later, on the day that Jaffna and Kilinochchi were having their local Government elections (a very peaceful one at that), proving to the world that Sri Lanka had overcome violence on an almost cosmic scale when compared with our war years, Norway faced a disaster which was reminiscent of what could have happened here only just a couple of years back.
Just hours after a bomb aimed at Government buildings in Oslo killed seven people, a gunman in Police disguise launched a ferocious attack on a youth summer camp of Norway’s ruling Labour Party, in what is believed to be the deadliest attack by a lone gunman anywhere in modern times. The death toll to date remains at over 90.

News reports say that witnesses saw the 32-year-old gunman move across the small, wooded island of Utoeya in a lake northwest of Oslo, firing at young people who scattered in panic or tried to swim to safety. A shocked Prime Minister of Norway is reported to have said, “A paradise island has been transformed into hell.”

The firing is reported to have continued for an hour and a half. Surprisingly, it had taken the Police 40 minutes after the firing began to get to the island. Police Chief SveinungSponheim had told reporters that Police officials had responded “as quickly as possible” but had problems getting boats to transport officials to Utoya Island, where the Worker’s Youth League, the youth wing of Norway’s Labour Party, was attending an annual gathering.

Coming back to the time when the Norwegians acted as our peace brokers, they repeatedly told journalists that there was no hidden agenda or motive behind their interference, other than to act as honest brokers. Almost 10 years later I am beginning to believe the truth of this statement, which also leads to the question, were they really qualified to act as the negotiator between a country’s legitimately elected Government and a ruthless terrorist organisation which was causing mayhem? I don’t use these words loosely because we have experienced and seen firsthand the death and carnage the LTTE and its suicide bombers caused in the middle of highly populated areas across this country.

In my view, these Norwegians have, by far, become soft in their way of life. Their sense of being could be best described as ‘naivety’. Just the other day, I heard one of the hundreds of reporters who are yet descending in the area, where the calamity occurred, give a stand up interview to a TV camera. He explained to his international viewers that Norway was a place where a Government Minister could walk down the road from his offices to lunch and anyone could say ‘hi!’ to him. He also said that after this incident in Norway, a certain naivety of life itself that existed had changed forever.

There is no need to tell anyone how the Norwegian peace brokering went on in Sri Lanka, but in it there are also lessons to be learned. One of the lessons may be that although we did not have a peaceful avenue to peace itself, it was not for the lack of trying. But sadly in today’s world, it has been proved that terrorism cannot be eradicated simply with Norway’s formula.

It was interesting to note a local news report on the Norwegian disaster, which said: “President Rajapaksa had conveyed the sympathies of the Sri Lankan Government and its people and expressed ‘the solid support’ of Sri Lanka to Norway to eradicate terrorism both bilaterally and internationally. He also referred to what Sri Lanka had undergone for three decades and said he wished Norway would be able to deal with acts of terror swiftly.” I am not a warmonger, nor do I support war in any way; but when it comes to terrorists and their destructive force, something has to be done by our elected governments and leaders. We the people expect them to act with decisive strength to eradicate a menace. These are times for wisdom and not naivety.

(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)

Source : Daily FT (http://www.ft.lk/2011/07/27/naivety/)

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