Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Déjà Vu All Over Again!

by Roy Ratnavel, January 13, 2009

For over 35 years of freedom struggle, Tamils have collectively endured imprisonment, assassinations, expulsion, aerial bombardment, displacement, siege, and have grown in strength through it all. Tamils are strong believers in freedom; therein lies the reason why the Tamil resistance movement just won't die. Sri Lanka can't erase their belief with tanks and planes.

Only a fool, it is said makes the same mistake twice. So chalk Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse up as a fool for mangling Sri Lanka again.

In Sri Lanka, and around the globe, the military action has thus far been portrayed as a success. The domestic standing of the key politicians and military players, particularly Mahinda Rajapakse’s, is at an all time high, like he is the putative savior of Sri Lanka – with bunches of people dancing in the streets, lighting firecrackers and handing out sweets like fools after winning the final world-cup cricket match. The sad reality here is that this is no cricket game; rather it is a grotesque game of ‘life and death,’ where the only score is scores of dead Sinhalese and Tamil sons and daughters.

PalmyrahUnderstandably the President assumed his new status with equanimity and verve. His daunting assignment, though, is to ride the herd of lemmings over this hellish brew of a country. Like capital markets, a country cannot be efficient – in this case democratically – without informed participants, and Sri Lanka is seriously devoid of anything sharper than a spoon. Against this backdrop, the same old failed military strategy is on the menu of choice again. Ancient wisdom from the Dakota tribe says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. So, what is Sri Lanka’s political strategy for the Tamil national question? Sadly, the answer is a resounding NO!

We are witnessing Sri Lanka's resolute drift back towards apocalyptic carnage. As a Canadian of Tamil decent, it is with great sadness I witness yet another bloodbath in the ongoing war between Tamils and the Sri Lankan state. While I believe Sri Lanka has the right to exist and defend itself, we are witnessing – yet again – Sri Lanka's arrogance and misguided approach to dealing with Tamil grievances. Sri Lanka missed an opportunity to broker a ceasefire with Tamils in the North, believing that more aerial and ground strikes and invasions will bring the ethnic issue to an end. This approach has failed Sri Lanka in the past, is failing today and will continue to fail in the foreseeable future.

For over 35 years of freedom struggle, Tamils have collectively endured imprisonment, assassinations, expulsion, aerial bombardment, displacement, siege, and have grown in strength through it all. Tamils are strong believers in freedom; therein lies the reason why the Tamil resistance movement just won't die. Sri Lanka can't erase their belief with tanks and planes.

The 'commitment' of Tamils is such this is one of the reasons why the Tamil resistance movement will live to fight another day. The movement that was born of resistance to Sri Lankan occupation and rose to broader Tamil support simply won't perish. Anyone who believes otherwise believes in fiction. Sri Lanka's response of indiscriminate aerial bombardment and shelling is clearly reminiscent of the 1990s, when such actions created more "Tigers" than it destroyed. For Sri Lanka, the only thing more prized than the capture of Tamil land, is dead Tamils.

The Sri Lankan state, its proxy killers and apologists cannot explain away Sri Lanka’s atrocities and cover-up by simply invoking the word "Terrorism" as an all-purpose code to discredit any person or group that raises questions against such blatant atrocities. The world’s reaction to the Tamil issue reminds me of a cop at the scene of a monumental crack-up – "Move it right along, folks, nothing to see here." Nasty newspaper columns on Tamil issues are plenty everywhere – just another drive-by smear-job, meant to demonize and denigrate the character of Tamils, and create a lot of trouble for Tamils who live in Sri Lanka in the horrible reality called war.

How can such cruelty be inflicted upon Tamils and go unnoticed? How is it that a Sri Lankan military assault on innocent displaced Tamils creates barely a ripple in the news cycle around the world? How does such outrageous human destruction prompt so little outrage in Canada and elsewhere? How is it that those who have been tasked with protecting the world's most vulnerable populations have failed – and failed, and then failed yet again – in their central responsibility? How has the West come to such acquiesce, with the contrived hope that Sri Lankan tyrants might grow weary of their ethnic cleansing task? How have we come to this moment? Perhaps not enough dogs and cats have been slaughtered in this conflict for the West to pay attention. Any honest assessment would be as shocking and dispiriting as the assault on Tamils by Sri Lanka.

Why is Sri Lanka not allowing foreign correspondents to enter the North and report? What is that Sri Lanka does not want the world to know about? And why is the Western media not doing more to decry this denial of access to reporting? What's happening in the Tamil North is a humanitarian and moral disaster. Unfortunately, in the West we are defined by the new code that accepts civilian casualties as just so much "collateral damage" on the road to victory. I beg to differ; it is road to hell.

A recent newspaper editorial in one of Canada’s dailies read like a mash note from a teenager while displaying an almost sphinx-like discretion on the subject. Articles with "fighting terror" claptrap have wrapped Sri Lankan politics into a kind of abysmal "terror workshop," prompting the Sri Lankan leadership to produce a daily kaleidoscope of hip-shooting responses and King Lear-like promises of vengeance on Tamils. Such strident and intellectually vapid propaganda will, and should, meet its merciless end and deserves defeat.

Such constructions rely on a pernicious, unspoken and logically invalid belief: If something is aesthetically or sentimentally offensive to the West, it is morally wrong. Such misleading editorial mobilizes volatile emotions, provokes resentment and perverts the souls of its perpetrators as much as it violates the human dignity of Tamil victims.

The corrupt, authoritarian Sri Lankan regime, which seems to have little regard for its own population – let alone the Tamils - continues to exploit the bogeyman existence of terrorists as a means of distracting its restless masses, and camouflaging their own political ineptitude and despotism. This is the pinnacle of Sri Lankan fakery and deceit laced with quintessential extreme umbrage.

In this modern-day scramble for post-9/11 melodrama, there is a common pattern in the opinion expressed by the accusers of the Tamil freedom cause who, most often, are also apologists for Sri Lankan atrocities and other state aggressors, as well as proponents of labeling "every armed struggle = terrorism." They all base their narratives on the wrong timeline, whose starting point is arbitrarily selected to intentionally blur reality.

Those who criticize the Tamil freedom struggle ignore many years of relentless attacks on Tamils by Sri Lankan state. Those who blame Tamils for so-called "terrorism” choose Sept 11, 2001 as the beginning, and draw a thick blanket over the half a century preceding it. This continuous assault on cause-and-effect is not conducive to understanding the issue, and it perpetuates the stalemate. While it is easy to point Tamils' actions, and the noxious effects of continued armed struggle, for the strife in Sri Lanka – in reality the Buddhist religious fanaticism, and Sri Lankan atrocities have long historical roots that predate 9/11. 

To suggest that violent nature is the epitome of most Tamils, is tantamount to the equally offensive stereotypes leveled at blacks, Jews and women in days past. Moreover, if someone had written a similar column about such an identifiable group, who happened to be in a similar struggle, well, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to speculate on what the reaction would have been. In this struggle, the Tamils are fighting on freedom's side against a terror state. Even if one assesses that the Tigers are largely to blame and an author of its own peoples’ misfortune, the plight of the Tamils and the egregious transgressions of Sri Lanka cannot be ignored.

Using a personal attack, like calling Tamils “Terrorists”, is a cheap and easy way to try to shut down debate about atrocious behaviour by Sri Lanka that has been going on long before 9/11.

Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner and a champion of Human Rights, declared last year: “With a terrible record of torture and disappearances, Sri Lanka doesn’t deserve a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. It should be voted out. The systematic abuses by Sri Lankan government Forces are among the most serious imaginable." Is he a terrorist?

The list by the New York-based Genocide Prevention Project for the first time last year combined the findings of five leading independent watchlists to create a “Watchlist of Watchlists;” in which Sri Lanka made the list's top eight and appears in each of the five expert indexes. Are they all terrorists?

On December 12, 2008 Reporters San Frontieres (RSF), a Paris-based Media watchdog, condemned Sri Lanka: “We are worried by the increase in direct and indirect censorship in Sri Lanka.” Is RSF is a terrorist sympathizer?

I don't think so. I think they are, like most of us, appalled by decades of human rights violations by Sri Lanka and outright atrocities committed by an ever-expanding apartheid-type regime, and desperate to exert any kind of pressure that will bring peace to Sri Lanka.

The suffering of Sri Lanka is directly proportional to decades of Sri Lanka’s distorted politics. Anyone who doesn't think that needs to re-read Sri Lankan history books. The outside world has tried to step in on many occasions with no avail, but Sri Lanka has to heal itself from within first. Only a true democratic, selfless and uncorrupt leader will be able start Sri Lankans on their journey out of darkness.

Peace for Sri Lankans, who live in their own prison, can only come after they grant justice for the Tamils. Justice means recognition of the Tamils' right to live in the land of their recent ancestors, return of stolen land, and equal participation in a secular democracy.

The military option is a band-id solution. Not only does the military option result in horrible accidents and war crimes, but the only way that it can possibly result in a solution is through the killing of the last Tamil. With renewed military assault, Sri Lanka has just created thousands more "Tamil Fighters." So, is Sri Lanka going to fight them for the next 100 years, or does it give an entire people justice?

For decades, Tamils in Sri Lanka have never experienced a single night when they could sleep comfortably, without being concerned that they would have to jump out of their beds to scramble to safety. In the absence of overwhelming and fundamental political change there, peace will never be possible.

So, what can the world do? Understand.

For Tamils, looking at yet more scenes of mayhem from Sri Lanka, it is apparent that the perennial Christmas card, wishing us "peace on Earth," will once again end up in the recycling bin, its message unfulfilled. For the sake of the bewildered-looking children, we keep hoping those words will some day cease being a meaningless cliché for Tamils.

The quote from the legendary New York Yankee clipper Yogi Berra seems quite apt at this juncture: “Déjà vu all over again.”

roy_ratnavel@hotmail.com