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‘Political issues should be resolved through discussion’



Sayed M.M. Bazeer

In Sri Lanka, there is nothing scarier than being a Tamil person of influence - whether you are a teacher, a school principal, a doctor, a journalist, a politician, or a successful businessman. Ordinary Tamils have learned to keep their heads down, do exactly what their neighbours do, and not make waves. These lessons travelled with them to Toronto and London and Paris - where the LTTE and its supporters continued to take over and monopolize social structures, from refugee relief in the 1980s to newspapers, shops and temples. A few threats, a few smear campaigns, a murder or two, and the lesson is reinforced.

A 2006 report, ‘Funding the Final War’ of the Human Rights watch which tabled numerous threats the LTTE issued to outspoken Tamils began with the above quote. Our protagonist, however, is not a Tamil but a Muslim who loves his motherland.

A leading social figure in the UK, Sayed M.M. Bazeer, the President of the Sri Lankan Muslim Information Centre, London had to live in fear during the height of LTTE war. The fact he was thousands of miles away from the LTTE strongholds in the North of Sri Lanka was hardly reassuring. The threats against him were so fresh that he thought they originated on his doorstep.

His outspokenness against the LTTE and boldness to put these ideas to pen as a writer of both English and Tamil media and deliver highly critical speeches at various forums earned him the wrath of the terror outfit. The fear was so intense, at one time, a police patrol was deployed to cover his house and Scotland Yard took over investigations into his complaints.

The HRW report which classified LTTE threats on Lankans referred to one of his cases as follows, In December 2005, Seyed Bazeer, a U.K.-based lawyer, was accused by an LTTE-associated website of being linked to Al-Qaeda after he had spoken publicly against LTTE killings of Muslims in Eastern Sri Lanka. The website, Nitharsanam, claimed that Bazeer, a Tamil-speaking Muslim, was the U.K. representative of the Sri Lankan arm of Al-Qaeda, and was “known to incite violence by spreading Osama Bin Laden’s Jihad theology and ideology.” The site published a photo of Bazeer and urged U.K. government action to “curb the activities of such individuals.”

The Sunday Observer met Bazeer in Colombo while on a trip to Sri Lanka. Although his life stood still during the height of LTTE terror, his courage, boldness and outspokenness have not diminished. The excerpts from the interview:

In early 88 I began my practise in Colombo because I could not practise in Batticaloa, my hometown, due to LTTE problems.

I graduated from the University of Peradeniya and subsequently moved to Colombo where I finished my professional studies at the Sri Lanka Law College to become an Attorney-at-Law. In early ‘88 I started my practice. It was a bad period in the country, the LTTE had its share of violence in the North and the East and JVP instigated riots dominated the scene in the South. In 1992 I moved to the UK.

I started a general practise there. Then I had couple of people working for me. We did immigration counselling as well. I was mostly concentrating on civil litigation cases, property matters. This is still my line of focus.

From the people I have come across, most of the refugees from Sri Lanka have left the country due to financial reasons. They did not have other problems but they concoct stories so that they will not be extradited from UK.

Like what happened here, with the end of the war, the LTTE has changed appearance to look more democratic. They want to show that their dealings have transformed from military purposes to democratic and peaceful means of winning the ‘genuine grievances of Tamils’.

Their military voice has lost its spark but the same ideologies still persist. They don’t want to let it die down. The LTTE remnants are marking their time for the next available opportunity.

The LTTE continues to be a proscribed organisation in UK. Those days the LTTE used force on the Tamil diaspora sections in the UK to extort money. They were compelled and sometimes threatened to contribute but now this practise seems to have vanished. It has assumed a different guise. It is the humanitarian cloak that they wear now. This is an easy way of propagating separatism and disseminating hatred among the Tamil community and selling their stories of Tamil persecution in Sri Lanka.

Diaspora

The unlawful methods used in the past to bleed money from diaspora sections cannot be used now. But organisations like the Global Tamil Forum which advocates a transnational government has taken centre stage and it is not simple to counter their propaganda.

A famous Tamil dramatist who had performed at places such as Elphinstone Theatre, is a vocal advocate of the LTTE now. He is the one persuading the younger community in the UK now, making use of a Tamil radio station dedicated to the cause of the LTTE. He is also behind the Oxford demonstration at the time President Rajapaksa was invited to address the Oxford Union. That was a premeditated and a highly organised protest. The British media reported it as a spontaneous protest by Tamil youth but I came on BBC and countered that this was not a spontaneous outburst of anger but a premeditated and highly organised conspiracy and that the LTTE players were behind it.

I felt sorry for what happened. It could have been avoided if the LTTE’s under currants were identified and defeated at the right time. By blocking that speech they disgraced their own Motherland, not the President or anyone else.

Presently there is a major media campaign against Sri Lanka and the Government. A vigorous mechanism in the Sri Lankan mission in UK is needed to counter this propaganda of the LTTE. This is very vital if their international network is to be dismantled. The Tamil media stations led by extreme elements of Sri Lankan Tamils have to be closely monitored and countered immediately before they succeed in brainwashing the moderate diaspora community.

With the end of the war most of the Tamil diaspora members wanted to help their people in the North and the East rebuild their lives, but the situation is fast shifting from this goodwill mentality to ‘taking revenge’ thanks to the work of the LTTE remnants.

In Canada when the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum was formed somewhere in 2000, I was invited to speak. There I presented the case of the Sri Lankan Muslims.

Then I fell out with them, it was originally formed against the LTTE. It was a Tamil organisation, there were few Sinhalese such as Kanishka Gunawardena and Arjuna Parakrama.

A lot of people were reluctant to join the organisation as they were scared of the LTTE. It was a time the LTTE was fairly strong. The inaugural meeting was held in Canada. I slowly moved out, because when the LTTE was completely destroyed they started to find fault with the Government and shifted their criticism towards the State.

The target changed. But the same vigorous propaganda was used. I felt uneasy to be there. I felt the issues we have with the Government should be resolved through discussion. They are internal matters and they should not be leaked out. We don’t want to feed the international media or groups with vested interests to go against the country.

Burgher

I was invited as a speaker to the Burgher Foundation, Germany, in 2006. I participated in several of their meetings. I did not realise they had a hidden agenda. The (vociferous pro-LTTE figure) father Emmanuel also participated in the meetings. Also K.P. Reggie, the TRO head and several other LTTE representatives who took part in peace talks on behalf of LTTE attended the meetings. They all had some clandestine meetings.

When I spoke on behalf of the Muslim people they accused me of trying to divide the communities. They wanted us to toe the LTTE line as Tamil speaking people of Sri Lanka. They were trying to get our help to get what they aspired - a separate homeland.

Many people who left Sri Lanka over numerous reasons have formed NGOs overseas. This is a very lucrative business and the best way to earn money is to betray your country and portray a distorted picture of human rights abuses. Then the money will keep gushing in.

Tamilnet, Lankasri are few of the websites I can quote as disseminating LTTE ideologies. Eelanadu (Eelam Nation) is a newspaper printed in France, most of the papers are issued freely. In every temple these papers propagating LTTE ideologies in a very subtle manner are distributed freely. There are two TV stations in the UK which openly support the LTTE.

Even though Prabhakaran is no more, his separatist ideology is being carried forward. That’s how I look at it. They still repeat ‘we want autonomy, we are a separate entity, we want our own rule’.

These kinds of feelings are still there. These newspapers harbour such feelings. They project the terrorists killed in fighting as heroes and assure the fight for Eelam is hardly finished. They even promote the culture of sacrifice, suicide in the name of Eelam. These are dangerous prospects.

These are not free papers. There is a large population of Tamils who do not belong in the educated category. They migrated during the height of war. These people rely on these media for information.

In UK freedom of expression is regarded highly. The Government cannot do much against these things. But promoting terrorism is a crime in UK.

Monitoring the media is critical. I once complained to Oftel (Office of Telecommunications the regulator for UK telecommunications industry) that some of the Tamil media houses promote terrorism and terrorist leaders. They replied to my complaint.

Motherland

Even the Sri Lankan Government has to do a lot. We are not working for them but we love our Motherland and we are patriots. I have been countering LTTE propaganda on my own with a lot of risk to my life and my family. We don’t belong to any political party.

This is a domestic issue and we don’t want any outsider to interfere. We want to settle this issue among us. We don’t want NGOs or humanitarian organisations telling us what to do. The LTTE fronts always meet British parliamentarians and try to drag them into pressurizing the Government to give into their demands.

Recently I met Lord Brown. He sent for me. I briefed him on what is actually taking place in Sri Lanka.

The Tamil people are not afraid of the LTTE. They say the LTTE is now defeated. What is the solution now ? They are expecting some solution to address the existing problems. The defeated mindset is there now.

This is the area the Government should work on. Prabhakaran created such a myth that they were invincible. They even challenged the US and India.

The LTTE said we chased off IPKF, we are such a valiant force. The people who believed that rhetoric, now question them. Where are your boys, the valiant force, now. This type of criticism is also there. But the bottom line is they now wonder what is going to happen.

When I was interviewed by DAN TV about ten days back, I asked them, you talk about a solution, what exactly is your problem. First of all you must identify the specific problem that you have. Without that you cannot talk about a solution, as if we are in 1956. Talk about standardisation is out of the agenda now. Of course the language issue has to be looked at. I don’t think there is anything else. In the past we had a few hours of allocation for Tamil medium programs on TV. Now we have half a dozen Tamil TV stations, radio stations and print media.

We can go anywhere and work anywhere in the country. How can you say the Sinhalese are persecuting you or discriminating you. New laws have been introduced for national reconciliation. I ask them to identify what the problem.

Rather than threatening everyone, you have to identify the issues and then we can talk about the solution. If not there can never be a lasting solution.

Muslims in the East took up arms not because they had a problem with the Sinhalese, that was because they had to protect their villages from the LTTE. Our people never claimed to have problems.

Package

We don’t have problems living among the Sinhalese. If you speak to an ordinary Muslim living in the South, they will never talk about problems from the majority community. The SLMC talked about issues just to take political mileage. That was a political agenda. They are also quiet now.

In the past it has been the Tamils who pulled out whenever there were negotiations for a solution. President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s solution was a better offer at the time. Who pulled out? It was the Tamils. Now there is talk about the need to merge the North and the East. The package offered by her was the best opportunity to do that. Why did not they seize the opportunity, then ? This is the nature of Tamil politicians.

To sustain their position, they keep criticising the government and alter their demands from time to time to scuttle the process. Otherwise they will be out of business. They want to sustain their political position.

Within the TNA there is a leadership struggle now. There is Mavei and Suresh Premachandran, who will be the next leader. It seems to be that Sampanthan is in the last leg of his tenure. They are vying for the top post in the party.

MP Sumanthiran is a different person, he was born and studied in Colombo. He is a Royalist. This background impacts on how he looks at the Tamil issue. If he becomes the leader, then solving the problems will not be difficult. I don’t think Sampanthan will ever change.

Bazeer was a guest speaker at the Oxford Student Union in 2010 and was also invited to speak at the Oxford Union again in 2011 on the occasion where the President was invited to speak but never materialised due to alleged LTTE instigated protests. He was a founding member of the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum, which was inaugurated in Canada in 2002.

He was one of the members of the first Tamil speaking Diaspora delegation that visited Sri Lanka on the invitation of the Sri Lankan government in February 2008.

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