Get to the bottom of this crime

Friday’s attack on the editor of our sister paper, Rivira, Upali Tennekoon, is the latest in a series of atrocities committed against the media, and follows just a fortnight after the killing of another national newspaper editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Fortunately, Friday’s attack was less lethal than the attack on Wickrematunge. But that should not mitigate the gravity of the incident. Had the attackers had their way, the outcome could well have been different-as would have been the political fallout from the event.

Just as much as it happened after Wickrematunge’s assassination, there will be the now ritualistic accusations and counter-accusations, conspiracy theories and wild speculation that will attempt to solve the media world’s latest whodunit.
We do not even contemplate venturing into such an exercise. But this much must be said. This culture of brazen impunity must stop. And the Government-by virtue of being in power-must take adequate measures to do so.

If it does not, it is the Government itself which stands to lose because they will be assumed guilty until proven innocent. So, it is self-serving for the Government to take whatever measures that are necessary to get to the bottom of this rot and they should do so quickly too.

The nation and we at The Nation await this with bated breath not because we love ourselves more, but because we shouldn’t love our country any less.

Obama Presidency

Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the forty-fourth President of the United States of America this week in a historic occasion marked by a glittering ceremony in Washington and watched on television by billions around the globe.

Obama, of course, is no ‘ordinary’ President of the United States of America. He is the first man of African-American descent to hold that high office. For a nation which practiced slavery just over two hundred years ago, and for a country that still indulged in racial segregation less than fifty years ago, this is no mean achievement; it may have been the small matter of an election of one man to the Presidency, but it is truly a giant leap for America.

That a country where the demographics are such that Caucasians still form a vast majority of the population, is able to cast its collective vote forgetting the skin colour of the candidates, is remarkable. It is justifiable evidence that the United States is indeed a land of equal opportunity, and in that sense is an object lesson to countries such as Sri Lanka, multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-lingual as we are today.

Obama happened to be inaugurated at a time when America was facing several challenges. The country-and indeed the world-is in the throes of an economic meltdown with recession looming large on the horizon, the role of the United States as the unitary superpower in the world is coming under increasing scrutiny, and that country is at war on several fronts, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If Obama is disappointed with his first task as President – that of being sworn in, where he fluffed his lines after the Chief Justice administering the oath made an error – he then endeared himself to the world with a stirring inaugural address that captured the imagination of his global audience.

Obama’s slogan throughout his campaign has been, ‘hope over fear’ and it is a theme he warmed to in his inaugural address too. But it is his elaboration of this theme that must serve as a reminder to us, in far away Sri Lanka, where our priorities lie.

Obama reminded America that, “reaffirming the greatness of the nation, we understand that greatness is never given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labour, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

If we in Sri Lanka were to ponder on these words, we would realise that we have a propensity to take our ‘greatness’ for granted. We now often hark back to our great history and heritage of two thousand five hundred years ago, and act as if this proud past will guarantee us a prosperous future. So far this has not happened- a full sixty years and more after the country obtained independence and total control over our own destiny.

It could be argued that our leaders were guilty of seeking, “only the pleasures of riches and fame,” while as a country, we have done little to improve the lot of the millions of “men and women obscure in their labour, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom”.

Sri Lanka shares with America some common problems: both are countries that have been ravaged by terrorism, ethnic tensions and civil war at times. America suffered the greatest terror attacks ever staged in the world, on September the eleventh, 2001: Sri Lanka continues to suffer at the hands of arguably the most ruthless and capable terrorist organisation on the planet, albeit weaker now.

For countries with such challenges, Obama offered words of wisdom. He said that America should, “recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”

At a crucial juncture of our own history, where there is expectation and hope that the scourge of terrorism can be defeated after a quarter of a century, Obama’s words are worthy of reflection for our own policymakers. At a time when the military’s victories over terrorism are vulnerable to being hijacked by radical and extremist elements, it would be prudent to question ourselves as to whether we have used the, “tempering qualities of humility and restraint,” or whether we are trying to, “do as we please.”

Of course, inaugural speeches are meant to be what Obama’s was: inspiring and eloquent, passionate and imaginative. But the real challenge for President Obama would be to translate these words into deeds. It is a task which, in the United States of America today, being African-American or otherwise, would amount to little.

By being elected the first African-American President of America, Barack Hussein Obama has already created history. If he can deliver a more peaceful, stable and prosperous planet in four years – for indeed America influences the globe – he would have justified his place in history too.