Tiger Cannot Change its Stripes
By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando
A bird may fly up and up in the sky, with a free feeling and unaffected, but there comes a time, during his journey, when it decides to go in search of a branch to perch on! Likewise, could it be interpreted to say that Rev. Father S. J. Emmanuel, the leader of the UK based Tamil Forum, has finally decided to re-visit Sri Lanka ‘on a low profile’, after engaging in a vicious propaganda campaign against Sri Lanka by defending the terrorist activities of the LTTE by calling it a liberation struggle committed to usher in the state of Eelam?
He has done so much of damage to the country prior to the elimination of the LTTE by the Sri Lankan Security forces on 18 May 2009. A Sunday English newspaper carried his picture with the US Ambassador Atul Keshap, with a news report referring to his visit as “ low profile”. Apparently, he is planning a ‘long stay in Sri Lanka’ to keep in touch with authorities over new Sri Lankan Constitutional reforms, the news item added.
It is rather interesting to note that his ‘low profile’ visit has coincided with the Sri Lankan Constitutional Assembly Steering Committee’s Interim Report on Constitutional Amendments. There is an English proverb which says, the ‘tiger cannot change its stripes’, which means one cannot change one’s essential nature! His meetings with leaders of Tamil political parties in Colombo immediately upon arrival, and travelling up to Jaffna and attending an event at the Jaffna University along with a meeting with the US Ambassador, Atul Keshap, will cement this fact. There was no mention anywhere up to the time of compiling this article that he has met with any Government officials! The icing on the cake, in the meanwhile, is the US Ambassador’s tweeted message that was quoted in the news item viz: “ Pleased that Father Emmanuel is striving to secure lasting equality, peace and justice and happiness for all in a united, reconciled Sri Lanka.”
One is privileged at this point to ask the Honourable Ambassador whether he considers Fr. Emmanuel as ‘God’s co-pilot’ and whether the diplomat has been in the cuckoo land for the last two and a half years? Regrettably, he sounds completely naïve about the Sri Lankan Government’s untiring efforts to achieve exactly what he (the envoy) desires. This fact was further established by President Maithripala Sirisena’s meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in New York, a few days ago, by emphasising the fact that he (President) did not want Sri Lanka to be another Myanmar. The news reports confirmed to what extent the UNHCR Commissioner was pleased and commended on the commitment displayed so far by the Sri Lankan Government on the reconciliation process.
Father S.J. Emmanuel is a Sri Lankan Tamil Catholic turned activist and was appointed as the President of the Global Tamil Forum, an umbrella organization representing the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora groups outside Sri Lanka. Born in Jaffna in 1934, he enjoyed free education in Sri Lanka in Jaffna and gained admission to the University of Ceylon in Colombo. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Physics in 1958, he worked as a teacher and a journalist prior to his decision to join the priesthood. Subsequently he obtained a degree in philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome.
Emmanuel was ordained in 1966 as a priest at St. Peter’s Basilica, and returned to Sri Lanka, as a clergyman and diocesan director for a Christian organization to serve and evangelise the world, associated with the Catholic Church. In 1976, he returned back to Rome and obtained a doctorate in theology. Back again in Sri Lanka during the 1976 and 1986, he served as the Rector of St. Francis Xavier’s Major Seminary in Jaffna, and functioned as the Vicar General of the Jaffna Diocese until 1997.
When the Sri Lankan Security forces launched an offensive to re-capture the Jaffna peninsula from the grip of Tamil Tigers in October 1995, Father Emmanuel fled, with half a million Tamils, and spent some time in the jungles of Vanni. In 1997 he moved to Germany and lived in exile, working as a pastor in a Catholic Parish in the Muenster Diocese until 2007. From 2007 he served as Vicarious Cooperator at the St. Nikolaus Parish in Darefield in Germany. During his émigré, he worked as an assiduous Catholic as well as a Tamil activist and disseminated the outcome on Tamil civilians, focusing on the Sri Lankan terrorist war. In 2010 he was appointed as the President of the Global Tamil Forum.
Fr. Emmanuel contributed to the ‘sea of misinformation’ by unleashing his own unstoppable attack, during a controversial interview with a journalist of The Independent newspaper in the UK, by calling Velupillai Prabhakaran, who was a ruthless terrorist and a remorseless megalomaniac, as a freedom fighter; the worse by comparing him to the Great Redeemer, Jesus Christ, venerated by millions throughout the world for his message of love and compassion. All Christian and other co-religionists condemned his statement with utter remorse and in antipathy as sacrilegious coming particularly from a Roman Catholic priest. It was considered as the greatest insult to a world teacher.
The Independent article under the caption ‘Boys and Girls Come out to Play’ went into graphic details of how young and innocent Tamil children were forced out of their houses in the presence of their parents, recruited by the LTTE and exposed the innocent youths as cannon fodder. Father Emmanuel has been emphasising that Thiruvenkadam Velupillai Prabhakaran as, “the only person who could give leadership to a movement committed to setting up the homeland to Tamil Eelam, so that the oppressed Tamil people could be saved from the chauvinist Sinhala regime”.
Many questions were raised at the time as to why the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Sri Lanka was vacillating, rather than persecuting a member of its own clergy, for turning a blind eye to demagoguery and treacherous activities of Fr. Emmanuel, which went against the very grain of Christian teaching.
Father Emmanuel, in his writings and speeches always defended the terrorist activities of the LTTE as a liberation struggle committed to usher in the state of Eelam, claiming territory comprising two thirds of the coast line and one third of the land mass of the island. He engaged in foreign visits, as an apologist, giving publicity to the LTTE and seeking support, both moral and financial, from the Tamil expatriate communities living in foreign climes. He was alleged to have delivered several speeches during his visits to Canberra where he used the old Judaic cry, “Let my people go,’ implying a false message that the Sinhalese were keeping the Tamils in some form of bondage!
During the height of the LTTE atrocities, he was labelled as ‘a Catholic Father directing his efforts to be ordained as the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church of the idealistic and dreamed state of Tamil Eelam’. Now that this Catholic Father, with a warped record of aiding and abetting the Tamil Tigers to kill and maim and also destroy property, by acts of terror is back in the country, ‘on a low profile’, perhaps emotionally done, mentally drained, spiritually dead and physically still smiling, is in the country again, it would be prudent for the Roman Catholic Church of Sri Lanka to reform the once deranged priest and to put some sense into his head. Also explain that Sri Lanka is a safe country where every attempt is made by the present Government to dispel all facets of class, creed and racial mindsets of people and call every citizen a Sri Lankan.