Exclusive articles and debates on the 13th Amendment, the APRC proposals, the murder of Lasantha Wickremetunge and IDPs

Groundviews
Groundviews

Groundviews published over the course of the past two weeks exclusive articles on a diverse range of topics and issues, ranging from constitutional reform and women’s attire to the plight of IDPs and peacebuilding.

Pros and cons of the 13th Amendment and the APRC
Writing exclusively for Groundviews, M.C.M Iqbal, one of the secretaries of the first Provincial Council of the Western Province, submits a detailed analysis of the 13th and ends by noting that,

The defeat of the LTTE has provided President Rajapakse a golden opportunity to settle the problems of the Tamils once and for all. His current popularity among the Sinhalese could make them accept whatever solution he puts forward to the problem saying that it is the need of the hour to bring about lasting peace and prosperity to the country… If he misses this opportunity, the problems of the Tamil will remain a festering wound in the body politic of this country and would necessitate the maintenance of an oversized military force which the country can hardly afford, due to fears of the defeated forces rising from their graves, persisting.

Read Devolution of powers under the 13th Amendment in Sri Lanka: Fact or Fiction? in full here.

Regular Groundviews columnist RMB Senanayake in The 13th Amendment as a political solution notes that,

The cry for decentralization instead of devolution means that power will continue to be with the bureaucracy and the politicians of the Center… this cannot be called the expression of the opinions of the local Tamil people. On the other hand those who talk of 13th Amendment plus at this juncture are also wrong. This requires amending the Constitution. Any attempts to do so will again divide the Sinhala people and allow the populist politicians like the JVP to create confusion and chaos among the people.

Read his article and leave your thoughts here.

The APRC Proposals and ‘Winning the Peace’ is an article by Colin Irwin, Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, based on a public poll in Sri Lanka conducted earlier this year. Read it in full here.

In what may be one of the last articles he writes in favour of the full implementation of the 13th Amendment from his current post, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Dayan Jayatilleka notes in Post-war reconciliation and nation-building in a global context that,

Those who encourage us to implement the 13th amendment are not those who lectured us on federalism and the need to accommodate the LTTE. Those folks talk of war crimes tribunals, unfettered access, an UN role in political reconciliation, economic sanctions etc. These are the folks who were defeated in Geneva on May 27th. We are being encouraged to swiftly implement at least the 13th amendment, precisely by those who did not belong to that camp, and stood by us, helping us in various ways during the war. It is these friends who will be undermined and who will pull back if we fail to, leaving us vulnerable to the Tamil Diaspora driven West and a possible Indo-US policy pincer.

Read his article in full here.

The murder of Lasantha Wickremetunge
An article on the admission on a senior government MP of murdering Lasantha Wickremetunge originally posted on Lankanenewsweb.com, currently blocked by the Sri Lankan government, was reposted on Groundviews and generated over 5,000 page views in just over 24 hours. Read Mervyn Silva publicly admits to killing Lasantha Wickrematunge and grievously attacking another journalist in full here.

Also on Lasantha Wickremetunge’s murder, a contributor to Groundviews criticises the recently held Journalism Awards for Excellence organized by the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka Press Institute for not remembering his murder. Read Sri Lankan media awards and Lasantha who? here.

The continuing internment of IDPs in Sri Lanka
In Setting the record straight: Challenges of internment for IDPs, noted political analyst Rohini Hensman responds to the critique of her earlier writing on the internment of IDPs in Sri Lanka by Malinda Seneviratne and Lucien Rajakarunanayake. Her original article, published on Groundviews, is also an example of how content published first and exclusively on this site spark of wide ranging debate in traditional print media. For her response in full with links to the articles by Malinda and Lucien, click here.

In The internment of IDPs in Sri Lanka: Comparisons with another example from US history, Vidura makes a particularly compelling comparison between the internment of IDPs in Sri Lanka today and the internment of about 120,000 Japanese-Americans in USA in the wake of World War II.

Read Vidura’s article in full here.

In Concerned Tamils, but what about the rest?, Selvy Thiruchandran writes in favour of a common platform of concerned citizens to address the situation of IDPs and give suggestions for the speedy recovery of a human tragedy. Read her article in full here.

Succinctly capturing the sentiments of these articles is the poem Decree by Thiru Sambandar. Read it here.

Women’s attire
An essay that sparked over 40 comments over 2,200 pageviews to date looked at the “proper” attire for women in Sri Lanka. Read On a woman’s attire: Are we really tempting young boys and priests? in full here.

A follow up article, On women’s attire and gender equality: pondering on the long way ahead by Chaminda Weerawardhana, explores further the salient points in the previous article. Read it in full here.

Groundviews is Sri Lanka’s first and award winning citizens journalism website features an unparalleled range of ideas, opinions and analyses on humanitarian issues, media freedom, human rights, peace, democratic governance and constitutional reform.

Facebook and Google Maps in Iran

Following up from my previous post on the use of new media and citizen journalism in Iran recently, I came across two more powerful examples today.

Presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi
Presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi

Facebook it seems, in Persian, is now an important means of mobilising and disseminating information produced by polity and society opposed to the Presidential election outcome. The very fact that Persian is available on Facebook is because of its heightened use in Iran. As Facebook notes,

Since the Iranian election last week, people around the world have increasingly been sharing news and information on Facebook about the results and its aftermath. Much of the content created and shared has been in Persian—the native language of Iran—but people have had to navigate the site in English or other languages. Today we’re making the entire site available in a beta version of Persian, so Persian speakers inside of Iran and around the world can begin using it in their native language.

View Embassies Accepting Injured People in Tehran in a larger map

This Google Maps mashup shows a list of foreign embassies accepting injured people in Tehran, with information sourced from the Huffington Post. It’s certainly not innovative in the sense of using Google Maps to display information critical in a crisis. However, with well over 6,831 views in less than 24 hours, it means that those on the ground in Tehran and elsewhere in the world communicating this information back to friends, colleagues and loved ones back in Iran find this information critical.

This is another simple and powerful example of the self-organisation of protest groups and dissent made possible by mapping platforms on the web.

Two new sites for dissent

Came across two new sites for dissent and critical perspectives in Sri Lanka have cropped up recently.

fd

Forgotten Diaries was started in June ’08 and only has a handful of posts. However, the content in these posts is very thought provoking, though judging by the paucity of comments, it is unlikely that this blog is well known.

jd

Just Dissent is brand new. Begun in March 2009 it already has content in English and Sinhala which is largely linking to wire reports on the web. The latest post at the time of writing, I am a Traitor, challenges apathy and encourages pro-active participation to strengthen democracy.

The idiom in Just Dissent is more immediate and visceral, whereas the prose in Forgotten Diaries, which features content from In Mutiny, is more measured. Both however offer new sites for debate and discussion for those connected to the web and interested in civic identity, nationalism, democracy and conflict transformation.

That’s two more valuable spaces in a context where independent media and the freedom of expression are almost non-existant.

Online dissent and the future of extremism in Sri Lanka

“… Thus while the government is trying to position Singapore as a Media Hub for the fast-growing new media technology and development, home grown talent often face harsh official harassment. Singapore’s netizens are moving to redefine the terms of the island state’s political discourse – whether the government welcome them or not”.

Kalinga Seneviratne, Asia Media Report 2009

Kalinga’s sentiments are resonant in Sri Lanka as well, in this our official year of ICT and English. Over the course of 2009 alone, I have been informed of and visited over two dozen websites and web based social networking initiatives that highlight facets of the war and humanitarian concerns in Sri Lanka. They are all very well designed and most of them are compelling narratives that, at first, do not at all appear to be what they essentially are – partial narratives serving parochial ends. A select few are show signs of emerging as effective platforms for engaging the unlike-minded online. For example, a few readers may know Pissu Poona, an anonymous identity on Facebook – one of the world’s best known and most used online social networks – that has befriended nearly 200 individuals at the time of writing and regularly points to content on the web that critiques and analyses the Sri Lankan conflict. Pissu Poona is a site for some interesting debate and as a post which generated a lot of responses noted,

“just a reminder that this space is our space for debate and discussion. it is to challenge you (and me) to think about issues and perhaps question our own beliefs and prejudices. Let us not lose sight of the fact that our communities are polarized now more than ever and unless and until the dialogue is started again the mistrust and suspicion will continue to grow. Pissu Poona is an attempt to re-initiate the dialogue that war has cost us.”

On the other hand, as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Dayan Jayatilleke recently noted,

“Pro-Tiger Tamil students, mainly from Canadian campuses are walking from Toronto to Chicago in order to get on the Oprah Winfrey show. Now that’s a pretty neat gimmick. They have a well designed website. The Sinhala students who have the sophistication to pull something like this off are uninvolved in the struggle because they are alienated by the elements that tend to dominate equivalent networks, while those who are heavily involved in the “patriotic” struggle do not make the most Oprah-friendly material.”

Given that the peaceful negotiation of conflict and amplification of critical dissent on and through the web is an area of significant personal interest, I found Dayan’s encapsulation of the current growth spurt of web based pro-LTTE advocacy very interesting. Ironically however, for the pedestrian apparatchiks of the Rajapakse regime as much as the trade unionist fighting for her rights, the human rights defender, the traditional journalist and the Tamil nationalist vehemently opposed to the LTTE yet unequivocally committed to the equal treatment of all Tamil peoples – the web poses a real challenge.  Equally and for all of these types, the web is alien terrain. Its unfamiliarity breeds hubris, which in turn leads to the gross under estimation of the web’s potential for transforming polity and society, for better or worse.

Read the full article in my Sunday Leader column today.

Social and political change in the Arab world through new media

The European Journalism Centre (EJC) has a good write up of an event held recently in London that looked at the impact of new media, the web and Internet on polity and society in the Arab world. It notes that,

Keeping up or catching up, respectively, with world standards of communication infrastructure, the Arab and Muslim nations could not help but at the same time create opportunities for the distribution and exchange of news and opinion that did not exist before.

Some of the most interesting presentations on the impact of new media and (mobile) communications writ large I have witnessed are from the Arab world. Time and again I have been fascinated at how repressive regimes and hugely conservative (not to be necessarily confused or conflated with backward) cultures are grappling with the challenges posed by citizen producing, accessing and disseminating news and information through the web, mobiles and the Internet.

Over a year ago, I catalogued some of the most interesting blogs / bloggers in the Arab world based on a story by Gal Beckerman called the The New Arab Conversation. In the interim, many regimes have jailed or persecuted independent voices in the blogosphere that have dared to criticise them.

As the EJC notes the growth of new media in the Arab region,

…does not necessarily mean that the Arab nations are now on the fast track to European-style democratisation and open societies. Rather, they may be on the way to modernise their own traditions, however difficult and painful that might turn out to be in any given case.

Spoofing politicians on Facebook no more?

Mahinda on Facebook

A while ago Indi had this hilarious post on Mahinda and Mervyn on Facebook. Clearly satirical, the profiles and whoever who set them up were interrogating the behaviour of two prominent political figures in Sri Lanka. And it was very nicely done.

I can’t find the profiles anymore and perhaps just as well. If the Sri Lankan regime was to take a page off the Indian Government, then whoever who set up that profile may be in for a rude shock. As TechCrunch reports, 22-year-old IT professional Rahul Krishnakumar Vaid based in Haryana was arrested by the Indian Police because he had said he hated Sonia Gandhi in Orkut, Google’s social networking site. 

This isn’t the first time Google has capitulated to local laws. Last year, the International Federation of Journalists hit hard against Google for its censorship deal with the Thai government. 

The wider question is whether anything we say on social networking sites, ostensibly amongst friends and only for friends, is safe from prying eyes and government censorship / control. Earlier this year Facebook exposed private photos to unauthorised users and as The Register reports, in “June 2007, it was disclosed that Facebook was divulging users’ political views, religious background and other sensitive details to the world at large even when that information was supposed to be given only to a user’s designated friends. MySpace has made similar gaffes.”

Is it time we revisited all our profiles and see what’s really on them? 

UPDATED – 11:41PM

I had forgotten about the Mahinda Rajapakse blog. Again, good stuff but I wonder how long before someone, somewhere takes offense and decides to block WordPress in Sri Lanka.