Peace | Speeches

Democracy vs. Terrorism

Address to the Oxford Union

Oxford, England

November 21, 2001

I Mr. President, Members of the Union,

Thank you for inviting me here tonight. It is a great honour for me.

I have come to Britain to have discussions with your Government about a variety of matters.

Most important of these is the question of terrorism and how best to fight it:

I wish to speak to you today about the one problem that has bedevilled the forward march of my country for two decades and has now begun to pose a threat to the entire world - it is the question of Democracy versus Terrorism.

But as I am in Oxford, perhaps you will allow me a moment for happier memories.

My father Solomon Bandaranaike, came here in 1919, when he was 20 years old, to study Law.

He ended his life as Prime Minister of Ceylon. But he began his political career here in this very Chamber, before this House – as a member of the Oxford Union.

He showed even then, I am told, a remarkable gift for oratory.

He debated various luminaries of the day naming a few:

· Mr. Horratio Bottomley – an orator of renown.

· Mr. Rupert Gwynne

· And indeed my father also knew Mr. Lloyd George – and debated him in this honourable House.

· Mr. Edward Majoribanks and Sir Anthony Eden were his colleagues.

His performance here appears to have been memorable, as borne out by the write up in The Isis: I quote;

“Mr. Bandaranaike’s speech is one of the few speeches that will be remembered by his audience some time hence. It was a tour de force of eloquence. Mr. Bandaranaike is the most eloquent speaker of the Union.”

The following year he was elected the Secretary of the Oxford Union – the first non-European to hold any of the three important offices of the Union. But, unfortunately, this tale has a painful twist.

In 1959, when my father had been Prime Minister for three years, he was scheduled to unveil a plaque here commemorating his time at Christ Church, but in the week before he was to come, he was assassinated.

In his stead the unveiling was performed by the then President of the Oxford Union, another Sri Lankan as it happens, by the name of Lakshman Kadirgamar, who today serves in my Government as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

My father’s years here had a profound effect on him. He wrote later “Oxford revealed to me my life’s mission, and was the dearer to me because she had taught me to love my country better”.

For my father’s life, and for what Oxford gave to him, Sri Lankans remain very grateful.

Hon. Members, the death of my father was the beginning of my own lifelong acquaintance with terrorism.

· I was 14 when a terrorist killed my father.

· I was 42 when a terrorist killed my husband in front of my two children and me.

· I was 54 when a terrorist blew herself up within a few feet of me. I was fortunate – I lost only an eye. Twenty-six other people lost their lives – including several members of my personal staff.

I live the life of a prisoner in my home because of the constant threats to my life.

But this does not prevent me from performing my myriad duties meeting thousands of people every month and also going out into the country when duty calls.

After all, I am a Buddhist – and for a Buddhist, when the time has come, nothing can stop the extinction of life. And life must go on regardless. In the meantime, while I live, I share with my fellow Sri Lankans what it means to live with terrorism.

· The cost to our national development, and the advancement of our people – people of whatever ethnic background or religious persuasion, be they Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians or Hindus – has been very high.

Successive Governments of Sri Lanka have been fighting the Tamil Tigers for 18 years.

Nor can you accuse the Tigers of discrimination – among their victims are 10,000 citizens of Tamil extraction.

While the war is largely confined to the North and East, it has imposed heavy economic and political burdens on the entire people.

The more we spend on our security, the less there is available for the construction and the improvement of infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, roads, power generation, irrigation, drinking water agriculture and industrial development.

We have succeeded in keeping our country open for business and attract a steadily increasing foreign investment, although less than what our economy would warrant under conditions of peace. We feel the frustration and tragedy of this all the more, as my government has made huge efforts to take our own economy forward. We formulated an effective Vision of Development and implemented a good part of this with success. We have doubled Gross National Product in 5 years, increased per capita income by 50% reduced unemployment by 40% and minimised the increase in the cost of living.

But the war has cost our economy heavily. For instance, Tourism should be a major source of income – as it has increasingly become for developing and developed countries alike over the past 20 to 30 years. Instead our Tourism is a quarter of what it was 20 years ago.

The immensity of the tragedy that took place in USA on 11th of September just leaves us numbed with shock and horror.

As we recover from the pain and horror of this incident let us join hands at least now, more honestly and with more dedication, to fight the wave of terroristic politics that is sweeping across the globe, since the past few decades.

To do this, it may not be sufficient to say, that we will hunt down the perpetrators of terror and their allies. We must attempt to understand the deep-rooted causes of this most unnatural, de-humanising phenomenon very specific to the 20th century - that is terrorism.

No doubt the First World War was triggered off by the act of a terrorist, who killed the Austrian crown prince in Bosnia. No doubt we know of several groups of Russian anarchists employing terror tactics at the turn of the 19th century in Czarist Russia. Also in Western Europe in the last decades of the 19th Century. Yet terrorism came into its own and began to be employed systematically as a political weapon in the post World War II period. The suffering caused by centuries of international warfare, together with fears of the possible use of nuclear weaponry has perhaps kept major wars at bay.

In the last two decades, this has given way to intra-national conflicts, within nations. The era of revolutionary or insurrectionary movements that were active in the Western hemisphere as well as in Russia and China at the dawn of the 20th Century, has given way, in the post-world war II period, to guerilla-type organisations beginning from Latin America and spreading to Western Europe and now to Asia.

It is important to note that the goals of the first form of activity, the revolutionary activity differs somewhat from the second type; that is the guerilla type of terrorist activity. Revolutionary movements seek to effect radical changes in the social and economic structures of a country, changes in the power structures. The vision and programmes for these movements were invariably provided by the intelligentsia within the relevant country or outside it. The guerilla and especially the terrorist movements are often born out of frustration and despair. Despair due to political defeat, social marginalisation and economic decline. But there is no clear agenda. No constructive programme to realise solutions.

Terrorism is destructive. It is neither radical nor revolutionary. Terrorism stems usually from conservatism and is vengeful. The only ones who gain from terrorist warfare, are the terrorists themselves and the war industry, the arms manufacturers and their agents. Terrorism has become endemic to modern society, because it is the product of recurrent social crises arising from the fall-out of the globalisation of capitalism and the free market economy.

Someone once said “hope betrayed transforms itself into bombs”. I would add that “perceived injustice, if allowed to continue unresolved would also transform itself first into despair and then into violence. In today’s context the demand for the rectification of injustice is with acts of violence, which by itself raises issues of ethics in terrorist violence.

I think it was Leon Trosky who once described the two emotions central to terrorism as being despair and vengeance. We need today to desperately study and understand the true causes of terrorism and terroristic movements, or for that matter any social upheavals within Nations.

At this point it would be useful to remind ourselves that it is not terrorism nor terrorists that divided Ireland nor caused the Israel Palestinian problem 50 odd years ago. They did not impose white rule in South Africa, nor did the terrorists overthrow the duly elected government of Salvador, Allende in Chile. The terrorists did not separate India and Pakistan and create the tragedy of Kashmir as a buffer zone. To come closer home, neither did the LTTE nor the armed Tamil militants who created the circumstances for the marginalisation of the minority communities of Sri Lanka.

Violence - social, political or physical, perpetrated by the State or the agents of the State against other States or its own peoples is the womb of terrorism, humiliation its cradle and continued revenge by the State, becomes the mother’s milk and nourishment for terrorism.

We need to look at the causes of modern day terrorism because it has become, in the past decades, the one single most terrifying factor in national and international politics the world over. But the powerful in the world relegated the problem of terrorism to the poor developing countries like ours, pontificated to us as to how we should protect the human rights of the perpetrators of terrorism. At long last, it was on the 11th of September 2001, when terrorism struck at the heart of the developed world, that the community of the rich and powerful countries woke up to the base, senseless, inhumanity of acts of terrorism.

We hope that at least this would make the whole world, the powerful and the not so powerful, and the least powerful join hands together in the common realisation that the modern expression of frustration, of destroyed hopes will not be contained within the boundaries of one nation, but will spill over in the most horrendous and terrifying fashion, across the boundaries of all nations to englobe the entire world.

Modern terrorist movements have sprung up mostly in the de-colonised countries. The colonial policy of “divide and rule”, consists of promoting and according wealth and privileges to a selected group of the local population, which was built up into an elite class, that would owe allegiance to the colonial rulers and work in their interests.

The vast majority of the Nation stood apart from this process seeing themselves dispossessed of traditional means of livelihood and increasingly marginalized. The seething frustrations caused by these situations have burst out into various types of nationalistic actions all over the de-colonised world. Add to this, the passionate need of a colonially subjugated nation, to seek out its own identity, in order to rebuild an independent nation with its specific national identity. This is required in order to shake off the colonial bondage – attitudinally, emotionally and economically. One has here an explosive recipe for a Molotov-type political cocktail.

The sense of newly-found freedom, born with independence gave rise to many hopes and aspirations in all groups of the independent nation. An effective vision was required to weld together the separate sets of aspirations into one collective, national dream, composed of the multi-faceted aspirations of each community living freely and proudly with its own separate identity which could co-exist symbiotically with the other entities to compose a harmonious and united entirety - the Nation - State, a strong and stable one.

The lack of such a vision and the failure to build such Nations, has caused the majority community in many countries to attempt to establish a hegemonistic and exclusivist regime in order to apportion for itself political and economic power. This in turn has given rise to movements of minority groups attempting to enforce, often by violent means, their own specific identities, expressed in various forms such as the demand for separate states and so on.

Sri Lanka is a case in point. But we are not alone.

The separation of India into India and Pakistan and then the breakaway of Bangladesh from Pakistan, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the continuing conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, the various conflicts in the African and American countries are some of the examples.

One could well and truly state that the era of conflict and wars between Nations has transformed itself in the second half of the 20th century into an era of international upheavals.

The present thinking on terrorism can be divided into two schools of thought. One school of thought places terrorists beyond the pale of civilised society and considers him anathema to civilisation and stigmatises him as a plain murderer.

The second school of thought encourages in-depth study of a systematic approach to understand and eradicate the reasons that bring about such upheavals. The rational political, social and economic aspirations of peoples, when frustrated continuously, give rise to full blown terrorism of the modern day, must be sifted out of the process of terroristic actions and looked at separately. Those political aspirations must be addressed honestly and seriously. The solutions employed must be made effective - legally and constitutionally, politically, economically and socially.

Peace is more than the simple absence of war. It entails the active engagement in a battle for reconstruction, for identifying and rectifying the root causes of war and conflict. All this is true, very true of our own situation in Sri Lanka.

I believe most honestly and strongly that the most effective response to terrorism is to stop generating it. How should we do this? By finding solutions to the problems that cause terrorism. For long, the powerful States could continue to oppress Nations through direct colonial oppression or through the globalisation of the capitalist economic system. And governments could continue to oppress communities within nations by the use or misuse of State power.

Modern technology has put a stop to this. Modern technology has effectively facilitated the spread of terrorism across anti-national boundaries and thereby ensured that States cannot continue to blind themselves to the injustices and the oppression that cause social upheavals and finally terrorism, in other nations. Secondly, governments would find it difficult to continue to oppress the under-privileged in their nations and turn away from problems, pretending comfortably that they do not exist.

The most startling realisation of the potency of modern technology in the hands of the terrorist came to the entire world on the 11th of September through the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

I believe that it is time now for the world to stop and take stock – honestly and strongly. We cannot encourage and finance friendly terrorist organisations in one place and attempt to defeat the others.

Double standards cannot work anymore, and will not resolve the long-standing problem of terrorism. The use of force directly by a State or through encouraging other terrorist movements to use violence against an enemy State or group, may temporarily curb a terrorist movement or the enemy. But these methods have proved to spread and intensify violence. This type of shortsighted policy has caused wars within Nations or between Nations.

Today I believe that the challenge before us nationally and internationally, is to recognise terror and political violence as the main enemy of modern society. The main enemy of all that is just and decent, of all that humanity has built up through the centuries, to be respected and looked upon as civilisation.

But saying this will not be sufficient. It should lead urgently to identifying the causes for terrorism in each different Nation – State. Then begin within nations and together internationally, to find solutions to these causes, to alleviate the sufferings and the frustrations that have given rise to each terroristic movement.

We also need to mobilise those young people in every nation who have taken up arms and taken to terrorism against civil society and the Nation State. We need to the great energies of these young people, their immense commitment towards change in their societies.

For this we need visionary leaders. We need programmes of action with an agenda focussed to change radically the present distribution of wealth and power within nations and Between Nations. We need to look at the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few multi-national companies. We need to look at the increasing concentration of power in the hands of a few States, breeding attitudes of hegemony in States that has proved dangerous right through the unfolding of human history. Dangerous to the relevant State and the world.

What can less powerful or powerless groups do in such a situation?

They turn modern technology on its head and employ it in the most stupefying manner as those terrorists did to wreak vengeance on all of the United States of America on September 11th.

I would like to underline just two factors that spring to my mind, as being important. It is the continued perception of poverty and economic dispossession within nations and between nations, and secondly the injustice perceived by some caused by the dispossession of political power within nations, whilst other groups enjoy positions of power and the privileges accruing from them. These may be the two major factors that have given rise first to revolutions and now to terrorism.

The 20th century was our century, the century of our generation and that of our parents. It has bred and reaped the fruits of this great tragedy, which was on the one hand, the accelerated economic development, employing science and modern technology, whilst ignoring its fallout on large sections of populations within nations, as well as on large areas of the world.

We are reaping today the fruits, the horrendous fruits, the bitter fruits, of that tragedy of believing, that some people and some nations could exclusively apportion to themselves the enjoyment of the profits of that great human enterprise, born in Western Europe - that of the development of science and technology and its practical employment through modern capitalism. Some of us were in too much of a hurry to reap the benefits only for ourselves.

We forgot to be humane in the process. We forgot that there were others who were also waiting on the sidelines to share the fruits of that development, others who had hugely contributed to this development, in raw materials and natural resources and manpower, during the colonial era.

It is now time for the richer developed nations to give of their technology, of their knowledge and to give generously of their monies, not only to obtain contracts for companies in their countries, but also to understand and alleviate the problems generated by the spread of globalised markets, in its present highly selfish format.

What can rich Nations do to help bring to Sri Lanka?

First to continue to help us financially to develop our country, in order that we eradicate one of the main causes for instability and conflict.

Then to remember that behind every act of terror is the logistics of terror. To maintain a criminal network of terror in our countries require massive operations, at International levels a massive collection of funds and purchase of funds.

It requires a secret army of collectors and enforcers with connections to the criminal underworld and the ability to transfer millions of dollars by word of mouth.

For a small state such as ours, the cost of monitoring and preventing these activities abroad is beyond our means to cope.

In our case, as in others, there also exist a far more abundant reservoir of funds – in the form of expatriates of similar ethnicity, living in settled, developed communities abroad.

As the Western Media regularly reports, the Tamil Tigers regularly collect or extort huge sums from expatriate Tamil communities to finance the terrorist war.

We need effective action in your countries to prevent fund collection for terrorist activity in our countries. I am glad that at last the West has woken up to our call and is adopting effective measures to do this.

My Government has a vision and a programme of action to resolve the ethnic problem and to seek an end to the terrorism and violence begotten by it.

We have done this;

First by acknowledging that, in years gone by, under earlier Governments, there was undoubtedly injustice and discrimination against Tamil people.

There were times also, when the governments acted shortsightedly and irresponsibly in dealing with these problems, which contributed to the emergence of problems.

I came into politics with two main passions.

These were the things that my husband and I stood for when we entered politics and formed the Peoples Alliance – the Party I lead today.

I believed those same things when I first became President in 1994.

And with powers vested in me as the Chief Executive of my country, my Government has taken constructive steps to move forward.

· We have tried to advance peace and social equality and economic justice for all our peoples.

· Today the rights of the Tamil people – as Sri Lankan citizens, and as members of a distinct community – are recognized and respected under the law, and by the Sinhala majority.

· We have taken every possible precaution to ensure the complete security of Tamils everywhere.

· Moreover my government has struggled from Day One to negotiate a constitutional dispensation that will further secure the social, cultural and economic aspirations of the Tamil community in the North and East of Sri Lanka.

· To this end, we have made clear proposals for the devolution of the political and administrative powers from the center to the regions, where the majority of the Tamil and the Muslim peoples live

· We have also led Sri Lanka’s openhearted apology to its Tamil minority for the injustices perpetrated against them under earlier Governments.

· But we are not prepared to concede the dismemberment of our island country into two separate states.

· We believe it would be completely disastrous – not least for the Tamils, many of whom have settled throughout the rest of the island, and today live in peace among their Sinhala compatriots, and have prospered among them.

· We have tried to bring together all political parties involved – whoever has been prepared to work with us – and to empower them to develop solutions.

· We have actively pursued dialogue with the Tamil Tigers - to bring them to the negotiating table.

· But the tigers do not want a constitution that secures Tamil rights.

They do not want a settlement.

They do not want to talk.

They only want what they want – the dismemberment of Sri Lanka.

As it happens, I have arrived at a moment of great hope for Britain and Ireland. With the first moves by the IRA to destroy weapons, an end may be in sight to the conflict in Ulster.

But please remember us, on our island. Bloodied but unbowed and still deeply committed for justice and peace. We need your help.

I go back now to support my party in fighting a parliamentary election.

The issues are clear.

· An end to the infighting and point scoring that has bedeviled our politics.

· A constitution that delivers a strong, stable government and a level playing field for all groups and minorities in Sri Lanka

· A negotiated political settlement to the ethnic question.

· And the eradication of terrorism, and peace throughout the island.

· Continuing along the path of economic development and eradication of poverty, so that all our peoples irrespective of race and religion could access the fruits of prosperity.

Those are the keys to our future.

I have given my lifetime to these hopes.

I would give them my life if I thought it would help.