Mohamed tells his story, relevant or not
The story might well be apocryphal.
It could be true as well. True or not it captures neatly the twists
and turns of politics as it does the hypocrisy that lies behind
the sayings and doings of politicians.
The year was
1956. The place was Moscow. The person, Nikita Khrushchev.
At the death of Joseph Stalin almost three years earlier, Khrushchev
had been appointed First Secretary of the Communist Party, a post
that Stalin had held for 30 years.
1956 at a secret session of the Russian Communist Party Congress,
Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin for his abuse of power and a
hundred other things setting in motion the process of de-Stalinisation.
was on his feet cataloguing Stalin's blunders and repressive acts,
a note was passed to him. He stopped and read the note which asked:
"What were you doing while Stalin was up to all this?"
The note was unsigned, a trait Sri Lankans might come to recognise
as almost a national characteristic.
looked round the hall. "Who sent this note, he asked in a tone
that was, needless to say, menacing. There was pin drop silence
or as the late Lalith Athulathmudali would say, a deafening silence.
waited for a couple of minutes more. Then he said in a more conciliatory
voice: "That was exactly what I was doing." I was reminded
of this story that used to do the rounds in the early 1960s whenever
journalists and Left politicians gathered at the late Senator Reggie
Perera's private eatery "Sandella" near the Colombo Town
Hall or at the Press Club where the Indian High Commission now sits
cheek by jowl with the Galle Face Hotel.
My mind went
back to those days on reading a news report in this newspaper on
how Minister M. H. Mohamed "lashed out at Saddam Hussein"
during the debate in parliament over the speech of Prime Minister
Ranil Wickremesinghe at the United Nations.
recall that there was quite a ho ha-or is it ha ho- because somewhere
in his speech the prime minister stated that there were "those
of us" who supported the US intervention of Iraq.
Ranil Wickremesinghe said that this was not what he intended to
say and admitted that the speech was badly drafted. During the debate
he claimed it was a matter of grammar, a newspaper reported without
spelling out clearly what precisely he said about grammar- that
is if he did expatiate on it.
The news reports
said that Minister Mohamed claimed he was one of those nominated
to mediate in and resolve the Iran-Iraq conflict. It was not clear
from the reports whether Minister Mohamed said who nominated him,
when and what efforts he made to end the war.
What we do
know is that the war went on for almost 10 years and ended when
both sides seemed to exhaust themselves and apparently not due to
any success in conflict resolution on the part of the minister and
the other unnamed mediators.
But Minister Mohamed had really driven his verbal knife into Saddam
Hussein virtually calling him a despot who did not spare any critics.
only due to Saddam Hussein's arrogance and indifference that we
could not arrive at an acceptable solution. I have listened during
my frequent visits to Iraq to the various problems imposed on the
people of Iraq. The people have told me about the atrocities perpetrated
by Saddam Hussein," The Sunday Times quoted him as saying.
I wish Mr Mohamed had said on whose behalf he made these frequent
visits to Iraq. It is fair to conclude, I suppose, that the complaints
of atrocities committed by or on behalf of Saddam came from Iraqi
people during those frequent visits.
Now, if Iraqis
could make such complaints to foreigners who apparently were trying
to end the war with Iran, then it seems to belie all those stories
of what happened to critics of the Saddam regime.
Still all this
is irrelevant. The debate in parliament was not about the political
and moral rectitude of Saddam, not on whether he was a paragon of
virtue or another tin-pot dictator like many a politician who acquires
a little power and then deludes himself that he is the king of all
was on whether Ranil Wickremesinghe's speech had created the impression
that Sri Lanka had thrown in its lot with the United States which
violated international law, misled the United Nations saying it
had evidence that pointed to Saddam continuing his production of
weapons of mass destruction and acted unilaterally in invading Iraq
in violation of the UN Charter.
Had Sri Lanka,
which to all intents and purposes seemed to be on the side of the
invaders, thus come to accept that the invasion was legitimate and
That was the crux of the issue before parliament. What Iraqis told
M. H. Mohamed, what he found out on his frequent trips there and
the mass graves discovered subsequently is at best immaterial and
at worst totally irrelevant to the debate before the House.
says that the Iran-Iraq conflict could not be resolved because of
Saddam's "arrogance and indifference". If Minister Mohamed
is still not aware of it, then perhaps it is still not too late
to edify him of the fact that it was his American friends who egged
Saddam on to attack Iran because by then Washington was seeing a
new "evil state" and a danger to its interests in the
Gulf and the Middle East.
As for his
attacks on the Kurds, he forgets that shortly after that a British
minister led a delegation to Baghdad and even extended military
credits to Saddam.
I remember many years ago when M. H. Mohamed was transport minister
in the J. R. Jayewardene government he made a misguided foray into
foreign affairs and attacked Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi
causing much chagrin among some of his colleagues.
remarks appear to be in the same vein- an inappropriate exercise
that would doubtless warm the hearts of the Washington wallahs.
Khrushchev remained silent all those years because he feared the
wrath of Stalin. Has M. H. Mohamed publicly recalled Saddam's inequities
before? Or is he only doing it now? If it is the latter, one wonders
whom he had to fear, like Khrushchev, all these years.