Sri Lanka is under siege

by Christian Eckert, Asian Tribune, June 9, 2005

Christian Eckert, a German journalist, writes again about unethical conversions in Sri Lanka which was denied Mrs. Asma Jehangir, UN Special Rapporteur, in her recent report on religious tensions

Berlin, Germany -- Mr. Eckert writes: I, too, was astonished - to say the least - on the remarks in the conclusions of the United Nation´s Special Rapporteur, Mrs. Asma Jehangir and her denial that there was ?no concrete proof? of anyone being forced or coerced into giving up their ancestral religion.

My colleague Lalith Ganhewa, also a journalist and I had clearly stated in front of the commission that people we had talked to were being coerced and mentally being forced to change their native religion.

How else would one call this unethical offer of food, shelter and livelihood in exchange for ?coming to our church?, or ?joining our (the church´s) Bible reading?, or the most generous offer of ?doing for you people what the government is not doing for you? - with a side dish of brain washing? These people we talked to feared retaliation by these ?churches? and their missionary members, if they would go and talk openly about what they were ?offered? and about what just might happen, if these "offers" were not accepted or rejected. So, Mrs Jehangir, maybe we are just misunderstanding you? Or maybe it is just a question of semantics?

Not really. Remember, Mrs. Jehangir, the American Indians? Remember the Mayas? See, what became of them? Overrun, converted, uprooted and they were deprived of their ancestral values and way of life. And what you see now is not the old Western colonialism but neo-colonialism. Or is it called neo-liberalism? Of course, ?colonialism? is ?politically incorrect?. It has to be replaced. With a seemingly harmless term. Now it?s called ?disaster relief? or ?reconstruction? - it means the same thing but it?s effect is even worse than that of plain old colonialism.

And I?m so very sorry. In my essay ?The next Tsunami coming is a religious one? originally published by ?The Lanka Academic? May 23rd and two days later in ?The Asian Tribune,? I should have been more precise. The next Tsunami - which is already sweeping through Sri Lanka and other countries of this world - is a religious one, yes, we have witnessed so, but it is also an ideological one. Just like the Tidal Wave did not only crush countless lives and homes, it also crushed the moral integrity of the people surviving. ?Their shirt is closer to them than their pants,? a German saying goes for people who have very little choice left. The Lankans are weekend, maimed by the Tsunami. And there are organizations which are utilizing and exploiting this situation for their own benefits.

It has been planned and prepared for a long time. Roughly ten months ago, in August 2004, the Bush administration created the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, it´s head being Carlos Pasqual, a former Ambassador. The presidential order: draw up ?post-conflict plans? for countries that were not (yet) in conflict - either by war or natural disaster.

According to the office, it will be able to coordinate three full scale reconstruction operations in three different countries at the same time, each lasting five to seven years.

The Bush administration will go into history not only for inventing pre-emptive deconstruction (?preventive war?) but also for pre-emptive reconstruction. And with the Tsunami relief, they?re putting their plans into action.

And now that the US government - usually and especially under Bush 1 and 2 not considered very innovative - has an office to reconstruct the minds more than the land, will not the mighty NGOs, the profit-making consulting firms, the corporations swarming all over Sri Lanka like locusts fall in line with the US government? Or is the US government following their idea?

A closer look into what this obscure office is up to makes the picture clearer - and also shows, what the corporations are up to.

The plans of this office are drawn to ?changing the social fabric of a nation?. In other words the mandate of this office is not to build or rebuild according to what the people of these countries want, but to ?create democratic and market-orientated? environment that would fit into their big plans of American goals.

Rebuilding in this sense means ?tearing the old apart?. These ever so fast acting reconstructors might help sell off ?state-owned enterprises that create a nonviable economy?. In short: Where there is deconstruction, there is a chance to grab hold of - business opportunities.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently described this as ?a wonderful opportunity?, that ?has paid great dividends for us.?

In Sri Lanka this means that for the business-politicians who seem to have a major influence in this country, the Tsunami was a secret prayer come true, as it wiped the coastal area clean - and along with it, the people who where opposing plans of mostly foreign corporations for even bigger hotels and resorts.

Paranoia? But take a look: All the major - mostly western owned - hotels along the southern and western coastline have been built up already, better than before. They are ?back to business? as claimed proudly on their web sites and in their catalogues. But the ordinary people have been prevented from building up again along the coastal belt by law.

The Sri Lankan coasts will never be the same again. Not like the people want them to be, with little villages all along the beaches, home of the many fishermen, the mask carvers, the batik dyers, the toddy carriers. Instead the coast is being reshaped in the form the foreign corporations and donors want it. With even broader beaches - this time for tourists only. And with corporate fishing fleets where the once independent fisherman may then work - if he plays along nicely.

At least 39 000 were killed, over half a million people in Sri Lanka lost their homes - and most of them are still living in shamefully sorry huts and tents. Five months after the first Tsunami nothing has yet changed. The funds received for the victims of the Tsunami are being piped into the pockets of the privileged few. The stock market in Sri Lanka is soaring; the Rupee is getting stronger by the day. Money is flooding (absolutely no pun intended) the country.

The real victims have no voice. Their calls are not being heard. The funds and aid promised to the people are forgotten. Foreign consultants and NGO representatives have the time of their lives, hanging around in Colombo drinking at the 5-star hotel bars every night, living on huge expenses and even bigger salaries, while locals are being referred to as ?stupid, non-cooperative natives? and are widely being kept out of much needed jobs and, even worse, the decision-making processes. Foreign experts lecture on good governance and the very importance of transparency - at the same time refusing to open their books let alone give the people the control over how the aid money is to be spent.

And sadly the Sri Lankan government goes along, itself being traumatized, dazed and confused. It?s quite normal for countries that have been under similar traumatic conditions, such as war or natural catastrophe. The governments will usually do whatever is ?asked? for by the mighty donors to get funds and aid - even if this means giving up democratically built agendas and previously discussed political decisions, or borrowing huge loans making the people and the nation dependent, or sweeping political reforms that do not reflect the wishes of the people.

These, more or less, are the economic consequences of transition that is taking place. We are not speaking of obscure signs in the sky, but of reality. This new Tsunami is raging on the island right now. And along with it goes the spiritual conversion of its people.
,br> Disrupting societies, tearing people away from their traditional beliefs that do not fit into the country?s Christian and capitalistic future is a part of the big plan.

The US government has handed huge sums of money to the evangelical churches. This money meant to privatize conversions. In the Land of the Free everything is privatized even evangelizing. It takes the responsibility off the shoulder of the state. The (fundamentalist) churches, like the NGOs, will do this job better for the state. What we are witnessing is evangelical and political conversions openly and covertly. Evangelical churches are another form of NGOs doing the job for the American big business. Instead of spending it at home, in the US, handing it to fellow Americans in need (and don?t tell me, there aren?t any), they go abroad to expand the empire of commercial corporations. Followers of a creed make good customers to gain power over new markets and territories.

Plain aid and relief in the name of humanity, with no hidden agenda behind, with no ?buts? nor ?ifs? has become a very, very rare thing these days. Especially in Sri Lanka.

Buddhism and Hinduism, in their deep essence, are obstacles to the long-term objectives of these organizations and corporations. They will hand out money only to those who share the market-oriented morality of the West. This makes it easier for big business, they all say unison.

Sri Lanka is under siege: economically, morally and ideologically - and only those who have surrendered to their greed and power play will refuse to recognize this catastrophe imposed by overwhelming market forces.