Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Lessons the Zurich Conference Teach the Tamil Diaspora

by Dr. Ethirveerasingam & Unknown, November 24, 2009

My sovereignty is not for sale to anyone. My community should make a stand on the right to sovereignty of the Tamil people.  I wonder how many of us know that the Native American Tribes are sovereign nations and recognised as such by the laws of the United States?

My Comments re TIC Press Release on Zurich Conference

by Dr. Ethirveerasingam

Tamils are still suffering from a "minority complex -mentality." The term minority is a term that was used by a group that lost a motion to the majority of members of that group. In another motion the composition of individual members in the previous minority opinion and majority opinion can change.  

In the case of an ethnic or linguistic group, the membership is permanent.  Hence, the terms "Minority" or "Majority" have no relevance to linguistic groups. Tamil-speaking people are less in number than the Sinhala-speaking people in the Island (in a defined geographic location.)  In the North or in the East the Tamil speakers are in large numbers. This does not mean the Sinhala speakers are a minority group. Just because a linguistic group, in any geographic location, is less in number does not mean that they have fewer rights and they have to bargain for those rights like one does fish in a fishmarket!  The rights are inherent. It is not something that others have to give or take it away.

As for Sovereignty, that concept, before the 16th century, was that the King/Queen was sovereign (hence the name sovereign or gold coin, as only the King could mint gold coins.)  The Kings claimed - and the clergy for their own self interest supported - the nottion that this sovereignty was bestowed to them by God. That prevents the subjects from claiming that they are sovereign. If they do, they get burnt at the stake or get their heads chopped off. Hobbes supported this view. He had to run away with Charles II to Europe, when Cromwell axed the Sovereign Head of Charles I.

John Locke was I think the first person to say that Sovereignty lies with the people. If the King tries to usurp the peoples' sovereignty, it is the King who has rebelled against the people and therefore the people have the right to take up arms against the King.  (See Locke's Second Treatise on Government.)

Individuals in a family pool their sovereignty which makes the family a sovereign. A linguistic community pools their sovereignty to make that community sovereign in order to defend themselves.  Communities can pool their sovereignty to form a state for the betterment of all members of the state.  When a community, within or without the state, tries to usurp the sovereignty of another, they are at war.

Tamil sovereignty cannot be transferred or taken away. Those who do try, are at war with the Tamils and as such Tamils have a right to take up arms to defend their sovereignty.

My sovereignty is not for sale to anyone. My community should make a stand on the right to sovereignty of the Tamil people.  I wonder how many of us know that the Native American Tribes are sovereign nations and recognised as such by the laws of the United States?

Every individual is born a sovereign. No one has the right to take that sovereignty away from him/her. Sovereignty cannot be taken away or transferred by anyone. Not even by the individual.  Even the dead body is sovereign. If the body or the grave is desecrated it is a crime.

Everyone has a space around him/her that no one can invade. If I do, I do so at the risk of my space being invaded by the other. This the same for any community or for any State. The Sinhala nation's sovereignty is not any different from the Tamil Nation's sovereignty. Physical space is a necessary factor to defend one's personal space.  The question may be asked, what is a Sinhala or Tamil Nation? The best description is what John Stuart Mill gave, which I quoted in a paper I read at Chatham House in 1999:

John Stuart Mill, writing in 1861 on the subject, "Of nationality as connected with Representative Government," says that,

"A portion of mankind may be said to constitute a nationality if they are united among themselves by common sympathies which does not exist between them and any others ...  This feeling of nationality may have been generated by various causes.  Sometimes it is the effect of identity of race and descent.  Community of language and community of religion greatly contribute to it.  Geographical limits are one of its causes.  But the strongest of all is identity of political antecedents; the possession of a national history, and consequent community of recollections; collective pride and humiliation; pleasure and regret, connected with the same incidents in the past."


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Lessons the Zurich Conference teaches to Tamil Diaspora:

by Unknown

This is very brief point of view on the Zurich conference and the lessons for the Tamil Diaspora. There are three things related to this topic: Understanding the intentions of the Zurich conference, lessons the Tamil Diaspora should learn and next immediate and longer term steps that Tamil Diaspora should think about. At the time of this writing, many things are not very clear and therefore should be read with care.

Understanding the Intentions

Understanding the intentions from the Zurich conference is very important. The intentions may be clearer once the organisers are identified and more information revealed. As a speculation some possible intentions may be

  1. pressurizing to give up the separate state hope,
  2. change the "sole" representative concept,
  3. finding out a bottom line for negotiations,
  4. diluting the power of the TNA,
  5. again using the Tamil issue as a trump card for a regional power play,
  6. dilute the war crimes issue,
  7. influencing the forthcoming elections,
  8. buying some key players for their interests etc.

As a result, the TNA may be forced to align with nationalist forces, giving up its basic principles or some members may be influenced to split.

Another possibility is, the conference may give a platform for the SL government to exploit international community by saying that is taking efforts to provide a solution to the conflict. This position is important for the SL to get the forthcoming GSP+ and other findings at least until election. It may also help to shift the focus from war crimes and human rights issues, saying that it may affect peace efforts.

Further, there is also a fear among local & regional players that the Tamil Diaspora may take an upper hand and it may be an attempt by regional players to foil the role of the Diaspora and can influence the policy using Tamil issue.

In a very optimistic case, it may lead to a formation of new short-term alliances within some parties. It may give a temporary relief for some affected people to bring up their lives. Having said that, it may be difficult to assume at this stage that some of the Tamil Parties such as the TNA is giving up their basic principles. Whatever happens in the short term, the real long term change by these covert conferences may be very limited. Can any of these permanently erase the hope of Tamil Nationalism - definitely "NO".

Lessons the Conference Teaches:

Whatever the intentions and outcomes may be, the conference has clearly taught a lesson to the Tamil Diaspora (TD). Without having a representation from the TD, without even informing the main TD groups, all parties that represent the N&E participated in a closed door conference is something the TD needs to understand and re-evaluate their position and policies.

Some professionals within the TD believed after the war, the TD should have taken the leadership to organize a Zurich-like conference with the intention of agreeing on a common bottom line. Unfortunately, for the reasons we all know, the TD still struggles to organize themselves without clear vision or actions. Since the war ended, there has been a clear lack of engagement with Tamil Parties that are working at the ground level. The Tamils' only remaining party on the ground level, the TNA was not properly engaged, empowered and motivated. The TD did not even organise town hall meetings with visiting TNA members, and did not provide adequate back up. Without much support from the TD and others from outside, maybe some of these parties have been left out with "no" options.

Some TD groups still believe adamantly the parties representing locally have to talk to them, not the other way around. Some leaders within the TD still believe their contribution to the community is immense compared with that of the TNA or other groups on the ground. Clearly some of the directionless approaches with TD actions look very much disconnected from local realities and changing political scenarios.

Not understanding and capturing the changes, failure to understand the realities, lack of leadership, lack of foresight, suppression of new ideas, new blood, etc. has brought the Tamil Diaspora into a state where nothing can be positively moved forward. This is exactly the state SL and regional players have wanted.

Some analysts pointed out that the TD moves always against the global stream. When the world talked about “war on terror”, they did not oppose. Now when the world talks about “Positive Engagement,” they focus more on isolation. Cleverly SL is capturing the global changes.

Are we going to be in this state forever - Definitely "NO". But how long - all depends on the positive leadership, pro-active thinking, understanding the world & changes, clear foresight of possible changes on the ground and the world, capability to build fundamentals for nationhood slowly and steadily with thoughtful thinking.

How to confront the future - Building a Resilient Community

What should the TD do? Organise a "Mega-conference"? Form a Global Tamil Think-Tank? Definitely there are no short term solutions. As all know, nothing will change things overnight. However all these things should be thought of as a part of a medium and long term strategy? What the TD misses is a medium to long term approach capturing the realities and cultivating fundamentals.

As a short term measure, maybe, there is a need to express the TD's displeasure at being sidelined or not engaged, since thus the meeting is not representative. Also, it is important to bring out facts like, pressuring Tamil parties while surrounded by military is considered as a threat to agree a temporary solution rather than looking for permanent one.

But what matters is not just one conference or organisation but concerted efforts with foresight.

For example, we now see that results of one of the foresighted thinking of some leaders of creating Tamil Schools all over the world, organise Tamil Language exams, form Tamil Media. That foresighted thinking still keeps us as one community and our dreams alive. Similarly, what are other next steps we all need to take to build our fundamentals within our community and position Tamil Community within the World framework? How do we cultivate a dream within our community in every aspect? How do we make our community Proud to say he/she is part of the "Tamil Community"? How do we shape the perception of our community on the world stage? How do we build the basic infrastructure, institutions, and leaders to confront future challenges? How do we build networks and relationships with global community with Tamil identity? How do we engage even with the Sinhalese community to provide them the comfort of accommodating our aspirations without fear? How do we envision and convince a bright future living side by side with Sinhalese? What options do we have to raise our voice on the global stage? All of these should be thought out not by a few but by many in different ways.

Just imagine a scenario: Say some relaxation of occupation and some political work is allowed, a governing structure is established, the world starts to invest in the N&E. Can this go smoothly? Definitely “NOT”. SL will enforce colonization, military will influence, people will feel no powers for themselves but all by president BUT at that time, if any small protest occurs, if the TD is well equipped and can be brought to the global stage, the TD may be able to take up legal cases locally and globally, bring up the colonization too in human rights perspective, and may be in a better position to convince the world. Or, we may be able to convince large numbers of Sinhalese people for a better future if Tamils and Sinhalese live side by side. For all these things to happen, at that time, we need to have a community with passion, with independent and reliable institutions, leaders, media, businesses to support, wealth, etc.

IS IT POSSIBLE TO CULTIVATE THIS FROM NOW ON? YES, OF COURSE.