Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

Obfuscation and the Sow’s Ear of Bruce Fein

( Created date: 17-Dec-2008 )

Bruce Fein has it seems used his contacts on TamilNet to challenge me for a debate over what he terms his model genocide indictment. A couple of days ago this indictment had been announced on TamilNet in an interview with Mr Fein, which prompted a response from me that drew attention to Mr Fein’s moral confusion.

I have now been sent yet another article from TamilNet which suggests that Mr Fein’s confusion was deliberate. He declares that part of what he claims is ‘the casuistry taught to every first year law student’ is the principle ‘if the law and the facts are against you, confuse the issue.’

I’m afraid that I went to a very different type of school to Mr Fein’s, and was not taught such casuistry. However, if Mr Fein believes that, at any rate in the circles in which he moves, casuistry is obligatory for lawyers, then clearly any moral criticism of his latest effusions will be like water off a duck’s back.

However, I would have thought that, since Mr Fein was educated at Harvard, he would have been taught - assuming indeed that Harvard encouraged casuistry, which I would not want to accept without confirmation from less biased sources - that he was taught to be careful even in casuistry. Sadly that capacity now seems to elude him. He seems to think that my article was designed ‘to persuade the  reader to return a verdict of not guilty’, obviously not concerned with the fact that I have not yet seen the indictment and cannot therefore take issue with what purports to be its substance.

If Mr Fein were to send me a copy of the indictment, I would be delighted to debate its content with him, as well as the various points he makes in trying to substantiate his case. I am not sure why his ‘challenge’ is issued through TamilNet, but I will certainly respond positively to an invitation sent to the Peace Secretariat, the website of which he has evidently consulted. He can fax an invitation to the address given there, suggesting a venue of his choice, though if he prefers the United States I hope he or his backers will finance my travel. Otherwise perhaps an academic centre in Delhi would be appropriate, or the Maldives if he enjoys warmth. Certainly I would prefer not to travel West until spring (unless a place like the Carter Centre in Atlanta could be relied upon for reasonable weather), but he would doubtless prefer the debate to take place earlier.

Meanwhile I should perhaps point out a few other instances which suggest either that his little grey cells are in decline, or else that he has such contempt for his audience that he thinks they will not understand the extravagant nature of his casuistry. In his latest attack, entitled ‘Professorial Nonsense on Stilts’, he spends even more space than before on declaring that there is a culture of genocide that dates back to the Mahavamsa, the ancient chronicle of Sri Lankan history. He asserts that ‘the Mahavamsa pays homage to King Duttugemenu for massacring Tamils who are described as sub-human’, which is a strange statement since Dutugemunu is specifically described as ordering homage to the Tamil King he overcame, King Elara, who is described as a just king. Incidentally I should note that, when I was Chairman of the Academic Affairs Board of the National Institute of Education, the history syllabus was amended to specifically mention the need for all students to learn about Elara as one of the great kings of Anuradhapura.

Whilst it is likely that such assertions spring from ignorance and myopia, his sleight of hand regarding Madeleine Albright is more sinister. Having referred to the New York-based Genocide Prevention Project that included Sri Lanka as a ‘red alert’ country, he says that ‘the Obama administration was handed a policy report on genocide with specific recommendations from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. This is likely to bring Sri Lanka's genocide into U.S. focus.’ The implication, though there is not actual falsehood, is that the Albright report referred to Sri Lanka. This is not the case, but of course Fein believes his case will be strengthened by introducing Ms Albright’s name.

Finally, he claims that I have delivered ‘an indictment against the LTTE as a purported defense to the Rajapaksa-Fonseka genocides’ and that ‘The genocide prosecution sought against Sudanese President Omar Bashir has rejected such a defense theory to a charge of genocide’. This is obviously an attempt, like his misleading invocation of Ms Albright on his side, to use a name that might sound a ‘red alert’ to his chosen audience so as to denigrate his own chosen victims.

What he fails to mention is that what he considers my ‘indictment against the LTTE’ was that of Human Rights Watch. I cited them to show that his attempt to use them to denigrate the Sri Lankan government was singularly crass since, the day after the Fein 400+ page excursus, which he sought to shore up by invoking HRW in addition to Ms Albright, HRW delivered a forceful indictment of the LTTE. Mr Fein’s latest diatribe fails to register this fact. I will not suggest that this obfuscation is his attempt to defend the LTTE from the HRW indictment, because that would be stooping to his level. But his inability to escape from the culture of obfuscation that has now taken him over is a sad reminder of how even Harvard training cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.
Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretary General
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process


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