Skip to content

John Pilger becomes an overnight expert on the Sri Lankan Civil War. How Predictable.

November 7, 2009

John Pilger becomes an overnight expert on the Sri Lankan Civil War. How Predictable.


For John Pilger one way to be cool, and supposedly relevant, is to pontificate about the Sri Lankan Civil War. In his article “Distant voices, desperate lives.” Dated 14 May 2009

, he makes an attempt to write something about the situation. For Pilger the whole Civil War can be summed as Tamils Good, Government Bad.


Unfortunately Pilger does not seem to know much about Sri Lanka and has instead produced his own fictional version that happens to match his own ideological mantra: Minorities are always oppressed people, Democratically Elected Governments Bad. By drawing irrelevant comparisons with the Gaza Strip he is hoping to portray the conflict as being of the same nature?

“…The Sri Lankan government has learned an old lesson from, I suspect, a modern master: Israel…” He writes and yet has not one shred of evidence to back this claim up. Then later adds, “…you encourage the gullible to disseminate only your version and its lies. Gaza is the model…”

I guess if you are a Pilger groupie you would know what the Gaza model is. The rest of us can only assume or scour his old articles to find out. Hmmmm? Pass.


There were too many errors to list but I found the following statement particularly disturbing in its blindness,

“…From the same masterclass you learn to manipulate the definition of terrorism as a universal menace…”

What Pilger does not wish to acknowledge is that the LTTE were by every definition a terrorist organization. He seems to lack any knowledge of the huge numbers of people that the LTTE have killed. Nor does he appear to know that the LTTE killed more Tamils than anyone else. Interesting.


He writes: “…The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have spilt their share of blood and perpetrated their own atrocities…”

This is true, but does he care to mention any?

However we are later given this justification:

“…But they are the product, not the cause, of an injustice and a war that long predate them…”

In other words they are not terrorists but maltreated people defending themselves. Let me mention just a few atrocities of the LTTE: The massacre of 40 Buddhist monks at the Temple of the Sacred Bodhi Tree 1984; the execution over 100 people in the same day the bus stand in Anuradhapura; The invention of the suicide vest; the recruitment of children as soldiers. These were not acts of self defense but premeditated crimes against humanity.


The biggest frustration with Pilger’s writing style is his vagueness and unwillingness to stipulate any clear point. It is all ‘just like the Gaza’ where the Sri Lankan Government pestered the Tamils with ‘cluster bombs and chemical weapons’ until they had to retaliate. Thirty years of history compressed into two paragraphs by Pilger would make the uninitiated think that the LTTE and the Tamils were one and the same. They would also suffer from the impression that same issues, conditions and governments that existed 30 years ago still exist today. This is an extremely insular and narrow minded way of looking at the conflict. It is also dead wrong.


Pilger highlights the language issue at the start of the conflict but he makes no mention that the issue has now been resolved. He also fails to mention that at the time he wrote his editorial 60% of Tamils lived outside of the LTTE controlled area and were part of the Sri Lankan multicultural society. He does not make mention that all government documents are now in English, Sinhalese and Tamil. He also seems to be unaware that the LTTE ethnically cleansed the Muslim population from the North of Sri Lanka giving them just 48 hours to leave or be killed. However the cartoon version of history was just fine for Pilger.


Another point that I found to be warped by Pilgers world view was the plight of those who are staying in the government controlled camps. He is quick to insinuate that they are like the ‘Boar Women and Children of a century ago’ but at no stage has he referred to any source to give substance to this. Perhaps if he had spoken to someone who has visited the camps (as I have) he would know better than to make such inflammatory claims. Speaking without knowing a thing? Not him? Never?


Pilger also delivers gems like this:

“In 2003, the Tigers proposed a devolved Interim Self-Governing Authority that included real possibilities for negotiation.”

This statement is both historically incorrect and gross misrepresentation of the LTTE’s behavior at that time. The Cease Fire Agreement was restarted by Norway after the Tsunami had killed over 30,000 Sri Lankan in one day and left both sides suffering from a great set back. Neither side was in a position to wage war against the other. That quickly changed when the LTTE diverted aid money directly to their own war chests. Also omitted from the Pilger narrative was the admission that in the last Sri Lankan national elections it was the LTTE who refused to allow Tamils in its territory to vote. The LTTE threatened to shoot anyone who did vote. It was also the LTTE who refused to attend peace negotiations in Norway. This was the deliberate policy as ordained by Prabhakaran himself. A federal state was rejected by Prabhakaran himself in his pursuit of complete nationalist separatism based upon ethnic lines. Eelam was to be an ethnically pure state with Prabhakaran as its totalitarian ruler.


This statement would be laughable if Pilger was not so serious:

“Delhi now appears to be allowing the Sinhalese supremacists in Colombo to “stabilise” its troubled neighbour.”

Since when does Sri Lanka answer to Delhi? Is Pilger even aware that it is a separate sovereign nation to India and has been so for thousands of years?

Yet he adds more:

“In a responsible regional role, India could stop the killing and begin to broker a solution.”

How, prey tell, would India do that? That just seems to be one of many details that Pilger never provides. India did send well over 100,000 soldiers to Sri Lanka in the late 1980’s as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). They left behind them a trail of military disasters, tortures, rapes and summary executions. Many were shooting up on heroine before going into battle with the LTTE. As a result 1100 were killed before they packed up and left. The operation was one of the greatest military failures in India’s history. Pilger must know a different Indian Army than the one that came to offer its ‘responsible role’ in the late eighties. Rajiv Gandhi’s thanks for reversing the decision to send the IPKF was to be assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber.


I find it unbelievable than anyone would see John Pilger as the moral voice of any downtrodden people, especially those in Sri Lanka. He neither knows his subject, nor the modern history of Sri Lanka. I will be stuffed if I can work out how he ever became so famous.



John Pilger’s reference to Mu’l’li-vaaykkaal was lifted directly from the spelling used on the LTTE websites. It is also the only source for the story about an alleged massacre that took place there. I wonder what source he used as the basis if his research?

The article is also syndicated on The Green Left Weekly website. Surprise, surprise.

It is also being featured on the LTTE website. That was less of a surprise.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: