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Global Public Square

By International Crisis Group

The International Crisis Group’s Robert Blecher, director of ICG’s Israel/Palestine Project, discusses the latest outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza, and what it means for the region. The views expressed are Blecher’s own, and are based on a video interview conducted today.

Why is the violence we’re seeing today so much worse than in recent years?

The violence today between Israel and Gaza is the worst that there’s been since Operation Cast Lead four years ago. Israel right now is in an election season and the government is running on a platform of security and stability. It makes them look completely impotent if they can’t stop hundreds of rockets from raining down on their citizenry. The citizenry has a real demand for safety and security.

Also, from the perspective of the Israeli government, they want to change the rules of the game. They want to…

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Angelo Mathews Sri Lanka’s Only Choice

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Angelo Mathews Sri Lanka’s Only Choice

Sri Lanka’s appointment of Angelo Mathews as their new T20 captain has confirmed that the time for the changing of the guard is upon us. A new generation of Sri Lankan cricketers has emerged and they will slowly take the reins in all formats of the game starting with the T20. The question is can this new generation of cricketers hope to match the quality of their predecessors? Well no matter what the pundits say or whatever anyones predictions are, the truth is only time will tell. Angelo Mathews has become the poster boy for this new generation and in him we see both the strengths and weaknesses of this new team.

Angelo Mathews has undeniable talent

The honest truth is Mathews was the only choice for captaincy given the resources the team have at their disposal, yet it might have very well been the case that in a stronger Sri Lankan team such as the 2007 one, he might not have even made the team sheet. This is not because of the lack of his talent, there is no doubting his first class record or his technique, what is in doubt is his consistency. He really could be the best player in the world as evidenced by his immense temperament and superhuman will to win when he rescued Sri Lanka from an impossible situation versus Australia in Melbourne back in 2010. However, at the same time when called upon to give even a modest showing to win the T20 World Cup versus the West Indies he faltered in a far less than superhuman manner. In these two performances we see the two sides of this immensely talented but highly fragile player.

Angelo Mathews is a new breed of Sri Lankan cricketer, one who did not grow up ever thinking that his side were minnows. In fact he would only have been nine years old when Sri Lanka won the 1996 World Cup and began their ascent to being one of the best teams in the game. It is this fact more than any other that both strengthens and weakens Mathews cricketing pedigree. Having grown up with a highly regarded team of world beaters as his idols he probably feels no inferiority complex when playing the game against the other big guns. This is shown by his extensive range of flamboyant shots and his willingness to take on bowlers with towering reputations. Much like Jayawardene and Sangakkara, he plays with a little bit of a swagger and a great deal of self-confidence.

However, he wasn’t there for, and did not play with any of Sri Lanka’s pioneers of the game. The 1996 team might not have had the supreme talents or flamboyance of the current team, but they did have a great deal more mental strength. Players like De Silva and Ranatunga had long been treated as inferiors by the rest of the cricketing world and so it took a lot from them to finally break this way of thinking and make Sri Lanka into a team of world beaters. The immediate beneficiaries of this were the next generation, players like Jayawardene learned his trade in a team filled with these personalities making him an all round cricketer one with both immense talent but a great deal of mental strength. Yet, the current crop, including Mathews did not have this opportunity and in some cases have been found wanting when the going has gotten tough. Sri Lankan culture makes it difficult to promote this steel needed to win the important games. Unlike Australia and South Africa who put their youth through a Spartan method of playing sports,  Sri Lankans are a far more gentle people.

Mathews will have the safety net of the big three to fall back on for the next two years at least but he has to start planning for a team without them. So the time for turning his talent into application has arrived, the idea that he is a still in development and is too young for this kind of pressure can no longer be used. He has had three years at the highest level of the game and is now a recognised member of the squad.

He will not be solely responsible for the teams fortunes on the field because no matter how important the captain is, cricket is a team game. The team he inherits is full of holes, winning a test match may be very unlikely because he doesn’t posses the bowlers to bowl a team out twice and his younger batsman have still to prove themselves in the longer format of the game, Mathews himself only has one century from forty-one test innings. In the shorter formats of the game he has a little to smile about in the undeniable talents of Thisara Perera and Dinesh Chandimal and he would hope that the eventual retirement of the big three would give them the opportunity to shine.

The Changing of the Guard

The Sri Lankan team is now in a stage of change and rebuilding. As a new team and leader start to walk in the shoes of their illustrious predecessors it will take them some time to get the balance right. In this time it won’t be unusual for them to lose some games and maybe have a slight to moderate bad patch. What matters is how they come up from that, whether they fix their problems in a way that leads to a long-term period of success or if they plaster over them hoping for short-term fixes while sacrificing their long-term ambitions. One thing is for sure, whether we like it or not Mathews is our only choice in getting the team to where we want it to be.

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope… (Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy)

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It has always been a dream of mine to go to the courtroom with my aunt and see the inner workings of the legal system. It’s hard though because once everyone knows that I am the judges nephew they start to treat me differently. The police have two rules one for me and the other for everyone else, they yell at the locals asking them to move or stop talking, yet for me they all want me to take their seat next to my aunt and ask me if they can get me something to drink, I find it intolerable that such double standards exist.

Photos aren’t allowed so the courtroom can be described as such, at the back is a cage in which about eight prisoners are in holding, in full view of the general public in the center of the room is a large rectangular desk inhabited by lawyers both prosecution and defense, while my aunt is on the other side of the room in a an elaborately high and mighty desk. Two lawyers from either side read an oath from the constitution and my aunt wishes them good luck then the games begin.

One by one individuals are brought forward, their crimes noted some are bailed and their trial date set others are handed short sentences, of all the crimes the most significant seemed to be a man accused of stabbing another. One incident occurs when a lawyer claims the police have breached his clients rights, my aunt calls her aid to bring her a book outlining the law and finds it is true, she begins to confront the police asking them why we have a book of rules if they don’t use it, she then looks at me as if to say, look what I have to put up with.

Then something happens that shocks me they call a young girl who has escaped from a child correctional facility, she is dressed in a denim skirt and red top with bare feet, she is so shy she won’t look up at all. She says she just wants to see her parents that’s all, it’s clear something is wrong with her so she calls the girl into chambers. Her story is tragic, she is sixteen years old and was raped by her grandfather about two years ago, somehow one of the other judges had sentenced her to the correctional facility with no cause and she had spent two years in correction, she spoke of rampant abuse in the facility including beatings. I asked for confirmation of this from an officer and he claimed that such treatment was common.

My aunt eventually released her and ordered she be returned to her home. Later we spoke and she told me how many of these things just keep happening. It’s the poor in this country that are taken advantage of, the police harass them and they pay lawyers to protect them who also end up harassing them and misrepresenting them eventually landing them in jail.

The girl has large psychological trauma as well as not being allowed access to education, she has done nothing wrong and doesn’t deserve any of the things that have happened to her, she is the victim of indifference, inaction and no one cares for her, so I will. I don’t know how much I can help her but what I can do I will. I need to find out what she needs most urgently and how I can get it to her also I need a long term plan for her well being and to make sure she isn’t taken advantage of and whatever I provide her isn’t stolen by others. This is a difficult task I need to speak to those who know more about this than I do, and I need to enlist the help of my most powerful weapon, my friends. I know I can do this my father has done it before and saved a thirteen year old girl in much the same circumstances.

It’s only a tiny ripple when one thinks of the bigger scenario at play which is a social problem caused by failing institutions and a lack of moral courage on the part of all of us. But it is the kind of ripple that RFK would have liked to see us all make.

If the fairest features of the landscape are to be named after men, let them be the noblest and worthiest men alone. (Henry David Thoreau)

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Depending on how well you know me you may or may not know that I have an extremely long name, it goes something like this, Kuruppuge Keith Uthpala Jayakith Swarnadhipathi.  It would be good to have such a long name if I had any idea why I was given them or what on earth each of them means. So today I was very jealous to meet a man whose name was just as long as mine but had all the details to understand his name.

His name Mr. Hirohito Lenin Edward Lindbergh Jayasinghe. Ignoring the last and seemingly out of place surname which is purely Sri Lankan each of these names is in reference to a major figure during early part of the 20th century.  I spoke to him at length about each of them.

Apparently his father was very intrigued by current events and so named his son after the Japanese emperor Hirohito who was at his pomp during the time and busy invading Manchuria. Next comes Vladimir Lenin the brains behind Russian communism, this would be a very dangerous name to have during the cold war era and boy did he probably try hard to hide his father’s Marxist leanings. Next comes his highness King Edward the 8th of Britain whose reign lasted less than a year as a result of his compulsive womanising and he was succeeded by his brother George the 5th, who some of you may have seen being played by Collin Firth in the Kings Speech. The last you may think has to do with the great Aviator Charles Lindbergh, but it is in fact Charles Lindbergh junior who died tragically while being kidnapped as an infant, the name acts as a sign of respect for what to this day is seen as a great catastrophe.

The love of current affairs has lasted through the generations of his family. His son is a journalis with he French press (AFP) and has been bestowed with the honour of Chevalier in the Legion of Honour, which is the equivalent of knighthood.

During my time with Mr. Jayasinghe and his wife I found their company very stimulating they were indeed very knowledgable people, yet they didn’t let it go to their head. A testament to their charm and witty nature is the sign above their front door which read, “Come in, sit down, relax, our house doesn’t always look like this sometimes it’s even worse.”

Each murder is one too many (Jurgen Habermas)

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I’ve fallen into and interesting predicament regarding my volunteer application, I was hoping to spend time my here volunteering at a particular NGO however they didn’t know that I was a Sri Lankan citizen. So when I told them I was they had a few concerns as to my safety given a previous kidnapping that had taken place. To that end they informed a district magistrate of my situation and he sent me an official letter, it read that the Sri Lankan government is not responsible for my safety in the event of any unforeseen circumstances given that I was not a foreign citizen. This did not go down well with me so I decided to pay the magistrate a visit.

I arrived while he was in the middle of a trial so I patiently took a seat and waited. My Sinhala is not very good but I did get the jist of what had happened. It seems a boy and a girl in their early twenties were in love and the boy had been climbing over the girls fence to see  her on some nights. This was unacceptable to the father and so he electrified the fence, so one night the boy trying to climb over it was killed by the electric shock. The father along with the daughter disposed of the body and both are in remand for murder although the girl will face a lesser sentence because she was just an accomplice.

looked over at the girl, she was more than beautiful she was gorgeous I would find it unnatural if a boy didn’t climb her wall, honestly I know if I had the chance I would too. Yet how the father reacted completely confuses me how could he think he could get away with something like this, there was no warning on the fence for electricity, he knew the boy would show up, the whole things totally premeditated. Why couldn’t he warn the fellow or maybe just call the police. A young man who had his whole life ahead of hims is dead and not only that his own daughter is facing a prison sentence as well, how could he live with himself I wonder. I managed to find a picture of the incident, there was nothing more graphic to be found.

My discussion with the judge  bordered on political and in the interest of all those concerned I have decided not to mention any of the details.

Are they both mad or am I going Mad? Or is it the sun? (Maj. Clipton, Bridge on the river Kwai 1957)

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For those of you who don’t know the quote above is from one of my all time favorite movies  which just so happened to be filmed in Sri Lanka, I’m really looking forward to seeing where they filmed it, the trailer is below for your viewing enjoyment and as you will soon see the quote is how I constantly feel when I get mixed up with my extended family.

I paid a visit to my ancestral village today, this is a place filled with such extended family that if I asked someone to define the distance between some of the relationships it might go something like this, “This your father’s, uncles, nieces, brothers neighbors best friends mother.” As i mentioned before our yearly family gathering reaches up to 500 individuals and there are much more that don’t attend, in fact sometimes you’ll find a former prisoner jailed for making illegal alcohol the policeman who arrested him and the judge who sentenced him all in the same room so you can imagine the amount of controversy that goes on.

Take today for instance we were just going to meet someone about renewing my brothers passport the fellows name was Anura and is my dad’s second cousin. well we discovered we needed photo’s so he gave my dad the phone number of Neil my dad’s first cousin who is a photographer by trade, he didn’t know it was my dad calling so my dad pretended to be some random guy claiming to have got his number from Anura and that he was told Neil could fix him up with a prostitute! Insert title quote here.

Eventually Neil hung up probably because my dad had turned the conversation towards homosexuality by asking him if he’d sleep with him. So he wouldn’t pick up the phone anymore so we had to go to Neil’s house to get the photo’s on the way we decided to drop by Another cousin’s place his name is Roy, Roy was with us in Botswana and I’m really fond of him he’s always good for  laugh, he’s been married three times has had uncountable affairs had a stroke that has left him half paralyzed yet he still manages to get some action on the regular, in short he’s a real trooper!

As soon as we show up it seems he and Neil have been in a conflict recently, apparently Roy had stolen Neil’s mistress which has led to them feuding, the woman however took all Roy’s money and left. Neil immediately wrote a letter to the village priest asking  him to do something, claiming Roy was a bad influence and a lazy drunk citing various instances of his evil. The priest came to Roy’s brother Namal’s house and apparently told him to throw the bugger into the ocean, Well he got angry at hearing that and kicked the priest out and now everyone has chosen sides on the issue.

This is just once instance of the madness that spreads like a virus in my extended family. Their all a bunch of womanizing and fun loving bums but in few weeks they all settle their difference saying we’re family, god made us family lets not fight anymore. That’s why its always so hard to now who’s fighting with who about what at any given time.

Eventually we arrived at Neil’s and he didn’t saying anything about the phone call but when we told him we were going to see Anura, he said, “don’t be so close to that guy he’s a shady bugger.” We both got into the car and burst out laughing, we probably set something sinister in motion but what the hell we won’t be around when it blows up.

It is indeed a desirable thing to be well-descended, but the glory belongs to our ancestors. (Plutarch)

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Tried to go back in time today to learn about the people who made me the person I am today. Although my family history can be traced back by almost 200 years to my great great great grandfather and I have yearly family reunion for all those descendants attended by close to 500 individuals, I see the greatest influence on my life stemming from my great grandfather a man by the name of Edward . He was an aristocrat who’s brother was the first speaker of the Sri Lankan parliament. Under colonial rule our family prospered immensely and it was from him that the large portion of our wealth descended. However it was his kindness that really affected my life he adopted my grandmother and raised her as his own, and passed all his wealth and love through to her and this was seen in a bad light by the rest of his family who saw her as an outsider but he didn’t care and because of his kindness I am able to stand here as I am today. A quick visit to his grave was my way of thanking him for what he had done for me and continues to do for me.

His kindness has left its lasting mark on society in so many ways, firstly it has instilled a sense of responsibility in my family we understand all too well our status in society as privileged family and that we are a very wealthy and proud lineage especially in Sri Lankan terms. However we see ourselves as having the responsibility of using this  wealth to help our fellow man, just this month my father sent close to $3000.00 to a woman he had never met for an ear surgery, and this in not a one off occurrence. It’s a way of life for us and yes some people do take advantage of us, but those we help are eternally grateful and their children have come to see us when they’ve grown up to thank us as well. I remember once as a child asking my father why he kept giving lifts to strangers when he was driving, and he said it was because he had a car and that made him responsible to fill as many seats in it as he could or he wouldn’t be worthy of having it. A physical legacy left by my great grandfather is the maternity home he donated to the local people in the 1920’s before this building people had to travel almost 30 min  to the nearest hospital. It’s no longer in use now but the inhabitants refuse to tear it down as a sign of respect.We then set out to meet someone who my father described as very special to him, it was his childhood nursemaid named Matilda. When I met her it was love at first sight, she was so emotional at the sight of my father her eyes filled with tears as she embraced him and she glanced at me and said I looked just like him and smiled. I began talking to her and she gave me so many revelations about her and my father. My father was the third born in the family of five and according to her was my grandfathers favourite child. She was a former nun who had to take of her robes in order to take care of her family, while a nun she was member of the sisters of providence a french order, and so spoke fluent French, English and Sinhala and she had even visited France. My grandfather who was a high court judge at the time realized that well brought up children should be worldly hired her as a french teacher and live in nanny. She said my father had little time for french lessons and was the naughtiest one of the lot, he was more interested in, “playing the fool.”

As I looked at her I could tell then in her heyday she would have been quite an attractive woman so I asked to see pictures of her. As more often than not, I was right and she blushed when I said she looked beautiful. I asked to take picture with her at first she was shy but relented. As I held her it was like holding someone I had known my whole life. She looked at me so keenly and said, “you really are a Swarnadhipathi, thin like a stick but will one day be just as great as those who share your name.” This took me by surprise because for a long time I was thinking of changing my name saying it’s outdated and not fit for Canada, but me and my brother are now the last of our lineage if we do as we planned there will be no more Swarnadhipathis. A friend back in Canada did go on about what a nice name it was too it means something like “lord of gold” and she said it had the impact of sounding very regal, I laughed at her then but now in this place I see what she meant.

I kissed Matilda’s forehead as I left and she grabbed onto my hand and wouldn’t let go as I walked with her to the car. As I said my last goodbyes she told me, “I can’t do much for you my son, but I will pray for you every night.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was an atheist so all I said was that, “it was more than I deserved.”