|Does this Tunnel Have an End?|
by Roy Ratnavel
"If you're going through hell, keep going." – Sir Winston Churchill
six decades later, Churchill's statement is all too relevant to this
moment for Sri Lankan Tamils. Ah,
the things that could go wrong for Sri Lanka in 2003! A peace accord
that could backfire. A war could break out in a big way. Sri Lanka’s
overextended economy that could finally call it quits. And those are
just the known risks. Other unimagined plagues, disasters and surprises
may lurk in the offing.
doubt this will be perceived as a knee-jerk, anti-peace, anti-Sri Lankan
or war lover-type article. But that is far from the truth. Nonetheless,
I have found myself continually amazed by the peace attempt – that is
currently taking place in Sri Lanka – which, like any decent
person, I encourage. I want to respond to the arrogant,
hawkish and self-righteous note I've been hearing in some quarters
lately from the safety of their propaganda camp.
It seems that with the peace talks at odds; the media herd is quickly
moving on to the next quagmire.
fervant attempt to catch the Tiger by the tail only left a serious
scratch mark on the Sri Lankan economy. So the solution – ‘Peace
talks’. It's a strange and subtle game, and it has produced many odd
turns with no end in sight. Here's just one: Not so long ago, Sri Lanka
and other skeptics were charging the Tigers of not being the true
representatives of the Tamils. However, last year – with the signing
of MOU – this position were exactly reversed – certainly unexpected.
Speaking of unexpected, perhaps,
"Freedom for Tamils?" There, I typed it. It slipped off my
fingers. Now, go ahead and say it. Rolls off the tongue, too, doesn't
it? – Not to be so. Karl Marx observed that history plays itself out
first as tragedy, then as farce. But only Groucho could have anticipated
Sri Lanka, where tragedy and farce are often found playing alongside
each other, within the bounds of the same political multiplex. Tamils
wonder about the fragile ‘Peace talks’ that are aimed at giving them
the power to determine their political fate.
history is any guide, the political drama in Sri Lanka is far from over.
In fact, we may not have even reached the intermission. Year 2000 was a
particularly bad year for Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan economy – at best a one legged stool –
struggling with lower than potential output and deepening external debt.
According to the World Bank, the government's total debt was up from 97%
of GDP in 2000 to 103% in 2001. That is a high level for a country with
Sri Lanka's income. Not to mention a below investment grade government
bond and the nagging political unrest, which caused lack of compelling
reason for investment opportunities to attract ever-larger quantities of
much needed foreign capital in this ever-increasing competitive world.
The peace talks – a rabbit out of the hat, was a by-product of the
chokehold that the Katunayake airport incident put on the Sri Lankan
That brings up politics. In
politics, it's said that six weeks is an eternity. How about sixty
weeks, or more? If anything, having just been through an Armageddon, Sri
Lankans will find peace comforting after the country’s tragedy
associated with political unrest. If they don’t correct it this time,
the political drama will not be a one-act play; it may well be the first
act of a multi-act play. But
a policy of “neglect” – punishing the Tamils – probably suits
the political needs of the South just fine, but not the economic needs.
The very party that swept into
Colombo on a wave of patriotic fervor in 1995, with its leaders
proclaiming the Sri Lankan army would be reborn in the Vanni region and
those who thought otherwise were traitors, is now organizing and
promoting anti-Tamil sentiments – while pontificating why Sri Lanka
lost the battle for Vanni? In the meantime, conservative and cautious
politicians such as Ranil Wickremesinghe, who belongs to the mainstream
of Sri Lanka's elite and who once spoke in favour of a change in policy
regarding Tamils, now it seems is changing his mind as well. As the apt
cliché says, truth is the first casualty of war. However, another early
casualty is conscience.
the grotesque self-deception of the politicians will begin by inventing
and spreading cheap lies, putting the blame upon Tamils. And, every
Western country will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities,
while refusing to examine any refutations
of them. The Western world has a moral obligation to look beyond its
own borders as well as to resolve internal strife, inequities and
promote basic human rights for Tamils in Sri Lanka. But as always,
foreign policy operates at the intersection of politics, economics and
anthropology. As a result, the Tamils' cry for help is generally ignored
like traffic signs – thanks also to the Western journalistic rants.
Wild once observed that that “The difference between journalism and
literature is journalism is unreadable and literature is Unread.”
Couldn’t agree more. There are the suspenseful stories of paranoids,
self-righteous nobodies who sit on their high throne and attack an
entire race for trying to defend itself against aggressors. Do the
nobodies offer any solution to the problem either – a problem, which
could possibly eliminate Tamils from Sri Lanka, if it continues on
The twist in this plot is that these nobodies are probably looked
after and financially cared for by the same nation that punishes Tamils.
So they write novels in which conspiracies are dreamed up entirely in
their heads – indeed great fiction writers.
of the Tamil freedom struggle sugarcoat their arguments in hazy,
imprecise notions of "blindness." Their argument is based on
the unspoken assumption that a peaceful society can exist under
oppressive conditions, which places them in a situation that is hardly
geared toward upward advancement. Strangely, though, while we all agree
with them about the virtues of a peaceful society, I've found that many
people doubt that it can exist under oppressive conditions. A peaceful
society cannot exist until there is racial equality or at least a
genuine attempt to address the central issues. When all else fails,
armed struggle, as undesirable as it may seem, needs to be taken in
order to begin addressing the situation.
bottom line is this: like it or not, we live in a universe that rewards
power, and power flows from confidence. The winners of history are those
who sound their barbaric yawps over the rooftops of the world, while the
losers are the ones who cannot express themselves without apology. And
the one sure way to make your life a series of defeats, miseries, and
misfortunes, is to constantly back away from even your most passionately
Tamils cause is absolute; it
brooks no dissent or qualification. There is no law in life or nature
that says a group may commit atrocities against another without
impunity; whoever believes that, is by definition an ignorant, pompous,
semi-literate unperson. My position is that, Sri Lanka took on a known
enemy and screamed "foul" when it acted in character –
against Sri Lanka. The pain Sri Lanka had to endure is appalling, but it
doesn't make a martyr of Sri Lanka, nor – much as one would like it to
– does it sweep away all argument about the ambiguities of Sri Lanka's
participation in its own downfall.
views from the Buddhist-land are always unique and, during this new
round of peace talk, infuriatingly smug – by ‘claiming victory’.
Sri Lankan authorities have claimed victories, not on the battlefield
but on the foreign-propaganda front of this war. But these successes
can't hide the fact that Sri Lanka has again lost the war. Firstly, it
lost the war for the hearts and minds of the Tamils, trying to convince
them they are Sri Lankan citizens by bombing them, murdering them,
torturing them, abducting them and subjecting them to
"cleansing" operations. Secondly by refusing to fulfill the
moral responsibility to lift the perpetual political darkness over their
After two decades of tough times
and false dawns, the foundations have been laid for a free Tamil nation.
As far as I can tell, the vast majority of Tamils in Sri Lanka as well
as Tamils abroad are utterly convinced of the need to smash the
oppressive rule over them. Partly for that reason, many of us – in
both Sri Lanka and outside its border – are not persuaded that it's
wise to put down arms. Tigers are not the problem. They are happy to
comply, but they are not willing to disarm all together – not
when all examples from the past shown that sacrifice to be ultimately
fruitless. And this unfortunate point of departure perpetually clouds
the Western world’s judgement of the Tigers.
In one year's time, if a
pluralistic Tamil Eelam emerges from the rubble of Sri Lanka’s racist
terror, the “war against terrorism” crowd will look ridiculous. It
will be clear to them by then that Sri Lanka’s “war on terror”
claim is not so much of an argument built on facts, rather a convenience
to wage “war on Tamils.” It is an empty catch phrase meant to
marshal the sympathies of those who are already programmed to vilify the
make their decisions based on emotions, not logic. They embrace certain
beliefs for personal reasons and then justify the belief with political
and economic reasons – mostly political. In their rabid anti-terrorism
outbursts, these critics have failed to realize that the Tigers have
actually liberated Tamils from the brutal yoke of the Sri Lankan rule.
Life is now slowly, but surely returning to normal in Vanni and
elsewhere, with girls going to school without being harassed and flying
killing machines has vanished from the clear sky.
Tigers' actions, despite their flaws, play an important role in
"leveling the playing field" for Tamils in Sri Lanka. The
Western world's condemnation of the Tigers is overly simplistic in using
the tired old "terrorist group" label.
As a Tamil, urban-dwelling and Tamil Eelam hopeful, I am very
familiar with both the terrorism experts and the general public's
Hollywood and news-based perception of the Tamil's struggle. Unless you
can make a case as to why Tigers are a danger to the Western World,
leave them alone.
Sri Lanka has a real chance at
winning its war – the hearts of Tamils, perhaps for the first time. It
appears Tamils suffered enough and are fed up with war and would accept
a federal setup in the hope of seeing some order brought to their life
and the republic. But, Colombo needs to do a lot more than just make
promises to capitalize on the opportunity.
This much is beyond dispute:
Tamils basic rights will be defended against the heaviest odds. We
cannot countenance anymore bullying, or tolerate every mad adventure
dreamed up in the bunkers of Colombo, in the pathetic hope of getting a
break. War is evil, but sometimes submission also has all the right
ingredients to achieve a giant cemetery that will be carved from the
ashes of Tamils, and decorated with the remains of many innocent men,
women and children who will give the ultimate sacrifice.
history, occupying forces have met violent resistance from indigenous
populations, because it is human nature to resist occupation with all
means available so that one can live with freedom and dignity. But the
moral lesson that is lost on Sri Lanka and its friends is that, until
Tamils are granted their basic human rights and treated like human
beings, the violence will continue. Anyone who thinks otherwise need to
reread their history books.
Trying to solve Sri Lanka's
national question equitably is like trying to cut a water balloon in
half with the back of a comb. There's no denying that bad stuff could
happen. But just as a blithe disregard for Tamils' lives characterized
the early 1980s, obsession with it seems to have taken hold in the early
2000s. That's too bad, because despite the scary talk by many, the most
plausible political scenario for the year ahead is one that should
inspire not trepidation, but modest optimism.
is all-too familiar scenario for Tamils: years of deadly war, then a
tiny ray of hope that peace and freedom may be at hand, followed by
deception and then yet another wave of deadly conflict. We have had this
struggle for almost half-a-century. How many more lives will it cost for
the world to understand that Tamils deserve to live as equals in the
land they inhabit? How long will they use the language difference as an
excuse to kill, rape, maim and make hell on Earth for Tamils? The
time has come for the denial and ignorance to end.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s now time for a string of good luck?