Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

The Moderate Position on Eelam

by J.T. Janani, Tamil Guardian, February 6, 2008

They can say that the Tamils, do not really want Eelam. We can call this the "Only we know what you want" argument.

They can say that the Tamil "civilisation", to use Thomas Paine's formulation, is not ready to govern itself, that we lack 'capacity.' We call this the "you are too primitive" argument.

But because the second argument cannot stand on its own, the first is the foundation to their attack...

In short, what is extremist is to take away from others what belongs to them. But asserting the rights of man? The same rights asserted by the founding father of the United States of America? Claiming a right which according to all the current norms belongs to us already? This is extremist?

Even for a propaganda war aimed at a "primitive" people incapable of forming a government, this is a little disingenuous.

This is the moderate position on Eelam: Eelam is your right. It is not a gift, not an act of charity but something that is already yours. As with all things, you can claim it or lose it. Others can try to take it away from you, but that would constitute an assault, a theft.

When the founding fathers of America made the case for their nation, they did not rely on a cultural identity that had evolved over thousands of years. They did not rely on a common language, let alone a few thousand years of a shared literary heritage. They did not even rely on the concept of a traditional homeland. For, they had none of these on their side.

They relied instead on something more intrinsic and universal. They relied on the rights of man.

Thomas Paine And so to quote from Thomas Paine, who articulated the concept most clearly in his seminal book of the same name [Rights of Man, 1791]:

"The fact therefore must be that the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist …"

It follows that, by these principles, the nation of Eelam, can have and does need only one form of legitimacy: a compact entered by the people who choose to belong to that nation.

Of course, those of us, who have a few thousand years of historical cohesion as a "civilisation", a common culture and heritage, and more recently a shared history of oppression and injustice, to bind us together, may not feel the need to explicitly enter into a "compact" with each other; we may take it for granted that it exists and that it has done so implicitly for millennia.

Nevertheless it important to remember that this "compact" or agreement is all that is required. Think of it as similar to saying "I do" in a wedding ceremony, except there is no officiating priest, only ourselves.

Eelam exists because we do.

Furthermore, according to the principles of Paine, where a government arises which contradicts the compact, it is illegitimate. So if the Tamils of Sri Lanka have an agreement with each other to form a government, then any claim by the Sinhalese that they are the "appropriate" government for us is illegitimate.

Eelam exists because we can.

It follows that one nation cannot be "given" to another. So for example the British colonial administrators could not have "given" the Tamil nation to the nation of Sri Lanka. It was not theirs to give. Neither can the International community, today, give us Eelam. It is not theirs to give. Neither is it theirs to deny.

Thomas Paine went on to elaborate on why he believes this right to form a government exists. He argues that in their natural state, humans are social creatures; that it is in their best interests to congregate in societies.

One reason for this is the diversification of talent: it is in man's best interest to specialise in his area of talent and to rely on the different talents and abilities of others. So a social structure where each person contributes something useful to society: a doctor, a priest, a teacher and so forth arises naturally. It is in man's best interests to trade with each other and to regulate trade in some manner.

In fact that governments are hardly required except to fulfil certain duties that might in exceptional cases be otherwise neglected.

And so he says: "The more perfect civilisation is, the less occasion has it for government, because the more does it regulate its own affairs, and govern itself."

And from here, we can see that those geopolitical actors who do not benefit from the existence of Eelam, but whose own forms of government, and in the case of the United States, whose very existence is based on the principles enunciated by Paine, have only one line of attack:

They can say that the Tamils, do not really want Eelam. We can call this the "Only we know what you want" argument.

They can say that the Tamil "civilisation", to use Thomas Paine's formulation, is not ready to govern itself, that we lack 'capacity.' We call this the "you are too primitive" argument.

But because the second argument cannot stand on its own, the first is the foundation to their attack.

For the international bureaucrats, the foreign secretaries, ambassadors, ministers - the Robert Blakes, Kim Howells etc - of this world know, that the basis of their own legitimacy, the legitimacy of their states and governments arise from Paine's principles.

Hence they also know they have no right to deny the people of Eelam their right should they wish to claim it.

However, in pursuit of their own selfish interests, they tell us that we don't really want Eelam. They tell us that the "moderate" Tamil has entered into a "compact" (to quote Paine) to be governed by the brutal Rajapakse government, the Wickremasinghe government or in the past the Jeyawardene government, the numerous Bandaranaikes (SW, Sirimavo, Chandrika) and so on.

They then point out all the disadvantages of Eelam. Junior minister Kim Howell told the British Parliament last month that partition would be bloody, for example.
Some roll out a number of other issues: the borders are too long, the future will be unstable (as if it could be any more unstable than it currently is); there will be anarchy because "you" do not know how to run a government (as if it is easy to form a government worse than the current, un-chosen Sinhala chauvinist one); it will not be economically viable (as if the current semi starvation in Jaffna or chronic displacement in the East is a state of economic well being).

There are other ways in which they tell us that the "compact" for Eelam is a bad idea. They say that the pro-Eelam position is "extremist."

Extremist? Holocaust denial is extremist. The denial of some Israelis of the Palestinians' right to exist in their own homelands might be extremist. A belief that we should all live under a new global "caliphate" or Islamic government with Islamic law, the Al Qaeda position, might be extremist. The belief that one may arbitrarily invade another people's land and take control of their resources, otherwise known as the "Bush Doctrine", might be taken as extremist.

In short, what is extremist is to take away from others what belongs to them.
But asserting the rights of man? The same rights asserted by the founding father of the United States of America? Claiming a right which according to all the current norms belongs to us already? This is extremist?

Well, even for a propaganda war aimed at a "primitive" people incapable of forming a government, this is a little disingenuous.

And further, in line with the "too primitive" argument, they tell us that the Tamils do not have a feasible government in waiting. They say that the LTTE is "authoritarian," that it will be too unacceptable to the international community.

But, the point is that the Tamils have a right to choose their own government and they will exercise that right once Eelam is declared, perhaps even making mistakes along the way. But that too is the prerogative of the people of Eelam.

Meanwhile, the 'extremists' can be subject to ruthless violence. The international community is silent as the Sinhalese silence those who speak for Eelam: journalists, members of parliament, rights activists, aid workers. They may support the stationing of an occupying Sinhala army in Jaffna so the people there can understand what good governance is.

Yet for all their dissembling, the "international community" know they have no right to deny the people of Eelam their right should the people of Eelam stand up to claim it.

For Eelam is not a gift. It is not something one begs for or pleads for, or lobbies for. It is an agreement between a people. A right cannot be granted or revoked, but it can be exercised. Eelam is a decisive act.

Consequently, the United Nations cannot "give" us Eelam. They can merely decide, after the event whether they will "recognise" it: by this is meant whether they will allow it to vote in their resolutions, or sit on their committees such as the Human Rights Committee on which Sri Lanka, laughably, has a membership.

So there is only one answer from the moderate Tamil to the international community, which cuts through the fog of deception:

"We understand that Eelam is our right and the right of our children. We decide to claim it, on behalf of ourselves, and our generations to come. We and only we decide its existence. We will not be deceived by 'compromises' or cowed into not claiming that which is ours. We, the people, are Eelam. Accept it."